Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Saturday in Mandalay

I spent yesterday with two fellow teachers.  I woke up with a cold but that didn't deter me from cleaning my apartment.  The advantage of living in a studio apartment is that it's pretty fast and easy to mop the floors and clean.

The other teachers and I hopped into the air conditioned taxi at 9:45 a.m.  Our first stop was a tea shop for breakfast.  We each had a meal and two of us got take out and the total bill was $3.60.

We spent the next several hours shopping.  First was for lamps.  The brand new teacher was a bit surprised that she had the choice of only two floor lamps, but I assured her that they were the only floor lamps in Mandalay.  They used to have three but I bought one.

Next, we moved on to shop for chairs.  I had two chairs I really liked.  But, I sold them to the new teacher with the plan of replacing one with a similar chair along with a rocking chair.  We stopped at the first store where I quickly purchased and arranged immediate delivery of a chair.  Then we headed a few blocks away to buy the rocking chair.  That's when the fly entered the ointment.  I'd checked out the rockers the week before and was very excited.  They weren't exactly what I'd dreamed of in terms of looks but were comfortable.  And, for only $20, they were perfect.  I sat, I rocked, I was ready to buy.  But then I discovered that there had been a miscommunication.  They weren't $20 but rather $120!  During all of the shopping, our driver served as negotiator and interpreter.

I now owned a single chair rather than the matching pair I'd had previously.  After shopping for a few vegetables at the nearby market, we headed back to the store where I'd bought the single chair.  Bummer, they didn't have another chair to match the one I'd bought.  The new teacher offered to return my original chairs and to take the chair I'd just bought but I told her a deal was a deal.

We went on to a grocery store where we stocked up on basics plus bread at the adjoining bakery.  I bought flour, sugar and other baking essentials along with a king size flat sheet to make a reading fort for my kids at school for less than $25.  Our driver conveniently hovered so he could carry our purchases to the car.

Next we went next door to the food court to but food for take away.  I went for a couple of pieces of rotisserie chicken.  It was expensive, at $1.50, by Myanmar standards.

We drove a couple of miles up the road to find another shop where they sold rattan furniture, hoping to find a foot stool for the new teacher.  We found the store, which didn't have the foot stool but had chairs exactly like the one I'd purchased earlier.  I was able to have matched set again, at a lower price and it would be delivered today. The new teacher was disappointed they didn't have a foot stool but the other teacher said she had one that she didn't really use and was happy to sell.  We were all happy.

Our last destination was my favorite - Style Star - the beauty salon/spa.  We spent two hours being shampooed, blow dried, massaged and pampered.  All for $6.50.  They assigned my favorite employee to me and she was amazing. I gave her a 500K ($.50) tip.  Tipping is not usual here.  Last week, she tried to give it back. This week she was happy to accept it.  She massaged me from head to foot for two hours and thought a 50 cent tip was huge.

On our short drive back to the school we talked about living in Mandalay.  The new teacher expected this to be a "hardship post". It is not.  We have all the creature comforts we want.  There are luxuries we couldn't afford in the United States, like two hour massages.  And, the people are so friendly and helpful.  Our taxi driver not only helped with driving, shopping and ordering in the restaurant, he also helped carry our purchases up four flights of stairs.  One of the new school security guards also helped carry my new chairs upstairs.

It was another great day in Mandalay.  Now I hope I can get rid of this cold before I greet the kids on Monday.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Last Weekend Before School Starts

The last week was busy, trying to get every detail finished before the kids arrive Monday morning.  It did not help that there's no deadline for parents to enroll children.  Three kids signed up for first grade yesterday.  One mother, the day before, spent an hour in the office arguing that her daughter had to be in my class.  I had her last year and all her friends will be in my class this summer.  But, I had more kids than the other teacher so Admin was reluctant.  They sent me an email and of course I agreed to take her.

In addition to getting the classroom and lesson plans ready, there was some socializing.  I wore the traditional longyis the last two days.  They were gifts from the cleaning ladies who attended my ESL class this summer.  The ladies were very happy that I wore them and I got many compliments from local staff.  Longyi skirts are exactly the same as the puletasi wrap-around, floor length skirts that I wore in Samoa.  Much cooler than slacks.

One of the cleaning ladies brought her small photo album to show me.  A few photos of her family and several pictures of her wedding and a few photos of her and me.  I was touched that she wanted to share and added me to her album.

