Category Archives: Culture

NURTURING RURAL FUTURES THROUGH THE FESTIVITY OF SIRISH MAHOTSAV

NURTURING RURAL FUTURES THROUGH THE FESTIVITY OF SIRISH MAHOTSAV

The Tea Tribes are integral to the cultures of Assam and West Bengal, and it is this amalgamation of cultures that gives the modern day its distinctive richness. After three years of success, in this fourth year of celebration, it is a moment of pride as the cultural uniqueness of the community is brought forth through the vibrant festivity of ‘Sirish Mahotsav’.

Sirish is the answer to the calling for preservation, promotion, and propagation of the various cultural forms of the TeaTribes. The contribution of the Tea Tribes to the culture and economy has been immense, and Sirish is a medium to enhance and propagate the art, dance and drama forms of this very integral fiber of Assam. We need to use Sirish as a landmark to strengthen the bonds between people and allow the hearts of the community to express this unique cultural heritage that we are so blessed with.

Since the 1830s and over 8 generations, the Tea Tribes have been fundamental to the scaffoldings of Rural Assam;creating bright futures in these remote but breathtakingly beautiful landscapes. It is in our best interest to promote the creation of sustainable futures in these rural locales through the Rural Futures programme of our sister-concern, the Balipara Foundation.

Our collaborative efforts can bring dynamic changes in upholding the traditions and integrating a sense of pride in the culture of the Tea Tribes and lead to the development of holistic, self-sufficient and empowered communities.

Sirish Mahotsav is a successful example of fostering Rural Futures in the Eastern Himalayas. Through the ‘Rural Futures Framework’ launched at the Eastern Himalayan NaturenomicsTM Forum in 2017, we aim to catalyze conservation efforts through the designing of holistic models for human-centric, community-based conservation to create social-environmental and economic interdependence.

By Ranjit Barthakur,
Founding Chairman,
Myanmar Matters

Empowering Rural Futures through the festivity of Sirish in Assam

Bagan: A Jewel of Southeast Asia

Bagan

Lying on the banks of the mighty Irrawaddy river – 150 kilometers south-west of Mandalay, the vast plain of Bagan is a home to thousands of Buddhist temples that combine to form one of the richest archaeological sites in Southeast Asia and an extraordinary testament to the religious devotion of Myanmar’s people and rulers over the centuries.

Along with offering views quite unlike anywhere else on the earth, one of the beauties of spending time in what is now officially called the Bagan Archaeological Zone is that, once you have paid your K25,000 entry fee, you have the freedom to explore this fascinating area at your own leisure. Bagan is in general more-touristy and possibly less of the ‘real Myanmar’ than other parts of the country, but despite obvious sales ploys such as a multitude of children selling hand-drawn postcards, you will rarely suffer the hard sell – and the locals remain warm and friendly.

An Ancient Kingdom

BaganBagan (formerly known as Pagan) was the capital of a large influential kingdom from the ninth to the thirteenth century. This kingdom was the first to unify the area that is now Myanmar, establishing the Burmese culture and ethnicity as well as Theravada Buddhism in the region. Over this period of rule, as the city and kingdom grew in stature, over ten thousand temples were built on the surrounding plains.

Mongol invasions eventually led to the fall of the Kingdom of Pagan, the city was reduced to a small settlement, never to recover its past glory. The area did, however, remain a destination for Buddhist pilgrimage. A few hundred temples were added between the thirteenth and twentieth century, but the extensive earthquake damage over the years meant only 2,200 temples remained, in differing states of repair.

Indeed, over the last five hundred years, many of the existing temples have been renovated – a process continuing till date, has yielded mixed results. Many say that Bagan has not attained the UNESCO World Heritage site status due to the Myanmar government’s insensitive updates in the 1990s, although it is once again being considered. However, the area is large enough and there remains so much of what is original still to see, that none of this stops the area from being a unique wonder to behold.

Bagan

A Vast and Diverse Area

Each of the 2,200 plus temples, stupas and pagodas has its own unique story to tell, and many can be freely explored inside and out. Some are locked, but even if you are traveling around without a guide, you can sometimes find a friendly local nearby to open them for you. The most spectacular time to see the temples is when the sun dramatically rises and falls over the plain at dawn or dusk.

A large earthquake hit Bagan in 2016 and caused significant damage to some of the temples, but ironically, much of it was to the more modern additions to the then ancient structures. Many believe that the quake may actually end up encouraging more sensitive development in the area, and the vast majority of temples are now once again free to be explored.

Exploring the Temples and Plain

There are a number of ways to explore the area:

  • By Bicycle

This is the cheapest way to get around, and allows the most freedom to do as you choose; the plain is too large to explore by foot, but getting around by bike allows you to get to most of the temples. Almost all hotels and guesthouses offer them for hire, as do various restaurants and shops on the popular ‘Restaurant Row’ in the town of Nyaung U.

You can also cheaply hire an electric bike – through on the flat plains of Bagan, the advantages over a bicycle are minimal (tourists are not allowed to use motorbikes in the area).

You can pick up a free tourist map showing you the main points of interest; although you are unlikely to get seriously lost, it is worth planning your trip in advance to make the most of your time. Bear in mind that it can get hot and dusty when cycling, particularly during hotter times of the year, so carrying water is essential and helps you beat the heat. You can pick up refreshments at the many restaurants and tea shops in the area.

  • Horse and Cart Guided Tour

This is the most romantic way to tour the temples. Most drivers can speak minimum English and have the profound knowledge of better routes around the temples along with few hidden gems. However, horses have to follow more well-trodden tracks than bicycles, as there are areas they cannot reach. Prices range from K15,000 to K25,000 for a day, depending on the season.

  • By Car

If you want to avoid the heat and dust completely, take an air-conditioned taxi or minibus. This is naturally the most comfortable way to get around, and most drivers speak some English. Cars will usually cost between $20 and $50 per day, depending on the season and how far you travel.

  • By Hot Air Balloon

The most exotic and spectacular way to see the temples is to head to the sky. Trips cost USD285 per person and offer a unique view of the plain and temples. You should always book well in advance, particularly at popular times of the year such as Christmas and the New Year (the ballooning season runs from October to April).

Taking two or more days and using different forms of transport can be the best way to explore the plains. If you see the highlights by horse and cart or hot air balloon, then following it up with a bike ride can be the ideal way to find the specific temples that have taken your fancy.

Bagan

A Guide to the Top Temples

The best approach to explore temples with a guide, but you can also get some advice from a friendly local and start exploring on your own. There are some sites that should not be missed, which include:

  • The large and the beautifully maintained Ananda Pagoda – A huge festival takes place here in late December, which celebrates the traditional lives of farmers in the area; locals come from surrounding villages in their decorated bullock carts and camp on the plain. Theatrical troupes provide entertainment, and on the final daybreak, there are formal alms given to monks who live in the nearby monastery.
  • The Gawdaw Palin Pagoda which sits on the banks of the Irrawaddy River
  • The Myoe Daung Monastery – a beautiful teak-built structure and the imposing Tharabar Gate in Old Bagan.
  • The distinctive red brick Dhammayangyi temple, covering the largest area of all the temples in the area.
  • The tallest structure on the plain, The That Byin Nyu temple.
  • Amazing sunrise and sunset views from the Shwesandaw Pagoda and Pyathada pagodas. As of the new season starting in October 2017, there will also be a number of new hilltop viewpoints to stop overcrowding on the temples, and hopefully climbing on the temples will be restricted.
    Of all the pagodas in Bagan, the Shwezigon Pagoda in Nyaung U is a traditional Myanmar temple complex.

Away from the towns and most famous temples, exploring off beaten tracks can be a lot of fun; the pagodas that can be found east of Nyaung U, along with the banks of the Irrawaddy, are a good example. Here you will find open temples with beautifully preserved interiors, from the top of which you will see fantastic views over the river – and hardly other tourists.

For more background, history and more impressive collection of artifacts from the region, head to the Bagan Archaeological Museum, located off the main road near the river bank in Old Bagan (entry$5).

Content and Photo Courtesy – Marcus Allender, Founder, Go-Myanmar.com

From the Land of Shan State

Shan State

Shan State is one of the most popular States in Myanmar for tourists, not only because of its cuisine, but also because of the different attraction it offers. It is located in the Middle Eastern part of Myanmar, and its capital Taunggyi is famous for the Hot-air Balloon Festival.

It is also famous for the beautiful Inle Lake, where the floating gardens, the fishermen village and the unique way of one-leg paddling will fascinate you.

