Saturday, December 08, 2012

Reading Burmese blogs with Unicode-compliant fonts

If you want to read Burmese blogs and websites written in Zawgyi without having to install Zawgyi font, you can install Myanmar Converter plugin for Firefox by Keith Stribley. It will convert Zawgyi encoding to Unicode 5.1 encoding.

You will then be able to view the sites with Unicode-complaint Burmese fonts (from Windows 8) or Padauk and others.

Support in Windows 8 for Burmese and languages from Myanmar

I noticed that Windows 8 had support for the following languages:
  • Burmese
  • Mon
  • Eastern Pwo Karen
  • Western Pwo Karen
  • S'gaw Karen
  • Pa'O
  • Asho Chin
  • Lisu
One annoying thing I want to point out is the typing order for vowel "" [ei] and consonants. If you have learned how to write Burmese, you know that we write vowel [ei] (ေ) first and then a consonant, for example, ေ [ei] က [ka̰]. The Burmese and Mon keyboards on Windows 8 want you to type the consonants first before you type the vowel: က [ka̰] + ​ [ei]. Please note that consonant + vowel is the correct order in which the characters are encoded. When we type in vowel [ei] first, the smart keyboard is reordering it to be saved after the consonant. Of course, there are other keyboards that support typing vowel ei first.

It's so unnatural for me to type vowel [ei] first. I switched back to Keith Stribley's keyboard, myWin. It's linguistically better in my opinion. I installed Ekaya-0.1.9_x86.exe because somehow 64-bit version didn't seem to work on my machine. Now I am all set for Burmese and Mon support on Windows 8 with Ekaya keyboard and Windows' built-in fonts.

Overall, I am glad that Windows 8 has support for these languages. Hopefully, everybody starts to use the actual Unicode standard now. SEALang's Burmese dictionary website renders perfectly fine in Windows 8 with Burmese and Mon enabled. So does the Mon dictionary.

On my Linux machine, I have been happy for a long time with ibus-kmfl from Summer Institute of Linguistics with Keith's keyboards because he provides the source "kmn" files for myWin Burmese, Mon, Karen and Pa'O keyboards.

Burmese unicode will hopefully replace widely-used and popular Zawgyi encoding in the long run.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

The sale of a copper mine in Burma

From Wikileaks about the copper mine at the center of recent protests in Burma.

In the beginning, it was between a Canadian company and the Burmese mining enterprise:

Myanmar Ivanhoe Copper Co., Ltd. (MICCL), a 50/50 joint venture between Canadian-owned Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. and state-owned Mining Enterprise-1, began operations in Burma in 1994.

Canadians wanted out because of "the GOB's continued interference in operations, refusal to pay Ivanhoe its share of profits, and unreasonable demands for increased taxes" (I have no idea what GOB is; Government of Burma?):

Canadian-owned Ivanhoe Copper Co. continues to negotiate with state-owned Mining Enterprise-1 (ME-1) and a consortium of three Chinese companies - WanBo Copper, Norinco Copper, and Aluminum Corporation of China (Chalco) - for the sale of its joint venture company, Myanmar Ivanhoe Copper Co., Ltd. (MICCL).  According to MICCL Acting Director Glenn Ford, Ivanhoe plans to sell its share of MICCL to ME-1 for $100 million, who in turn will sell the entire company to the consortium for $250 million.

Canadians wanted to sell directly to the Chinese, but was afraid that GOB would block the sale (again, I have no idea what GOB is here.) Finally, they sold it to the Burmese, who then sold it to the Chinese. Tay Za made $50 million dollars in consulting fees for his role as a broker between the Chinese and the Burmese.

According to Andrew Mitchell, Ivanhoe Representative in Burma, Ivanhoe agreed to sell its shares to ME-1 because the company is desperate to divest.  While it would be easier and more profitable to negotiate directly with the Chinese, Ivanhoe is afraid the GOB would block the sale.  In early 2008, Ivanhoe and ME-1 agreed on a USD 100 million purchase price.  However, ME-1 lacked the money to pay Ivanhoe directly -- it needed to sell MICCL first (technically selling what it did not own).  In September 2008, ME-1 began negotiating with the Chinese consortium over the purchase of MICCL, using regime crony Tay Za as a broker.  Ford told us the Chinese agreed to pay USD 250 million for the mine and equipment, USD 50 million to Tay Za in consulting fees, and an additional USD 100 million to upgrade the mine. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Interesting bit about Obama's grandfather

From New York Times article:

"When President Obama lands in Yangon on Monday, he will be the first sitting American president to visit the country now known as Myanmar. But he will not be the first Obama to visit.

