Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Burmese blogger sentenced to 20 years imprisonment

From Irrawaddy:

Burmese blogger Nay Phone Latt, 28, was sentenced to 20 years and six months imprisonment.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Abandoned, but not forgotten

The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITWF) released the
following 10-minute documentary about the plight of Burmese seamen
in Thailand's fishing industry.

Friday, September 26, 2008

China Taps into Burma's Nickel Resources

William Boot reported in the Irrawaddy that Chinese companies would extract nickel in the Mandalay region.

The military government has signed an agreement to allow the China Non-Ferrous Metal Group to develop mines in the Mandalay region to extract a massive 100,000 tonnes-plus per year.

Burma's Ministry of Mines claims that the project will provide jobs for more than 1,000 Burmese, but observers note that China will be the main beneficiary.

"It's reasonable to say that Burma is being systematically plundered for its natural wealth by its big neighbors, China, India and Thailand," said one analyst with an economic development agency in Thailand, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

It's just sad that Burma, as always, will keep selling raw materials because it lacks human resource, technology and facilities to make refined products.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

An eye for an eye?

Aung Zaw said in his commentaries at the Irrawaddy and the Wall Street Journal that the Irrawaddy web site and some other exiled news sites were under attack by the Burmese military junta. Even if his claim is true (it probably is), what he did not mention in his commentaries is that the military government is not the first to start this war.

People's hatred of the current military government can be seen online since the early 90s. Back in the days of early and late 90s, Usenet newsgroups were the places where people shared information and ideas. It was before we know the web as we do today. Anti-junta Burmese activists fought with the pro-junta people in discussion groups such as soc.culture.burma. Some people just got tired of arguing and defaced www.myanmar.com on August 3, 2000.

Eight years after that hacking episode, the Irrawaddy and exiled media groups were under attack. The sad truth of recent attacks is that the pro-government people are eight years behind in technology compared to the anti-government activists. The saddest fact yet is that we Burmese people are busy fighting with each other. If--this is a big if--all the efforts by both sides were used for the development of Burma's infrastructure and technology, it would be a big win for the country. Sadly though, we are wasting our efforts hacking each other's sites.

Not sharing the same ideas and philosophy with a web site's content is understandable. However, attacking the site just because it does not share with your ideas and values is plain wrong. Attacking each other like children should be discouraged and not be hailed in the free virtual world of Burmese online citizens. I hope that the pro- and anti-government groups would not pursue an eye for an eye ideology and start launching attacks on each other at the Burma's fragile online community.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Chinese milk powder in Burma

Htin Kyaw reported in the Myanmar Times last year that Chinese brands dominated milk powder market in Burma.
I am sure that is still true now.

The latest headlines in China and beyond are baby milk powder produced by 22 Chinese
companies has been tainted with melamine, a toxic chemical. Myanmar, formerly known as
Burma, is included in the list of countries where the products have been exported
according to the following report from AFP.

Chinese officials have found 22 companies produced baby milk tainted with a toxic chemical, state media said Tuesday, in a dramatic escalation of a scandal that has left two infants dead.

Milk powder contaminated with a chemical used to make plastics has sickened more than 1,200 infants in a health scare that erupted last week and prompted a nationwide investigation into the extent of the problem.

The contamination was originally thought contained to the Sanlu brand, with the company apologising on Monday for the scandal.

The 22 companies mentioned by CCTV included Torador Dairy Industry, a China-Australia joint venture in the northern city of Tianjian. Calls to Torador on Tuesday evening went unanswered.

They also included Guangdong Yashili Group, the report said, which exports its products to Bangladesh, Myanmar and Yemen.

Sunday, September 07, 2008


August went past so fast for me working with four dictionaries. Sigh..... Finally, here they are:
Burmese dictionary
Burmese dictionary is mainly based on the Myanmar-English dictionary published in 1993 by the Myanmar Language Commission and republished in 1996 by Dunwoody Press (ISBN 1-881265-47-1)

Mon dictionary

Mon dictionary is based on the Dictionary of Modern Spoken Mon by H.L. Shorto (1962, Oxford University Press)

Shan dictionary

Shan dictionary is based on the Shan-English dictionary by Sao Tern Moeng (ISBN 0-931745-92-6)

Karen dictionary

Karen dictionary is based on the Drum Karen-English Student dictionary published by the Drum Publication Group in 2008.

