Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I'm Leaving Yangon... Again

Yesterday was a momentous day.

Over the last couple weeks since re-aggravating my herniated disc, I've been living with a constant, dull pain. More disconcerting is the increased numbness in my left leg and foot. There's also been more sciatica involved with this recover.
The other night, I was just lying in bed and my foot hurt. I wasn't standing on it. I hadn't injured the foot specifically. I knew the pain wasn't actually in my foot, it's just the nerve connecting my foot to my brain is being pinched by the disc and making it seem like the pain was in my foot. I decided at that point that on Monday, I would head over to the Yangon consultation office of Bangkok's biggest and best hospital, Bumrungrad, and get the wheels turning on finally getting that discectomy operation that would shave off that portion of the disc that's been hurting me for quite some time now.

The doctor saw me without an appointment, and I described my history, treatment and current condition.
Although not an orthopedist, the doctor agreed that surgery would seemingly be the next step, but he told me straight up front, the cost would be around 300,000 Baht ($9000). I'm glad I have insurance! Last year when I got the MRI before my epidural, I was given the MRI results on DVD-ROM. The doctor copied all those files, asked a few other questions and told me they'd send it all off to Bangkok and I'd have more details in a few days. My initial plan was to have this taken care of during my next week off work, i.e., mid-September. The doctor told me the recovery time for this procedure was at least a week, sometimes longer depending on whether or not 'fusion' was required. I figured a week was enough time and was genuinely relieved that I might have a chance of full feeling in my legs sometime soon.

That evening, a call came. It was from our new Director of Studies, in other words, my new boss. I could tell from his tone it wasn't a social call.

“We're starting a course up in Naypitaw which we're asking you to teach, it's a 16 week assignment” he told me (or at least something fairly close to that). Immediately, I thought 'no'. They've asked me about working in Naypitaw in the past, and although I was initially interested a year or so ago, now, not so much; certainly not for 4 months.

“It's 8 to 10 AM, Monday through Friday, so 10 hours a week. We'd put you up in a hotel, and you'd have a one week break halfway through. We're also considering a food allowance as you can't cook in the hotel room. The course would be taught at the hotel itself...” He kind of trailed off a bit, gauging my response before asking me if I'd do it or not.

See, that's the thing. I signed up for a job in Yangon. Not in Naypidaw. I know companies relocate employees all the time without necessarily getting the consent of the employer, but that's not something my company would force on me. I was somewhat free to refuse.

Getting paid the same for less than half the work I do now? Staying for free in a modern, luxury hotel? Getting to see an entirely different part of Myanmar? That sounds like a nice gig, right?

Naypidaw isn't known for its heavy traffic
Well, no, not really. You see, Naypidaw is like the Siberia of Myanmar. It's a created capital, less than 10 years old and still quite deserted. There's nothing to do there. I wouldn't have any friends there. I've made a comfortable life for myself here in Yangon which I'm enjoying quite a bit. Again, my initial reaction was no. Besides, I've got these health things I need to take care of. I'd be forgoing my September break if I took this Naypidaw job (it's scheduled to start on 17 August).

Then, I started to think about it. I want to see Naypitaw, even if living there doesn't sound thrilling; but then again, when will I ever get a chance to live in such a strange place? There might be nothing to do, but I've always been good at entertaining myself. The internet is much faster and reliable up in the capital. Living in a luxury hotel... hot water, room cleaned every single day, a gym, a pool, that'd be nice.

Plus, my employer has been good to me. I feel like I still owe them something for sending me off to do my CELTA.

It's like a gov't Disneyland with no one visiting
Readers of my blog may remember me mentioning Dean, an American friend who stared here in Myanmar at the same time I did. He went and taught in Naypidaw for most of last year up until this last March. I called him to ask him some basic questions like how do you do laundry? Where do you eat? Those kinds of things. It turns out Dean just got another job in Naypidaw and will be there starting in September, so I wouldn't be without any friends. I decided to consider it and told my boss he'd have an answer in the morning.

