This is gonna be a pure rant. So please refrain from reading it if you could not handle my long-winded nonsense. And I don’t think I would discuss further about it in comments although I would love to read what do you think about it.

So, call me a racist, I certainly thought white people were smart human beings when I was under 16. I had never been abroad at that time and there were only very very few foreigners in Myanmar except some tourists occasionally strolling around with BIG smiles on roads of Yangon or some tourist spots in Mandalay. And although my assumption about westerners was absolute rubbish, it was FUN. It was fun thinking they came to my country to explore what kind of isolation existed. It was fun seeing them wearing longyis untidily. It was fun smiling at them and having a very short (and shy) conversation. Good ol’ days.

There was no Internet in my life which made me speak lousy English. There was Daw Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest which made me feel very bad.  And there was (officially) Than Shwe which made us voiceless kids. But there was no popular infamous NGOs. There was no Rohingya Saga. There was no monk named as Terrorist. And the list will go on.

Of course, I do like to witness all the scenes of Myanmar opening up gradually. Who wouldn’t love it? Coca Cola, Google and Facebook in Burmese, less people who wouldn’t have a clue which continent Myanmar is in, DASSK in her action, Obama’s visit, cheaper SIM cards, voices demanding rights for gays and prostitutes along with uncountable protests, Myanmar nearly-porn movies without rating for children, newer tricks of military transformed civilian government and you name it.

As a normal human being with somewhat functioning brain, I do agree that all changes have its pros and cons. But one of those irritate me so much that I have to rant.

So, here’s a list of self-proclaimed Myanmar Experts whom I wish I would not need to deal with in near future or further future.

Disclaimer : Those people are based on those who have contacted me to do something about Myanmar or those I repeatedly heard about them from trusted friends. You have full rights to accept it or not. And I become friends with many foreigners who contacted me via Facebook Message, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. and I was very glad giving a small hand to what they wished to do in/with Myanmar. And because of those connections, I am sometimes requested for paid gigs. I would continue doing so for all foreigners with decent attitudes. And I also believe that there are many “good” foreigners out there who really wish to see Myanmar as a developed country. And people in the list below are those who are not in my “white” list.

1) Kind-hearted Life Savers (or so they say)

Most of them work in NGOs or new foreign invested businesses. In their eyes, every single Myanmar was grown up in lousy condition with worst education on earth so that they have no knowledge about history or business or even healthcare. They totally believe that unless they save them, whole country will be torn down worse than ever. They usually involve (or strategize in their preferred jargon) in some NGO’s projects. They live in landed houses or expensive condos where monthly rental fees might cost more than their funds used for their projects. They always underestimate any Myanmar they would see on road and would claim they have been watching Myanmar very closely that only they can predict the future of Myanmar with awesome charts and graphs using the data from year 2000 or so.

2) Poor Tourists

They are poor because actual Myanmar is pretty different from what they expected. For instance, they might have expected to enjoy sunrise and sunset at Bagan but it was raining all three days they lived there so they couldn’t catch any good scene. Or they under-counted the number of pagodas they would bump into in Myanmar by forgetting the fact that about 90% of population follow Buddhism despite of enormous research they did. Or they thought their almost naked bodies would excite people there and it didn’t turn out so well. Or they expected to be able to go to floor of Golden Rock Pagoda with a high-tech cable train. Or they they assumed every places in Myanmar would be squeaky clean as Singapore does despite being one of the least developed countries in the world. When things don’t work as they highly longed for, especially with vague visa processes and expensive air tickets and hotel fees, they just quickly decided Myanmar is an overrated travel spot.

I am totally fine to see somebody doesn’t enjoy travelling to certain countries for whatever reasons they could come up with. It is also fine to spread the news on how they didn’t enjoy being there spending their time and money. What annoys me is acting as Myanmar travel experts just because they have stayed there for a week or a month. You absolutely should not go there to have some comfy time there. And what’s the point to visit a lesser known country without doing some proper research!?

