Myanmar Art: Kyaw Lin’s Search for Sublime

Color and composition.

These are the two hallmarks of Kyaw Lin’s paintings.  This 40-year-old Laputta-born artist has a penchant for vivid colors, linear lines and structurally sound compositions, giving off a certain nonchalant and cool vibe that stands out in any gallery.

With a borderline obsession for flower vases and indistinguishable fruit – is that a tomato on the chair? …and that other round object resembles a teal green pear yet to be studied by pomologists – Kyaw Lin appears to paint what he sees in his residence every day.

Could you imagine him getting up mid way from reading a book while eating teal green pears from the Kyaw Lin Land and dragging his thick paint brushes across whatever canvas that seems to be lying nearby?  That is the sort of impression, that nonchalant capture of a fleeting moment of joy and beauty from an ordinary day, found in a piece of Kyaw Lin’s art.

This is the type of art I want to see everyday, hung up on my dining room wall for me to stare at and contemplate at every breakfast.

Found at River Gallery.  Artist bio here.

Kyaw Lin Myanmar Still Life 10

Kyaw Lin Myanmar Still Life 10

Kyaw Lin Myanmar Still Life 7

Kyaw Lin Myanmar Still Life 7

Kyaw Lin Myanmar Still Life 4

Kyaw Lin Myanmar Still Life 4

Meet Ko Nyan Lin Aung & Co. – A Family of Pathein Umbrella Makers

When you hit Pathein on your way to Ngwe Saung or Chaungtha beaches, make a slight detour to this umbrella maker to score the best deals and support a traditional handicraft maker directly.

This neighborhood of four or five umbrella-making households send their finished products to as far away as Bagan tourist markets, where a medium-sized umbrella will fetch a good $20, when you can get it at the source for a quarter of the price.  Make sure you bring extra cash.  Even better, call ahead, so Ko Nyan Lin Aung’s family could paint that extra layer of coating on their umbrellas before you arrive.

Aww… he won’t look at our camera. Photo Credit: May Thway

Craftswomanship at her best…

At family house turned umbrella workshop

Photo Credit: May Thway

Cell Phone: +959-422444601

Directions: Go along Mahabandoola Road after a roundabout. Take a right turn at the lane where a statue of senior citizens sits. There is a group of four or five umbrella making households at the end of the lane.

Happy shopping!

“It was the bloody thaw”

Thaw (n) – A very brief positive moment in a troubled romantic relationship often causing individuals involved to get high on the ephemeral goodness and galvanizing them to go all in for higher stakes without directly addressing underlying deep-seated tensions

It was the bloody thaw!” said a woman just coming out of a two-year long divorce process, when asked why she married him in the first place.  “But after the thaw comes a long ice age.

Drinking a warm cup of tea with me at a corner table in Yangon’s Acacia Tea Salon, she did not seem bitter.  She had since landed her dream job, working for a cause that was dear to her.  She was dating someone new and attending swanky parties in town, surrounded by many friends and family.  As if the dissolution of a 20-year marriage were not enough hurt, the nastiness that surrounded the divorce had left her with financial burdens.  How could anyone be so callous to a loved one?  Yet, there she was, sipping her drink strongly, calmly and parting me with wisdom in the cool ambiance of a Yangon winter night.

It was a love marriage for them, each ticking the other’s check boxes at the time.  Issues which finally led to their downfall were always there.  The couple was cognizant of them, and yet they were genuinely in love and didn’t dwell too long on these signs.  Communications and more commitment would straighten out the differences in time, she had thought.  I have heard of women in troubled unions choosing to have more kids, hoping this would soothe the differences.  I have heard of people moving in together to resolve issues, or getting married to fix a particular kind of tension.  We always live in such different realities, yet in this particular case, more commitment was not the answer.

With the benefit of the hindsight, she admitted to having picked the wrong filter: these check boxes thought to lead to the kind of companionship desired.  The fluff changes over time.  You change.  Your parents change.  Twenty years later, she says that the only critical check box is if, behind all the fluff, your partner is still kind to you and can remain empathetic in times of conflict and disagreement.  Your partner maybe a great parent, a wonderful boss, and a kind neighbor.  But the real personality that counts is not how the person presents him/herself to the outer world, but how he/she relates to you intimately and internally.  The personality X is the one that matters.