If you do use them and find any errors or mistakes, please let me know.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Harry Shorto

From http://sealang.net/archives/shorto/:

Harry Leonard Shorto (1919-1995) was the world's acknowledged expert on the development of the Mon language over the last two millennia, and a leading scholar on Mon-Khmer and Austroasiatic linguistics in general. This site is devoted to presenting Shorto's published and unpublished work, as well as photographs taken by him in Burma in the mid-1950's.

See here for Harry Shorto's pictures taken in Burma in the mid fifties.

Mon-Khmer Comparative Dictionary

The following is from Amazon:

A Mon-Khmer Comparative Dictionary (MKCD) is the magnum opus of Professor Harry L. Shorto (1919-1995), formerly Professor of Mon-Khmer Studies in the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies, until his retirement in 1984. He is the author of two standard reference works, A Dictionary of Modern Spoken Mon (1962) and the highly respected author of the standard reference to epigraphic Mon: A Dictionary of the Mon Inscriptions (1971) as well as the classic dictionary. Shorto held the Chair in Mon-Khmer Studies. The MKCD is Shorto's grand synthesis of seventy years of historical and comparative research on the Mon-Khmer languages. Meant to be published in the early 1980s, Shorto's manuscript was rediscovered by his daughter Anna, and has been carefully edited in line with the author's intentions. The MKCD presents 2,246 etymologies with almost 30,000 lexical citations; even today, it is the most extensive analysis of Mon-Khmer to appear since Wilhelm Schmidt laid the foundations of comparative Mon-Khmer exactly 100 years ago with the Grundzüge einer Lautlehre der Mon-Khmer-Sprachen (1905) and Die Mon-Khmer-Völker (1906). A Mon-Khmer Comparative Dictionary includes numerous Munda, Austronesian, Thai, Burmese and Chinese lexical comparisons. It is an incomparable resource for studying Southeast Asia's rich legacy of language contact, and for investigating distant genetic relations with its largest, oldest language family. Clearly establishing the terms of reference for future discussion of Mon-Khmer etymology, Shorto's MKCD joins such defining works as Emeneau and Burrow's A Dravidian Etymological Dictionary (1961) and Turner's A Comparative Dictionary of the Indo-Aryan Languages (1966-85) in the canon of 20th century comparative linguistics.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Learning English in the prison

From Washington Post:

A Rangoon teacher jailed for five years in the aftermath of the uprising talked about
his experiences in the prison.

In prison, he said, "you know who your real friends are; you learn the meaning of 'friend.' We shared everything we had: our food and all our knowledge."

He and two prison mates tore apart an old English primer, the only book that one of them had managed to have smuggled inside. They took turns reading and hiding the pieces, burying them in the soil outside their cells. From the pages he learned to speak English.

The article is definitely worth a read.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Burmese unicode converter

I thought I would share this Perl script I have written to convert Burmese
unicode from version 4.1 to 5.1. If any of you find it useful, please feel free
to use it with GPL license. If you find any bugs, please let me know.

Download it here.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Once upon a time at the Rangoon University

Dr. Kyaw Thet gave a lecture at the once-prestigious Rangoon University. The clip was
taken from 1957 CBS Edward Murrow's "See It Now" program on "Burma, Buddhism, and

Friday, July 18, 2008

Those who dare

Today is Nelson Mandela's
90th birthday! Let's listen to an old famous song to honor his birthday and
sacrifices for South Africa.

"Free Nelson Mandela"
is a song written by
Jerry Dammers
and performed by the band "The Special A.K.A." The song was
to protest the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela by South Africa's apartheid government.

Free, Free, Free, Nelson Mandela
Free Nelson Mandela
Twenty-one years in captivity
His shoes too small to fit his feet
His body abused but his mind is still free
Are you so blind that you cannot see

I say Free Nelson Mandela
I'm begging you
Free Nelson Mandela

He pleaded the causes of the ANC
Only one man in a large army
Are you so blind that you cannot see
Are you so deaf that you cannot hear his plea

Free Nelson Mandela
I'm begging you Free Nelson Mandela

Twenty-one years in captivity
Are you so blind that you cannot see
Are you so deaf that you cannot hear
Are you so dumb that you cannot speak

I say Free Nelson Mandela
I'm begging you
Oh free Nelson Mandela, free
Nelson Mandela I'm begging you
begging you Please free Nelson Mandela
free Nelson Mandela
I'm telling you, you've got to free Nelson Mandela

This is a very quote from the article here:

Know your enemy and learn about his favorite sport
As far back as the 1960s, Mandela began studying Afrikaans, the language of
the white South Africans who created apartheid. His comrades in the ANC teased
him about it, but he wanted to understand the Afrikaner's worldview; he knew
that one day he would be fighting them or negotiating with them, and either
way, his destiny was tied to theirs.