For adventurers, Hsipaw and Kalaw are two great cities to be in touch with nature and do trekking while Kakku Pagodas are a must visit the religious site.

If Asian food is one of the best and most varied in the world, imagine a country with its own delicious cuisine plus a healthy dose of Asian ingredients and cooking styles. Burmese cuisine is also very healthy, favoring fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as fish products like fish sauce and fish paste and fermented seafood.

Here are three of the most popular and authentic Shan State dishes:

1. Shan Noodles

Shan Noodles

Shan noodles are one of the most popular dishes in Myanmar. You will find them in every teahouse and restaurant. You can have them either as a soup or as a salad, and in both cases, the sauce is the same. The noodles are different. The ones used for the soup are sticky and flat rice noodles, whereas the ones used for the salad are thick and round rice noodles.

To prepare the sauce, they blend tomatoes and then add salt, sugar, oil, sugar cane sauce and paprika. Then everything goes in a pot to boil.

2. Shan Yellow Rice Cake with Tomato Sauce

Shan Yellow RiceShan Yellow RiceThis is one of the dishes, when tasted, gets glued to your memory and taste buds forever.

For cooking the rice, there is no trick, just wash it, add water, turmeric powder for the yellow color, salt and a little bit of chicken powder.

There are two different tomato sauces, one to mix with the rice and the other to put on top of the rice cake.

For the first one, cut tomatoes in half, add salt and cook them in a pot until you have a sauce. Leave to cool. Remove the tomato skin. Then, you stir the yellow rice to make it a little bit sticky and mix it with this tomato sauce. Before pouring all the tomato sauce, separate some in a bowl and add turmeric oil. Use this mix to wet your hands and season the rice cake while you shape it.

The second tomato sauce to add on top of the cake is the key. To prepare it, heat oil and add onions, garlic, fermented soya bean powder, dried chili powder and turmeric powder. Then, add grained tomatoes, salt and chicken powder. At this point, you can also add coriander or spring onion and chicken or pork.

There is always another side sauce to add on top of the cake, turmeric and garlic sauce. Just heat oil, fry garlic and then add turmeric powder. Its crunchy-garlic touch is amazing. And any cracker like pork skin, bean or rice goes perfectly well with this dish.

3. Black Sesame Seed and Sticky Rice Cake (KhorPoat)

Shan KhorPoat

This is a very traditional snack in Shan State made with purple rice, black and round sesame seeds and salt.

It is really interesting to see how they prepare it. They, place the cooked rice into a stone “bowl” situated on the ground and add black round sesame seeds (already mashed) and salt. Then there is a “wooden machine” that smashes and mixes it to form the dough.

To sell it, they separate the dough into small portions of the same size and wrap it in the banana leaf so that it doesn’t dry.

The most popular and tasty way of having it is fried or barbequed, although you can also eat it raw. It is usually eaten in winters and served with brown sugar or jaggery on the side. It only costs between 100-200 kyats ($0.1 – 0.2).

Content and Picture Courtesy – Mr. Juan Gallardo, Writer at Myanmar Travel Essentials

Juan has traveled extensively to discover everything about Burmese cuisine, tasting traditional dishes cooked for him by the locals. It is these amazing dishes, the warmth of the people and the beauty of the land that is captured in his book “Delicious Myanmar”.

Longwa Village : One House, Two Countries

The state of Nagaland in India is home to a wondrous phenomenon that one would rarely see anywhere else in the world. In this state lies a village called Longwa which has a house that can be considered to spread over two countries – India and Myanmar. Towards Myanmar, this house falls in the Mon state as the boundary between India and Myanmar passes across this village and divides this house into two parts which fall into two parts. This house is owned by the hereditary chief or the king of the Konyak Naga tribe known as “The Angh”. The Angh of Longwa village has 60 wives and he rules over more than 70 villages extended up to Myanmar.

Traditional Naga Tribal Beads

A Chief of Konyak Tribe in his Traditional Outfit
A Chief of Konyak Tribe in his Traditional Outfit

The people living in this village move freely between India and Myanmar and do not need a visa. Even one of the sons of this village’s chief has joined the army of Myanmar. So, technically these villagers have dual citizenship for both India and Myanmar. Besides the chief, some other Konyak families have their kitchen in Myanmar while they sleep in India. The Konyak tribe, which lives in Longwa village, holds the largest numbers among the sixteen officially recognized tribes in Nagaland. The Konyak Naga speaks the Tibetan-Myanmarese dialect with every village having a self-modified version. Some people speak another version too which is known as the Nagamese language and is a mixture of Naga and Assamese.

Traditional Naga Tribal Beads
Traditional Naga Tribal Beads

The Konyak tribe is very famous for their tattooed inked faces and they always wear some traditional jewelry. Most of the men wear a brass skull necklace and they still use hornbill beaks, elephant tusks, horns, and skulls to decorate their houses. The arrival of Christianmissionaries has somewhat helped to bring the people living in this region closer to each other. The religion has now become the cohesive bond between the Nagas and has helped them to refrain from constant fighting with each other.

In the village of Longwa, there is a feeling of oneness among people and boundaries between two different countries seem to have dissolved. The emotional connect between the Nagas living on both sides of the border is very strong. We all know that boundaries were not created by God but are a human intervention. This village shows that it is possible to create a world where boundaries do not create any conflict. This is a very important lesson that we can learn from Longwa village.

– Ranjit Barthakur
Founding Chairman
Myanmar Matters

Burmese Food could be the next Global Culinary Phenomenon

Myanmar’s rise from the ashes of political turmoil, cultural stagnancy and severe isolation is a monumental historic feat. The ushering in of democracy has adequately released it from the unsparing shackles of military suppression and has catapulted it onto the expansive path of progress, aggressive aspirations, development and integration with the mainstream global canvas.

Htamin Jin, Burmese Rice
Htamin Jin, Burmese Rice

Buried in its shadowy past has been its most delectable and distinct food experience, popularly known as the Burmese cuisine. Inhabited by various ethnicities and nationalities, Burmese food specialty varies from region to region; each region serving a specific delicacy with their own recipe and style of cooking. In effect, a trek through Myanmar’s coast towards the inland or traversing the northern and southern regions of Myanmar are sure to delight one’s epicurean journey.

An authentic Burmese palette blends in varied flavors – hot, sweet, sour and salty, by serving multiple side dishes and accompaniments along with the main dish. For example, bitter leaves, dried chilies and salty fish paste may accompany a mild curry. It is this richness that makes it so unique and appetizing, and worthy of being placed on the global cuisine frontier.

Mohinga
Mohinga

Situated on the crossroads of gigantic civilizations of China and India, and bordering the countries of Laos, Thailand and Bangladesh, Myanmar has naturally and inadvertently acquired their distinct characters and culinary influence, while exploring and retaining its own novelty. From the gamut of Chinese dumplings and boiled vegetables to the Indian inspired curries, samosa and biryani, Myanmar staple food has remained constant for years: rice.

From driving the country’s economy as being world’s largest exporter, rice has become the bedrock diet for many people in Myanmar. Htamin Jin in Burmese, rice is usually served with curry, soup and multiple condiments that a Burmese cuisine is characterized of. Either boiled or relished as flat noodles, from being a breakfast or a light snack to being savored as a dessert on the streets, it remains the backbone of any Burmese meal.

Rice noodles or locally known as Mohinga or Mohinka. It is a favorite dish among the locals, enjoyed as breakfast and also as a filler light snack in between meals. These round rice noodles are served in fish paste and shallot broth with a hint of onion garlic adding to the flavor. Topped with veggies, boiled eggs, sliced banana pith and akyaw fritters, it is usually sprinkled with dried chili, lime and coriander. Its preparation varies throughout the region, depending upon the availability of ingredients.

Laphet Thoke
Laphet Thoke

 A salad for Burmese people is an aggregation and experimentation with diverse elements. An unusual mixture of everything which is crunchy, salty, spicy and sour is concocted as a salad. Laphet Thoke, the most popular and thoroughly enjoyed salad constitutes pickled green tea leaves interfused with amalgamation of sauces, and crunchy and sour assortments; sesame, shrimps, ginger, lime, fish sauce, peanut oil, peas, nuts etcetera. It can be served as a snack or accompany a plate of rice.

Nan gyi Thoke
Nan gyi Thoke

Nan gyi Thoke, dry rice noodles in the shape of spaghetti is also a salad based dish, relished with chicken, fish curry and garnished with chickpea flour, chilies and turmeric.

