Saturday, 31 March 2012

Why Myanmar's expected democracy will not be soon and not for everyone

Ahead of elections in Myanmar tomorrow, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is not optimistic about the way it will be conducted.
Speaking at the final news conference before the poll, the pro-democracy advocate highlighted voting irregularities discovered – such as thousands of names of dead people on the electoral roll – and intimidation that stopped her party holding rallies during the campaign.
“I don’t think we can consider it a genuinely free and fair election if we take into consideration what has been going on in the last couple of months, but still as we wish to work towards national reconciliation we will try to tolerate what has happened,” Suu Kyi told reporters.

Wa State militaries
As the world is watching and countries are eager to move onward lifting sanctions, seventeen parties will field candidates. The by-elections however will only fill vacancies of those elected in 2010 polls who became ministers and deputy ministers. This concerns 45 seats, 43 of 664 seats both in Lower House (440) and Upper House (224), or fewer than 5 percent in the bicameral national assembly, and 2 regional assembly seats.
Assuming the by-elections will be favourable for Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), to form a minority opposition, she and her party members will face hard times achieving any social reforms. Myanmar is the biggest country in S-E Asia, it is rich in natural resources such as petroleum, timber, tin, antimony, zinc, copper, tungsten, lead, coal, limestone, precious stones, natural gas and hydropower, yet the country has been left in an underdeveloped state since the military coup in 1962. It is currently the only country in the Asean which does not have ATM's.
Myanmar ranks as no. 5 lowest GDP per capita in Asia with 804 USD, just above the levels of Bangladesh, Timor-Leste, Nepal and Afghanistan.
Myanmar is also one of the most ethnically-diverse countries in the world with key non-Myanmar ethnic groups demanding equality and/or their own governance. Big corporations are eager to join Myanmar's efforts towards a market economy. Time will tell if an 'institutionalised' Suu Kyi will 'sell' better to legitimise tricky actions by the military in power, rather than that it will bring Myanmar a real step forward towards democracy. General elections are planned to be held in 2015, which will be the first opportunity for more radical reforms needed for a democratic roadmap.
Quite a few Myanmar people will not be able to vote tomorrow; this includes hundreds of thousand refugees living in surrounding countries and 2 million people working in Thailand, where they carry out unskilled or low skilled labour.
A less well known group which is much more remote from any democratic rights are the people  who live under the unquestioned authority of the so-called Wa State.
The Wa State has formed a de facto independent state in Myanmar, and is the most heavely armed of the 20 ethnic rebel groups.
The Wa Special Region 2 of Myanmar (the Wa State) is made up of two territories, or a total area of 17,000 square kilometers. Wa population estimates range from 400,000 to 700,000 people. The southern region borders Thailand. The Wa State leaders mostly belong to the Wa minority. The defacto capital is Pangkham.
After the Communist Party of Burma lost control of its bases in central Myanmar in the late 1960s, it re-established itself in the northeast including Wa State, with the support of China. The Wa, like other ethnic groups were fighting for autonomy from Myanmar, and supported the Communist party of Burma.

Here's a Wa State News broadcast after the commercial:

The Wa State politics, economics and culture are on a small scale very similar to those of China.
The Wa State's official language is Mandarin and the government is a Central Committee. They regard themselves as a semi-souvereign nation more or less modeled after old school China. Their relation with the Myanmar central government is that of a fragile cease-fire agreement where they recognize the central government’s rule over all of Myanmar, but that's only on paper. The United Wa State Army (UWSA) has  30,000 soldiers and is according to the US State Department the largest narcotics trafficking organization in Southeast Asia. The UWSA cultivates vast areas of land for the opium poppy which is later refined to heroin. It also controls some 80% of Burma's equally lucrative trade in methamphetamine pills, a cheap and highly addictive drug better known in Asia by its Thai name yaba, or crazy medicine. Together, these businesses earn the UWSA's Elite commanders and their associates up to $550 million a year, according to TIME magazine estimates made in 2002. Today the UWSA reportedly controls such companies as the Myanmar May Flower Group and, through it, a large private bank. Inevitably the Wa leaders grabbed a hefty piece of the action for themselves. The Myanmar May Flower Group used to own Yangon Airways, at that time one of the country's two domestic airlines. In 2010 all flights were suspended, since their commercial transport license had been withdrawn by the Myanmar government, motivated by earlier anti drug related sanction by the US.

