In a Nutshell:
Ma Thanegi was imprisoned for three years for her involvement in the 1988 uprisings as a personal assistant to Aung San Suu Kyi. Whilst in prison, she decided that upon release, she would take a road trip/go on a pilgrimage, by bus in Myanmar. The Native Tourist is a travelogue of sorts of her time travelling, solo, mostly by bus, from Myanmar to China over the course of 18 days. Each chapter is a day in her journey, the book is full of pencil/ink sketches that she made along the way. For me, it served as a window into Myanmar culture and the importance of the pagodas within Myanmar. Poignant given the current situation in Myanmar.
In our first week here in Phnom Penh, we stumbled upon a lovely bookshop called Monument Books, a vast bookshop with many books in English and many books from Asia. I discovered this book there.
What a joy this book is. Ma Thanegi is a painter, writer and journalist who was born and educated in Myanmar. She translates her books into English herself.
This book was published in 2004 and in its afterword, Thanegi mentions how she didn’t agree with Aung San Suu Kyi, or Ma Suu as she calls her and in fact Thanegi has distanced herself from Ma Suu. Thanegi says: “when she (Ma Suu) started to call for isolation, sanctions and boycotts to pressure the government, I felt that it did more harm to the ordinary people than bring about change. I did not agree with her strategy and said so…I am firmly convinced that her tactics are wrong, and I was, and am, not hesitant to say so.”
Culture, identity, patriarchal beliefs, female identity, travel and religion.
“Countless pilgrims have rubbed their hands on various parts of their bronze bodies in the belief that it will relieve pain or illness in the same parts of themselves. I doubt if other statues in Cambodia are treated in this manner.”
“Men are complicated creatures, to my mind, and they are therefore entitled to complicated spelling (in Chinese characters).”
Want to read A Native Tourist? Buy it here.
The Native Tourist: a Holiday Pilgrimage in Myanmar
Written by Ma Thanegi
Illustrated by Ma Thanegi
Translated from the Burmese by Ma Thanegi
28/02/2005, Silkworm Books
#WITMonth for 2021 is curated by Jess Andoh-Thayre
I am 35, from London but currently living in Cambodia. I am married to a diplomat and we have been posted in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and now Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Prior to meeting my husband, I had also lived in La Serena, Chile and Madrid, Spain.
I am a French, Spanish and English teacher, translator, avid reader and now blogger. When I am not teaching, reading and blogging, I love catching a brilliant sunset, swimming, cycling and hanging out with my husband and son.
Author and translator: Ma Thanegi
Ma Thanegi is a Burmese author and artist. She was imprisoned for three years for her involvement in the 1988 uprisings as a personal assistant to Aung San Suu Kyi.
She has written two travelogues, The Native Tourist and Defiled on the Ayeyarwaddy.
Though widely known for her writing, Ma Thanegi started out as a painter. She exhibited in Myanmar from 1967 until 1998 in collective shows, as well as in seven solo exhibitions.