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Myanmar switches to international ‘unicode’ on October 1

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Myanmar switches to international ‘unicode’ on October 1 | The Thaiger

Accessing everything from Wikipedia to Google Maps in Myanmar is about to get a lot easier when the country finally adopts the universal code underpinning phone and online communication next week. Tech experts say the move to bring the country more in step with the rest of the digital world is crucial, but will cause “chaos” in a rocky transition period.

Myanmar is the last nation to embrace unicode that has significant numbers of people online. Without it, most users see international content , and a lot from within the country, as lines of meaningless symbols. Household name websites can be impossible to read while translation and voice recognition software do not work.

October 1 is “U-Day”, when Myanmar officially adopts the new system. From then on, all electronic communication from government offices, telecoms companies, banks and media must be in Unicode by law. Myanmar became a global code anomaly due to isolation under its former military junta.

Microsoft and Apple helped other countries standardise years ago, but Western sanctions meant Myanmar lost out.

Zawgyi font is the predominant typeface used for Burmese language text on websites. It is a font with Burmese characters. It is also known as Zawgyi-One or zawgyi1 font although updated versions of this font were not named Zawgyi-two. It is the most popular font on Burmese websites.

47 year old IT pioneer Zaw Htut describes this as the final battle won in a decades-long code “war”.

“This is like changing to democracy.”

However, making the switch to Unicode will be a turbulent ride, and he warned that initially there will be “chaos”. Facebook, themes popular social media platform, has developed automatic conversion software to give users a “seamless experience”, says strategic response team member Sarah Oh.

But many will suddenly be unable to read messages on other apps and from banks or phone operators, while those who switch will no longer be able to communicate with friends still using the old system.

Confusion reigns

A homegrown rival to Unicode called “Zawgyi” (pronounced: zaw-jee) – meaning wizard – evolved in Myanmar’s detached digital ecosystem. Its popularity exploded as the country opened up from 2011 and smartphone use soared. Today around 90% of people use Zawgyi instead of Unicode.

Incompatible without fiddly plug-ins, it only allows people to communicate in Burmese with other Zawgyi users, excluding the nation’s minority languages. Its clunkiness also means search functions do not work, crippling data storage systems.

According to tech experts it could take years to achieve full migration.

Zaw Htut compares the abrupt switch to Unicode with the former junta’s overnight decision for Myanmar to drive on the right instead of the left.

Joox, a regional version of Spotify, said it is impossible to convert the millions of Burmese language songs on its app. With the deadline looming, celebrities and influencers are hammering home the need to convert while technicians prepare for a deluge of queries. An army of volunteers are helping in online forums and offline at teashops.

“There’s a lot of confusion,” explains computer science student 23 year old Tin Lat Nandar as she updates retirees’ phones at a Sunday drop-in session.

Meanwhile a Yangon street vendor Mi Mi says she has heard about the switch but does not want to change.

“I don’t know how to do it.”

An estimated 10-15% of mainly older phones will not be advanced enough to convert.

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse – Richard Sargent

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Myanmar

Burmese surfing team head to SEAsia Games, a first for Myanmar

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Burmese surfing team head to SEAsia Games, a first for Myanmar | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Burmese surfer Thwe Thwe Soe practicing off the coast of Ngwe Saung – Myanmore

Paddling hard and smiling, Thwe Thwe Soe flung herself up on the board just as a wave was breaking, spreading her arms out for balance before getting knocked off.

“I can’t live without surfing. I did not expect to be chosen for the national team but I’m thrilled at the opportunity.”

Thwe Thwe Soe was speaking after a day in the blue waters off the small coastal resort town of Ngwe Saung. Competitive surfing was barely known in Myanmar a few years ago but one local beach town is riding a wave of enthusiasm to the Southeast Asia Games for the first time ever.

The Southeast Asian country is flanked by surf-ready coasts to the west and south, but decades of military rule, lack of equipment and poverty kept aspiring athletes from testing the waters. The 25 year old encountered the sport while studying in southern California and has been hooked since, saying she “always feels happy” on the water.

Now she is going up against the region’s giants at the December games in the Philippines. Thwe Thwe Soe has one of the best chances to medal among the handful of surfers going, but all are training hard.

“We surf for at least four to six hours a day,” said American coach Robert Brickell, a 26 year old originally from New York.

The mild waves at Ngwe Saung present a paradox for competitive surfers – they are good to learn on but much tamer than the conditions in surfing hotspots. The team went to Bali in Indonesia for two months to get used to some “big wave surfing” and have made enormous strides in a short amount of time, Brickell said.

“My hope is that we can show everybody that people from Myanmar, we know how to surf, we know how to respect the ocean. And of course our hope is to win some meets.”