The United Wa State Party slogan is: “Unity under the leadership of the Central Party under secretary comrade Bao Youxiang”. Little is known about Boa Youxiang who prefers to be called Chairman Bao. Few outsiders have met him..
In 2002 two journalist from Time magazine were permitted an interview, read the full story here.
As puts it: "From the currency, cell phones, Chinese network or China’s postal codes, in Wa state there isn’t a place without Chinese commodities". As such it's a perfect platform for Chinese involvement to get it's share in the anticipated economic growth.

In Myanmar and in Wa State in particular, there is little hope for democracy in the near future. There's still a long way to go, hopefully Aung San Suu Kyi (67) may live to see her aspirations come true.

Friday, 30 March 2012

I nomad

Monday, 26 March 2012

Sportscar phone

Seen today in Chiang Rai, Thailand:
Being on the market for more than a year now, this is certainly not a novelty, but I thought it was cute enough to show. A phone shaped like a Ferrari F458 replica.
Most likely it is made by Shenzhen SUFF Industry co.,ltd. These ones were bought on the market in Myanmar, just across the border from Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province.
The fact that it is sold there, but not in Thailand almost certainly means there are some copyright issues with this product. For those interested, the purchase price is around $45.
Note the flashing head lights
Here's the phone part on the back
Available in several colours

Although it's not a smartphone, it has dual SIM and built-in TV.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Life is easy, Thai style

Jon Jandai is a farmer from North-Thailand. He founded the Pun Pun Center for Self-reliance, an organic farm outside Chiang Mai, with his wife Peggy Reents in 2003. Pun Pun doubles as a center for sustainable living and seed production, aiming to bring indigenous and rare seeds back into use. It regularly hosts training on simple techniques to live more sustainably. Outside of Pun Pun, Jon is a leader in bringing the natural building movement to Thailand, appearing as a spokesperson on dozens of publications and TV programs for the past 10 years. He continually strives to find easier ways for people to fulfill their basic needs. For more information see:

Sources:, TEDx DoiSuthep  

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Quote of the day

Friday, 16 March 2012

Hotel survival part III: Thai/Chinese hotpot

Hotpot is a beloved dish in Thailand, China and the rest of S-E Asia. Basically it's a bouillon brew in which one can cook almost anything.
Since we usually eat out, it is a real 'luxery' to cook indoors.
Hence our efforts to see if it would be possible to enjoy hotpot in the confort of our own room.
Traditional hotpots are made in a clay pot on a charcoal fire, so we we had to make some consessions without affecting taste. Below is our recipe for hotel hotpot 'du chambre' for two persons.

- An immersion heater
- Microwave resistant (plastic) bowl
- 2 cups of any kind to eat from
- Chopsticks
- A knife and/or siccors.
- Spoon
Our ingredients:
- Drinking water
- 2 Bouillon cubes (beef)
- Glass noodles
- Cabbage
- Chinese sellery
- Kale
- Yanagi mushrooms
- 2 Eggs
- Fish balls
- Minced meat (pork)
- Small sausages
- Chilli sauce / paste
Fill the bowl for 2/3 with water.
Add the bouillon cubes.
Bring it to boiling point with the immersion heater.
The brew will boil locally more than the surroundings,
but it's no problem to get your veggies and meat well done, just wait a bit longer than usual.

Clean and cut part of the vegetables and add them to the brew.

Add one of the eggs.
Poach the egg or mix it with the brew, (Note: in the latter case you will need more time to clean the heater element.)
Add the glass noodles.
Make some meat balls with a spoon and add it to the brew.
Add whatever you have left..
Doesn't this look wonderful?
Dip in chilli paste or sauce and you're ready to enjoy.

Cleaning up:
As mentioned above; mixing eggs into the brew will need a bit more effort to clean the spiral shaped heating element.
(I put in some soap as well and brought it to boiling point, which was not a very bright idea, since it created a massive amount of foam and the soap smell was very hard to remove from the plastic cup.)

