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Braving the 48C Heat to Discover the First Kingdom of Burma

As recent as the first week of April 2024, there was a social media post relating to the hottest cities in the world. Myanmar has the honour of occupying six out of the total 15 positions as reported by El Dorado weather. One of these towns included Nyaung Oo, where the ancient city of Bagan is located. The temperature was 48C+. Right in the middle of summer, or the hot season as it is known locally, the strong scorching winds blew, carrying the insufferable heat wave bearing down on anyone brave enough to venture out around high noon.

After looking in on Ngapali and Inlay, we decided to journey up north to the capital of our first Kingdom, the #1 tourist attraction in Myanmar. Albeit being in the middle of summer, we decided to take advantage of the water festival (Thingyan) break and headed to Bagan.

This time, lacking time pressure due to unnecessarily long holidays, we did a road trip. There is the possibility of driving straight to Bagan from Yangon, but unless you are an energetic young person and your vehicle is equally youthful, it is definitely NOT recommended. It would take more than 10 hours, if you drive within speed limits. Even if you are up to the challenge, your automobile may not hold out against the weather. Hence we decided to take an overnight break in Nay Pyi Taw.

Here we come

From Nay Pyi Taw, its about four and half hours drive to Nyaung Oo, the town within which the old Bagan resides. After leaving the expressway at Myeik Tee Lar exit, we headed towards Bagan. Our initial fears of encountering PDF terrorists have been proved to be unfounded. The road was reasonably busy.  A couple of barbicans en route, with soldiers performing rudimentary inspection on vehicles. Halfway along that road you would pass by the sprawling town of Kyauk Pa Down. The town is famous of many of the local wares, including the famous potato crisps brand ‘Mary Cho’. The township even got an international school, believe it or not!

After that borough, we pass by many speciality restaurants, reasonably large, selling the speciality foods and regional cuisines, including locally produced alcohol made from fruits of the localised palm trees (palm coconuts or dates, perhaps). We strongly suggest you stop by to try out the stuff you have not tried during your lifetime. We did and we did not suffer any side effects, hangovers or stomach upsets.

The Accommodation

As with our usual outings, we decided to stay at Aureum Palace. We have been there two or three times prior during our visits to Bagan in the past decade. The hotel was at full occupancy during the Water Festival. Other than the weather, the place is at par with other Aureums in Inle, Ngapali or Putao. Service levels are outstanding too, although I would rate Ngapali as the best among the foursome.

Even before talking about the awes of Bagan, you would be amazed as soon as you entered the reception hall at the Aureum Bagan; more than twenty large teak columns supported the large reception foyer.  At least the trees used would have been 30 years old at least. May be in twenty years time, the atrium itself would have become a wonder of Bagan. Large flat planks of hardwood bridged over the koi pond, welcomes you into that concourse while signalling at the same time that the hotel was built without any expense spared.

The villas are also displayed a lavishly constructed style. Some of us who like to stay indoors and read might find the illumination in the chamber sadly below par.

Not forgetting the good things too; dinner by the pool, immediate BBQ upon order, while being entertained by a local band. You always have the welcoming option to go up stage and express your singing talent too.

Bagan

Every time I visited the Great Wall of Beijing, I cannot help but admire the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. How farsighted he was to ensure that future Chinese generations continue to prosper, through collection of $36 (including entrance fees, cable car and toboggan) from every visitors near or far. A similar story can be told of the Khmer King Suryavarman II of Cambodia. His foresight ensures that the current generation continue to collect $37 from every foreign visitor to Angkor Wat. King Anawyahtar of Myanmar surely falls into the same category too. The entrance fees may be small at $10, but he did look out for future generations.

For our friends from abroad, the four top pagodas and their respective fame in Bagan include

Swe See Gone – for hegemony.

Da Ma Yan Gyi – for mass (being big)

Thut Bay Nude – for height

Ananda – for detailed architecture.

Of course, there are other similarly impressive structures in the old Bagan, but if you are short on time or cannot stand the heat, these four are the encapsulation of Bagan history.

Mount Popa

If you come to Bagan, at least spare a day to visit Mount Popa, an hour drive from there, to climb up 3,000 ft high mountain cliff, have a great view of surrounding landscapes while learning about the 37 Nats, the heavenly beings who are so entertained into Myanmar culture. These heavenly beings occupying the realms between the heaven and the earth. Even for the locals, the knowledge of Nats is just elementary. For foreigners it is a topic totally alien, let alone the details of the 37 high powered spirits in esse.

The only disappointment of going to Mount Popa would be because of the fact that you have chosen the shorter route, which shaves off 20 minutes compared to the longer one. Many many years ago, some of the areas around Popa are lepers colonies. Now leprosy is close to non-existent here. Yet along the short route from Bagan to Popa, the beggars, young and old appear at the roadside in unison for more than 10 miles of the roadway. Very unpleasant perhaps, helping me remember movie, ‘Village of the Damned’. The government of the Mandalay division should seriously do something about it as this reflects poorly on the country and compromises the feeling of safety for all travellers.

When to Visit

If you really want to undergo the feeling of being in a Philip Air Fryer, April is the month of choice. Else, Bagan is a suitable place to visit any time from June till February. Rainy season does not affect Bagan much as it is in the middle of Myanmar region, where rainfall is miniscule. So what are you waiting for? At least Bagan is waiting for you now!

Revenge of the States

Just like in Star Wars Episode 3, Revenge of the Sith, where Anakin Skywalker has turned to the dark side, US lawmakers have moved forward to turn the freedom of expression to the dark side, with the passing of the legislation to ban the hugely popular social media platform of Tiktok.

On March 13, US House of Representatives (Lower House) passed a bill banning app stores and internet service providers from distributing ‘foreign – adversary – controlled’ applications. The generics may sounds vague, but the target is clearly Tiktok, the platform on which 170 million Americans spend an average of 56 minutes per day. The demographics of user group is predominantly youngsters, aged below 35, the future generation.

In least-developed country like Myanmar, Tiktok is ruled by young and not-so-young girls showing off their individual assets, dancing and bouncing the same style, through gyrating their hips, backsides and oranges, with the fat hope of becoming cele of some kind, where Tiktok will eventually pay them for doing such nonsense. They might be better off buying Aung Bar Lay lottery. The probability of getting some returns are far greater in the latter.

But the issue in the US is not only of such girls or boys cele wannabes, but also the rise of Tiktok news. Based on yearly Gallop polls conducted since 2016, the level of trust in mass media and 24 hours reporting of news such as CNN, has been the lowest this year. The viewership has turned to news in social media, including Tiktok. The most popular Tiktok news caster, News Daddy has more than 10.3 million followers, a number far greater than NY Times, Washington Post and Daily Mail of UK combined. Hence, the dangers of spread of fake news to more than half of US population, if algorithms can be somehow manipulated.

