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 adapted from what I have written for Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies 15th Anniversary Magazine.

When I first came to teach 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, Saya Paw Lu.

I still remember the first day I went to the office of Saya Paw Lu. I was wearing a pair of short pants made out of Karen longyi sheet 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 it or any other languages.

In addition to learning about 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 an opportunity 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 a month (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 and have a good conversation with MIT colleagues and BARS students, who accompanied me. We talked about theology, life, and various other topics. 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 that changing the world was no easy task. 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.