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Posted by on in Business
Juicy gossip finally trickling in from Myanmar
 
Organisers of the all-over-the-map pageant in South Korea decided to strip the 18-year-old of the title (we'll try and find a better verb). The first woman from Myanmar to win an international beauty contest promptly lost it due to her alleged "lack of personality, integrity and loyalty to the contest organiser".

Lack of personality? Struggling to be a little more specific, the organisers complained about her "ungrateful attitude and untrustworthiness" and said they could no longer work with her.

Further down in the official statement, though, it says her mother tried by illegal means to get a three-month visa to stay in South Korea, which is considerably more helpful in understanding what happened, but there the details end.

"Simply, we have no trust in her, and there is no reason to believe she can carry out her duties as Miss Asia Pacific World 2014 successfully," said the statement. Ouch. This is a lot rougher that losing your crown over some naughty statements scrawled long ago on Facebook.

A replacement Miss Asia Pacific Far East Korea Oriental World will soon be found "with the right professional standards and right attitudes", the organisers say.

Still, there's something unsatisfying about this story. Surely there's some juicy gossip to round it out a bit? Yes, in fact. A rumour circulating in Myanmar itself suggests that May Myat Noe didn't get along with the people who ran the national pageant there either, the very people who sent her to Seoul in the first place. It's said she's siding with some other "influential" local group that's trying to muscle into the beauty-pageant business.

May Myat Noe and her mum arrived home from South Korea on Thursday, the day after that damning statement was issued, and she vowed to hold a press conference forthwith.

"You can ask me whatever you want that day - I can't talk right now," she told Myanmar Eleven, with which The Nation is affiliated (and now you know why).

Meanwhile Hla Nu Tun, head of the group running the national pageant, wants their crown and sash back and says May Myat Noe is Miss Myanmar no longer. Hla Nu Tun also declines to go into detail, but says grandly, "I have been informed by the organisation to accept the crown from her in front of the media. I know all about what happened in Korea, but I don't want to talk about it. The main thing is for her to return the crown to me as soon as possible. Otherwise, the situation will become more complicated.

"I want to apologise for the things the Myanmar representative has done on behalf of her and her mother," Hla Nu Tun continues. "We prepared for this competition with teamwork and worked hard to win the crown. I can't do anything about her change of mind after winning the crown."

Who could have imagined just three short years ago that we'd soon be hearing about this sort of cosmetic modern-world silliness from dark, dank Burma?

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Posted by on in Business

Dethroned Myanmar beauty queen ‘runs off with crown’

Miss USA contestants take the stage during the 2014 Miss USA beauty pageant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana June 8, 2014. — Reuters picYANGON, Aug 29 — A Myanmar beauty queen dethroned for alleged misconduct has absconded with her crown and free breast implants, the organiser said today.

May Myat Noe, winner of Miss Asia Pacific World Super Talent 2014, was flown to South Korea for preparation to become a K-pop star.

But she was stripped of her crown for alleged dishonesty and bad behaviour, according to event spokesman David Kim in Seoul.

“She lied a lot to us about many things. Our past queens also complained — because of her, their reputations will suffer,” he told AFP.

“We cannot manage her. We are very angry but we don’t want a bad relationship between the Korean and Myanmar people.”

He said that the organisation had paid US$10,000 (RM315,200) for a breast enlargement operation to help her budding singing career.

It also prepared two albums for her to record and provided choreographers and accommodation as part of several years of planned training and investment to turn her into a K-pop star, Kim said.

There was no immediate comment from the dethroned beauty queen, who was thought to have returned to her home country.

As the former armed-ruled country opens up, Myanmar women are eyeing success in international beauty pageants.

Last year a US-educated business graduate was selected as the first Miss Universe contestant to represent Myanmar in more than 50 years. — AFP

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Posted by on in Business

Singapore law firm extends footprint to Myanmar

SINGAPORE- Singapore law firm Joseph Tan Jude Benny LLP (JTJB LLP) officially opened its Myanmar office recently. The office in Yangon will focus on inward investments, advisory and corporate work. The official opening, on Aug 18, was done by Myanmar's deputy minister in the ministry of transport together with the Singapore Ambassador to Myanmar Robert Chua.

