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Fifty Years of My Life (1939 - 1990)
A Memoir by Jeff R. Noordermeer

Diplomatic parties at the Burmese Embassy

Through Jimmy's association with the Burmese Embassy staff Lu Lu and I were invited to the Embassy to celebrate Independence Day. The Burmese Embassy always had a large party for the invited guests. It was on January 5th, 1964 that Lu Lu and I went to our first Embassy party in Washington. Going into the Embassy we were received by the Ambassador and his wife. Many of the Burmese Embassy staff were also around. There were many Ambassadors from other embassies and officials from the State Department to enjoy this party. In my navy blue suit and my bow-tie I was taken to be a foreign diplomat myself. When I told some of the Diplomats I met that I worked as a lab technician for Southland Corporation they wouldn't believe me. It was a great feeling being around all those Diplomats from different countries. How quick life can change. Here was a ex-coal miner associating with Diplomats from different parts of the world.

Lu Lu and Jeff at an embassy party
Lu Lu (left) and Jeff at an embassy party

Since Lu Lu had made friends at the Catholic University with the Zaire consul's wife we were invited at their Zaire Embassy for the Armed-forces day party. Most of the military attaches from different countries were at this party. While Lu Lu and I were talking with some friends, our Zairen friend, the consul, came over and wanted us to meet his friend the Burmese military attaché Colonel Tin Tut. After we talked for a little while I noticed Colonel Tin Tut was right away in favor of Lu Lu's openness and personality. The Colonel was very surprised to meet Lu Lu and me at the Zaire Embassy. We became very good friends after our meeting, and the first Armed-forces day party he had we were invited right away.

Colonel Tin Tut was a good and very sincere man. He was very fond of Lu Lu. At one of his Diplomatic parties at the Burmese Embassy as we came in to greet him and his wife, as quick as he noticed Lu Lu and me he called our names. In front of all the Diplomatic people he hugged Lu Lu. In the main reception room there were many top brass of the military of different countries. Lu Lu was very busy talking with all the Burmese Embassy staff. Lu Lu at that time was not dressed in Burmese clothes. Only the Burmese Embassy knew that she was Burmese. As Lu Lu was talking to some of the wives from the Burmese Embassy staff an American Colonel from the Air Force and his wife were observing Lu Lu. As Lu Lu came back to me the American Air Force Colonel and his wife came over to us and introduced themselves as Colonel and Mrs. Kennedy. They wanted to know where Lu Lu had learned to speak Burmese. Then Lu Lu told them that she was from Burma. Mrs. Kennedy asked her what kind of work Lu Lu did. As always, Lu Lu was always honest and very straightforward. She told Mrs. Kennedy that she cleaned the house. Mrs. Kennedy thought Lu Lu was joking, not expecting to meet someone who was doing domestic work at an Embassy party. Mrs. Kennedy said to Lu Lu, "I do that once in a while." It's good for you, she said. Mrs. Kennedy thought that Lu Lu was working as a secretary. I know Lu Lu was telling the truth. The way Lu Lu expressed herself sometimes was not easy for me to take, especially at a party like this. As Lu Lu still was talking to Mrs. Kennedy I walked over to the cocktail bar and told the bartender to give a double scotch please.

Another time when we were invited at the Burmese Embassy, the former American Ambassador to Burma the Burmese Ambassador if there were any Karen people in the Burmese Embassy. The Burmese Ambassador said there is a Karen lady right here at the party. So Lu Lu was introduced to the former American Ambassador Mr. Henry Byroade. When Mr. Henry Byroade was in Burma he hired a Karen nanny to look after his younger daughter. He liked his nanny so much, when he had to leave Burma and was posted in other countries he took his nanny along. When he retired and settled in the Washington area he wanted his nanny to have some Karen friends.

The Karen people in Burma in a minority group of about 3 to 4 million. Most of the Karen people are Christians. The Western missionaries found the Karen people eager to embrace their religion. They are by far the largest Christian group in Burma. Because of their early association with the Western missionaries, most Karen people speak English. That is why most English speaking diplomats always hire Karen people for domestic and nanny work.

