Big Fish

Over the long Thingyan holiday, I spent a week in Ngapali in a village about seven minutes’ walk from the beach.  We hung out mostly at a beachfront gallery along the stretch made up of temporary cafes, where the municipal government leases out space on a public beach on an annual basis for a small sum of money.

Despite its natural beauty, my Ngapali trip was a touch melancholic. There was a severe lack of public beach area for the locals to enjoy.  Most of the beautiful property, and even the surrounding hills are already in private hands, but without any investment put in place.

My host, a Kachin businesswoman based in Ngapali, showed me the immigration checkpoints from one township to another, even within a small territory of one state, Rakhine.  Our market visit in Thandwe began with two prominent signs at the entrance, marked with “969” symbols.

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Insignificant Others

Parami is a Burmese word derived from Sanskrit roughly meaning talent, aptitude or recollection of a past knowledge.

In Buddhist literature, Parami describes ten sets of skills or virtues, or the inherent aptitude for ten personality traits.  Patience, for example, is a virtue, or a type of Parami.  Some people are naturally more patient than others, but you can learn to become more patient even if it does not come naturally to you at first.

For those who are more familiar with the Western philosophy, Parami can be closely understood as the virtue described in Plato’s Meno, where Meno begins discussion by asking Socrates if virtue can be taught at all.  One idea that stands out to me – or something that comes to my mind at 3AM like right now! – is that Socrates responds to Meno by saying that virtue is a form of knowledge or wisdom you can acquire through recollection, made possible by dialog.  My high school made me read this document as the first assignment to highlight that class discussions, rather than lectures, are critical to learning.  To a young mind, I loosely understood the Buddhist idea of Parami as Plato’s description of the recollection of skills, knowledge or wisdom that is already in one’s possession.

Traditional Buddhist literature often goes on to describe a significant other or a soul mate as a “Parami PyaePhat” – one that complements or hones your Parami.  Your significant other complements you, not because you are broken and need to be fixed, but because by interacting with you, he or she challenges you and helps you grow, bringing out the best (the virtues) in you.  The right partner should make you want to become a better person.  If your partner talks during movies and you have come to make peace with it, your partner has essentially helped you grow your virtue of patience!  You are a better person for it!  (Which by the way is the reason I talk during movies, to make you a better person.)

This is a lovely concept.

In traditional Jartaka stories, men with successful and heroic endeavors often have their female cohorts, often blended to the background and described as “Parami PyaePhat.”  In modern times, you still see this concept at work.  Sheryl Sandberg tells women to choose their life partners wisely, quoting a study of women in the Fortune 500 List crediting their partners’ support as a critical element in success.

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From Mark’s Facebook Status

In modern relationships, people sometimes choose careers and push love to the back burner from time to time.  Trade offs – temporary or permanent – have to be made.  Our lives are so mobile these days that I would be hard pressed to name any individual who has never experienced some form of long distant love.  It’s simply part of the package.  In 2016, “I am not fit for long distant relationships” has replaced “I am not fit for a committed relationship.

When a couple manages to stay together and goes on to achieve great things together, they are “Parami PyaePhat” to each other.  Like the ones pictured on the cover of Time Magazine.

In this sense, if a couple has to sacrifice the union to achieve individual goals, isn’t it essentially a negative Parami by way of supporting each other’s goals in absentia?  You are doing your partner a favor by not being together.  Just like Madeleine and Leonard in Jeffery Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot.  That is the love story of our generation.  

So, make it count.

Travel Perspectives – Bagan, Myanmar

Nietzsche said that there are no facts, only interpretations.

That is the sentiment Bagan reminds me of.  Visits to the ancient ruins of Bagan year after year make me realize how I have palpably changed.

Bagan is heralded as the epitome of the Burman national superiority in Myanmar.  The military draws its inspiration from Bagan heroes, proudly placing their statues as a backdrop in official ceremonies.  When I was a young kid, I was told that there was nothing quite like Bagan anywhere else in the world.  I was told that Angkor Wat was great, but it was just one temple.  Bagan is all other civilizations combined and on steroids.

Then we travel to places and read books outside of classrooms only to find out that my childhood teachings have been a lie. Continue reading

Katsudon for the Win

By now, you must have seen pictures of Myanmar’s Election Fever from yesterday on papers and social media pages.

I cannot stress how big yesterday’s election was for Myanmar.  People all over Myanmar and abroad turned up to cast votes for the first time in 25 years, and many of these people voted for the very first time in their lives.  Yangon was a wonderful sight.  After people cast their votes in the morning, massive crowds gathered in front of the NLD headquarters in the evening to watch the live counting shown on huge LED screens.

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