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Archive for October 2015

The Ghost Guide: 6 Terrifying Ghouls of Myanmar

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There you are, fast asleep in your bed when you’re suddenly jolted awake by the dreaded Bump in the Night. You break out in a cold sweat as you cringe in the darkness, straining to pinpoint the source of that spine-tingling sound. Is it merely a tree branch scraping against the bedroom window? Your insomniac cat ransacking the kitchen cabinets in search of a midnight snack? A burglar trying to steal the 850 lakh hidden in your mattress?

Or perhaps it’s something more sinister – something not quite of this world, something you glimpse from the corner of your eye as it emerges from the deepest black of night to snatch your quavering soul and drag it into the underworld. If so, you’re pretty much doomed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun identify your nemesis in the split second before you become the latest candidate for the graveyard. Toward that end, The Myanmar Times has compiled a handy guide – suitable for keeping within easy reach on your nightstand – to the undead spirits that roam nocturnal Myanmar hunting for victims just like you.

Chay Kalein Ma (twisted-leg lady)


If you’re a student living away from home, you might think twice before taking a nighttime trip to the toilet: Among this ghost’s favorite haunts are the dark, lonely restrooms of girls’ boarding schools, where she frightens her victims in the form of a woman with crooked, disfigured legs. If you meet her, you’re advised not to flee in a straight line or you’ll surely be caught. Instead, make your escape by following a zigzag pattern as you run away. Better yet, stay under the covers and hold your pee until daybreak.

Phonegyi thaye (monk ghost)


Throughout Christendom, it’s generally accepted that brandishing crosses and spouting Bible verses serve as reliable defenses against the undead. By a similar token, ghosts in Myanmar can usually be held at bay by reciting prayers to the Buddha in the Pali language. This tactic invariably fails, however, when the ghost in question happens to be the spirit of a Pali-speaking monk who is too attached to this world to pass on to the next life. Your only recourse? Run like hell – in a straight line or in a zigzag. Just run.

Ma Phae Wah (yellow-ribbon lady)


This ghoul makes her home in the cemetery, but come midnight she hoists a coffin onto her shoulder and shuffles through town with her long hair waving in the spectral breeze. Woe to the household where she stops and puts down her casket on the doorstep, for someone in that family – usually a child – will soon sicken and die. In the late 1990s Ma Phae Wah appeared in the dreams of a monk in Kayin State and announced her intention to eat the flesh of babies. The sayadaw suggested that she dine on dogs instead. Subsequently, security-conscious parents sought to protect their infants by posting signs in front of their homes saying, “Baby’s flesh is bitter, dog’s flesh is sweet”.

Chee sar sone (faeces-eating witch)


Some people aren’t content cultivating normal life skills like time management or critical thinking; they yearn to learn magic and other dark arts. Those who study hard and pass the test can become powerful witches, but failures are transformed into chee sar sone, destined to feast on excrement and corpses. They pass as humans during the day, but after sundown their heads detach from their bodies and fly through the air – internal organs trailing beneath their severed necks – searching for delicious outhouse buffets. A savvy witch hunter can exorcise the fiend by coating the headless, incapacitated body with oil from the thayaw tree, which prevents the two parts from recombining when the hovering head returns at the end of the night.

Phote (corpse-possessing ghost)


This particularly heinous spirit takes advantage of the goodwill of those who care for the terminally ill. When the patient dies, the phote enters the vacant body and takes possession before anyone notices. The caregiver thinks he or she is still assisting the living patient; the maliciously clever phote, meanwhile, takes on the personality of the deceased and begins its reign of terror by asking for meat to consume but, if undetected, ends up feeding on the blood of the hapless helper.

Bonus phun phantom: Phyar late nat (bamboo-mat spirit)


What do young Myanmar girls do when their parents leave them alone at home for a few hours? You guessed it: They roll up a bamboo mat, dress it in a blouse and htamein, and invite the bamboo-mat spirit to possess it. Then they ask romantic questions like where their future boyfriends live before shaking the mat and seeing which direction it points when it falls over. Sounds innocent enough, but we’ve all seen those movies where fun and games with Ouija boards unleash all kinds of demonic fury. Who knows what havoc a spirit-possessed bamboo mat could wreak around the house? It’s a horror script just waiting to be written.

