Saturday, January 16, 2016

Essay about Dr. Kyi May Kaung by John Libid

As I mentioned some time ago, between 1997 and 2003 I went to Boulder, CO about 4 times to read poetry, paint and talk about Burma.  Their system is that they invite you and have you participate, almost blind, in a lot of things, like a live session reading poetry with musicians and dancers, or making monoprints with complete strangers, some who did not know much Engish.  I found it to be wonderfully challenging.  This profile was written about me by a journalism student at the time, who was practicing his reporting skills.  It is rather long, but as I like it and want to keep it, I am typing it up all over again.  I don't know which old computer the original file was in.  kmk 8-25-2015
Dr. Kyi May Kaung's rapid fire Burmese shoots through the speakers in the muffled tone of AM radio.  It's possible that none of her 50 million countrymen will hear her broadcast.  The RFA program is playing to a country that last saw democracy in 1988 (sic), one year after it was named the (sic) a Least Developed Country by the UN, where the life expectancy for women is 62 years, 58 for men.  No reporters are allowed and accessing the Internet with a modem is a crime punishable by 15 years in prison.
Quote of the day from Jon Libid, writing about me at Conference on World Affairs, March 2001.

Still, no topic will be foreign to Kaung at the 53rd Annual Conference on World Affairs. She is a poet, author, artist, professor, playwright and political scientist. She was 13 when her first short story was published and has since added over 400 poems (some of which are collected) in two collections. She more than any other participant, embodies the conference theme, Borders and Beyond.

Jon Libid

"It is important to understand how searing her homeland experiences have been, and to read Kyi May's biography, to become acquainted with the plight of the people of Burma, especially the women," said Leigh Kennicott, who works at the University of Colorado's Theater and Dance Department.  Kennicott met Kaung two years ago when she coordinated Kaung's stories and poems with jazz music and dancers.

She (Kyi) lived in Burma’s capital Rangoon, for 32 years from 1950.  The city no longer carries that name:  The Burmese government had the name changed to Yangon in 1989, to reflect the proper pronunciation.  She also spent time in England, from the ages of 3 to 6.  Her England-educated father and his circle of friends were a tremendous influence on her subsequent academic journey.
One day, (while varnishing his hard cover books against the Burmese monsoons) her father asked her if she knew how useful books were.
“I was stumped for an answer, so I said, ‘If we run out of money, we can sell them’”Kaung said. 
He just looked at her through his glasses.
“’You don’t know how much is in them,’ he said, ‘books aren’t even the same as pamphlets.  Somehow we trust books more.’”
After her father died in a car accident in Calcutta, his friends took Kaung and her siblings under their collective wings.  The diversity of this group is still reflected in Kaung’s numerous professions.
One was a poet and historian; another founded one of the first orphanages in Burma; another was an economist who originated the idea of plural economies.
She was an associate professor of economics in Burma, but came to the United States on a Fulbright Fellowship in 1982.  She also holds a doctorate in political science from the University of Pennsylvania.
“I think the most amazing thing about her is her commitment to her homeland and to publicizing its plight through art and poetry,” Kennicott said, “However, I think her radio work gives her the most visibility.”
Kaung was a senior research analyst at Radio Free Asia up until late February (2001).
Congress approved funding for the organization in March 1996, and in September of that same year, their first broadcast went out to China in Mandarin.  Broadcasts are now done in 11 different languages, (with 2 versions each of Mandarin and Cantonese).  According to RFA president Richard Richter on the corporation’s website, RFA’s job is quite simply to bring news and information about their own country to populations denied the benefits of freedom of information by their governments.”
She compared broadcasting to the Burmese audience to reading her poetry to an audience in a darkened church in Toronto once.  She does not read to the audience as a collective whole; instead she visualizes someone from Burma; a close friend, a relative or a former teacher.
“We knew them to be there and silent and perhaps passive, but we knew them to exist,” she said of the audience.  Poems and letters began to “come out of the woodwork” after the first installation (sic) installment of “Poems of Those who Love Their Country” aired , featuring poet Naing Win Swe, who died in the jungle.
“In the early days we got a lot of letters, more than the Chinese section we were told, and you know how much more the Chinese population of one billion is than the Burmese of 48 million,”  she said, “So you see how hungry the Burmese people are for independent news and thought. 
Kaung said the problems of in Burma are born of the socio-politics of the “Run Down Burmese System” which she discussed (defined) in her dissertation.
“It will get better if Burmese people can work on their livelihoods in peace and the military stays out of political and economic decisions,” she said, “But that’s not likely to happen in the short run.  Meanwhile AIDS is spreading like wildfire and it will be too late for many.”
Kaung’s poetry program is entitled “Poems of Those who Love their Country.” This year the CWA will feature more extemporaneous story telling by Kaung, accompanied by Burmese (sic) music interpreted by a dancer.
“Her earlier performance was very well received by the public, and that is why we have invited her back this year, Kennicott said.
Kaung will read from “I Weep for You my Native Land” a 400 page draft of a fictional memoir she has been working on for the last 6 or 7 years. 
The great thing about Boulder CWA is that they put you on panels where you are a specialist, as well as where you are a generalist,” she said, “And on the whole they stretch you a bit to take artistic and intellectual risks.  That’s why it is so nice to come back.  It’s good sometimes to be pushed gently off a cliff and find that you can fly.”

end of essay

Sangre de Christo Mountains from Internet
I tried to find Rocky Mountains, but could not.