Said JTJB LLP's managing partner and director of JTJB Myanmar Co Murali Pany: "The opening up of the Myanmar market has seen an increase in demand for quality legal services in the last couple of years. The opening of our Myanmar office is timely in meeting the corresponding rise in demand for quality legal services."

JTJB Myanmar Co commenced operations last year and business has been brisk, according to its directors.

 

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Posted by on in Business
 
 
The Armenian church in Yangon

One of the oldest churches in Myanmar, also known as Burma, is struggling to keep going - its congregation only occasionally reaches double figures. But the opening up of the country to outside investment and tourism is offering new hope.

Reverend John Felix, priest at the Armenian church in Yangon, also known as Rangoon, can't speak Armenian - but then neither can his congregation. Not that there is much of a congregation these days - just seven, myself included, on a recent Sunday morning.

The 150-year-old church enjoys an imposing location, at a street corner in downtown Yangon. It's a beautiful building, a patch of calm in a bustling city. The Armenian Orthodox church of St John the Baptist - standing, suitably, on Merchant Street - is almost all that's left of what was one of the city's main trading communities.

"To judge from church records, there were once a few hundred Armenian families in Burma but the last 'full' Armenian died last year. Across the country, there are no more than 10 or 20 families who are part Armenian - and just a handful still come to the church," says Felix.

Rachel Minus, in her mid-30s, can sing in Armenian - and does with reverence - but can't speak the language. She attends on Sundays with her father, who also tolls the church bells.

"My grandfather was full Armenian and our family name is derived from the Armenian surname of Minossian. We're part Armenian and this church and its services mean a lot to us," she says.

Percy EverardPercy Everard

On that Sunday, just one other worshipper was of Armenian descent. Percy Everard has been coming to the church for decades. His wedding, the priest believes, was the last to be conducted at the church - but it's so distant no one is quite sure how long ago it took place.

In the early 17th Century, large numbers of Armenians fled the Ottoman Empire and settled in Isfahan in what's now Iran. From there, many travelled on in later years to form a commercial network which stretched from Amsterdam to Manila.

Their influence in the British Raj reached its peak in the late 19th Century, when census records suggest that about 1,300 Armenians were living principally in Calcutta, Dhaka and Rangoon.

Their closeness to the Burmese royal court gave them a particularly privileged status in Rangoon's trading community. The land on which the church stands is said to have been presented to the Armenians by Burma's king.

The region's most prestigious hotels - including The Strand a short walk from the church in downtown Yangon and the even more famous Raffles in Singapore - were established by Armenians.

But bit-by-bit over the past century many in these small Armenian outposts, worried by political and economic instability, have looked for a new home - with Australia the most favoured destination.

John Felix - whose bishop is based thousands of miles away in Sydney - is a welcoming and enthusiastic clergyman, proud of his church and unbowed by the difficulties of keeping going as the congregation steadily shrinks.

Felix took over as priest of the Yangon church from his father, who died three years ago after more than 30 years as minister. Like his father, he was initially ordained into the Anglican communion and then re-ordained as an Orthodox priest.

He was born in Myanmar, speaks Burmese - but is of south Indian origin, and so has his roots in another of the migrant communities which once made Yangon such a thriving commercial hub.

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A global church
The Armenian church in ChennaiThe Armenian church in Chennai
One of the earliest Christian civilisations, Armenia's first churches were founded in the 4th Century According to tradition, Armenia was evangelised by the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus Now churches in many countries including India, Singapore, Uruguay, Argentina, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Swaziland, Australia, US, Sudan, UAE, Romania and Italy
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He worries about the upkeep of the building. "There are three spots in the roof where the water's coming in, and we need to get them fixed."

But this is by any standards a neat, well-kept church, and an important part of Yangon's rich colonial-era architectural heritage which is increasingly attracting tourists and international attention.

Sunday worship has all the hallmarks of an Orthodox church service - icons, incense and, in spite of the slender attendance, entrancing hymn singing. Felix doesn't wear the ornate priestly robes in which his father once conducted ceremonies, but he remains firmly part of the Orthodox tradition.

The Armenian church pictured at the end of WW2Yangon's Armenian church at the end of WW2

That Orthodox lineage could be key to the survival of the church - as a spiritual home to all the various forms of Orthodox Christianity as well as a last vestige of an almost-gone Armenian community.

