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Right. This is a series of interviews with experts on Asian affairs designed to strengthen our understanding of Asian people and ideas. Your host on this transcribed series is the noted author around award winning broadcaster Lee Graham. Here now is Mrs. Graham. The country of Burma has been described by many people as the most asian of the Asian countries in that it has clung most closely to its national culture. Perhaps one of the reasons is the fact that many people have not visited Burma because it has not been that open to the west and not been that open to tourists. But in recent months it has come about that one can now get a visa to Burma not only for a few days but one can extend it in some instances as long as two weeks. So if you have two weeks and you want to go to Burma you may see some surprising and wondrous things to tell us more about this and discuss how Burma plays a role in today's Asia. We have a guest on this program Lionel Landry.
Some of you have met Mr. Landry before and perhaps you are aware of the fact that he is an important official in the Asia Society. He is the executive vice president. But before he assumed that position he served in American embassies in Asia notably Burma and Indonesia is written a book about Burma called the Land and People of Burma. And he first of all I think most important of all is the fact that his wife is Burmese and so that gives him perhaps an insight into Burma which many people would not have. He has lectured on Burma in several universities and even lectured at the University of Rangoon in Burma. Mr. Landry How did it happen that one can now spend more time in them if one so desires. The regime the military regime of General Ne when for reasons of its own has decided to extend visas from the 24 hour maximum limit which was in force up until. Number of months ago. Then
two more tourists to come man. I'm not sure what their reasoning was but we all welcome the fact that they are letting more people there. What is the government like. Since 1962 a military dictatorship with a state idiology of nationalist socialism has been in power. It overthrew the parliamentary regime of whom you probably remember as a very well noted Buddhist layman and imposed its own kinds of state regulations on the economy and to a certain extent on people's lives. The idea was through what Gen Ne Win called the Burmese path to socialism to implement the doctrines of Karl Marx in a way that was consonant with the traditional outlooks of Dharma. I think the military regime in Southfield has done pretty well but there are a great
many others who noticed that the standard of living has been pretty notably depressed in the last seven years. Is that the reason why the government of Burma has decided not to accept any foreign aid from the United States but rather accept whatever aid it does get from the Eastern European or communist countries. It's a funny thing about Burma. When Burma closes itself off it closes itself off from everybody. They do remain in this respect not necessarily oriented toward the communist countries or the free world in terms of their foreign policy. They accept aid on terms that they can approve of. But. Sparingly from everybody. There's a small aid program in military affairs still functioning in Rangoon but it's a very very minor technical aid from China the People's Republic of China and from some of the European communist bloc still goes on but foreign aid
is not much of a factor in Burmese economy really. So I mean is it true that because the country could use more money it is not doing as well economically as it would like you. Which seems to apply to almost everybody these days. But anyway in Burma the fact that they could use more money is that the reason why tourism has been invited. It may very well be one of the factors as I say the decision to open the country up again although sparingly still may have had some economic reasoning behind it. My feeling is though that you don't look necessarily for logical reasons for a great deal of what is done by the state. I ask that because I read in a travel piece and he times it was some months ago about Burma and the author was the Henry cam and Mr Cameron. The things are very expensive for the tours no doubt well worth it. But expensive. As if the government needed the source of revenue.
I think that the expensiveness for tourists or for people people who for one reason or another went to Burma before the extension of the visa period. I always found things very expensive in Burma. Now I think I have to. Clarified by saying that prior to 1962 when the Ne Win regime took over this was not the case but since 1962 things have become expensive and it isn't just since Davey's eyes were extended. I've been as very definitely need of money much of Berman's financing of its activities used to come from the rice crop. But in the last few years the rice crop has yielded smaller and smaller and smaller harvests to the point where now only a fraction of what used to be grown and consumed or exploited continues to be so obviously they need money from other sources but tourism is
not going to make up that much of a gap. Really I think too many people with things like a mysterious and remote place still. Not that many tourists are apt to go but those who are in a position to go would be welcome you. You could say oh yes oh yes the bird wants me next. Yes they have an exquisite sense of hospitality. These are remarkable people. You must know because you have made periodic visits to them. Yes I go back quite often. My wife's family of course lives there and I must say that I'm treated with every consideration that a foreigner could expect anywhere. It was always a treat to go back. Oh since you have travelled quite widely in agent would you say that the very nice people have some special characteristics. Yes I think that they have probably the most open the most spontaneous and in some cases the most wicked sense of humor of anybody in Asia. They're extremely direct in their approach to people and their reactions to people and in their expression of their consideration or lack of it of people
obviously that they're not going to be rude but they are very honest and very forthright. I associate this of course with some of their very ancient Tibetan forebear as we think of the Tibetans as having this set of qualities of jollity and straightforwardness and by contrast with the people around them. You could say that the Bernese have this as a great social gift. I sound as if they are like the people of Denmark who have a marvelous human and directness but I think that it's not that east nor west. Well you know they I suppose a slang name would you say for the Burmese as the Irish of the East I think. And I first I thought it's only because they had given the British a lot of trouble as the Irish have in the West. But it turns out that it's much more because of the delightful sense of humor that they share with the Irish that they have come to be called. This also applies to the women of them in that we of the West
have a misconception about women in the east that they are demure passive subtle if they express their viewpoint it's done gently but I understand from talking to you that the women of Burma have the same directness and they come to the point and express themselves openly. Yes and very clearly. Always with a smile but unmistakably the woman has a very unusual position. By comparison with women in the West in Burma. Before the socialist regime became the government of Burma women ran most of the businesses. If you went inside to buy some pearls or to buy something at a stall in the market you sometimes would be greeted by the man of the household the owner of the stall. He would offer you tea or whatever maybe a Coke or the very nice equivalent of one as you sat down he offered you the hospitality of the house. But when the time came for the bargaining
