This West of Yankin

Banya Saw

An online friend posted a photo of present day West Yankin on her Facebook page today. This brings back sweet memories of the place where I lived four decades ago in those four-storeyed buildings behind what is now the Sedona Hotel.I wrote about the place in the 13 June 1970 issue of the then Guardian Daily English language newspaper in my column SIDE GLANCES under my pen name PO THA KHWA(not to be confused with a later similar name of another person). I am reproducing my article of the time below, and you will see that the present day scenario of those buildings and the environment has changed totally.

This West of Yankin

Meat-safes, oceanliners, doll-houses, showcases, stage-props, Disneyland. A constellation of views from a galaxy of people ! One enthusiast remarked somewhat exuberantly that the place resembles an ultra-modern kibbutz — a transplanted piece of Israel.

West Yankin housing estate with its own peculiarities has invited an array of remarks from some well-intentioned souls. The estate with its entrance leading off from the Kaba Aye Pagoda Road has little in common with the rest of Yankin. Imaginatively positioned buildings with lots of open spaces in between give the residents a feeling of being in the countryside.

Even the cultural aspect of the countryside is there. Preserving those good old traditions is a part of life at West Yankin. The monks on their soon–gathering rounds are still heralded by that age-old sound from the kyesi — a fast fading sight in downtown Rangoon.

Water, there’s aplenty.Sunshine?Enough for a TB sanatorium. Fresh air? A thousand and one lungfuls !

A note of warning though. The twenty-four room four-storeyed buildings with their common corridors are strictly for love-thy-neighbour people. For those people the housing estate is something of a Utopia-come-true. For people with an otherwise turn of mind, the place is otherwise. But of course we are not concerned with those otherwises — those honourable men.

Come to think of it, the estate could well be an ideal testing ground for those self-proclaimed community spirit imbued people. A month in West Yankin would separate the goose from the gander.

Civic sense is an essential ingredient of patriotism. And patriotism minus civic sense is no patriotism.

More housing projects on the West Yankin pattern would mean more training grounds for good citizenship.

At a time when the drive is towards cooperation and coordination, we could very well do with more West Yankins.

A revival of the traditional neighbourliness in each basic unit of society — the family — would not be an irrelevant factor.

West Yankin is an experience, not just another housing project.One has to be a resident to get the feel of it.It’s a strange and exhilarating experience. There is something splendidly alluring about the place.

West Yankin is like a woman in a way. You know she has charm. What that exactly is, you know not. All you know is that she grows on you.

The friendliness and esprit de corps of its people have that touch of the countryside — a helping hand, a word of encouragement, an understanding nod.

“This blessed plot, this earth, this realm” — this West of Yankin !



Reverse metamorphosis

According to the dictionary, the word metamorphosis as an allegory is a change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means.

By the way, have you seen the reverse process, butterflies changing into caterpillars? My friend tells me it’s happening at his office. In fact he says that always has been the case with the “aliens from outer space ” in his office. When they first arrived they were butterflies, then through ‘reverse metamorphosis’ they all turn into caterpillars, he says.

Should I believe what he is saying? I just don’t know what he is talking about. Or do I?



No dashed down hopes, please

I’m not sure from which story, but I think may be it’s from “The Great Stone Face” which was one of the stories from one of the two of my Matriculation Class English text books (1958 Class): “Only those whose hopes had been wrought up to a high pitch and then suddenly dashed down would be able to imagine what I felt at that moment”. I liked this sentence so much at the time that I learned it by heart, and I still remember it now. I only hope I won’t have to use this sentence again.


When Myanmar eyes are smiling

Smile: A change of facial expression involving a brightening of the eyes and an upward curving of the corners of the mouth, expressive of amusement, pleasure,affection, irony, derision, etc.

This dictionary definition classifies a smile into two types: one expressive of amusement, pleasure and affection, and the other of irony and derision.Call it impudence or “ostrichism”, but this unwordly old ignoramus prefers to give de jure and de facto recognition only to the first type — a welling up of heartfelt pleasure. To label a facial distortion expressive of  irony and derision as a smile is gross misuse of the word. Simply sacrilegious, totally un-Myanmar. Totally un-Myanmar! That’s what it is. We Myanmars smile with our eyes — a brightening of the eyes — or not at all.

One theory has it that the eye is part of the brain reaching out of the skull to get in contact with the outside environment. A smiling eye, in other words, is a smile from the head. An affable smile, for instance. Affable smiles make communications smoother, easier, quicker. And it is this smile from the head that Westerners  refer to as “that mysterious smile of the Orient”. Mysterious to Westerners, perhaps. But to us Orientals, it is a tradition, part and parcel of our culture. A foreigner who comes to understand this “phenomenon” has really got through the barrier between the East and the West. Without an appreciation of this aspect of our culture, there can be no proper understanding of the Myanmar character.

To us, no smile is enigmatic. Not even Mona Lisa’s. As far as we are concerned, the lady isn’t smiling at all. She is simply executing a facial muscular movement expressive of irony and derision. I do not know what Leonardo de Vinci had in mind. Anyway he is no longer around to disagree with this self-appointed expounder of smiles. So there!

Smiles! I still chuckle to myself every time I recall  little episode. I was then no more than this much high, a naughty little boy in baggy khaki shorts. Our class teacher, an Italian nun, had instructed us to learn a passage “by heart”. I had that day, to be sure, turned to a classmate of mine and asked him what “by heart” means. “By half?”,said my good reliable friend. “Why, it means learn half the passage only, of course. Stupid! Don’t you know that much?” I said I didn’t know that much and thanked him profusely for his explicit explanation. I then learned the passage “by half”. When the time came for me to recite it, I did it beautifully — up to the middle of the assigned passage, that is. And then dead stop!

“Yes, you are doing it fine. You’re a good little boy. Go on”, prompted my class teacher.

All quiet on the Eastern Front.

But the Western Front wasn’t so quiet. “Stand on the bench!”, came the order loud and clear. Then she started giving me a long, long lecture on the importance of being earnest and “doing what you are told”, breaking into Italian at times. And true to her race, she was doing it at break-neck speed. Whatever power of comprehension of English I had then went haywire. Not to lose heart, however. “Good old reliable friend” came to the rescue. He whispered from behind me as to what the teacher was saying. So being “a good little boy”, I gave her that affable smile, that smile from the head, hoping to mitigate my case a bit.

“Get out of the class
!” fumed the teacher like a steam locomotive about to leave the railway station platform. “You, un-repenting bad little boy!”  Obviously she considered my smile to be a mere distortion of facial muscles. Irony and derision? Perhaps.

These Westerners! They never know a smile when they see one ! How can “the twain” ever meet?