Karen Language Phrasebook: Basics of Sgaw Dialect

A new book for a new year!

Karen Language Phrasebook: Basics of the Sgaw Dialect can be purchased through normal book distributors, including Amazon or directly from White Lotus Press.


Comprehensive guide to the basics of Sgaw dialect of Karen language. Learn key phrases and words to use with any Karen companion, whether they live in Myanmar, Thailand, or wherever in the world. Phrasebook is for more than just learning to survive in a Karen-speaking environment. The goal is also to help you make new friends!

Chapters include: Preface; Acknowledgements; 1) Intro; 2) Basics; 3) Saying Hello; 4) Personal Info; 5) Getting Around; 6) Tea Shop Dining; 7) Staying the Night; 8) Shopping; and 9) Health Bibliography.

Paperback: 126 pages
Publisher: White Lotus Press (2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 974849599X
ISBN-13: 978-9748495996
Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.5 inches
Shipping Weight: 7.7 ounces

Karen Language Phrasebook (big)

Karen back

*Original book copyright held by T. F. Rhoden; photo credit to this blog post goes to Khin Maung Kyaw. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 


Dataset of Burmese Migration-Concept Crossover in Thailand


Purpose of survey: Original dataset of quantitative analysis section of dissertation research for PhD in political science from Northern Illinois University. Estimated graduation date for fall 2016. Others are encouraged to use this dataset for their own research (see license below).


Title: Dataset of Burmese Migration-Concept Crossover in Thailand
Researcher/Author: T. F. Rhoden
Published: 25-Nov-15
Survey period: 20-Jun-15 to 19-Oct-15

Survey location: Thai side of Thailand-Myanmar border (see dataset for specific locations).
Total surveys given out: 4,000
Total surveys answered: 3,784
Response rate: 96.85% (note that response rate will vary per individual question/data point; see dataset).
Original population: 2,629,242 (estimated number of total migrants from Myanmar in Thailand from pg. 9 of Rhoden, T. F., and Danny Unger. 2015. “No Burmese Returning: Economics across Myanmar-Thailand Border.” International Journal of East Asian Studies 19(2): 51-70. http://tinyurl.com/ow4cll7.)

Data points/observations: 50 per respondent (see codesheet).
Survey demographics: See dataset.
Languages: Survey was printed in Burmese and English. Any responses in Burmese were translated into English for ease of use here. See dataset for challenges/issues of some translations. Note that some respondents answered in Karen, which were also translated into English here.
Contact info: tfrhoden [at] niu [dot] edu

License: This dataset is under creative commons license. It is free to use in any way, including, but not limited to, academic research, governmental- and nongovernmental-organization research, journalism, and/or others. Commercial use is prohibited.


Part of this survey timeframe overlaps with financial assistance from a Boren Fellowship to learn the Sgaw dialect of the Karen language(s) in Northern Thailand. For volunteer assistance in data collection outside of the refugee camps, author would like to thank Khin Soe Mon, education program manager at Help Without Frontiers (HWF) Thailand, Naing Naing Htun and the team at Burma Migrant Teachers Association (BMTA), along with a handfull of other local Burmese- and Karen-speaking volunteers who wish to stay anonymous. For assistance in data collection inside of the refugee camps, author would like to thank Maria Clara Naranjo, instructor with Karen Refugee Committee Education Entity (KRCEE), and other research assistants who wish to keep their identity anonymous. Author would also like to thank Kyaw (David) Pyae Sone of HWF for helping with translating the Internal Review Board (IRB) forms into Burmese and Ma (Zulu) Khin with the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma (AAPPB) with help in translating the questions on the survey from English to Burmese. Any mistakes are the author’s own.

Suggested Citation

Rhoden, T. F. 2015. “Dataset of Burmese Migration-Concept Crossover in Thailand.” ResearchGate (November 24), doi.10.13140/RG.2.1.3285.6409.

*Originally published on Research Gate by T. F. Rhoden; image credit for post via World Education. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 


No Burmese Returning: Economics Across Myanmar-Thailand Border


As Myanmar’s national politics change from a military authoritarian regime toward civilian rule, this paper seeks to understand whether Burmese emigrants abroad are starting to return home. By placing the specific case study of net migration flows across the Myanmar-Thailand land border into a larger study of all of net migration flows across all other land borders around the globe, a comparison can be made as to the direction and the amount of these net migration flows. We argue that, regardless of the political situation, when surveying the top large-scale net migration flows of over 350,000 people, fairly simple economic indicators help us to predict that, ceteris paribus, the direction of any net migration flow will move from poorer to wealthier country. Material differences in wealth, however, do not help to predict the amount of that net migration flow. We conclude that because of prevailing magnitudes of material difference between Myanmar and Thailand, we see nothing that suggests that Burmese migrants have started to return home in any large numbers.

