Image of Buddha wearing headphones triggers controversy in Myanmar

Image: Image depicting Buddha wearing headphones
The Facebook post depicting Buddha wearing headphones that led to Philip Blackwood’s arrest in Myanmar.

NBC News:

This is insulting Myanmar, Buddhism and 500 millions Buddhists around the globe,” Facebook user Htet Naing Win responded to the bar’s post, using more moderate language than some.

The case comes amid a surge in Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar — which emerged in 2011 from half a century of military rule and global isolation. A powerful group of monks who fear Buddhist culture in Myanmar is under threat has emerged and is promoting restrictive and controversial laws aimed at “the protection of race and religion”.

Blackwood is being held in Myanmar’s notorious Insein prison where he is potentially facing a four-year jail term. Lawyers predict the trial will stretch for months.

The case has been condemned by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. It adds to concerns that Myanmar’s nominally civilian government is backsliding on rights reforms. It also illustrates the increasingly powerful influence on law and politics of the hardline nationalist monks.

Violence relating to a rise in religious tensions has claimed the lives of more than 240 people, mainly Muslims, in Myanmar since 2012 and actions deemed to offend Buddhist sensitivity are flashpoints.

As telecommunications in the developing country expand, social media is providing an increasingly powerful platform for those intent on promoting intolerance.

In July, Myanmar government’s revealed it had been in contact with Facebook representatives seeking advice on curbing online hate-speech amid fears it had fueled religious violence in the country’s second-largest city Mandalay earlier that month.

So sensitive are religious issues in Myanmar just now that Blackwood was initially unable to find a lawyer willing to represent him. Riot police have been drafted in for the trio’s court appearances as supporters of the Buddhist nationalist 969 movement gathered outside.

Image: Buddhist monks take pictures at a courthouse in Yangon, Myanmar
Buddhist monks take pictures at a courthouse as they wait to see New Zealand citizen Philip Blackwood after a hearing in Yangon, Myanmar, on Dec. 18.

The lawyer who eventually agreed to take on the New Zealander’s case, Mya Thway has said he had since received anonymous messages on Facebook threatening to “cut him to pieces and burn him” for doing so.

While the psychedelic Buddha image, or ones like it, are a familiar enough sight adorning T-shirts in the tourist areas of neighbouring Thailand, the insensitivity of using a sacred symbol to promote a bar in Myanmar has been widely recognized within the country. But outside Myanmar, many have reacted with surprise to the degree of anger the case has provoked.

It can be difficult to make sense of Burmese Buddhist reactions to this case, which many people perceive as over-reactions,” said Matthew Walton, Aung San Suu Kyi Senior Research Fellow in modern Burmese studies at St Antony’s College, Oxford.

Walton described the use of the image as “both a bad business move and a culturally insensitive advertising effort that was at a minimum disrespectful to local Buddhists’ tradition but in the context of an emboldened Buddhist nationalist movement, an incredibly stupid and damaging act.”

Blackwood’s case is believed to be a first in terms of a Westerner facing legal action relating to current religious sensitivities, but according to Walton it remains unclear whether the case heralds a wider rise in intolerance towards perceived Western threats to Buddhism.

He added: “I do want to emphasize that I personally think an extended prison term would be excessive, but I also imagine that there’s an interest in making an example of the defendants, so as to establish how seriously the Myanmar government will take insults to Buddhism.”

David Mathieson, Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher on Myanmar, described the case as “very disturbing.” He cited it as part of an “escalation in a pattern of rising Burmese and Buddhist ultra-nationalism, anti-Muslim fervor, and creeping xenophobia.”

The main target of the Buddhist nationalist movement has been the country’s Muslims, who make up about 5 percent of its 53 million people.

Blackwood has pleaded not guilty to two charges relating to insulting religion, and a third charge of disobeying an order issued by a public servant. The father of a 4-month-old child insists he did not mean to offend or insult anyone but remains behind bars.

I believe the law says the act must be deliberate, require malice with intent to offend,” Blackwood told the court on Dec. 26. “I have said a number of times, there was no intent.”

Concern over incitement to violence via social media, have led to the launch of a movement aimed at addressing the issue. The Flower Speech campaign — or “Panzagar” in Burmese — was started by Nay Phone Latt, a blogger and activist who was imprisoned between 2008 and 2012 for his online writings about the country’s then-military rulers.

The organization aims to promote responsible use of social media, while upholding the principles of free-speech, long oppressed in Myanmar.

While Nay Phone Latt, who featured on TIME’s list of the world’s most influential people in 2010, said he didn’t believe Blackwood and his co-defendants should be jailed but added that he didn’t agree with their Facebook post.

