Introducing GPS Guided Travel Articles on my blog

What's that, you ask?
What’s that, you ask?

I’ve just joined an app called GPS My City that allows iPad and iPhone users to download my articles to use while they’re on the go (that is to say – offline).

As it’s a pretty new app, I’ll quickly explain how the concept works…

Imagine reading a useful travel article and wishing you could refer to it whenever you wanted, regardless of whether you had an internet connection at the time.

If you have access to the internet, you could always bookmark the article and return to the website later. But that would require spending money on data. And in Myanmar you’re unlikely to have a cell phone plan as telecoms is still a pretty complex affair for tourists and there aren’t tourist packages on offer as there in Bangkok and most other places.

Also, just reading through the article again will remind you of the places you wanted to visit — that swanky-sounding bar or the regional bus station — but you’d still have to stop and look up the directions to find it.

Luckily there’s now a much better way and it’s called GPS-guided travel articles. These travel articles have GPS coordinates embedded in them and a map of the route as described by the author in the article. And you can find literally thousands of these articles (from over 600 worldwide cities) at GPSmyCity. Once this app is downloaded to your phone (for which you’ll need to pay a fee of around a dollar), you won’t need to use the internet to have the article as a guide. It will show you right where you are on the map and guide you to each subsequent location… Nice eh?

Two of my posts are available on GPS MyCity and the first one listed below is available for free from Monday 25 July through Sunday July 31.

Jessica’s Top Tips for Yangon, Myanmar

Hip in Yangon? Hop to Bahan

Please make sure to first download the GPSmyCity app when clicking the article link. After the GPSmyCity has been launched, the article app will appear by default; then you should click “Upgrade” to upgrade the article.

And another FYI… you can upload any travel article from GPSmyCity at no cost, which means you can read it without needing wi-fi. Should you decide that GPS-guided articles are the way to go, you’ll need to pay a fee of about a dollar. As a participating blogger, I earn a few cents when you download my posts. I hope you’ll agree that’s a good deal for us both🙂

‘Paddy to plate’ rice report launched

Published in Mizzima Weekly on 1 June 2016

Proximity's Jim Taylor at the launch
Proximity’s Jim Taylor at the launch

Social enterprise Proximity Designs launched a report on 31 May titled ‘Paddy to Plate: the Rice Ecosystem in Myanmar,’ which aims to identify the roles at each stage of paddy production, the factors that drive decision making in the sales chain, and the opportunities and challenges facing a sector that is in a state of flux worldwide.

Creative director and writer Lauren Serota told Mizzima Weekly that the biggest challenge was “the breadth of the topic area and really doing it justice.”

“Rice in Myanmar is such a deep and significant thing. So much of the language is rooted in agricultural metaphors – it was really interesting to learn about the nuances. Our aim was to strike a balance between being thorough and interesting – we wanted to make something that rice nerds and consumers alike would enjoy reading,” she said.

The fact that it has been created by a team of designers and has a large visual component lends it to the category of coffee table book as well as presenting a body of qualitative research in an accessible way, said Proximity Design’s co-founder and Chief Executive Jim Taylor.

“We took a design lens to the rice sector; we wanted to use our research as a foundational study and complement existing macro-economic research,” he said.

Proximity staff with the new report
Proximity staff with the new report

Back in 1999, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) found that Myanmar has the highest annual consumption of rice at 211 kilogrammes per person per year. Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Bangladesh trail behind Myanmar’s consumption rates, despite being among the world’s top consumers. According to UNDO, rice eaters and growers constitute the bulk of the world’s poor.

When asked by Vicky Bowman of the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business whether child labour had been found during the research process, Proximity’s project lead and writer Su Mon said that rice harvesting is “back-breaking, even for an adult. I don’t recall seeing any children working.”

“The thing that struck me the most is the interconnectedness of the process. It will take a systemic change from a lot of different players to get to the point where paddy farmers are at a level where they can consistently produce crops,” Ms Serota told Mizzima Weekly.