This was strategic in two senses: by speaking his opponents' language, he
might understand their strengths and weaknesses and formulate tactics
accordingly. But he would also be ingratiating himself with his enemy.
Everyone from ordinary jailers to P.W. Botha was impressed by Mandela's
willingness to speak Afrikaans and his knowledge of Afrikaner history. He even
brushed up on his knowledge of rugby, the Afrikaners' beloved sport, so he
would be able to compare notes on teams and players.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bizarre remarks

From AFP

Burma's police chief, Khin Yee's remark about the arrests of some activists:

"They were not arrested. They are just being questioned."

More remarks regarding deported journalists:

"Some people enter the country with tourist visas and don't act like tourists."

"Some people overstep the boundaries by working as journalists. Those who
overstep the boundaries were deported. Actually, we should take legal action
against them, but we didn't do anything to them."

"About six people were deported because they overstepped the boundaries."

Thursday, June 05, 2008


From New York
regarding Barack Obama's victory for the Democratic nomination:

"We as black people now have hope that we have never, ever had," Mr. Sam-Brew [an
immigrant from Ghana] said. "I have new goals for my little girl. She can't
give me any excuses because she's black."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Stand by themselves

Aung Hla Tun reports for Reuters:

Myanmar's junta lashed out at offers of foreign aid on Thursday, criticizing donors' demands for access to the Irrawaddy delta and saying Cyclone Nargis' 2.4 million victims could "stand by themselves". "The people from Irrawaddy can survive on self-reliance without chocolate bars donated by foreign countries," the Kyemon newspaper said in a Burmese-language editorial.

The Burmese people can always "stand by themselves" according to the junta.
It doesn't matter how poor and helpless they are. The government just does not care.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Too little, too late

First they came for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up,
because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up,
because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one
left to speak up for me.
by Rev. Martin Niemoller, 1945

Parents Grief Turns to Rage at Chinese Officials From New York Times:

Bereaved parents whose children were crushed to death in their classrooms during the earthquake in Sichuan Province have turned mourning ceremonies into protests in recent days, forcing officials to address growing political repercussions over shoddy construction of public schools.

The crowd grew more agitated. Some parents said local officials had known for years that the school was unsafe but refused to take action. Others recalled that two hours passed before rescue workers showed up; even then, they stopped working at 10 p.m. on the night of the earthquake and did not resume the search until 9 a.m. the next day.

The Chinese took to the streets now that it was their children who were the victims
of the corrupted government system. When the Tibetans protested against the central communist regime, the Chiense nationalists were indifferent to them.

The authorities in Beijing appear to recognize the delicacy of the issue. On Monday, a spokesman for the Education Ministry, Wang Xuming, promised a reassessment of school buildings in quake zones, adding that those responsible for cutting corners on school construction would be severely punished.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Quote of the day

To be very blunt, Asean is really just a club of generally un-enlightened regimes,
headed by autocrats, feudalists, state-paternalists and militarists all sharing
the worst strain of pathetic Asian paternalism.

Zarni, a former Burmese activist who founded the Free Burma Campaign in the US

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Diary by Andrew Kirkwood and unsung heroes in Burma

Burma diary - the relief effort

Andrew Kirkwood, Burma director of Save the Children, has been keeping a diary of his life in Rangoon in the days following Cyclone Nargis. It's a good source coming from someone on the ground.

Read his diary here and here.

Burmese people helping each other out

A few days ago, I wrote about DIY, in which I elaborated how we, the Burmese, have learned to struggle through hardships by being creative and innovative. That spirit is seen in the hard work of volunteers in reaching out to the cyclone victims.

From the Irrawaddy:
"Since I don't have the means to provide cash or kind, I contribute labor by
helping distribute relief goods," said Nyi Nyi, a 21-year-old university
student. "Whenever we distribute rice and clothing, I can see the faces of the
cyclone victims light up. It is very rewarding to see them smile."