Who would have wanted to manipulated algorithms in such a way! Undeniably Facebook has become world #1 in promotion of fake news, taking down of factual content and at the same time, not paying taxes to the country where they derived their ad revenues. Just think of what’s happening in Myanmar in the past three years! Scared of a ‘what-if’ scenario of the same thing happing in the USA,  perpetuated by Tiktok through targeted algorithms, US government decided to walk the talk by advancing the idea of the platform being associated the Chinese government.

Despite evidence on the contrary and Tiktok denying any Chinese government interference, the LA and Singapore based global video sharing platform, has been subpoenaed to Congress too. Tiktok is a subsidiary of ByteDance group, headquartered in Beijing and incorporated in the tax heaven of Cayman Island. Tiktok has tried defensive manoeuvres including asking its members to lobby congressmen, highlighting that its shareholders include US venture capital and hedge funds and getting Oracle to safeguard US specific data (in hope of averting spying allegations). All efforts went into deaf ears, as politicians try to score points in the elections year and possibly, revenge of the States based upon the past treatment of US digital giants operating in China. Take note, all Google services and Facebook are still banned in China.

Fears of Tiktok behaving like Facebook are overblown. There is no evidence of spying. Nor was there political intrusion akin to fake news over Facebook. Other than bias over Gaza coverage, there is no evidence to corroborate that Tiktok algorithms are in line with Beijing. May be the youth demographics of Tiktok users simply like to stay more on the side of ‘from the river to the sea’, in tune with Beijing purported policy. Tiktok did admit to removal of Tiananmen related videos in the past, probably not to anger Beijing.

The lawmakers passed the bill 352 to 65. The so-called Foreign Aid bill proceeded to Senate (Upper House) and passed too. After President Joe Biden signed the bill in April, this law is moving like a speedy Gonzales, giving Tiktok little time for plan B. After the President signed the bill, Tiktok has to shut down US operations within nine months. It either has to become a US owned entity or a public company and cut ties with Beijing, but Chinese government prefers neither.

Tiktok shareholders would be at the top of losers list, as a direct consequence of this revenge of the States. Western consumers lose out too, depriving them of alternative platform choices. They may  also miss out on the innovations from the Far East, evolved through competition with US digital behemoths. The top beneficiary seems to be the Facebook, whose video sharing service ‘Reels’ compete directly with Tiktok. Insta, Youtube, X, Snapchat are also expected to gain at Tiktok expense, in that order.

It is impractical just to carve off US operations of Tiktok and sell separately, even if buyers like Amazon might be keen to snap up the Tiktok shop, that is gaining huge popularity as an alternative e commerce route. Listing the Tiktok as a separate entity might be a possibility, yet a company worth trillions of dollar in valuation might not be an easy float, facing current objections from Beijing.

Whatever the future lies, Tiktok will forever be written in the annals of civilisation and its case of having to shut down in the US will become a case study in freedom of expression vs silencing of competition in the disguise of being an armlet of so-called a foreign enemy.

An Inquiry on Tax

Red capital letters sitting on coins stacks write Tax before defocused background. Horizontal composition with copy space. Great use for tax reduction concepts.

We have been seeing more than our share of deaths and destruction within this beautiful country of ours, so lets spare a little time to lighten up the mood by dwelling onto the tax system and some of its stats. Spoiler alert: you be surprised!

Typical five features of a good tax system include fairness, adequacy, simplicity, transparency and administrative ease. Let’s bring all these down to earth in Myanmar. MI has spoken to IRD (Inland Revenue Department) to get ourselves updated on current issues of the day.

The good features are all here?

Fairness refers to the tax system treating all tax payers equally and consistently. People and businesses would pay their fair share of tax and income should be subject to tax only once. Yet fairness as defined by whom? Some businesses and individuals in states and regions outside of central government control end up paying some sort of protection money to EAO, rebels or NNCP terrorist groups. Some restaurants in major towns and cities are still evading the payment of 5% commercial tax, by either refusing to issue receipts or asking patrons to fort out extra for the shop having to stick stamps onto receipts.

Among the three siblings of regressive, proportion and progressive taxes, most of Myanmar taxes are not progressive in nature yet, resulting from inability to accurately assess ones income or wealth.

Tax collections are not adequate either at present. We are running budget deficits for nine out of the past fifteen years. The country is grossly short on infrastructure to supply basic services.

Simplicity is one area that Myanmar tax system can be proud of. This could be as a result of lack of advancement in the economy and the financial system. E.g., most of the taxes on transactions such as properties or cars, are simply based on the value of the property and applying a fixed percentage of tax. The value of the property is also only officially determined for tax purposes. There is also no centralised transaction register either. Fat hope for those wanting to do a valuation report of any property here.

Transparency refers to tax payers and citizens ability to learn of how the money collected from them was distributed. Tax payers being clear on exemptions, deductions, tax credits, etc. Since 2021, the transparency has somewhat done down, based on disclosure of spending and allocations by the central government. At the ground level, we also need transparency as lack of it encourages corruption across all civil services. A good example would be the change of ownership titles for farmland. Without transparency and publicity thereof on fees structure, citizens ended up having to cough up whatever amount demanded by civil servants, just for the latter to do the job they get paid for by the government.

The last of the lot, the administrative ease, refers to both the collectors and tax payers. The system itself cannot be cumbersome or expensive. At present, due to different registration requirements of various government departments, citizens, business owners and companies are given a run around having to register at different places, do to different departments, etc. There is also the issue of frequent change of tax collectors and assessors, requiring the tax payers to restart the whole process from the beginning.

Here comes interesting stats

In terms of evasion of commercial tax, the government has taken action at least 884 times in the last financial year. Fines have been imposed depending on the frequency of offence, totally 980 million Kyats. Yet, it still represented only 0.03% of the total commercial tax collections of the year.

Out of 283 branches of IRD across the country, only 4% falls under SAS (Self Assessment System). Yet collection wise, offices under SAS collected 80% of the taxes. The moral of the story seems to be to trust the tax payer instead of the tax collectors. Most countries have also done away with OAS (Officer Assessment System) too.

There are many hotlines, branches and emails to ask for details on the taxes and clarify thing, yet, disagreement of the assessment can only be via a written correspondence to the Director General of IRD.

The surprising finding on our inquiries was the fact that there has not been any reduction in tax revenues collected after 2021. Yes, there was reduction during Covid period, but not thereafter. Saved by the SAS perhaps.

Legal systems, integration issues and high level push is lacking to ensure that Myanmar has one unique id number for every individuals and entities that could be used for ALL government departments. This centralised registration system is still not in place yet.

Last but not least, the issue of Facebook getting all ad revenues out of Myanmar based companies, targeting Myanmar consumers and not paying any income tax here, is unlikely to be addressed at any time soon. Meanwhile Myanmar continues to lose out on its share of tax revenues.

Silence of the Pigs

Internet can be a magical place, but it can also be the one where things are always not what they seem. According to E-Commerce Association of Myanmar, many in the country has fallen victims to Facebook sponsored posts (advertisements) scams, where the sellers from border towns such as Myawaddy collected advance payments for (non-existence) goods, defrauding hundreds of buyers of their hard earned cash. Getting an item quite different from what is advertised is one thing, but getting scam of all your cash is hard to take and victims are caught between reporting to an establishment whose law and orders do not instil fear and an embarrassment of being a first-class example of a village idiot.