I think what ultimately made me lean in favor of going was one moment when I was coming out the back room of my apartment. My foot kicked the big plastic tub I use to catch the leaks from the roof, the air-conditioner shut off as it does 30 times a day due to the inconsistent voltage of the Yangon electrical grid and I spotted a cockroach on the wall. All those happened simultaneously. \Yes, I like my place, but I don't like those things.

I still had demands and needs before agreeing. I met with the company brass this morning and told them I'd need movers. With or without the surgery, my back won't allow me to move most of my stuff. I've pre-paid for my apartment for a year, so it's just going to sit here while I'm gone, thus I don't have to take everything. Still, I've got lots of musical instruments, electronic equipment, books... stuff I don't want to be without. I'd need movers. They agreed to this.

We also agreed to make the mid-term break two weeks instead of one, so I'll be going to Bangkok in October for the surgery instead of September. I think I can live with that. I found out I'm most likely to be living at the brand new Hilton in Naypidaw. I would have my own car and driver. $10 per diem food allowance. Most importantly, I got guarantee that 16 weeks would be the longest I'd have to be there. They wouldn't re-assign me to another stint in Naypidaw once this one ends.

So, I agreed to do it.

Second week of August, I'm moving to Naypidaw.

I don't know if that's the pool or for decoration, but that's the Naypidaw Hilton... 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Finishing Up the Malaysian Journey

I've been back in Yangon for ten days or so now, and although the back is still a little sore, it's much better than before.

I have two videos to share from my time in Penang.  There would have been more, but again, at the start of day 4, everything changed.

With about 24 hours left in the country, I suddenly felt a lot better! I was able to get out and see a bit of the national park, the night market and felt fine when I headed back to the airport.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

On Leaving Malaysia

Wow. What a place. I really enjoyed my week in Malaysia, despite half of it being spent flat on my back due to injury.

Penang was such a mixture of cultures. Along with the Malay people, there were so many Indian and Chinese folks. I've never had better Indian food than what I ate in Penang. I got to observe Indians and Chinese talking to each other, and they used English as much as Malay. They call America the 'melting pot' of cultures because so many ethnicities come together and get melted together. I'd call the part of Malaysia I was in the 'salad' of cultures.  The different ingredients remain distinct, but mix together to create something more. There's no melting going on there.

I've got another 15 months on my contract here in Myanmar, but I would certainly not mind making Malaysia a future home. I speak the language, and that's a huge plus.

In part two of the journey, I chronicle my first full day in Penang. I visit an interesting museum, a historical fort in what was England's first permanent settlement in SE Asia, a dim sum Chinese restaurant and finally Batu Ferringhi, the beachside community on the northside of the island where I ended up hurting myself and had stay for the rest of the trip.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Back in Agony

Well, the second half of the journey didn't go as planned.
Sunset at Batu Feringghi Beach

Thursday morning, I woke up, reviewed the suggestions here and possibilities I'd considered and decided to circumnavigate the island by heading south into the hills. I packed up my stuff into my backpack, lifted it up onto my back while twisting... and **RRIIIPPPPP***

I didn't actually hear it, and it didn't immediately cause me pain, but by time I'd checked out and got on the motorbike, I knew I'd just aggravated the herniated disk in my back. I got to the end of small street the guesthouse was on and the pain became unbearable. I had to stop the bike, drop the backpack and lie down on the concrete. I was writhing in pain. I tried sitting up, still no relief. Standing was excruciating too. All I could do was lean on the bike's seat, supporting my weight with my arms.

I've been dealing with this disk issue for two years, and this was the worst it had ever felt.

After a couple minutes, I realized I was completely helpless. I couldn't move. I tried calling out "TOLONG!" (Malay for HELP!) to people nearby. They just looked at me funny. I gestured people over with my hands, still they didn't come. Hmmm... I was disappointed by the locals. Finally, a couple western tourists came walking by and I asked them if they wouldn't mind walking over to the clinic that I'd seen half a block away and telling them I needed help. A few minutes later, the clinic van shows up and I stumble in.