Shan Noodles
Shan Noodles

The Northern interiors of Myanmar are famous for Shan Noodles, reflecting country’s predominant Buddhist group’s delectable food trails. Served in chicken or pork broth, it is seasoned with garlic oil and sesame with pickled vegetables. In comparison to southern or coastal Burmese noodles, Shan noodles are bland and simple in texture.

Khow Suey
Khow Suey

Another dish that exhibits Shan specialty and deserves to be mentioned is fish rice or commonly called Shan style rice. Served with the sides of raw garlic and leek roots, it’s oily and is cooked in turmeric.

Curried noodle soup, Khow Suey, is another dish fundamental to Burmese cuisine. Its ingredients involve coconut milk, curried chicken and egg noodles. Like any other Burmese dish, this too gets accompanied by disparate condiments. However, as per the availability of ingredients, its recipe can be tailored to one’s preference.

Tea houses cannot be given a miss while talking about the eclectic Burmese cuisine. These are the small and scattered tea and snack hubs brimming with voices greeting political affairs and social customs with great gusto and zest. Bursting with a medley of Chinese, Indian and local dishes; noodles, steam buns, samosas, the local tradition of tea shops have evolved as an integral part of the Burmese cuisine.

Burmese desserts, colloquially termed as moun, usually gets its sweet flavor from its corresponding ingredients than sugar itself; sticky rice, fruits, grated coconuts act as sweeteners. Moreover, they are relished as snacks like semolina flour with coconut milk, pancakes with raisons etcetera.

If the food trajectory of Myanmar feeds the nonvegetarians quite sufficiently, vegetarians are served adequately well too with fresh vegetables and fruits available abundantly. Also, the Buddhist sanctity prevalent in the country makes vegan diet an essential part of everyday life of Myanmar.

With Burmese bounty ready to be served on the world platter, and geared to exhibit its vast regional spread through plethora of its native treats and cuisine, the World awaits Myanmar’s food treasures to satiate its South East Asian appetite in glory all renewed and rediscovered.

A Visit To Myanmar Temples: Experience Holiness and Thanaka

A Visit To Myanmar Temples- Experience Holiness and Thanaka
Shwezigon Temple – Bagan, Myanmar

Myanmar is a Buddhist majority country where Theravada Buddhism is the most practiced religious tradition. This is a
place where pagodas, monasteries, and various other historical structures related to Buddhism thrive in abundance.
When you walk around in Myanmar you will get to see the stunning site of monks dressed in their traditional red robes all
around. In Myanmar, each male is expected to serve as a monk twice in his life. The first time a person joins a monastery
as a novice and the second time he is expected to become an ordained monk.

RELIGION_02

RELIGION_01

The people of Myanmar show their true love and respect for Buddha and his symbols not only by keeping him and his teachings in their heart but also through their actions. Buddhists of Myanmar buy gold leaves and apply them to pagodas and Buddhist statues.The magnificent gold-plated Shwedagon Pagoda can be seen shining
from anywhere in Yangon. Both rich and poor are equally devoted Buddhists and they believe that building pagodas is a very noble
act. Rich people often fund the building of these pagodas. When pagodas get old or damaged they are quickly restored to their original splendor. Numerous people visit pagodas every day and they always follow the rule of going barefoot.

RELIGION_03

Besides the pagodas and monks another thing that you will immediately notice in Myanmar is a lot of people walking around with their faces painted with a yellowish powder. This yellowish substance is called thanaka and it is an inherent part of Myanmar’s culture. When you visit a Buddhist temple, the attendant there might apply it to your face as a ritual. When applied to skin it feels cool and gives a wonderful fragrance. The people of Myanmar believe it is good for the skin and it matches their complexion very well.

Guide To The Growing Punk Music Scene

Names in Myanmar Punk

punk crowd

Punk music is on the rise in Myanmar, especially in Yangon. There are no specific ‘punk’ venues but the scene is large enough that several spaces hold concerts when organized. Rough Cut, Pansodan Scene, Pin Lel Studio and of course People’s Park. The #WDGAF show at People’s Park last Friday was a predominately a punk lineup that attracted a large attendance despite the ban on alcohol sales past 10pm. What is known as ‘underground music’ has united young musicians from all different genres. In light of the popular concert, MYANMORE has made a list of some local punk bands that people should check out if interested in exploring this growing section of youth culture. You can catch some of these up-and-coming groups at Pin Lel Studio in North Dagon on March 26th. Check Myanmore.com for more information

Side Effect

Arguably the most famous indie punk bank in Myanmar, Side Effect took the stage singing about freedom and socio-political issues. They have been active for about a decade and during that time they have performed shows in Berlin, Germany and the South by SouthWest festival in the USA, giving them international popularity. They are not a pure punk band, they also mix with garage rock, power pop and back-to-the-basics rock n roll – a style similar to the Strokes or the Libertines.

Big Bag

Big Bag is the first local Punk Band to breakthrough and attracted thousands last Friday as the headliner for the #WDGAF concert

Big Bag is the first local Punk Band to breakthrough and attracted thousands last Friday as the headliner for the #WDGAF concert. Myanmar Teenagers were the main fans of the band at first as they introduced an alternative style of music, which ultimately let Myanmar youth explore a new genre. The lead singer and guitarist Kyar Pout started in the town of Hlaing and has since then brought his music to Yangon. His bandmates Ye Zaw Myo, bassist, and Mung Boih, drummer, help write much of the music and are featured as part of the band’s identity.

Skunx

Skunx is quickly becoming one of the top bands in Myanmar by integrating punk with melodies reminiscent with hip-hop. Imagine Anthrax meets Crystal Castles. The group opened for Big Bag this past weekend and did not disappoint the packed public park. The Mandalay group formed from two discontinued bands, the lead singer being Eugene Skunx. Skunx writes songs about every topics that most young people can relate to while also touching on social issues. The songs cover politics, lifestyle, education and even sex. They target Burmese youth with the goal of giving hope to those who feel stuck.

No U Turn

No U-Turn is one of the most active bands in Yangon, they played at People’s Park last Friday and will also be playing at Jam It! Kulture in a couple weeks.  They have a ska sound that may remind some of the American band, Rancid. The group has been playing and making music in the underground scene for over 10 years and have released three albums. His long standing presence in Myanmar has given the band has quite a following that know the lyrics to his songs.

The Myth

The Myth was founded and currently led by female singer Ja Som in 2011. They identify their genre as Pop/Rock whilst adding occasional hard rock guitar licks into their songs. They debuted their first EP album in 2014 “One More Chance” by releasing it on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and Myanmar Music Store. The album consists of 6 songs including the  title track ‘One More Chance’, which later became a hit. One More Chance has been featured on numerous TV channels of Myanmar. Currently, they are working on their LP album which will continue with their feminist trend.

The Rebel Riot

The Rebel Riot is the band that came into existence after the Saffron Revolution. The main reason for the formation of the band to fight oppression and corruption. The band uses music as a medium to fight against injustice. Their songs, Puppet Society (2013) and [Censored] Religious Rules (2014) highlight the problems they see in the country. Rebel Riot is now a three member group that have travelled throughout Southeast Asia.

Kultureshock

Influenced by Swedish punk groups such as Anti Cimex, Skitslickers, Avskum, Moderad Likvktation and Totalitar, this crust punk band is the first band to ever play such kind of music. Formed in 2009, Kultureshock played local underground gigs all over. The song “Urban Rubbish” talks about how the people are living under the oppressed government and how low-life people are considered to be “trash”.They are considered a D-Beat band, meaning that their message is anti-war and anarchist.

Myanmar Metal: Metal and Punk are not the same thing. But there are some concerts that play both. 

Nightmare

Nightmare is a death-metal force not to be reckoned with. The band started as a group of friends who shared a similar taste in metal music. They got their influences from American bands such as Suicide Silence and Lamb of God. Their music is not typical metal music, which is usually about violence or horror. They focus on broken families and the dangers of satiating greed. They aim to give people with troubles a sense of self-respect and something that could light up in their dark times.

Last Days of Beethoven
Last Days of Beethoven is a death metal band made up of five people that bring an end to Beethoven’s “pleasant music”. They mainly sing songs that are about perseverance and not giving up in the face of problems. The songs preach to the people to be bogged down within religious and ethnic conflicts. While being a metal band, LDB sees their message being about peace and harmony.

History Of Burma

Early Burma

History Of BurmaThe Nation we know as Burma was first formed during the goldenage of Pagan in the 11th century. King Anawratha ascended the throne in 1044, uniting Burma under his monarchy. His belief in Buddhism lead him to begin building the temples and pagodas for which the city of Pagan (above) is renowned. Pagan became the first capital of a Burmese kingdom that included virtually all of modern Burma. The golden age of pagan reached its peak in during the reign of Anawratha’s successor,Kyanzitta (1084-1113), another devout Buddhist, under whom it aquired the name
” City of four million pagodas “.