It is difficult to stand on their side,” Nay Phone Latt said. “Every religion has to respect others if we want to stay together peacefully. I am a Buddhist and liberal thinking, but I don’t like that kind of thing — it’s wrong to use an image of the Buddha in that way.”


Japanese American hero ordered to keep silent for 50 years



AsAm News/Seattle Times:


Roy Matsumoto saved hundreds of his fellow American soldiers during World War II, but he couldn’t tell anyone about it.

He was ordered to be a hero in silence, forbidden from telling anyone about his heroics for 50 years. Matsumoto was a member of the “Merrill’s Marauders,” a U.S. Army unit that worked behind enemy lines in Burma and suffered heavy casualties.

He’s credited with screaming out instructions in Japanese, confusing the enemy Japanese. He also couldn’t talk about the information he gathered for the Military Intelligence Service.

Sometimes, I would think, ‘Could I really be his daughter?’ I can’t keep a secret for more than a couple of days,” said Karen Matsumoto, 60, a teacher.

The Seattle Times reports her father Roy died in his sleep on April 21, just two weeks short of his 101st birthday.

But thanks to a film her daughter produced, his heroics will live on well beyond his death. Her 28-minute video, Honor & Sacrifice: The Roy Matsumoto Story, was done in collaboration with documentary producers Lucy Ostrander and Don Sellers. It’s been expanded from its original 17 minutes.

Roy’s story was too fantastic to believe,” Sellers said. “You couldn’t make it up … and yet it was all true.”

You can find out more about the video in the Seattle Times.

Check out this link:

Japanese American hero ordered to keep silent for 50 years



Checking Out the Myanmar Amusement Park “Happy World”: An All-star Lineup from Mickey Mouse to Doraemon to…BATMAN?

RocketNews 24: 


When traveling overseas, we like to check out the nearby shopping malls and amusement parks, too, whenever we can. But we don’t waste our time with the famous amusement parks that everyone and their mother has been to. For us, it’s the local, never-before-heard-of amusement parks that we love. Why? Because that’s where you can really see the way the local people live… and some of the clever stuff they’ve come up.

So, this time around, we headed to “Happy World” in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma), located right in front of the world-famous Shwedagon Pagoda.

  • Out of nowhere…Bugs Bunny!?

As you approach the entrance, you can see a sign with “Happy World” written on it. If you look closely you can make out a full lineup of characters, including what look like Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, and a rather questionable Doraemon. (If you’re not familiar with the name, Doraemon is a much beloved Japanese cartoon characterthat looks vaguely like a large robot cat.) So that’s what we have to look forward to. Alright! Let’s do it!

  • The mouse is in the house!

At the entrance, we were greeted by Pluto, who was helping hold up a shish kebab cart. As we proceeded into the park, there were a bunch of Happy World flags. And among them was none other than Disney’s Mickey Mouse!

  • The Puny Batman

Going further, we came across a Teletubbies statue. But the eyes… oh, how horrible! With a cuteness rating of zero, they were simply terrifying and if we had kids with us we’d be ushering them by as quickly as possible to avoid countless nights of bad dreams and bed wetting. After recovering from that ordeal, we headedinto the facilities, and a number of suspicious Mickey Mouse figures appeared! Even legendary Japanese superhero Ultraman made an appearance, just sort ofhanging out. But the best, without question, was the puny Batman we spotted in a quiet corner, a definite must-see.

  • Admission fee: 21 yen (US$0.21)!

All things considered, we were really looking forward to seeing some costumed characters, but, unfortunately, they never showed up. Maybe it was too hot? Still, the admission fee was only 200 kyat—about 21 yen (US$0.21). Extremely cheap!And even at that price, we could enjoy the attractions all we wanted!

  • Basically aindoor amusement park

While there weren’t any flashy attractions like big roller coasters, there was a haunted house, a mirror maze, an indoor Ferris wheel, and a winter room. It was a great place to play around, kind of like an indoor amusement park. And the haunted house was actually much better than we expected. (Check out the end of the video below to get an idea!)

  • Alcohol? No problem!

For adults, there were also some billiard tables to be enjoyed. And if you felt like relaxing, even just hanging out in the gardens around the premises was great! Then, after you’re done having fun, you can sit down and gulp down a frosty Myanmar beer. Yep, that’s right, this is a pleasure land with all the alcohol you want! If you have the time, be sure to check it out!

The gang’s all here!


So tranquil


And here’s the entrance!


The helpful Pluto


And here’s… someone else!


Doraemon, Bugs Bunny, and…what the hell is that blue thing??


Whaaaat?? Mickey Mouse!?


Yikes! They have some crows here too!


Teletubbies! (We think.)


This is what nightmares are made of.


