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There were few perks to the xenophobia that permeated Myanmar's totalitarian junta for decades. But there was at least one: It kept the scuzziest tourists at bay.

Much of Myanmar (also called Burma) is mesmerizing in its beauty. It's also now easier to visit than ever. The current government has kicked down many of the hurdles that kept outsiders away during a long era of despotic army rule, which began to recede about five years ago.

But as one of Myanmar's generals once observed, "when you open the windows for fresh air, flies sometimes get in." And in Southeast Asia, that can mean anything from sex tourists to drunken backpackers.

Tourism is exploding in Myanmar like never before. The government is targeting 4.5 million tourists this year, a quintupling of the number just five years ago. A new report, however, warns that Myanmar is "poorly prepared" to handle this flood of visitors.

The report, by the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, suggests developing Myanmar as a "destination for smaller numbers of high-spending tourists looking for an experience that makes Myanmar special." That is an alternative to simply seeking to jack up the number of arrivals. Instead, the report suggests that the tourism sector "reflect on lessons learnt from elsewhere in Asia."

Those hard-learned lessons are most evident places such as Pattaya, a seaside town in Thailand that has been consumed by sleaze.

Or Vang Vieng, a party town in the Laotian jungle infamous for cheap drugs, river tubing, and backpackers partying so hard they end up injured or dead.

Or Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital, where much of the downtown promenade buzzes with hostess bars and pushy drug dealers — all catering to foreigners.

There is nothing quite like this in Myanmar (except, perhaps, for a few dark spots run by militias on the far-flung Chinese border.)

In the mainstream touristed areas, the country has little to offer Western travelers who want to drink by day and haunt brothels by night. The long spell of military rule effectively sealed off the country and preserved a conservative Buddhist propriety that is hard to find elsewhere in Asia. Prostitution certainly exists but is largely confined to scattered karaoke joints and nightclubs.

Yet the potential for a slide into openly debauched tourism is there.

In impoverished Myanmar, dollars go very far. Arrests for crimes both minor (prostitution) and major (child prostitution) can potentially be avoided by bribing the police. And in a nation rife with child labor and guerrilla war, the prospects for a well-regulated prostitution sector that protects sex workers and routinely screens for disease are extremely dim.

Already in Yangon, the largest and most-visited city, high-end hotels have filled up with more sex workers seeking foreign men. Ethical tourism advocates fear a future Myanmar with "more prostitutes than monks." Even the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning daughter of Myanmar's independence hero, has spoken about a "callous expectation of sex tourists" and the specter of "social exploitation."

This would mark an unfortunate return to a previous era, before the military's reign, when English colonialists lorded over the country. There was a time in the early 20th century when foreign men sustained what was, according to one academic, a larger prostitution market in Myanmar than any other in British-ruled India.

This article, by Patrick Winn, originally appeared at GlobalPost.

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Air Bagan plane skids off Myanmar runway, leaving one injured

YANGON: A Myanmar passenger plane skidded off the runway on landing during heavy rain at Yangon International Airport, the carrier said, leaving one injured.

The Air Bagan ATR 72 twin-engine turboprop, carrying 49 passengers from the central city of Mandalay, “veered slightly off the runway due to bad weather and heavy rain” on landing Friday evening, the airline said yesterday in a statement posted on Facebook.

It said that all passengers were “safely disembarked” and only one, a Buddhist monk, sustained a slight injury to his hand.

It was not immediately possible to reach the airline or Myanmar’s civil aviation department for further comment.

In December 2012 an Air Bagan plane crash-landed in thick fog and burst into flames in a field short of the runway at Heho airport – the gateway to the popular tourist destination of Inle Lake – in northern Shan state, killing a tour guide on board and a motorcyclist on the ground as well as injuring 11 people including foreigners.

The airline was launched in 2004 by business tycoon Tay Za, who is known for his close links to the former junta, as the first private carrier in Myanmar. — AFP

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China protests after Myanmar sentences its nationals to life for illegal logging

Yangon: China has lodged a diplomatic protest with Myanmar after a court in the southeast Asian nation sentenced 153 Chinese nationals to life imprisonment for illegal logging.

China`s voracious demand for Myanmar`s raw materials has fuelled resentment in Myanmar towards its giant northern neighbour.