Unfortunately not every mistake is so benign and it is not news that there are scammers on the internet but you may have noticed that one scam in particular is currently everywhere globally.

A common way that it starts is with a weird text from a number that you do not recognise, e.g., Cindy… can we move lunch to five, when you are certainly not Cindy; or Rick, what time is our flight when you are not Rick and you definitely don’t have a flight booked; or hello is this the manager Joey from the flower shop; or is this Dr John, I’m Emily and is my horse recovering well! Most people would ignore messages like those but there are some kind souls who would respond right back and get sucked into a conversation and eventually, through a process popularly known as Pig Butchering, they can end up losing a lot of money.

It’s a scam with a striking name that newscasters cannot seem to get over. It’s called a Pig Butchering scam and it might sound like a gruesome name but that’s because the amount of money victims are losing is extremely large and painful. First, you feed the pig till it grow bigger and bigger before you finally kill the animal for pork and bones. It is exactly what it sounds like but the name makes a little more sense once you understand how the scam actually works in the world of cyber and counterterrorism threats.

In 2021, special agents from US covering internet scams started seeing this new scam called Pig Butchering. It just refers to raising little piglets fattening them up and butchering them later. Scammers are fattening up their victim with illusions of grandeur of wealth or love before bleeding them really dry. That is particularly vicious because imagine being a victim of this scam turning on the news and suddenly learning that the small handful people in his or her situation are the pigs. It might actually an honour to be compared to a pig and if you are thinking well, this seems like the kind of scam that’s been around for decades. That is only partially true but the way this one works is fairly
new and in the short time that it’s been around, it’s been massively successful.

Just this year it was at the centre of a huge local news story in Kansas, USA, where it brought down a financial institution. Kansas State Bank Commissioner talked about the massive cryptocurrency scam at the Heartland Tri-State Bank in Elkart; a cryptocurrency scheme that the FBI now referred to as Pig Butchering. Commissioner said the victim was Shan Hanes, the bank’s CEO. He is now facing charges of embezzling nearly $50 million, a loss that caused the bank to fail last August.

According to prosecutors, CEO got Pig Butchered. He sent his scammer the majority of bank’s holdings and the bank went under. It is extremely alarming for several reasons; among them is how banks work, because there should be at least one control or monitoring step between the awareness that the CEO gets tricked and whoops, the bank’s empty.

It’s estimated that as of 2022 this scam was taking people for a ride, more than $3 billion a year in the US alone and that’s almost certainly a massive undercount as it only includes people who reported their losses to the FBI. Global figures could be many times that amount.

Why it is easier to fall for than you might think?

Let’s start with where this merciless online scam all began. To do that, unfortunately, we do need to go back to the place that no one wants to go – the beginning of Covid. Pig
Butchering took off basically at the start of Covid because many of us were isolated and lonely, desperately looking for human contact online. This made us ripe targets. At the same time, organised crime groups from China running casinos in Southeast Asia, were in crisis as thanks to the pandemic, gamblers were not showing up. So these crime bosses turned those casinos into bases for online scam operations and from then on their managers and second fiddler scammers started identifying people and prayed on their vulnerabilities.

Let us walk through the basic steps. The first is to make contact and lure you (the target) in. In one real life example, this woman victim explain how her scammer who called himself Jimmy contacted her at a moment when she was dealing with cancer, the pandemic and the end of her marriage. First communication came as a very innocent message. She said wrong number but scammer came back saying she looked Chinese and asking if she was Chinese. She said yes. He said he had moved here just before Covid and
then Covid hit and so he was not able to go home and he was a lonely man in need of comfort. Jimmy would message her everyday. She remembered receiving these Emojis
with hearts. It was quite flattering for a middle-aged woman to meet a young man who finds her attractive. Of course that’s flattering because scammers are very good at telling their targets what they want to hear most.

One way of making contact is through those wrong number text but experts estimate that they only make up about a quarter of the initial contacts for this scam. The rest can come through sites like LinkedIn, dating apps, Instagram or Facebook places specifically designed for you to meet people that you do not know either for love a hookup. Scammers often research their target using social media where there is a lot of information about people so they can pretend to have something in common.

Another woman victim who met someone on a dating app only to discover that they shared an unexpected connection. He started asking questions about my family and my past experiences. It was a connection that felt even stronger when the scammer told her he came from the same town in China from where she was adopted. They kind of bonded
over that. That story started with him asking her questions about her life and ends with her giving him all of her money but regardless of how they start sooner or later we move on to step two turning the conversation toward money.

But even then there’s a smart twist because you will not be suddenly asked to wire money to a Nigerian prince with an obviously fake email or a lottery winning email from microsoft
or google. These are so history. In Pig Butchering, there is nodirect quest for money at all. Instead an opportunity gets presented to you. Another victim explains the moment when a guy that he met on a dating site started to reel him in. He spent at least a month, daily talking the victim in in cultivating the friendship. Initially the only talk about money was how much his new online (fictional) friend had made in crypto. After all the victim, like most of us, thought he knew how to protect himself from scams ‘you can invest with me and I’ll make you all this money’ and hence, he will not be giving out any money at all. That’s when he started saying the big ‘NO’ – you don’t give it to me, you establish your own account and I’ll guide you. That’s the cleverer hook here; you’re not sending the scammer money; they’re helping you set up and control your own account and everything seems more legitimate especially when an app is involved.

When is the last time you took a Grab taxi and think – oh I am getting into a nondescript car with someone I’ve never met. I would never do that. But wait, if I can do it from my phone, well in that case, here’s my address and particulars. Now you know where I live and that I won’t be home for the evening. We are programmed to believe that everything’s safe where there’s an app involved and the fact the investment is often in crypto can be persuasive for multiple reasons. First, who really knows how crypto works. But people have made money on crypto so it’s not unreasonable to think you might meet one of them and they could give you some tips. On top of that, you might not be super familiar with how a trading platform operates or even what one looks like.

Scammers have already created incredibly plausible looking platforms which seems to have all the details and functionality of a real one and everyone could be fooled by that. Also some scammers use legitimate apps that allow anyone to build a trading exchange. The problem is there are tools that scammers can use to simulate fake results on those apps while taking your real money.

This gave one victim false confidence in Metatrader – it looks just like any kind of normal trading interface that one would use that’s available in the Google Play Store. It’s also available in the Apple AppStore. It’s an app that has a lot of good ratings and that was one of the things that made him think that this whole operation was legitimate.

You believed that your investment was making money if you’re trading on a legitimate trading interface. You see the profits and losses over time. This is exactly what you saw if your friend told you to download an app and you saw it in the App Store with good reviews, you might assume everything on it was legitimate even before you saw Metatrader logo. Some scammers even set up additional features like two Factor authentication or customer service hotlines.