3) Another Type of Poor Tourists

They seem they love Myanmar. They assume themselves they know pretty much about Myanmar after travelling there for some time. They sometime think Myanmar is awesome. All are good until they gave out wrong imaginary information on Internet.

They would think typical Shan food is spicy. They would write Myanmar men wear skirts. (If you call Tut Tut instead of three-wheeled car from Thailand or Pho instead of Vietnamese noodle soup, you should also learn what do Myanmar men actually wear rather than generalizing it as skirt.) They would share that Buddhists do not eat Beef due to religion commitment. (I would write about this later but just take that it is not completely true for now.)

Again, I do not mind to see some mistakes among tons of travel articles. But when they spread wrong information, those who would believe in it have wrong expectations and many of them end up being 2).

4) Information Beggars 

They need to make something out of Myanmar – be it a paid assignment for news sites or a portfolio to show they are well educated about Myanmar. They have never been there so they would need to do more research and approach some Myanmar who can connect them up with locals they wish to meet. They do better research than anyone else, talk to different people and expect everyone should spend time for them as much as they want. And when they are in Myanmar, they would prefer to meet anyone they targeted and anywhere they would prefer.

I could confidently say that Myanmar people are pretty helpful and dependable especially when it comes to helping those who like to visit their homeland. But c’mon, Myanmar in 2013 also have their things to clear up. We might be able to refer them to someone who would know more about what they are looking for. We could introduce them with some nice people they might wish to talk. But when unnecessary demands such as forcing someone to meet at his confidential work place, buzzing someone repeatedly to explain them something which they might need to pay large sum of money elsewhere and all those annoying things you couldn’t imagine come up suddenly, well, Myanmar people are human beings, too.

I think I am going to stop here as I feel sick thinking about them and my time spent with such people. But I am really grateful that there are many other foreigners out there who love to see Myanmar growing up and helping to make better things happen there again and again.

First of, I’m not a very devoted Buddhist anymore. I do not pray daily like I did till half a year ago. I still lie at times although I don’t kill/steal/drink/cheat with one’s spouse. If I have to come out with an excuse to conceal my laziness, it has to be my lack of commitment on studying more about it and meditating. Buddhism in Myanmar, to be precise, traditional Buddhism in Myanmar is too vague. Since a couple of years ago, I become to have a strong feeling that I must learn Buddhism via English resources. Many Myanmar might bash me for saying so but who are they to judge me?

Leave that aside, from time to time, I have been developing my tolerance and impression on other religions, or rather people who follow different religions. I have lots of Muslim friends – my first every best friend was a lovely Muslim girl, my first neighbour in my entire life was a very friendly Muslim family, one of my my first colleagues is a funny Muslim girl and I have been asked if I was a Muslim at times because of my facial appearance. Long story short, I do not have any problem with them just because they follow a different religion apart from a need of reminding myself not to talk about/eat pork when they are around. Same thing goes for Christians. In fact, I even feel like Christians in Myanmar are really lovely and fun to hang out as they have open mindset comparing to average Buddhists, a little bit more westernized in a way. And that is very cool with me. Needless to mention for Hinduism as my great great grandpa is a Hindu and even my parents still believe in some parts of Hinduism.

Being said, I do not really like the idea of discussing about religion with friends. What’s the point of doing so unless you are in an interfaith dialogue section? I feel it way more peaceful, fun and enjoyable whenever we do not discuss about it with people with various beliefs. For me, religion is something to practice yourself, not to show off to everyone around you as if you own a genuine diamond ring while theirs are intimate ones.

Here’s the point of those long winded intro. Very recently, a friend of mine chatted with me. She is my childhood friend whom I know since like 16 years ago. She is the one who had introduced me with Christian for first time ever when she had given away Christian leaflets in our primary class on her birthday as gifts to classmates. So, recently we were talking about childhood and all these stuff. She seems to love me so much even now and I love her, too. She is super adorable. Finally, she asked me what should she pray for me at church next time. I was like “Wow, she loves me that much?”. Then she concluded our conversation with “May God bless you.”