Regions along Myanmar`s porous border with China have long been hotbeds for an illegal trade in timber to feed Chinese demand. Much of Myanmar`s jade is also believed to be illegally smuggled into China.

A court in Myitkyina, capital of Kachin State in the north of Myanmar, handed down sentences to 155 Chinese citizens on Wednesday. Two of those convicted escaped life sentences and got 10-year prison terms.

All will have a chance to appeal against the rulings, said a court official, who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

An official from Myitkyina`s prison department confirmed the sentences.

China`s Foreign Ministry said it was "extremely concerned" about the decision and had lodged a protest with Myanmar.

"China had repeatedly, on many levels and through many channels, made representations with Myanmar about the case," it said in a short statement.

China had demanded that Myanmar deal with the case "in a lawful, reasonable and justified manner" the Foreign Ministry added, so that the case could be concluded properly and the nationals returned.

The sentences were too harsh and may be due to anti-Chinese feeling in Myanmar, the influential Global Times tabloid, published by the ruling Communist Party`s official People`s Daily, said in an editorial on Thursday.

"A few cases of Chinese engaging in illegal business in Myanmar have been scrutinized by public opinion, exaggerated as China`s economic `invasion` of the latter," it wrote.

The individuals were arrested in January in a crackdown on the country`s lucrative illegal logging and timber trade launched by the military, police and forestry department.

More than 400 vehicles and 1,600 logs were seized during the raid, state media said at the time.

In June, Aye Myint Maung, a deputy environment minister, told parliament that 10,000 tons of illegal timber had been seized from illegal loggers since January, most of it from Kachin State.

Kachin State has seen an increase in conflict since 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire between the Myanmar military and autonomy-seeking ethnic Kachin rebels broke down.

Ties between Myanmar and China soured this year over fighting between Myanmar`s military and another group, the ethnic Chinese Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, along part of the shared border.

Chinese citizens have been killed by stray shells and bombs falling inside China`s territory, angering Beijing.

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Myanmar National Airlines opens Singapore route

Myanmar National Airlines will fly a new Boeing 737 aircraft to Singapore
Myanmar National Airlines will fly a new Boeing 737 aircraft to Singapore

Myanmar National Airlines’ new flights to Singapore have gone on sale, ahead of the route’s launch next month.

The new Yangon-Singapore flights will commence on 17 August, operating six times a week (every day except Saturday) using a new Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

Outbound flights will depart Yangon at 1015 and arrive in Singapore at 1445. The return service will then leave Singapore at 1600 and arrives back in Yangon at 1730.

Passengers will be offered a choice of three cabin classes, including business class, premium economy and economy, with in-flight entertainment streaming services.

The flights can now be booked online or via travel agents, with promotional fares starting at US$239 (ex-Yangon).

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Posted by on in Business

Lost in translation: democracy in Myanmar

Staff oversee the printing of a Burmese-language newspaper in Rangoon (Yangon).  Photograph: Adam Dean/New York Times

Staff oversee the printing of a Burmese-language newspaper in Rangoon (Yangon). Photograph: Adam Dean/New York Times

It is the dawn of democracy in Burma (Myanmar). If only the Burmese had their own word for it. As this former dictatorship opens to the world, language is a stumbling block.

For half a century, Burma was so cut off from the outside world, people were jailed for owning an unauthorised fax machine. As the rest of the world was hurtling into the information age, the strict censorship of publications, limited access to global media and creaking connections to the internet stunted the evolution of the Burmese language, leaving it without many words that are elsewhere deemed essential parts of the modern political and technical vocabulary.

Today, as Burma embraces change, many foreign words are being imported wholesale, but their meanings are getting lost in translation. The English word democracy was subsumed into the Burmese language decades ago – it is pronounced dee-mock-rah-SEE – but for many Burmese it remains a foreign and somewhat abstract concept. No native words exist for other common ideas like racism, federal or globalisation.

“Burmese has a far poorer political vocabulary than English,” says U Thant Myint-U, a historian who is also an adviser to the president. “At a time when everything is about the country’s political future, it’s a liability and a constraining factor.”

