Saturday, August 29, 2015

I Bought Zucchini! and Other Highlights of Saturday in Mandalay

I deviated from my normal Saturday routine today.  I really didn't need more vegetables and since fruit choices are fairly limited now, I opted to skip my usual Saturday morning trip to Mingalar market for produce.  Instead, I went for a drive through the rice paddies.  Here are some photos:
15 minutes from my apartment in Mandalay.  Most tourists never see this.  They're missing out.

I bought a green mango from his mom.  He wasn't quite sure what to think of me.
The driving range at a nearby golf course.
Please come back - the internet is too slow now to upload more of the photos I took.

After the relaxing drive through the rice paddies, I spent a couple of hours at the salon being pampered.  Next was a trip to Citimart.  They had Australian imported iceberg lettuce and zucchini.  Ironic, in August to be paying top dollar for zucchini when some people can't give it away, but those people aren't in Myanmar.

Another lovely Saturday.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Another Typical Day...For a Queen

2800K worth of great Indian takeout food.  That's about $2.50 worth of deliciousness.
I did my normal chores today.  Here are some of the highlights (if you can call any errands highlights):

Mingalar market - nice to see all the smiles from my usual vendors.  Disappointing that there isn't a big variety of fruit in season now but I got a couple of pineapples, bananas and fresh coconut. 

I picked up the "dresses" that I'd had custom made.  Ok, they're moomoos.  I gave them a mu'umu'u (moomoo in Samoan) that I brought from Samoa along with some fabric I bought in Mandalay.  Total cost of sewing/fabric - $5 each.  My favorite mu'umu'u, which was made by a friend and co-teacher in Samoa had been damaged in Myanmar.  One of the ladies who does my laundry and cleans my apartment (have I mentioned I'm spoiled?) let the iron stay on it for too long and burned a whole.  The seamstress patched it as a gift.  BTW, I chose a lovely sky blue fabric for one of the mu'umu'us.  I'm wearing it now and it is very comfortable but I can't decide if it looks more like a prison uniform or hospital gown.

Money changer - when I arrived in July, 2013, the exchange was about $100 - 97,000K.  Last week it was $200 -  250,000K.  This week, $200 - 255,000K.  Yea for the dollar!  Bad for the Myanmar people.

New York Tailor - 30th and 66th.  I asked the ladies at Mingalar where I could find t-shirt material.  They sent me here.  No fabric but they do have t-shirts.  Cute ones, although the fabric is very thin.  But for $4, who cares?  I didn't buy any because the largest they had was 3X.  No, I'm not THAT huge but 3X here is about a large in the US.  They carry both men's and women's shirts.

Style Star - I love the ladies at Style Star.  Today, several had new uniforms.  Black and white, with very short skirts and "Guiness" written on them.  I'm thinking bar uniform, but the girls looked cute and seemed happy.  I had the works.  I was there for almost 4 hours for:  lowlights; manicure, pedicure; foot/leg massage; shoulder/neck/back massage; haircut.  $18.50.  I lied to all my friends at home and told them it was less than $10.  My bad.  Still, less than $20 for all that pampering?  And looking awesome?  Fabulous.

Fuji Grocery Store - I don't shop at Fuji often.  They don't sell meat or fresh produce or dairy products.  But they occasionally have random Western products - like brown sugar.  They have 4 types of Tabasco (shout out to my friends from Avery Island).  The only big surprise today was Reese's Nut Bars.  $.75.   They also had chilled Starbucks Frappucino, which I snagged.

Pondicherry Indian Restaurant - I asked Cho Sue (I'm sure that is spelled incorrectly but that's how I pronounce my driver's name) if I could get take out (pase = pah-say).  He assured me I could.  We pulled up in front of the restaurant.  Normally, Cho Sue leaps out of the car to open my door.  He seems to find it annoying (especially when in front of lots of locals) when I open my own door.  That's his job.  He didn't move so I started to open my door.  He turned and said "Pase?"  "Yes, I want it to go."  "Wait."

Sure enough, about 30 seconds later, a young boy ran up to the car and asked for our order.  5 minutes later, I had a large bag of food for 2800K (less than $2.50 at the current exchange rate.  The entree is paneer curry.  The rest are side dishes.  All are awesome and enough food for 2 meals.  C'mon America - catch up to the developing world when it comes to food and service!

