Tuesday, July 23, 2013

First Weekend In Mandalay

8:30 p.m., Day 1 - Saturday
I have to share this.  I just took my first shower in Myanmar.  I was a bit concerned about the shower getting everything in the bathroom wet, but it doesn’t.  More importantly, it’s the best shower in the world, although my friends’ shower in Taranaki comes in a close second. 
Hot water, plenty of space, huge shower head and enough water pressure to rattle your fillings.  Ideal.  Some say that when you’re down you should go to your happy place.  I think they mean it figuratively.

I’m planning to take it literally.  That shower is going to be my go-to place any time I’m feeling less than perky.  

To celebrate the shower I poured some of the $1.90 whiskey.  It’s actually quite good.  I also had some of the fruit salad and was less excited about the dragon fruit.  I don’t dislike it, just think that with a name like “dragon fruit” it should have a bit more zip or texture or something.  It was just a bit bland.

My goal is to stay awake until at least 9:00 p.m. tonight.  When I drift off it will be to happy thoughts of my new home in Mandalay.  The one with the kick ass shower.

6:00 a.m., Day 2 – Sunday
 I had a good night’s sleep, relatively speaking.  I managed to stay awake until almost 10:00 p.m. and then slept like a bear in winter until midnight.  I woke up, thinking it was morning but the light was coming from the air conditioning display rather than the rising sun.

I got back to sleep an hour or so later and slept off and on until 5:30 a.m., when the sun actually was coming up.  I crawled out of my princess bed (which is how it feels with the pastel blue mosquito net structure over it) and wandered into the bathroom, where I really enjoyed brushing my teeth.  One thing about flying I dislike is not being able to brush my teeth regularly.  I prefer not brushing them in public restrooms and on the plane isn’t appealing. I use those disposable things that you use with your finger but it’s just not the same.   Nice to be able to brush whenever I feel like it.

I just made a cup of 3 in 1.  Damn you, Samoa for getting me addicted to the stuff.  It’s instant coffee, sugar and coffee creamer, all  in a neat little packet.  You can get it in regular flavor or other flavors like mocha.  It is so easy and so tasty.   Obviously, I’ve never been a “real” coffee drinker.
I used my water dispenser for the hot water.  Another excellent feature of my new home.  It offers me either hot or cold water at the press of a button.  And when I run out of water, I just ask the security guard to bring me another, please.  

But it means I need to return my electric tea kettle.  I got it yesterday not realizing that I could get water hot enough for soup or coffee from my dispenser.  That means I’ll have 7,200 to spend…on 2 packages of cheese, perhaps? Or maybe I should use it to buy 20 fresh pineapples.  One of the things I need to figure out here is what things are a bargain and what are expensive.  That way, I can adjust my new diet to what I like and what is inexpensive, rather than just transferring my western tastes here, which could mean spending (wasting, really) a lot more money.  I’d rather eat like the locals, as long as I enjoy it, and use the money I save to travel over the Christmas holiday.

Speaking of which, have I mentioned that one of my top five “stuff to do before I die” items is to attend the full moon festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand in November?  It’s a huge annual celebration during which they pray to /for the souls of lost loved ones.  Aside from the opportunity to give a shout out to my family that’s passed on,  the ways in which it is done are spectacular.  Thousands of skylights are sent up at one time, each with a message written on it.  Skylights look like 3 foot tall hot air balloons, made of paper.  You light a candle at the base, that heats the air in the balloon which causes it to rise.  Imagine the night sky filled with thousands of light filled balloons rising above and drifting with the wind.

The other way also involves fire.  Candles are lit and placed on containers which have messages to loved ones and placed in the river to float away.  Another breath taking scene.
I’m really hoping I can take a couple of personal days (which we’re allowed) to go to Chiang Mai for the festival.  I love Chiang Mai and even though it will be packed to the gills with tourists, it’s still a once in a lifetime opportunity for me.  If I can connect with the nice young man from the plane who lives there, it would be even better.  If not, I’m going to see if I can couch surf.  Google couch surfing to find the site that explains it.  I’ve been a host before, but never surfed.