- Let the heater element soak in cold or warm water for half an hour or so.
- Apply a small brush such as your old toothbrush to clean.
- If it's still not clean, repeat from step 1.
- Cook any remaining stains out in tap water.
Final remark: Since the food was packed in quantities far too much for two people, we did have enough left to make two hotpots more, also we had to buy some additional kitchen gear like chopsticks (a pack of 50pcs!), a micro wave oven proof bowl, plastic spoons (25 pcs) and carton bowls (10 pcs).
This added up to ฿750 (€18.70 / $24.40). A similar dish at the food court in Chiang Rai's night bazaar would have cost us just ฿150 (€3.75 / $4.90). So in fact we paid five times more.
Mind you, this was our private dinner indoors, so we felt entitled to spend a bit more.
If we would have gone to the market, we could probably have bought most things in smaller quantities reducing costs.
We are planning to cook something unknown tomorrow from the leftovers in order to make our attempt look more worthwhile or actually... less silly.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Katoey in historical and social perspective

All katoey band Venus Flytrap
Tolerant and protective about human rights as people try to be, in a growing part of the world post- and/or pre-operative transgender people are now allowed to change their official identity from M to F or vice versa.
The Thai concept of katoey however is hardly understood in the West.
Commonly used terms such as ladyboy, shemale, transsexual are often not preferred by katoey or by insiders since they are often associated with sex, eventhough they perfectly describe the hybrid nature of the phet ti saam (third gender).
In moden psychology the term gender identity disorder is used, which sounds even more stigmatizing.

Wanting to stay half-way i.e. remaining pre-operative seems to be largely incompatible with the Christian moral on which Western society is based. In most cultures liminality or hybrid has traditionally been put in a negative context. One is expected to adapt to one gender role exclusively, which nowadays includes the possibility of a full gender change for those absolutely sure that they are born in a wrong body.
According to people of the katoey community a full gender change operation can lead to emotional and sanity problems in the long run.
People who choose to opt out on full surgery are easily referred to as human freaks or seen as sexually obsessed and form an exception in the rest world.

The idea that one could be able to like a woman who turns out to have male genitals seems to be a frightening idea for many men. Transphobia, similar to homophobia, is an uneducated attitude towards gender versus sexual identity, usually a fear of the unknown, incuding one's own identity.
There's little historical information about katoey, so there's very little solid evidence to explain the relitively high popularity and social acceptance of transgender people in Thailand.
Reseachers Peter Jackson and Rosalind C. Morris have extensively investigated the Thai katoey phenomenon; below I prefer to just give my view based on what I know rather than pretentiously trying to build a solid case.

In contrast to Christian, Jewish and Muslim religions, Buddhist teachings clearly state that there is no objection to the third gender lifestyle, saying it's the result of a bad love life in a previous body, which means that for the last 2500 years or so, there is an awareness that someone is destined to adopt a certain gender role in life, regardless of their physical luggage.
Still, this doesn't explain why in Thailand the popularity of transgender and transvestite lifestyles is much more common and visible than in surrounding Buddhist countries.

In Thai language the only distinction to refer to someone as male or female is his or her use of the Thai male and female politeness form when ending sentences ie. using the male form 'Krap' or the female form 'Kha'.
As a courtesy males who are using the female politeness form 'Kha' are generally being referred to as 'she' and 'her' regardless of their appearance and gender. Reversely part of Thai lesbians, tom-boys and transgenders will use the male form 'Krap' and are often being referred to as 'he' and 'his'.

Traditionally in Thaland the gender role gap for male has been small, Western writers and diplomats have been pointing this out centuries ago. It was against the moral of Western visitors and expatriates that there was so little taboo on Thai males behaving feminine.
This can perhaps best be compared with the tolerant Western attitude towards female who to behave masculin. Although it might perhaps upset conservative Muslim, few Westerners will be troubled to see a woman behave and dress like a man, this in sharp contrast to the opposite.

