lessons burmese could learn from the Egypt revolution are more than twitting and facebooking

Pic: From Ko Min Zaw Oo's Facebook

“Tunis is the force that pushed Egypt, but what Egypt did will be the force that will push the world.”

One of the members of April 6 Youth Movement in Eygpt, Walid Rachid, proclaimed to the New York Times.

The uprising in Egypt, indeed, inspires people from many totalitarian states including my country, Burma. And it also provides a good case study about the rise of social movements.

Social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter are highly credited in the victory of the recent people protests in Egypt. In last October, Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article, “why the revolution will not be twitted” on the New Yorker – by stating “social media cannot provide what social change has always required.” Now, I wonder how Gladwell will take on the Egypt’s movements.

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Cambodia in Mourning Again

A group of university students marching to the site of the bridge stampede on the National Mourning Day. Flags are pulled down to the half.
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Beautiful Water Festival in Phnom Penh Ended Up in a Terrible Tragedy

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The annual boat rolling festival, called ‘Water Festival’, held on a full moon day in November, was one of the major festivals in Cambodia. Millions of people from the provinces come to Phnom Penh to cheer for their province’s representative boat teams in the competitions. Many people make their once-in-a-year visit to the capital of the Kingdom. Among the festival goers, there are also many, who had never been to Phnom Penh before. Continue reading

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My Personal Accounts of the Elections in Burma

My country, Burma, just held the first election in 20 years last Sunday. The last time was in 1990 where the opposition party, National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, had a big victory over the government’s party, but the military government did not recognize the results and shamelessly remained seated in power. At that time, I was young – just in the second grade. My eldest brother was just 16 years old. My parents were active supporters to the NLD party. Our home served as the NLD (unofficial) office for our village. The whole family campaigned for the party, organized and hosted for the party’s township representatives’ campaign trips to the villages nearby. Even me, as a then second grader, was given some tasks by my parents to work for the party. My main responsibility was to campaign, on behalf of my parents, elderly people and disable persons, who are going to give advanced votes, to make sure they correctly know how to vote, how to ask the vote collectors to vote for the party they wish for  so that the collectors (most of them were the government’s people) could not cheat them.

So, since a couple months before the elections, to request them to vote for the NLD,  every evening after dark, I often joined my parents or, sometimes, I had to visit alone around the village on my little bike – carrying my school bag in which there were the party’s statements, the copies of the candidates’ speeches, and some newsletters about the party, people can read them, if they are interested in. I also carried stamps and the sample copies of ballot templates – to demonstrate them how to vote. My parents had the reasons to ask me to do this – elderly persons and disables have less/little information about the parties. They tend to vote to anyone’s party they know. Even though there were relatively a more ‘fair and free’ atmosphere in 1990, compared to the 2010 elections, there were still some restrictions for the campaigners especially the adults like my parents have some restriction for an access to the voters.

As a kid, I could visit around more freely than my parents could do. Personally, I was a very active and playful kid, usually speak passionately, had been very aware about the party’s news and campaign’ strategies (even though I did not have much knowledge about the party’s policies) since I went along with my parents all the time. And plus, I memorized by heart and could recite almost all the ‘then hit’ speeches of the NLD party leaders. Out of the cuteness, my door to door visits were welcomed. Many people who knew well about us even requested my parents to send the party’ updated news with me – “Send Pauk Pauk (which is my nickname) to our home this evening” is like a secret code for them – to say “Feed us with some updates about the party.” Continue reading

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Corruption at Cham Yeam Checkpoint

Cham Yeam Border Check Point, Cham Yeam, Cambodia - Pic by Wai Phyo Myint

Cham Yeam

Border Gate - Local People and Tourists just crossing the border from Thailand into Cambodia - Pic by Wai Phyo Myint/ Phnom Penh

I often travel around Cambodia – of course, by bus. Don’t forget, I am a frugal traveler. Apart from my trips for my researches, I also have to go to border areas like every month basically just for the visa run. Since I had no knowledge about Cambodia’ Business Visa, I came into the Kingdom with a Tourist Visa which requires me to get a new visa every month. The Business Visa type can be extended inside the country and the process is not more complicated. There are agencies inside the country which can normally help you change ‘visa class’ from Tourist Visa to Business Visa without requiring you to leave the country. However, for other citizens, the service fee is ‘ok’. But being a Burmese citizen, the fees the agencies charge are very pricey. For that, I have no idea how come the price of being Burmese is higher.

The brighter side of this situation is that I have the sound reason to travel every month. You may think it sounds rather silly me required to travel every month since everyone can get an easy Business Visa. The total expenses for several trips to the borders and new visa fees for several times are still cheaper than the fee agencies asked for getting me a Business Visa. You see, in my own calculations, I am not that dumb. After two months in Cambodia, I have been crossing the borders into Vietnam and Thailand.

My second visa run trip was to Hat Lek, the southern Thai border town located on the southern coastal line shared with Cambodia. This time, I attained a business visa and it is good for me to remain inside the country until I leave the Kingdom. It means no more visa runs. I have already missed my trips to the borders- bus rides along beautiful rural areas of Cambodia, spectacular views of mountains and coastal lines along Hat Lek and Koh Kong area, and factoryies along the high way from the border to Ho Chi Minh city, unique and very delicious foods I can get only at the border towns, and especially, people I interact with all along the trips. Those experiences are such incredible ones for me. Continue reading

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Beautiful Farewell Before the Trip to Eternity

A couple of days ago, when I get back from work, I saw a group of people erecting a huge tent which is more than 100 feet long, on the street I live. The length of the tent goes up in front of the house I live. I was not sure if it was for a wedding or a birthday celebration or a funeral service because I often see similar huge tents in town erected for birthday ceremonies as well. All the sets of tables and chairs decorated with golden silk cover were laid out and men are decorating the tent in black and white ribbons.

The house owner told me that it was for the funeral service. An old lady from the house next to ours passed away. Later, I saw the ‘black ribbon arch’ decorated at the entrance of the tent – that is the only difference for the funeral tent from that of wedding or other ceremonies, for which pink ribbons are used at the arch. Continue reading

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Pchum Ben Festival or Where Cambodians Pray for Genocide Victims

Pchum Ben festival is one of the two biggest religious festivals in Cambodia held to honor the dead. During the festival days, many people especially older people go to pagodas everyday, and make donations and pray for their ancestors and relatives who already passed away.

The festival lasts for 15 days and it is held every year in Octobers but the last day is the prime time of the festival.

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Traditionally, many people believe that Hell is open during the festival period and the spirits are released at that time. Some people refer it “the festival for ghosts” but it can also be considered as the festival for ancestors. In case their ancestors have been happened to be in hell for any reasons, with the purpose to get reborn in a better life soon, people go to pagodas and do as many good donations as possible for them. Continue reading

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