The president’s Kenyan grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, spent part of World War II in what was then called Burma as a cook for a British Army captain. Although details are sometimes debated, the elder Mr. Obama’s Asian experience proved formative just as his grandson’s time growing up in Indonesia did decades later."

"Either way, Burma was a place of awakening for Mr. Obama’s grandfather, a place where larger possibilities first presented themselves. But whatever ambitions he began to harbor then, he could hardly have imagined that seven decades later, his grandson would return to Burma aboard a blue-and-white 747 known as Air Force One."

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Stunning Myanmar

I came across the following video on Facebook via Ma K. It was beautifully done by Cameron Parr from Australia.

If you have never been to Burma, you must watch this. If you are a Burmese, you will love the song and the video.

The background song is "Going Home" by Sophie Zelmani:

Not very often have we met 
But the music's been too bad
Can only sense happiness
if the music is sad

So, I'm going home
I must hurry home
Where a life goes on

We're too old to make a mess
Dreams will keep me young
Old enough to stress
Only mirrors tell the time

So, I'm going home
I must hurry home
So will my life go on

Let's go home with Cameron and Sophie.

Myanmar from Cameron Parr on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Columbia University World Leaders Forum: A Discussion Featuring Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

My favorite is her answer to a Burmese student asking how she could help Burma: "If you really want to come back and help Burma, you must do it with a sense of humility."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi's speech at the Asia Society in Washington D.C.

She talked about American missionaries such as Judson and Seagrave (around 20 minutes into the video). She mentioned that schools and colleges founded by their organizations were well-known and were keen on preserving Burmese cultures and dress. One thing that was interesting was her comment about the Burmese dresses American Baptist Mission school girls had to wear during the colonial days in the 30s. After independence, though, she had to wear skirts at her English Methodist school unlike her mother who had to wear Burmese traditional dress.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Burma: now is the time to visit

Quotes from a blog post, Beautiful photos of a tourist in Burma, by "She travels" blog:

"We have been invited to sit down and eat, sit down and drink tea, sit down and chat an endless number of times – and each one of those conversations has made a very lasting impression on me."

"In Bagan we spent an afternoon in a village – no electricity or running water, a mere 10 minute car ride away from the famous temple area and several 4-star hotels. Nevertheless we were welcomed with friendly curiosity and a lot of smiles."

Quoting "From Bagan to Rajasthan" by Nat Friedman:

"In Mandalay I was healthy long enough to take an afternoon Burmese class from the woman who ran our guesthouse. A sophisticated and intelligent older lady, fluent in English and an ex-university lecturer, she told me I was the first guest to ever ask for a lesson and was excited to teach me. She knew all about the evolution of Burmese, its relation to the Sri Lankan Pali, and the origins of its odd, circular script. It was a great afternoon.

I do not have the natural language talents of Stephanie, who speaks five languages fluently, but I am always surprised by how easy it is to learn 20 words in a given language, and how much it changes your experience visiting a country. In the small amount of time I spent learning it, Burmese seemed simple, with no conjugations and few difficult sounds. After a couple of hours I could form simple sentences, and Stephanie and I spent the rest of our trip astonishing the local people with monologues like, “This is my wife. She comes from Germany. I am 33. We are hungry. We go restaurant?” It’s not poetry but I think anyone can get to that point in a couple of hours and it opens so many doors. We did the same thing in Cambodia and it changed everything about our trip, not only there but also in the Mekong delta in Vietnam, where we discovered that nearly everyone we met was of Cambodian descent and spoke Khmer as a first language."

Thursday, August 23, 2012

iPone vs. iPad

I came across the following picture on Facebook. I thought it was cool to compare a slate to today's iPad. When I was young (in Burma), every Burmese kid used slates to practice writing and maths. Apple probably stole the idea and invented iPad. Just kidding ;)

Let me explain you the joke in the title, iPone vs. iPad. Burmese word for 'slate' is 'ကျောက်သင်ပုန်း'  [ʧaʊʔ θì̃ bóʊ̃]. The last piece in the word, [bóʊ̃], sounds like "bone". Hence the joke in the title of the post: iPone vs. iPad. :)


Monday, August 20, 2012

Machine Learning Course by Andrew Ng

I have been enjoying courses on and They have excellent and free online courses from such universities as Stanford, University of California at Berkeley, University of Michigan, and a few other great ones.

A while back ago, I finished a machine learning course by Professor Andrew Ng of Stanford University. Here is the certificate I got from Coursera.

From Misc.

