Wednesday, March 12, 2014

From the Rooftop in Burma

Starting to settle in. My new apartment is half-furnished. The laptop is on a desk. I make my own coffee in the morning. I'm sitting on what will eventually be patio furniture, as I've yet to find a desk chair that fits my needs, but my new abode is definitely shaping up. Today is better than yesterday (my first night here), as the landlords have completed repairs they promised when I leased the place. All the light fixtures and electrical outlets now work. There is no longer a major leak over the threshold to the stairs. All the damaged ceiling panels that had been rotted away by previous roof leaks are now replaced. I guess 2.4 million Kyat goes a long way towards renovations.

It is kind of a surreal feeling plunking down 2.4 million of any currency. It was all in 1000 Kyat notes and was about the same volume as one of those big Oxford English Dictionaries you find in the library. The money for this place, one year's rent in advance, wasn't in an envelope or in my wallet. I needed a large plastic bag to bring it here. Money bound up in slabs like we're part of a big drug deal.  

As I've written previously, I wanted a more genuine 'Third World' experience than what I was living in Bangkok. Man, have I ever gotten that.

Just got interrupted in my writing by one of my new neighbors who shined a flashlight in my window. She reminded me: “Water! Water!”. See, as the penthouse dweller, the switch for the pump which leads from the building's well to it's rooftop water tank is within my apartment. In the morning, I need to turn it on for a while to fill the tank, and do the same again in the evening. Unfortunately, it has no auto-shutoff, and so if I leave it on too long, as I did just now, the tank overflows causing a cascade of water to shower down within the stairwells and outside people's windows. I am the pump keeper. It's a big responsibility!

What happens when I go away for a few days, I'm not sure.

I may be in the largest city in a country of 65 million people, but at least in my part of town, there is no municipal water.

Woke up this morning to a toilet that wouldn't flush (more than once), a butt sprayer that wouldn't spray and a kitchen sink without water. I didn't know to fill the tank last night. From what I understand, the whole building was in the same circumstance. No one came knocking on my door, because unlike water raining down the stairwell, it was a minor inconvenience. Burmese don't need running water. We all have a big basin in the bathroom that's kept full. We use it to 'shower' (by scooping out and dumping on ourselves), flush the toilet and do whatever else you need!

I still used bottled water to make my coffee this morning even though my new electric kettle would boil the reserve water no problem.

Where was I before this tangent about the water? Ah, yes, the genuine Third World experience. I live on the outskirts of Hladen (pronounced LAY-den) Market, a true Asian outdoor market covering an area of about 3 blocks by 6 blocks. If you've not experienced an Asian street market, I hope to bring you that soon in video, but in a word, it's overwhelming. As you walk through Hladen, the smells range between appetizing grilled or fried food delights to nauseating sewage pits. The sight of beautifully exotic fruits and vegetables, handicrafts and textiles contrast roads and pathways in total disrepair, mold stained walls of delapidated tenaments and the occasional disturbing reminder of abject poverty. The sounds are incessant: rickshaw bells ringing constantly pleading for people to get out of the way (there are few to any cars in the crowded alleyways of Hladen), hawkers shouting out what they're selling and for how much, thousands of crows make their monkey-like caws overhead occasionally broken in their avian orchestra by the rooster crow, the pigeon coo or the swallow's song. Dogs are everywhere, but they do not bark nor threaten. The dogs that tended to do that were long ago unnaturally selected out of the canine gene pool here. There are a couple dozen nice (by western standards, opulent by Burmese) restaurants in Hladen where the drinks are ice cold, the ambiance is relaxing and friendly and the food is cheap and delicious. There are also meager vendors offering one kind of food, and not much of it, on banana leaf or rattan.

And I sit in a rooftop apartment looking out on it all. It's like something out of a dream.


  1. Sounds interesting. Someone took care of the water before you, find out who so if you do go away, which you will, someone can do it. Does your space have a door lock? It didn't look like there was a window over the sink, just bars. Did you get a bed?

    1. I padlock the front door when I go. No glass window over the sink, just shutters. I have a mattress which I like very much. Gotta get it off the floor, though. Last night, as I picked up a coke can I had left bedside the night before, a big cockroach came scurrying out of it. I want to be off the floor soon.

  2. Wow, amazing, I can only imagine the culture shock for someone just there from the US! Very interesting to follow your blog!


  3. I'm happy you found somewhere to live and pray the water situation won't be a problem when you're away. May your stay there, be wonderful! Blessings...

  4. My gosh that market looks fantastic, all those fresh veggies-what great meals you will be able to make. I think I could handle everything but the cockroach eww. You could make a platform bed out of a little wood and a couple of nails. Is the bottle water easy to get? Have you thought of a water filter just for drinking water? This site has good information. Also, check this out used Thanks for sharing absolutly love the photos of your journey Stay well.

  5. I must admit I've never had any desire to have a third world experience. But seeing it through your eyes is a whole different thing. That market is just incredible. And given a couple of days the water keeping will become second nature and then hopefully there won't be anymore cascades.


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