"They are true humanitarian heroes," said Bridget Gardner, the International
Red Cross representative in Burma, after touring an area where volunteers were
giving first aid to the injured.

After enduring decades of poverty and government oppression, Burmese people
are known for their resilience, having learned to depend on each other from
day to day especially in times of crisis.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Photo from LA Times: the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis

LA Times said:
MAKING DO: Using basic hand tools, two men in Yangon, like many Myanmar residents, are performing much of the cleanup work themselves for lack of foreign or domestic assistance.

DIY Way of Life
We, the Burmese, are used to solving problems on our own because we all know
our government does not care about us. Almost everything in Burma
is DIY (Do It Yourself), to borrow a geeky terms.

In our town in Southern Burma, the electricity from the government is not
reliable at all (We honor Thomas Alva Edison every day by staying in the dark)
Guess what the solution of the community is? A well-to-do family would buy a
generator and install power line -- only the home-quality one -- to each house in
the street, who wants the electricity. The family runs the generator, let's say,
from 6:00 PM till 9:00 PM. The family then collects the fees every two weeks,
based on the number of fluorescent lamps you have agreed to install in the first
place. How democratic and market-oriented our community is! :)

Burmese migrants in Thailand have been using the family-run telephone exchange
in the border area to call their family back home. Here is what you do. You
dial a Thailand registered number of the family-owned telephone switch in the
border and tell them the number in Burma you are trying to call.
The exchange having several phones registered both in Thailand and Burma, can
route your call from Thailand's phone system to Burma's. You have just dialed a
telephone number in Thailand and yet you are talking to your family in Burma.
They collect the fees at the end of the month based on how many minutes you
talked (or hours if you talked to your sweethearts :).
Well, the Burmese have just installed a home-made telephone switch without
any investment from governments or businesses.

Survival of the Fittest
We have learned to survive and live with inefficiencies, thanks to our government.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Emma Lazarus's The New Colossus

Emma Lazarus (July 22, 1849 - November 19, 1887) was an American poet. She wrote
"The New Colossus" in 1883, that is now engraved on a bronze plaque on a wall in the base
of the Statue of Liberty.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Paul Auster wrote that
"Bartholdi's gigantic effigy was originally intended as a monument to the principles of
international republicanism, but 'The New Colossus' reinvented the statue's purpose,
turning Liberty into a welcoming mother, a symbol of hope to the outcasts and downtrodden
of the world".

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Burmese-English dictionary

I have been busy working with the visual input system for our dictionaries. Check out the beta version for Burmese at http://burmese.sealang.net

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Those who dare

The lights had gone down, the film was about to begin, and the young Thai couple were cosily ensconced in the big Bangkok cinema when the popcorn started flying. Most of it landed on the woman, hurled by a man to her right. Soon he was slapping her with a rolled-up film flyer, and screaming at her and her boyfriend to get out of the cinema.

As the rest of the audience joined in, jeering, throwing water bottles and urging on the assailant, the two made their retreat. The incident reached its climax this week when the boyfriend, Chotisak Onsoong, was charged with an offence that could land him in jail for 15 years. His alleged crime was simple: during the playing of the royal anthem which precedes all films in Thai cinemas, he had remained in his seat.

Mr Chotisak, a 27-year old businessman and political activist, is the latest person to be prosecuted under Thailands stringent lèse majesté laws, which make it a crime to defame, insult or threaten the King, Queen or heir to the throne.

Unquestionably, many Thais revere 80-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose image is seen in almost every office, many homes and on giant billboards hung every few hundred yards above Thailands roads. But others see the law as a tool of oppression and a means of intimidating those who peacefully question the status quo.

"Not standing up is not an offence against anyone --- that's what I think," Mr Chotisak said in yesterdays Bangkok Post, after being charged on Tuesday. "The public have the right to make a choice whether to rise or not . . . I would like to stress that what I did was not intended to insult or express vengeance to the King. I was simply enjoying my right to freedom of expression." In Thailand academics struggle for the right even to discuss the monarchy, let alone criticise it. And in recent years there has been an increase in accusations of lèse majesté.

Mr Chotisak is that rare thing in Thailand --- an overt Republican. His girlfriend is a Muslim, and objects to the idolisation of a human. But their ordeal was mild, compared with those of some dissenters.

I have to respect Chotisak, who is brave enough to challenge and question status quo. He also said the following:

"In a country where the majority of the people eat rice and I
choose to eat noodles, it is my right to choose. It's legal."