I think these websites are great and will give students from places like Burma a chance to catch up with the rest of the world. I hope students from Burma can take advantage of these courses from, and They just need a good Internet connection and a desire to learn.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sunday, July 15, 2012

How Burmese hear a Korean song

I always think that linguistics is fascinating. No wonder I am in computational linguistics, right? :)

Here is a Korean song and how we Burmese hear it. It's so funny. The point is we tend to hear what is in our language's sound system and also the sounds of words we are familiar with. This is a perfect and funny example.

If you are curious, you can compare Korean's phonology with Burmese phonology and get insights into why we hear the song the way we hear it in the above YouTube video.

Remember, though, that this is just a funny example and not a scientific proof. Just to relax and laugh :)

Whoever did this subtitle painstakingly got my salute. :) He/she successfully made many people laugh. Thanks!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Francis Wade wrote at the Asian Correspondent:
Calls for the Rohingya to be expelled from Burma on the grounds that they are not citizens have been made by the very same people who were allowed to remain in their countries of asylum [US, UK, Canada] for years before citizenship was finally awarded – they assert however that this gesture should not be extended to the Rohingya.

(Photo from flickr.)

If you click on the above photo, you will see what a 19-year-old refugee said:
"I was born in Myanmar, but the Burmese government says I don't belong there. I grew up in Bangladesh, but the Bangladeshi government says I cannot stay there. As a Rohingya, I feel I am caught between a crocodile and a snake."

(Photo from flickr.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Endangered Languages Project

The Endangered Languages Catalog, the project I am working on as a team member, went live today. It is launched by Google at this URL:

There are a few languages/dialects from Burma that are on the list. Here are some of them: Yaw, Danau, Kado, Hpon, Riang, Tai Loi, Akeu and some Chin languages.

Check the site out.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi's Nobel Lecture

Burmese harp music is from 3:00 to 8:30 and her lecture is from 9:30 to 37:00 in the following's video.

The full text is available at the Nobel Prize website. I chose some highlights below.

About Sufferings:
"I thought of prisoners and refugees, of migrant workers and victims of human trafficking, of that great mass of the uprooted of the earth who have been torn away from their homes, parted from families and friends [and] forced to live out their lives among strangers who are not always welcoming."

On War:
"A young American fighting with the French Foreign Legion wrote before he was killed in action in 1916 that he would meet his death:  “at some disputed barricade;” “on some scarred slope of battered hill;” “at midnight in some flaming town.” Youth and love and life perishing forever in senseless attempts to capture nameless, unremembered places. And for what? Nearly a century on, we have yet to find a satisfactory answer.

Are we not still guilty, if to a less violent degree, of recklessness, of improvidence with regard to our future and our humanity? War is not the only arena where peace is done to death. Wherever suffering is ignored, there will be the seeds of conflict, for suffering degrades and embitters and enrages."

On Peace:
"Absolute peace in our world is an unattainable goal. But it is one towards which we must continue to journey, our eyes fixed on it as a traveler in a desert fixes his eyes on the one guiding star that will lead him to salvation. Even if we do not achieve perfect peace on earth, because perfect peace is not of this earth, common endeavors to gain peace will unite individuals and nations in trust and friendship and help to make our human community safer and kinder."

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Walls (တံတိုင်း)

I want to share this Burmese song, "Walls", written by Saw Wilfred. The recent clashes between Rohingyas and Arakans made me think about some of the issues addressed in the song---the walls dividing us humans. The post by a Burmese blogger, "Why do you hate Muslims?", also inspired me to share this song.

Listening to the song reminds me that race, skin color, nationalities or religious beliefs are the "walls" dividing us. I also remembered this quote, which I wrote about a while ago.

"This is America, right? People say now how we should all just love each other the same? But underneath, they're all still feeling the same old hate. Black, White, Jew, Asian, Greek, whatever. But for a true gangster, none of that matters. In business, if you can make a buck with or from them, you don't give a damn who they look like or who they pray to. To us, this city's one big gorgeous mosaic of crime."

Here is the song, "တံတိုင်း."

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Musing from Myanmar with Annie Gaffney

I came across the following posts by an Australian journalist, Annie Gaffney. She is currently in Burma and updating her posts from there. It's fun to read her experiences in Burma.

Here are some quotes from her posts:

The guide book to Myanmar says never initiate any conversation with local people about the political scene in their country right?  Forget about that!  This taxi driver couldn’t wait to share a few home truths with us.  Like:  ten percent of the population have all of the wealth, 90 percent have nothing. 

