Ju’s a best-selling novelist: author of over 19 novels and over 60 short stories (she says this is a minimum guesstimate). She’s also the founder of Ju Foundation, an environmental group that was involved in the Myistone Dam protests, funded with the proceeds of her books. Plus she’s unmarried and supports a family of 11 kids – her brother’s and sister’s, I think.

Superwoman, no? But the truth is that after Ko Tar she’s a breath of fresh air, because she’s so refreshingly human.
Ju: Actually believe it or not, I don’t like Powerpoint. I hate Powerpoint presentations, but I do it in case you don’t hear my English words.
Sure, she gave us some touchy-feely stuff about her love of art, the pollution of the Ayeyarwady, orphans of Hurricane Nargis healing their trauma through drawings, and her mother’s songs about black-blue-and-white pigeons. 
Ju: The little sound of fluttering wings of a dragonfly teaches me to touch it very carefully so as not to hurt it.  This too is art.
But then she started talking about gender.
Ju: I don’t hate men. I like them as friends and as my boyfriends. But I don’t like get married. I don’t want them to be my husbands.
She’s seen as a feminist writer, ‘cos she writes about women’s education, women’s independence, especially in rural areas where there’s little access to learning for girls. She’s a speaker for the silent, telling the tales that her patients and friends are too scared to reveal themselves.

Yet she denies that she’s a feminist.
Julie Tolentino: You write about women, you love women, why don’t you call yourself a feminist?

Ju: I am not as strong as a true feminist. Some time in the past, a young boy was like, “Madam, please sit.” And I took his place happily. So I don’t think I’m a feminist! I took his offer and said, “Thank you very much.”

Julie: It’s okay to be a sitting down feminist!
Oh, but she struggles with her womanhood sometimes.  For example: ladies aren’t allowed to touch the gold leaf of the most important pagodas in Myanmar, never mind that it was a princess who caused the construction of Shwemawdaw and a queen gave her weight in gold to gild Shwedagon.
Ju: Sometimes I think I am too feminist. But sometimes I want to touch Buddha’s toes and his robe by myself. Sometimes I want to touch it. So sometimes I go to see the Trustees’ Committee, and when they are not looking at me I touch it. Just to see. What it feels like when I touch my lord Buddha. Just for a minute. That thin gold leaf.
Then there’s the government: the military dictatorship’s been so testosterone-heavy that Myanmar got its first female minister just last year, in 2012.
Ju: I have to tell you about my situation of hardness. I gave a talk at a military event. I was there with another four writers, men. And I didn’t have the right to sit next to my colleagues, because I was a woman.

They said, “Oh Siam Mat, your place is over there.” And I said, “Why can’t I sit with my colleague?”

“Because you are woman.”

It was not a military building. It was a town hall building, and the talk was sponsored by the military.

But everybody was waiting for me to sit. So I gave up. If I didn’t give up, they wouldn’t be able to start the ceremony. So I had to sit with all the wives of the generals.
Speaking of politics, she’s been extremely alarmed by efforts to expunge General Aung San from the historical record. Kids over the past ten or twenty years haven’t learned about him in school.    
Ju: I asked one girl, “Do you know why July 19 is Azani Nei (Martyrs’ Day)? She said it was the day the rock singer Azani was born!

And last month I asked a first film student, “You know General Aung San?” “He is the son of Aung San Suu Kyi.”

Oh my god! What’s happened to my country?    
What indeed? Don’t worry, Ju – you’re not the only one asking herself that question these days.
 


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