Later in the day one of the local staff gave me an impromptu hug and said "I love you!".  The feeling is mutual.  These people work so hard, in very difficult conditions.  They live with fewer creature comforts than I had in Samoa.  Yet they display genuine smiles and laughter all day.  I may have written about the day a couple of weeks ago when I had a bad day at school.  No big deal, just a frustrating day.  As I was whining to myself, leaving my air-conditioned classroom to walk 2 minutes to my air conditioned apartment, I glanced over at the women carrying bricks on their heads at our construction site.  They'd been doing that steadily for eight hours, in the sun and 100+ degree temps.  I have nothing to complain about.

I'm off now for a day of shopping and luxury. We'll start with breakfast at the tea shop.  Then shopping.   I sold my two wonderful chairs to another teacher.  I'm going to replace them with one just like them plus one that is similar but a rocker.  I also need to buy a sheet to make a "reading fort" in the classroom.  Then, my Saturday favorite time - a couple of hours at the salon getting a massage, shampoo and blow dry.  $6.50 of luxury.

Life is good in Mandalay.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

More Food and Shopping in Bangkok

It's Saturday afternoon and I'm pooped.  It was a great day - started with a long Skype call with an old friend, followed by a few hours of shopping and sweating at Chatachuk Market.  Happily, I found both the shoes and the decorative hand-made paper I was looking for.

Before heading back to my room for another shower and a rest, I stopped in at Terminal 21.  I picked up a few more groceries and then headed to Sunrise Tacos to pick up my last Mexican meal this trip.

On this trip I ate Mexican food (twice), Italian food, Arabic food and seafood (twice).  Other than sticky rice and mango, no Thai food.  Just too little time.

Here are some photos from the weekend.

MBK Mall.  Mandalay has a very long way to go to offer a comparable shopping/dining experience.

My lunch.

Food court at MBK where I had the shrimp.

It was a long walk down a rather dingy hall to the toilets.

But once there they were clean and modern.  This is the toilet's control panel.

Excellent pizza from a Japanese restaurant at Terminal 21.

Durian cream puffs.  Wrong.  Just wrong.

Peaceful park outside Chatachuk Market.

Arabic lavash sandwich for lunch at the market with a Coke Light.

The market was very hot and very crowded.  No sign of the coup.  This local tv news crew were filming the place where I'd just bought lunch.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A More Cheerful Bangkok Update

No, this isn't related to the current coup.  I just posted a rant about things I found annoying yesterday.  I thought it would only be fair to list the things that made me smile yesterday.

  • As I was standing on the clean, cool BTS train yesterday on my way to the MBK mall, a young Thai man, replete with piercings and tattoos, touched my arm to get my attention.  He offered me his seat.  I declined but thanked him for the offer.  His parents should be proud of his good manners.
  • MBK mall smells like food.  It is wonderful.  Every floor has restaurants and there's a large, outstanding food court on the fifth floor.  The best place for delicious smells is on the 4th floor, 4B to be precise.  A row of women was busy making Thai tacos.  Small crepes filled with egg, whipped cream and other stuff.  You can shop for cell phones and DVDs while smelling sweetness.
  • BTS, malls, restaurants are all cold.  They keep the air conditioning on full blast.  That is a beautiful thing when it is so hot and humid outside.
  • Terminal 21 mall was nice enough to have Sweet City while I'm here.  There are over a dozen businesses who specialize in desserts feature their goodies throughout the mall.  More good smells.
  • A Japanese restaurant in Terminal 21 makes delicious pizza.  I came out of the theatre and wanted to get something for dinner and didn't want to walk far, since I was carrying a backpack full of groceries.  I was leery of the idea of Japanese pizza but was pleasantly surprised.  I don't know the name but it's located on the 4th floor of Terminal 21.  I don't think there are too many Japanese restaurants offering pizza there.
  • I love that you can get a cheap massage pretty much anywhere.  After a few hours of walking around MBK mall, I was happy to pay the high (for Bangkok) price of $12 for an hour massage.  Mostly legs and feet with a bit of shoulder, neck and head tossed in.  Comfortable chair, relaxing lighting and music.  Heaven in a mall.
  • I like that since I'm about a foot taller than most people here, even in crowds I can see where I'm going.
  • I love that even if a person here doesn't speak English (and most in the tourist speak at least a bit) they try to help.  I had a completely non-verbal conversation with a man yesterday.  It involved much smiling, nodding and "y'ing" - put hands palm together and bowing your head to show respect.  It was also fun.
  • I love meeting new people from around the world.  I talked to one guy from the Bahamas.  Another from Germany.  A couple from England who now live in Australia.  It is not lonely to travel alone.
  • I love that Chatuchuk market is waiting for me.  The weekend market is open and I'm anxious to get there and hopefully find some shoes, before it gets too hot.
  • I love that I can Skype in Bangkok.
Ok, time to stop typing and head to the market to find more things to love.