I met another teacher last night.  I wandered over to communal living space to see if the tv was working or if there was anyone around.  It’s very quiet here because 17 teachers took advantage of the long weekend to go out of town.  I met Barry, a Montessori teacher from Canada who’s about my age.  He’s been teaching in Asia for about five years and says that he really likes this school.  It is very professional and rigorous.  I think he was trying to tell me to expect to work hard.  He told me another teacher was going to be stopping in and I should hang around but it was almost 8:00 p.m. and I was pooped.  

Speaking of which, have I mentioned I’m not a fan of overhead florescent lights?  On my best day they are less than flattering and when I’m this jet lagged they make me look like something the cat wouldn’t even touch, let alone bring in.  I know it’s true because as I stepped out of the shadows to directly under one of the lights, Barry commented that I looked exhausted.  Or grotesquely near death.

Speaking of cats, I met one last night as I was making the 1 minute walk to the lounge.  Tiny, I think it’s less of a kitten and more of just a tiny cat.  One which is hoping to trip me on the stairs so I fall to my death, apparently.  I made the mistake of scratching it’s ears and saying hello.  After I returned to my apartment it sat outside my door for an hour, loudly asking for more loving.  Not the first time it’s happened, but usually it involves a boyfriend and too much tequila.

I just looked at the clock on my computer.  8:03 p.m.  That’s Orlando time.  Hard to believe it’s morning here and I’m watching the birds fly and the scooters and bicycles go by on the road a few hundred yards away.  I have a lot of work to do today and tomorrow to prepare for my first week of first grade, but I’m planning to take a bicycle ride early tomorrow morning.  This afternoon I’m planning to enjoy a swim in the indoor pool that’s just across the compound.  It’s tough working in a developing country, but I’m going to do my best to survive.

I’ve finished my 3 in 1 and have delayed my gratification long enough.  I’m heading in for a shower.  I have a jet lag headache, muscles and joints that are aching from all the hours imitating a pretzel on the plane and the pummeling I took from the Thai massage and I think that my perfect new shower will be just what I need.

Food and Prices

I pulled out the receipt from Ocean Superstore so I can return the electric kettle I bought yesterday.  Had to laugh as I looked at some of the items.  Here’s a sampling of what I bought and their prices, in USD:

Tamarind Toffee - $.58 minus 3 cent discount – apparently because they knew how bad it is

Laundry detergent – 500 g - $.72 – someone does my laundry for me once a week, but I have to provide the detergent.  They also clean my apartment once a week.  I am a princess.

700 g Fatt cheese crackers - $3.85 – comes in a large tin and tastes like Ritz.  I know they’re not good for a diet but really, did you have to put Fatt on the label?

3 Elephant Food Containers - $1.20.  Hey, I’m a little offended by that!  I am not an elephant, I’m just a little chunky.  These are plastic food storage containers – think the Glad stuff in the US.

Good hot and sour instant noodles - $.18 – Can you imagine if ramen noodles were this price in Samoa??  I think the name is incorrect, though, since “good” isn’t what I’d call them.  Fast.  Easy.  Those work.

78 g preserved pomelo - $.52 – pomelo is like a giant grapefruit and I wanted to try this, which  has been preserved and is a type of candy.  It’s good.  Not healthy, but good.  They actually had tiny grapefruit, by the way – imported from the USA.  My guide was very surprised when I told her they were usually twice as big.  Smelled good, though.

10 pieces Hers Korean Wonton - $2.00 – this is for the dumplings I ate yesterday.  They were AWESOME and will be a regular.  Easily two meals for $2.00.  Good for me but I wonder if the guys have to buy His?

1 steamed pork bun - $.25 – again, imagine keke pua’a for a quarter in Samoa!

2 tins Apache sardines in tomato sauce - $1.10 – large tins of sardines.  Perfect for a fast supper when I’m too lazy to cook.  Again – imagine if you could buy tinned fish in Samoa for $.50 a tin.  Would make fa’alavelave so much easier.

250 g President butter - $4.00 – butter is expensive everywhere in the world.  I don’t use much but I love it.