Under Colonial Rule

Although Burma was at times divided into independent states, a series of monarchs attempted to establish their absolute rule, with varying degrees of success. Eventually, an expansionist British Government took advantage of Burma’s political instability. After three Anglo-Burmese wars over a period of 60 years, the British completed their colonization of the country in 1886, Burma was immediately annexed as a province of British India, and the British began to permeate the ancient Burmese culture with foreign elements. Burmese customs were often weakened by the imposition of British traditions.

The British also further divided the numerous ethnic minorities by favouring some groups, such as the Karen, for positions in the military and in local rural administrations. During the 1920s, the first protests by Burma’s intelligentsia and Buddhist monks were launched against British rule. By 1935, the Students Union at Rangoon University was at the forefront of what would evolve into an active and powerful movement for national independence. A young law student Aung San, executive-committee member and magazine editor for the Students Union, emerged as the potential new leader of the national movement. In the years that followed, he successfully organized a series of student strikes at the university, gaining the support of the nation.

Independence and Democracy

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Aung San seized the opportunity to bring about Burmese independence. He and 29 others, known as the Thirty Comrades, left Burma to undergo military training in Japan. In 1941, they fought alongside the Japanese who invaded Burma. The Japanese promised Aung San that if the British were defeated, they would grant Burma her freedom. When it became clear that the Japanese would not follow through with their promise, Aung San quickly negotiated an agreement with the British to help them defeat the Japanese.

History Of BurmaHailed as the architect of Burma’s new-found independence by the majority of Burmese, Aung San was able to negotiate an agreement in January 1947 with the British, under which Burma would be granted total independence from Britain. Although a controversial figure to some ethnic minorities, he also had regular meetings with ethnic leaders throughout Burma in an effort to create reconciliation and unity for all Burmese.


As the new leader drafted a constitution with his party’s ministers in July 1947, the course of Burmese history was dramatically and tragically altered. Aung San and members of his newly-formed cabinet were assasinated when an opposition group with machine guns burst into the room. A member of Aung San’s cabinet, U Nu, was delegated to fill the position suddenly left vacant by Aung San’s death. A Burma was finally granted independence on January 4, 1948, at 4:20am – a moment selected most auspicious by an astrologer.


For the next ten years, Burma’s fledging democratic government was continuously challenged by communist and ethnic groups who felt under-represented in the 1948 constitution. Periods of intense civil war destabilized the nation. Although the constitution declared that minority states could be granted some level of independence in ten years, their long-awaited day of autonomy never arrived. As the economy floundered, U Nu was removed from office in 1958 by a caretaker government led by General Ne Win, one of Aung San’s fellow thakins. In order to “restore law and order” to Burma, Ne Win took control of the whole country including the minority states, forcing them to remain under the jurisdiction of the central government. Although he allowed U Nu to be re-elected Prime Minister in 1960, two years later he staged a coup and solidified his position as Burma’s military dictator.

Burma Under a Dictatorship

History Of BurmaNe Win’s new Revolutionary Coucil suspended the constitution and instituted authoritarian military rule. Full attention turned to the military defeat of communist

and ethnic-minority rebel groups. The country was closed off from the outside world as the new despot promoted an isolation ideology based on what he called the Burmese Way to Socialism. Superstitious, xenophobic and ruthless, for the next three decades Ne Win set a thriving nation on a disatrious path of cultural, environmental and economic ruin. Outside visitors were few and restricted to Rangoon, Mandalay and a handful of other tightly controlled towns close to the central plains. Insurgency remained endemic and in many areas of Burma armed struggle became a way of life.

The People’s Demands Are Met With Bullets

In July 1988 Ne Win suddenly announced that he was preparing to leave the stage. Seeing at last a possible escape from military rule, economic decline and routine human rights abuses, thousands of people took to the streets of Rangoon.

Demonstrations broke out across the country during the so-called "Democracy Summer" that followed. But on August 8, 1988 troops began a four day massacre, firing into crowds of men, women and children gathered in Rangoon. At least 10,000 demonstrators were killed across the country.

Demonstrations broke out across the country during the so-called "Democracy Summer" that followed. But on August 8, 1988 troops began a four day massacre, firing into crowds of men, women and children gathered in Rangoon. At least 10,000 demonstrators were killed across the country.Thousands of students and democracy advocates fled to the border regions under ethnic control and forged alliances with ethnic resistance movements. Some of these groups include the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), the All Burma Student Democratic Front, the Democratic Alliance of Burma, and the longstanding National Democratic Front situated in Manerplaw (the former headquarters of the Karen National Union which fell to SLORC in January 1995). Together these groups formed the National Council of the Union of Burma, an umbrella organization representing all the groups.A Leader Emerges

It just so happened that during this time of unrest in 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of independence hero Aung San, who had been living abroad, returned to Burma to care for her ailing mother. Her devotion kept her there and brought her into the political foray. Attempting to quell international condemnation for its violence, the military announced it would hold multi-party elections. Under the persuasion of students and others opposed to the regime, Aung San Suu Kyi and like-minded colleagues founded the National League for Democracy (NLD). Her party quickly gathered country-wide support. Just when democratic changes seemed imminent Ne Win commandeered the army from behind the scenes to take over the country in a staged “coup”.

On September 18, 1988, control of the country was handed to a 19-member State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and a vicious crackdown followed. Although committed to non-violence, Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest in July 1989 for “endangering the state” and kept there for the next six years. Desperate to improve their image and generate foreign investment, the SLORC went ahead on May 27, 1990 and held the multi-party elections they had promised. Despite the SLORC’s severe repression against members of opposition parties (Aung San Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest) and the complete lack of freedom of expression throughout the country, Suu Kyi’s NLD party swept to victory with 82% of the vote. Surprised and outraged, the SLORC refused to acknowledge the election results and has retained its repressive grip on power ever since.

Current Situation

Eventhough Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in May of 2002 the military has refused to relinquish power. The generals have not engaged in any sort of dialogue. The humanitarian situation in Burma is disasterous and civil war still ravages the border areas. The effect of military rule has been a severly impoverished and underdevelopmed nation, Burma has rated as the second least developed nation on the United Nations Development Index. Peace, democracy and the most basic human rights do not exist. Millions have been forced to flee due to military rule and are scattered all over the world longing for the day when they can return to their homeland and be re-united with the families and live in peace.

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Chakma people of Myanmar, Bangladesh & India

Chakmas peopleChakma People are an ethnic minority group that is spread across India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. A large concentration of the group resides in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan).  Chakmas are Tibeto- Burman, have their own culture, language and profess Theravada Buddhism – a combination of Hinduism and traditional religions.

Chakmas came to India from Bangladesh and since the tribe practiced Buddhism mainly, they identified themselves with the Hindus of India. They are said to have faced religious persecution in East Pakistan and therefore, due to communal violence and displacement, entered India through Lushai Hills of Assam (Today’s Mizoram). Chakma villages have a large number of Buddhist temples and they look up to Monks, who preside at important events and functions in the lives of the tribe. Foreign and local missionaries have been trying to convert Chakmas into Christians, thereby, creating resentment in them.

The Chakma people of India have been fighting for citizenship since 1960. At the time of migrating to India, they officially crossed the border under the leadership of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and so they are legitimate residents in the country. However, due to illiteracy and lack of understanding, many of    them have lost the legal document. Apart from denial of legal citizenship, Chakmas also face other forms of discrimination. They are abused and exploited and denied educational and employment opportunities and are often accused by other regions of being involved in criminal activities. At birth, children are not granted their birth certificate and although offered, in reality they are held back.

In a joint statement issued by Government of India and Bangladesh, in 1972, the Chakmas were to be conferred citizenship but the State of Arunachal Pradesh opposed this and continues to do so. The Supreme Court in September 2015, directed the central and Arunachal Pradesh governments to confer the citizenship rights on the “eligible” Chakmas. Many student groups and the Government of Arunachal Pradesh has opposed this decision and has filed a petition to the Supreme Court to re-examine the ruling objecting to the permanent settlement of Chakma in the state and their exclusion from the provisions of the Inner Line Permit.

chakamas people
The Chakma people of Myanmar are the least known people in the world and live in northern Rakhine State of Burma and adjacent southern areas of Chin State.  They are known in Myanmar as Daingnet people. Chakma Day is celebrated in Myanmar to revive the tribe’s lost culture, history, language and script.  Chakmas speak languages influenced by neighboring Chittagonian, a language close to Assamese. Chakmas are people with their own culture, traditions, folklore and literature. The staple diet of the Chakma people is rice, millets and bamboo shoot, that they call, “Bajchuri” and shrimp paste. Their cooking techniques include slow cooking vegetables and meat wrapped in banana leaves on low fire.

