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No Women Here

In light of the recent rounds of news revealing Myanmar society’s attitude towards women and womanhood (see: umbrella story here and new legislation here), I am compiling a collection of all the places in Myanmar where I am not welcomed just because I am a woman (sometimes, even when dogs are).

In a country where men feel embarrassed to show respect to a senior female politician, I am sure that there will be more of these signs, and I will keep updating this entry for sure.

Hpaan

Hpaan

Pyin Oo Lwin

Pyin Oo Lwin

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Do you think Buddha minded this? Sure, certain proximity towards someone vowed for celibacy may turn inappropriate or uncomfortable for the person. But in ordinary encounters, is it still relevant for women and men to sit in hierarchy at ceremonial places? Is spirituality reserved only for men? What is this? I do not understand.

Vanity Lessons

There is this one passage from a novel read last year, and I have forgotten about it for a long time, until now.

As is the case with every other society, certain segments of Yangon can be a bit like descriptions from such novels, despite the fictional setting in Canada almost a century ago.  Indeed, the basic rule of the game remains the same – no matter the gender – and can even be found in business contexts, except that the modern, professional version of rules takes a different format.  Ever wonder why $3,000 suits exist?  Newsflash: It’s not just the thread count. Or that time when someone at work said to me, “Never split the bill, because it says you do not have money. Always take care of the bill, or let the other party take care of it,”  At another time, someone more senior than me advised me to wear diamonds and not pearls because “pearls are weak,” as I drew up a plan to handle workplace bullying.

Like it or not, vanity lessons have always been an essential part of human societies.

So I actually chuckled when I read this passage for the first time last year:

…Winifred had insisted on these outfits.  She said I’d need to dress the part, no matter what my deficiencies, which should never be admitted by me.  “Say you have a headache,” she told me.  “It’s always an acceptable excuse.”

She told me many other things as well. “It’s all right to show boredom,” she said.  “Just never show fear.  They’ll smell it on you, like sharks, and come in for the kill.  You can look at the edge of the table – it lowers your eyelids – but never look at the floor, it makes your neck look weak.  Don’t stand up straight, you’re not a soldier.  Never cringe.  If someone makes a remark that’s insulting to you, say Excuse me? as if you haven’t heard; nine out of ten they won’t have the face to repeat it.  Never raise your voice to a waiter, it’s vulgar.  Make them bend down, it’s what they’re for.  Don’t fidget with your gloves or your hair.  Always look as if you have something better to do, but never show impatience.  When in doubt, go to the powder room, but go slowly.  Grace comes from indifference.”  Such were her sermons.  I have to admit, despite my loathing of her, that they have proved to be of considerable value in my life. 

Atwood, Margaret. The Blind Assassin. New York: Anchor Books, 2000, pg. 235.

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Optimism 

Artist: Thar Gyi
Venue: River Art Gallery #2 at Chindwin Chamber on 38th and Strand

More sophisticated art viewers may perhaps scoff at the title of Thar Gyi’s solo exhibition, “My Past, My Self” for being too obvious, or too simplistic.  But to a more literal audience like myself, these self-evident titles at contemporary galleries are definitely a guiding star.

The sassy owner of this beautiful gallery, Gill explains in front of a similar frame as pictured above, how the artist is really celebrating the heritage and his roots, through the impeccably hand-drawn paint strokes and the mirrors, literally mirroring and reflecting the self, whether it’s a viewer or the artist, or the coalescing of the elements.

Shades drawn under the heavy paint at the bottom of the painting signify our ancestors, Gill explains.  Stepping on the shadow of ancestors, the modern being celebrates life, with joy seeping, again, literally out of the charts.

This lighthearted interplay of paint and materials make for a refreshing change of topic seen in today’s Yangon art scene, where art highlighting class differences, political figures and poverty dominates, especially given the sudden relaxation of censorship in the formerly authoritarian country.

These are very serious and noteworthy topics, do not get me wrong.  But at a time when Yangon is divided between progress and retreat, student protesters and police, the rich and the poor, and the business community and those who want to preserve Yangon the way it is (all good and bad), I welcome this joyous celebration of faith, humanity, family and heritage.

There is still optimism in today’s Yangon.

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