Bangkok Update

It's Saturday morning, May 24, 2014.  I spent 12 hours out and about yesterday in Bangkok.  I saw no military, trains are running as usual and the malls and streets are crowded with people going about their daily business.

Overall I had a great day.  Yes, I'm disappointed in no television.  I have limited television in Myanmar so access to more channels (not in Hindi) is a perk of coming to Bangkok.   My choices are CNN, BBC or staring at the military emblems on all Thai stations.  I'm not sure how my watching Top Chef Texas could endanger the temporary government.  That's a small issue though, since everything else seems to be running smoothly.

Having said that, I tend to head out early and return early in the evening. The curfew has not cramped my style.  That can't be said for tourists (and locals, trying to make a living) on the many businesses which operate at night.  The large mall near my hotel was closing at 8:00 p.m. instead of 10:00 p.m. to allow people time to clean up and get home before curfew started.  Tourists who come for the nightlife at places like Soi Cowboy are screwed.  Which is kind of funny when you think about why they go to places like Soi Cowboy in the first place.

I'm now going to address things that annoy me that have absolutely nothing to do with the current coup.  Some of the issues aren't even specific only to Bangkok.  Brace yourself, here's my cranky rant:

  • Cell phones.  I'm enjoying living in a country where cell phones and SIM cards are so expensive that they're not used by every resident.  In Bangkok, like every city in the USA, people have and use their cell phones.  Constantly.  Why should I care?  Because they use them in public while moving.  If you are walking in a mall, street or public transport station, be prepared for me to yell "BOO!" in your face when you come within 1 foot of me and are totally aware of anyone near you.  If you happen to be so engrossed in your texting that you stop directly in front of the entrance to an escalator, I'm going to gently move you out of the way.  Watching people text and walk through the BTS station was like watching human bumper cars.  People bouncing off each other as they texted while ignoring their surroundings.
  • Motorcycles on sidewalks.  I was almost run over when I started to walk from the inside of a sidewalk to the curb - by a motorcycle coming up behind me.  I get that Bangkok traffic is bad but stay the hell off the sidewalks!
  • No big shoes.  I'm 5'10".  I wear size 10 shoes.  I'm significantly larger than most Asians, including Thai people.  I have foot issues which makes it challenging to find shoes even in the US.  In Bangkok, pretty much impossible.  The irony, because many people wear "slipper" or sandals here, there are lots of styles of shoes that would be perfect.  They just don't have them in my size.  I went to more than 20 shoe stores yesterday in Bangkok.  I came home with only the shoes I went in with.  I'm hoping for better luck at Chatachuk market today, where I bought my current shoes.  I plan to buy them out if they have them in my size.
  • Subway behavior.  This is something else that happens worldwide and in many ways, Bangkok is better than many places.  Having said that, why do people get on a train and immediately park themselves in front of the door instead of moving toward the center of the car?  Do they not realize there are twenty people behind them trying to get on?  And what's up with pushing onto the train as soon as the door opens instead of waiting for people to get off?  BTS, the Bangkok Skytrain, which is fabulous, has painted arrows to show where to stand to get on the train - to the side, allowing passengers to disembark first.  Yesterday, one family who I'm guessing were Chinese tourists, parked directly in front of where the door would open.  About ten others, including me, were standing in the designated spots to the side.  A guard nicely asked them to move.  Three times.  They didn't.  And when the trains arrived and the doors opened they shoved people trying to get off out of the way.
Ok, those are my pet peeves.  After 12 hours out and about in Bangkok, that's a pretty small list.  Thanks for letting me vent.  I hope if you're reading this on your cell phone, you don't run into someone.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

What Coup?

Ok, back to our regular programming.  No new news on the coup, so I'll just report on my first day in Bangkok yesterday.

First, let me say I love visa runs.  Myanmar requires that I leave the country every 70 days.  Then I can return and get a new visa.  That gets them an additional $50 visa fee every 70 days.  Works for them and works for me, since I get free airfare (furnished by AIS) to Bangkok.

Arriving in Bangkok is easy.  There's a direct, two hour flight from Mandalay to Don Mueang airport.  We arrived 30 minutes early at 2:35 p.m.  The plane parked a few feet from a jetway but as usual, we didn't use it.  Instead, we climbed down stairs and onto a bus.  We drove a few minutes and entered the terminal where we climbed a flight of stairs then trekked to immigration.  It only took a few minutes before I was collecting my luggage, exchanging money and walking through customs.  Less than 30 minutes after touching down, I walked out and snagged a taxi.