This article was originally published in the October 30-November 5 edition of The Myanmar Times Weekend magazine. Illustrations by Thein Tun Oo.

MT.Ghost Guide 2015 Oct 31

Written by latefornowhere

October 31, 2015 at 1:29 pm

BMX championships draw Olympic hopefuls to Myanmar

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The 10th Asian Continental BMX Championships will be held in Nay Pyi Taw on October 31, the first time the annual international cycling event has come to Myanmar.

The racing will take place on the 2013 SEA Games BMX track at Mount Pleasant, and medals will be awarded in four categories: Junior Women, Junior Men, Elite Women and Elite Men.

According to the Myanmar Cycling Federation, 56 athletes and 20 coaches from 10 countries have registered for the championships, with teams flying in from China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

Myanmar will be represented by eight riders – six men and two women – who have been training under Indonesian coach Amir Mahmud since the beginning of the year, but who are untested in international competition.

At last year’s championships held in Indonesia, Japan swept the Elite Men’s medal table. All three riders – defending champion Yoshitaku Nagasako, silver medalist Kohei Yoshii and bronze medalist Jukia Yoshimura – are on the Japanese roster for Nay Pyi Taw.

But the star attraction will be Thai-American racer Amanda Carr, 25, who last year claimed victory for Thailand in the Elite Women category not only at the Asian Continental BMX Championships but also at the 17th Asian Games in South Korea.

Currently ranked 13th in the world among Elite Women BMX racers, Carr’s fame extends far beyond Asia.

Born in the United States to an American father and Thai mother, Carr started racing BMX at the age of five. As an amateur she won the 2005 World Championships in the 15-year-old girls category, and repeated the feat the following year among the 16-year-olds.

In 2008 Carr was invited to join the US women’s BMX Olympic development squad in Chula Vista, California, but after four years of training she missed the cut for the 2012 Olympic team. In 2013 Carr changed residency to her mother’s home country with the aim of representing Thailand in the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Another rider to watch is 17-year-old Filipino-American rider Sienna Fines, currently 36th in the Junior Women world rankings and aiming to represent the Philippines in the Rio Olympics.

The racing in Nay Pyi Taw is scheduled to take place on October 31 from 8am to 3pm, followed by the awards ceremony at 4pm.

The story was originally published in the October 29 edition of The Myanmar Times.

Written by latefornowhere

October 30, 2015 at 9:36 am

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Thadingyut Festival of Lights

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The Myanmar lunar month of Waso, which usually falls in July, marks the beginning of the three-month Vassa period, also known as Buddhist Lent or the Rains Retreat. During this time, monks are not allowed to travel overnight from their monasteries, and therefore they dedicate these months to intensive meditation and the study of scripture.

Many laypeople also adhere more closely to the Buddhist precepts by giving up meat or alcohol. Weddings are not allowed during this period, and music concerts and other public performances are frowned upon. As Myanmar author Khin Myo Chit writes in her book Flowers and Festivals Round the Myanmar Year, “It is a time for sobriety, self-denial and religious contemplation.”

Monsoon starts loosening its grip during the lunar month of Tawthalin (September). The rain still falls, but sunshine increasingly finds its way through the cloud-cover. The rivers are brimming with water, and in some places the Ayeyarwady appears more like a lake than a flowing waterway.

The buildup to Thadingyut, which marks the end of Buddhist Lent and fell on October 28 this year, is characterized by a gradual change in weather. With the skies now clearing, it is the season of pagoda festivals, music concerts and weddings, with cooler winter weather just around the corner.

The end of Lent is marked nationwide with the three-day Thadingyut Festival of Lights.

Buddhists believe that at one point in his life, the Buddha ascended to Tavatimsa, the Celestial Abode, and spent the three-month Vassa period teaching the sacred Abhidhamma discourses to the heavenly beings who lived there. Among his students was his mother from a previous existence, who had been reborn in Tavatimsa as a god named Santusita. The lengthy sermon was the Buddha’s way of thanking Santusita for having been his mother in a previous incarnation.