In old Thailand and surrounding countries women were not allowed to act or to entertain in public, instead effeminate men dressed up and played the female role in theatres, even the royal palace had ladyboys for entertaiment. Young men joined travelling entertainment shows where they dressed up as women. A part of the income was brought back home. Especially in poorer families there was little hesitation to accept this lifestyle. In some families young boys were encouraged if they act like girls. It formed hope for the parents that their son would be able to support them when they were older. Less acceptance exists in families who are better off. Fathers can be hesitant to accept the fact that their son chooses to look like a woman. In general the higher in the the social ladder the more difficult it turns out to be for parents, the husband in partical, to accept their son's new lifstyle.
Due to the old custom together with the Buddhist concept of destiny there is less taboo, especially in the lower income group, on boys to behave feminine or desire to become a woman as opposed to the western concept of a gay lifestyle, keeping the same gender appearence, a thing which can be hidden more easy.
There's an increasing amount of men who choose a gay lifestyle more in accordance with the Western example, but this a recent development.
In Thailand the katoey tradition still continues, partly as a way out of poverty to perform either as a professional dancer or offering sexual services. These ladyboys can be found in tourist centers like in Bangkok, Pattaya, Patong and Koh Samui. The compettition is fierce, a small minority of katoey form gangs and engage in criminal activities. Their negative press works counterproductive towards an unbiased view of the third gender by outsiders.
A majority of katoey have regular jobs. This can be anything from store or factory employee to designer, dancer and media-personality. Convincing and/or higher educated katoey are more likely to be found in the higher salary job-segment. Foreigners will often not be aware, since many companies require a male dress code.
The attitude of the Thai government is somewhat ambivalent: Transgenders are prohibited from becoming civil servants nor are official identity change or same-sex marriages allowed.
There's a general awareness that the upper class or so-called hi-so people do see katoey as low class citizens, but hi-so account only for around 5% of Thai.
The katoey phenomenon seems to be not yet compatible with the self-image of a thriving Asian nation.

For cultures with a monotheistic dogmatic background it's hard to understand that taboos about what once was regarded as averse role playing and sexual behaviour has hardly been a matter of ethics and concern in other societies. The old Greek, Romans and Japanese Samurai had little scruples towards intimate encounters of the same gender.
A more recent example can be found in isolated Bhutan where researchers found that bi and homosexuality have never been a real issue. In case someone is bi-sexual or gay, people in the area will probably be remotely aware, yet someone's sexual orientation is simply not a topic of concern. Drukpa (Buthan's official language) lacks a commonly accepted term for gay/bi oriented people. Although still forbidden by an old law inherited for British-India there's no record of people ever being charged.
Acceptance of 'two-spirit' people can also be found among certain native American tribes.

In Thailand, awareness of any taboo has mainly been imposed by the Western world, but had little effect compared to formely colonised neighbouring countries where katoey and gay behaviour was suppressed by law.
In these countries the custom slowly dissapeared from the daylight, but in Thailand, for a big part in the poorest area Isan it still survived. In Isan I've seen young boys from age four who liked to behave feminine and regularely were encouraged by their mother and neighbours to do so. Reportedly some foreign-Thai couples living in Isan have a son who has become a katoey or is in the process of becoming one.

Thai boys in their teens who concider a change to katoey lifestyle are often encouraged by other katoey. There's a strong sense of a community spirit and katoey are likely to help eachother out in case of problems. The Transfemale Association of Thailand with 2000 members advocates equal rights for male to female transgenders.
In 2011 the group has won a courtcase whereby they were able to stop the army rejecting katoey with feminine features due to mental illness as opposed to unfit. Formely the stigma resulted in being rejected to apply in the higher job segment as well as failing to get reimbursed by insurance companies. Although I have not been able to check the severity of the last issue and whether it has been solved, the Thai army now rejects katoey for symbolic minor physical defects such as a large chest or having a problem with one of the little toes.

Most katoey do not consider themselves gay, they desire to act and function like a woman throughout their life nor do they wish their partner to be sexually interested in the same sex. Katoey or pet ti saam is used as self reference.
A common misconception is that all katoey dress up. A large part of katoey hardly ever dress like a woman, either this was/is not tolerated by family and/or work or is not preferred by the person in question. These people will only distinguish themselves only by their male or female use of the Thai language.
A small percentage of male partners of katoey will consider themselves gay or had gay affairs, for the major part male friends are interested in women and katoey or katoey exclusively.
Apart from men, a small group of (western) lesbians seem keen on starting an affair with a katoey person.