Chakma women wear traditional outfits that are hand woven and colorful with intricate designs. A two piece attire with a skirt at the bottom and a wrapped cloth above. Chakma people are mainly farmers by profession and are extremely protective of their culture and land. Although with time, in order to protect themselves against encroachment and to secure their rights to participate in any governmental decision making processes that affect them, the Chakmas have been coming out, speaking for their rights and actively pursuing their fight for attaining citizenship. Within the Chakma community, the Community has no caste distinction and maintain communal harmony amongst their people. There is no discrimination internally on grounds of behavior, acceptance or living together.

Myanmar Homes

TOWNS AND VILLAGES IN MYANMAR

There are few large towns or cities in Myanmar with the exception of Yangon, the largest city and port and former capital. The next largest cities are Mandalay and Moulmein. Towns and cities are usually found in or along rivers, which indicates they began as both irrigation and transport centers.

There are over 65,000 villages in Myanmar. The fall into three main types: 1) villages surrounded by palisades and fences with a village gate and sometimes guards; 2) villages without fences and no regular plan and with no public buildings in the village itself; and 3) villages strung out along a road or waterway. The second kind of villages usually often has a monastery outside the villages, fields within walking distance of the village and houses set among trees and fruit crops. Most villages have a monastery and cemetery, and sometimes a school. Clinics and hospitals are usually in the nearest town.

Homes in Myanmar

The traditional Burmese urban home is raised on four posts and has a concrete base. There are two or three rooms partitioned with plywood sheets that have curtains instead of doors. The main room is reached by the front door which sits at the top of a small flight of stairs. There are many rooms in the Bamar traditional house. Firstly. you will get to the living room at the entrance of the house. There, traditional Bamar food and drink, betel boxes, pickled tea leaves, cheroot and green tea pot are displayed. There is sometimes a well, granary and bullock cart in the courtyard.

According to the Joshua Project: Various types of houses can be found in the Burmese villages. The wealthier people often live in sturdy, mahogany homes that are raised off the ground and have plank floors and tile roofs. Those with lower incomes may live in thatched roof, bamboo houses that have dirt floors. All activities take place on the dirt floors, including eating and sleeping. Therefore, it is extremely impolite to enter a Burmese house wearing shoes.

According to Countries and Their Cultures: “The traditional house is made largely of bamboo. Flattened pieces of bamboo made into large plaited sections are used to make the walls. The floors are made of bamboo planks or wood. The frame of the house is made of wood, with hard and durable wood being used for the house posts. Roof coverings are made of a variety of materials, including thatch made from broad-leafed grass or palm fronds. Roofs may be covered with tiles, wooden shingles, or zinc sheets. Some old houses use whole tree trunks for pillars and have splendid teak paneling. The front of the house usually has a veranda that is raised a few feet off the ground. This is the public area where guests are entertained. The center of the house is the living area for the family. Behind it is a covered cooking area where rice is stored. Especially in urban areas, these houses are being replaced by more generic ones made from cement. [Source: Countries and Their Cultures everyculture.com ]

In the Irrawaddy Delta area natural materials such as thatch from the palm trees and shrubs that grow across the delta provided cheap, rainproof, and relatively cool roofing. In the old days houses in rural areas were mostly built of bamboo, thatch or palm leaves and rattan was used instead of iron nail for tying the structure together. Rattan is a wild creeper which grows profusely in many forests of Myanmar. It is a very resilient fiberous gift of nature which Myanmar people have been using for various purposes since time immemorial.

Some ethnic minorities have distinctive styles of houses.Many Palaung traditionally lived in multiple-family houses. Today, these structures are very rare, and most Palaung live in single-family houses. See Individual Ethnic Groups

Describing the inside of a Kachin house, Steven Martin wrote in Time magazine, “Their house was a modest structure of concrete and wood but the sitting room was decorated with an impressive collection of posters. Among them was a concert shot of the Scorpions and, next to that, a classic of Bruce Lee that I hadn’t seen since my youth: the scene from Enter the Dragon in which Bruce is sporting two dramatic claw marks across his chest, his mouth wide open mid-caterwaul. High up on the opposite wall was a shelflike shrine supporting the images of Jesus, Mary and the Buddha. Though I have spent the better part of two decades in Southeast Asia, this was the first time I had seen Christ and the Buddha share the same household altar. I was admiring the shrine when Myo Aung entered the room. “My father was Burman and my mother was Kachin. Burmans are always Buddhist but many Kachin are Christians.” [Source: Steven Martin, Time magazine, 2002]

Possessions in Myanmar

In main room of the house is the family alter with a Buddha image surrounded by flowers and offerings, there is often a coffee-style table and set of wooden or plastic chairs. The walls and shelves tend be decorated with calendars, pictures of deceased relatives and plastic flowers. The kitchens tend to be small or separated from the house. The refrigerator is kept in the dining room. Traditional musical instruments include harps and xylophones. The kitchen is in separate part of the house. Household utensils are placed in the kitchen. Traditionally a loom was kept under the house where traditional clothes were weaved.

Homes of the poor often have woven bamboo and thatch wall which are relatively cool in hot weather. Woven mats are also placed on the ground. Bucket baths are raised above the ground on timbers.

Many Burmese thatch homes are decorated with family photographs and movie posters from India, Japan and the United States. Windows have fire-hardened bamboo bars and if there is electricity it comes from an exposed bulb. Most people sit on the floor and if there are seats they are usually offered to old people. [Source: Joel Swerdlow, National Geographic, July 1995]

In villages many music players, home karaoke machines and televisions are operated by car batteries. You often see people walking around with car batteries. Candles are often on hand in case the electricity goes out.

People tend to sleep on the sheets of a bed rather than under them. If people are chilly they use a blanket. Many people wash their feet before going to bed.

Myanmar Mats

Mats are essential items in a Myanmar household. They are woven from thin strips of the thin reed, which grows in swampy areas of the Irrawaddy Delta region and Taninthayi Division of Lower Myanmar. The traditional mat weaving industry flourishes in Pantanaw, Danubyu, Laymyetnha, Hinthada and Maubin Townships in Ayeyawady Division. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]

It takes at least about twelve days to weave a mat. The reeds are systematically processed after being cut by being sunned, soaked in water and peeled into strips before being woven into a mat. The thin straps are often dyed and used to make colorful patterns. Most mats have two layers. A mat which only has the upper layer woven in decorative designs is called “one smooth side” mat. When both of the two layers are woven in patterns the mat is called “two smooth sides”.

Mat weaving is a lucrative home industry. The mat goes in suits Myanmar’s culture as well as its hot weather. A traditional mat in a Myanmar house adds auspiciousness to its interior.

Myanmar Fans

Although a fan or umbrella are not included in the prescribed articles of donation for use of Buddhist monks, they are necessities in a tropical country like Myanmar. They are therefore always added to the list of articles donated to monks during Buddhist religious holidays. A large fan or umbrella helps to shade the bare-shaved head of the monk who goes barefooted when he goes round village or town under the hot morning sun to accept offerings of food. They are also protects him if there is a drizzle. The fans made for monks are large and are usually made of palm leaves. Nowadays they are covered with velvet fabric and have the donors’ names printed on it. When the monks preach sermons they generally screen their faces with the fans, close their eyes and concentrate on their sermons. This traditional method of giving sermons is called “Yet-htaung taya” (“preaching with the fan put right in front of the preaching monk”). But there are times when the monks do not screen their faces and preach sermons face to face with the audience in sonorous voice. This style of preaching is called “Yat-hle.” [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]

Included in the paraphernalia of the Myanmar royalty was a fan called “Daung-taung yat”. made of peacock tail feathers with a long handle. Palace pages gently fanned the royals with this fan during the hot season. When the British conquered Myanmar and ruled the country, they introduced ceiling fans which they brought from India. These were originally large fans made from cloth fastened to a long rod and attached to the ceiling. The rod tied to a rope was pulled by an office boy. This contraption was called a”punkha” (fan) and boy that operated it was “a punkha wallah.” When electricity punkhas in the rooms in office buildings were connected together with pulleys and ropes and run by a single big electric motor. Such a network of ceiling fans was used in Yangon Gereral Hospital until the outbreak of World War II.

