Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Typical Day in Myanmar

A Typical Day in Myanmar

I've really taken to this place. Really. With learning the language, whole new sides of it are opening up. The more I learn about it, the more fascinating and interesting here becomes. I wouldn't rather be any place else than here, now, doing what I'm doing in this weird, exotic and often frustrating land.

Today was a typical day. My fellow expats living here reading this would not find any of these occurrences strange or out of the ordinary. It was anything but boring.

5:40 AM – I wake up and open my eyes one second before my alarm goes off. I frequently do this; it's a weird prescience that wakes me in anticipation my alarm sounding just moments before it does. First thing I remember in the morning grayness is that I forgot to buy coffee yesterday. I haven't slept well. Last night's rain storm has continued on and off until this morning. It's cool outside, and whereas most mornings I can do some light chores in order to get myself warm before facing the chilly water of my bath, both the hour and the rain have conspired to keep me from breaking a sweat.

I step into the bathroom and dip the big ladle into the basin of water. Bracing myself, I dump it on one leg, then another small bucketful on the other the leg. One arm, then the other. Okay, I'm ready. Exhaling, I dump the cold water over my head. I shiver a bit, but am invigorated. Who needs coffee?

I'm dressed and out the door by 6:15. I buy a couple energy drinks and a piece of bread at a mom & pop general store stand. It starts to rain again. I have not forgotten my umbrella, but this decides how I'm getting to work. The guys at the taxi stand at the end of my street know me by now, so there's no haggling over the fare. It's 1000 Kyats.

6:30 AM – I arrive at work and pull out my wallet to pay the driver. Uh oh. I've got a few 200 Kyat notes, but all the rest are 5000 Kyats (reminder $1 = 1000 Kyats). He may not have change. Sure enough, I hand him a 5K and the driver reacts like I've tried to pay him with the Monalisa. Change? No, of course not, not at 6:30 AM! I sit there, holding out my 5000 Kyat note, somewhat annoyed. At this hour, none of the businesses in the shopping center are open. What are we going to do? He begins asking random passersby if they've got change. None do. He takes my five and runs off towards the mall entrance, leaving me in his still running taxi. I get out and start after him; apparently, he doesn't know it's still closed. I clap my hands to get his attention and as he turns, another cab pulls up to drop off a fare. Aha! He pleads with the other driver for change, and comes back smiling with my 4000 change. It begins to rain harder.

7:00 AM- My one and only class to teach for the day begins. We happen to be in a part of the textbook which is using art and music as the subject matter from which to teach English. Today's lesson includes a reading about nursery rhymes and lullabies. I start the class off with yours truly playing a ukulele song based on old English nursery rhyme: The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. The students have a 'gap fill' worksheet I made up just for the occasion, turning the song into a listening exercise. Any day that begins with playing the ukulele for an appreciative audience can't turn out that bad.

Everything is going okay in the lesson, and when I call for the mid-class break, a couple of the students tell me, “Uh, Teacher, water. Lots of water,” and they point down to under their tables. Whoah! There's a huge puddle of rain water which seems to be leaking out directly from the wall. It's still pouring outside. Hmm... Never had to deal with flooding the classroom before.

“Okay, everyone, we're changing classrooms. Everyone please move to the next room!” (Which was fortunately empty). I inform the office staff of the flooding on the 3rd floor, and continue the class with no further weirdness.

9:00 AM- Teaching is done for the day. I settle into my desk and prepare tomorrow's lesson which takes about an hour, and that's it. I'm done. See, we're actually having a temporary slump in enrollment while simultaneously hiring a bunch of new teachers. Two of the classes I was scheduled to teach have been canceled due to low enrollment (including the teenagers class I was so happy about in my last blog), and so whereas I would normally teach 18 to 24 hours a week, right now, I'm down to six hours a week. Luckily, I'm not paid by the hour.

10:00 AM- I run into the teacher's liaison officer here at work. She's the Burmese person who takes care a lot of the everyday life stuff that we need help with being foreigners. She's the one who helped me get my satellite TV installation scheduled for this upcoming Saturday. Last night, she texted me with news that they were in fact coming today, Thursday. Cool! I was looking forward to a night watching the History, Discovery and Nat'l Geographic Channels. Maybe a bit of World Cup. I ask if she knows what time today they're coming. She doesn't know, but they said they would call her before coming.

11:00 AM – It's time to use my office's relatively quick internet to write an e-mail that I hope will help fix a situation I've been faced with for months: finding shoes that fit. My search goes back to my last few months in Thailand and has continued here in Yangon. I must have checked with 1000 stores by now; nobody sells shoes in US size 12 (46 here) that aren't also way too narrow or cost $300+. It's been such a long quest that I've been on the verge of giving up for some time and just wear sandals all the time. My already worn out shoes that I brought with from the USA have disintegrated on the pavement of Myanmar.

I got some new hope recently when a Timberland Shoes store opened in the mall where I work. Surely, an American company like Timberland would have my size, and even if I had to pay what amounts to a month's rent for a pair, I was willing to do so. No such luck. The biggest they have is size 11. I'd decided to write an e-mail to Timberland, pleading for help.