No less than 67 separate indigenous racial groups have been identified in Burma. There are about 242 separate languages and dialects spoken. When Karen people get together they speak their own language. A Burman who has not lived among the Karens is not able to understand their language. By the clothes they wear you can tell who is a Burman or Karen.

When Ambassador Byroade met Lu Lu he was very happy for his nanny that she had met another Karen. In fact, Lu Lu had a Karen girlfriend who was our regular weekend guest. Her name was Ahna and she came from a little village from Toungoo, Burma. Lu Lu and I became very friendly with Mr. and Mrs. Byroade.

On weekends Mr. Byroade would drive his nanny in this antique Rolls Royce to our apartment. His nanny (Maypaw) would always spend the weekends with us. Mr. Byroade would always come to our apartment. We had a drink together and talked about so many things. I found Mr. Byroade to be an interesting man to talk to. He told me that he had been an Ambassador for five years in Burma. The Rolls Royce he was driving he had bought in India when he was Ambassador in Burma. He said it was an old car and it needed a lot of work. The Ambassador's job in Burma left him with a lot of spare time, and he overhauled the whole Rolls Royce by himself. Mr. Byroade was a West-Point graduate and one of the youngest generals ever appointed. He became general Marshal's assistant who later became his father-in-law. With so many appointments as Ambassador in so many different countries he was an interesting man to talk to.

In 1957 when I met Lu Lu in Syracuse, New York, there were not that many Asian people living in Syracuse at all. At that time Lu Lu always dressed in her native clothes. It happened so many times that people would stop her and ask her what country she came from. The only connections Lu Lu had at that time from her country were some students who were sent on a scholarship from the Burmese Government to study at Syracuse University.

In 1960 as we moved to the Washington D.C. area the only Burmese people around were associated with the Embassy. Many times as Lu Lu and I were driving around the city and I would notice an Asian person on the street with a "Shan-bag" hanging on his shoulder, I would stop my car so that Lu Lu could meet some of her country people. Most of the time they were students or people who worked in the Burmese Embassy. But in the later 1960's as more and more Burmese people became very unhappy with the Ni Win military Government, many Burmese people decided not to return to their homeland and settled in the Washington area. There were a few Christian Burmese families which Lu Lu and I met in one of the Church services. One of those families was the Than Hieing. Mr. Than Hlaing had worked in the Burmese Embassy accounting department, and when the Burmese Government closed all their accounting departments of all their Embassies around the world, the Than Hlaings decided not to return to Burma, and started a new life in the U.S.A. With five children this was not an easy task, but somehow they mingled into American society. And Mrs. Hlaing with her teaching background from Burma was able to get a job with the F.S.I. which is associated with the State Department to teach her native language Burmese. For many years to come the Than Hlaing family become one of our best friends.

The Than Hlaing family told us that they had met a Burmese lady who was a Karen. Naturally Lu Lu was just delighted to know that she would meet a Karen. Ahna, the Karen, lived with an American family called the O'Brients. Mr. Jack O'Brient was a U.S. Diplomat and spent many years in different countries in Far East Asia. During his years in Burma as the U.S. Director of U.S.I.S., he hired Ahna as a nanny for his only daughter, Casey. Ahna was such an affectionate person that the O'Brients wanted her to come along to the U.S.A.

When Lu Lu met Ahna, they had known each other already from Burma, but weren't friends at that time. Of course they were very glad when they met each other. Over the years our friendship has become so close that Ahna is just like part of our family. On weekends whatever we do or wherever we go Ahna always comes along. Every weekend she spends in our apartment. She is missed when she is not there. You will not meet too many people like Ahna. She has a heart of gold, she is sincere, honest, very thoughtful, kind, just a dear friend who can be around you and you never get tired of. We have many friends, but as affectionate as Ahna is, they are not easy to find. I was always very glad that I met a Karen by the name of Ahna.

CONTINUED: Our circle of friends in Washington grows
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© Copyright  - Antonio Zamora

- Foreword
- Old Rotterdam
- World War II
- After the War
- Coming to America
- Washington, D.C.
- Southeast Asia
- Philosophy of Life

- Book Index