Keywords: Myanmar-Thailand border, Burmese migration, Myanmar, land border, migration, Burmese economy, Thai economy.

Introduction & Background

For the Myanmar-Thailand border, the direction of net migration flows has been going one way since at least the 1980s; whether these migrants have been economic immigrants or political refugees, year after year, more Burmese have been living in Thailand then Thais living in Myanmar. Yet, if we follow the news in Southeast Asia today, a new trend appears to be surfacing whereby everyone these days seems to be going to Myanmar. Over the past year, current and former heads of government such as Barak Obama, Tony Blair, Manmohan Singh, Shinzo Abe, and David Cameron, as well as European Commission President José Barroso have visited. In 2013, Myanmar had its first high-profile tech company visit by Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt of Google Inc. The nonprofit Institute of International Education facilitated nine American universities recently in sending representatives to Myanmar to inquire upon exchange opportunities for faculty and students in the future. Multilateral organizations and foreign government officials reestablishing diplomatic relations, also have been streaming into Myanmar. Accordingly, international weekly seat capacity for all airlines flying into Myanmar has doubled from around 40,000 a week in August 2012 to over 80,000 a week by January 2013 to meet the new demand. All this activity represents a dramatic reversal from years past.

For decades, the Burmese government made it fairly difficult for foreigners to travel to, or do business in, Myanmar. And after the military regime failed to respect the outcome of elections in 1991, many foreigners eschewed Myanmar altogether. Traveling there risked the wrath of critics of the country’s ruling generals, particularly by those activists working for a regime change. These critics urged maximum isolation of the regime as a means of putting pressure on the generals to release political prisoners, negotiate with ethnic minorities, and hold free and fair elections. However, the regime launched radical changes in 2003 with its “road map to democracy”. In consequence, as the regime has delivered on allowing national elections in the last few years, outsiders are scrambling to get into Myanmar. If foreigners are now flocking to get into Myanmar, what about the Burmese? Until very recently, Myanmar was not only a country many outsiders avoided, but one in which insiders were spilling out in great numbers and in particular into Thailand. Now that so many foreigners want to get into Burma, will this mean that the Burmese will feel less of an urgent need to get out? Could the direction of net migration across the Myanmar-Thailand border have reversed, or at the very least slowed down?

Myanmar remains an extremely poor country with few economic opportunities for local employment. For political reasons, but economic ones as well, the Burmese… [click here to continue to read full text]

*Originally published in International Journal of East Asian Students of Thammasat University, Thailand, by T. F. Rhoden and D. Unger; photo credit goes to Rohan Radheya via The Diplomat. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 


Being a Boren: No Word for ‘Police’ in Karen

Learning the Sgaw dialect of the Karen language over the 2014–15 school year on a Boren Fellowship grant along the Thailand-Myanmar border has been a great experience for many different reasons. I wish to summarize one experience here.

I knew that there would be various challenges to learning a language that is not sponsored by a national state. What I did not expect was how much this non-state aspect of language learning would affect both the way one goes about foreign language acquisition and my own thoughts on the idea of the state itself. As someone undergoing training in an Anglo-American tradition of political science, our academic subject matter, in one way or another, is almost always about the state—that is, government, the people that are ruled by government, and all the multifarious relationships and bases of power that constitute a polity. There are more complicated ways to discuss this thing we call a state, but for here I want to focus on one challenge I stumbled across to all of this. Studying and living in a language community of around two million, which stretches over frontiers of various sorts—national, linguistic, economic, geographic, others—has provided me with more than a few opportunities of epiphanic, if perhaps naïve, clarity that otherwise would have been unavailable if one had remained stateside.

One of the more memorable Zen-like moments came as we were going over the Karen words for different professions.

My vocabulary list, created by some hapless Baptist missionary from the middle of the last century, had… [click here to continue to read full text]

*Originally published in The Mandala: Newsletter of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at NIU by T. F. Rhoden; photo credit goes to Beata. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. white-compass-rose-th

Myanmar Needs to Forgive Tax Dodgers

Whether motivated by greed or virtue, granting a one-time tax transparency amnesty to past evaders will help the country’s economic and political transformation.