A class system in the katoey community exists to rate eachother, obviously part of Thai katoey oppose in making such a distinction:
Class A: Beautiful and no obvious difference from women.
Class B: Beautiful but noticeable difference from women.
Class C: Not beautiful, but no obvious difference from women.
Class D: Not beautiful, highly obvious differences from women.

Thai katoey will usually agree with the expression: "I may have been born in the wrong body – but at least I was born in the right country."

Note: The author happily lives with a katoey for over 2.5 years and as such has met many katoey people from around Thailand. Since my partner's length (1.80m) is not a usual sight amongst foreign/Thai couples, on the streets we are used to get curious looks mostly from tourists. I often hear the wannabe Thai experts wisper: "That's a ladyboy..". Our relationship helps us to meet nice people, since bigots usually stay away. One time a German expat who liked to see things in black and white, told me he considered my partner crazy. After I told him I loved her, he concluded that I had to be crazy too. Coming from him it seemed like such a big compliment.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Hotel survival part I+II: Boiled eggs and Pasta in cream spinach sauce + Muffins

To become more independent from hotel amenities, I recently bought one of those immersion heaters for travelers.
Mind you I had some space left in my suitcase, since I got rid of some books and a bulky external harddrive (I now use Google docs as cloud storage instead). Anyway I was pleased to see the weight of my suitcase go down from 15 kg to 13.6 kg.
I was under the impression that these devices used kiloWatt's of energy, but this handy tool for which I paid € 9.99 ($ 13) uses a mere 300 Watt, which is good enough to boil you a cup of water in about 90 secs.
Besides making hot drinks and cup noodle, you can use it for some other food too, enabling you to have lunch, breakfast or even dinner in you room.

Part I: Boiled eggs:
- A water boiler or the immersion heater and large metal cup or a microwave resistant plastic cup, (Don't worry, it won't melt, since the water will keep it at 100 °C (212°F) max., however be sure to stick around.
- Tap water (fill 2/3 of the cup to prevent splashing).
- One or two eggs.
Let the water boil first. Preferably use a spoon to gently submerge the egg. I put the egg below the heating element, since eggs actually need to be soft cooked, not boiled which will make them tough and rubbery. This way the water on the bottom remains relatively still. Up to your preference wait about 6:30 min's for medium cooked yolk.
Ignore the bad product placement :)
To stop the boiling process and save your
fingers while peeling, take off residual heat
by cooling the egg down with tap water.
FYI: I don't know how you learned it, but this
method seems to be completely unknown in S-E Asia
and that's why I like to do it myself in the first place.
Your egg is now ready for consumption.
Bon appetit!

Part II: For some advanced hotel survival, see George Egg making tortellini in spinach cream sauce and muffins for desert:

Monday, 12 March 2012

Thai Buddhist relitainment

Seen at Sop Ruak, the Thai three countries point in the Golden Triangle.
Throw 5 or 10 Baht coins into the funnel, and down they roll into Buddha's belly.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Not everyone welcome in hotel on Thai island Koh Phi Phi

Photo thanks to Makka Pakka.

Funny Chiang Rai

Tourists learning about their future from a
local fortune teller
No problem to marry an alien in
Chiang Rai
Definitely the cheapest accommodation
in town
Rabbit hooked on 'tabacco'
Oh no.. Google translate can really mess things up..
The sign reads something like this:
Text on sign Meaning
1. The moustache is tiny squid roasts Grilled small squid tentacles
2. The demon moustache squid roasts Grilled giant squid tentacles
3. The banana squid/egg squid roasts Grilled splendid squid with or without eggs 
4. The ark shell scalds/burns Boiled or grilled clams 
5. The shrimp burns Grilled shrimps / scampi
6. The meatball fries, every the wood Grilled meatballs on a stick

Friday, 2 March 2012

Future Google


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