I search and search for a customer service type e-mail address for Timberland. I can't even find their company website. I give up. I'd recently learned that one of my co-workers with similarly large feet had to have to shoes sent from the US by family; you cannot order things on the internet and have them shipped to Myanmar. My mom would probably do this for me too, but she and my dad have now begun their new lives as full-time RVers. They're having their own adventure, and overseas shipping isn't something I'd want to ask. I do have a wonderful sister though.

Instead of writing Timberland, I write my sister.

The torrential morning rainfall has dissipated to a steady drizzle.

1:30 PM – Teachers' Meeting. I've worked at a lot of companies, and staff meetings aren't ever a lot of fun. I walk into our monthly meeting somewhat apprehensive of being the butt of some resentment from my colleagues. I'm not the only teacher whose 'under hours' right now, but some teachers are still scheduled to teach 24 hours a week, and I'm at six. It's not my fault. I'm sure I'll be getting some of their classes assigned to me soon; it just hasn't happened yet. I fully expect it to be talked about in the meeting. It's never mentioned.

3:00 PM- My sister has written back, offering not just to send me one pair, but two! Wow! This is great! My shoe-quest is nearly at an end! She tells me to find a couple pairs I like online and send her the URLs and my shipping address. I spend the next half hour in online shopping bliss, perusing the 10,000 different styles of men's shoes available at I can almost feel them on my feet now. Between this and the TV guys coming, today is shaping up to be a pretty good day! I even got a free jar of coffee out of a gift basket that one my non-coffee-drinking colleagues had received.

3:30 PM – I check with girl in the office to find out if the TV guys had called her yet. They have not, but she's going to call them. I tell her not to bother; it's no big rush. It'll happen when it happens. Besides, I am going home now and will be there the rest of the afternoon.

The rain has almost stopped; it's just sprinkling now. The air is nicely cool for the time of day (it was probably only about 80F), and despite having to step my way around lots of puddles, I enjoy my walk home.

4:00 PM – I arrive home to find my 4th floor apartment flooded. I'd mentioned the various leaks in my apartment in a previous blog. The biggest of these is turning out to be coming from the floor. Near the front door, the water which builds up on my lovely big balcony is somehow making its way through the wall and into my place. If I'm home, it's not that big of a deal. I mop it up as needed. Today, due to the heavy and continuous rain, the puddle inside my front door has turned into a small lake. It has reached all the way to my mattress (which still sits on the floor; I really should get a bed), soaking it's underside. Damn. I get everything off the mattress and stand it up leaning against a wall so that the bottom can dry. So much for my plan for an afternoon nap! It starts to rain again.

5:30 PM – It's dusk now. I guess the sattellite guys aren't coming. No call. No show. Oh well. If they're not going to come when it's raining, I could be waiting a long time.

6:30 PM – I had picked up my work shirts from the laundry lady on my way home, and as she's located next door to one of my favorite places to eat in the neighborhood, I gather up my dirty shirts and trousers and head back to drop off the next batch. Settling in at Robera Asian Cuisine, I order some fried calamari and a lovely Korean-inspired tomato, chicken and rice dish I've had before. They're really not that good at understanding the concept of appetizers versus main dishes at most restaurants here, and so I fully anticipate both dishes arriving at the same time. To my surprise, the calamari arrives first. It's delicious.

I've brought the book I'm reading right now with me, and I get through about ten pages, eavesdropping on the Burmese conversations around me, trying to pick up words and phrases that I know. The rice dish really is taking a long time. I kinda get lost in my book though, and I realize that it's been like half an hour since I finished the squid. I catch my waiter's eye and give what I think is the universal facial expression for 'where the heck is my food'? He smiles and nods at me.

So that didn't work. Finally, I call him over and ask (he speaks a bit of English), “My food? Where is my food?” He looks at me uncomprehendingly, and so I ask again, “Menu? Menu?”. He brings the menu, I point to what I had ordered and say in Burmese “This! This! Where?”.

“OH!” he with the universal waiter facial expression for 'Oh, I forgot to put your order in!'. Hrrmph. It's worth waiting for. When it comes a little later, it's very delicious. The waiter says 'Sorry' when I pay the bill.

9:00 PM – Back home. I open my front door to a very musty smell. I gotta get this leak fixed. My place is nice, but I can't live in a swamp. I turn on the light and find a 4” long (6” if you include the antenna) cockroach hanging out on my guitar case. Hrrrph.

It's 11 PM now, time to try to get on the barely functioning internet and post this... Yeah, it's not working. This will have to wait until I get to the office. The mattress is still damp now, but I gotta sleep somewhere. Waking up at 5:40 again tomorrow. Just a typical day in Myanmar!


  1. Many questions come to mind, but good to read this insight into your day. I had been wondering about your shoe problem. Are larger sandals easier to find? Flip flops are really not good for your back, but reasonably constructed sandals might feel OK.

    I knew the rain would bring out the roaches, but now the wet floor is an issue. Can you put your mat up somewhere during the day to get it dry?

    1. Flip flops are really the only thing I can find that fits. Nicer sandals that wrap the foot are generally too narrow for my hobbit-like feets. Yes, the mattress is leaning against the wall and should dry out today.

  2. It was really such a good day until you got home to the flood and roach. I think that leak needs to become a priority. Glad you're getting some shoes for your poor feet. Great to have sisters who love you.



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