I kind of felt uneasy. To make it very clear, I am very thankful to have such a friend who would spend time for me during her religious session. And that made me think of all those “May God bless you” things. As there are very few religions in our world which are not based upon “God”, many people are very used to say “May God bless you” as if it was a greeting phrase. I am really thankful to be greeted so but I can’t help thinking if we actually need it? Of course, you should definitely do it with those whoever believe in God. But for other people who are atheists and who follow religions with different nature, would it even make sense? Yes, I know. Whoever saying “May God bless you” to me really care for me and want me to see fine with everything. I totally understand they say it with good will. But shouldn’t there be a better way to show our “love” with something  that is not related to religion? Wouldn’t it be a bit more comfortable?  Why do we need to bring “religion” to stress that we care our loved ones? Just my thoughts, you can differ freely. And I would still appreciate whoever would say this to me in future like I thank to whoever tell me to eat more vegetables although they know I have lachanophobia. (At this point, I consider literally like 15 times should I publish this or not as I do not want to lose friendship with any of my friends. I was kind of scared people would think me immature or intolerant. But I still want to do it so that you are reading it now. 🙂 ) 

And I still have no clue what should I reply apart from a boring “thanks” to “May God bless you” greeting. Should I reply something like

Impermanent are all created things, strive on with awareness.

ASEAN Blog Fest 2013

Posted: 21/05/2013 in Events, Indonesia, Travel

You gotta believe me. This blog fest is not only about blogging but also all about fun and friendship. Listing down what happened in chronological way is too mainstream, so here are the highlights that touched me.

Indonesians are super friendly

Tea Break at Pool Side, Solo Indonesia

Tea Break at Pool Side, Kusuma Sahid Prince Hotel, Solo.

Oh my goodness! I have no clue how to describe their friendliness. My roommate, for instance, was very kind and understandable. I did not need to pretend anything when she was around just because she was a stranger. In extremely short time, we had already shared pretty much about us. Same went for the rest. All of them are so kind and humble that it made me feel like I made a right decision to visit to Solo. Two ladies I met on one of the shuttle buses gave me three little chocolate boxes although we had not known each other and did not have much time to talk. Thanks for everyone who took photo with me and came and talked to me. That experience was really a warm touch.

SEAsia is beautiful

So as SEAsians. All the organisers and international bloggers who attended the event made me feel so. Everyone of them were so lovely that I did feel home when they were around. I have learnt various interesting things from them about different parts of Southeast Asia. Many of them inspired me and others had fun together with me. That part of 2013 will always be in my memory.I have soft spots when it comes to SEAsia as I believe our countries are more or less connected and cultures and traditions are similar. (I am not so keen to use ASEAN as I always feel like it is something related to governments.)  Instead of debating if Batik belongs to Malaysia or Indonesia or if Water Festival was originated from Myanmar or Thailand, we should promote those to rest of the world. And if all SEAsains are like this bunch of people I have met in Solo, I believe we could achieve it.

Indonesian Traditional Instruments

Indonesian Traditional Musical Instruments. The xylophones are very similar to Burmese traditional xylophones.

SEAsians waiting for taxi

SEAsians waiting for a taxi. I bet no westerner could tell who is from which country. 😉

Blogging is not dead

I thought it was dead, at least almost dead. May be because I abandoned my Burmese blog for years. Maybe because many Myanmar bloggers are writing notes on Facebook instead of their blogs. But I became to learn that there are lots of active bloggers who are blogging enthusiastically up until now. It was really encouraging to see different government ministries of Indonesia were supporting the event as well as blogging itself. And I wonder when could such thing happen in Myanmar where a blogger was at risk of getting sued for criticizing the parliament.

Singaporeans please!

I am not too sure if any Singaporeans would get mad if they found out that two people from Malaysia and Myanmar represented to talk about their wonderful country during the event. I was not too sure why, but there was no single Singaporeans in the event and that was sad.

Singapore Country Report in Solo Indonesia

Reporting about Tourism and Blogging Community in Singapore.

I do not want to accuse that Singaporeans have less interest on those community related meet ups and volunteering etc as they have less chances to do so in a very developed country. But I do believe that they could use their facilities and opportunities to help ASEAN community grows together. I would love to see them mingle with the rest of SEAsians. They should not be left out just because they are from most developed country in the region, should they?

