Monday, August 25, 2014

High Speed Internet Comes to Myanmar

About a month back, I was considering plopping down the $200 installation charge to get medium speed internet into my home here in Yangon, Myanmar. For the last six months of living here, I'd have to say that the most annoying thing about living here has been the unreliable, slow as molasses, worse-than-dial-up internet service I've had to endure by using the gov't owned Myanmar Post and Telephone 3G mobile net. It's been cheap.  About a dollar an hour of use, but it's speed has been so dependent on usage, that the only times it has operated at usable speeds for me was before 8 AM and after midnight.

So, I've uploaded lots of videos in the last six months. I've posted a lot of blogs since I've been online in Myanmar.  All of that stuff came from uploading at work (were I got DL speeds as high as 100 KBps), at the internet cafe or at home by setting my puter to do its thing, going to bed, and hoping it worked when I woke up the next day.

This morning, on my day off, I made my first video in several weeks for the Seasons of the Ukulele.  I trudged off to my favorite internet cafe to upload the results around noon.  When I got there, I found the place packed. Every terminal was in use. Most everyone was playing World of Warcraft; the rest were on Facebook.  I just wanted to upload the video I'd brought with me on my laptop.  I went to the unoccupied plug-your-own-puter station, plugged in and began my upload to YouTube. My video was 50 megabytes.

My speed at the internet cafe depends entirely on how many other users are there. It was packed.  When I clicked upload, YouTube told me my video would take 300 minutes to upload.  Five hours. 18000 seconds.  So my upload speed was 3 kilobytes per second.  Worse than home.  For you old timer internet users, remember back in the 90's when they talked about 4800, 9600, 26000 and 52000 kbaud modems?  Here I was in 2014 looking at a 3000 baud upload speed.

Then I remembered something I heard in the office yesterday.

See, there here in the month of August, there was a SIM card revolution in Yangon.  Up until recently, you only had once choice of mobile data provider here in the country of Myanmar: the gov't owned Myanmar Post and Telephone (MPT) bureau. My MPT SIM card on my smartphone has been how I've been talking to you all for these near six months now. It's been slow, but kinda cheap, and at the very least, it worked.

A few weeks ago, as a result of the continuing opening up of the economy of Myanmar from its socialist past, for the very first time, a private company was allowed to sell a SIM card to compete with MPT.  MPT sold their cards for $120 (the world average for a SIM card is something between one dollar and free). When Ooredoo, a local telecom company started offering SIM cards for $1.55 this month, they had mobs at their doorsteps, snapping them up as soon as they could.

The best thing was that Ooredoo was saying they'd give DL speeds as fast as 1 MBps, 1000 kpbs, or to use the 90's terminology, 100000 baud. Thirty times faster than what MPT has been giving me. After the lines died down, I bought one.

Immediate disappointment. The network didn't work anywhere.  I couldn't get data other than a trickle. Phone calls didn't even work.  Totally unreliable crappy service! I switched back to my MPT SIM card; at least they gave me crappy service I could rely on.

What I heard in the office the other day was that come the 24th of August, the
Ooredoo SIM cards would be totally different.  The initial release of this new product was a pre-launch.  The high speed internet network wouldn't come online until the 24th.

At the internet cafe, faced with this 5 hour upload time for a 50 MB video, I switched out the SIMs again on my phone (I got a dual SIM phone) and checked my data coming from Ooredoo.  BOOM BOOM BOOM. Facebook. My e-mail. News and Weather.  All of them loaded instantaneously. HOLY SHIT!  It's here!  IT'S FINALLY HERE!  High speed internet has come to Myanmar!

I immediately unplugged, payed the 40 cents for my one hour usage at the cafe and skipped home high on the prospect of finally enjoying the internet as I have in the past from the privacy of my home (please keep your porn references to yourself).

Sure enough, I get home, turn on the wifi hotspot on my phone, go to and get results indicating 1.4 MBps DL speeds.  Damn.  This was at noon, peak usage time. 30 times faster than I had yesterday. I'll never have to go back to that internet cafe ever again.

You may take some things for granted on the internet.  For example, although I can upload a video (from the office, not at home) as a kinda destination thing that is the final hour or two of what took me a few hours to make, I haven't been able to actually watch a video since coming here.  Now, I can.

With this new low price for a SIM card and it's speed (for now here in Yangon; we'll see what happens when this rolls out nationwide), this launch marks the introduction of 60 million new users to the internet. Please welcome the country of Myanmar to the linked in nations of the world.

