Traditional Burmese Boxing Knocked Out By Thai Cousin

Saw Ohn Myint, a Burmese boxer, will represent Burma at the upcoming South East Asian Games, SEA Games
Saw Ohn Myint, a Burmese boxer, will represent Burma at the upcoming South East Asian Games, SEA Games
Zaw Htet DVB
Zaw Htet DVB

For thousands of years, traditional boxing has been one of Burma"s primary national sports. But when the Southeast Asian Games are held in December, it will be conspicuously missing, as no other country fights in that style. The more internationally recognized Thai boxing, also known as Muay Thai, will be featured instead.

“I was very keen on boxing, so I had sacrificed a lot. Finally, I earned a gold belt,” says Saw Ohn Myint, a former gold belt national champion in Burmese boxing.

He says he would have loved to represent his country — officially known as Myanmar —before a home crowd at the upcoming Southeast Asian Games. But for now he’s focusing on local competitions. “I am not very keen on Muay Thai,” he says. “I don’t want to fight. I just like Burmese traditional boxing.”

Burmese boxing is nearly three times older that Thai boxing. Both sports are unarmed martial arts akin to kickboxing, but Myanmar style is fast and more violent. The match is decided, in fact, when an opponent is knocked out.

Traditionally, there were no rules, and the winner was the first to draw blood.

In an earlier attempt to promote the sport internationally, rules were introduced, together with a scoring system.

As a trainer of Burmese boxers, U Hla Soe Oo has been campaigning for the sport to be represented in the Southeast Asian Games.

“When we told the Myanmar Boxing Federation about our boxing, they said they didn’t know the style and so they couldn’t compete against us,” the trainer says. “They just want to compete in Muay Thai. Our traditional boxing isn’t well known in Southeast Asian countries.”

What’s more, the sport gets little support from the government and minimum sponsorship. Hla Soe Oo would like see traditional boxing be promoted in neighboring Thailand: “Let’s say we can open a training school in Thailand,” he says. “We can hold competitions. People can come to learn to fight in our style. This way, our boxing can become well-known. It just needs marketing.”

Dawn Nyo Lay, a famous traditional boxer who is trying to promote the sport, has set up a boxing club called “Top One” with the help of a local businessman. “We support young boxers as much as we can,” he says. “Though I am not very well off, our rich friends help our club. The club has the potential to improve in the future … I will never give up, neither will my students.”

But boxer Saw Ohn Myint says that it’s impossible to make a career in the sport, and is therefore retiring soon. “I dreamed of setting up another business,” he says. “As there is no support from the government in our country, traditional boxing isn’t popular. We also have to take care of our families.”

There are 12 Burmese boxers competing in the Southeast Asian Games this year — but they will be competing in the Thai style. They hope one day they can compete internationally in their own Burmese fighting style.

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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