I have written about Pho Kyar Natural Elephant Camp before in words only. And I was wondering if there might be people who would love to see “Elephants in Action”. When I googled (or searched on youtube), there are almost no footage of  lovely little dumbos at Pho Kyar. As I have ready clips that I recorded there last year, I decided to make a vlog out of it.

The elephants in the video were not in use for logging as they were still too young to work. Their ages range from 8 to 16 years old. They were so playful (you can see it during their bathing time) and pretty clever. During elephant football match, the goalkeeper elephant did not catch the ball at all if it thought it was not going to score, only took action when kicker elephant aimed at the target correctly. How cute!

Video  —  Posted: 17/05/2013 in Myanmar, Trip, Vlog
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A childhood friend of mine told me that she would die happily if her English could be as good as half of mine. I was like speechless. Not because I was happy to hear her compliment about me but because I knew where my English was and realized the gap among youths in Myanmar. Don’t get me wrong.

I think everybody who have read my pieces in English would definitely notice that my English is not better than an average non-native speaker with silly mistakes at times. Yet, many of my Myanmar friends consider I speak/write good English. Of course, there are a number of people out there in Myanmar whose English is way better than mine. Being said, if we were to rationalize, the percentage of those who speak good English might not be more than 5% (Or 10% if we guess very generously) of the total population. And that is sad.

It is even more shocking considering the fact that everyone who goes to public school in Myanmar starts learning English at 5. After 11 whole years we have learnt English “at school”, why on earth we could not speak English well? There you can see our awesome education system.

We have good text books with kind teachers, but no proper execution with good teachers. I cannot stress enough how execution at public schools in Myanmar fail. Syllabus are interesting (except awesome history textbooks which stopped around 1960s and were never updated), instructions and guidelines on lesson plans are fine, facilities are okay (at schools in cities and big towns, of course we are not talking about tiny huts where all students from different grades sit in one same hall under one teacher and was called as “schools” in some remote areas) and visions and missions of our ministry of education or whatsoever are inspiring.

Myanmar School Building

My School – No.(3) Basic Education High School Botataung. During colonial time, it was known as Ye Kyaw Methodist. All public schools in Myanmar are named in the format of “No.(x), Basic Education (Primary/Middle/High) School, (Township name). No fancy name at all. :\

Say a chapter in science at grade 8) comprised with explanation on theory and practical exercise, I bet 9 out of 10 teachers would instruct to skip the practical part because 1)the lab could be locked down by headmaster or whoever have power to control it or 2) it is not required to pass the exam or 3)the teacher was just bored to do it. Back to English, I remember there were some speaking lessons at the end of text books but no teacher seemed to have time to take a look at it, needless to mention for asking students to practice it. There were no official co-curricular activities. If teachers noticed that you were talented at something such as singing, writing or sports, they might send you to compete with other schools randomly.

Talking about schools, there were only two types of schools if we wanted to classify it – rich schools where children of generals, rich people and famous people went or poor schools where the rest went. (Mine was a poor one although my parents sent me to school with a car while it took only 10 minutes on foot.) And all those citywide or nationwide competitions favour those students from rich schools in many ways you cannot imagine or I cannot recall.

There was no such thing called scouts. (Thank god, it is now back in a pretty hilarious way since last year (or this year). Only those who pass exams with high marks and good at other several things such as sports etc. can join it or so I understand.) When education authorities instructed to set up and “use” multimedia classrooms where we had computers, projectors, cassettes, headphones, English books etc, we had had to practice only to show off on the day those authorities would visit us. Once they visited, assumed we were using it very effectively and efficiently and went back, that “multimedia” classrooms were shut down in dark. That is why I keep on saying execution failed. Instructions came

And can you believe that I had to go to headmistress office to beg her in order to let me use school library for few minutes as I needed some reference books for a nationwide essay competition? To my knowledge, almost every schools have decent libraries and nobody is allowed to use it freely. There were some sections where students were allowed to read there for few minutes but it lasted only for a semester or two. The more I think about it, the more I feel sad for all those precious dusty books in the library. There is no habit such as studying at libraries at all in our high schools. (or in Universities)

Myanmar School Classroom

Where I spent my grade 9) from 2002-2003. Photo taken in 2011.