1.5 liter 7-Up (Vietnam) - $.95 – that’s how the receipt is written.  Does that mean only Vietnamese can drink it?  Or I can only drink it in Vietnam?  Oh, perhaps it was bottled in Vietnam.

2 drinking glasses - $1.60 – I refuse to spend 9 months drinking everything out of a coffee mug.  I got class!

206 g Cheddar cheese - $2.51.  Worth every penny.

Day 2 – 9:00 p.m. – Sunday

What a day.  I went to the school at 9:30 to see my classroom and meet with a teacher who would show me the ropes.  He was terrific and very helpful.  We worked together until noon, when we met the school director who asked to take us to lunch.

The director, whose the “father” of this school, apologized for not taking me out for typical Myanmar food.  Instead we went to a very nice restaurant which served “European” food.  The reason was that this restaurant had air conditioning and those serving traditional food did not.  It was about 100 degrees so I was all about the air conditioning.

It was a bit of a throwback – we were given “guest” menus which had no prices so we wouldn’t be constrained.  “We” included the receptionist who was my guide yesterday and is an amazingly helpful and cheerful woman; the teacher who was giving me the basics; and a young man who was never introduced.  

The food was amazing.  Because it was so hot, I ordered iced tea and spicy grilled prawn salad.  I expected a salad with a couple of shrimp on top but what I got was a tiny bit of salad and a bunch of mini-lobsters, which were both spicy and delicious.  The teacher and receptionist both ordered “American fried rice” which came with a piece of fried chicken.  Too funny.

Our conversation over lunch was wide ranging, from school discipline policies (no corporal punishment) to the economic future of China, Myanmar and the USA.  Clearly, the director is well-educated, well-traveled and a smart cookie.

Back in my classroom, the air con was not working.  I was quietly melting.  I met another teacher (Grade 2), another RPCV and asked for help.  Using her remote, we got my air con working.  Then we dished about Peace Corps and living abroad for awhile.

As we were talking (and I was getting zero work done) another teacher joined us.  He’ll be leaving this weekend, which is sad because we immediately hit it off.

Later, I went back to the RPCV’s room to ask to borrow a flash drive.  While we were chatting, the head of the Montessori preschool program came in.  The three of us chatted for a bit, then the Montessori teacher and I headed back to my room.  We had quite the conversation – seems she is the wife of the guy who hired me – my boss.  I explained what I was thinking about for my class and some ideas I had.  She had good suggestions.  We were feeding off each other’s energy which was great fun.

About 5:30 p.m. she walked me back to my apartment building because I wanted to catch the 6:00p.m. bus to shopping downtown. She invited me to join her and another teacher for a massage tomorrow afternoon.  $4 an hour.

At 6:00 p.m., several of us were on the air conditioned bus heading  back to Diamond mall.  It has five floors and is the only mall in Mandalay.  We split up and I headed back to Oceans to return the electric kettle and replace it with 20 pineapples.  Or 10 large watermelon.   But that would be silly, when I could buy 8 bottles of whiskey instead.  Crazy.

After picking up a few things I needed, like deodorant, I headed to the fifth floor of the mall, where I’d heard they had a  great sushi place.  I ordered salmon maki and shrimp maki rolls to go.  Total of $2.  I will so be going back there.

As I was waiting for my food, in came one of the teachers who had recommended the place.  We chatted and I noticed a young girl, maybe 1 year old, staring at me from the next table.  I smiled and waved.  She just stared.  I kept smiling and waving and she finally waved, much to the surprise and delight of the three adults with her.  I decided to take it to the next step.  I high fived my American friend then reached over to high five the little girl.  She just shook her head “no” and tucked her face into her mother’s neck.   I saw her looking at me again a few minutes later and waved at her.  She just shook her head “no”.  Seems I tried to move too fast in our budding relationship.  Whatever, it gave all of us adults an excuse to exchange numerous smiles and amused looks.  The people I’ve encountered here so far have been invariably warm and charming.

Back home, I ate the sushi (delicious) and drank one of the Thai beers.  It was equally good.  Now, I’m ready for bed since I have a ton of work to do tomorrow …before I leave early for a massage.  Work hard, play hard.

So far, I’m loving Mandalay.

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