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.

Economy of Reputation

They say knowledge is power.

Knowledge about someone is in some ways power over them. Knowledge over a situation gives you the power to make a more informed decision. Information helps you make more strategically sound moves in a game. In this case, this blog – no matter how small the readership is – is power over me. I am exposing myself, am I not? Why then am I building my own case of vulnerability on the web? I am handing you – neatly anonymous behind your screen – the power to mock me. So mock me, if you wish.

At least, this attempt right here allows me to construct my own narrative, don’t you think? It gives one a small opportunity to express and believe in one’s own agency in some vague way.

Yangon business community is tiny. Personal and professional boundaries are often blurred. There are five or six bars people frequent to. You cannot help noticing some people even if you wish them a chance at their privacy and bear you the burden of knowledge. But Yangon does not work that way.

Therefore in Yangon, any attempt to take a stand (be it contemporary art or sailing) or be in public limelight is self-exposure to endless mockery. This is particularly true when you are higher up the social chain, as is the case with Ivan Pun and Carl Moe Myint in yesterday’s article in Wall Street Journal, titled “Meet the New Rich … In Myanmar,” written with every bit of condescension and sensationalism behind the author’s veiled attempt to highlight the entrepreneurial ventures of the two Myanmar princelings.

Responses are amusingly varied. Some beg the public to stop sharing the article because they believe the WSJ article is a publicity stunt calling for investors by Ivan and Carl. Some talk about how trickle-down economy does not work. Some note the growing wealth divide and resentment in new Myanmar.

Yet, you will notice that Ivan and Carl come from two reputable families off the sanctions list, compared with their peers who are banned from doing business with American companies. Both fathers are self-made businessmen rising to wealth from average backgrounds, hence the “New Rich.” Notably, Ivan and Carl are also younger brothers pursuing their own ventures separate from their fathers’ vast business empires, unlike their respective older brothers. They two are also easily accessible, hanging out at Mojo and Gekko, the same bars where the WSJ author critiquing Ivan and Carl’s wealth hangs out at on weekends in Yangon.

It is also hilarious that WSJ makes a point to comment that there is fast internet availability in Ivan’s Toyota, as if it is the most luxurious thing in the city where 52% of car owners drive Toyotas. And Carl is often seen hailing a cab after a night out. If WSJ’s intention is to critique the rising level of conspicuous consumption, there are far better suited candidates out there, refusing to speak to media at the suggestion of their highly paid PR firms. You will never hear about their shindigs. Now people are suddenly talking about a Wealth X report that came out a year ago. Trust me – there is no shortage of conspicuous consumption in this city, but probably not these two. The two heirs WSJ picked on simply make a low hanging fruit because they put themselves out there. I would feel cheated if I were them.

Does anyone ever hear about Asia World these days, admittedly the largest client to Bell Pottinger in Myanmar? Yangon chatters circulate news of Bell Pottinger staff walking into a local newspaper and asking them to never write about their client, because they are going through an image reform. I bet they will never let their clients speak to WSJ, for smart reasons.

Reputation, often imbued with vulnerability and self-exposure, is a double-edged sword, at the end of the day. It is what people associate with you and talk about when you are not in the room. Disclosure and self-exposure often land you in tricky situations, yet align you with those having similar values, for better or for worse.

Motto for Thingyan

Thingyan is coming right up in a week.

There are all these party stages in my neighborhood, and the permission to build one mandat costs between US$ 15,000 if you have connections to US$ 25,000 if you are anybody. This is Myanmar after all!

I have seen the state of water quality in Inya Lake. So you will not see me anywhere near those parties during Thingyan. Time to hide out somewhere.

Happy New Year!

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Serial Monogamist

Winter in Yangon!

It is 63 degrees this morning! SIXTY THREE. No more rain and flooded streets. Yangon is gorgeous when it wants to be.

This week, I’m truly a free woman. FREE woman. Just to top things off, today is the day to claim my free tenth coffee at Bar Boon downstairs from my office, after I have purchased their coffee at exorbitant prices for the past nine times. Love it when things work out like that.

