My Search for My Holy Grail
Anyone who knows is aware that I have several idiosyncrasies. While some might wonder about these quirks, I’m glad to have them. One of these eccentricities relates to pondering the question, why? I will wonder about almost anything. Some are existentially important to me. I’m in my quest to determine why my family in Myanmar is so important to me. My quest reminds me of The Vision of Sir Launfal by James Russell Lowell. Sir Launfal was in search of the Holy Grail.
In whatso we share with another's need,
Not that which we give, but what we share,
For the gift without the giver is bare;
Who bestows himself with his alms feeds three,
Himself, his hungering neighbor, and me.'
At a lesser level of importance are the names of people in Myanmar. Usually, Italians use Italian names when naming a newborn. Chinese don’t use Norwegian names. If an Italian or Chinese family admired someone from a different background than theirs, some might name their newborn’s first name after an American president like George or Abe.
Myanmar families often use English names. I get that they had been a British colony of Great Britain. So, they are familiar with English names. However, when German’s occupied Poland, the Poles didn’t name their children with German names.
Another haunting question relates to their surnames, which are carried down for generations. Why don’t Myanmar families use surnames? The answer is that parents of a newborn decide the child’s last name.
Case in point. Years ago, I was planning my second trip to see my family. I’d write to Moh Moh, who was my guide the first time, about visiting them, including her, Ko Ko, her husband, and their three girls, my granddaughters. There were two problems with that. First, Moh Moh is her first name. That would be like my first name is Al Al. The second issue is that her last name was San.
I assumed that Ko Ko’s last name was San. That is the way most people in the West have used the surnames. In the past several decades, many are becoming less sexist by combining both the husband and wife’s surname with a hyphen.
In emailing Moh Moh about my second visit, I got several emails from Ko Ko Zaw. I assumed that he was some local that wanted to be my tour guide. I was polite, and I told him that the tour company had already assigned me a tour guide for my second trip. Since Moh Moh and Ko Ko were tour guides, Ko Ko would guide my second trip. When I got my itinerary from my tour company, my guide’s name was Ko Ko Zaw. Go figure. When a couple gets married, they don’t use the husband’s surname.
Naming gets more confusing. On my first trip, I met the entire family: Moh Moh, Ko Ko, Ti Ti, Snow, and Fatty. That was easy; pronouncing Asian names isn’t one of my fortes. My two younger granddaughters had English names. I knew that both were nicknames but why.
Snow had to do with being lighter-skinned, which reminded her parents of snow. Now, I have been with Snow on three trips. Over that time span, I have taken pictures of her. He taken walks together, chatted, had meals together, enjoyed time together, etc. However, I honestly really never noticed her complexion issue.
As for Fatty, her name bothered me. I wrote to Moh Moh about not wanting to use her name in my essays due to it being dismissive of her. Moh Moh responded that they named her Fatty because she was a chubby baby. Additionally, Buddhists view having a fat baby as a blessing and a sign of a healthy child.
In a recent email, I asked Moh Moh how she and Ko Ko’s got their names. When they were born, their parents asked astrologers. Moh Moh meant “like heaven.” Ko Ko meant “smart brother.” As for the girls, Ti Ti’s full name is Nang Hsu Yati. Nang means “Shan girl,” and Hsu Yati means “blessings.” Snow’s name is Yamin Thiri means “beautiful and glory.” hyo Thiri Paing means “very adorable and elegant.”
In response to Moh Moh’s email, I mentioned that many Americans would check their astrological charts based upon the day they were born. We tend to agree with the readings when we agree with the predictions and ignore them when we disagree.
What the various astrologers said about each member could be applied to all of them. In reality, I would agree that the descriptions could apply to each of them. That being said, I still can’t fully grasp why discovering my family has been so transformative for me. Until I do, I will simply say that they are the best thing that has happened to me. I don’t know when Myanmar will return to a time before the coup. Nonetheless, I want to go on our second family tour together.