One of the most interesting things about a new language is connecting vocabulary in that language with vocabulary in languages I’m already familiar with. I still recall, when I was learning elementary Thai in college, I did not face the same challenge that my peers did, in learning to rattle off the days of the week. The reason: Sanskrit.
The death of the Thai monarch, Bhumibol Adulyadej, on October 13 has shaken up the country, and created a serious vacuum in Thailand’s monarchy. All eyes will be on his son, Vajiralongkorn, who is expected to succeed Bhumibol, yet lacks both the following and gravitas of his father, whose public image was carefully cultivated over his seven decade reign.
March 30, 2016 will be judged by the historians of tomorrow as a significant day for the Burmese people, a day that embodied recent developments in Burma’s political landscape, a day that culminated with the swearing in ceremony of U Htin Kyaw as the country’s new president, the country’s first civilian president in 54 years.
The morning of March 22, to much anticipation, U Htin Kyaw publicly submitted a shortlist of 18 nominees for ministerial portfolios in his new cabinet, giving the world a glimpse into both how NLD intends to run the civilian government and how the military intends to run ministries under its control. Here’s a closer look at this select group of individuals. Continue reading
A few years ago, I wrote about bureaucratic bloat in Burma’s national government. At the time, Burma had 31 cabinet level ministries, well above Southeast Asia’s regional average. Turns out this is finally being addressed, in one of U Htin Kyaw’s first welcome proposals as the president-elect.
The other day, I came across something profound. Perhaps it’s been forgotten by the vast majority now, but Burma, like its Southeast Asian neighbors, once had an Indic national motto, during its short-lived parliamentary period following independence from 1948 to 1962.
With the outpouring of news that the National League for Democracy (NLD) has nominated Htin Kyaw and Henry Van Thio for the posts of Vice-President on Thursday, it’s an appropriate time to examine how the whole process works.
It absolutely irks me when I read English news articles written about Burmese monks, which repeatedly transcribe the monks’ names into an inconsistent mishmash of Pali and Burmese-influenced spellings.
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Education announced a reform to its kindergarten curriculum, a reform that has attracted much criticism within the Burmese-speaking community. What has sparked the most controversy is a sweeping change in the way the Burmese alphabet is taught. Beginning in the next academic year, Burmese kindergartners will no longer be taught 8 of the 33 letters, which will instead be taught in the subsequent grade.
The ironic tragedy is that while Burma’s economic system has been decimated by decades of sustained political mismanagement, the country’s education system has also produced some of the world’s most prominent and influential economists, including Hla Myint*, Ezra Solomon*, and Ronald Findlay*, all of whom were educated at Rangoon University. (All subsequently established academic careers outside the country, at world-class institutions like London School of Economics, Stanford University and Columbia University.)
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.
Growing up, I always wondered why Burmese didn’t have a distinction between ‘he’ and ‘she.’ As with a lot of Asian languages, including Chinese*, Burmese has a gender-neutral 3rd person pronoun. ‘He’ and ‘she’ are all and the same, သူ (thu). Or so I thought…
Ethnic identity is a social construct, and a very fluid one that at that. It’s by no means immutable, especially in multi-ethnic societies like Burma, where many assume multiple ethnic identities depending on context, as a means of conducting business, gaining social acceptance, and receiving education. For the Burmese community, there’s a also certain ambiguity attached to the term “Burmese,” and whether it’s a reference to the Burmese nationality, the Burman ethnicity, or both.
Monday’s groundbreaking of a new private hospital, to be built in Downtown Rangoon–at a cost of $70 million USD–has generated visceral outcry among Burma’s medical community.
During my review of the 2014 Census results, I came across a number of interesting maps that demonstrate exceeding disparities within Burma, everything from population density to electricity penetration, not readily apparent by the national “averages.”
These disparities are palpable even from bordering regions, so I did a quick runthrough against World Bank data to see where the states and regions fall among the nations of the world, to demonstrate these vast differences further. Findings below.