One woman victim did try her best to do due diligence on the site that she was recommended by the scammer and came away convinced that it was real. There was a legal secretary involved in another state vouching association with a law firm where she was sending her money to. She was real, the victim could verify her so it was very complex and well rehearsed operation. She spoke with a legal secretary and a law firm before sending money and that is more vetting than any of us intelligent people could have done.

At this point of the process things might look pretty good for the people
getting scammed. You’ve sent a bit of money to a legitimate looking site through an account that you control and your new friend’s trading tips seem to be working so
maybe you send a little bit more and pretty soon you might have a fair amount of money tied up on this trading platform. But when you eventually go to withdraw it, that is where we hit the final step of this process.

Remember that woman mentioned earlier whose online friend claimed that he was from the same town where she was born. She even had convinced her father to invest as well. They had seemingly made a bunch of money and then this happened. By December of last year, their accounts showed a combined balance of $1.2 million. That’s when she decided it was time to cash out that’s when the site told her before she could withdraw her money she’d have to pay a hefty tax bill of rough $380,000, That’s when she eventually realised something’s not right, it wasn’t real cryptocurrency investments after all and all her and her father’s funds had gone into the scammers pockets – all in all $390,000 stolen. The tax bill was just the ultimate attempt to squeeze them dry one last time!

This isn’t the only brutal story. One woman lost $350,000, another guy lost $300,000 and the first woman victim who fell for Jimmy sent him two and a half million, as she was dealing with terminal cancer herself. It is traumatic and it is humiliating and it took extreme courage for those people to come forward.

That is partly why experts think the $3 billion per annum figure that they have estimated is way too low because most people who’ve been scammed like them simply do not report their losses out of embarrassment. At this point you have every right to be furious with the people on the other end of all of these messages. You want to see them taken down at the very least.

Who’s behind it?

Reasonable people could also fathom that the persons on the other end of that phone (the scammers) might not be the one you should be mad at, because these post-Covid scams were being done in former casinos of South East Asia by organised crime syndicates. It turned out they are not great bosses after all, as one Indian man named Rakesh recalled. He said he was forced to work for more than 11 months without pay for a Chinese criminal gang. Rakesh said he first flew to Thailand for what he thought was an IT job. Instead he says he was tricked into crossing the border to Myanmar, where a Chinese gangster told him to work or else. He threatened to kill him. The job required Rakesh to spend 16 hours a day on social media with a fake profile targeting Americans. It would be a complete torture to be forced to spend 16 hours a day on social media unless you love it or because you are 15 years old and the algorithm has addicted you to it. A lot of these organisations are using people who’ve been human trafficked after being lured to these compounds of organised crime under false pretences. People like Rakesh are actually the victims of a scam themselves basically – they might see job ads for skilled positions as translators or IT specialist in another country. They then go through a whole application process with some going through up to four seemingly legitimate online interviews and fly to their new job, at which point they suddenly learn their new bosses have their travel and other documents confiscated and they now cannot leave.

Back in 2022 Rakesh estimated that tens of thousands of people had been tricked in this way and a more recent UN report estimated that hundreds of thousands of people have been forcibly engaged in this scheme. UN also said most victims are confined to the scam compounds and their screens are always monitored by the members of the organised crime groups. Once they are inside, they have been provided with fake profiles to try and hook people in.

Rakesh found himself acting out as a Russian girl all day every day, using the fake profile of a beautiful Russian girl. He said he needed to scam the people posing as a Salt Lake City based investor named Clara Simonov. Rakesh then flirted online with potential targets. 70 to 80% fall for fake love.

Even after scamming as many people as he possibly can, Rakesh’s boss would not let him leave the job.

The whole operation is highly organised and set up to get around the usual ways that you might detect a scam. For instance some organisations generate their own photos for the profile so that they cannot be reverse image searched via google. Employees are given detailed manuals that guide them through every step of the scam process.

They were told to target people who looked wealthy and successful. One advises even on daily activities for scammers – on the first day talk about things like your name age, occupation and hobbies then the next day, talk about your emotional experience with a message divided into two paragraphs and then on the third day, talk about your entrepreneurial experience, etc. They’re even given tips on how to break down people’s defences. Several of these manuals carefully explain how to build trust and exploit weaknesses in their so-called clients, e.g., be funny, make clients fall in love with you so deeply that they forget everything. The chilling thing is if you’re funny enough, you can make people forget a lot of things whether it’s common sense internet safeguards, lessons from previous relationships or that they’ve been accidentally learning about financial fraud and human trafficking for the last twenty minutes. And if you thinking what why don’t authorities just shut these compounds down, sometimes they themselves are in on it.

One Chinese man named Lee who was trafficked to a scam centre in Cambodia explained what happened when he did the obvious thing on his second day in captivity. When He emailed the Chinese Embassy he was advised to call the civil police but the police never came. The property management came instead. They apparently knew that he had called the police. The managers then sold him to another scamming company because he had called the police. The managers of the scam centre said they had to take care of the police with at least $4,000 and I had to pay for that too. Hence the sale!

The authorities were not going to help him, which actually makes sense when you learn that according to UN estimates Pig Butchering scams in Cambodia brings in an amount equivalent to half the country’s GDP which is worrisome because if something generates that much money for a country, you do not shut it down. You spin it off and pray the magic works a second time. The conditions in these compounds can be brutal. That trafficked man took photos of abuse of how some coworkers had been beaten. Even some Facebook videos in Myanmar showed workers being chained to beds at night and being tasered with electric rods when they failed to meet targets or misbehave the slightest.

Lee, who managed to get out of the scam centre now, works to free others. The stories of what he’s seen are warning for others and hard to watch such as a man get beaten up very badly he had injuries all over his body. Lee contends it was this man who was reportedly found hanging just hours thereafter. His phone is full of messages from Chinese citizens desperate to be set free from shackles of scam companies. There were also videos of abuses Lee said he received directly from victims inside the scam industry or found them posted in Social Media Group chats. To say they are shocking and absolutely horrifying would be complete understatement.

And what we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones from getting scammed in the future?

When you know all of this, it starts to change who exactly you are mad because suddenly the individuals on the other end of the phone do not seem to be having fun sending out messages to scam you. From now on whenever you get a sexy text from a new stranger, good luck not thinking is this a man who was just beaten in a border work camp in autonomous and EAO controlled regions in Myanmar.

We cannot say that every scammer is someone who was kidnapped, tortured and forced to swindle but even if not everyone who is doing this is trapped or coerced, the very fact that many fall into this category, is still a huge problem. What we can do here when it comes to those imprisoned in these compounds is going to take collaboration between international law enforcement agencies. So, unless you are the head of Interpol there’s not much you personally can do now in wherever country you are in.