Already diplomats, business visitors and tourists from a range of Orthodox countries and churches - Russian, Greek, Serbian - occasionally swell the numbers at St John the Baptist, the only Orthodox church in Myanmar's biggest city.

A new worshipper here, Ramona Tarta, is Romanian, a globetrotting business woman, publisher and events organiser who has lived in Yangon for the last few months.

"My faith is very important to me. Wherever I am in the world, I seek out an Orthodox church. But I was about to give up on Yangon. I thought it was the only city I'd ever lived in which had no Orthodox place of worship," she complains.

She chanced across the Armenian church when driving past, and believes that with a little promotion, this historic building - and the tradition to which it bears testimony - could have a more secure future.

If the church reached out more actively to all strands of Orthodoxy then, she argues, it could attract more worshippers and find a renewed purpose. She's set up a Facebook page for the church as a first step towards getting more attention.

Myanmar has had more than its share of troubles and upheaval over the last century. The country was occupied by the Japanese during World War Two, and suffered greater privation and damage to its infrastructure than almost anywhere else in the region.

Circa 1940: Japanese Field Artillery on the march against Yangon in BurmaJapanese Field Artillery on the march in Burma circa 1940

Many Armenians were among those who embarked on the arduous wartime trek north through jungle and forest to the relative safety of British India - a memorial in the church lists the 13 members of one Armenian family who died during the journey.

Burma gained independence from Britain in 1948, several months after India and Pakistan. Within a few years, it had a military-backed government which made little effort to develop commercial links beyond the country's borders. The army's violent suppression in 1988 of the democracy movement further heightened the country's international isolation.

Over the past few years, Myanmar has been edging towards greater democracy, and has started to open its doors more widely to foreign business and investment. What was one of Asia's most international cities is again starting to develop a more global aspect.

And a church which has its roots in an earlier era of international commerce may find fresh succour from a new bout of globalisation.

Armenian church gate, Yangon

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A Q&A With Photojournalist Greg Constantine on Myanmar’s Rohingya

Blind in one eye after being beaten in the head during forced labor, this man fled from Myanmar in the mid-1990s and is one of an estimated 300,000 undocumented Rohingya now living in the southern part of neighboring Bangladesh. (Photo courtesy of Greg Constantine)

Blind in one eye after being beaten in the head during forced labor, this man fled from Myanmar in the mid-1990s and is one of an estimated 300,000 undocumented Rohingya now living in the southern part of neighboring Bangladesh. (Photo courtesy of Greg Constantine)

In a way it’s become Myanmar’s inconvenient truth, an ethnic conflict that has raged for decades and a citizenship act that does not recognize the Rohignya as Burmese citizens which has rendered the Muslim minority community effectively stateless. However, as the world optimistically absorbs news about business potential in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, one photojournalist has been determined to remind everyone of the Rohingya’s plight.

After presenting his “Exiled to Nowhere” exhibition in Jakarta earlier this year, US-born photographer Greg Constantine has returned to the archipelago, where on Sunday he once again sparked a dialogue about the Rohingya situation. Through his moving photographs and talks at local universities in Yogyakarta, Constantine aims to encourage discussion around Indonesia’s role in aiding the Rohingya who arrive in the country and to highlight the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ responsibility in encouraging change from policy makers.

A UN report released last week revealed that in the past year more than 53,000 people, many of them Rohingya, have fled by sea from the Bangladesh-Myanmar border region to take refuge in neighboring nations including Indonesia. As activists fear a further surge of boat people in the coming months Constantine’s exhibition is a timely reminder of the extreme situation Myanmar’s Rohingya community currently face.

How have you seen the ethnic conflict in Myanmar evolve since you began covering it eight years ago?

I started photographing the Rohingya community in early 2006. It’s actually pretty tragic because the situation for them has just gotten worse, pretty much every single year. Whether it be boat people, or whether it be crackdowns in Bangladesh or the violence that happened in the summer of 2012 their situation just does not seem to get any better. Yet at the same time, the visibility of their plight actually has increased a lot in the past eight years. So I think that’s even more frustrating for a lot of people in the sense that here is a community that in 2006 nobody knew much of anything about. Today you see something in a regional paper pretty much everyday if not several times a week. Yet there has been very little positive momentum in the Rohingya situation.