Turns out it was a government clinic and they didn't have any injectable pain killers, the only thing that was going to help me at the point. They gave me some pain killers and allowed me to lie down on my side, the only position I could take that wasn't excruciating. After an hour or two, I was able to get back on the motorbike, a taxi took my luggage and I made it to a private clinic where I got shot up with motrin and cortisone.

I wasn't going anywhere, so I thought If I was going to convalesce, I'd do it someplace nice. I checked into a 4 star hotel prepared to do nothing by lie on my back for 4 days.

After the motrin wore off, again I was in agonizing pain. I like traveling alone; it gives me the freedom to do whatever I want when I want. The downside was now. I didn't think I'd be able to get on that place in 4 days. I couldn't sit up for 30 seconds much less the 3 and a half hours of flight time from Penang to KL to Yangon. What was I going to do? Another epidural? Medical evacuation? I was alone, desperate, in agony and stuck in a small town (Batu Feringghi) in a country where I didn't know anyone. I could barely get to the bathroom much less to a hospital or wherever else.

Via FB, I posted my plight and got some good advice. Jimbo even went as far as researching accupuncture clinics in Penang and suggesting I have the hotel staff call them and see if they'd do a housecall.

The next day, after a night in which I couldn't sleep for more than a few minutes at a time, I made my way back to local clinic. This time, they gave me a double dose of motrin and more cortisone. FOr a while, I felt better! Today, it's still very, very painful, but now I got Tramadol and some hope. After another day of doing nothing but reading and watching Malaysian hotel TV (which sucks), I'll be hitting that clinic on my way to the airport for a final injection which hopefully will keep me from screaming in pain while stuck in my narrow airplane seat.

Back in Yangon, it's time I start making arrangements for the discectomy surgery (in Bangkok) that will end this condition I've suffered with so long.

So, that was Penang.

At least I was able to make the weekly ukulele video before the pain began.

Monday, July 6, 2015

My Malaysian Journey - 1

I woke up before my 5:45 AM alarm this morning. I knew I wouldn't be able to get back to sleep. I was too excited, and I still had things to do before leaving for my week's vacation in Malaysia. Cleaning the apartment, last minute packing of toiletries and such, posting about the excitement on Facebook; I needed that extra 30 minutes this morning.

Now, as I ready myself for bed in a timezone 1.5 hours ahead of mine, I'm glad I woke up early. It'll be easier to get to sleep, and I got lots to do tomorrow morning.

Not before sharing today's adventure with you all first.

I'm here! I'm in a shoddy little guesthouse in Penang, Malaysia.

First impressions of this town, on the whole, have been very positive. I would love to come teach and live here someday. It's a lot like Indonesia, but better. I can understand the language! I can speak to people. The food is amazingly delicious and the people are friendly and outgoing. I think I'm really going to enjoy my week here.

I talk about my impressions of the place in the video below, but a couple things I left out. Firstly, I got lucky with my accommodations. As I mention in the video, there were a few things I was looking for in my journey, and two of them I found half a block from my hotel. My motorbike rental place was just down the street, and although he had a money changer sign on his desk, I thought I would explore the town and look for the best rate.  Due to today being a combination of a Buddhist holiday with it being the month of Ramadan in the Muslim world, there were no other money changers open. So, I had to go back to where I started to get some money. Interestingly enough, the motorbike rental/money changer place is also a used book store, another thing I knew I'd be looking for here in this old English colonial town turned tourist Mecca.  The proprietor and I couldn't come to terms on a reasonable price for two books (he wanted $20 and I would go no higher than $16), so that part didn't happen, but on my way out of the bookstore I found something else interesting. There were half a dozen scantily clad, beautiful young ladies loitering in nearby doorways.  Hookers! Well, that wasn't on my list of things to get in Penang (at least not on my primary list) and so I passed on them too, but if I change my mind, at least I know where to find them!

Here's the video:


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 ...