Parry, R.L. (2008, April 24). Filmgoer faces jail in Thailand for sitting during the national anthem. Times Online. Retrieved April 24, 2008 from http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article3803939.ece

Thai activist challenges royalist ritual at nation's cinemas (2008, April 25). The International Herald Tribune. Retrieved April 25, 2008 from http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/04/25/asia/AS-GEN-Thailand-Royal-Anthem.php

Thursday, April 24, 2008

People as tourist magnets By Christiane Oelrich

The residents of the village of long-necked women in northern Thailand say they feel like prisoners in a human zoo. The government says that is absurd.

Kayan Tayar, Mae Hong Son (dpa) - When Mu La talks, her voice sounds muffled because of the 27 heavy brass rings that the 44-year-old wears around her neck.

But the message from the refugee from Burma - who lives in northern Mae Hong Son province in a mock village purpose-built for tourists - is crystal-clear: "We want to leave here, never mind where to, only away from here. We feel like prisoners."

Visitors call the village a "human zoo," but Thailand's government rejects the term as "absurd."

Mu La is a member of an ethnic group whose women wear brass rings around their necks as status symbols. For them, the longer the neck, the more beautiful the woman.

Their rings can weigh 10 kilogrammes or more, and over the years, the weight pushes down the collar bones and shoulders, making necks appear longer and giving the women their nicknames of "long-necked" or "giraffe" women.

They are part of an ethnic group called the Padung in Thailand, but they reject that term as denigrating and call themselves Kayan and their village Kayan Tayar.

An Italian tourist couple has paid an entrance fee of 250 baht ($8) each to visit Kayan Tayar, which lies at the end of an unpaved road north-west of the provincial capital of Mae Hong Son.

The young woman shoots photos while repeatedly muttering, "Incredible," and getting as close to her subjects as her lens permits.

The village's oldest female resident, Ma Le, 80, was undisturbed. She is used to such intrusions.

"Sometimes we receive three or four, sometimes up to 20 tour groups a day," says Mu La, sitting on her wooden hut's veranda and weaving a scarf.

The village's huts are built on stilts because the dirt track in front of them is regularly flooded in the wet season. There is no electricity.

"The tourists think we are primitive people," 23-year-old Zember says. "The guides say they don't want to see good roads or clean villages or anything modern, so we have to live like this to please the tourists."

When business is good and enough tour groups arrive, each of the 60 women wearing neck rings receives 1,500 baht a month from the village's Thai operators. The children and men get nothing at all, so the money has to support all 260 villagers.

During the off season, they get nothing, the villagers say. They rely heavily on donations from charities to survive.

Like most of her fellow villagers, Mu La fled her home country in the late 1980s to escape its brutal military regime.

"The soldiers came all the time," she says.

They forced the men to become porters on the front lines of the government's war against rebel armies and drove the women ahead of their ranks in case land mines were laid in their path.

She and many like her fled. Initially, she was sent to one of the many refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border.

But when Thai business people recognized the money-earning potential of the exotic-looking women, they suggested they move to three artificial villages near Mae Hong Son.

Some of the families aren't bothered that they have become "tourism magnets."

The village of Huay Sua Thao is populated mainly by economic migrants who were enticed to settle there to create a tourist attraction. Most of the villagers agree that their current lives are better than in Burma.

There also are people in the village of Huay Pu Keng who don't complain about their lot.

"We hope that more and more tourists will come," 52-year-old Mu Nan says.

She weaves shawls and sells souvenirs in front of her hut. She has worn her neck rings since she was a small child and says she has gotten used to tourists gawking.

She intends to sit it out until "better times arrive" and then return to Burma once peace returns, but Mu La in Kayan Tayar has given up hope after almost 20 years as a refugee.

In 2005, she applied with 20 other people from the three tourist villages for resettlement to New Zealand. The country accepted them and the United Nations agreed to cover the air fare, but her plan to start a new life was shattered when the Thai authorities refused to issue an exit visa.

"Those who don't live in the temporary shelters are not considered as refugees," says Tharit Charungvat, a spokesman for Thailand's Foreign Ministry in Bangkok. To grant the exit visas "would be unfair to those in the camps who are waiting in line for resettlement," he says.

"Apart from that, they voluntarily went to live outside of their camps," he adds. "They are free and earn money."

