How similar is Burmese to Khmer, Lao, and Thai?

I’m often asked how similar Burmese is to the national languages of its Southeast Asian neighbors, namely Thai, Lao and Khmer. And I’ve got to say: Burmese is quite different from the other three, whether it’s phonology, grammar, vocabulary, or writing.

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Where does Burma stand in ASEAN? – education and health edition

More infographics from ASEAN DNA. This time, a look at education, health and social matters. Burma’s position in a lot of these metrics shouldn’t come as a surprise… It lags behind its neighbors in terms of health care infrastructure and education. And in other instances, the data used to draw up these infographics is questionable (e.g., average IQ rankings).

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Where does Burma stand in ASEAN? – economy edition

As ASEAN presses forward with economic integration, targeted for 2015, there’s been a surge of interest, especially among the younger generation, to establish a pan-ethnic, pan-national identity. Just the other day, I watched a Thai music video with Thai artists singing in all of the ASEAN national languages (the Burmese was incomprehensible). My misgivings about the ASEAN Economic Community aside, I found a series of interesting glossy infographics (full report here) comparing different metrics, both social and economic, (everything from milk consumption to effective tax rates) among the ASEAN countries.

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Drinking trends in the Theravada Buddhist world

This is the third installment on Alcohol and the Theravada Buddhist World.

I decided to take a closer look against the ring of countries that constitute the Theravada Buddhist world, in the context of alcohol consumption. Theravada Buddhism takes a relatively hard stance on drinking alcohol (or any mind-altering substances, for that matter) so it was quite interesting to see great variation in consumption patterns among these countries. At one end of the spectrum was Laos, whose citizens, both male and female, embrace alcohol. At the other end of the spectrum was Burma, the least likely to drink of the bunch.

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A preface of sorts: examining alcohol consumption in Burma and beyond

This is the first installment on Alcohol and the Theravada Buddhist World.

My curiosity into this topic was first piqued when I saw an infographic on Facebook that ranked alcohol consumption among ASEAN countries: Burma was second to last, only rivaled by Indonesia, a Muslim country. My general impression was that Burma’s relative isolation, alongside Theravada Buddhism — more orthodox than its Tibetan and Mahayana counterparts (Tibetan Buddhism and Japanese Buddhism have more lenient perspectives on alcohol consumption)–was the underlying driving force, the explanation for this observation.

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ASEAN proceeds with making a human rights commission

Flags of ASEAN member countries

Flags of ASEAN member countries.

Interestingly enough, ASEAN will proceed in creating a human rights commission to improve its standing in the international community, despite initial objections by Burmese diplomats. The Irrawaddy reports that:

A diplomat involved in negotiations o­n the issue said lower-level officials finished a draft of the charter o­n Sunday with a reference that Burma did not accept the commission, leaving it to foreign ministers to resolve the issue at their annual meeting Monday.

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