As a side note, I've heard that Myanmar had the second-worst internet connectivity in Asia.  Only North Korea was worse.  With this advancement, I'm thinking Cambodia and Laos, and maybe even Vietnam and Indonesia, are now jealous.

Oh, I suppose I should share the Seasons of the Ukulele video that prompted this whole revelation...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Act or Draw? See Me Teach (sorta)

This week marked the end of another 'intake period' at my employer, a medium sized English language school here in Yangon.  Some new classes begin; others end. Typically, on a last day, we just play games, have cake, talk about what had happened over the course of the 10 weeks and socialize.

As I think I've mentioned, I've been finding myself more and more being assigned to off-site corporate training.  I go to the clients' offices and teach there.  Yesterday, my first of these assignments ended with one of these 'closing parties'.  Sometimes, it's not easy being a game show host for X number of hours, particularly when you also have to think up which games to play and get them together.  That said, I enjoy creating my own games. They don't always work, and so I took this opportunity of end-of-term meaningless to play test a new game.

Well, it's not actually that new; I'm just combining the old tried-and-true TEFL games of pictionary and charades into one game.  After a rough start, it turned out to be fun and will now be part of my repertoire.

I also found it edifying to observe myself in front of a classroom on camera. A little bit of self-evaluation is important always.  I found I say the word 'okay' too much and sometimes my shirt tails aren't tucked in because I can't see them. Watch the video to the end to see all the really cool swag the grateful pupils piled on me. I got a little choked up.

In other news...

  • My back feels a little better, but when I went back for the follow up visit, the doctor explained that my symptoms were more consistent with a ruptured disk, not the bulging disk I thought I had before. Shit. Ruptured disks don't heal. Ever.  I'm undergoing some treatment to contain the problem, but that disk is ruptured for life. The doctor explained that if it became too painful, it would need to be surgically removed.  "You would have that done in your home country," the doctor went on.
  • I've finalized my plans for my week off in late September.
      Health permitting, I'm heading for Medan, Indonesia and the surrounding countryside of northern Sumatra.  Beautiful volcanic lakes, unspoiled rainforests, cool mountains and the friendly and welcoming people there are some of the great things I've heard about north Sumatra (I've never been there).  Best of all will be that it's in Indonesia, a country I know and love. I can't wait to be able to just walk down the street, speak and be understood by anyone I encounter. Haven't lived someplace I could do that for 18 months now...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Trust Your Local Doctors

I would post the entire blog here, but I learned recently that Google downgrades sites that repeat (steal) content that has already been indexed... So, please check out my blog at>


Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Real Bago

I wasn't expecting this one day trip to turn into THREE videos, but it did.  This is my favorite of the three.

After our lengthy tour of Bago's numerous pagodas and temples, we still had a couple hours to kill before the return train to Yangon. The neighborhood around the train station proved to be very fascinating and very authentic feeling. The market, the animals roaming around, the flooded streets, they all made me feel like I was someplace different.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Temple to Temple

It's taken me over a week to add the second video part of the journey to Bago... and there's still a third part to come!

In other news, the monsoon continues.  The leaks in my roof have been getting worse, and the landlords have promised that their contractor would come in and fix the worst of it.  The only problem is that we need to wait for a dry, sunny day for them to do the work, and I doubt we'll see one of those until October.

I'm enjoying work. Half my classes now are corporate classes taught at their locations, so although the travel can be a bit tedious at times, it's nice to get out and into other parts of Yangon. They also treat me like an honored guest when I come to teach, so that's nice too.  My other classes are here, but they're Business English courses.  All-in-all, I've gone from being a specialist in teaching teenagers to corporate trainer guy. I'm enjoying the variety.

Found out that I'm getting a weeks vacation during the the third week of September, a mere six weeks from now. This is exciting news, but I can't decided where I want to go.  It's down to three candidates: Medan, a city in the northern Sumatra in Indonesia; Penang, on the west coast of Malaysia; or stay  in Myanmar and see the sights here.  I really want to go back and visit Indonesia some time soon, but there are no direct flights and it would mean I'd be spending one night in Bangkok there and back.  Penang looks beautiful and is easily accessible.  Here, it will still be the rainy season and not an ideal time to be traveling in a country with challenged infrastructure.  I was thinking I'd save Myanmar for the Christmas break. 

Decisions... decisions...


I thought I was going to retire there. I was the senior staff member. I'd been there longer than anyone. It. Is. Not. Fair.  But on the ...