With the new Yangon Stock Exchange (YSX) set to open in less than five months, now is good time to reflect on, not just the political liberalisation of Myanmar away from military authoritarianism and towards democratisation, but also on the evolution of the economic sphere.

And in particular, increased transparency.

A successful national bourse requires more than a modicum of transparency. “Transparency” itself can mean more than one thing. Openness to outside investigation, whether it be a corporation’s financial statements or a government bureau’s budget, can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the situation.

However, I argue that there is more good to be had — that is, not just more economic efficiency or effectiveness, but genuine honesty in the development process — if something like a “tax transparency amnesty” for domestic businesses in Myanmar were promulgated by a democratically elected parliament.

We all understand that “politics” and “money” often intersect, particularly at the commanding heights of a national state. Some manifestations of the politics-money nexus are useful whilst others are more than a little depressing; but there is one avatar in particular that is a scourge on Myanmar’s political economy. A tax transparency amnesty could prove analgesic to that still lingering sick-man of Myanmar’s economy: the crony capitalist.

If cronyism between government and businesses is one type of economic activity that could use a dose of transparency, Thomas Fuller’s recent piece in the New York Times is a dismal reminder of another kind of less-than-ideal investor-backing for some of Myanmar’s corporate entities. Illicit trading of items like poppy (now often as methamphetamine), timber, and precious stones are hidden on the former balance sheets of more than a few companies. A tax transparency amnesty could prove useful here as well, helping to highlight wealth and income that is more or less clean (though underreported in the past), whilst also reasserting the illegality of some commercial goods.

But what exactly is a “tax transparency amnesty” and how would it work?

A tax transparency amnesty would be a one-time opportunity for businesses and individuals to declare past hidden income or wealth for an agreed upon fee. Regardless of where the funds came from, all money in the system would be declared white: everyone would get a clean set of books.

The one-time fee would probably be a… [click here to continue to read full text]

*Originally published in New Mandala by T. F. Rhoden; photo credit goes to Dustin Main. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. white-compass-rose-th

Myanmar’s Military Still Hold the Purse Strings

The release of the official list of Myanmar’s 1,000 top taxpayers for 2013-2014 shows the wealthiest are still overwhelmingly tied to the old guard of military cronyism and elite government corruption. Many are on the US government’s blacklist.

The list, released by the Internal Revenue Department (IRD) of the Ministry of Finance in December, is an indication of how much – or how little –progress the Burmese political economy has made in terms of the separation between civilian versus military investment in Myanmar’s highest grossing companies. The reporting process remains frustratingly opaque to investors.

Despite the move away from military authoritarianism toward more democratic institutions in government in the political sphere, a similar move away from military-tied businesses which either have ties to or a part of the military toward completely independent trade, investment, and entrepreneurship in the economic sphere has yet to really begin.

The three public companies along with top taxpayers on the Internal Revenue Department lists serve to highlight the continued challenge of transparency and continued involvement of investments tied to military families.

For example, AGD Bank is part of the Htoo Group of companies, which has included at various times numerous other subsidiaries like Air Bagan, Htoo Wood Products, Elite Tech IT Services, Htoo Trading, and many others. The chairman of this conglomerate is U Tay Za, well known for his ties to the military elite, particularly Than Shwe, the former general who headed the junta from 1992 to 2011.

Both U Tay Za as an individual and his portfolio of companies are blacklisted by the United States government. For better or worse, this designation ends up trickling down to Htoo Group’s 30,000- odd employees and illustrates how cronyism at the highest levels becomes a system-wide problem affecting the middle and lower classes.

In fact, a comparison of the… [click here to continue to read full text]

*Originally published in Asia Sentinel by T. F. Rhoden; photo credits for image used in post appear on New Mandala. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 


Atheism in Myanmar: The Case of Census Question #7

Is there anything positive that can be attributed to the 2014 National Census in Myanmar?  Despite the outcry against ethnic misrepresentation on the census, an argument can be made that there are useful aspects for the development of Myanmar that can be found in the census.  This brief analysis will argue that religious inclusiveness may be one of these positive, if underreported, elements.

Much needed and deserved media attention has surrounded the current National Census that was conducted in Myanmar this past month.  A colorful VOA Burmese video explaining how to do the census and the reasons for it is circulating on YouTube.