But the term "free" leaves a bitter taste in the villagers' mouths.

If they are caught outside their villages, they are arrested, they say, because they are not permitted to seek jobs elsewhere.

Kayan Tayar's women are particularly upset. They think the Thai authorities might deny them exit visas so their country doesn't lose a lucrative tourist attraction.

Disillusioned and angry, some of them decided to protest by removing their neck rings. They say they hope this makes it easier to get exit visas.

One of them, Zember, recalls: "After I had learned English, I was shocked when I finally understood the tourists' comments. They said they were disgusted that we displayed ourselves for a little money like animals in a zoo."

That was never the case, she insists. She remembers that she once was proud of her neck rings and that she even wanted to wear more.

"I wanted to be a proud Kayan woman," she says.

Today, Zember looks like any other young woman. "I just want to lead a normal life," she says defiantly.

Only her sloping shoulders belie her past years of wearing the heavy rings.

Mu La, a mother of eight, also contemplates taking off her 27 rings, which give her the longest neck in the village.

"I am proud of our tradition," she says but concedes that she is willing to sacrifice for a ticket to freedom.

"If that is the only way for me to leave here, I will take them all off," she asserts.

Ma Lo, another young woman, is equally frustrated and fed up with living in the village. She took her rings off, too.

There is a picture postcard in circulation that shows her breastfeeding her baby. Nobody asked her permission to publish the photo.

"I was so ashamed when I saw the postcard for the first time, but I couldn't do anything against it," she says. "I don't want to be treated like an exhibit anymore. I want some respect."

Oelrich, C. (2008, April 28). People as tourist magnets. Bangkok Post.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Illegal Burmese Labor Fuels Thailand Economy by William Boot

The deaths of more than 50 Burmese migrants last week in a sealed container truck transporting them to illicit jobs in southern Thailand starkly illustrates the growing reliance Thailand places on unofficial labor to help run its economy.

The Thai authorities acknowledge that there may be 1 million Burmese migrant workers living in Thailand, yet Thailands Migrant Assistance Program recently recorded that only 367,834 were registered with work permits in 2007.

Various NGOs campaigning for the rights of abused minorities and refugees say the number of illegal Burmese in Thailand is closer to 1.5 million. Many of them are children.

The Migrant Worker Group, a coalition of NGOs pressing for human rights, documents many instances of abuse by employers.

The MWG estimates that illegal Burmese laborers, especially in the booming construction industry, are paid up to 50 percent less than Thai unskilled labor and have no rights.

Migrant workers are very badly regarded and very badly treated by Thai society, wrote academic and former Thai Senator Jon Ungphakorn in the Bangkok Post. Yet it is hard to imagine how our economy would manage without them.

Ungphakorn says that since illegal laborers are not taking jobs away from Thais they should all be given legal status and employment rights.

Boot, W. (2008, April 19). Weekly Business Roundup. The Irrawaddy. Retrieved April 23, 2008 from http://www.irrawaddy.org/article.php?art_id=11461&page=1

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A boom at the border By William Sparrow

I went to a "mom and pop" store for cigarettes. A very young woman was handling the transaction; thin, long hair, long legs, pretty face with no makeup. I wondered if she was 18.

As she turned and descended into the dark shop, an elderly women, presumably a relative, emerged from the shadows. She lunged from her seat, sensing opportunity. "You want she?" the woman asked, meaning "her" - the young woman.

I was shocked and caught off-guard and couldn't respond. In the silence, the
elder woman continued "You want daughter? You take," she said, pointing. "Have
hotel. Fifteen dollar."

"No," I said firmly. With that, the old woman scowled and slunk back to her seat.

The shop girl never met my eyes as she handed over the cigarettes. Still, I perceived a small smile.

A sex slave working as a shop girl; a young woman being sold by her own mother. It was a sad situation that I won't soon forget. Sadly, scenes like this will likely continue until the Myanmar government can improve the lives of its 55 million people. I was overcome by this realization as I settled the bill in that tiny shop on the Myanmar-Thai border.

As I turned to leave, I heard the shop girl whisper "thank you".

Read more at Asia Times

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Politicizing Olympics

The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

George Orwell said those words in his 1946 essay "Why I write."

Pro-Chinese governments, including Burma, and the Chinese government have been saying that olympics should not be politicized.

[Chinese] Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang says the Beijing Olympics is a grand event both for China and for the whole world, and that the Games should not be politicized.