Paper fans are widely used in Myanmar. Traditional Burmese ones are made of small thin slats of bamboo pasted on both sides with paper and usually trimmed to form a circular or oval shape. The paper fans were a must in the old days when electric fans were not yet imported. At weddings and religious ceremonies, where attendees were crowded and when the atmosphere was very close, these “portable air conditioners” were in great demand. Distributed at the marriage ceremonies they carried the names of the brides and bridegrooms. Those given away at religious ceremonies such as novitiation ceremonies had the names of the noviatiates and their parents and the date of the ceremony printed on them. With the introduction of electric ceiling fans and air conditioners, the custom of distributing fans on these occasions faded away.

However, paper fans are still distributed at funerals. The name of the deceased. his or her parents names are printed on one side of the fan and the other side carries extracts from Buddhist teachings. The fan also doubles as an invitation card because it invites the members of the cortege to a morning reception where monks are fed in memory of the dead and then the invitees are treated to a breakfast.

Parasol from Pathein

The umbrella industry of Pathein, the capital of the Ayeyarwady Division of Myanmar’s delta region, is well known and was established in Pathein over a hundred years ago. The first umbrellas were made of paper, but through experience the makers became innovative and began to produce umbrellas with canopies of cotton, silk and satin with attractive floral designs. These newly fashioned umbrellas gained popularity with the ladies and sales expanded across the country. They also caught the attention of visiting foreigners who purchased them as souvenirs, interior decoration on walls and for use as unique lampshades. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]

The production of the Pathein umbrella is more or less a family industry, with several divisions of labour used in the making of a single umbrella. Each worker is assigned a different task: with one responsible for making the framework of ribs and another the shaft, and others still making the canopy, the grip, the hub which holds the ribs together, and even the wedge or switch for opening and closing the umbrella. Each person works separately and is a specialist so to speak in his own line of work.

The shaft and ribs of the umbrella are made of bamboo and the hub and grip from a softwood known locally as “Ma-U Thit”. The raw materials of bamboo and wood are obtained from the lower hill slopes of the Rakhine Yoma Mountain Range near Chaungthar, which is close to Pathein.

When all the different parts made by different craftsmen are ready they are put together to make an umbrella. The canopy—dyed in pastel shades of mauve, pink, green and blue to deflect the sunlight—are attached to the frame. Sometimes a few darker shades too, such as black, dark blue and bottle green, are added. When the canopy has been fixed to the rib frame, small flowers of varying shapes and colors are painted on the background.

It is a wonder that so many different parts made by different hands all fit so snugly together, and one is able to open and close the umbrella smoothly without a hitch. Once the umbrella is folded then a small bamboo ring—wrapped in colored wool thread and attached with the same thread to an indentation on the grip— is slipped on to the folded umbrella to keep it tightly closed.

Everyday Life in Myanmar

In many ways the Myanmar of today is little changed from the Burma that emerged after World War II. Some visitors say traveling to the country is like going back in history. You can still find wind up cars and trucks. Much of the farming is still done by hand and animals without machines. In villages television and even electricity can be a rare sight. Many people favor traditional clothes. But now that Myanmar is finally reforming things are changing—and they are changing very fast, in the words of the World Bank: at “warp speed.”

Problems in everyday life include water shortages, cut off electricity, insects in the toilets, flooding and termite damage.

According to the Joshua Project: “The thickly forested mountains provide valuable lumber, while the fertile valleys support intense rice cultivation. Rice cultivation is their main occupation and basic means of economic support; it is grown for both personal consumption and trade. Although the Burmese ideally grow rice in irrigated fields, they also resort to slash and burn cultivation. With this process, the fields are cut and burned before any new crops are planted. To help in the fields, cattle and buffalo are raised to draw heavy wooden plows. It is a daily task for a whole Burmese family to go out into the fields to work. Mothers work with their babies, while the older children accompany their grandparents. [Source: Joshua Project]

Many tools used in everyday life are made of bamboo and wood and to a lesser degree of metal. Modern technology is represented most prominently in the form of sewing machines, loudspeakers, battery-run transistor radios, some guns, and occasional vehicles. A surprising number of machines and vehicles date back to the World War II era.

The traditional Burmese units of measurement are still in everyday use in Burma. According to the CIA Factbook, Burma is one of three countries that have not adopted the International System of Units (SI) metric system as their official system of weights and measures. However, in June 2011, the Burmese government’s Ministry of Commerce began discussing proposals to reform the measurement system in Burma and adopt the metric system used by most of its trading partners.

Citizens and permanent residents are required to carry government-issued National Registration Cards (NRCs), also known as Citizenship Scrutiny Cards, which permit holders to access services and prove citizenship. These identification cards often indicate religious affiliation and ethnicity. There appeared to be no consistent criteria governing whether a person’s religion was indicated on the card. Citizens also are required to indicate their religion on certain official application forms for documents such as passports, although passports themselves do not indicate the bearer’s religion. Members of many ethnic and religious minorities, particularly Muslims, faced problems obtaining NRCs. [Source: U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor International Religious Freedom Report for 2011]

Economic Daily Life in Myanmar

In August 2008, the Washington Post reported: “Today, the average household spends up to 70 percent of its budget on food. At tea shops or grocery stalls, people pull out bricks of local bills to pay for basics in an economy that the International Monetary Fund estimates suffered inflation of 40 percent in 2007. Fuel rationing and price controls have insulated the country from much of the recent shocks to the world economy. Nonetheless, black market prices for gasoline and diesel fuel have continued to spiral upward in recent months, residents say. [Source: Washington Post, August 16, 2008]

Analysts and Burmese residents say unemployment — and underemployment — is on the rise. Salaries that were already inadequate have failed to keep pace with inflation. To make up the shortfall, professionals such as government geologists double as taxi drivers, professors sell exam scores, civil servants demand bribes to process paperwork and prison guards run elaborate operations allowing the smuggling of money to inmates, in return for a 20 percent cut, local residents and former detainees said. Teachers sometimes sell lunch to their students. “Can you imagine asking your students for money? I couldn’t do it,” said a 26-year-old former elementary school teacher who switched to being a tour guide. So many people engage in corruption that the Berlin-based watchdog group Transparency International rated Burma in 2007 as tied with Somalia as the most corrupt country in the world.

For a long time purchased articles and food were placed in leaves, sometimes wrapped in string, rather than plastic bags or paper, in part because of a shortage of plastic. The effect on the environment was positive as people in Myanmar tend to litter a long and leaves quickly decompose while plastic does not.

Myanmar’s Backwardness

Myanmar missed many technological advances during 50 years of being shut off from the world by the military junta and has been struggling to catch up since an elected government came to power in 2011. Few people in Myanmar know, for example, that a man walked on the moon.

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “Even by the standards of authoritarian regimes, Burma lives in an epoch unto itself, a relic of the prosperous country that was once the world’s largest exporter of rice. Rangoon—or Yangon, as it is now known—which was so alive with diversity and immigration that it had a Jewish mayor in the nineteen-thirties, is today a place of deprivation and haunting beauty. The banyan trees reach out from the moldering remains of villas and colonial offices. Ancient buses, cast off by Japan, and now absurdly overloaded, wheeze through canyons on the broken macadam. Outside the law courts, men in crisp white shirts and longyis, Burma’s traditional ankle-length sarong, hunch over ancient typewriters, feeding the maw of the bureaucracy. Gaping sinkholes in the sidewalk reveal the sewer beneath, exhaling into the tropical air. Book venders, not far from where Pablo Neruda lived in the nineteen-twenties, display on their blankets books with such titles as “Essentials of Selling,” “Radio and Line Transmission,” and the I.M.F.’s “Seventh Annual Report: Exchange Restrictions, 1956.” [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, August 6, 2012 *-*]

“In the countryside, Burma lives by candlelight. Three-quarters of the population get no electricity, though the nation has abundant oil, gas, and hydropower resources. The number of cell phones per capita is the lowest in the world, behind North Korea. Less than one per cent of the population is connected to the Web. In eastern Shan state, where I chatted with a woman who had never heard the name of the sitting President, cars are vastly outnumbered by horse-drawn carts.