SP Bakery - as we headed off to the bakery near the school, Cho Sue asked if I wanted to stop at Chicken King, since he knows I'm a fan of their chicken.  It's actually a mobile phone store with one freezer chest of Halal chicken.  I passed today since I ate a lot of chicken last week.

When we pulled up to SP Bakery, the young doorman (yes, there is a doorman for the bakery) ran to our car.  As Cho Sue opened my door, he had opened an umbrella to shield me from the sun as I walked the 15 feet to the bakery door.  I felt like a queen.  Then, as I went outside and tried to snag a tray to use to put my purchases on, I was interrupted by a young female employee who pointed out that was her job.  I let her follow me around to carry my choices.

When I left, the same young man had his umbrella ready to keep me from the sun's rays.  But this time, another young man joined him so I was escorted by two umbrella-carrying young men the few feet to my car.  I believe I've been promoted from queen to empress.  I also pointed out to Cho Sue that he needed to carry an umbrella in the future.  He laughed.

Home -  When we got home, Cho Sue collected all my belongings and carried them up to my 3rd floor apartment.  He came in, briefly, to drop them off.  He, as always, commented on my beautiful view.  He didn't linger, just thanked me and said goodbye.  "See you soon, my mother."  






Saturday, August 15, 2015

Should You Visit Myanmar During the 2015 Election?


Tourism experts in Myanmar are predicting a significant drop in the number of tourists during high season, 2015/16.  That's normally November - February, which is also the time for the best weather in Myanmar.

An historic election is scheduled to be held in early November, 2015.  That seems to have created concerns about visiting the country during that time.  The government has already started hiring additional police to start in September to help guard against any violent protests or activities.

I can't predict the future but am not concerned about being here during the election.  I do plan to be cautious.  I don't discuss local politics.  I don't go near rallies or large crowds.  I am keeping up my normal routine, visiting the local stores, restaurants, markets and pagodas.  To this point, there has been absolutely no problems that I've encountered.

The other expats and I have a game we play when out and about.  It's based on "slug buggy", an old game in which you punched your companion in the arm every time you saw a VW bug.  In Mandalay, we punch each other every time we see a foreigner (not one of the expats who lives here).  It's a frenzy of punching and giggling when a tour bus drives past.

I hope you'll keep an eye on the news and not just automatically cancel your trip to Myanmar.  It's a beautiful, amazing country and the burgeoning tourism sector needs your support.  Plus, without you, I don't get to punch anyone.

Mandalay in August

I've only been home in Mandalay for 2 1/2 weeks but it feels as if I never left.  School has started again, I'm back in my normal routine and life is good.

Last week, I took one of the new teachers with me to Mingalar for some produce shopping.  It was raining when we walked in to the covered market.  When we walked out, water was knee deep in the street.

This is just typical rain during the rainy season.  It is NOTHING compared to the devastating flooding in most other parts of the country.  Within hours, this water had, for the most part, gone away. 
On 35th street, one of the main streets in Mandalay.  Streets went from dry to flooded in about 30 minutes.

Another view from my taxi.
I love being back to the Myanmar prices.  The dollar is currently strong against the Kyat.  Yesterday I exchanged $200 and got 250,000 K.  Before I left for summer vacation the exchange was around $200 = 198,000 K.

Prices in shops, markets and restaurants have gone up a bit to compensate but at places like Style Star (my favorite hair/nail salon), the prices remain the same.  Yesterday I got a manicure/pedicure; leg and foot scrub/massage; shampoo and massage - all for 8,500K.  Less than $8.

There are a lot of new restaurants.  Mostly, more of the same.  Lots of local/Chinese barbecue, which I love.  There's a new Japanese barbecue place which I was excited about but heard they charge in dollars, have already increased prices and food averages $15 for a mediocre dinner.  The molten chocolate cake at Gossip restaurant for less than $3 remains a tasty bargain.

At Citimart grocery store I spent 50,000 K, which is a lot, but that included cheese, butter, mustard, canned peaches, 7-Up, pepperoni and more - all imported.

Last weekend I arranged for the school bus to take a group of new teachers furniture shopping.  It was fun.  Five new teachers bought cabinets like the one I have in my apartment.  It may have been the best day ever for those furniture sellers.  They were high fiving each other as we left.
Rustic, decorative and functional.  About $22, delivered.