The launch was held at the Yangon Gallery in People’s Park and included a panel discussion featuring three rice experts, including Dr Duncan Bowden from Michigan State University. He presented a brief comparative analysis of Myanmar’s rice sector.

“There’s an amazing quote in the report… that says that [one of the researchers] didn’t meet a single young farmer who wasn’t frustrated. The future of the rice sector in Myanmar depends on changing that, so that young men and women do see a future for their families. Then rice will have a future.”

“Myanmar doesn’t need to worry too much about the international market – there is a strong demand for rice and competitors are struggling; they are struggling with issues such as climate change and the overuse of soils. But it is essential for Myanmar to make it profitable for farmers, and especially for young farmers.”

The launch was held at Yangon Gallery
The launch was held at Yangon Gallery

Fellow expert Daphne Khin Swe Swe Aye said that the government’s ad hoc policies of the past have held back the sector and contributed to high poverty rates amongst Myanmar’s agriculture workers.

“Suddenly there were no exports for months [following the floods during the last monsoon season] and then you lose the buyers. The government should not introduce ad hoc policies to solve problems in the short-term. There needs to be a longer term approach and more research needs to be done. And the research should be done on what farmers need – such as what types of seed they need – not what a minister likes to do. I hope the new government will do that. It is also very easy to say things, but implementation takes time. Schemes can be announced such as compensating farmers for losing crops, but there is no follow-through. The government should be really careful about announcing things before knowing whether they can be implemented.”

She also said that Myanmar should work towards creating its own unique variety of rice, rather than largely cultivating Chinese hybrids, as the costs of production tends to exceed profit margins.

The report is available for K20,000 from Proximity’s Yangon office – contact via its Facebook page. Or click here to download a free copy:


Keeping a Chin tradition alive by bringing it online

Published in Mizzima Weekly on 22 May 2016

Photo supplied by Rosy Chin's Fabrics
Photo supplied by Rosy Chin’s Fabrics

Twenty-eight-year-old Cing Zeel Niang was born in Chin State but left home at an early age to attend boarding school in Pyin Oo Lwin and later studied medicine in Mandalay. Her parents felt that it was in their daughter’s best interests to be educated outside her home state, as standards are lower than in other parts of the country. Chin State lacks a single university – the closest is in neighbouring Sagaing Region – and it is the most underdeveloped nationwide in terms of infrastructure. Cing Zeel Niang, who goes by the nickname ‘Rosy,’ graduated in 2012 and began working at a private hospital, but had long had plans to start a business in a completely different walk of life and one that was closer to her roots – selling Chin textiles online via Facebook.

“I hadn’t seen anyone try do it,” she told Mizzima Weekly.

Rosy explained that selling via Facebook is more practical than setting up a dedicated website, as slow internet speeds would make page loading difficult and frustrate potential customers.

However, Rosy was daunted by her lack of first-hand experience in running a business.

“No one in my family has any business experience and they weren’t at all familiar with online businesses. So I didn’t have any business knowledge passed down to me.”

Cing Zeel Niang, aka Rosy
Cing Zeel Niang, aka Rosy

In 2014, Rosy leapt at the chance to take part in a start-up business course with the social enterprise Project Hub Yangon (PHY). The six-month course was the first to exclusively target female entrepreneurs in Myanmar.

“The incubation programme gave me the skills to refine my business idea. If I didn’t take part in it, I don’t think I would have started my business,” she said.

Like many people in Myanmar, where bank loans are virtually unobtainable without collateral, Rosy lacked funding to back her bright idea. Fortunately, the knowledge she acquired through PHY’s programme helped her to develop creative solutions to counter financial constraints, which is an integral part of start-up business methodology.

Miss Universe in Chin State - showing off the fabrics. Photo: Moe Sat Wine/Facebook
Miss Universe Myanmar in Chin State – showing off the fabrics. Photo: Moe Sat Wine/Facebook

While still working at the hospital, Rosy began selling Chin fabrics for a handful of Chin women. She photographed the fabrics and uploaded them to her Facebook page, Rosy’s Chin Fabrics, so that she received orders instead of speculatively purchasing anything.