Cost of Living in Myanmar

Takashi Shiraishi wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Myanmar’s per capita income is far below that of Laos and Cambodia in terms of market-based foreign exchange rates to the dollar. However, the quality of people’s diets in Myanmar is no different from that in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam as far as consumption of oils and fats, seafood, fruit, eggs and drinks are concerned. The only difference seems to be that people in Myanmar eat a little less meat than Cambodians, Laotians and Vietnamese. [Source: Takashi Shiraishi, Yomiuri Shimbun, February 10, 2008 +]

“Consumer spending by the upper 20 per cent of Myanmar’s households is about four times the comparable amount spent by the lowest 20 per cent. Despite such a big disparity, there is almost no difference between the two groups in terms of the ratio of food expenses, thereby challenging Engel’s Law, which states that as income rises, the proportion of income spent on food tends to go down. In other words, the income gap mostly translates into differences in the choice of foods and the fact that the rich are eating better. +

“These findings reflect the insufficient state of the country’s infrastructure, such as electricity, tap water and housing. People are not buying TVs, refrigerators and other household electrical appliances because electricity is supplied to less than 20 per cent of the country’s farming villages. In sum, everyone is eating every day even though they are poor, and the rich-poor divide has not resulted in major visible differences in lifestyles. Under such circumstances, a popular uprising may have difficulty catching fire.”

Myanmar, Tradition, Repression and Modernity

Describing Myanmar in 2005, Richard Paddock wrote in Los Angeles Times, Myanmar “is mostly isolated from the outside world. There are none of the McDonald’s, Starbucks or KFC outlets here that have become ubiquitous in Southeast Asian cities. Instead, workers crowd into dilapidated buses carrying shiny, metal cylinder lunch boxes with separate trays for their rice, curry and vegetables. Women commonly walk down the streets of central Yangon carrying goods on their heads. [Source: Richard Paddock, Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2005 *]

“Secret police and a network of informers watch over the populace. Listening to overseas radio broadcasts or watching foreign shows on satellite television can result in seven years in prison. Foreign journalists are rarely allowed to visit. Dissidents are arrested in the middle of the night and vanish into the prison system. There are more than 1,300 political detainees, rights groups say, including other leaders of Suu Kyi’s party. Members of the public interviewed for this article asked not to be identified out of fear for their safety. *

“Myanmar’s isolation from the West has kept the country in a kind of time warp where many traditions remain intact. Most men wear a longyi, a sarong-like garment that reaches nearly to the ankles. Women and children wear a striking yellow sunscreen that is made from the bark of the thanaka tree. Women spread thanaka on their cheeks in circles, rectangles or swirls, sometimes to stunning effect. In central Yangon, life spills onto the streets. Families set up little kitchens in the roadway. Women sit in busy avenues selling vegetables. On the sidewalks, craftsmen make signs and mend clothes or umbrellas. Some shopkeepers run generators on the sidewalk to cope with power outages. Others set up small tables with telephones, charging 10 cents a call. Children claiming to be orphans beg for money.*

Corruption has reportedly invaded nearly every aspect of commerce. At the post office, people mailing a letter tip the clerk so she will mark the stamp instead of peeling it off and selling it. At hospitals, patients pay orderlies so they can see a doctor. “Even if blood is pumping from your artery, unless you tip the gurney operator, you will die on the stretcher,” a diplomat said. *

More overtly, the regime maintains control through countless restrictions. Anyone who allows guests to stay overnight must report their names to the police.Access to Internet sites is limited and e-mail is delayed so government minders have time to read it. There are few cellphones, and foreign publications are censored. Some people get around it, including Internet users who have become expert at accessing restricted websites. Others listen to the BBC and Voice of America on radio despite the ban. Illegal satellite dishes have sprouted from rooftops, allowing millions to watch overseas broadcasts. Security in Yangon has been tighter than ever since May 7, when bombs exploded minutes apart at two shopping malls and a trade show. By official count, 23 people were killed and more than 160 were injured. The government has blamed the blasts on pro-democracy activists, the CIA and the Thai government. No suspects have been arrested. *

Perhaps because of the Buddhist tradition of patience, or perhaps because resistance seems futile, the people of Myanmar wait quietly, work to feed their families and wish for the regime to collapse. Some hope reincarnation will free them from their hardships. “In my next life,” said a 47-year-old worker, “I want to come back in another country.”

Life Under Myanmar’s Military Regime

Hannah Beech wrote in Time, “Today, despite Suu Kyi’s release and the influx of foreign investment that has brought the occasional Hummer and day spa to Rangoon, Burma is still a country preserved in amber. Tropical totalitarianism is deceptive. In North Korea, the broad, desolate avenues and drably dressed citizens make for a perfect tableau of authoritarianism. Burma’s sprays of bougainvillea, its gilded pagodas and the sway of schoolgirls dressed in the sarongs called longyis all create a false sense of contentment. But life in Burma is not easy. Roughly 40 percent of the national budget is spent on the army, while just around 1 percent each is reserved for health and education. [Source: Hannah Beech, Time, December 29, 2010 =]

“The new capital in Naypyidaw, which means “abode of the kings,” was built with billions of dollars, even as nearly a third of Burmese live below the poverty line. For farmers, a hand-to-mouth existence is made worse by routine land seizures and orders to work without pay for the military. Even in Rangoon, power outages are as common as junta informants; both leave the populace in the dark. In a sign of just how removed the generals are from their subjects, confidential U.S. embassy cables released by WikiLeaks refer to the junta lavishing money on a nuclear program with alleged help from North Korea, while junta supremo Than Shwe pondered spending $1 billion on Manchester United at the behest of his soccer-loving grandson. =

Joshua Hammer wrote in The New Yorker, “I asked Aung San Suu Kyi whether the country had changed during her last period of house arrest. The first thing she noticed after getting out, she said, was “the hand phones and the cameras” of the supporters who gathered in front of her villa and in front of N.L.D. headquarters. Internet cafés and satellite dishes—purchased on the black market and tolerated by the regime—were everywhere. “I’m the only one without a satellite dish, precisely because they’re illegal,” she told me, with a laugh. The dictatorship understands that keeping its citizens in the dark is no longer possible, she believes, and this gives her hope. “Journals and magazines have come up in the last seven years that carry articles on politics, economics, history, the struggle for independence. Some of these articles are censored, and prevented from appearing, but even the fact that they submit these articles for publication means there’s been a change. The self-censorship is decreasing.” [Source: Joshua Hammer, The New Yorker, January 24, 2011]

Being Followed in Myanmar

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker that Myanmar used to be a place “where you never uttered a name on a phone line and, in some cases, carried a wig to help shake off the intelligence officers in a crowd.”

Hannah Beech wrote in Time, “The special branch had chased us across the city for hours, through the haunted, betel-nut-stained streets of old Rangoon, past street-side tailors hunched over ancient sewing machines and open-air bookstalls selling worm-eaten copies of Orwell and Kipling. Unable to shake the latest batch of state security men following us by foot, we jumped into a wheezing taxi of mid-20th century vintage. The young driver’s eyes widened at the foreigners who hurled themselves in the back and ordered the car to move — fast. [Source: Hannah Beech, Time, December 29, 2010 =]

“And the public’s desire for freedom, of course, is why security agents were hunting us, snapping pictures with telephoto lenses fit for Hollywood paparazzi. Earlier that day, a total of at least a dozen special-branch officers trailed us, calling in our movements on their cell phones. It took the taxi driver only a couple of minutes to figure out we had a tail. Pointing back at a car practically on our bumper, he grinned and gunned the engine. For more than half an hour, our high-speed chase wound through the streets of Burma’s moldering former capital, past the carcasses of Victorian-era government buildings abandoned when the junta mysteriously moved the seat of power to a remote redoubt five years ago. We circumnavigated the massive golden spire of Shwedagon pagoda, Burma’s holiest site, and careened by the hulk of Insein prison, where Suu Kyi was once jailed and where some of the country’s 2,200 political prisoners still languish. =

“Dusk was falling. Screeching through an open-air market, the taxi finally shook our pursuers. Gratefully, we bid our driver goodbye. He reached into his pocket again, offering me Suu Kyi’s picture as a gift. I was touched, but it was his talisman to cherish. I could leave Burma. He needed the Lady to keep him safe.”