On the full moon day of Thadingyut – which is still known as Abhidhamma Day – the Buddha descended back to the human realm from Tavatimsa. Some versions of the story say that Sakka, king of the celestials, created stairways made of gold, silver and rubies to facilitate the procession, while other accounts claim that the pathway was fashioned from the stars themselves. In any case, the procession is said to have included a host of brahmas and gods accompanied by the sound of Sakka wailing away on his mighty conch-shell horn. The people of the earthly realm set out bright lights to help guide the Buddha and to celebrate his return, a tradition that is maintained to this day.

During Thadingyut, pagodas and homes throughout the country are decorated with electric lights, colorful paper lanterns, candles and even small ceramic saucers filled with oil in which wicks are lit. Major religious sites such as Shwedagon Pagoda are packed with pilgrims who light candles to pay homage to the Buddha and gain merit. Each light adds to the incredible spectacle of thousands of small flames burning in the night. Out on the streets, meanwhile, some people light fireworks or launch small hot-air balloons, which silently ascend and drift across the sky before burning out.

Thadingyut is also a time for street fairs, one of the most popular of which is held along several blocks of Bogyoke Aung San Road in downtown Yangon. For three days the air is thick with the aroma of fried food, and street vendors urge passersby to throw their money away on blue jeans, wristwatches, sunglasses and the latest hip-hop gangsta-wear from China. There are impossible-to-win ring-toss games, as well as sketchy Ferris wheels that are spun manually by acrobatic, death-defying carnies. Signboards are erected along the upper block of 50th Street and decorated with cartoons drawn by local artists, a tradition that dates back to 1932 when cartoonist U Ba Gyan set up an exhibition of his work on 13th Street in Lanmadaw township. After his death in 1953, young artists carried on the tradition in different locations around the city.

Thadingyut is also associated with paying homage not only to the Buddha and his teachings (dhamma), but also to the order of monks (sangha), parents, teachers and elder relatives. In this way, laypeople are able to emulate the gesture of gratitude that the Buddha paid to his mother during his sequester in Tavatimsa. Visits are made to parents and elders to present gifts and to give thanks, and some people hand out food donations (satuditha) to friends, family and strangers alike. In a ceremony known as pawarana, monks ask their monastic brethren to rep­rimand them for any sins they may have committed.

Several areas around Myanmar have their own unique way of celebrating Thadingyut. At Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda in Mon State – popularly known as Golden Rock – pilgrims offer 9000 lit candles and 9000 flowers to the Buddha. In Shwe Kyin in Bago Region, located along the banks of the Sittaung River, the day after the full moon day is marked with a decorative boat competition and the launch of a Karaweik barge carrying images of the Buddha. After darkness falls, thousands of lotus-shaped oil lamps are lit and set afloat on the water.

Shwethalyaung Pagoda in Kyaukse, 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Mandalay, hosts an elephant dancing festival on the full moon eve and the full moon day. The dancing is not done by genuine pachyderms, but rather by teams of two competitors dressed in colorful, homemade elephant costumes, who bust their moves to the beat of live drum music as they seek to out-perform the other contestants.

Thadingyut also marks the beginning of Kahtein (Kathina in Pali), a month-long period leading up to the full moon day of Tazaungdine in November during which people donate new robes or other supplies to local monasteries. These offerings can include anything from fans, alms bowls and books for learning the Pali language, to tote bags, towels and soap. They are attached to wooden frames called padethapin (trees of plenty) that are set up throughout the country by business owners, schools, hospitals and even groups of trishaw drivers who congregate on street corners waiting for customers.

On a designated day toward the end of Kahtein, the trees are taken to the monastery for which the robes, supplies and money have been collected. The donation day is cause for celebration in neighbourhoods and villages throughout Myanmar, and everyone participates. There are music and dance performances, and food is prepared to hand out to all comers. Everyone congregates at one spot, such as a community center or the village headman’s house, from where the colourful Kahtein procession sets out on foot or by vehicle to take each padethapin to its designated monastery.

One significant aspect of this festival is that donors do not make offerings to a particular monk, but rather to a monastery in general. To decide who gets what, the monastery holds a lottery starting with the most valuable item and moving down the list to the least valuable. The gathered donors watch, applauding when the names of their favorite monks are called. The most valued prizes are the new robes, and the monks who get them are considered to have received a special honor.

Blog.Thadingyut pic