when you said I'd like this one how much is it cost I'll take these two with etc. you know the way you bargain in the east. The woman always came out and you bargained with her and she was a much harder bargain her than her husband would ever be. In many instances well known families. The women quite apart from what their husband brings in by way of income have businesses of their own with which they supplement the family income. Even women in very very high places the wife of the present head of state and mine ran the restaurant at the airport in Rangoon. I remember when it was considered perfectly honorable and a very good and enterprising thing for her to be doing. That applies to most of the women then of them whether they are educated or not. Yes they try to engage in some activity outside their home. Yes and they're very well fitted for independent and rugged and have a very shrewd sense of business. You know to give you an idea of what
is really a quality. When a Burmese woman marries she keeps her own maiden name throughout life. She does not become someone else's missus. She does not change her name and there's no symbolic change in her identity as a result. You can't get much more equal than that. They sound like the original women's liberation as well. There's a contrast between Burma and other parts of Asia. Let me tell you a story. After I had served in the embassy in Rangoon I was posted with my then new wife to Indonesia. Now Indonesia has some very militant women extremely brilliant women and they were obviously interested in being in the vanguard of securing more rights for women in this predominantly Muslim society. For reasons that I being partial as I am can understand they took a great shine to my wife in the first place they were surprised of course that an American diplomat could have an Asian wife. That was a novelty to them.
But in any case why did that surprise them. I think you know an awful lot of Asians had seen Europeans and by this I mean whites congregating only with whites and treating Asians as second class subjects and thinking that it was perhaps inbred in us not to have much to do with Asians or others. So it did come as I guess a surprise that an official of a foreign government should come in with an Asian wife. It mustn't have been done very often. In any case knowing that she was very nice these ladies would approach her and say well now this is what we're doing. We're trying to change the divorce laws in this country we're trying to reduce the number of wives a man can have simultaneously make sure that women's rights are observed and all that. Then they go on a nice career and what are you fighting for in Burma. My wife was perplexed by this almost constantly. She said well we're not fighting for anything and by money we already have it here. We don't feel that we're discriminated against by the males. Quite the contrary in many many
areas women predominate. And I don't mean just in the home but in business in trade finance commerce and even in university posts there is a very very great feminine influence but more than that a direct top flight female participation and the men of damage don't feel threatened by this. My wife sometimes thought that the men should fight for their rights but the men don't seem to resent the women. You know I suppose if there is an inequality and let's be fair there is a small one it's that it's something that comes out of the Buddhist outlook. Eventually everybody just wants to attain Nirvana. Not before you do that you have to attain Buddhahood you have to become an enlightened one. And the most important step on that path is to become a monk. Now the monkhood which every male must enter into over a part of his life even if it's only a week is not open to
women. Therefore women have to sort of strive to be very good as women in this life so that in a reincarnation in a later avatar they may come back as men and then be able to go into the monkhood and then go on making their progress toward Iran. When one of the basic tenets of Buddhism is that you have to be detached from things of the world. Obviously this means money insurance policies bank accounts big cars flashy houses all live so the pious Buddhist male does avoid these things because this is his one way of getting closer to holiness. But since a woman has a whole further existence to go before she can even become an elf it's perfectly OK for her to do this kind of thing and so that's why she is in business. She tries to help the family fortunes prosper the man dresses in relatively severe clothes nothing very much by way of status indication. But it's perfectly OK if his wife wears sapphires and
rubies and all these things that indicate his status but without his being part of the vain display that would displease the Buddhist authorities. Like many Asian ideas this is most sensible and pragmatic. Well one doesn't have to give up material and materialism altogether. Let it be pursued by the woman who is one step behind the man in achieving Nirvana. Yes I must stress the fact that it's only in this philosophical or Buddhist dimension that the woman is considered to be a step behind the male in every other. She's at least his equal and in more instances then I think most people think about you might be finding traces of an old Central Asian matriarchy still there in these latter day southern descendants of Central Asian Tibetans who make up the. The book you know of Burma's population there side from the one point that you
bring out. I think I could not complain as a Mormon about the vision of women in them. Let me just I want that last thought about this. You have to go back to France now for the source of this but I think it's something here has proved about the wisdom of Burmese men. They're glad to let their women do these things. It's kind of realistic. There's a nice old French proverb that says what woman wants God wants. And I think that Burma is a perfect example of occasion. And this doesn't interfere with the woman's other duties at home because she actually it manages to be a good wife and a good mother. Yes well of course your whole family uncles grandfathers grandmothers and all has a built in to your family so that if you are away either selling fish at the bazaar if that's what you do or holding down an important job in some ministry there's a grandmother or a maiden aunt or a young cousin or someone
in the house all the time to look after the children. You have to look after one another in Burma. And so if you are doing all right and you have some poor relatives they not only expect but you are glad to have them brought into the house and live as part of your household in exchange for this they do the shopping the cooking the mending and ironing and all this and looking after the kids and keeping the garden in good shape and what Imus repeated so sensible. And it's an example that one could follow wherever one comes from and as a result a woman doesn't have any conflict she doesn't say when I have a career. Will I be a mother. She can do both. That's right and not neglect anything. That's right. Aside from this remarkable situation in Burma what are some of the remarkable sites to see. Not to say that that isn't people but some of the landmark so beautiful cultural treasures things that the traveler would look for in the two weeks he might have there.