Myanmar Joins the Modern World

Joshua Hammer wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “I first visited Myanmar during a post-college backpacking trip through Asia in 1980. On a hot and humid night, I took a taxi from the airport through total darkness to downtown Yangon, a slum of decaying British-colonial buildings and vintage automobiles rumbling down potholed roads. Even limited television broadcasts in Myanmar were still a year away. The country felt like a vast time warp, entirely shut off from Western influence. [Source: Joshua Hammer, Smithsonian magazine, March 2011 <>]

“Thirty years later, when I returned to the country—traveling on a tourist visa—I found that Myanmar has joined the modern world. Chinese businessmen and other Asian investors have poured money into hotels, restaurants and other real estate. Down the road from my faux-colonial hotel, the Savoy, I passed sushi bars, trattorias and a Starbucks knockoff where young Burmese fire text messages to one another over bran muffins and latte macchiatos. Despite efforts by the regime to restrict Internet use (and shut it down completely in times of crisis), young people crowd the city’s many cybercafés, trading information over Facebook, watching YouTube and reading about their country on a host of political Web sites. Satellite dishes have sprouted like mushrooms from the rooftop of nearly every apartment building; for customers unable or unwilling to pay fees, the dishes can be bought in the markets of Yangon and Mandalay and installed with a small bribe. “As long as you watch in your own home, nobody bothers you,” I was told by my translator, a 40-year-old former student activist I’ll call Win Win, an avid watcher of the Democratic Voice of Burma, a satellite TV channel produced by Burmese exiles in Norway, as well as the BBC and Voice of America. Win Win and his friends pass around pirated DVDs of documentaries such as Burma VJ, an Academy Award-nominated account of the 2007 protests, and CDs of subversive rock music recorded in secret studios in Myanmar. <>

“After a few days in Yangon, I flew to Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city, to see a live performance by J-Me, one of the country’s most popular rap musicians and the star attraction at a promotional event for Now, a fashion and culture magazine. Five hundred young Burmese, many wearing “I Love Now” T-shirts, packed a Mandalay hotel ballroom festooned with yellow bunting and illuminated by strobe lights. Hotel employees were handing out copies of the Myanmar Times, a largely apolitical English-language weekly filled with bland headlines: “Prominent Monk Helps Upgrade Toilets at Monasteries,” “Election Turnout Higher Than in 1990.”

Street Life in the Land of Shadows

Brook Larmer wrote in National Geographic: “Welcome to the Hotel California,” calls out a voice from the shadows in perfect English. Three young men sit on plastic stools in the street, laughing at the greeting. The DVD vendor, a skinny 29-year-old with wire-rimmed glasses and a pink button-down shirt, leaps up with a smile. Though his schooling ended in fourth grade, he speaks English in an eruption of phrases gleaned from Hollywood movies and 1950s grammar books. Meeting an American, he says, makes him feel “over the moon, on cloud nine, pleased as punch.” [Source: Brook Larmer, National Geographic, August 2011 <>]

“The three “bosom buddies”—Tom, Dick, and Harry, as they call themselves—meet almost every evening to practice their English idioms. Tonight, over cups of milky tea, they will banter for hours, showing off new expressions like nuggets of gold. Now, in the dark, the three friends hesitate for a minute, puzzling over the lyrics of an old Eagles hit. “Hey, maybe you can help,” Tom says. “What do they mean when they say, ‘We are all just prisoners here of our own device?'” <>

“Myanmar is a land of shadows, a place where even the most innocent question can seem loaded with hidden intent. For most of the past half century this largely Buddhist nation of some 50 million has been shaped by the power—and paranoia—of its military leaders. The tatmadaw, as the national military is known, was the only institution capable of imposing its authority on a fractured country in the wake of independence from Britain. It did so, in part, by pulling Myanmar into a fearful isolation, from which it is only starting to emerge. <>

“This isolation, deepened by two decades of Western economic sanctions, may have preserved the nostalgic image of Myanmar as a country frozen in time, with its mist-shrouded lakes, ancient temples, and blend of traditional cultures largely unspoiled by the modern world. But it also helped accelerate the decline of what was once referred to as “the jewel of Asia.” Myanmar’s health and education systems have been gutted, while the military—with some 400,000 soldiers—drains nearly a quarter of the national budget. Most notoriously, the tatmadaw’s brutal suppression of ethnic insurgencies and civil opposition has made Myanmar a pariah nation, a distinction it now seems eager to shed

Urban Life in Myanmar

The cities in Myanmar are somewhat like the ones in India.

There has been something of a construction boom in downtown Rangoon as investors from Hong Kong and Singapore have financed new hotels and office buildings. Otherwise relatively few buildings have been built since colonial times. Paint and plaster is peeling, despite cosmetic whitewashing.

Urban population: 34 percent of total population (2010). Rate of urbanization: 2.9 percent annual rate of change (2010-15 est.), Major cities – population: Yangon (capital) 4.259 million; Mandalay 1.009 million; Nay Pyi Taw 992,000 (2009). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Largest Cities in Myanmar, with population over 100,000 (all figures are estimates for 2002): 1) Yangon, 4,016,000; 2) Mandalay, 1,057,600; 3) Mawlamyine, 367,500; 3) Bago, 228,100; 4) Pathein, 219700; 5) Monywa, 165500; 6 ) Akyab, 164400; 7 Taunggyi, 157100; 8) Meiktila, 154,900; 9) Mergui, 146,500; 10) Lashio, 128,500; 11) Pyay, 126,300; 12) Henzada, 125,000; 13) Myingyan, 123,700; 14) Dawei, 115,600; 15 ) Pakokku, 113,200; 16) Thaton, 103,200; 17) Maymyo, 102400.

According to Countries and Their Cultures: The ethnic composition of Rangoon and Mandalay is over-whelmingly Burmese, although these cities are also where most of the Indian population lives. Architecture reflects the country’s Buddhist and colonial heritage. Buddhist temples are the most important architectural features throughout the country. The Buddhist temple serves as a religious school, a community center, a guest house, a place where the government and other agencies post information, a site for sports activities, a center for welfare services for those who are poor and ill, a morgue, and a center for music and dance. It also carries out economic services such as providing loans and renting lands and homes. Temples are also important in urban areas. While most temples in central Burma are Burmese in style, the temples of Shan State tend to have a distinctive look that is referred to as the Shan style. Temples tend to be surrounded by small shops that sell sacred and secular items. [Source: Countries and Their Cultures everyculture.com ]

Urban Life in Yangon

Brook Larmer wrote in National Geographic: “It’s the magic hour in Yangon, when the last rays of sunlight, softer, cooler now, bathe the crumbling downtown in a golden glow, beckoning residents out into the streets. Giggling children race to buy fresh sugarcane juice. Women with cheeks daubed with a paste made of bark—the alluring Burmese sunblock—haggle with a fishmonger. In the street, bare-chested teenage boys in a circle play a rowdy game of chinlon, a sort of acrobatic Hacky Sack, while potbellied men in T-shirts and longyi, the traditional Burmese sarong, sit on the sidewalk chewing red wads of betel nut.” [Source: Brook Larmer, National Geographic, August 2011 <>]

“The carnival-like atmosphere doesn’t last. Night falls fast in the tropics, and the power shortages that plague Myanmar give the sudden transition a spooky edge. A decaying colonial-era government building goes black. The alleyway next door emits the bluish glow of television sets powered by portable generators. Under the trees the vendors are invisible, but candles illuminate their wares: circles of silvery fish, clusters of purple banana flowers, stacks of betel leaves. And lined up in a blue wooden case, pirated DVDs of American movies and music.”

Rural Life in Myanmar

Rural population: 66 percent of total population (2010) live mostly in 46,000 small villages scattered across the country. In the 1970s, Paul Theroux wrote in “The Great Railway Bazaar” that the highlands of Burma can be surprisingly cold, yet people still go barefoot, and wear thin clothes.

Women carry machetes balanced on their head. The main meal is often a plate of rice. Slingshots are now banned in Burma because students used them in 1988 demonstrations to shoot jingles , darts made from nails or sharpened bicycle spokes. [Source: Joel Swerdlow, National Geographic, July 1995]

Describing his stop in an Irrawaddy river town, Kira Salak wrote in National Geographic: “The children look skinny…I take out a bag of candy from my backpack and hold it out to the children. “I come in peace,” I say. An adult approaches and encourages them to snatch a piece of candy. Before long, my bag is empty. Myitkangyi is a primitive village. It has no electricity or running water, no motorized vehicles, no telephones or paved roads. Everyone lives in thatch huts on stilts, and the only ground transportation is by oxcart. Like most villages along the river, it is self-sufficient, with its own blacksmith, carpenter, and wheelwright. I pitch my tent on a sandbank across from the village, and adults wander over to sit on their haunches and study me for hours. When I eat dinner in the boat, word goes out. Soon a large crowd has gathered, sighing in unison as I open a can of Coke, exclaiming if I drop something.” [Source: Kira Salak, National Geographic, May 2006]

Source from : http://factsanddetails.com/southeast-asia/Myanmar/sub5_5c/entry-3066.html