I really needed to hear this insight from a more experienced Burmese cosmopolitan woman who was modern and professionally-driven.  We tend to be complicated beings.  In her case, at the time of marriage, she had felt she needed her husband to be “Burmese” in certain ways – to be able to taste ngapi, wear a longyi, or exude a certain kind of Burmese charm – to get along well with her parents.  But as she learned 20 years later, your Burmese parents only want you to be happy in the long run.  This is the kind of checkbox to be pondered with more care, depending on the larger context.  Probably “nice to have” but not critical.

Oh, my mentor lady adds.  Your partner also needs to be comfortable with himself.

To summarize,

  • Does your partner remain kind and empathetic to you in times of conflict?  What happens when you say no?  Do you act kind to your partner when you disagree with him/her?
  • Is he/she comfortable in his/her own skin?
  • Personality X is the one that counts.
  • Fluff changes over time, rethink your “filter,” develop your romantic intuition.
  • Be mindful of the “thaw.”  Throwing in more commitment will not fix underlying tensions.

I have felt an immense level of gratitude that she sat down with me to discuss her divorce, something so personal, and took time to warn me against the dangers of picking wrong filters.  Prior to this tea, I had only recently reconnected her at a birthday party, and we met through a work assignment when I was a summer intern.  She did not need to tell me about her divorce, but she did, and it gave me some guidance to questions I was grappling with as a professionally-driven Burmese woman in mid-twenties.

In my twenties, I do not know what I do not know.  I have not seen enough of the world or people.  The best anyone can do in their twenties is to find a fine balance between being intentional about relationships, coming up with meaningful check boxes, and not getting too hung up, too dogmatic about them all at the same time.

Happy Valentine!

Also, I have started a new tradition to donate to a cause of choice in honor of or in tribute to all former lovers during Valentine Week.  Join me.

The Taste of America, with Penkman’s prints

I am a huge fan of Joel Penkman.

Her images are minimalistic and impactful. The content she works with serves as a quiet statement of everyday changes that have accrued over time to become part of a different being.

Her new set of 125 prints were used in the relatively new book The Taste of America by Coleman Andrews, who is better remembered (to me) as one of Ruth Reichl’s former lovers.

America, I miss you a ton these days.

Or rather, eighteen months is a long time to be living in one city. I am growing roots and settling down now here. This is becoming my life.


Five Yangon bars where you run into people who recognize you or who you recognize. This same coffee shop. Regulars to a handful of different cafes where waiters know you and your father, even though you are nobody big. The same route, with the same traffic. The urban tribes, and the tribal mentality. The incestuousness of tribal dating in a city of six million residents. The bling. The lack of anonymity, without the benefits of fame. This un-inspiration.

But the political scene is dynamic, economy is interesting. New things unfold everyday. The landscape changes every morning. New constructions. Old buildings. The fluidity. This flow of information. That fear of missing out. The drug to sooth the relentless curiosity. A cat.

Have your art and eat it too…

Living in Myanmar means you find out about these things a month too late.  But the pastry chef of the Blue Bottle Coffee Company at SFMOMA, Caitlin Freeman recently published a new recipe book that seems to have been a bit of a sensation.

I wasn’t surprised, however, to find out that her initial inspiration came from none other than Wayne Thiebaud. She named one of her earliest items on her menu in his honor and spoke of him as follows: “I wasn’t really sure what I loved about [Thiebaud’s painting], but I really just became obsessed with cakes.


Thiebaud’s Cakes 1963

Freeman’s Cakes 2013

This is what Freeman has to say at the end of the project:

Throughout this process, I’ve realized there are some things you simply can’t plan for.  I never would have predicted that I’d be making these modern arts desserts years ago, so I’m just letting things happen as they may.  You have to be open to waiting and seeing what comes.  The most amazing things that have happened to me are things I didn’t push or plan for.