As I said in my last post, I’ve been working a lot and not getting off the school compound often. But since the school compound houses my apartment building which is home to about 20 other teachers, it’s not lonely. Actually, it’s very much like living in a coed dorm. With residents aged 25 – 73. Most are American but we also have a South African (she just started this week), an Italian, a Singaporean a woman from London and a guy from Wales. We’re a diverse group, which makes conversations lively and fun.
My typical day starts between 5 and 5:30 a.m. I get ready for work, which includes packing a lunch since I don’t care for the food provided for us. Which really says something if you know me, since I’ll eat most anything. I prefer to take a sandwich or salad and eat and work at my desk during my 30 minute lunch.
I get to school between 6 and 6:30 a.m. and head to reboot the servers to turn on the internet and intranet. Then down to the second floor where my classroom is. I do personal internet stuff until about 7:00 a.m. and then get busy creating materials for lessons along with the four weekly tests the kids take.
At 8:00 a.m., my first students arrive. They want to chat and have me use the computer and Smart Board to play math games with them. By 8:45 a.m. school has started and the day flies by until 3:30 p.m. On Thursdays, I host the Card and Games club for grades 1-3 with another teacher and that lasts until 4:30.
I usually head for home (about a 2 minute commute) about 4:00 p.m. Often other teachers will also be heading back. Or, we meet in the open area in the apartment building to vent and talk about our days in the classroom before heading to our own apartments.
Many evenings, I just stay in, make dinner, watch tv, read and relax. Sometimes someone will stop by to chat – for five minutes or a couple of hours. Sometimes I’m the one dropping in. It’s not unusual for several people to drop by individually.
My birthday is on Halloween. I hadn’t mentioned it to many people but said something when I got home that evening. I was planning a quiet night of Mexican food and tv. I was in my robe (actually a mu’u mu’u from Samoa – think baggy housedress) and had just finished eating when there was a knock at the door. It was three of my neighbors, coming to help me celebrate. They brought wine and one of the guys immediately started stripping and announced he and the other guy (both less than half my age) were my birthday present.
After I persuaded Matt to keep his pants on and put his shirt back on, we settled in – they were sitting on the mats on the floor and I was relaxed on my twin bed. While we were enjoying the wine and conversation there were a couple more knocks on the door. These folks didn’t know it was my birthday and were just stopping by to say hello. At 9:00 p.m. I was pooped and thinking about my 5:00 a.m. wake up call. The group of 8 partiers headed next door to continue the festivities. It was a fun night and typical of the impromptu gatherings we have.
Yesterday was Saturday. I got up at my normal time and headed to school to do lesson plans for the upcoming week. I hoped to be done in a couple of hours but spent more time than expected trying (unsuccessfully) to take care of a finance issue at home and then gossiping with my assistant teachers when they arrived.
I was finished by 10:45, just in time to head back and get cleaned up to go out with one of the other teachers. We’d planned lunch and a massage. Things didn’t start well, since I asked the guards to call a taxi to come at 11:30. There was a communication breakdown and it didn’t happen. At 11:35 we asked them to call again and they tried but couldn’t seem to find anyone available. At 12:45 a taxi finally arrived and we headed out to “Wilburs”. The teachers talked all the time about going to Wilburs, mostly for happy hour. I’d never gone.
Wilbur is actually the name of the owner of the restaurant, which is called Central Park. It is small, open air and charming. Wilbur is Myanmar and used to work at the school. He wisely recognized that foreign teachers (from our school and others in town) were willing to spend their paychecks on liquor and western food.
The weather in Myanmar has cooled and yesterday was delightful. Very hot in the sun, but perfect in the shade. Gretchen and I enjoyed the breeze as we waited for our lunch. Mine was a cheeseburger and fries. A bargain at $3 USD and really delicious. The conversation and ambiance of the place made it even better.
Travel is my passion and it’s wonderful to work and live with people who share that. Name a remote city and it’s a safe bet that one of us has been there or knows someone who has. Gretchen and I were talking about our upcoming travel plans. She used to live in Malaysia and had the name of the owner of an eco-resort in Sumatra that has great jungle trips. I plan to do that on a visa run early next year. We also talked about Guatemala, where I spent three months and she spent three years.
After lunch our driver, who waited patiently for us, took us to GGG for a massage. He bargained and got us the locals’ rate instead of the typical foreign price by explaining we worked and lived in Mandalay. We headed into a small room and stretched out on two mattresses where two young Myanmar men went to work to get our kinks out. Myanmar massages are done full clothed and the ones doing the massaging use their hands, feet and whole bodies for some of the stretching/popping. It was great.
As we were leaving I pointed out an alley next to the massage place. I’d read on the internet that two of the best restaurants in town were there. We headed down to investigate. The restaurants, one an Indian vegetarian and the other Thai, were across the alley from each other. Both were upstairs over stores filled with carvings and art work. While we were poking around one of the men in the family (the stores and restaurants seem to be owned by the same family) started talking with us. He explained he’d just come back to Mandalay a year or so ago after 40 years living in Manhattan. An interesting guy and I hope to run into him again when we go back to the stores and restaurants.
On our way back to the school, we stopped at CP, which all the teachers seemed to know about but me. They sell rotisserie chicken. $4 USD for ½ a large chicken. That’s pricey by Myanmar standards but I’ve struggled to find fresh meat here and love rotisserie chicken.
We got back to school about 4:30 p.m. It was a great day. Several teachers were hanging around talking but I excused myself to go in my apartment and chill. A few hours later, one of my teacher friends stopped by. We chatted about Peace Corps life (she served in Thailand) and life in general and she left after a couple of hours.
I suspect that some people think I lead this glamorous, exciting life in Myanmar. After all, it’s Burma – on the other side of the world. Actually, my day to day life is very tame. But, a day of lunch and a massage and a little shopping have a little more spice because all the people we were interacting with are Myanmar. Some, like the guys at the massage place, spoke no English. The taxi driver, like most here, was happy to practice his English and told us about his family and his career in the Myanmar army. And how proud he was that both of his daughters have university degrees.
It’s not the tourist sites or big festivals that make me love living here. It’s the small daily interactions with people who are curious, respectful and friendly. That, combined with friends who share a similar lifestyle and mindset along with the creature comforts I have in the city and my apartment make it easy to live here.