MYANMAR NOW - A Photo Exhibit by Kinue Imai Weinstein
By Paramus Post Friday, February 01, 2013, 02:34 PM EST
Opening Reception: Tuesday, January 22, 6-8 pm
Place: Gallery of Graphic Arts Ltd.
1601 York Avenue (84/85)
New York NY 10028
Myanmar: Land of Optimism and Beauty
I studied Burmese at the Osaka University of Foreign Studies (presently Osaka University) as an undergraduate but never had a chance to practice it or visit Myanmar (formerly known by its English name, Burma) until 1998.
When I spent 4 days in Yangon for the first time, I was astonished by the people’s friendliness, politeness, and positive attitude despite the repressive military government and harsh living standards. Because of the country’s economic underdevelopment, the place looked as if it should be plagued by crime, violence, and lack of education. But in fact, I felt very safe and comfortable traveling alone in Myanmar as if I were in a familiar middle class neighborhood in the U.S. or Japan. How can people be so nice and maintain so many middle-class values in such poverty? Quickly, I realized that the Burmese are not poor at all in their own living standard. The lack of materials wealth has not caused poverty often associated with violence, crime, and lack of education. I observed Burmese parents take care of their children with love, care about their friends and community, and work hard of their jobs. They also read Buddhist scripture and other books. Book stores are found everywhere and people shop bargains on street bookstands.
Since 1998, I have visited the country three more times, traveling from Yangon to Bagan, Mandalay, and Natmauk, the home of General Aung San, who was the hero at the time of the country’s 1948 independence from the British. His daughter, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, is the current leader of the democratic opposition. Gradually, I also found much optimism in the hearts of the Burmese, similar to in the 1960s when people believed if they had an ideal and work hard, things would become better. My upbringing connected me with the Burmese optimism. Some Burmese explain that their optimism is based on the Buddhist teaching in the country where 90% are Buddhists and call it Buddhist contentment. Some say they have no choice but to keep on hoping that things will be better.
I tried to capture the amazing optimism of the Burmese with my camera to share it with you. A Burmese friend of mine said, “We think that keeping anger burns the person.” All members of the opposition political party, National League for Democracy, whom I interviewed firmly stated that they would continue to stick to non-violence, even if the changes they desire would come slowly. Myanmar is going through significant changes since it ended the military government in 2010, having released most of the political prisoners, and permitted the National League for Democracy to run candidates for parliament. Most Burmese whom I talked to found the changes positive and exciting but they are still cautious because the old regime still has money and power. Some point out the superficial aspect of the changes by mentioning the Lapadaungtaung incident, where police “accidentally” injured tens of monks who were engaged in a non-violent demonstration. The consensus among the people I spoke with was that they had no choice but to believe in the future. During a visit to New York last fall, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that the country has reached the starting point of democratization after a quarter century of struggle. She asked the world to watch over the progress.