Wisdom and Loving Kindness. Lessons as taught by Uzin Agga

This is not a Christmas post – but it is a post about Christmas nonetheless. I didn’t plan this one, really, but also here in Myanmar Christmas is all around. Some of the shops along the streets display only clothes in a white and red colour combination and at the big mall they do play Christmas songs and sell plastic christmas trees.

But I was not prepared (okay, by now we all learned that every day I keep being surprised) for my Myanma lesson this day:

Uzin Agga*,  my highly appreciated teacher and friend, started our today’s session with a Bible quotation! And I have to admit it’s not only because my Myanma is still not that good – but also my catholic education has not really helped in recognizing this. Full of enthusiasm – as always – he wrote it down and here it is:

အဆိုိးအားဖင့္အရႈံးမခံနွင့္။ အေကာင္းအားျဖင့္အဆိုိးကိုနွင့္ေလာ့။

                                                          ေရာမၾသ၀ါဒစာ။ ၁၂ :၂၁ (Romans 12:21)

မေကာင္းမႈေရႈာင္၊ ျဖဴေအင္စိတ္ကိုထား။              

                                                           ဗုဒၶ   (Buddha’s teaching)                                  

To extend our dialogue he also added this teaching of Buddha. Both of them say – in different words – that one should continue to do good and conquer the evil in this way.

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Uzin Agga’s lesson of the day

Uzin Aggas teaching is always prominently featured by his enthusiasm and positivity. And now he explains that he enjoys reading bible quotations for their literary style and poetic word usage that is a valuable addition to the Myanma language!

I feel somewhat relieved: Brought up Christian, even though my personal beliefs may differ from the classical canon now, I have internalized Christmas as the time of reflection and gratitude. So, in the past days I went around to my field sites and friends and brought some small presents to show my appreciation and by this bringing in something that is part of my culture as well. Not without asking the typical anthropological self-reflexive questions though: “Is that an okay thing to do?” and what consequences this cultural exchange may have in the short run and for the long term?

But when I think of Uzin Agga’s delight about the beautiful sentences  we read today I try to see the good in things like this, it is possible that they transcend the religious background and bring a little more happiness and peace.

Thank you so much Uzin Agga, for the wisdom and loving kindness (yes, your words) you share with me: the time and effort for the preparation of the sessions and our slow motion mobile communication, your patience in listening to my mistakes repeatedly and your constant encouragement!

Dankeschön!

 

 

*Full name not displayed.

Wisdom and Loving Kindness. Lessons as taught by Uzin Agga

Myanma Apps, Mobile phones and Messaging

There is not a day without using the mobile phone. It’s not necessarily me – but it is everyone around me, too. It is an all-encompassing presence in daily life and in the professional life of the people I talk to as it is in mine.
The preference of oral personal communication is now held up and extended through mobile communication technologies in form of calls. It is perfectly fine to take calls at all times and places, in the office, during conversations, on bus rides and at the pagoda. It seems there is no particular difference to talking to a person next to you physically or virtually.

With the Internet access becoming cheaper during the last year also the usage of messaging apps has increased. Facebook is immensely popular and for most people it even equals the world wide web. It is a primary source of information – at the moment mostly for interpersonal exchange – but at the same time posts that are rumours or propagandistic more than anything else become difficult to differentiate from news.

Now it may seem that my primary research focus has nothing to do with that. I thought of my mobile phone as a necessity of getting into touch and being reachable – the phone number is the first thing that is exchanged wherever I go – so for me it is a part of my equipment. But I have the feeling that there is more to it – it makes me a real person here, someone you can contact on your own initiative and reach anytime. I am happy that in this way the communication is two sided right from the beginning and my idea of an exchange has realized with much less effort than I thought.