Exam was the most important part. But, we did not need to be worried about it till we were grade 9) because everybody must pass exams till grade 8). If I think about it now, I have no clue why those smartest education system planners in Myanmar did it. But yes, till grade 8), even if a student could not answer to obtain enough marks to pass, he/she would somehow pass the exam. Remember, slogan of Myanmar is “Mystical Land”! (I believe this exam system has been changed a bit such as grade 5), grade 9) have “real” exams where student may fail. I am not too sure on it.) On top of that, we only required to study about 2 or 3 chapters if there were 5 chapters to study for the exam. As our teachers were very kind, they often even narrowed it down to few questions and answers so that we would need to study only a few to “pass” the exam with good marks.

Oh, did I forget to mention that we study everything (I repeat, everything) by heart including essays and sometimes maths?! If I liked to put a line or two of my own sentences to the English essay written by a teacher that was supposed to be memorized by students and write it out again in the exam, I had to take the risks of getting deducted some marks. (I was a cool kid back then not like in my uni time, most of the teachers loved me so much that they rarely did it to me. But it totally depended on their mood and emotion towards the students.) Even for maths, if you calculated by skipping a non-important step to calculate out the exact same result, you were at risk, too.

I may continue writing about what we do at a typical day at school. Brace yourself for more awesome things!

Solo Solo

Posted: 14/05/2013 in Indonesia, Travel
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Till a couple of weeks ago, Solo to me was a brand on Batik. As my family has run some Batik business, I was aware that it was something related to Batik but shame on me! I never knew it was a town – a cool hot town.

Except Singapore, almost all other places in Southeast Asia that I have been to always made me feel like I was back to Yangon in a way. (I recently realize that it might be because Singapore does not allow bill boards and all other SEAsian cities do have plenty of bill boards.) But for Solo, once my cab driver that we hire started his engine, I felt as if I were in Myeik, my very home town at the southern part of Myanmar. No skyscrapers but I could feel a touch of warmth plainly just by the dark scene of the small houses. Sometimes, too much urbanizing makes me feel like playing a high profiled graphical game. We need to switch to lovely casual games at times.

Two things that will stay as my reminiscence about Solo – burning weather and cool people. Yeah, Singapore is hot like a boiling pot and so is Myanmar in the hot season but you would feel the weather more when you are actively moving around. But ultra friendly people helped to cool it down. I literally cannot stress enough how they are friendly and helpful.

I did not go to many places in Solo as I was swinging back and forth between two hotels – one where we stay and one where we talk. Being said, here are some interesting spots that I had  a chance to visit (in random order).

Begawan Solo 

No, this is not a branch of famous delicacy brand in Singapore. It is the longest river in Java. And guess what? I was invited to plant a tree there! It’s always fun to think that I could bring my future children to Indonesia and tell them this is what I planted. 😛 And I was glad to be part of their environmental initiatives. But the planting event kind of reminded me those TV news on Myanmar Channels where generals, their wives and children toured around the country and randomly planted. Weirdo, I know. The river water is pretty muddy. We needed to walk by passing through houses avoiding motor bikes – pretty much like a little town in Myanmar.

The only problem I had was that not knowing which camera to look at!

The only problem I had was that not knowing which camera to look at! Photo Credit goes to SanjiOne’s Instagram.

Sangiran

We went there to watch a movie clip. Kidding. It is an archaeological excavation site where we could learn about how human beings were originated in Java.  It was really hot. (Okay, I swear I will not complain about weather till this post ends.) It took around an hour or so to reach there from the town. The displays are cool. It would be perfect if there were some outdoor area where we can learn more about it naturally. It is the first UNESCO Heritage Site I have ever visited. Or I think so. (Btw, it’s a shame for UNESCO that they have not recognized Bagan as one of their heritage sites no matter how valid their reason is.)

