Highest and Hardest Glass Ceiling

The gendered nature of HRC’s campaign loss at this time around is a painful one.

Here I acknowledge that people have complex reasons for going with different candidates, but there exists a gender dimension to the 2016 election results in America.  Many of my friends cried yesterday at work, and between classes.  The mood this week could be a lot better.

HRC was not a “cool” choice among young people, like Obama was in 2008 when the Hope sticker was a cool accessory on college students’ laptop covers.  But with HRC, even when compared side by side with the scandalous disposition of the current president-elect, people still faulted HRC for her personality, not the policy she has been campaigning for or the public issues she brings up with facts and figures.

This election is a slap in the face.  We mourn, but now we have to move on because there is so much work to do!

To young people in particular, I have as Tim said spent my entire adult life fighting what I believe in. I’ve had successes and setbacks and sometimes painful ones. Many of you are at the beginning of your professional, public, and political careers — you will have successes and setbacks too.

This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.

It is, it is worth it.

And so we need — we need you to keep up these fights now and for the rest of your lives. And to all the women, and especially the young women, who put their faith in this campaign and in me: I want you to know that nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion.

Now, I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but someday someone will — and hopefully sooner than we might think right now.

And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.

Myanmar Memories at TEDxInyaLake

On my birthday, I received a note from a former supervisor and a mentor, in a Tyra-Bank style email as follows.  She had then just gotten the organizer license for TEDxInyaLake.

Your mission May, should you choose to accept it, is to be the Communications, editorial and marketing director of the inaugural TEDxInyaLake event.  In this mission, you lead the creation of a strong online presence of the event, including website content, a blog and social media, and promote the event to the public.

Your additional mission, should you choose to accept it, is to be a Curator as part of the curation team to set topics, select, invite and prepare speakers.

This email will self-destruct in five seconds.

Good luck, May.

A year later, here were are, with TEDxInyaLake videos, just edited and released over the weekend.

Continue reading

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.

History and Her Story: The White Umbrella

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When an elderly man close to political circles saw me with this book, he was not shy to express his disapproval, “That book is so distorted.”  He served in the military for years and seemed to hold contrasting views with me on just about every major issue I could think of.  That’s when I knew this book had to be a gem.  Published 17 years ago, this book deserves a lot more publicity than what it has now.

Throughout my public school years, I did not learn history, only propaganda.

For instance, students are familiar with the national holiday celebrated on February 12th.  When I was in middle school, I remember entering state-sponsored, city-wide essay contests in honor of this Union Day. An official version of the store places Bogyoke Aung San at the center of this event, whereas this memoir presents this event as originating from a discussion among Tai princes of Shan states on how to best prepare for their autonomy upon the British departure.  Aung San was invited as a guest to the Pang Long Conference on Union Day, not its organizer, at the suggestion of student groups in Taungyi.

Yet, the diverse ethnic voices and details of the agreement were never highlighted in my classes.

If you grew up in the nineties in Myanmar, you are also familiar with the Myanmar government’s narrative of “a national unity.”  In the mainstream narrative that centers the majority “Burman” over a diverse multitude of cultures, only unity is a core value, when in fact it is only recently that the country as a whole is ruled with the power concentrating on Rangoon and later Naypyitaw. The British colonialism has been blamed for its “divide and conquer” style, and yet most of the Shan States long enjoyed their own autonomous ways and freedoms, before the British was ever in the picture.

Knowing is a process.  I guess I was sort of always aware of all this, but did not give much thought to this bias until recently, as embarrassing as it is to admit this now.  Only when you travel to Chin, Karen, and Shan States and notice how the local identity is held differently and how they do not buy into the official history, and only when you read books like this, that you painfully realize how the faulty versions of events have been drummed into your head from early on.

This book is perhaps one of my favorites I have come across on the history of Myanmar, which is usually told from the majority Burman assumptions.  This book gives an important perspective to meditate on.  Moreover, Sao has lived a remarkable, badass life!  She was born a Tai princess, became a First Lady of the first modern President of Burma, and later a member of the Myanmar Parliament, a rare feat for a woman in 1950s.  On top of all this, after her husband and  youngest son were killed, Sao went underground and became a leader of Shan State Army in sixties.  Such a strong, feisty woman!