Apparently what’s happened is that the import duty on cars until this year was about 200 percent.  Now that’s been halved and anyone who bought a car before this year has just lost a bucket-load of money, including our poor taxi driver who paid a small fortune (US$4000) for his broken down old cab which was straight out of the early seventies and sounded like it too!

About eating:
And arrive he does!  High on adrenaline and like us, jumping around with the sheer excitement of being in Myanmar at such a time of dramatic change.   We head out to try our first official taste of Burmese food.  We pick a teahouse around the corner from our hotel that the guidebook recommends.  The cuisine is delicious.  I choose a traditional Burmese chicken curry which is certainly spicy but not hot.  It’s served with strips of shredded flaky pastry on the side, and a small bowl of soup.  While I soak up the sight of locals ambling along on the road outside, men spitting out violent streams of blood-like  Betel juice from their mouths, I realize I’m already enchanted by Myanmar, and there’s more to come.  This afternoon, we’re off to see the famous Shwegadon Paya!

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Solar Water Heaters in Myitkyina

Solar water heaters are not very expensive in Burma. I saw those installed at some of the houses in Myikyina, Kachin State during my last trip to Burma.

Pump in Burma


Photos taken from Nai Aung Gyi.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Shrimp peelers and fish gutters

(Photo shared by Burma Election 2010)

New York Times has an article about Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to Mahachai, Thailand, where many Burmese migrants work as shrimp peelers and fish gutters.

In Mahachai, workers gut fish and peel shrimp for 300 baht, or about $10, a day. Much of the nearly 580 tons of shrimp exported from Thailand every day passes through their hands and ends up in supermarkets in the United States, Europe and Japan.

Workers at the King Fisher factory peel shrimp in vast quantities. Depending on the size of the shrimp, each worker goes through about 11 to 33 pounds an hour.

Aung San Suu Kyi wished the best for them.

"May you prosper with health, wealth and be free from danger," Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi said before leaving Wednesday. "And may you be able to come home soon."

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Peter Chou in Mandalay

I noticed that some Burmese news groups are heavily using Facebook to disseminate news, where they don't face censorship. I will talk about this some time.

For now, the purpose of this post is to share some photos of Peter Chou in Burma. I talked about him being in Mandalay a few posts back.

Today, I came across a photo of him talking to IT people in Mandalay, Burma (Myanmar). I think the photo was taken by Ye Myat Thu of ALPHA Mandalay and somehow it ended up on the Freedom News Group's wall.

I tracked down Ye Myat Thu and he has some more photos. Mr. Chou was apparently giving an impromptu talk organized by IT people in Mandalay.

Please note that the photos seems to be public but you might need a Facebook account to view it.

Mr. Chou was originally from Mandalay. He immigrated to Taiwan and later founded HTC, a manufacturer of smartphones and tablets.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

HTC's CEO Peter Chou visited Burma, his birthplace

(photo by Edourdoo)

Today, I read a news article that Peter Chou went back to visit Mandalay, his birthplace (here is the same article in English). Peter Chou is the CEO of HTC, a Taiwanese manufacturer of smart phones and tablets.

According to Focus Taiwan News Channel:

Chou studied at National Taiwan Ocean University (NTOU) after he came to Taiwan from Myanmar and worked as an engineer for two years, according to an NTOU statement.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tibi Kawbi

I came across the following song on YouTube. I like it because of its mix of traditional styles and melodies with modern twist. It is in three languages, Karen, Thai and English.

Todd Tongdee (Lavelle), Lanna Commins and Chee Pakakayaw recorded this. Todd is an expat living in Thailand. Lanna Commins and Chee Pakakayaw are Thai singers.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Travel back in time

This article from Bloomberg by Flavia Krause-Jackson summed up what travelling in Burma was like.

On landing in Myanmar, prepare to travel back in time, cut off from the rest of the world. Your smart phones won't work here, and your plastic is no good.

I kind of like not having a cell phone or a credit card even though I admit that it's frustrating and inconvenient sometimes.

I can attest to the following experience of the reporter.

My pockets lined with cash, I tried to rent a local mobile phone at the airport, only to have the saleswoman reject my $100 bills one-by-one because they were not "new" and showed folds, creases, crinkles or other negligible imperfections.

My experience was with the US Embassy in Burma when I paid for my visa fees. The embassy wouldn't accept my twenty dollar bills because they showed folds and creases. It was beyond me --- the US Embassy not accepting perfectly fine US dollar bills. This, my friend, is Burma!

Yet, there is still hope.

On my final day, I lost my mobile phone and my Burmese interpreter offered to call my number to locate it. Accustomed to New York, I told him not to bother, though he went ahead anyway.