Some buffalo fossils.

Some buffalo fossils.

Coolest display of whole museum, I suppose.

Coolest display of whole museum, I suppose.

Funny statute at Sangiran, Solo, Indonesia

And funniest!

Batik Market

Call me ignorant. I do not really remember the name since there were much complexities preparing this trip. I am thankful that we could make it! 😛 Again, the market is pretty much similar to Mingalar Market or Yuzana Plaza in Yangon. The most significant (and most wonderful) thing was stuffs there were surprisingly cheap! I bought two 6″ stuff toys for S$6, a Batik shirt for less than S$2.7,  two purses for S$1.2 each and 20 little batik key chains for S$5. Wonderful, isn’t it?

Batik Market, Solo, Surakata, Indonesia

A lovely Batik shop. You can see the price tags.

There are a few other restaurants we headed to have dinner/lunch. But as I have no clue of their names and exact locations, I guess it would not be useful to write it out. But hey, here’s the cutest possible sign board in the toilet (the airport toilet.)

Toilet Sign, Solo, Indonesia

Have no clue what it means. But it’s too cute not to take a photo.

 

I’ve once written about it here. And in above clip, you might be able to visualize it more. 🙂

Video  —  Posted: 03/05/2013 in Culture, Fun Fact, Vlog
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You might have read DOs and DON’Ts in Myanmar somewhere on Internet. But those are for the convinience of tourists and only very few visitors care for what locals would think for their acts during their stay in Myanmar.

This video is just to let you know what you should not do in Myanmar not to make locals feel that you are not paying respect to their culture.

DISCLAIMER : These are my own thoughts based on my experience as an average Myanmar citizen who come from a mixed Bamar family. The habits and perceptions of Myanmar people may vary from time to time and people from different states and divisions may have different cultural habit and society values.

Video  —  Posted: 25/04/2013 in Culture, Myanmar, Vlog
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Since it was unblocked in 2011, Facebook in Burma has become a platform for sectarian hate speech and propaganda

Since June 2012, when violence broke out between Rohingya and Buddhists in RakhineState, Facebook has become a platform where propagandists mislead social network users in Burma on what seems like a daily basis. There is increasing concern about the number of Burmese Internet users misusing their newfound access to social media. In reality, social networking is not that new to Burmese Internet users, but using it for online propaganda is.

Despite low penetration and strict control of the Internet, active debate on all major religions on Burmese forums did exist for a number of years prior to 2012, with little evidence of animosities spilling into the offline world. Although the country was closed in many ways, people seemed to be more open-minded. Burmese Internet users were allowed access to Facebook in September 2011. However, it is not the only root cause of hate speech and online propaganda since Burmese Facebook users seemed calm until the Rohingya issue emerged in mid-2012.

This falsified image appeared on a Burmese Facebook page alleging killings by Burmese monks. It actually shows Tibetan monks helping out after the 2010 earthquake in China. Pic: Facebook.Since then, fabricated news and falsified images have come from several Facebook accounts with unknown identities. Buddhists portray Muslims as extremists and terrorists while Muslims say Buddhists as racists. Hoaxes are everywhere. Monks from Tibet helping out after a disaster became Buddhist monks killing Rohingya. Infants from orphanages were falsely portrayed as Burmese children displaced by Rohingya rioters.

The situation intensified again recently after the Meikhtila riots. Extremist Facebook pages and accounts with thousands of followers have stoked the tensions with images and stories that cannot be verified. Images from alleged crime scenes – the dead body of a Rakhine girl reportedly raped and killed by three Muslims in June, the burnt body of a Buddhist monk allegedly killed by Muslims in Meikhtila and a video of Buddhist monk threatening to kill Muslims – are all questionable. The “unknown” sources recorded those and uploaded to Facebook, where they spread like wildfire. More interesting is that these are not images and videos likely to be captured by average members of the public, and security forces were included in some videos.

Read more on AsianCorrespondent.

Video  —  Posted: 14/04/2013 in Culture, Myanmar
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