Those who have ever suffered through a public service announcement on local Burmese television will recognize the increased production value and quality of this campaign around the census.  In the English-language press, The Irrawaddy has interesting articles by Yen Snaing and Lawi Weng.  Additionally, some pieces in the Los Angeles Times and The Christian Science Monitor are also worth reviewing to understand the stance taken by international media as well as overall context.

Particularly in the case of the “Rohingya” group, ethnicity and the census have gained the widest attention.  Indeed, issues of ethnicity have caught the public’s attention for the moment with most of these reports being critical on this issue.

Similar to the English-language press, the Burmese-language press has also had articles in the lead-up to the campaign and video reports on various facets of how ethnicity is represented on the actual census forms.

Matthew Gibbon’s recent write-up in New Mandala’s academic blog is a case in point.  One could be misled into thinking that the census is only about ethnicity, when, in fact, the race question is but one of forty-one questions on the census.

There are, however, some other positive elements to the current census which have not yet been reported on by any English- or Burmese-language media.  These deserve attention.

One of these issues is religion—or more specifically, the lack of religion.  What one might see as a small space opening up for atheism in Myanmar is one of these positive elements.

The word “atheist” is used here rather broadly to mean anyone who is an atheist, agnostic, antitheist, non-believer, apostate, secular humanist, or apatheist.

Despite all the tension between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar (89 and 4 percent, respectively, from pre-census estimates), one might wonder if some small space has emerged for atheism.

This is because if one looks at Question 7 on the 2014 National Census that is dedicated to religion there is actually a box that reads “without a religion”, or in Burmese, pa-tha ma shi pu mya.

The other options from one to seven are: 1) Buddhism, 2) Christianity, 3) Islam, 4) Hindu, 5) Animism, 6) other religion, and 7) without a religion.

This categorization is endlessly fascinating because the census includes not only a space for “other” but also for those who are completely “without a religion.”  National censuses in other parts of the Indo-Pacific region which are non-socialist normally provide an “other” tick box to serve as a placeholder for those who might wish to indicate themselves as being without a religion.  Why then also include a space for atheism for this census?

From a comparative perspective, another recent national census makes for an interesting case.  In the 2010 National Census of Thailand, the space for religion on Question 5 of Page 2 was left entirely blank for the census taker to fill in any way that he or she wanted.

In this sense, one could argue that the Thai census was even more progressive than the current census in Myanmar.  The Thai census was not constricted to just seven choices, but instead open to an infinity of peculiar responses.

But because the religion section was left blank on the Thai census form, it is impossible to really know about the current percentage of the non-believing population in Thailand.  Of course, the overwhelming percentage of the population in Thailand is some variant of Thai Buddhism (93.6 percent).

The one downside to the Thai census as compared to the Burmese census in this regard, however, is that any religion that would normally be considered “other than” Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hindu, or Confucianism gets lumped together with any potential self-proclaimed non-believer.  As reported in the official Thai census, if there is any difference between these oddball “others” and non-believers, it is probably not worth reporting or even commenting upon.  Indeed, this “others” category is no more than 0.07 percent of the Thai population

For those who wish to advocate for the importance of one religion or another, this may all seem like a superfluous discussion, for the bulk of those reporting one of the “major religions” speak for themselves. However, for those who are interested in the current rate of non-belief in any particular national state, the 2014 National Census in Myanmar will provide a more exact percentage on how many people are “without religion” in this state than in Thailand.

If one had to bet, the best guess would be that those who actually will tick the “without religion” option will probably fall somewhere between 1 to 2 percent of the population in Myanmar.  Despite having gone through a Burmese variant of socialism from between 1974 to 1988, this is much less than the estimated 81 percent of atheists in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.  The official tally when it comes out for Myanmar will be instructive on this point.

What is more important is that despite all the challenges in regards to ethnicity of the 2014 census in Myanmar, there are more than a few interesting insights that will surface as the data begins to be compiled.

This question of atheism as a positive element may not be immediately recognizable, mainly because when most think of religious inclusiveness for a country like Myanmar they tend to focus on the cleavages between Buddhism and Islam or Buddhism and Christianity to the detriment of those who choose to believe in none of the above.

Indeed, questions of ethnicity will continue to hound the 2014 National Census in Myanmar.  However, there are other gems of demographics like population numbers, family income, family occupation, type of material wealth, women’s reproductive health, child birth/death rates, and so on which are very much worth counting. No reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater here.

*This article originally appeared in Indo-Pacific Review on May 7th, 2014, written by T. F. Rhoden; photo credit goes to David Lazar. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence.