Burma and Western Ignorance/ and the Value of Women’s Presses

Self’s article “Burma and Western Ignorance” is on-line now, at Women=Books, the blog of the most excellent Women’s Review of Books.

Why not consider a gift subscription for the holidays? This is such a fab publication, dear blog readers, and not just because it’s for and about women, but because it’s thought-provoking! And cutting edge!

And while you’re at it, why not consider buying a book from Calyx Press?  Because they are one of the oldest women’s presses in the country, and because they have discovered the following women writers, at a very early stage in their careers, and continue to support women, valiantly, from their tiny office in Corvallis, Oregon :

Chitra Divakaruni  *  Jean Hegland  *  Barbara Kingsolver  *  Ursula K. Le Guin

Not to mention the fact that, self still gets royalty checks for Ginseng and Other Tales From Manila, self’s first book, which Calyx published almost 20 years ago. Truthfully, if not for that book, self doesn’t know what would have happened to her. To her life, she means.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

Self’s Review of Two Books on Burma

On-line now, self’s review of two new books about Burma:

  • Justin Wintle’s Aung San Suu Kyi biography, Perfect Hostage
  • San San Tin’s memoir, written with Carolyn Wakeman, No Time For Dreams: Living in Burma Under Military Rule

at the Women’s Review of Books website.

Burma: A Clipping and a Poem

When self was in New York, at the end of June, she alternated between reading The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.  Since then, she’s posted about the articles she clipped, over and over.  In particular, self remembers WSJ movie reviewer Joe Morgenstern’s review of “The Hurt Locker.”  (The review was titled “Shock, Awe, Brilliance,” which pretty much sums up self’s own feelings about the movie)

Another WSJ clipping was an article about Burma (which, self’s friend Kyi tells her, is called “Burma” by everyone who knows what’s really going on; only clue-less Western reporters refer to the country as “Myanmar”!)  Since self was writing a review on a biography of Aung San Suu Kyi, she read the article with more than the usual interest.  Among other things, she learned about the new capital city of Naypyitaw, which the reporters described as “four-lane highways that are largely empty, a gems museum with sapphires and a zoo with air-conditioned arctic habitats for penguins.”

Here’s something else:

The divide between Myanmar’s shining new capital, home to much of its military elite, and its commercial capital underscores the failure of a decade of U.S. and European sanctions, efforts to break the country’s military regime by cutting it off from doing business with much of the Western world.  Instead, the country’s leaders and top businessmen have survived and even thrived by replacing Western buyers with Asian ones.  Trade with China has more than doubled over the past five years, and sales of natural gas and other resources to Thailand, India and other Asian powers are also growing quickly.  In the process, the regime has only tightened its grip.

The bizarreness of Naypyitaw recalls a poem by Kyi May Kaung, from her chapbook Pelted with Petals:  The Burmese Poems (Self met Kyi in Berlin, at the same conference where she met Linh Dinh, Teri Yamada, Rattawut Lapcharoensap and so many other wonderful writers)

Rangoon Zoo

The polar bear sat
near its single
factory delivered
2 x 1 1/2 x 1 foot
block of
ice —
dejected bear —
the tropical
heat is killing
the seal in
the rectangular swimming
pool had
a little better
luck —
bear and seal exchanged for
very soon the bear
fed on corn on the cob —
the keepers had stolen the
meat for
their families —
very naturally died —
the otter pool is bereft of swimming and squealing otters and
the tigress — loose skin on bones
must have by now
died —
the same tigress that
in her youth
bit the hand
of the keeper who showing off
too familiarly
patted her
head —
Take that she

Also Reading About Burma

From No Time For Dreams:  Living in Burma Under Military Rule (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers), by San San Tin and Carolyn Wakeman.  San San Tin wrote this after spending several weeks in rural Burma as part of a national “literacy campaign”:

    We find
    coarse food
    broken rice with
    millet and beans

    they ask
    why do you come
    here we have
    only trouble

    we are
    a rutted cart path
    thatched roofs
    filtering moonlight

    they tell us
    life is hard

Staring Into the Maw

Once again self is showing up at a splendiferous family gathering — solo. Son declined to drive north for uncle and aunt’s 50th wedding anniversary, tonight, and a few hours ago hubby declared he was really too fatigued to make it, and so that leaves self having to stiff-upper-lip it all the way. This morning Dearest Mum called bright and early to ask self to bring a set of evening bags for her aunts and cousins (as if self has a plethora of those lying around), and self was so overwhelmed with the idea that she might be expected to wear an evening gown that she copped out and is now Read the rest of this entry »

A Poem for Burma (with an Update)

This morning, self watching CNN: At a press conference, Burma’s ex- Prime Minister is appealing for more aid.

But this morning brought the news that the current leaders of (so-called) Myanmar have refused to allow in USAID workers, with resulting widespread confusion and dismay.

Yesterday, self’s friend Kyi sent her this poem. It is by Ko Ko Thett, who was born in Rangoon in 1972. His studies at Rangoon Institute of Technology were cut short following his involvement in the December 1996 student uprising. He left Burma after a spell of detention in July 1997. In Bangkok, he worked for Burma Programme at the Jesuit Refugee Service-Asia Pacific until his resettlement in Finland in December 2000. As an independent researcher, Ko Ko Thett has taught, written, and commented extensively on Burma since 1999. As of 2008, he is reading peace and conflict studies at the University of Helsinki, while keeping his dream of return alive.

Nargis Cyclone

The storm struck at dawn.
Blow, blew, blown!
I was thrown into a space unknown.
As I float, my body begins to bloat.
Am I swimming among a million corpses?
A million of my compatriots?
I hear women wailing on the shore.
Is it the muted weep of dying children
I’ve never heard before?

Ko Ko Thett

* * * *

In other news today, 10 May 2008, the ruling junta in “Myanmar” has stooped to a new low: Myanmar’s military regime distributed international aid Saturday but plastered the boxes with the names of top generals.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

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