Saturday, July 11, 2015

Meeting Kinza Maw-Naing in Canada in c. 1994

Reading Daw Tinza Maw Naing's autobiography has reminded me that I met her daughter Kinza in Canada when I was just starting out on the Burma democracy circuit.
First we went to Toronto at the invitation of the Canadian Friends of Burma.  My mentor Dr. Josef Silverstein flew with me from Newark International Airport, while Dr. Findlay flew from New York.
At that time, there were two excellent people who had founded Canadian Friends of Burma--Penny Sanger and Murray Thompson.
Penny told me how they had discussed "hitting the junta where it hurts" in their pocketbooks with sanctions.  She said they had "looked all over the world for Burma experts."

At the Conference, we discussed the pros and cons of boycotting Burma as tourists.

Saya Findlay, as an economic theorist whose focus was free trade (international trade theory), seemed to swallow his life- long commitment to free trade, and said something like, "But this is a political move."

I said on the one hand it was good to have foreigners moving around inside Burma keeping a watchful eye (but are any of the hordes going now "watching"??)--butit was true, all the junta understood was money.  After the Conference, they started the boycott Burma campaign, which resulted in a decade of empty echoing hotels inside Burma.

I don't remember what the late Dr. Mya Maung said, but I knew he hated the junta, although he had taught economics at the Maymyo Military Academy, he said.  He made some small/large tech errors while explaining "bad money drives out good" with respect to the debasement of coins in earlier ages, and I suppose the inflation in modern times.

A few years later he died suddenly.


I think it was in Toronto that we all met Mr. and Mrs. Bush Gulati, Persian-Burmese.  Later in Boulder, Colorado I would meet his sister Prem and hear from her of their tumultous journey,  from Rangoon to Teheran and then as Khomeini came into power in 1978 in Iran, to the USA.

Anyone who thinks expatriates should "go back to help Burma" and there are Americans too who always ask me the god- damned question, should try that kind of journey for themselves.

One woman came through Vietnam! and another through an Isreali kibbutz or collective farm cum military camp. They told me their stories themselves, so there is no question that they are true stories.

In Toronto, reading in a darkened church where like the dying Goethe  I had to ask for more light, more light, I began to realize the power of poetry and my poetry's ability to connect with others.

The church held about 40-50 people, and they were all quiet.

Some people had their eyes closed, and it always makes me wonder if I put them to sleep.

But at the end, they would open their eyes and clap and ask me questions, such as "What are kumquats?" or give suggestions, "In your poem Eskimo Paradise," (later anthologized in the Norton Anthology Language for a New Century"  -- it should not be "Eskimo" it should be "Burmese."
I could not figure out how I could change things.
When my play Shaman then called Flashback, because suppressed memories of childhood sex abuse are said to come back in adulthood as brief flashbacks, I learned how to have my play critiqued.
During this particular critique session, the readers/actors all sat in a row on the stage and read their parts, aloud, of course.
The playwright sat behind the audience of about 40 people also.
She did not come onto the stage even for the discussion and we hardly saw her face.  People said all manner of things, some helpful, some stupid, as people will do.
At the end she said one sentence from the back.
"Thank you all for your suggestions."  She did not even say she would make changes and take the suggestions into account.

So I too from 25 years or so of sitting in writing classes and listening to sometimes hair brained comments, feel like Ogden Nash who said--"Listen very nicely then go out and do precisely what one wants."
Now my lovely acquaintance has lost her philandering husband, how left her a fortune, and she says, "Now, I do just what I want."
In Canada it was very cold.  We all came with long black wool coats, esp. Saya Findlay and me.  I bought my coat one size too large for over a hundred dollars and had to turn in the sleeves.
Saya Silverstein forgot his passport, but Canadian immigration let him through anyway.
We all met up at the arrival gate, in out big black coats and Penny or Murray drove us to the University.
In Toronto, I learned how to conduct myself at International Conferences.
I was at a very bad time in life, my marriage, my country and my papers all falling away from me simultaneously.  That's why I was writing poetry and then fiction and trying to rethink and reorder my life.
Now that it is "ordered" and everything is in place, I don't feel like making any drastic changes such as relocating.
I walked around campus with Dr. Silverstein, and I don't know why I did that.  Maybe to hear how he answered questions that were put to him.  My pre-diabetes which had not been diagnosed yet, was already starting to act up, and I would feel woozy about 10 or 11 AM if I did not eat small amounts at regular intervals.
When this happened on the 2nd day of the conference, we were walking past a coffee shop and I said, "I am sorry but I am hyper gleacemic.  I need to get something to eat," and I hurried in to the cafe to get a cup of coffee and a small muffin.
Prof. Silverstein looked at me with a look on his face, What a wimp.

But that same day we kept walking and walking, and people came up to him, some on a campus path when it was about 40 degrees and the wind quiet blustery, to ask him about Burma and he kept talking and talking, with a great deal of energy and also quite loud.
By about 5 PM as it got dark, I was ready to fold.
Someone came up and asked him the same question, which I had heard about 5-6 times that day already.
I thought for sure, Saya will lose his temper and blow that person to bits.  But he started right again, from the A B C's about Burma.
I was flabbergasted.
At dinner, Dr. Findlay teased Dr. Silverstein for forgetting his passport.  "It's still a different country"--though the phone numbers were exactly like USA numbers.
I had a great time talking to Bush G. about creative writing.  He spoke about the pakoras (baya kyaw) that he said were fried by a vendor outside the walls of the Red Fort in Old Dehli.
I said, "I am sure they were delicious.  I am taking a writing course and we talked about details making it come alive.  So I am sure about those pakoras."
On another evening, Penny took me to see Kinza.
She had cooked mohinga, and she lived in a big house which she said they were renting from her brother in law.
I had nothing to give her, but luckily I had brought along a new Thai silk purse the color of mauve lotuses, so I gave that to her.
K. took me downstairs to see her cold cellar.
In America, we have basements, but not cold cellars.
Because it was so cold, carrots, apples, potatoes and other foods were stored inside these cold cellars.  I was quite amazed.
After the food we sat down and talked, about what else?  Burma.
Kinza said she was so tired, she could not take it any more, everyone arrested.  She talked about her famous twin brothers, Ho Chi and Mao Tse.

I can't remember if she told me what happened to them, and I am anxious to find out in her mother's book.

In Toronto, I also re-met a couple who were former neighbors of mine, whom I did not know well, but recognized immediately.

They were both smiling and friendly and at one time lived on the hill opposite me in Rangoon.

My mother used to call them "those Ma Chit Suu mangoes as they were so sweet and plump and fair skinned, like Ma Chit Suu (Miss Sweet Collection) mangoes.

I do not know how they left Burma, but the young lady in Burma told me how her mother? had walked out of Burma to India as a child, just like Dr. Findlay said he did, at the start of World War II.

How the road was so rough, there was nothing to eat.

Saya Findlay once gave me a book that also described such a journey.  "Now it's written (by somebody else).  I don't need to write it any more."

I once asked Saya if he ever wished to write anything other than  economics, and he said, "No."

Miss Sweet Ma Chit Suu said I should have a business card that just said, "Kyi May Kaung, Writer."

In Rangoon she had told me her mother was pregnant when they walked out of Burma to India, and her father had to shoot monkeys to feed his wife monkey blood.

"When she got to Imphal she had the baby and the afterbirth was in shreds."

Ten or fifteen years later, I saw them at a democracy event in D.C.,so they must have come from Canada to America.

I am happy for them.

All those who have made such harrowing journeys to be free deserve some measure of happiness, not blame.

Copyright Kyi May Kaung
Excerpt from Portfolios of Hot Air.


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