Traffic on the freeways was light.  I was watching for any signs of military rule.  I did see a group of soldiers on the other side of the freeway.  Five or six guys in uniform were standing near a military vehicle.  I think they had a flat tire.

Mark Owen, I thought of you while waiting to exit on Sukhumvit.

My room at Citypoint hotel.  Less  than $45 a night and lovely.

I'm not a big fan of the frosted glass windows that serve as bathroom walls but since I'm staying alone it's no issue.

The room is fairly small but has a large, comfortable bed.  It also has a mini-fridge and safe.
At the exit ramp to Sukhumvit we sat in traffic.  Then we continued to creep forward and wait...for about 45 minutes.  With no traffic it would have taken 5-10 minutes.  When we got close to the hotel I got out and walked.  It was faster.

When I checked in to the hotel, they recognized me.  It's the hotel where I stayed and had to check out to go to the hospital.  They were helpful then and now.  And, coincidentally put me in the same room.

I immediately turned on the air conditioning, television and internet, in that order.  I have television now but not as many channels.  I was very excited about having a high speed internet connection.  Lack of consistent internet is one of the greatest frustrations in Myanmar.  And when it's working, it's slow.

After enjoying some time with my room's amenities, I headed out.  First stop, bottom floor of Terminal 21.  I was happy to see a photo shop and got prints of my cleaning ladies/ESL students for them.  Next, Gourmet Market.

The market is much like being at a Whole Foods, just with more Asian products.  I eyed heads of lettuce and the salad bar.  But, I've been dreaming of tacos as my first meal.  What to do?  I continued shopping and picked up $60 (which filled two bags) of items I can't get in Mandalay.  Cocoa, rosemary, black olives, salad dressings, taco seasoning.

Next, upstairs to Sunrise Tacos.  I explained to the waitress that I just wanted to get something to go.  She remembered me and that I was living in Myanmar.  What a memory - this is a busy restaurant and I haven't been there for months.  Of course, every time I make a visa run I do have several meals there.

We chatted while my food was being prepared.  The owners (an American man and Thai woman) asked for my contact information.  Seems they are considering opening one of their restaurants in Myanmar and they're planning a visit soon to check it out.  Some of the staff at the restaurant are Myanmar.

I'm writing this as if its no big deal.  Inside, I'm doing a happy dance.  A good Mexican restaurant in Mandalay?  I will abandon my beloved Bistro Mandalay in a heartbeat.  My pay check will be dedicated to tacos and margaritas.  Que bueno!

My meal, by the way, was delicious.  Three crispy tacos with fresh salsa and sour cream and a salad.  Perfect.
My over-stuffed tacos and side salad.  Fresh and delicious.

It's 7:30 a.m. now on Friday.  I'm planning a day of massage and shopping.  And sweating, since even at 5:00 a.m. when I walked outside it was already humid and warm.  It will be a day of tough decisions.  Do I enjoy the honey-glazed duck at the nearby Chinese restaurant or do I go back to Sunrise Tacos?

Being in Bangkok During a Coup

Looking up Asoke (toward the National Convention Center) from near Sukhumvit.

Sukhumvit and Asoke at 5:05 a.m.

Light traffic at Asoke and Sukhumvit at 5:05 a.m.

Front page of the newspaper on May 23, 2014.
It's 5:40 a.m. on Friday, May 23, 2014.  It's quiet in Bangkok.  The military announced it was taking over the government of Thailand yesterday.  

I arrived in Bangkok from Myanmar yesterday about 3:00 p.m.  Traffic on the freeways was light but seemed even heavier than usual on both Sukhumvit and Asoke.  I saw a few soldiers on sidewalks but if I hadn't known differently, I would have assumed they were police doing their normal routines.

After checking in to Citypoint Hotel, near the Asoke BTS station, I went shopping at nearby Terminal 21.  The mall was crowded with shoppers and uniformed school kids.  My focus was on buying grocery items at Gourmet Market that aren't available in Mandalay rather than on the coup.

Leaving the mall at 6:30 p.m. I walked through the typically busy BTS/MRT interchange station at Asoke.  I have never seen it so busy.  It didn't help that people were stopping in their tracks to take cell phone photos of the crowds.  I just kept slowly pushing through the crowd, anxious to get back on the street.