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SMS without and with the specific app

But not effortless at all on the technical side: it took quite a while to find out why I cannot write Myanma on my phone or read anything I receive on one of the channels. It’s not like I have no clue about technology – but installing whatever Myanma keyboard or font – no chance. I learned that my phone has a European root and another Asian one is necessary (don’t ask me about exact terms here). But no mobile shop was able to change my phone’s software to be two-rooted.
Finally I went to the Sony store where I was told that no one can do it, not only because the Sony Software is somewhat particular… no exactly my phone model Sony Z3 Compact cannot have this second root in general (at least that is what I understood).
I explained that I really want to read and write on my phone and asked if there is no way around buying a new phone in order to do so?
And tadaa there is! Actually there are many: my phone now has a Facebook for Myanmar app,  a SMS for Myanmar app and a Browser for Myanmar app. So with the help of these I can now communicate in myanma. 

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To make it a little more complicated: not every font works with each app...so it's an accumulation of keyboards now

Unfortunately it doesn’t work for other messengers to that I need to use Facebook all the time. It is my personal skepticism that usually leads me around using it, especially the messenger that wants to access just about everything – but for research’s sake I comprised on that one 😉

So in the field I found several ways how the mobile phone is now used for conducting business and exchanging ideas. Photographs of designs, books with a desired pattern and fabrics seen elsewhere in the world are sent to the local workshops. Ordering fabric, having a first look on the colour combination and receiving the information that you can now come and pick up your fabric that has been in process for around 3 months – all this takes place through mobile communication technologies. Mobile phones have been passing by computers without second thoughts. It is just the way how things have always worked – via direct personal communication,  only that now you can even send pictures. In the domain of the material culture, in this case the production process of fabrics, it would be an error to ignore this important tool and it’s functions and the consequences that arise here from using it. Cutting it short and simple: Demand and supply are connected faster and even more direct without intermediaries.

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How images immediately wander

And not to forget: mobile phones are great calculators, dictionaries and many weavers I visited enjoyed listening to music while at work. In this regard there is another app that I didn’t know earlier but everyone here uses to exchange music and apps: Zapya. I figure it’s popularity has to do with the restricted access to fast Internet to download everything just by yourself. When you exchange data like this, you only need the Bluetooth connection between the handsets.

So in the end, it’s never easy, but people here always come up with a solution.

Myanma Apps, Mobile phones and Messaging

Home and Hospitality

At home everywhere. It’s a matter of course and feels it has two equally important parts. On the one hand there is no hesitation of entering other people’s homes, taking things or even biting off from your sandwich (it’s not that I wasn’t aware of this custom nonetheless it caught me off guard) without asking. And on the other hand as soon as you enter anywhere everyone is eager to make your stay as pleasant as imaginable. Food is served to uneatable amounts, your tiniest hesitation is registered and accompanied by worried questions if there is anything that can be done – and sometimes there is, e.g. I just don’t know how to eat it. So these visits are characterized by generous giving and taking on both sides.

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Tea and Rice Pancakes in Banana Leaf

Also it feels a little strange to eat alone, so I explain myself: I am not used to eating with an audience. So for me there is something I have to get used to before I can really enjoy this part of hospitality.

But I am very grateful for all the lovely people I meet and it definitely makes my work here much easier, I don’t feel as much as an introder as this is a usual habit. Although of course it cannot be denied that I do get some extra attention as a Foreigner.

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As a guest at U Wizas school huge portions are always waiting for me

The immense amounts and variety of drinks and dishes organized and served stay always the same, no matter how often I try so emphasize (and feel bad about it) I cannot eat that much.

After this ritual is completed, everyone is in their normal relaxed mode again and may also take some of the food that is left. This is the part of the visit that I enjoy the most.

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A Myanma Classic: Mohinga

Home and Hospitality

Adventurous Banking

Exploring the local banking system turned out confusing, surprising, stressful and amusing. Sophia was so nice to accompany me again (after several other organizational matters like buying the motorbike) and I am super grateful she still had the patience!

She called beforehand and it seemed to be no problem so we tried Bank number one: KBZ.  After some discussions it turns out they are not so happy that the first 70 days of my One Year-Business Visa are already over and ask to come back in January.