“I also used my colleagues at the hospital, 99 percent of whom were female, to do market research. They were all interested in Chin fabrics and I got to know the price range they were willing to spend.”

She also quickly discovered that Myanmar women are eager to wear fabrics belongings to a different ethnicity.

“Bamar women have no problem wearing different fabrics. If the price is right, they actually prefer to wear tribal fabrics because it makes them stand out,” she explained.

Once she had a sizeable number of orders, Rosy began travelling to Chin State to source the fabrics.

However Rosy’s parents were dismayed to learn that their daughter planned to launch an online business rather than continuing her work as a medical officer.

Photo supplied by Rosy Chin's Fabrics
Photo supplied by Rosy Chin’s Fabrics

“My mother wanted me to have a stable, respected profession. It took me six months to convince her that I wouldn’t give up my medical career entirely and that I could balance it with my online business,” she said.

By day, Rosy runs her online business and at night she works as a medical consultant for a parenting website.

Rosy has been running her business for 18 months now and has her family’s full support. When she gave birth seven months ago, her mother volunteered to travel to Chin State to buy the fabrics.

“My mother works with my second cousin, who belongs to a group of weavers.”

However, although Rosy and her mother know a great deal about the traditions behind Chin weaving, which is considered the most intricate of any ethnicity in Myanmar and requires at least two weeks to complete a single piece, neither know how to weave.

“My mother cannot weave and I also cannot, so it’s unlikely that my daughter will learn either,” said the 28-year-old.

“The number of Chin people who know how to weave is decreasing. Women my age don’t know how to weave – those who do are my grandmother’s age, which makes it almost impossible to pass on the information.”

If the tradition of hand-weaving were to die out altogether, it would be a huge loss to a fascinating tradition. Whilst Chin fabrics have more than an ornamental role, with shawls keeping its bearers warm in one of the coolest areas of tropical Myanmar, many are rich in cultural significance. Shawls are highly specific to each of the dozen sub-groups of the Chin people and are also used to mark significant occasions, such as marriage and death. Special blankets, historically woven by the bride, are presented to a couple to mark their marriage – and cover the corpse upon death.

A red shawl, which incidentally looks very much like Scottish tartan, is given to a male who in earlier times fought and killed an enemy from another village, or killed an animal that threatened the safety of his fellow villagers. The shawl is worn during the celebrations that follow, and other men who previously received the honour also don red shawls.

Women of certain Chin tribes receive a white, green and red shawl when they get married, and wear black and white shawls during periods of mourning. Orange is a popular colour for shawls worn by Chin people (who are also sometimes referred to as Zomi) in India, which borders Chin State. Rosy’s primary market is domestic but she also ships items to the United States, where a sizeable population of Chin people live.

Rosy said that new fabric patterns are created every few months, but added that Chin weaving is becoming increasingly rare due to the lack of livelihood opportunities it offers in modern times.

“My dream and vision is to inspire young women living in villages in Chin State to know that they can still make a living out of weaving,” she said.

While machine-made alternatives exist, Rosy steers well clear of them: every item on offer is produced by a handloom.

Miss Universe Myanmar in Chin fabrics. Photo: Moe Sat Wine/Facebook
Miss Universe Myanmar in Chin fabrics. Photo: Moe Sat Wine/Facebook

“This is a socially responsible business – products made using a machine simply won’t work for me. When everything is done by a machine, there’s no value in it. And machines cannot do the most complex work.”

Rosy is also keen to motivate other women to start their own businesses and follow their passions.

“I have always wanted to inspire other women to start something new and to follow their dreams. Even if there is a lot of pressure and a lack of support, just keep at it and eventually you will succeed – you will get somewhere if you put enough effort in. When I started my business I didn’t get enough sleep: I had to learn online skills and it took a lot of time. But finally it’s paid off,” she said.



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