Highly recommended. For more alternate histories of Myanmar / Burma, check out this reading list at GoodReads.

Here, Sao describes her visit to Rangoon under the British rule before Japanese came in.  Yangon / Rangoon is full of remarkable tales.

Sao also occasionally accompanied her husband to Rangoon.  There was a good unsurfaced road to the capital now, though they preferred to travel by train.  It took two days, a slower journey but less dusty and cramped.  When they arrived their schedule typically included state dinners and meetings at Government House, the official residence of the Governor of Burma.  It was a palatial three storey Victorian mansion set in a beautifully tended garden on an ample square of land that stretched all the way from Ahlone Road to the corner of Windsor and Prome.  Alighting from a chauffeured limousine at the mansion’s grand doors, they were greeted by a nine-gun salute, an honor prescribed in the prince’s Writ of Authority.

Government House was not the only building of note.  Under the colonialists, Rangoon had become Southeast Asia’s foremost city.  The new buildings south of the railway station were highly elegant: the Court House, the Port Commissioner’s Building, Grindlay’s Bank, the Bank of Hong Kong and Shanghai, and the Bank of India.  Colonnaded and corniced, the gleaming white facade of the Strand Hotel faced the Rangoon River, where steamers crowded the jetties.  From here, the country’s major exports made their way down the river to the sea.  Burma was the world’s foremost rice exporter.  There was oil, too, carried by pipeline 376 miles from the Yengangyuang fields of north-central Burma, Britain’s largest far eastern oil discovery.

In contrast to the edifices of bureaucracy and finance, the country’s parliament building was a small two-storey building with an unadorned pyramid-shaped tile roof, as plain looking as an army mess hall.  Nearly invisible from Maha Bandoola Street, it sat within the Quadrangle, a square of land surrounded by three wings of the massive Secretariat Building.

Within the Secretariat’s endless corridors, Britain’s Chief Secretary presided over ten Secretaries, three Joint Secretaries, five Deputy Secretaries, nine Under-Secretaries, five Assistant Secretaries, seven Registrars, and a host of support staff of the Indian Civil Service.  They lived by the Secretariat Code, a huge volume crammed with correction slips and addendums.  Their windows overlooked the tiny parliament building, a fitting architectural arrangement.  The Secretariat was the source of the country’s true governance, not parliament.

Not far from the Secretariat was City Hall and Sule Pagoda.  Squat and bulbous, the pagoda sat at the hub of the several busy streets, the widest being Sule Pagoda Road.  From morning till past sunset, the spicy-sweet smell of Indian curries and the garlicky steam of Chinese noodles drifted onto the road.  The restaurants defined Rangoon’s cosmopolitan nature for, above all, this was a city of immigrants: 250,000 Indians and 40,000 Chinese outnumbered the 160,000 Burmese, who were mostly landless laborers.

The British influence skirted Sule Pagoda and traveled like a vein north, following the flame trees of Prome Road past the Governor’s mansion, the Good Shepherd Convent and Girl’s School, the exclusive Pegu Club.  Haunts of the wealthy clustered around the city’s two picturesque lakes – the swimming and boating club on Royal Lake, and the yacht club on Victoria Lake, which the locals knew as Inya Lake.  Between the lakes lay Golden Valley, a suburb of well-built mansions and bungalows.  Just east of Golden Valley, imported thoroughbreds thundered around the Race Course’s grass oval.  In a satellite town beyond the city’s northern limit was Mingaladon International, one of the most modern airports in Asia.

Rangoon was impressive but Sao didn’t enjoy her visits.  She hated the city’s heat; even the water tasted too warm.  At get-togethers, conversation was limited to a bewildering tangle of political gossip; the Burmese parliament had become a nest of corruption, intrigue and racial tension.  Trying to follow all the charges and counter-charges in the newspaper made her head ache.

An Ode to Those Turning 27 This Year

This year, most of my peers are turning 27.

A quick Google search tells you that 27th birthday is a desolate place:

Someone sounds freaked out.

Someone sounds freaked out.