Today I'm enjoying a cloudy day at home.  Prepping all the fruits and veg I bought at the market yesterday for the week.  I'll be enjoying banana ice cream, pineapple and mango smoothies and homemade chicken vegetable soup.   Life is good in Mandalay!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Lived Through the First Week of School, But it Left a Mark

Orientation week was rough.  Too many meetings, not enough time to work with my new Assistant Teacher, Susie, to get our room/materials ready.  Ready or not, the kids arrived on August 10, 2015.

They're cute, smart, funny and energetic.  We spent the first week getting to know each other and practicing our routine and procedures.  Most now know that in the morning when they arrive, they put away everything from their backpacks, get out a slate to write "Today I feel...........because........" and then get their morning work sheet and get busy.

I write those directions on the board and they can read them!  Last year, nope.  Huge step ahead.  Thanks to our AIS kindergarten/Montessori teachers!

In addition to teaching a new group of first graders, I'm also leading our AIS Myanmar Flood Response effort.  I feel so lucky to have been so readily accepted in Myanmar - only seems right that I do whatever I can to help in the recovery from the devastating floods.

I'm also leading a WASC team.  We're working hard to get international certification.  It means that parents can be assured that the education their children get at AIS is comparable to what they would get in the United States.  It also means, if you graduate from AIS high school, you can get into an American university.  A huge step for the school, but involves a big time commitment.

On Wednesday morning I was up early.  Took a shower, put on makeup and was thinking about some things I wanted to add to the flood relief project plan I'd created the night before.  My bathroom has an "all room" shower.  There's no separate shower area so the water covers the bathroom floor.

As I took the two steps from in front of the bathroom sink to step out of the bathroom, I slipped on the wet floor.  I tried to grab the door jamb to catch myself but that didn't work.  Instead I crashed to the floor, face first.

I was freaked out - there was a lot of blood and I was afraid to fall again if I tried to stand up since the floor was still wet with water and now blood.  Instead I started yelling for help.  Within seconds my wonderful neighbors (all co-workers) came running.  They got the spare key to my apartment from Aye Aye Than and one of the women ran in to help.  I had grabbed a towel so she doesn't need PTSD counseling.

She tossed me clothes then helped me up.  I was still gushing blood so used a towel and tissues to staunch the flow as I finished dressing.  By then, the school had roused a driver (it was 6 a.m. by then) and I was whisked off to the hospital, with Aye Aye Than at my side to provide moral support and translate.

I was sure my nose was broken but xrays of my face and wrist showed that nothing was broken.  I got a bandaid on the gash on my nose, cotton stuffed in my nostrils to try to stop the bleeding and was back on my way to school.

The kids were a bit freaked out about how I looked but got over it after I explained that it was just like when they fell and scraped a knee - I just did it to my face.

How I look 4 days later.  I'll look better after I get my hair done this morning!  I am a bit disappointed I didn't get to go to Bangkok for a broken nose.  I was hoping to sneak in an eye lift...


Now, on Saturday morning, my face looks remarkably better.  Black eye, bruised cheek and chin and cut on my nose but swelling is better.  I have a Kardashian upper lip, with an impressive bruise on the inside of my lip.  That's actually the most annoying thing now.  I can't whistle but make interesting noises occasionally when talking and my swollen lip starts flapping.

Last year I slipped on the wet floor outside my apartment door and tore ligaments in my left wrist.  Now this.  And after school yesterday as I was coming back to my apartment I slipped but caught myself when I hit a wet patch of tile.  They guy with me did the same.  We were ok but 30 minutes later another teacher came to my door.  He slipped but couldn't catch himself and scrapped his arm to the point of bleeding.

Asia loves smooth shiny tile.  Lovely to look at, treacherous to walk on!

One last note - the morning I fell, when the kids wrote how they felt on their slates I was touched to read what one boy had written:  "I'm angry because Tr. Nancy hurts." 

Beware - nasty photos below...
What looks like blood on my mouth is actually my bruised, swollen upper lip.

My bathroom was a mess.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Back Home in Mandalay

This is going to be a quick update.  It's 4:57 a.m. on Tuesday, August 4, 2015.  My body is still trying to adjust to an 11 1/2 hour time change (and I used to complain about DST!) and arriving with a nasty cold.  I'm getting there but still dozing off at 8:00 p.m. and waking up too early.

Instead of lying in bed thinking about all I have to do before the littles arrive for the first day of school next Monday, I decided to get up and moving.  But first, a quick update.

School staff were waiting at the airport and as usual, immigration was no problem.  Driving through Mandalay to the school felt both so familiar and different.  Dusty, scruffy, crowded and so different from Lake Mary, a planned community with manicured road medians, gated communities and homeowner associations who rule with iron fists.