The statement by Qin Gang is in itself a political one, describing a "grand event"
showcasing the "rich and powerful" China. Olympics have long been used by various governments to promote their ideology. Hitler used the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany as a tool to promote Nazi ideology by allowing only members of the "Aryan race" to compete for Germany.

Looking as far back as ancient Olympics events, winning athletes were heroes who put their home towns on the map. Winning medals at the Olympics signify the wealth and power of a town. A young Athenian nobleman used the number of his entries in chariot-race in the Olympics to defend his political reputation.
[From Tufts]

Therefore, as far as I am concerned, olympics is a sporting as well as political
event. As much as the Chinese government has the right to make the "grand" event successful, activists around the world should also have the right to express their anger towards the Chinese government and its policy.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Web server upgrade

My site was down for a few days because of the server upgrade. I am still fixing some problems after the server is up again.

Please bear with me :) I am sorry for the inconvenience if you receive some of the old posts, which were accidentally pushed up to recent dates during the upgrade process.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Thai Prime Minister's stupid comments regarding Burma

"Killings and suppressions are normal there, but we have to understand the facts," said Samak.

"And Senior Than Shwe practices meditation. He said he prays in the morning ... and the country has been in peace and order."

The Nation
The Irrawaddy

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Psalm 137

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Gambari in Burma

Kyaw San's words to Gambari

Kyaw San is the information minister.

"We are very astonished and dismayed for your involvement in this matter [releasing a letter on Aung San Suu Kyi's behalf in November]," Kyaw Hsan was quoted in the newspaper as saying.

"Sadly, you went beyond your mandate. Hence, the majority of people are criticizing it as a biased act. Some even believe that you prepared the statement in advance and released it after coordinating with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi," he said.

"The statement was dangerous to the degree of hurting the prevailing peace and
stability of the nation," the minister said.

Read more

Saturday, March 01, 2008

In Myanmar, a resistance hero on the run

"Somewhere in the dilapidated city of Yangon is a man on the run since August last year. He has sheltered in over 10 homes so far. But he expects to continue avoiding arrest by Myanmar's dreaded military or intelligence forces.

When Tun Myint Aung shifts from one safehouse to another, he goes armed with two items that have become indispensable. They are a mobile phone and a portable, Chinese-made radio, to listen to such anti-junta stations like the Democratic Voice of Burma, based in Oslo, Norway."

Asia Times

Thursday, February 28, 2008

China importing cheap and unsafe materials to Burma?

Most of the Adidas and Nike shoes I bought in the US were made in China. The quality was good, at least, because of the quality control imposed by the US government.

However, the products imported to Burma from China are dirt-cheap. There is also no quality control on both sides of the border. People with low income needs cheap and affordable materials.

The following quotes are from Fires Continue to Plague Mandalay.

A Burmese engineer now working in Singapore explained that the frequent occurrence of fires in Burma is largely due to the poor quality of materials used in the country.

There is no quality control by authorities in Burma, and most of the electrical materials that Burmese people use are imported from China. These are very cheap and don't last very long, he said.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Injured Burmese from Mae Sot bomb blast detained and sent back to Burma

Eleven persons who were injured in a blast apparently caused by some kind of homemade bomb at the Mae Sot dump on Thailands border were themselves detained and then sent back to Burma on February 26 because they didnt have ID cards.

Read more at Ratchasima

Monday, February 04, 2008

Blessed are the meek --- the adventure of an unknown girl on a Sunday

It was a cloudy Sunday morning and humid outside as I got off from the sky train.

I was on my way to Bangkok Christ Church.

The church was founded by Burmese people who were working in Bangkok at various professions -- from housemaids to university professors. It was a hang-out for many Burmese who wanted to get
away from work-related stresses. They wanted to be together with God and friends, seeking peace, serenity and a sense of family and friends in a land away from home and loved ones.

Many Burmese came to church as Sunday was their day off. It was a relief for them to be away from construction sites where they worked and lived, from houses where they worked as maids, and from schools where they studied. Meeting and mixing with people who shared the same faith but came from different backgrounds was also a great experience of coming to church.

My friend, Saw Chan Nyein Aung, was no exception. He was on a business trip to Bangkok and wanted to come to church. His Singapore company sent him here to do some work for their client. He was working hard the whole week. He wanted to rest on the Sabbath, and talk to friends and God.

