WHEN YOU MOVE TO MYANMAR

Sitting in a dark apartment during a power outage in Yangon, Myanmar.

When you don’t really pack what you need to live in Myanmar, but bring heavy tripods and camera equipment instead. 12 pounds over at the airport calls for purging, fast. Not rational thinking.

When you burn out one of the massive photography bulbs you brought, immediately, because you forgot about the wattage difference.

When you use the French Press you carefully tucked in your carryon, once, and then knock it off the toilet of your hotel room in Thailand. It shatters and glass goes everywhere.

Don’t ask me why it was on the toilet seat.

When there’s suddenly a tropical storm/typhoon during your week of orientation in Thailand. Welcome! And then the power goes out, and water is all over the place, so you might as well jump in a pool with friends.

When plans completely change, and you end up going to Myanmar about three weeks earlier than expected.

When you lose your retainer in Bangkok, and to get a new one in Yangon you have to pay half of your monthly salary.

When you end up teaching totally different “practice lessons” than what you planned for during your TESOL training, and to top it off, you think you’re going to poop your pants in the midst of it all happening.

When you’re shown two options of apartments to live in, and one still has three people inside, sleeping on top of piles of stuff on the floor. And the landlord, with rotted teeth, smiles and says he’s going to paint the peeling, black mold-covered walls. 

When the only furniture that comes with the cleaner apartment is a small desk-thing with a pack of cigarettes inside, and two statues of Buddha on top.

When you’re told the power rarely goes out while signing the apartment lease, but fifteen minutes after you move in you’re sitting in darkness.

When your landlady comes and takes the Buddha statues, leaving you with only a pack of cigs and a small desk. 

When there’s basically a landfill outside your kitchen window.

When brown sludge pours from the water faucet when you turn it on.

When people shriek when they see you walking down the street.

When cockroaches come out the moment you start cooking.

When you have to take off your shoes at temples, and then use the public restrooms, barefooted. Or, you “borrow” someone’s sandals to do so.

When all you want to do is go home and sleep, but the bus driver wants to show you his apartment. So, you go, and have to walk up and down seven flights of stairs.

When you hike up and down a mountain for three hours to see a tiny waterfall.

When you literally eat exhaust fumes while riding in the back of a truck.

When you consume about a pound of sugar a day because it’s apparently unheard of to drink coffee without sugar. Like when you order coffee with only milk, and you get sweetened condensed milk.

When you think a cat just ran under your table at a restaurant, but it’s actually a giant rat.

When you can’t even think about eating food after projectile vomiting from something you ate.

When your toilet doesn’t work.

When your washing machine stops functioning, so you try to dump buckets of water in it to see if that does anything. It doesn’t.

When you have to crouch to get enough water pressure to take a cold shower.

When the water pump stops working for your apartment, so you don’t even have water to take a shower. Suddenly, crouching for a cold shower doesn’t seem so bad.

When you use tripods to hang clothes because you lugged them around the world to use for something, and they’re all you have to hang clothes on.

When you don’t have string to hang your mosquito net from the ceiling, so you improvise and use floss.

When a long-distance relationship you’ve been trying to maintain struggles because you don’t have reliable Internet connection, and you have to be realistic about differences and move on.

When people sing carols on the street at 1AM, and then monks bang their gongs at 5AM.

When you show up to class on the first day of school, but no students come.

When you sit on the floor and use your suitcase as a desk to write a blog.

There was never a honeymoon period for this experience. It’s been rough from the start. Moving from South Korea to Myanmar, and everything that happened in between, has been the most difficult transition I’ve ever been through. And it isn’t over yet.

The kindness, generosity and hospitality I’ve received so far, far outweighs the negative aspects of moving to a “developing country”. I’m so thankful for what I do have, for the opportunity to be here, and for the incredible people I’ve already met.

I chose to do this. I chose to come. I knew it would be challenging, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Although it’s been difficult, it’s also been beautiful and transformative. No matter what and no matter where. With or without. I’m going to be okay. And so are you.

RELATED POST:

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JOIN CHASE: Sometimes it Takes a Power Outage to See the Light in Yangon
JOIN CHASE: What it Takes to Live in a Foreign Country

Comments

  1. Beautifully and honestly written and it was a pleasure to have 'eaten exhaust fumes' with you, a time I will never forgetxxxxxx

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    1. Christine, thank you for continuing to be a part of this journey! I'll never forget that experience either. It was meant to be for us to chew on some pollution together.

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  2. Maybe I'm weird, but all those negative things make me more interested in going. Kind of like looking forward to camping even though you know its going to be much less comfortable than home. It's adventure, and real adventure requires the gritty spots.

    Plus there is some sort of extra realness to people, family, and community in "developing countries." I don't know exactly why, I've never lived in that environment long enough to put my finger on it. Looking forward to your future thoughts on that.

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    Replies
    1. You're not weird at all! I knew before moving to Myanmar I'd experience these things, and that's exactly why I wanted to come. So, I completely relate. And comparing it to camping is perfect. I love camping with a tent, making a fire, and hanging a bear bag because it's more adventurous than staying at home or in a camper. Another reason I love living in other countries is because of that 'realness' you type of.

      Just the other day my roommate and I were discussing the future of Myanmar. I told him I didn't want Myanmar to lose it's sense of community, a sense of need for each other. Right now people seem intricately connected. But, as countries develop, there's less of a need for our neighbors, and we become inwardly focused and private about our lives and with our belongings.

      Thank you so much for taking time to read, and for sharing your comment. Sorry I posted a reply to your comment twice.

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  3. My wife and I are moving to Yangon in July to work at one of the international schools. We're coming from Hong Kong, so I am imagining similar challenges to our ideals of comfort. I've been perusing different expat blogs to get an idea of how to prepare, so this was a good reality check. Looking forward to the move.

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    1. James, thank you very much for taking time to check out my blog. I hope some of what I've posted about Myanmar helps you prepare for your arrival.

      I love it here, but I'd be lying if I didn't share about the hardships and struggles I've gone through while transitioning from living and teaching in South Korea.

      I lived in Hong Kong for a few months. Fabulous place. Definitely much, much different than Yangon. But, I'm guessing that's part of reason you're moving. Adventure awaits!

      I'm excited for you and your wife. I'll still be here in July, let's try to connect!

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  4. When did you go there and in what city did you stay in? Any advice for an American contemplating moving there in a year to teach as well. Is it possible to avoid a lot of walking? I hear motorbikes are used alot. Which cities are the cleanest? What was the air quality like when you were NOT in traffic in the back of a truck?

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    1. Hello! Thanks for your comment. I've been living in Yangon for about four months, and I'll be here for at least a year. I've had a chance to travel around Myanmar some, but not nearly as much as I'd like. If you have specific questions in regards to advice you seek, please feel free to send me an email or message.

      As far as walking around Yangon goes, yes, it's possible to avoid a lot of walking. In fact, most people don't walk long distances here (or exercise for that matter). Taxis are everywhere, and are relatively inexpensive. Buses are a common form of transportation as well. However, they're usually overcrowded, so I rarely take them. Trishaws (where someone transports you by bike) are also available.

      Motorbikes aren't allowed in the main/metro areas of Yangon. But, in cities such as Mandalay they're everywhere! Watch out.

      No city in Myanmar is going to appear clean when compared to cities in the United States. However, people take pride in keeping their streets and areas clean. Even if that means sweeping leaves off a dirt path.

      The air quality outside of Yangon doesn't seem so bad. Yangon's air pollution from car exhaust probably seems worse than it is because of how dusty it can be as well.

      Thanks again for taking time to check out my blog. Look for future updates, and please let me know if you have any other questions.

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