Platforms like Facebook should be doing way more to prevent the creation of fake accounts that target people because it’s happening on their watch. Scammers are using
sponsored posts. Perhaps the most effective way to stop this from happening is to make it less lucrative by having fewer people fall for it. Awareness of this scam is key. This is one of those rare cases where raising awareness is in itself genuinely useful. Because hopefully you’ve read here in MI today, this could happen to someone you know. This hasn’t just sucked in old people or those who aren’t tech savvy. It managed to reel in a bank CEO in the first world country of USA. Everyone has an image of the type of person who susceptible to getting scammed in their heads but unless that image is in a mirror standing right in front of you, you might be wrong.

Thus, as a general rule whenever a stranger online says either I love you or recommends crypto within a month of talking to you, worry honestly even if they do not turn out to be scammers. Those are pretty good red flags to be looking for. It’s worth telling your friends and family about Pig Butchering too. If you know someone who’s been scammed like this, try to be kind. It is just human to want companionship and it’s actually a nice quality to be trusting of people. It sucks that the internet which should be a way to alleviate loneliness can be turned into a tool to exploit it. Maybe if we all look out for one another, we can ensure that the worst mistake anyone ever makes on the Internet might just be inadvertently buying an excellent Christmas tree for something totally different upon arrival. I am quite sure you have all experienced that in life, just like myself.

A Change We are All Hoping For?

Government is preparing for February 01. January 31st is the last day of the term for emergency powers for SAC and the market has been awash with news that an interim government would be the possible new structure as well as the split between military and civilian administration.

The push came as a result of below par performances in both military and governance endeavours by SAC. Even the ardent supporters of myanmar military are exasperated by incessant news of Tatmataw losing ground to rebel, EAO and terrorist forces in border areas, surrenders without fighting and lack of effective strategies to rid the country of such destructive forces. Worse of all, lack of regular communication from the very top to the general public makes it close to impossible for people to develop confidence in the military and is forcing people to read and sometimes rely upon fake news sources and agencies.

In preparing for the upcoming change, SAC is setting up a structure similar to the one Myanmar had during the time of president Thein Sein. A president or head of state, surrounded by powerful president office ministers. We used to have six president office ministers during that administration.

On January 8, SAC appointed three ministers to similar positions, as follows:

  • Ko Ko Hlaing to Ministry 1 at office of Chairman of SAC.
  • Aung Naing Oo to Ministry 2
  • Admiral Moe Aung to Ministry 4

The rest of the positions remain vacant at time of writing. With the shift of Navy Chief to office of Chairman, Myanmar Navy got a new Chief, promoting navy Chief of Staff Zwe Win Myint, to become the Rear Admiral of the Myanmar Navy.

Whether the SG Min Aung Hliang takes the military #1 or civilian head of state position is a matter for speculation, but what Myanmar needs now is a leader who is decisive, think long term, brave and development oriented on a global scale. Unfortunately, based on the past three years of performance, the top tier of leadership may not be up to the task, based on the existing composition of leaders.

With majority of first and second tiers of government leaders more focus on appeasing SG, doing the bare minimum, carrying favours with their superiors and hanging onto their seats of powers, it would be a while before Myanmar can get back to the growth rates it deserved similar to the years between 2012 – 2016. People are concerned that the person of choice by SG would be a tad too similar to him in terms of management style that it would not allow Myanmar to break out of this economic stagnation and infamous epitaph in Myanma Tatmataw.

We are already the poorest country in South East Asia since 2017. We missed so many boats to bring us across the boundary of continuous economic growth. Failings of democracy at its worst exposed, selecting bad and fraudulent leaders like Su Kyi, ending up in military dictatorship, etc. Socrates has been right all along: “Voting in an election is a skill, not a random intuition. And like any skill, it needs to be taught systematically to people. Letting the citizenry vote without an education is as irresponsible as putting them in charge of a trireme sailing to Samos in a storm.”

3,000 Tons of Honey for Export

Honey in Myanmar, is produced in hilly and plain land areas during the cold season. This year, the country is set to ship over 3,000 tons of honey to foreign countries, said the Apiculture Division under the Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Department.

Myanmar, rich in forest resources, has the potential to produce organic honey. The country annually produces around 2,000 tons of honey for local consumption and exports about 4,000 tons. Plans are underway to export over 3,000 tons of honey this year. The departments in 24 townships across eight regions and states, along with private bee farmers, contribute to the yearly honey production. The department supervises 1.5 million acres of crops for bees to pollinate.

“In the beekeeping industry, the major crops are edible oil corps for agriculture. These include winter crops such as pulses, beans, corn, sesame, and sunflower. Bee-mediated pollination is crucial for increasing sunflower seed yield, with bees being the best among insects. Observing bees near sunflower fields indicates high production rates. We have already exported nearly 2,000 tons of honey this year, and with winter crops available until March, we anticipate obtaining winter honey. The department is pleased to see the high yield through bee pollination,” said Kyaw Kyaw Oo, in charge of Apiculture Division of Yangon.

Foreign countries regularly purchase Myanmar’s honey, and the expansion of beekeeping businesses can create opportunities to boost export volumes. Sunflower and jujube honey are preferred by foreign countries.

The high production rates of the private sector and modern beekeeping techniques guarantee export volumes and aim to improve the socioeconomic status of bee farmers. Beekeeping businesses primarily operate in Pyawbwe and hilly regions for commercial purposes. Enzymes convert complex sugar into simple sugar, and the flavor and texture vary depending on the flowers. China stands as the main purchaser of Myanmar’s honey.

The beekeeping business in Myanmar started in 1979 and began exporting in 1985. Myanmar mainly delivers honey to Japan, China, Korea, Singapore, and Thailand. Sunflower honey, jujube honey, and niger honey are the most popular products, with sunflower honey leading the market. China is the largest honey-producing country globally. Viet Nam, Myanmar, and Thailand are the biggest producers and exporters of honey among ASEAN countries. Myanmar is making efforts to increase honey production rate.

Waving into Thin Air

If the December 2023 figures of 700 foreign visitors to Inle (pronounced: Inn Lay) are anything to go by, it would be a case study of a major tourist attraction with ‘perpetual recuperation mode’.

Recalling the heydays during 2013 to 2016 periods, when boatmen had difficulties finding slips for their motorised sampans, said Aung Lin, one of the few remaining boatmen, playing their trade transporting visitors around the real Venice of Asia. Now that many of them have either given up or been toiling and praying for their daily continuance, after getting bruised for four consecutive years due to the double jeopardy of Covid and politics.

Gone were the days when thousands of domestic and foreign visitors descended upon Inn Lay Lake, to enjoy the uniqueness of nature, putting this vast lake up on top of an enormous plateau. People have to queue just to get onto the sampans. Jetties were precious assets, where tourists waited for their turns to get onboard. The expansive lake is bustling with activities, from feeding of the sea gulls, admiring fishermen on skiffs, stepping on floating strips of islets used for growing tomatoes, visiting many unique attractions to simply waving each other from mechanised sampans.