My apartment had been cleaned and reorganized a bit.  It took me less than an hour to unpack and get things sorted out.  That was Thursday.  Friday I woke up early and went to school to check on my classroom.  Oh, so much to be done and I was feeling puny and tired.  I went to the market and grocery store to stock my fridge then gave in to the cold and spent Sat. and Sunday in bed, feeling pathetic and sorry for myself.

Sunday I ventured out to buy a new kitchen cabinet which is perfect.  $25, which included free delivery.  Yes, this 4 1/2 foot tall cabinet was delivered by a guy on a motorbike.  Then carried up 3 flights of stairs with the help of one of the school staff.  No tip expected.  (I'll add a photo later, when technology cuts me a break.)

Yesterday was my first day of work.  Orientation, getting to know my new assistant teacher, Susie, and organizing the chaos in my classroom.  So much to do - decorating, organizing, lesson plans, assessment materials, etc, etc, etc.  If you're a teacher you know.  And since we have orientation meetings most of the week the work needs to be done around the meetings.  Happily, we had most of Monday afternoon free to get started.

Lots of new teachers have joined the staff.  We have a total of 70 foreign teachers.  Over 300 local teachers.  Almost 800 students.  We'll be undergoing the WASC accreditation visit/assessment this winter.  It's going to be an interesting year.

The new teachers seem enthusiastic and energetic.  Apparently jet leg doesn't impact 22 year olds as much as those of us who are a bit older.  The vast majority of new teachers are fresh out of university and many have had either limited or no experience in living abroad.  So far, though, they're taking it in stride.  Like last year, some made decorated name tags for outside our apartments.  Handy for those of us creeping up on our golden years in case we (ok, I) forget my name as I walk out my door.

I need to hop in the shower now and get moving.  I plan to get in very early and make some real progress before meetings start at 9:00 a.m.  Please send me positive energy so I don't doze off while leading my WASC committee meeting this afternoon.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Mandalay vs. Lake Mary

I'm about mid-way through my summer vacation.  I've loved being back in my Lake Mary, FL home.  I miss my Mandalay, Myanmar home.

I've been quite the social butterfly since arriving home - lots of time with friends and family, catching up.  It has been wonderful.  The most common question I've gotten is "What's the best thing about being home?"

My nephew and his youngest son.
Clearly, the number one thing is being with the people I love.  It's wonderful to catch up and find out what's new and the joys and dreams of the people I care most about.  I enjoy the people I work and live with in Mandalay but we don't have the history.  And, we don't have a similar life path which leads us to similar experiences and views.  But they're right there, willing to play cards and listen to me bitch about school and they totally get it because they're dealing with the siblings of my kids.

I'm also loving the freedom that comes with a car.  I'm paying a fortune for a rental car and insurance for 6 weeks.  It is worth every penny.  The freedom of being able to go where I want, when I want, in comfort is fabulous.  If I want to get up at 3 a.m. in the morning and drive to the beach with no prior planning, I can do it.  Radio blasting.   Being able to pull into my garage during a huge thunderstorm and then carrying groceries just a few feet into my kitchen.  But  I don't have the company of my sweet young driver and his willingness to carry my groceries up 3 flights and admire the view from my apartment.

The food.  You just have to look at me to know I appreciate a good meal.  I'd forgotten the myriad of choices available in America.  Right now I have artichokes steaming on the stove.  I had some lobster bisque for breakfast (don't judge!).  Restaurants, huge choices in the grocery store, there is no food that I crave that I don't have access to.  But I can't get a delicious and huge meal for less than $3.00 in Lake Mary.
Fried shrimp and oysters on the coast.
Mexican food.  Real Mexican food. 

I love being in my home.  I bought this house in 1994.  My brother helped me move in and get settled.  It has a lot of memories.  I have a small, private pool, a convenient gas grill (that's getting quite a workout) and my own stuff around me.  But I don't have a view of pagodas or water buffaloes or rice paddies.

I love not working.  The luxury of no alarm clock. Waking up and then just luxuriating lounging a bit in bed.  No rush to shower and head to school.  But I miss my kids smiles and hugs.  One of my kids who tried to crawl inside my skin every morning when he arrived at school.  Their excitement in telling me what had happened since they'd seen me the day before.

I'm so lucky to be home.  And I'm so lucky to be going home at the end of the month.