Mea culpa, Hana Bui

Image from Amazon.com

Apologizing via the internet is not an easy thing to do. In fact, some would argue it’s a near impossible feat. However, I hope all reading this would know that my apology is sincere.

I mis-read and misrepresented Hana Bui’s book, and I’m sorry.

In my previous post, I was discussing how foreigners living in Myanmar are not expected by the society to learn Burmese to a fluent level. In my argument, I spent a bit of time looking at a few sections of Hana Bui’s book When Global Meets Local: How Expatriates Can Suceed in Myanmar. I made the claim several times that her book doesn’t advise foreigners to speak Burmese:

While the book offers many tips for expats to be successful (strangely enough, the book assumes the majority of expats reading it will be in a leadership position), one of those tips is not ā€œlearn Burmese.ā€
[…]
To reiterate, this is the only modern book written for expat survival in Burma and it does not advise the reader to learn Burmese.
[…]
I thus find it odd that she, a foreign expat from Vietnam who speaks Burmese herself, does not address the advantages speaking Burmese could bring to someone in her book.

I spoke too soon.

The truth is, I had (and still have not) read the book cover-to-cover, so I quickly skimmed through certain sections of the book in which I thought the relevant information would be given. I bought a hard copy of the book, so Ctrl+F was not a viable option for quickly finding the information.

Today, the author Hana Bui contacted me herself to let me know that I had not read her book carefully and told me that she had indeed advised the reader to learn Burmese on pages 149 and 156. In the interest of integrity, I will quote what those passages say:

[…] learning the local language is one way to bridge the gap. At least knowing enough language to survive is helpful when necessary, and your local colleagues will be happy to see you made the effort to study Burmese.

p. 149, emphasis added

and again…

4. Integrate into the local culture; avoid the “expat ghetto” trap.
[…]
Learn the language (survival level of 20 hours) to intermediate level. Have a local name.

p. 156, emphasis added

So, my claim of the book not advising foreigners to learn Burmese is officially debunked. It just turns out that I did not read the book well enough when writing the post.

Hana also spoke to me about possible reasons as to why expat workers don’t learn Burmese here:

As a writer, I feel bad to have made such a claim that is demonstrably untrue. If someone had misread the claims in my Master’s thesis, I would not have taken it lightly. Indeed, had I read the book cover-to-cover, I would have found the passage and the purpose of including the passage in the previous post would have been moot.

The truth is that Hana is an individual that I’ve heard positive things about all-around. Even with my misconceptions about her writing, I had no issues with the central thesis or purpose of her book. I also admired how she self-published it and was single-handedly able to have it stocked in local stores, such as City Mart, Innwa Books, TAB Books, and shop.com.mm . I personally wouldn’t know how to do such a thing. So, I feel bad to have made a demonstrably false claim about a book which the author has put a lot of time into writing and marketing.

I would like to further say that I welcome open discussion of ideas on this blog and I encourage individuals to contact me if they take issue with something I say. (Besides Hana, several already have) I just ask that you be civil and avoid ad-hominem attacks.

That being said, I am anti-censorship and will not delete or redact what I originally wrote. Prior to publishing this post, I have already marked the offending section in red. and have added a note saying that I was wrong, complete with the pages where the advice to learn Burmese was given.

I thank Hana Bui for reaching out and correcting me and I sincerely hope that she accepts my apology.

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