I wish the internet was fast enough today to post some photos. But it's not and that's one of the disadvantages of life in Mandalay. It's not a lovely city in many ways.
It is dusty, dirty, and architecturally mixed and unlovely. There are mansions next to shacks. And everywhere, there is traffic. People on bicycles, cars, trucks, motorbikes, pedicabs, vendors pushing carts and the occasional horse or cow. There are truly no traffic rules that are followed, which makes walking and driving dangerous.
The electricity goes out frequently and can't be predicted. Luckily at my school/apartment, the generator kicks on within five minutes. If you're in a restaurant, they usually have generators but they tend to be loud and emit fumes, which tends to take away from an enjoyable dining experience.
The weather ranges from chilly to blazing hot. Stifling heat even in the dead of night for months on end. Torrential rains that turn streets and walkways to mud. And have I mentioned that Myanmar has more venomous snakes than any other country in the world? Oh, and the mosquitoes and dengue fever? There's also the poor health care and extreme poverty. And the lack of western food items and few entertainment options.
My salary is very low. I'm so far from home. Why do I do it? I've been thinking about that. Perhaps I'm a masochist? No, I just have a short attention span. I love change and hate routine. Here are some of the reasons I live here:
The people. By and large they are exceptionally friendly, honest and helpful. I love that usually when I buy something at the outdoor market, the vendors will toss in an extra handful of something as a gift. I love that if a local who speaks English sees me struggling to communicate, they'll stop what they're doing and come to translate. I love that consistently, when I'm in a vehicle driving along or sitting at a light, if I make eye contact with someone they smile and wave. About 95% of the time.
I love that every time I leave the school compound I don't know quite what to expect. Every single time something out of the ordinary happens. Nothing huge, usually, but something unexpected. Coming back from dinner one evening last week, for example, the cows were strolling home down the small road which leads to the school. The driver stopped the car and we waited patiently as the cows walked by. One tripped and fell sideways into the side of the car. No harm done to cow or car. But an interesting way to end an evening out.
I love exploring the markets and grocery stores. My goal is to try a new beverage and food each week. With the food items, I don't know most of the time what I'm eating. I also don't like it much of the time. But I've found some real winners so it makes it worthwhile. The drinks have been interesting. The can of bird's nest with aloe drink tasted very much like root beer. The small bottle which the store had labeled "Chinese Champagne" was nothing like Champagne. It was clear, flat and tasted like a moonshiner decided to flavor his homebrew with a little durian. It was strong. It was horrible.
I love the prices here. After two years in Samoa I was shocked about how high food prices had soared in the US in my absence. It's going to be tough to go back now after living in a place where you can get a meal for 15 cents. My favorite upscale restaurant currently, Bistro Mandalay, has delicious food and great prices. I recently had a caprese salad, lamb entree and two cocktails. Total price? Less than $15.
I love that I have creature comforts. Samoa is beautiful and the people lovely but I hated the heat, mosquitoes and showering in cold water. Here, I have all the comforts of the US. Hot water, air con and most foods that I'm used to in America.
I love that when people are together they are not texting or talking on their cell phones. When I arrived home from Samoa in November, 2012, I had lunch with 3 dear friends. At one point all three were either texting or talking on their phones. Here, phones are too expensive for most people. So they actually engage with the people they are with.
I love teaching Myanmar kids. Like Samoan kids, they love attention and playing games. They get so excited about small things. They are not jaded. They are generous and clever. They work hard. They drive me crazy. I love them.
I feel so lucky to be living in an "exotic" location. Life is easy but interesting. I work with people who have traveled the world. I work with people from diverse cultures, languages and races. It is interesting. It is stimulating. It is not boring.
I love my life in Mandalay.