In your opinion why has there been such a lack of action when it comes to the plight of the Rohingyas?

I think that if you look at the issue I’ve been focusing on, and that is statelessness and the denial of citizenship, you really can’t bring up a more sensitive topic internationally than determining a country’s sovereign right to decide who is a citizen and who isn’t. This politically makes it incredibly difficult for the international community to wrap their heads around, how exactly to try to pressure Burma at this stage when there is this big momentum with all these reforms going on in that particular country. Now, Burma is also the chair of Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] and, therefore, Myanmar has a lot of leverage but it’s just unfortunate that the international community has not been able to find an effective strategy as to how to attack what’s going on inside Burma.

So, there seems to be two narratives going on inside Burma. There’s the one side where everyone is talking about the business virtues of Burma, the doors have opened and people are going in now, they are finding new opportunities and new potential but then there’s still this ongoing issue of ethnic conflict that is absolutely horrendous. How are they going to play out together?

Well, you know, I think that’s anybody’s guess right now. I mean you have a really big occurrence happening in Burma in 2015 and that is the elections and I think it seems to me that a lot of people’s attention, a lot of the international community is focused on making that election run as smoothly as possible because in a lot of ways that ends up legitimizing a lot of the international policies that the world has had sprung up over the past two years relating to Burma. I mean there is no question that there are a lot of countries around the world that have strong national and economic interests in what’s going on with Myanmar and unfortunately these human rights issues can easily take a backseat to a lot of those agendas.

You were saying before that during this eight-year period the world has become more aware of what is going on. Do you think that they are aware of the desperate nature of the situation or is a matter of, ‘Oh, it’s just another conflict on the other side of the world’?

I think surprisingly when the work has been shown outside of this region and people are exposed to it, people are quite shocked that this situation is happening in Myanmar right now. I don’t know if that’s a reflection of the lack of international media attention that is actually being given to it on an international scale or if it’s just that audiences are so inundated with bigger conflict stories. But at least in my experience when this exhibition was shown in Washington DC it received quite a critical international response from the Myanmar embassy in Washington DC, saying how inappropriate it was to be showing this exhibition at the Holocaust museum using the words ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘genocide’. When this exhibition was shown in Brussels at the European parliament, the reaction was quite strong as well; the people were really surprised about what was happening in a country where Aung San Suu Kyi has been receiving all these accolades for the past two years for all of the work she has done on human rights.

How important is it for regional countries such as Indonesia to engage in what is happening in Burma?

Well I’m not a policy maker but I can say that having these exhibitions in these particular countries was no a fluke. It was a strategic and intentional decision to have this exhibition in Indonesia because the Asean secretary was here. Also there are many Rohingya coming to the shores of Indonesia by boat so it’s important for Indonesians to know who these people are and understand the reasons why they are leaving their homes in their country. It was shown in Canberra last year during the Burma conference for the same reason. It adds to the discussions people in these countries are having about what is at a heart a Burma problem but from that it is a regional issue.

Eight years ago did you see yourself still working on this project?

No, I didn’t think it would go eight years. I guess it’s because I’ve been incredibly committed and dedicated to following this story for a long time and I could have easily stopped a couple of years ago and have been very happy with the work that I produced but the fact is this community just keeps getting beaten down more and more every single year. One significant event happens after another and I just felt like for me it was important for me to keep following that story.

Have there been any particular people or characters who have stayed with you throughout this entire body of work or who have particularly inspired you?

I think that in general, nearly all of the Rohingya I meet, they are very inspiring in the sense of their will and determination that this community has to survive day in and day out, week in and week out, year in and year out in light of all of these obstacles that have been put in front of them which are mostly out of their control. There was a particular group of women I met on the Bangladesh border, and most of them fled because they were denied their right to marry. For them to have a normal life they basically had to leave their home country and they have been struggling ever since in Bangladesh for nearly three years.

Exiled to Nowhere is currently being shown at the Jogja Gallery, Jl. Pekapalan, Alun-Alun Utara, 7, Yogyakarta.

In 2015, the exhibition will be shown in Kuala Lumpur, Istanbul, Geneva and New York City.

For more information go to www.exiledtonowhere.com.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014
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