Monday, August 10, 2015

Black Ribbon Movement Myanmar 2015

Successive Burmese governments since the military took over in the 60s have transferred retired military officers into management positions in various civilian departments. It's been such a norm. But recent transfers of some military officers to work in the ministry of health caused medical workers to revolt thanks in part to social media. They have been running Black Ribbon Movement on Facebook.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

လောပန်လောင်း (lǎo bǎn)

♫ ♫ ♪ တကယ်တော့ ဆိုက်ကားသမားများဟာ လောပန်လောင်းတွေပါ။ ♫♫
♫ ♫ ♪ In fact, trishaw drivers are potential lǎo bǎn! ♫♫

Note that the word "lǎo bǎn" in Chinese roughly means "old boss."

The context for the lyrical caption (changing the words "gem miners" to "trishaw drivers" from a famous song in Burma) and the photo was a comment made by the prime minister of Irrawaddy Division in Burma. Here is the original quotes from Myit Makha news article:

"ကျွန်တော်ဆိုက္ကားနင်းရရင် ချမ်းသာအောင်လုပ်နိုင်တယ်။ စီမံခန့်ခွဲတတ်ရမယ်။ စဉ်းစားဆင်ခြင် တတ်ရမယ်။ ဆင်းရဲသားတွေ ချမ်းသာဖို့အတွက် အမြဲတမ်း စဉ်းစားတယ်။ နောက်သက်တမ်းမှာ ကျွန်တော်တို့ရှိချင်မှ ရှိမယ်။ ဒါကအရေးမကြီးပါဘူး။" ဟု ဧရာဝတီတိုင်းဒေသကြီး ဝန်ကြီးချုပ် ဦးသိန်းအောင်ကပြောသည်။

He was saying that he could get rich by working as a trishaw driver. He said you had to know management and had common sense. He probably meant well.

However, Burmese Facebooksphere has been blasting this as a joke because it is indeed difficult to climb up the social ladder in Burma given the need to have connections to do any businesses. So the lyrical caption and the photo was a commentary to that.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

General Aung San and the "frontier areas"

In honor of Martyrs' Day, I was looking for some videos on General Aung San on YouTube and found the following.

.... we want the people of what's called the frontier areas to have the same freedom with us simultaneously and join hands with us.

The phrase "frontier areas", used in the video by General Aung San, got my attention. Chin, Kachin and Shan states were apparently considered frontier then. General Aung San tried very hard so that all the ethnic minorities would be on board with the demand of independence from the British as a Union of Burma, promising federalism. He signed the Panglong agreement with ethnic leaders; Panglong agreement promised "full autonomy in internal administration for the Frontier Areas."

Successive military regimes never honored that. It could have avoided all the tragedies and become a true Union of Burma (or Myanmar). Sadly though, the frontier areas then are still frontier today.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Reminiscent of BARS

The following was written for Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies 15th Anniversary Magazine.

When I first came to work at BARS, I was just out of college and a young man full of energy thinking to change the world. I arrived in Myanmar on Dec 11, 2002. On that same day in the afternoon, I went to see the famous Dean of BARS.

I still remember the first day I went to the office of Saya Paw Lu, the Dean of BARS. I was wearing a pair of short pants made out of Karen longyi sheet (disclaimer: I am not a Karen; I am a Mon) because it was so hot outside. I just switched from 0 degrees Fahrenheit in Indiana to 90 degrees in Yangon in a day. I went into the office and introduced myself to Saya Paw Lu. I will never forget the look on Saya's face seeing me in shorts. I guess I didn't look like a teacher, wearing shorts.

I became re-accustomed to the climate and culture in Myanmar and enjoyed the following two years at the Myanmar Institute of Theology (MIT). I became friends with many BARS students, especially from the first batch just because some of them were about the same age as me. I enjoyed working with all the MIT staff. I spent a lot of time working with Thra Alan Po and Thra Klo Htoo at the library, setting up computer networks and fixing computers. I also enjoyed the linguistic diversity at MIT and it probably gave birth to my interest in linguistics (I went on to get a Masters in Linguistics after I left BARS and am now working as a computational linguist at Indiana University.) I learned a bit of Karen while working at MIT even though I couldn't say that I mastered any languages.

In addition to learning languages, I went to various parts of Myanmar on mission trips because MIT and BARS students were from all over the country. For example, volunteering to teach English and Maths in Nam Sam Yang, Kachin State, near the Chinese border, gave me an opportunity to travel to parts of the country where I had never been before. I treasured those trips, giving me a chance to understand the locals and share their lives.

One of my most treasured moments at MIT include teacher-honoring ceremonies. We enjoyed performances by both students and teachers. BARS students were multi-talented in many areas – music, dance and public speaking, just to name a few. So were our teachers. Everybody loved the performance by Saya Bob, Tony and OJ at one of the teacher-honoring ceremonies. They made up a funny song about their teaching experience and interaction with BARS students to the tune of "You Are My Sunshine."

Teacher Bob, Tony and OJ singing a song at the teacher honoring ceremony
Nevertheless, working at BARS wasn't without challenges. As a full time faculty of MIT, I was paid around 20,000 Kyats (equivalent of $20 at the time). I learned to live on a tiny salary while living in Yangon. I was able to make ends meet thanks to my uncles and aunts who live about 20 minutes walk from MIT, providing me room and board. Since buses were so crowded in the evenings during rush hours, I would occasionally walk home. MIT teachers, who lived at MIT residence on Hyde Park Road, and BARS students would sometimes accompany me and we were able to talk about different things – theology and life, for example. I always told people (if they asked) that I was here seeking for myself treasures in heaven (quoting Matthew 6:20).

Of course, after collecting tons of treasures in heaven, I had to leave for more studies and work experience. I will always remember my time at BARS and the Myanmar Institute of Theology. It's the first place I ever worked full time as an adult. It taught me many things both spiritually and physically. Even though there were lots of challenges, I enjoyed working as a BARS teacher. I will always cherish that memory and hope to return and teach again in the future.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Lisu Songs

I spent a few hours scanning this Lisu song books. They are gospel songs. Here is the PDF file.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Burmese keyboard in Gmail

I noticed just today that Gmail has a keyboard icon on the right corner even though it's been around for a while. There are two Burmese keyboards that you can activate and use. It's great. We need more Unicode support right out of the box.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

How to speak Singaporean English by Amos Yee

The following lesson by Amos Yee on how to speak Singlish is hilarious. Please note that he has recently been in trouble for criticizing the late prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew. On a more serious academic note, Singlish is an example of pidgin and creole.

Police, smart phones and social media

In the age of smart phones and social media, everything is recorded. I sure wish I had a smart phone while living in Burma, Thailand and Laos 10 years ago.

The following YouTube video of NYC police abuse was posted by Sanjay Seth ( News media picked it up: HuffPostDailyMail and CNN.