There are a number of extraordinary things to see. Perhaps something about the countryside is something we could start out with. Burma is about the size of France or Texas and it in shape on the map and something like a kite. It's sort of a diamond shape and with a long tail going down there to the tropics the northernmost point is up in the snow clad mountains the eastern most spinner of the Himalayas the southern most goes way down into the warm Indian Ocean Seas actually almost all the way down to Malaya up this kite. If you look at it another way would be sort of like the cross section of a soup plate. There's a little valley in the middle and then high rises on either on either side either in the middle is the Irrawaddy Valley which is an extremely fragile bed for a very powerful river. And at the edges of this thing you have to the widest the IRA can you know
which is a high chain of mountains and to the east the Shan plateau and the tenacity rim mountains let's call them. While you have a great variety of landscapes therefore you have a bland cold country. You have a southern tropical country you have a flat paddy field country which is golden much of the year and which accounts for the fact that biomass called golden brown and then you have the highlands of course of the east in the West. And some minor mountain chains in between. Well just about in the middle of all this is the ancient capital Mandalay Mandalay is the place that of course read Kipling wrote about on the road to Mandalay in every possible baritone that you've ever heard about always sings on the road to Mandalay. This is a modern city though it was founded in 1856 and not only because the Kings soothsayers decided that they better take the old capital from poorer
and bring it to Mandalay to the proto beheld their great pagodas there. Unfortunately the palace was destroyed in World War 2. But it must have been a great and glittering beautiful sight to see the modern capital of course as Rangoon which has been since 18 the 1820s when the British made their first colonial conquest of Burma. In Rangoon there is an extraordinarily handsome very modern buildings. There are also some very ancient 13 14th century goat is covered with gold with spires and weather vanes at the top incidentally studded with rubies diamonds one Ruby and the weathervane of the sway to go into gold as I did 13 carats beautiful side. The university the lakes are a great many things about wrangling that are quite special. Mandalay of course as I mentioned there's a gastronomical capital in MO Maine. Nobody in Asia prepares food as well as the people of Mo Maine do. There had to
graft to be gotten there are architectural things to be modeled at. In the far north which is inaccessible at the moment there are the jade mines of the Emerald sources not emeralds these are the sources of sapphires and rubies and many other precious stuff. There's a lot to be seen but the people are really the thing to see. Days are especially in normal times which I'm afraid these are happy colorful brilliant articulate cosmopolitan people to whom it's very easy to lose your heart and certain amount of English is spoken so that one can get around company. Yes there's still a good deal of English but obviously the impetus for the study of English has been removed with a great national stress that is there now and are more and more people speak only Burmese. The accommodation is fairly good so that person might be a bit on the fluffy side many travelers would feel ready. Not really. You're roughing it when you're in Burma and there is no
Rangoon Hilton or anything like that. You have a rather primitive accommodations the comfortable there clean summer air condition. But by and large this is not a tourist paradise. I'm less you really live. For new experiences rather than just the pursuit of luxury as accommodations and a final question one can feel safe visiting them. Oh yes yes I understand a certain amount of fighting going on from the Hill People. Yes but they won't let you go to any areas where you might not be safe so there's no question about your personal safety. Yeah and what is more dangerous than the street in New York City. I thank you very much alive no matter where you for being on our program again and I'd like to tell you that our guest on this edition of the Asia Society presents has been a line of Randy who is the executive vice president of the society. Mr. Landry served in American embassies in Asia especially notably in Burma and Indonesia and is the author of a book called The Land and People of them. And if you read that I'm sure that will extend your knowledge
about this lovely country. Thank you and goodbye. That concludes tonight's edition of the Asia Society presents with Lee Graham. The series comes to you through the cooperation of the Asia Society. If you would like to comment on tonight's program or would like further information about the society and how you can participate in its many interesting activities please write to Mrs. Graham at WNYC New York City 100 0 7 and make a note to join us again next week at this time for another edition of the Asia Society presents. This is the national educational radio network.
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Asia Society presents
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Asia Society presents is a series of programs from WNYC and The Asia Society. Through interviews with experts on Asian affairs, the series attempts to strengthen listeners understanding of Asian people and ideas. Episodes focus on specific countries and political, cultural, and historical topics.
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Host: Graham, Leigh
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