Myanmar’s Consul-General in Hong Kong, Zaw Zaw Soe, explains that Burmese names carry no surname.
They are purely personal, and parents usually name their children after the day they were born.
The Consul-General, for example, was born on a Monday and so his parents picked a name for him that corresponds with that day, which means “outstanding and governance”.
But there are always some exceptions. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi derived her name from three relatives — “Aung San” from her father, “Suu” from her paternal grandmother, and “Kyi” from her mother Khin Kyi.
Her National League for Democracy party won an overwhelming victory in last November’s elections, ending almost 50 years of military rule in the Southeast Asian country.
But although she is recognized by her people as the leader of the struggle for democracy, Suu Kyi is barred by the constitution from becoming the country’s president.
During the transition period, she was asked what would be her role in the incoming government, and she said that she would be “above the president”.
Her remarks, naturally, attracted the criticism that she was claiming too much power for herself.
According to the Consul-General, such criticisms come from people who probably do not fully understand the country and its history.
Suu Kyi eventually became the State Counsellor, a post she created for herself and is considered equivalent to the rank of prime minister.
The Consul-General said Suu Kyi is not only the country’s foreign affairs minister but also, from his personal point of view, a messenger of peace.
He said conflicts among ethnic armed groups remain a major stumbling block to peace in Myanmar, and Suu Kyi is trying to push forward a peace process via the Panglong Conference which starts on Aug. 31.
He refused to comment on the period when the military ruled Myanmar and Suu Kyi was under house arrest.
Having been working in the consulate over 12 years, the Consul-General formerly served under the military government.
He made good use of his time by learning the Chinese language in the university. He then finished his masters in international relations from Beijing’s Renmin University, coming up with a thick thesis written in Chinese characters.
Given his high level of competence in the Chinese language, he once acted as an interpreter in top-level conferences and met top Chinese leaders such as President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang, former President Hu Jintao and former Myanmar President Thein Sein.
Performing the role of a translator is not quite easy. Once the Myanmese leader told a joke that, if he translated literally, would not be understood by his Chinese audience.
He didn’t say how he exactly solved the “crisis” but he did make the Chinese officials laugh.
The Consul-General finds Hong Kong a fast-paced city.
The consulate handles around 300 to 400 visa applications every day.
By comparison, Myanmar’s consulates in other cities could have the luxury of two or three business days for verifying a visa application.
But the Hong Kong branch has adapted to the city’s pace.
“We understand that Hongkongers have quite a hectic schedule. It’s very often that we have the applicant’s passport this morning and need to issue a visa by afternoon of the following day, as we are put under pressure by their persistent urging,” he said and laughed.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 16.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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