Today, I want to write about boys. Through the lens of an ambitious, heterosexual female.

Length of breakup negotiations: This really cute baby was born around the same time of my breakup.
Been a lifetime: This really cute baby in his sailor outfit was born around the same time of my most recent breakup.

When you are in early twenties, it’s easy to dismiss boys as unimportant or trivial. There is still graduate school to worry about, and you’re still learning the ropes at your workplace. Yet, at a time when Myanmar is going through a historic transformation, the society as a whole is changing. When it comes to dating, there is more than one protocol to follow for us Burmese ladies, and we’re getting pickier than to say yes to someone your parents ask you to. Arranged marriages are falling out of fashion and yet we also do not yet openly discuss dating with your parents – at least my family does not.

So amidst this change and confusion, where do we look to for guidance and advice when it comes to boys?

But we are not alone in feeling clueless.

David Brooks of New York Times comments that “[Society] is structured to distract people from the decisions that have a huge impact on happiness in order to focus attention on decisions that have a marginal impact on happiness. The most important decision any of us make is who we marry. Yet there are no courses on how to choose a spouse.”

Even if marriage isn’t your end goal and you are focused on your work, new studies suggest that you should not underestimate its role.

Upon one of the many long rural car rides, my former boss Jim Taylor of Proximity Designs, memorably said that my career trajectory will inevitably change depending on my life partner. Then, Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and the most badass woman alive ever, has popularized the idea that “the single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is.”

WHAT?!

And remember, Sheryl is not talking about hypergamy. Marrying up has lost its cool in 2013, as this Financial Times piece aptly articulates. Out with hypergamy, and embrace equal relationships. Grab this book written by Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober to hear their research on how to get to 50/50.

Lean In
Defining Decade

While Sandberg tells you to remember the professional impact of your pair-bonding decisions, Dr. Meg Jay tells you to be intentional about your love life as you are with work and get out of relationship ruts.

She says that most of today’s twenty-somethings grew up in broken families and unhappy marriages so we tend to be skeptical of this institution, but Dr. Meg Jay claims that marrying late is not necessarily marrying better. Did you know that statistics show that divorce rates stabilize once the age of marriage hits 25? Some of us don’t want to get married next year but it’s never too early to becoming aware of what you would make you happy ten years down the line.

Of course my mother prefers for me to date one person and marry him, like she has done and like so many Burmese men and women aspire to. Lucky for them. When my mother gets freaked out about my dating decisions, this is what I repeat to her from Lean In:

When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is to date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious.

If that’s what you want.

After a month in Arequipa

Currently Reading: Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa.

I am slightly suffering from xanga nostalgia. My old xanga account still receives regular visitors even though I have stopped writing for months now. WordPress is always empty. Basically, I am torn between my desire to keep my thoughts away from people and my tendency to share, discuss and network.

Last night, I went to a salsateca club on Dolores. Caroline’s friends from UNSA and about seven of us danced till almost 1:00 am. So far, I have never been to a club or a dance class without hearing them play Calle Ocho! Clubs on Dolores are more socioeconomically diverse, unlike Forum, the nicer club in El Centro, the central district. Each day, I love Latin America more and more. Like in La Zona in Quito, Dolores was packed with young and old folks clubbing relentlessly.

When I applied for the study abroad program, my school had warned the students to be careful with the way we dress because Arequipa is a fairly conservative city. When I arrived, I had culture shock, not because Arequipeños are conservative, but because they are by far more open than Rangooners. Peruvians seem to be a lot more comfortable with ways of living that will definitely shock my Asian grandmas. That also happens to be exactly what I love about Latin America. Unlike in the States, Peruvians have a solid cultural identity. Unlike in Myanmar, the social rules here in Peru are a lot less suffocating and a lot more direct.

There is also very little concept of planning here. My host mom would knock on my door five minutes before she decides to invite me to a birthday party, for example. I can easily deal with polychronic cultures here in Peru probably because I am only taking one Davidson level class and having a lot less homework. It’s so much less stressful than taking Michael Branch’s class and Dr. Crandall’s International Political Economy classes within the same semester.