The Surf Association of Myanmar was established only this year. The sport is slowly gaining prominence thanks to the impassioned surfers, most from a village near the beach and newcomers themselves. Ngwe Saung is the heartland of the growing craze and has now hosted several competitions.

“We hadn’t heard of surfing before 2017. It will be a difficult competition but we will do our best for sure.” said 19 year old Aung Min Naing.

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

Burmese surfing team head to SEAsia Games, a first for Myanmar | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Aspiring new Burmese surfer, Aung Min Naing – MMTimes.com

Burmese surfing team head to SEAsia Games, a first for Myanmar | News by The Thaiger

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Myanmar

Six more countries now get visa-on-arrival into Myanmar

The Thaiger & The Nation

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Six more countries now get visa-on-arrival into Myanmar | The Thaiger

Around Thailand the possibilities for foreigners travelling is growing with visa-free arrivals, waived fees, no paperwork and quick processing at Immigration ports.

Now, the Myanmar government is introducing new regulations to facilitate easier access as another step towards opening up the country to the world, and tourism.

Visitors from Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Macau were granted visa-free entry last year. Indian and mainland Chinese nationals were also granted visas-on-arrival into Myanmar in a move to draw more Asian visitors to the country.

In the second quarter, Myanmar saw an increase in arrivals from countries granted visas free and visas-on-arrival treatment.

May Myat Mon Win, Chairperson of Myanmar Tourism Marketing says… “We hope the new regulation will lead to more foreign travellers to Myanmar, to discover the country’s unique culture and most of all, the hospitality of its people.”

Myanmar Tourism Marketing is organising roadshows, trade shows and media familiarisation trips for journalists, TV producers and digital marketing influencers from around the world.

“Visa-free and visa on arrival entry from these Western countries would further boost growth of the Myanmar tourism industry.”

SOURCE: The Nation

Six more countries now get visa-on-arrival into Myanmar | News by The Thaiger

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Myanmar

Yangon’s boom falls short across river – waiting to bridge the gap

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Yangon’s boom falls short across river – waiting to bridge the gap | The Thaiger

“An enormous industrial zone spanning the area south and west of the river, largely funded by money from Korea and China, is under consideration.”

On her scruffy, downtrodden bank of the river, teashop-owner Khin works just a few hundred metres over the muddy water from Myanmar’s capital Yangon, and dreams of the riches promised by a new bridge linking her to the commercial heart.

Spanning the Yangon River, the project is due to be completed in 2022, easing the commute for thousands crossing the waters by boat from rural, underdeveloped Dala.

“The quicker, the better,” 58 year old Khin Than Myint tells AFP of the construction of the $168 million bridge, from her shop in Dala township.

“Currently the sick sometimes cannot even reach hospital before it is too late. But with the bridge people will be able just to walk to Yangon.”

Residents of Dala have witnessed the changes over the river as foreign investors poured billions of dollars into Yangon.

Five-star hotels and gleaming shopping malls, brimming with luxury brands, now punctuate the skyline, competing for space with Shwedagon Pagoda’s golden spire. In Dala, goats wander between rice paddies and residents negotiate potholed roads on fume-belching motorbikes and tuk-tuks – forbidden in downtown Yangon. A regular ferry service and a fleet of small wooden boats have long been the only link between the two worlds.

Future riches?

After nearly half a century of military rule, Myanmar started opening up in 2011.

Over the next seven years, Yangon attracted almost half of the country’s foreign investment, some $25.8 billion, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

While living standards are improving for many, a third of people languish in poverty, infrastructure remains patchy and much of the country is affected by conflict.

Still Yangon’s boom has brought jobs for many of Dala’s residents too – including the boatmen manoeuvring vessels through the river’s busy freight traffic. Aung Myo Win has spent 14 years shuttling people across the river and is torn about the new bridge. The 45 year old knows it will likely leave him – and dozens of others – jobless, but he also sees the bigger picture.

“The bridge is for the people. We must sacrifice ourselves for the sake of development.”

Yangon’s southern districts were historically swampland, the reason the city grew northwards away from the river, says David Ney, urban specialist at The Asia Foundation.

“Dala was kind of put on the backburner,” he says.

But this now looks set to change.

An enormous industrial zone spanning the area south and west of the river, largely funded by money from Korea and China, is under consideration. But some are wary about the realities of rapid development. 68 year old Yangon taxi driver Chit Nyunt says on the north bank the rich have got richer, leaving the poor behind.

“Rising costs of rent and food mean families can barely cover their costs,” he says.

In Dala, however, Khin is pinning her hopes on the bridge.

“I want to build a nice house and I’ll open a bigger restaurant and some shops — just like in Yangon.”

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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