You probably have seen a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother series, which started around our junior year in college.  At the season premier of this show, Ted Mosby starts off at the age of 27.  Like some of us today, Ted at 27 has started feeling anxious to meet his soulmate even though he clearly is not ready to settle down in any way as we later witness in subsequent seasons.  Ted perhaps feels this way especially after his best friend Marshall gets engaged in the very first episode.

Now we are all Ted Mosby-s!  We are 27!

Because I want to know how I am faring in life and what my peers are doing, I looked up some statistics about this unique age although technically, every age is unique in one’s lifetime.

  • Fun fact numero uno.  The official median age of Myanmar, according to its most recent census, is 27.
  • The last time we had a population census, back in 1973, most Myanmar women were already married by 27.  To be exact, about 78% of women my age were married four decades ago!
  • In the United States, 27 happens to be the age an average American woman gets married.
  • If you are a health conscious 27-year-old who is getting hitched this year, you are likely to stay with this partner for another four dozen years, assuming you stay well into your seventies with copious help from salt caves, kombucha tea and quinoa.  That is an awful lot of time to be spending with a complete stranger.  Think about that!
  • Umm…I guess you are probably wishing you are not reading this, but science definitely says that the quality of female eggs measurably declines from age 27 onwards.  Perhaps this explains the earlier cries for help found on Google search engine about turning 27.  But this is the truth: the female fertility peaks at 27.  Our eggs will never be better, prettier, or healthier than they are right at this very moment.
  • According to National Center for Health Statistics (United States), women between 20-59 years of age have had four sexual partners (seven for men, but I think they exaggerate).  I have a lot of opinions about this survey, since the selected age range is too wide for the result to be meaningful at all.  In any case, there is no way to know statistically how many sexual partners Myanmar peers have, especially now that there is this uber conservative law banning sex outside of the confines of marriage, but honestly, how do you think you are faring in this area? Wink, wink.
  • The Atlantic did an article on Today’s 27-Year-Olds, reporting mostly facts which surprise nobody.  About half of 27-year-old Americans are indebted.  College dropouts are more likely to be unemployed.  Likely to be living with parents than roommates. Et cetra.  If you have a job right now, be thankful.
  • However, the same Atlantic article surprised me with the following reports.  Only a third of us have a Bachelor’s degree.  Among all 27-year-old with debts (not confined to student loans), about 55% have debt more than $10,000.  Only fewer than half of us are single.  The majority of Bachelor’s degree holders still report being single (that only means they are not co-habitating or married, but maybe in relationships).  That means that if you are in-between relationships right now or have a Bachelor’s degree without debt, you are “special.”  Add being Myanmar to this equation, and you are probably double, triple or data-unavailable special because (1) most Myanmar youths seem to marry earlier than their American peers reported in the Atlantic article, and (2) there are also fewer university graduates given the average Myanmar person finishes only up to fourth grade.
  • Divorce rates have always been lower for Myanmar women in the past, but I have a feeling that my generation is going to change this.  In the U.S., the often quoted number of divorce rates is 50%.  Conventional interpretation is that half of marriages fail, which is actually not all true.  Most divorce stats get dragged down by those who marry too early.  The stabilizing factor sets in at the age 23-25, while marrying late does not guarantee a more successful marriage either.  At a personal level, I take this to mean that dating decisions this year should not be taken lightly.  Time to get out of relationship ruts before Valentine!  Before you go and book  that table for two at La Carovana!  Do it.
  • Hopefully, we are doing better in life at 27 than people on this site, or at least having as much fun as them!
  • If you are a very, very talented 27-year-old musician and happen to die this year, you will officially be conducted into the Club 27.  Unfortunately, there are not very many perks to this club membership.
  • Random fact: Jon Hamm was dropped by his agency at 27 and could not find any work.  Jon Hamm, of all people!  At 27.
  • Finally, I am going to again mention Dr. Meg Jay’s Thirty is not the New Twenty.  Her book The Defining Decade should be a pre-requisite life reading for any recent graduate!  According to this school of thought, turning 27 = having three more years of focusing on things we want to work on about ourselves.  If we want to change anything about ourselves in life, work or love, the time is NOW.

Hello, 2016.  Happy New Year, y’all!  Wishing you all the best from Italy.  This post has been pre-scheduled.