I was wrong. A taxi driver drove an hour out of his way to return the phone.
Perhaps this was a sign that the character of the Burmese people will prove my Western cynicism wrong in a land rich not only in natural resources, but now also in hope.

Read the whole article here.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Trishaws in Burma

ဆိုက်ကား [sʰaiʔ ká]  is Burmese word for trishaw. It's derived from the English word "sidecar." Pronunciation is the same as English except that we don't pronounce /d/ in "side" and /r/ in "car."

It's a cheap and common mode of transportation.

The following two pictures are from flickr.

Myanmar (Burma) 2006 (Photo by akimowitsch)

Road to Mt Kyaiktiyo, Myanmar (Photo by Arnis Dzedins)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mergui Archipelago in Burma

I read a New York Times article about the islands and beaches in Southern Burma.
As Myanmar opens up to the world, the Mergui Archipelago, as it is known, could become the next frontier for Asian tourism.

Mergui Archipelago (69) (Photo by Jannik Pedersen)

But for now, here is the reality:
The few dozen tourists who visit the area each month are closely monitored. Eight copies of their passports are made and distributed to various elements of the authorities, including the military intelligence service and the Special Branch of the police, two bodies that during the rule of the military junta were tasked with tracking down enemies of the state.

They are hopeful:
Local residents in Kawthaung, a short ferry ride from Thailand, say they believe the tourism industry will inevitably grow if Myanmar continues opening up. But it will be several years before the government and the military let down their guard, they say.

There are some signs, literally, that that is already happening.

Newly erected signboards in Kawthaung, where security is more relaxed, have replaced the old messages exhorting Burmese to be patriotic and wary of foreign influences.

The new signs, written in Burmese and English, say, "Warmly Welcome and Take Care of Tourists."

Read the whole article at the New York Times.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A tumblr page for Burmese proverbs

Heritage LIVE! (Photo by acharbin)

Fifty viss is a blog I read regularly. He is trying to compile a site on Burmese proverbs. It is going to be useful for people wanting to look up proverbs if their Burmese is limited. I wish him good luck in this endeavor.
His quotes:

In Burmese, zagabon, or proverb, literally a "word picture."
Raised in a Burmese-speaking household, I’ve encountered a wealth of proverbs and sayings. This is just my humble attempt to document these aphorisms.

Friday, April 20, 2012

What a sunny and beautiful day!

Sunny Days (Photo by Jectre)

I have always wanted to write about English expressions associated with weather such as "What a sunny day!" When I learned English poems in high school, the expression "What a sunny day!" never touched me much. I was like, "What? It's sunny, so what?"

Happy New Year (Photo by A2ZMpls)

When I left Burma and arrived in Indiana, I knew the true meaning of the expression during my first winter. It was snowing and cloudy all day for a few days. The temperature was nearly zero (Fahrenheit). It was so depressing and very gloomy for many days. When the sun came out after gloomy days like those, I suddenly said, "What a sunny and beautiful day!"

Being in Burma and the sun being out pretty much most of the time all year except for a few raining days, I took it for granted that it was really beautiful when the sun is shinning. The expression "What a sunny day!" never hit my heart.

Now, being in the mid-west for a long time, I appreciate sunny days very much and getting used to saying, "What a sunny and beautiful day!" :)

Thursday, April 05, 2012

BA from Rangoon University

I know many Burmese students don't care for a bachelor degree from Rangoon University in the present day. They are all flocking to study in neighboring Thailand or Singapore polytechnics.

But let's rewind back a few decades and look at what Rangoon University alumni from those decades are like today. Here is an economics professor from Columbia University with a BA from Rangoon University.

Professor Ronald Findlay from Columbia University:

Professor Findlay holds a BA from Rangoon University in Burma (1954). In 1960 he earned a PhD from MIT. At Rangoon University, he was appointed a tutor in economics (1954-57), a lecturer in economics (1960-66), and a research professor of economics (1966-68).

And there is another world-famous professor Hla Myint, who is noted for development economics. He taught at Rangoon University and later at the London School of Economics.

Professor Hla Myint, Professor of Economics.

Professor Hla Myint, 1985

Professor Hla Myint teaching at the London School of Economics.

Professor Hla Myint and class, 1964

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Wedding in Northern Burma

I got married on March 3 to Swe Di Nar, a Lisu girl, the daughter of Rev. Dr. Simon Fish and Daw Lu Di. Here is our "village" wedding in Myitkyina. It's a raw video and an hour and a half long. You might want to skip or fast forward. :)

But you can get a sense of what a village wedding is like in Burma if you have time to watch it.

Photo slideshow (only 13 minutes long):