MI went to Inn Lay in the middle of January to check out the reality of the circumstances. Alas, the flight was full for both legs travelling from Yangon. A group of Korean tourists were spotted on the same flight with us. Sadly, on our boat ride to the hotel, during our three nights stay or on tours of the attractions, we ended up ‘Waving into Thin Air’, crisp and freezing, in this desolate beauty of nature, disheartened and dispirited by ineluctable causes, perforce.

As Confucius once said, ‘We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope’. The glimmer of hope arise just like a phoenix arising from the ashes of its previous life, starting with the resort that we stayed in. Only with a couple or so of villas occupied during our mini break, Villa Inle Boutique Resort is keeping its operational costs to a minimum by growing its own organic vegetables and operating an small poultry farm producing organic eggs. An ultimate combination of freshness and nature perhaps. MI has spoken to a few other hoteliers around the lake; they also have upcoming batches of visitors from abroad, to add whatever little vibrancy they could to the destination. We also spoke to car leasing operators. All have downsized their operations and possessions for their continued survival. One such operator, Thura, has already sold off two of his vehicles and is now operating with just one car. He said, he did not have a choice and knew no other way of earning a living now.

Adding to their despair is the deficient infrastructure, poor law and order and present high security environment. Electricity supply has always been a shortcoming in Myanmar, but the situation is made worse by NNCP terrorist attacks on electrical infrastructure and government despondency to implement any major infra projects during and after Covid, till now. This is adding woes to the hotels as the first question most domestic tourists normally ask would be ‘Would there be 24 hour electrical supply during my stay?’. Even boutique hotels such as Ville Inle, which charges around $100 a night, the cost of running a generator to affect uninterrupted power supply would set back by more than per night revenues from a couple of rooms. More so for larger hotels. With significantly reduced number of visitors during this peak season, this is a promise that hotels simply cannot fulfill.

Recent shortages in fuel supply has all the hotels and other businesses scrambling to get limited gas supply at exorbitant prices, exacerbating operational losses for all, wanting to put on a better show during this holiday season.

Political changes and anti-government activities have made the law and order situation worse too. Even crooked villagers became more daring, attempting a variety of methods to extort money out of good businesses operating in and around Inn Lay.

The security situation all across the country is demanding the creation of barbicans and barricades at multiple junctions around Inn Lay and this is forcing visitors and general public to stay home after sunset. A stark contrast to lively night scenes as late as five years ago.

The Accommodation

Ville Inle started its operations at the end of 2011, just to ride the tsunami of visitors influx right after opening up of Myanmar. The 27 villa hotel on a 27 acre land was quickly filled up, never filling to achieve 90% occupancy during the yearly holiday seasons. Even though it is one of the more expensive hotel in Inle, it always keeps its place in tripadvior ranking among the top ten. Ranking aside, it is the only hotel in Inle with a ‘Gold Life’ status, one of the highest honours given in the hotel industry.

The suites are charming and immaculate, albeit slightly slippery well-polished floors, and furnishing are unique and picturesque. Every villa faces the lake with a sizeable verandah, allowing guests to wake up to the peace and quietness of nature in the early morning and sip a cup of tea while enjoying the sunset in the afternoon.

The vast compound allows low density of residents to enjoy modern comforts under a canopy of teak trees (~7,000 in total). From the roof to the flooring, the use of abundant local materials makes the stay more special, with the back to the nature feeling in this natural wonder on earth.

The service and the food were flawless too. The facilities are just perfect, from immediate outflow of hot water, to the right water pressure to finally cleanliness at par with high end hotels of the developed world.

Can Inle survive?

Just like in war, speed is essential to survival. Speed of action, strategy and successful implantation. The difficulty here is that it does not depend on individual attempts, but on teamwork that involved government (ministries), businesses, media and private individuals from here and abroad, pushing the wheels of improvements into motion.

Government help is needed in infrastructure (especially electricity), security, nationwide promotions and convincing people to support local attractions. Businesses must also find innovative ways of promotions, survival and alternative income generating activities. Media assistance is most needed to reflect the truth about Myanmar and combat fake news that infected the minds of international visitors and prevented tourist arrivals en mess. Visitors from home and abroad must also adjust their expectations and increase their support for the local economy of Inle through spending on handicraft and tours and possibly enjoying longer vacations.

Without such combined efforts, the laggard attraction will continue to remain in doldrums for many years to come and may end up being in a slow death towards becoming a desert of dejection and despair, doomed due to despondency from all stakeholders concerned.

Peculiar Change of Hands

The reshuffling at end of the SAC term on January 31, 2024 includes one unique change of baton, from the hands of the retiring Thein Soe, Chairman of Union Elections Commission (UEC) to Ko Ko, the new Chairman.

Many speculated to the possible reasons behind the change, even though the the announcement stated that the retirement was on the grounds of the former health conditions.

In the recent meetings with political parties, the whole event went amicably, until the end. Once the SG leave the meeting, there was a haphazard chasing by leaders of political parties, to hand over (private) letters to him. SG was bombarded with so many envelopes and he gave up accepting and just hand them straight over to the assistant following close behind him. We wonder why none of the leaders from political parties has the courage to stand up and talk, during the meeting. Imagine letting them govern the country, in light of apparent cowardice just to simply say what is right in front of everyone.

The retirement may also has something to do with having to loosen up criteria for political party registration especially on the fees, members and number of representative offices needed across the country. It also included lowering the percentage participation from the current 50% needed, to qualify as a legitimate election in a township. Much of the criteria has since been relaxed.

Just like in financial services sector, would Myanmar NOT be better served by 4-5 strong banks, instead of 40 – 50 minuscule community and speciality banks, that would instil no depositors’ confidence what soever? Having many parties and lowering registration requirements would just lead to any tom dick and harry forming political parties, just to receive freebies from governments without fielding any qualified candidates to serve the country.

Impact of Law and Order on Economic Development

Adam Smith’s was right and wrong at the same time. He was right because his four factors of production needed for economic growth hit the nail right on the head, leaving the path for the study of economics to help the nations develop. Yet, he was wrong because he left the most important part of the equation; he failed to mention the key among those factors – adherence to the rule of law and protection of property rights and contractual rights by a country’s government so that markets can work effectively and efficiently.

That’s what has differentiated Myanmar from our compatriots around the neighbourhood. Other than China, India and Indonesia, Myanmar has the biggest land mass. The quantity of labor is fairly large, with a sizeable youth and working population. The quality of labor is not worse off than our neighbouring countries, evidenced by many Myanmar youth contributing towards economic development of our neighbours. Capital is obviously deficient. Efforts to promote the FDI are probably hampered by, law and order and enforcement issues again. As one ex-world bank’s chief economist put, simple two words: political stability. That’s what is needed in Myanmar right now to resume economic development. Entrepreneurship is not lacking either, especially during the crisis times – seeing from how unscrupulous businessmen collected and stored incendiary fuel during the recent shortage and sold it back later at exorbitant prices to those in dire needs.

