Today is My Birthday (April 2006)

Today is my birthday. Obviously I don't have any plan to celebrate. In fact, I have never done birthday party kind of stuff for myself so far. Back in Burma (now it's called Myanmar), started around my high school years age, the time I thought I became more mature and knew a lot of things, I went to a Buddhist temple or pagoda to pray or worship the Buddha on my every birthday. I didn't know how to pray. Basically, I prayed for all the people, the animals, friends, relatives, teachers, parents, brother, sisters, and all others to be safe, healthy, happy, and wealthy. I felt very peaceful and good by doing this. Anyway, that is what I usually did in Burma on my birthday.

So today, I was thinking about my birthday while riding on BART (the subway train in San Francisco) to my job, many thoughts came into my mind. I remember my grandfather once told me that instead of celebrating birthday, one should remember her or his mother who bears all kinds of hardship to raise, to support, and finally to let her or him go. Therefore, we should show our appreciation for whatever our mothers have done for us. I like that idea.

Continuously, I remember my mother, who is around 60 now, in Burma. Probably she is thinking about me too. She might be looking at a calendar wondering when her eldest son will come back to home. She might be adding numbers and whispering how many years that I left my home sweet home. She is not very healthy these years, and as a son all I could do is talking with her on phone at least once or twice a month. Like many people, prepaid phone card is a must-have medium to communicate with their love ones in Burma. But still in more than ten years later, Myanmar phone card is not Myanmar-friendly phone card yet. 4 dollars phone card only let you talk about 15 minutes. For me, I need at least 60 minutes to talk with my mom. Anyway, I miss my mom a lot.

There is a saying, "If there is a will, there is a way." I want to reunite with my mother. But in my current situation, I could not go back to Burma yet. The only way is to apply for her a visit visa to USA. I did applied for my parents two years ago. I have heard that normally, there is no problem for older people to get a visitor visa. At that time, there were also many rumors. The US consul in Burma, a Korean lady was very strict (very YIT). Because of 911, visa processing was harder than ever; they (the US embassy) don't believe Burma citizens, whom they think will not come back after going there. Sometimes rumors were right. After the interview with an official at the US embassy, my parents' application was rejected without any proper reason. So my mother and I are still apart thousand miles away. My friends, is there any other way?

On this special day, I am also thinking about myself, looking at myself, and seeing all the way back to my childhood. At the same time, I am trying to realize how far I have gone, where I am now, what I am doing here in US, what I have missed, and what I have learnt? Have I grown up and known things better than before? Have I changed?

I grew up with Myitkyina, Irrawaddy River, pineapple, village (Taung Paw Tar) culture and tradition. In my childhood, high school years, life was so simple and peaceful: play, study, eat, music, and sleep. In college years, life was still almost the same but with some extra: travel, love, sex, a little drug, a little alcohol, a little excitement, a little this and that. In Burma, I did not know about "struggle", "survive", "broke", "stress", "due date", and "insurance".

But eventually, I thought I was so dependent and life was nothing to do in Burma. So I wanted to be free. I wanted to fly far away, to see other part of the world, to study, and learn many things.

Thanks for my mom's encouragement (I was against my mom at the beginning) and the psychic reader in Yangon. Now I am here in the most powerful and wealthiest country, USA. People say, "Life starts at 40". For me, "Life starts in USA". Everything is on my own now. All decisions, plans, job finding, applying schools, schedules, doctor appointments, office appointments, yes or no, and so on are on my own now. My real life started here.

Of course, there are a few individuals in US who helped me in many ways to make my life easier and comfortable. I always appreciate their help. But many things I have learnt were with my firsthand experience. Many things happened to me, good and bad. I went through my lowest point so far in my life.

One thing I am good (I think) is I always try to see a good side of a situation. I have got this habit since I was young. If you can see a good side of a person, a situation, and a moment, you can feel better and more peaceful. For example, as we all know what is going on in Burma. We have seen and heard many bad things. But here is a good side. We are so lucky that we were born in Myanmar. Why? We have touched with our Asian (Chinese/Burmese) culture: love, kindness, respect to elders, generosity, very low divorce rate, taking care of parents, and so on.

For me, I am so lucky to be born in Burma that I have the opportunity to learn about "Buddhism": The Dhamma, Sila (Morality), Samadhi (Concentration), Panna (Wisdom).
It is so cool that we can just use Samadhi (Concentration), which includes right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration, to deal with many problems in life. If you are so stressed, mentally ill, or depressed (many people in US have those problems), you do NOT need to see Dr Phil or spend money to consult with a psychiatrist. If you can practice to gain the Samadhi or understand Dhamma, your problem will be gone very soon.

I have read many books about Buddhism (not practice yet), and as if I can see the light in the end of a dark tunnel now. Thanks to my friend, Ko Moe who sent me many good books from Yangon.

I know you are curious to find out what I think of USA as well. As I said I try to see only good side. Of course, USA is very good. It is the wealthiest, the most culturally diverse country with the craziest people in the world. The promise land, where everyone has a chance to make a dream comes true. For students, you can learn many very advanced and latest things at many schools with state-of-the- art facilities as long as you can afford tuition fee and text books. :-) For our Burmese students to become a guy like Bill Gates (Microsoft) or Steve Job (Apple) or Larry and Sergey (Google founders) is NOT impossible if they have right time, right effort, right support, and right environment. You can be anything you want to be. That's the promise land, the America.

I kept thinking on my birthday quietly on the train. As the train was going through a tunnel, my mind was shifting to a different angle again. My wife, Veronica, and my son, Eric, are the most important persons in my life in America now. With my wife's love, mother-like kindness, determination, and patience, my life is already perfect without anything. My son, Eric will turn two in a few days, and he is very cute (the same thing every parents think of their child), strong, healthy and smart.

A saying goes, "Life is not a bed of roses". I understand that. Life is also struggling. Sometimes good news come and sometimes comes bad news. We can prepare for anything comes to us only if we really understand Dhamma, Sila, Samadhi, and Panna. We can live at present, at this time, at this moment, and at this second peacefully.

Time flies. I have been passing my life more than three decades now. From an innocent baby with a pure white heart nurtured by my loving parents, I have changed to a person, with a colorful tainted heart and unsettled mind, who is sailing in a different part of the world. I have become a man with many scars here and there. I think I am still very strong and healthy that I can still beat Arnold Schwarzenegger. But I don't know what's happening inside my body for what I have been breathing, eating, drinking, and working for so many years. My body must be tired now.

But I am still alive and I feel great never been better than before. Thanks Buddha. I have found you and your Dhamma. So I have been drinking your crystal clear pure Dhamma water to let all my anger, worry, and sorrow disappear.

Today is my birthday, and we didn't plan anything at home either. When I got home from work at around 8:00pm, my wife opened the door smiling and saying "Happy birthday", then gave me a kiss. Eric was jumping, clapping, smiling, and looking at us. All my tiredness was gone. Life is good so far.