Friday, February 28, 2014

Leaving Lady Thailand for Myanmar

It's 6:04 AM. It's a Saturday, and I'm wide awake. Just like last Sunday when I couldn't sleep out of nervousness over the interview I had scheduled for that day and gnawing concerns over my future, I awake this morning before the sun, knowing that despite the early hour, there's no way my brain is going to slow down enough to let me get back to bed. Today, however happiness has replaced fear. Excitement has replaced nervousness. Today, the planning of dozens of things I need to do have replaced the mental burden of that one single interview.

See, I got the job.

Sometime in just a few days, probably Tuesday, I'm boarding a plane for the short flight from Bangkok to Rangoon, Burma. There I'll begin a new job in a new city and new country. It may even be in a new century, or, an old one at that.

It looks to be a great job. About a 30% increase in pay over what I was making here in Thailand. The company takes care of all the costs of visa runs, which are frequent and necessary for foreign workers in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (the new name for what we used to call Burma). They will get me set up in an apartment, paying all the deposits and the 6-months-advance-rent which is standard over there. 22 teaching hours a week, and I'll be teaching mostly adults. They also have a true professional development program, and I can learn to teach IELTS (sp?) and business English. What's there not to like about this opportunity?

The answer to that question may be the location, Yangon, Burma. Not too long ago, I was assigned to write some short articles about the various capital cities of ASEAN, so I did a little research on Yangon (the new name for what we used to call Rangoon), and found out some interesting facts. Residential internet access is almost unheard of, and where it exists chugs along at the speed of a 2800 kBaud dial up connection. Blackouts are frequent, especially during the hot season which is right around the corner. There is a general lack of infrastructure. Elevators are rare. The food is suspect. Why would I want to go there?

A friend on a Thailand expat forum, learning that I was leaving glorious Thailand

for it's backwards neighbor, observed that all I needed was a solid Thai lady to settle me down and I'd never want to leave. If Bangkok were a lady, she'd be a nice, older lady who is exotic, yet sedate. Sophisticated, but seemingly always trying to prove she's moved past the village roots of her ancestors. She frequently wears too much make up and she definitely spends too much time on her iPhone. Although beautiful, it's a beauty not born from anything cultivated on the inside; it's superficial.

If Yangon were a lady, albeit I haven't been there yet, I suspect she's be like that insane girl you dated in your 20's. The one who was wild, did crazy things that made no sense, but was utterly fascinating and exciting. Sure, she is unpredictable, frustrating and hard to make sense of, but her beauty, without makeup, or maybe really weird makeup, came from her soul, one yet to be corrupted by a modicum of prosperity and the seductive influences of western consumer culture.

In more real terms, Myanmar is a land of tremendous opportunity. Up until just a few years ago, the nation was very isolated, despite it's strategic location sharing borders with Thailand, India and China. The country was pretty much closed to outsiders. As they go through a transition to becoming one of the family of nations again, I suspect I will witness a place with a frontier feeling to it. I mentioned that I'll be moving to a new, old century. Burma is just now trying to join the 21st century. I want to see that happen.

Maybe when I came back to Southeast Asia a year ago, I was trying to recapture the experience I had twenty years ago in Indonesia, the greatest adventure of my life. You can't go back in time, but Bangkok today has very little in common with what I remembered from Yogyakarta and Jakarta 20+ years ago. Bangkok is too much like a western city to satisfy that yearning for novelty which motivated me to come here in the first place. It doesn't feel like I'm having a Southeast Asian experience here.

I think I'll find more of that in Myanmar. I can't recapture my youth, but if I'm going to pick a 'lady' to live with, I think I want that crazy, unpredictable, weird chick who, for all her flaws, makes me feel alive. 

Ah, the sun is up.  Back to cleaning and packing. 


  1. Your post sounds so excited and full of promise. I am so happy for you and can hardly wait to hear all about Myanmar (will probably always be Burma to me).

  2. Thank you again for your articulate insight into your world. The fb post gave no sense of your journey, but this post made me say 'ah....I see'. It's loads of fun to follow your adventures here, 'Gil' Thank you for sharing.

  3. You will have to learn to live and love where you are, and not expect it to be like any other place. Slow or non existant internet. It can be lived with. Find a source and useit when you can. I guess we will have to learn not to worry if we don't hear from you, or see a blog post very often. Remember that old fashioned format called letter writing, and journal keeping? It might be good for you to start a daily paper diary.

    We too will be learning new things in our new life. Going to different parts of the country and finding things may not be as big a challenge as liing in Burma, bu it will be a challenge. I feel a little like a pioneer too.

    is it pronounced My - an- mar?

    Good luck, and try to email as soon as you can.

    1. I usually hear it pronounced 'Mee-an-mah'. My understanding is that the internet at the school is pretty good, and they're okay with a certain amount of personal use.

      As for my videos, instead of 4 or 5 minute videos once a week or so, I'm going to take more time with each one. Put more time into making them compelling, technically perfect and longer. It may take me a month to make a video, and maybe I won't be posting them until my regular jaunt back to Bangkok for visa runs.

  4. One thing you must do is experience a Myanmar train. Horrendous but great adventure I'm told. To live in such a country is an exciting/interesting experience. I'm sure you'll love it.

    Congratulations on getting the job and do take care. It can be a freaky country ... still politically unsettled with weird rules. Also very beautiful.


  5. Congratulations! I thank God for answered prayer! Enjoy your new home/place of employment. Blessings, Lynn

  6. I have enjoyed your Thai time very much. I am looking forward to your new country & new experiences there. Hopeful that you can get an internet connection at least weekly.

  7. Congrats on the job and exciting new opportunity! I look forward to the continued video and/or photo blogs; the great writing and stories -- even if not as frequent if the internet access dictates so. All the best to you in the transition and settling in - John (Seattle)

  8. I appreciate this blog to share knowledge about this important topic. Here I found different segments and now I am going to use these new tips with new enthusiasm.


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