And this is what a lifetime of therapy sessions results in.


Entering the indoor amusement park.


Here’s the game room.


Hey, even monks play videogames!


Betty Boop! Haven’t seen you in a while!


Looks like she’s seen better days.




More Mickey!


Even more Mickey!


And Minnie’s here too!




Kinda puny looking actually…


The park was a bit simple but had a good vibe.


And it had bumper cars, too!


The winter room.


Take a look at this! Space Pirates of the Flamingo Pond?


Billiards for the cooler kids.


And karaoke for the rest of us!


Here’s one of the flashier attractions.


But the haunted house is our number one recommendation!


You can see what’s going on inside via security cameras. (Clever!)


And this handsome young man is the beer server!


Check out this link:

Checking Out the Myanmar Amusement Park “Happy World”


Bill Clinton: Violence in Burma sickens world

Bill Clinton, Aung San Suu Kyi

Reports of sectarian violence in Burma sicken the world, former U.S. President Bill Clinton said after speaking to political and civic leaders about challenges faced by the emerging democracy following a half-century of military rule.

The attacks on Muslims are a topic many in this predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million try to avoid. Soon after President Thein Sein formed a quasi-civilian government in early 2011 and began making sweeping political and economic changes, deep-seated prejudices started to surface. In the past year, more than 240 people have been killed and 240,000 others forced to flee their homes.

Most of the victims have been members of the minority Rohingya Muslim community, hunted down by stick- and machete-weilding Buddhist mobs, often as members of the security forces stood by.

And the government — together with much of the population — has been largely silent.

The whole world has been pulling for Burma, even since you opened up,” said Clinton, who was visiting the country for the first time, his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, preceding him by two years.

The whole world cheers every piece of good news and is sick every time they read about sectarian violence,” he said. “Because everywhere on earth, people are tired of people killing each other and fighting each other because of their differences.”

Clinton, who met earlier Thursday with Thein Sein, House Speaker Shwe Mann and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was officially in the main city of Yangon with his nonprofit The Clinton Foundation, which will help the government procure drugs for HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, tackle maternal and infant mortality, and improve agricultural development.

But it was clear, in a 40-minute speech before a tightly packed audience at the Burma Peace Center, that sectarian violence was not far from his mind.

He pointed to examples elsewhere across the globe where countries have been ripped apart by ethnic and religious conflict, including some during his own presidency — the Balkans, the Middle East and Northern Ireland.

He spoke too about ways in which former foes managed eventually to put aside their differences and work together.

Burma’s situation may be unique, its history complicated, he said, but “some lessons are applicable to everyone.”

It’s important to always remember, for instance, that no one is right all the time and that complicated problems are best solved by large groups with diverse experience and knowledge, he said.

Check out this link:

Bill Clinton: Violence in Burma sickens world


Rare Buddhist art from Myanmar, coming soon to a museum near you


Asia Society Museum Director Melissa Chiu made the news this past weekend in a New York Times report from Myanmar (Burma) on the “coming out” of that country’s relatively little-seen early Buddhist art.

Writing from Bagan (Pagan), Myanmar, Times correspondent Jane Perlez describes how Chiu and a small group of American museum curators have been exploring Myanmar’s “neglected museums and dusty storerooms” in preparation for a 2015 Asia Society Museum exhibition of Myanmar’s Buddhist art.

As Chiu explains to the Times:

The show will be a coming out for Burma …. The country has been closed off for so many years, we hope the show will assume a bigger significance, and shed new light on material not seen before.

The article, “Opening a Door to the Burmese Past, and the Present, Too,” gives a colorful account of the curatorial team’s travels from Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar’s former capital, to its current one, Napidyaw, to Bagan, a onetime royal seat on the banks of the Irrawaddy River where thousands of temples, monasteries and pagodas were built between the 9th and 13th centuries CE.

The Times also offers tantalizing descriptions of several of the pieces being considered for the exhibition, ranging from “gold-painted sphinxlike creatures” found in a rundown library to an exquisite bronze casting in the shape of a lotus flower and a 1,500-year-old bronze Buddha uncovered by a rice farmer plowing his fields in 2005.

Approximately 70 objects will be featured in the exhibition, three quarters of them from Myanmar and the remainder from U.S. museum collections. In exchange for access to the pieces, Asia Society Museum will help train Myanmar’s under-resourced museum employees in conservation techniques.

Check out this link:

Rare Buddhist art from Myanmar, coming soon to a museum near you



Unseen Asia: 25 of Asia’s most overlooked destinations

Had your fill of temples and paddies? Check out CNN‘s list of  Asian attractions you may not have yet considered…

Check out this link:

Unseen Asia: 25 of Asia’s most overlooked destinations