Bank number two is CB,  my curiosity has been raised although I don’t need it urgently – I want to know if it is possible at all.
She refers us to another CB Bank with a foreign office at 81st and 19th street. Once arrived, forms are handed over immediately and Sophia and I are quite surprised. But quickly several matters turn out to be a problem:

1) The local account cannot receive international transfers. But it comes with an ATM card.
2) The international account can receive transfers from abroad but it can only be accessed in person at the bank.
3) Where does the money come from? Some paperwork is needed – even if I don’t plan on transferring my scholarship grant we use this paper as reference. This works but we are told it is not possible to transfer a higher amount than this monthly grant (not that I would at the moment but FYI).
4) The invitation letter that states that I will be in Myanmar for a little longer is needed too. Luckily it’s on my drive so my mobile phone is passed on to several hands before I am asked to send it via email.
5) The same with my Passport.
6) All these documents will go to the head office in Yangon for review. One of us (most likely Sophia) will receive a call in the next days whether that is possible.
7) Everyone in that bank knows pretty much everything about me…but by now I am used to it.

While we were waiting next to us some money stapling took place, so I can see why nobody feels concerned about handing around my passport…

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Surprisingly I was even allowed to take a picture of this while trying to take a picture of a mushroom (that I wanted to show to a local as I didn’t know it) at the supermarket was prohibited.

To open the local account would only take 10 minutes and I can put some money in to have it more easily available and withdraw for free in contrast to keeping the dollars at home (because carrying them around on a daily basis is no option as with the slightest fold it’s gonna be complicated if not impossible to find someone who exchanges them). So we decided that it is useful and those 10 minutes were no big deal to give it a try. In the end it took another hour and I am the proud owner of a cheque book now – something I just know from old movies – at least until I get the ATM card in two weeks time.

In total we spent 3 hours so we really felt for a nice cup of coffee and cake at the new fantastic Nova Café. We just arrived as they called to let us know that everything works out and I don’t even need another foreign currency account to receive money from another account abroad!
We are surprised and delighted about this outcome 🙂

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Thank you a thousand times Mrs. Patience!!!!! 

Adventurous Banking

The Sunflower Gallery in Yangon

This gallery is one of my favorite places in Yangon! Where else to find a jewel like this Acheik silk fabric in all natural dye?! This is the most beautiful and artful piece I have found so far!

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Acheik silk fabric in natural dye

The owner Daw Phyu Ei Thein is not just doing a fantastic job in running this textile gallery with fabrics and products of high quality from all areas of Myanmar – she also follows the concept of a social enterprise. Her aim is the promotion of sustainability at all stages of the production – e.g. by using natural dyes and paying a stable salary to the weavers she works with – in contrast to the usual wage per piece.

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And on top she is a super lovely and knowledgeable person! I would like to give back some of her support in connecting me with others in my particular research area in this form.

You can find the Gallery at:
Sanchaung, Yangon
Shangone St (near the junction Dhammazedi & U Wisara)
No.54, 1st floor

https://m.facebook.com/Sunflowers-Organic-Dye-Textile-Crafts-Shop-1603943643211553/

The Sunflower Gallery in Yangon

Yangon – The Hub

The former capital remains the capital of trade. All threads run together here. So in the past days I visited several places to understand more about the Macrosphere in which my topic is embedded. My teacher of textile analysis from Switzerland is here for a few weeks at the moment so I had the chance of coming along to the weaving workshop that she supports in creating the teaching curriculum and designs. The workshop is specialized in producing fabrics and products for everyday use, like pillow cases, bags and the like. It is beautiful to see how new designs are created here and products developed that you cannot find elsewhere – e.g. mobile phone cases with an integrated business card holder as in Myanmar the exchange of business cards definitely is a thing.
They have a showroom downtown, if you would like to visit let me know and I will pass on the contact details.

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Yangon – The Hub