A recent study in the US highlighted the correlation between higher current crime rates and lower job growth rates in the future, inferring that the higher crime rates (because of poor law enforcement and order) reduces investments into the region or city and hence create little future job growth or prosperity. As law and order improves in a country, its citizens and businesses have greater confidence that they can enjoy the benefits of their investment in physical and human capital; that increased incentive to invest in physical and human capital leads to more jobs and income for the broader citizenry, resulting in less poverty.

The study also found that cities that had higher current violent crime rates experienced lower job growth rates in the future, and higher poverty rates in the future. This leads to the following policy recommendation for political leaders in various cities and states around the USA: Focus on ensuring respect for private property rights, effective police forces, prosecutors willing to enforce the rule of law, and fair courts. This will enhance the economic prosperity of your citizens and diminish poverty in your region.

We can also study our regional countries, e.g., China, Vietnam, etc. Some sceptics may even term their law and order situation as Orwellian, but look at their economic growth rates! China GDP growth rate averages 9.5% in the past 40 years, unheard of in the history of this known world. Vietnam was a war torn country in the early 80s. Look at where they are now. Unlike colonial powers who achieved economic development through colonisation e.g., getting raw materials cheap or FOC, selling back the finished goods at higher prices and monopolising their colonies, the two former countries achieved admirable growth without invading others. Perhaps law and order play a part too?

Adam Smith, to his credit, did mentioned in “The Wealth of Nations” in a related context: “Commerce and manufactures can seldom flourish long in any state which does not enjoy a regular administration of justice, in which the people do not feel themselves secure in the possession of their property.”

By establishing law and order (including enforcement), government provides the minimal degree of predictability necessary for all social interaction, including economic activity. By defining the rules of property and engagements, government protects the incentives individuals have to create, produce, and accumulate wealth. In addition, the rule of law in the commercial sector promotes economic stability and growth, encourages investors to make investments, creates jobs, increases the standard of living, and promotes prosperity.

Here comes Myanmar!

Before talking about law and order, it would be wise to make the usual disclaimers first. The empirical evidences mentioned hereto are experienced by the writer and people whom he knows.  The sample may not necessarily be reflective of the population, as there would always be skewness and exceptions. The opinions expressed are purely that of the writer, with the sole aim of enhancing law and order of this country.

If you consider the areas are in need of law and order right now, it seems like a mission impossible for the government and military. As the proverb says “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” If you are a bit on the Confucian orientation, “When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps”  and “Faced with what is right, to leave it undone shows a lack of courage.”

The recent criminal convictions of Soe Htut, Moe Myint Tun and Yan Naung Soe highlighted how high the corruption, abuses of power, and absence of law and order situation went within the Myanmar government. Soe Htut himself was the tsar of  law enforcement and Moe Myint Tun was probably third in line for the top job. The only silver lining coming out from this has been the fact that senior leadership is not afraid to punish those found guilty and the slight upgrade of Myanmar image abroad.

The first place in serious need of law and order are autonomous regions. Unlike autonomous regions of other countries, such as India or China, the law enforcement in Myanmar autonomous regions do not involve the central government. These regions have their own police and their own Army. It would not have been possible in any other country on earth. The current situation happening in the border regions are a direct consequence of that. Sooner or later, they have to be disarmed or brought under the control of the central government. Else, the history will repeat itself.

The second are the EAOs. They sprout everywhere near the border regions. As long as you have money to buy a thousand rifles and pay a hundred or so followers, hooray! With an ethnic sounding name, you are now the leader of your own EAO! That’s how easy it is. The government and the military must be strong to rid of them or disarm them as these areas are devoid of law and order, run like wild wild west, ruled by guns.

And the third relates to terrorism, perpetrated by NNCP terrorists. They affect law and order situation even in major cities. Citizens and residents bereft of timely and reliable information, resort to relying on fake news and malformation from them ended up living a life under constant fear of becoming a victim or being caught in a cross fire. Most of these terrorists are now living in border areas, supported by EAOs and autonomous governments. Many of them have been captured and convicted, and an extra strong arm is still needed to continue anti terror campaigns to bring  those, who killed many innocents and destroyed countess businesses and infrastructure, to justice.

The fourth relates to pardons. Myanmar leaders want to look good through committing good deeds. One of the misguided deeds done though successive leadership has been government pardons for criminals. We have had pardons on New Year day, Independence day, Union day, Armed Forces day, Myanmar New Year day, Labor Day, Thadingyut full moon day, National day, etc. If this rate continues, we have no one left in prisons. The process itself is shrouded with mystery. Lack of transparency encourages corrupt practices.  A minimal requirement, other than good behaviour, should be established e.g., serving at least half of the term. Imagine the recently trio mentioned above, just get pardons next year. The whole world would laugh at our law enforcement situation in Myanmar.

The fifth relates to commercial cases and civil suits. Ask anyone who has experienced being in one. They will caution you to get yourself loaded with money first. We are in serious need of a Commercial Affairs Department. Many of the employees who has committed crimes against their employers run away and commit the same crimes again elsewhere, without ever getting caught. Warrants are issued, but the rate of capture of those with outstanding warrants are in low single digits. The writer’s related entity has two employees who has stolen thousands of $ from the Company but still on the run after many years. May be the police did nothing to track them down or may be the Company has to hire its own bounty hunters! This lack of arrests or enforcements dared the current and prospective criminal employees to be so brazen about their wrong doings that the youth may end up thinking this as an acceptable behaviour – to cheat and steal from their employers.

The last but not least, relates to judicial system. The writer has been in around ten court cases, both civil and criminal and there have not been a case, where a payment to a judge was not necessitated brokered by the lawyer. Payment initially to advocate a favourable decision and another after making the final judgement. The judicial system has gone so bad that even the lawyers are now taken money from both sides of the fence. The writer has even encountered a lawyer who refused to return the money borrowed from him and threatened him to do whatever he wanted, saying the famous ‘Gone with the Wind’ phrase: Franky honey, I don’t give a dam…!

Myanmar AG (Attorney General) said in one meeting in early this year: “There are sufficient laws in Myanmar already. It is the application and enforcement of the laws that needs to be addressed”. The writer could not agree more. As long as this lack of law enforcement and punishment continues, Myanmar will retain its famous title of being the poorest country South East Asia for many years to come! Now that’s food for thought.

Information Overload and its Economic Impact

Information overload, according to wiki, is the difficulty in understanding an issue and effectively making decisions when one has too much information about that issue, and is generally associated with the excessive quantity of daily information. Information overload reduces our capacity to function effectively, which can lead to poor decisions in both work and life as well as the inability to make decisions, which is sometimes referred to as analysis paralysis, or paralysis by analysis. When the situation persists, burnout is a common result.

Causes of Overload

There are typically three types of ‘Infobesity’:

  1. Task related obesity: otherwise known as ‘work overload’.
  2. Message obesity: resulting from massive amount of incoming communication (email, viber, telegram, WhatsApp, Messenger, and their respective groupings in particular).
  3. Media obesity: media messages across many outlets, including those from outlaw media outlets (sources of mis information).

