[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index ][Thread Index ]

Daw Suu's Letter from Burma #9

Mainichi Daily News, Monday, January 22, 1996

"New Year notes"

Letter from Burma (No. 9) by Aung San Suu Kyi

	Our family saw in the new year of 1986 with Japanese friends in a small
town in the vicinity of Kyoto, in fact on a hillside overlooking Lake Biwa.
The last evening of 1985 was clear and mild and we all walked leisurely down
to a local temple discussing, among other innocuous subjects, the beauty of
fireflies.  At the temple we waited until midnight, then joined in the
ringing of the /joya no kane/.*  The sound of the bell floating out through
the velvety night seemed to me an assurance that the coming year would be an
exceptionally happy one.  And indeed 1986 was a most pleasant year, even
though it began with a slight domestic upset in our friends' household.
	Noriko, our hostess, had asked her husband, Sadayoshi, to take charge of
the /o-mochi/ (rice cakes) baking in the oven.  Sadayoshi, a typical
academic who found it difficult to give to anything so mundane as cooking
the meticulous attention he brought to research, failed to check regularly
on the o-mochi, with the result that the beautiful rice dumplings were
slightly charred.  Now, Noriko is an excellent cook who accepts nothing
short of perfection in her kitchen.  Once shopping with her at Oxford I had
been awed by her majestic demeanor at the butcher's.  She asked for veal and
the butcher asked which cut she required.  "The best," she replied serenely.
Then she asked for steak, and when the butcher inquired what kind of steak
she would like, she again answered, "The best." And so it went on.  For one
such as Noriko, the charred o-mochi was a disaster.  To prove to Noriko that
the slight charring had done nothing to detract from the essentially
comforting texture and flavor of the o-mochi, I ate five.  I like to think
that this act of stamina stood me in good stead through 1986, which was year
of much travel.
	Now, 10 years on, my family and I saw out 1995 in a way somewhat remote
from Lake Biwa, joya no kane and o-mochi.  In Rangoon one does not hear the
pealing of bells at midnight on the thirty-first of December.  It was merely
the tooting of car horns which told us that 1995 was over and 1996 had
begun.  The Burmese in general do not celebrate the beginning of the year
according to the Gregorian calendar, since the New Year according to our
lunar calendar takes place only in April.  Yet here too, as elsewhere
throughout the world, January is a time for renewal and hope, for
resolutions and rededications.
	Perhaps the hopes that fill the hearts of the people of Burma are not quite
the same as those with which the people of Japan look forward to 1996.  For
how many people in Japan would a reasonable price of rice form the core of
their hopes for a happier New Year?  It is long past the days when a
variation in the price of rice meant the difference between sufficiency and
malnutrition to the ordinary Japanese.  Yet there must be many in Japan who
still remember what it was like when it was still a largely agricultural
economy striving to rise above the terrible devastations brought about by
the war.
	A professor of geography in Kyoto explained to me in poetic terms his
emotions as a child growing up in Japan at the end of the war.  He described
a day when an American soldier had appeared at his village in search of
antiques.  He had looked up to the tall stranger and was filled with a
strong awareness of the fact that he, the little Japanese boy, was
ill-nourished and puny and ill-clothed, while the big American soldier was
well-dressed and obviously well-fed.  He recognized the world of difference
between the strong and the weak.  But, the professor told me, all through
his childhood, as he and his family struggled for daily survival, he would
always look up toward the heavens and he knew that behind the clouds was the
	When he was a grown man and Japan had become an economically powerful
country, he went on a field trip to an Indian village.  And one day as he
stood speaking to some Indian villagers he became suddenly aware that he was
well-fed and well-clothed while the villagers were malnourished and poorly
clothed.  He and his countrymen were now cast in the role of the strong.
But, he said to me with a smile, our young people these days, although they
are rich and have never known what it was like not to have enough to eat,
they do not look up toward the heavens, they do not care whether there are
clouds or whether there is a sun behind them.
	I do not know how may Japanese people would share the views of this gentle
professor of geography.  But I think many people in Burma will recognize the
instinct that makes us look up toward the heavens and the confident inner
voice that tells us that behind the deeply banked clouds there is still the
sun waiting to shed its light and warmth at the given hour.
	The beginning of a new year is a time when we all like to turn our faces
towards the heavens, when we look to our friends all over the world to join
us in our quest for light and warmth.

* /Joya no kane/ is the ringing of the temple bell 108 times; each toll is
thought to protect us from one of the 108 sins or other evils to which we
might fall victim during the coming year (I think).
				-- C. Schlenker