Sunday, March 9, 2014

This is Burma: Episode One

This is Burma. It is quite unlike anyplace you know.
- Rudyard Kipling

Well, my friendly blog friends, I'm here in the hotel's rooftop dining room, enjoying a respite in a western breakfast at the beginning of my 4th full day in the country of Myanmar (Burma). In a bit, I'm off to catch a taxi to work for my first real day teaching. It's been rough. I was expecting nothing less. Anytime I'm outside the confines of the hotel or work, I am bombarded by thousands of new sights, smells and sounds, most which I cannot yet comprehend. Okay, that person is a roadside food vendor. That much I get. But what are they selling? Sure, it's been a challenge, but I am loving it. You're only new someplace once.

Things have been made easier in that I've decided upon a place to live. My first full day was spent criss-crossing the areas of Yangon nearest the school looking at one disappointing vacant apartment after another. Fortunately, I had an agent who was very nice and spoke English well. She asked me what I wanted in an apartment. I wanted someplace furnished (with at least a desk, wardrobe and fridge), hot & cold running water, A/C, clean, western style toilet (as opposed to the squat-over-the-hole, non-flushing common in developing Asia). If it had wifi, a nice balcony view and other amenities, so much the better. Oh, and under $300 US/mo. (I was paying half that in Bangkok, but Yangon rental prices I knew were relatively high for the Third World).

As we proceeded, I was wondering why she wasn't showing me places like that. Some had some of the requirements, but none had all. Some were so dirty that I wanted to vomit when I opened the bathroom door. Some had no windows. Some were on the 7th floor of a building with no elevator. Several were painted pink. Some were really nice, but twice my budget. I came to realize at the end of my first day looking that what I wanted didn't exist here in Yangon. My agent explained to me that since the country only opened to foreigners a couple years ago, the local landlords just haven't had time to learn what westerners want in a dwelling. 

And why should they? It's their country. It's not they who need to adjust to us. I need to adjust to the reality here in Burma. 

I thought back the house I rented when I lived in Indonesia in 1991. It was big, but it was all poured concrete with no carpets, paint or wallpaper. There was no running water, much less hot water. To make the spigot work to fill the basin in the bathroom, you had to go outside and turn on the well pump for a few minutes. There was no shower. You scooped water from the basis with a big ladle and dumped it on yourself to bathe. The toilet was 'squat style'. I had no TV, and of course, no internet in those days. The place was more spartan than anything I was looking at here in Yangon, and I survived that year. In fact, I can't remember any of those things really inconveniencing me (of course, I also employed two servant girls who made things easier). I was happy there.

Sure, I'm not the same young man I was in 1991, but I can adapt again.

At the onset of the second day, I found my new place. You'll see it at the end of This is Burma: Episode One.


  1. Welcome home! -- J. -Seattle

  2. Oh my. Can you clean it up yourself, or can you afford to hire someone? Will you buy furniture? If you buy a used bed or soft furniture be very careful of bugs. Bed bugs. You wanted something new and different. I guess you have found it. By the way, who takes care of the plants?

    1. I'm moving in tonight! They said they would have it nice and clean for me, including replacing a couple of the ceiling panels that have rotted away.. I've already bought a mattress which I have stored at the apartment, and I think I'mg going to hire a local carpenter to make a platform for it. Other major things I intend to buy myself include a desk, a desk chair, a refrigerator and a wardrobe. Then, of course, there are all the other incidentals I need to buy: matting for the floors, window coverings, clothes drying rack, cookware, a gas cooktop (useful also as a way to heat water on cold morning: boil some water, dump into a bucket, add water from the basin you saw briefly in the video [scooping the water out onto dumping it on oneself is how most SE Asians 'shower']), some patio furniture for that balcony... My start up costs here are ending up pretty significant!

  3. Well, this has been a lot to absorb. It makes me think of the Monty Python and the Holy Grail song, "Look on the bright side of life". The bright side for me would be the garden entry,the view from the window was nice and the friendly children. You will have fun fixing it up to your liking-to me that's the exciting part of moving into a new place. A coat of paint can change the dullest to the brightest in no time.

    I have been following your journey since the beginning and you are doing fine and sure have overcome other obstacles since you started your teaching journey. Wishing you the best, Do good work and write when you can.

  4. Congratulations! Although walking up 4 floors won't be fun, the apartment with the terrace does look like a good one! Enjoy! Blessings, Lynn

  5. Good choice! There will be no problems for you to change what you want. And the 4th floor will keep you in good shape ;-) Enjoy your time, Elmann.


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