There are nearly as many causes of information overload as there are bits of information available to us. The most common reasons behind modern information overload include:

  • Huge volumes of new information being constantly created (imagine millions of wannabe celes)
  • Pressure to create and compete in information provision – leading to a quantity over quality effect (consider many Myanmar ladies dancing the same way to show off their “assets” in TikTok)
  • The simplicity of creating, duplicating and sharing of information online (nowadays you don’t even need a computer anymore)
  • The exponential increase in channels to receive information by; radio, television, print media, websites, e-mail, mobile telephony, RSS feeds, etc. (just think of fake news on Myanmar coming out of Chiang Mai alone)
  • The increasing weight of historical data available to us (hence, chatGPT!)
  • High volumes of conflicting, contradictory and plain old inaccurate information (more conspiracy theories than ever on social media these days)
  • No simple methodologies for quickly processing, comparing and evaluating information sources (no efficient way to identify fake news in this world yet)
  • A lack of clear structure in groups of information and poor clues as to the relationships between those groups (anonymity promotes creating of propaganda groups void of accountability and responsibility)

Technically speaking, “infoglut” occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity. Human decision makers have fairly limited cognitive processing capacity. Consequently, when information overload occurs, it is likely that a reduction in decision quality will occur.

Effects of Overload

We are so primed and conditioned to consume information, that we often engage in behaviours that trigger information overload without even realising it.

Examples of this can include habitually scrolling through social media or instant messages on your phone while at work or attempting to focus on one task, having multiple screen tabs open at the same time and shifting between them and juggling multiple tasks simultaneously while splitting your attention between them.

Performance wise, some symptoms of information overload are: inefficient work, confusion, delay in making decisions, lack of critical evaluation of information, loss of control over information, refusal to receive communication, lack of general perspective, greater tolerance for error, anxiety, stress, etc. ‘Infoxification’ has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone, cortisol, as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking. May be many of Myanmar citizens may be guilty of that too, believing in fake news and consequently feeling scared to death and some even refusing to come out of their houses.

The constant noise created by cognitive overload has a collective effect on our minds, developing both anxiety and confusion. The perpetual tension and restlessness can rise, affecting our emotional well-being, which can lead to many psychological discomforts such as mood swings, irritability, and depression.

This can be incredibly overwhelming, and if not managed, make your whole new life much less enjoyable. When our brains are overloaded with too much data from the outside world, we can struggle to absorb, process, and make sense of it — hampering our ability to make smart decisions and perform at our best. Take an example of many holiday makers refusing to go to Ngapali during this season, despite being such a safe place to rest and relax.

While it might sound innocuous enough, the long-term effects of information overload are serious. Some of the negative effects of experiencing information overload include:

Textual overload – the eventual outcome of receiving more textual data and information than you can process, leading to feelings of confusion, frustration and exhaustion. I am sure all of us can recall such recent experiences.

Outcome overload – the effect of information overload on the outcome of your tasks. Too much information can leave you fatigued and slow down your workflows, hindering your productivity and leaving work vulnerable to errors, omissions and inaccuracies. Envision the news or lack of, on clashes on Northern Shan State, for decision makers.

Analysis paralysis – being overwhelmed with too much data makes you prone to overthink and over analyse every potential option and its outcome, creating more confusion and uncertainty and leaving you unable to progress or move forward with a final decision. Many stay at home wives are guilty of that, wanting their husbands to be henpecked and forcing them to stay put at home.

Over time, repeated exposure to information overload can impact a person’s physical and mental wellbeing, commonly leading to feelings of disillusionment and persistent confusion while working or conducting research. Fatigue, mental exhaustion and burnout can also occur more quickly when we’re operating in a constant state of information overload.

If you consider the social media and digital platforms, our clicks and engagement with the content presented to us also informs their algorithms what kind of content we most enjoy and interact with. Thereafter, we are fed incessantly all the related contents, regardless of whatever impact these feeds might have on the viewers/users. More ad $ for the platforms, more Infoxification for us. In this information age, where content can be created and curated seamlessly for the purpose of views, this can quickly become hazardous, increasing our chances of viewing and engaging with fake news and misinformation.

The more fatigued we become from information overload, the more likely we are to only engage with surface-level social media content (whether for work or life), which can be fake, inaccurate or even irrelevant. Not only can this negatively impact our work and our professional relationships,  but it can also leave us vulnerable to consuming potentially harmful content that could subliminally influence our beliefs and actions. We have in Myanmar, so many cases of relatives and close friends become brusque and stand-offish to each other, after being convinced by the misinformation on social media or fake news spread by illegal digital media outlets.

Prevailing over Overload

Suffering from Infobesity is not something we ever feel used to, no matter how connected we are to our phones, the internet, apps and so on. The long-time effects and consequences are simply not worth it.

What can we do as modern humans? Unplug entirely? That’s not a viable option for 99% of us, but there are a few things we can do to mitigate the effects of Infoglut and protect our precious attention, focus, creativity and minds.

Avoid juggling multiple tasks – multitasking is often touted as a skill worth bragging about but in reality, it’s not good for our mental health or productivity. Try to eliminate multitasking or, if that’s impossible, try to limit it to no more than two tasks at a time.

Use tech and tools to manage data – dealing with inordinate volumes of data is exhausting for a person. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, look into AI and other digital tools that can process large data volumes in seconds to do the mental heavy lifting for you. Generative AI can be a great tool for speeding up research, summarising and collecting and presenting information in a digestible way.

Implement attention management strategies – simplify and segment your roles and responsibilities where possible. Prioritising urgent tasks while delegating less urgent ones, or postponing them, can free up your time and your focus. Breaking down your tasks into smaller steps to complete can also make them more easily manageable, reducing the likelihood of information overload.

Take breaks – if you suddenly feel overwhelmed, tired, frustrated or confused, take a break from your screen. Get up and stretch your legs, make a cup of coffee or tea or take some deep breaths. It’s impossible to avoid cognitive overload completely, so taking breaks and disconnecting at certain times is an important coping strategy that can relieve stress and boost productivity.

In terms of what is happening and being specific to Myanmar, we can summarise five short ways to deal with news/information overload:

  1. Be choosy about choosing: Choose the right news channel, to would represent true news or a channel that does not have a history of representing fake news. Take note that even mainstream media failed to produce balance news most of the times.
  2. Identify three or five channels/sources to follow. When it comes to news gathering, it is no longer the more the merrier.
  3. Understand the importance of each story; is it propaganda? Is it for spreading hatred towards a particular group? Is it to induce sympathy and subsequent donations? Be sure or at least make an educated guess about its motives.
  4. Put a time limit on information gathering. The world would not end tomorrow and no one is going to give you a Pulitzer or a Nobel for getting the perfect ten.
  5. Schedule your information viewing activities. No point looking at fb, telegram, whatsapps or messenger, every five minutes. The sky is not going to collapse during your absence from screen time.

It’s time to make a choice: either you prevail or let the Information and accompanying falsehood overload us to ruin us all! As Confucius said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated”.

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