I told him, on the phone, that I would wait for him near Asia hotel because it was easy to give directions to the hotel.

Before going straight to church, I had to wait for him near the hotel, which was just next to the sky train station.

Asia hotel was full of Western tourists who were running away from freezing winters back home. Taxi drivers were looking for tourists for solicitations as if eagles were looking for their preys.
Tuk Tuk drivers were also there.

I was standing near the unofficial taxi stand where tourists and taxi drivers were negotiating for fares.

Near the corner of my eye, I saw a policeman on a motorbike. He was talking to a girl in a black T-shirt and pants.

That instantly reminded me of familiar scenes in which Thai policemen were distorting money from helpless migrant workers.

The policeman picked her out to be a Burmese. Her facial characteristics stood out among the crowd. The black T-shirt and pants, which she was wearing to conform with the locals mourning for the death of the Thai king's sister, did not help her.

I was watching them from far away. He was on the phone, probably talking to the broker who helped her get a work permit in Thailand (if she ever had one), or her friends to come and rescue her with a ransom of about US $ 100 (if she did not have a work permit). After about 5 minutes, he finished talking on the phone.

They came towards me. The policeman was riding the motorbike slowly ahead of her. She was walking from behind. As the policeman got a bit far ahead of her, she ran into an alley. However, the policeman looked back and saw her disappear. He headed his motorbike back. Somebody pointed to the direction she ran. The policeman followed her and caught her. He at last put her on the back of the motorbike and came towards me.

They got into the hotel compound, passing me. They stopped near the door leading to the lobby under the portico. The girl sat on the stairs near the door. The policeman was sitting on the motorbike.

I didn't exactly know what was going on because I was a bit far from them. They seemed to be waiting for something. Maybe the girl's friends would come to pay ransom for her release.

I was there for about 10 more minutes. My heart was starting to beat fast, wanting to document or do something. I couldn't imagine how she would be feeling at that moment.

My friend finally came. I asked him if he got a camera. He said no. I wanted to take a picture to make awareness of the plight of the migrant workers in Thailand. If he had a camera, I would go take a picture of my friend with the hotel background so the policeman and the girl would appear in the

Unfortunately, my friend and I left the scene, heading for church. I felt guilty that I couldn't really do anything for many helpless migrant workers like her from Burma.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Burmese man slipped through the airport security and onto tarmac at Bangkok International Airport

A man from Myanmar who claimed to be a convict on the run was arrested on the tarmac at Bangkok's international airport after having slipped through security, authorities said Friday. Police said the man, who identified himself as 28-year-old Zu Aung, was found Tuesday aboard a Turkish Airlines jet ....

Read more.

This is a sad news, actually. It shows that ordinary Burmese citizens are not happy with their own country and are trying desperately to get out in search of better lives. Yet, they end up in jails in neighboring countries.

Outgoing Myanmar envoy plans retirement life in RP And educated people do not even want to retire in Burma. How sad it is?

The outgoing ambassador of the Union of Myanmar, Thaung Tun, said that he and his family plans to stay in the country [Philippine] once he retires.

Read more

Thursday, January 03, 2008

New Year Wish

Greetings from across the ocean! I just want to wish you a happy new year! I am sending my greetings only now because I don't want to compete for your attention during around Christmas!

The year of 2007 went past fine for me. Most of 2007 was spent writing my Master's thesis proposal. I am working on the task of aligning English sentences with their equivalent Thai translations using various approaches in computer science. (I don't want to elaborate on that :)

I am still working at the Center for Research in Computational Linguistics (www.sealang.net) in Bangkok. I am learning so much about the field that I want to go on to a PhD program. If I ever do a PhD, I would like to work on Burmese word segmentation.

I also travelled to Chiang Mai (a northern Thai town). I visited Saw Htaw and Kelly, my college friends, who are now living there and working for the Summer Institute of Linguistics. I had a wonderful time there with them and their adorable son, Jeremiah.

Chiang Mai is a lovely small city. If you are thinking about early retirement, it's the right place. The living cost is so low that you will probably be able to retire without working until 60. :) And, of course, you will have an opportunity to help the helpless and needy people from Burma, who, instead of working in poverty-stricken Burma, came to Thailand in search of better lives.

I hope that 2008 will be a prosperous and happy new year for you. Thinking about you now at this time of the season for family and friends!

With love,

Lwin Moe