Sunday, March 16, 2014

Come Together Cockroaches, Curtains and Furniture!

It's the weekend, and I've been grateful for the chance to relax and catch my breath. I've been riding non-stop whirlwind of stuff to do, places to see and adjustments to make since I boarded that flight out of Bangkok ten days ago today. With my first couple days of 'me-time' in a while, but also with a home that still needs a lot of work, I took my time yesterday with just one task in mind: get curtains
May seem like a simple enough task, right? Just pop down to the nearest department store and buy some window treatments and hardware. Not so much here in Yangon. Although there are a few department stores, they don't sell curtains. Neither do any of the local small shops, and as I mentioned previously, I am living in the heart of one of the market districts. My real estate agent told me that I would have to design them and have them custom made. Oh. Interesting. Sounded like fun too.

So, I sat down with pen and paper after visually estimating the sizes of my windows, drew some rectangles with an inset blow up of a channel at the top for the curtain rod and designed my curtains. Not being in the States, of course I wrote out my desired dimensions in centimeters. Out in the market, I had seen several fabric stores, so off I went. I had to visit three of four places before I found what I was looking for. See, the fabric stores only carried very fine textiles intended for use in making dresses and the like. Expensive stuff. Finally, I found a shop, err, well, it was a lean-to with a corrugated tin roof so low I couldn't stand up in it, jammed full of more everyday fabrics along an alleyway in Hladen market. 

My diagrams needed work. Despite using metric measurements for distances, volumes and weights, cloth it seems is still sold by the yard and fractions thereof. My 100cm long curtains were now 1 1/4th yards. It took a lot of scribbling and math in my head, but I finally walked out with 5 square yards of modest fabric for making my curtains. At 7500 Kyats ($8), I'm sure I was overcharged, but after looking around all morning, I was in no mood to haggle. 

Next step: the tailor.
There's a tailor on the ground floor of my apartment building, so naturally, that was my first choice. She spoke no English, but her teenage daughter spoke enough that I was able to explain my now much-revised diagrams. Still, they puzzled over them, not sure that I had actually bought enough cloth to make what I wanted. In the end, both the seamstress and daughter shook their heads over this foreign man's crude drawings and asked me where I lived. They ended up coming up to my room to measure for themselves the windows I wanted covered. Measure twice, cut once, as they say.
My window coverings should be done by now, waiting for me here on this Sunday morning. I know I got overcharged for this work. I'll wait until I see the final product, but a couple of cuts and a little bit of work on the sewing machine shouldn't cost 4500 Kyat ($4.75, a bit more than what an average person makes a day in Myanmar). Anyways, it's no big deal. Yes, my relocation costs ended up being more than anticipated, and I think I'm going to have to put off buying my last two significant items (a fridge and a desk chair) until my first paycheck, but less than $13 for 3 sets of curtains? Duck feed.
As for the mounting hardware, I'm recycling a bit of a disaster. I wanted to buy a simple cloth or plastic wardrobe to hang my shirts and stuff in. Not only did I buy the wrong thing, it was absolutely impossible to assemble, and since returning stuff to a store is unheard of here, I thought it was $25 wasted. You'll see my ill-fated attempts at putting it together in the video below. Now, at least, I have dozens of useless metal rods I can use for curtains!
I really like my new place. It suits me fine. One thing that was a challenge initially was the cockroaches. Big suckers. I'd step into the kitchen, and 2 or 3 would go scurrying away. I haven't lived in a place with a roach problem ever in my adult life. Fortunately, now, I'm finding dead cockroaches instead of chasing down live ones. The little bait traps work very well.
I've got animals all around me. Little bug-eating geckos live everywhere here. There's a rather large roost of pigeons living in the space between my kitchen ceiling and the roof. My landlords, who live on the first floor, love animals and there are always four or five well-fed street dogs lounging around the entrance to my building. I don't think anyone noticed in my last video, but I showed briefly the large hive of bees that were living just outside the door before I moved in. I screenshot an image.
I was told by the landlords that if I didn't bother the bees, they wouldn't bother me. Fair enough. Cockroaches give me the heebeejeebies, but bees? I can live with them. When they asked if I minded them being there, I still said I would rather they weren't there. I may have future guests who are allergic to them or something. The landlords said they would try to get rid of them in the Buddhist way, i.e., non-violently, through prayer and asking the bees to please go live somewhere else.
I guess the carpenter they had fixing the place up just before I moved in didn't get the memo. He poisoned them.
I have dozens of other anecdotes and insights to share, but I've reached the end of my page and besides, I got curtains I gotta go pick up! I can't finish my next video without getting the place together enough that I can take you on a tour!...

*** Update ***

The curtains weren't ready. They must be doing something special with them if they're taking this long. The video tour of the finished flat will have to wait, but I can show you stuff coming together.


  1. Your video was too funny! But those cockroaches...Yikes! I loved seeing the neighborhood thanks for sharing.


  2. Thank you for showing us your activities and views. Sorry to see your problem with cockroaches. Please keep poisoning them! Maybe if you talk with your landlord, you can talk him/her/them into poisoning them, on the lower levels, too. Clearing the building may be good! I'll pray.



  3. I kmow you don'tspeak the language, but an excellent roach treatment is to sprinkle BORAXO all around the edges of the floor. If you can get some borax powder from somewhere, you might try that. It gets on their feet, and they ingest it and it kills them, but is not harmful or toxic to you.

    But I think the roaches are a fact of life there. It is hot and wet. If the downstairs is not treated, your battle will be very hard, and since they are Budists they will not kill anything. Your much loved plants outside the door also harbor many.

    You may want to pick up you sleeping mat EVERY day and clean under it.

    They sure are big ones!


Discovering Northwest Myanmar 16: Kataung to Mandalay

I call them "Burmese Doughnuts". They've got another name, but essentially, it's fried bread. The three-week adventur...