When foreign experts recommended the government pass a computer privacy law, Burmese translators scratched their heads because there is no precise translation for privacy in Burmese. The very idea may not exist, possibly because little privacy is found in a society in which people traditionally lived and slept in common areas.
Interpreters are also stumped when parades of foreign advisers and scholars preach the virtues of strong institutions. While Burmese has a word for an organisation, linguists say, no single word conveys the meaning of an institution.

Under British colonial rule, English words leached liberally into Burmese, yielding such Burmese words as budget and beer. But the xenophobic military governments of the past five decades prohibited the use of English loan words on the grounds they were culturally disruptive, scholars say.

Since the military officially relinquished power in 2011, foreigners have been pouring into the country. Thant Myint-U, whose grandfather U Thant was the secretary general of the United Nations in the 1960s, says he has been in meetings between the president and foreigners where translation is done by some of the country’s top interpreters. “Ten per cent is still lost in translation,” he says.

Vicky Bowman, a former British ambassador to Burma, says 10 per cent is optimistic. “I would say it’s more like 30 per cent to 50 per cent,” she says.

Bowman is director of an organisation called the Myanmar Center for Responsible Business. When she and her colleagues wanted to translate the name of her organisation for Burmese speakers, it took hours. They came up with a Burmese name that in English sounds like a bad internet robo-translation: “Burma economic sector having and assuming the responsibility, support-help department.”

The structure of the Burmese language, part of the Sino-Tibetan language family, varies considerably from English. Written Burmese has no spaces between words and is generally wordier than English.
No equivalent
Burmese is far from unique in having words that are difficult to translate, says John Okell, a scholar at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London and one of the leading linguists of the Burmese language.

“Plainly, between any two languages there are words in one that seem to have no equivalent in the other,” he says. “As Myanmar opens up, an increasing number of English words are being imported and slowly standardised. It’s a gradual process.”

No one is suggesting these linguistic hurdles are insurmountable; concepts can be explained and understood even where no precisely translatable word exists. The borrowed word democracy has since been assimilated into Burmese and is even in the name of the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy.

But some question how well the term is understood by Burma’s 51 million people after so many years of brutal suppression.

“All these things – democracy, institutions, even freedom – I don’t think Myanmar people know what true freedom is or what to do with it,” says U Thaung Su Nyein, the editor-in-chief of 7Day Daily, a Burmese-language newspaper.

“For them being free might mean, ‘As long as no one is knocking on my door in the middle of the night, I’m free.’”

Even words and phrases that are not difficult to translate can have very different shades of meaning because of the legacy of military rule. The term “rule of law” has become a mantra for Aung San Suu Kyi, the British-trained Nobel Peace laureate and icon of democracy. She rarely fails to mention the importance of the concept in speeches around the country. But to the ears of many in Burma, the rule of law sounds similar to exhortations by generals to obey the law – the junta’s law.

Rule of law “is not an attractive concept”, says U Pe Myint, a commentator and columnist. “We do not usually equate the rule of law with justice. It has connotations of pacifying, subjugating people. I think most people don’t really understand what it means.”
Peace talks
A similar problem of interpretation exists in the country’s peace talks with ethnic armed groups. Ethnic minorities are demanding a federal system, but federal is a term, directly borrowed from the West, that is still abstract in Myanmar. To military leaders, the word sounds threatening because they link it to secession, Thant Myint-U says.

“You assume that another person has the same interpretation as you,” he says. “But these words can mean very different things to different people.”

Burma has one foot in its dictatorial and paternalistic past and one foot in a western-inspired dash for democracy. This makes for odd juxtapositions. A recent edition of The New Light of Myanmar, a state-run daily newspaper, had both an article praising the “strength of honest and hard-working peasants” and a story about the American television show Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

Younger Burmese are growing up exposed to modern technology and foreign concepts, creating a gulf of vocabulary between generations. Ei Myat Noe Khin, a 21-year-old developer who creates apps for Android phones, says her job is bewildering for some members of her family.

“When I talk about my work to my mother and her friends, I can’t explain it in Burmese,” she says. “There is no word in Burmese for developer, so I used the English word programmer,” she says. “If they don’t understand programmer, I say, ‘It’s what is inside your phone and makes it work.’”

“They say, ‘Oh, it’s something to do with computers!’” And they say it using the English word. There is no Burmese word for computer. Or phone, for that matter. – (New York Times service)

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Tuesday, August 04, 2015
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