I spent a quiet evening in my hotel.  It was clear there was something happening when the television stations began shutting down.  By 10:00 p.m., when the curfew began, there were only three television stations broadcasting anything but a screen which said "National Peace and Order Maintaining Council" along with symbols of what I assume are the very military branches.  BBC and CNN and a sports station (playing all tennis) are the only stations still broadcasting.  CNN just announced they are committed to stay on the air to let the people of Thailand know what is happening during this critical time.

The streets were eerily quiet during the night, although not deserted.  Nothing like normal traffic levels but I could still hear the sounds of cars, trucks and motorbikes from my hotel room.  

At 5:00 a.m. this morning when the curfew ended, I headed out to see what was happening.  The intersection of Sukhumvit and Asoke, very near my hotel, is one of the busiest in Bangkok.  Clearly, people had ignored the curfew to be out driving, but traffic was significantly lighter than normal.  

I saw no military.  I'm hoping that it will be business as usual today.  I plan to head to MBK to buy shoes and school supplies.  Fingers crossed that the military will follow through on keeping peace and remaining neutral as they try to sort out the political mess.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Making Chicken Noises at the Market

Yesterday was great.  Two other teachers and I got a taxi for the day.  Rather than visit all the tourist/historical/religious sites, we just opted to run errands.

We started with breakfast at a local tea shop.  Generally, tea shop customers are male and Myanmar so, as usual, I turned heads.  The teachers I was with are Myanmar and Singaporean so they don't stand out quite as much as I do.

The tea shop manager, me and one of the young servers.

So tasty - fried dough filled with mashed banana.  Traditionally sprinkled with sugar but I was happy without.

Dipping another pastry (a gift from the tea shop manager) in sweet tea was perfect.

Most tea shop customers are men.  I saw two other women this morning.  But, not a problem.   I've never received anything but friendly smiles and good service.

The front of the tea shop on 26th street.

The tea shop is just yards from this bank.

After walking through the crowded, open air room, we settled at a table near the open kitchen.  The manager, a charming and flirtatious 72 year old took our order.  I opted for the banana plahda, which is fried bread with mashed bananas inside.  The manager treated me to another pastry, which was much like a plain long John donut.  It was great when dipped in the strong, sweet tea.

After the tea shop came shopping near Diamond Plaza.  This baby was ok with me as long as I didn't get too close.  The mother and baby are wearing the traditional thanaka on their faces.  It's made from a paste which is from a special kind of ground wood.
Our next stop was near Diamond Plaza, where I wanted to buy some fabric for my new longyis.  The cleaning ladies I've been teaching English to gave them to me as gifts.  One is long enough to wrap around me twice.  The other, like the rest of my longyis fits but I prefer a double wrap.  Since teaching first grade is active, I don't want to risk flashing the kidlets.

After buying some fabric (less than $5 for 3 yards), we wandered toward the cooking supplies and I made the greatest purchase ever.  Pie pans!  Technically, they are very small serving trays but I think they will work just fine as shallow pie pans.  We did have a communication glitch during the purchase.  I was explaining to the teacher from Singapore that I'd found pie pans.  "Pie? What is pie?"  she kept asking.  English is her first language, so I just kept repeating "pie".  She wasn't getting it, so I started naming types of pie - pecan, pumpkin, lemon meringue, peach, apple, etc.  She finally figured out I was saying "pie pans."  She thought I was speaking Myanmar and that pie was a Myanmar number.

Next we headed to the gold pounding place.  I'd seen a piece of art there and wanted to price it.  I still loved it - gold leaf in the shape of a large leaf, framed on a black background.  But at $95, out of my price range.

Since we were near a grocery store we liked, we headed there next.  I wandered around, picking up a few things I needed and then remembered I wanted to buy eggs, but hadn't seen any.  I asked an employee where they were.  She did not speak English, so I used the Myanmar word for eggs - Oh.  I kept repeating "oh" and she kept looking at me blankly.  We walked over to another employee and I tried again in English and Myanmar.  No luck.  We picked up another employee who gave me another blank look.  I was getting frustrated and was now surrounded by six young female employees, all wanting to help but having no idea what I wanted.  So I started making chicken noises and imitated a chicken laying an egg.  They immediately got it and we all headed to the eggs, about 10 feet from where we'd been huddled.

I picked up the eggs and said "eggs"  and "oh".  They looked at me and smiled.  Clearly, "oh" is not actually the Myanmar word for eggs.  I asked for the word and again, they wanted to help but didn't know what I wanted.  So I started saying words in English, then words in Myanmar.  Then I said "eggs" and pointed at the eggs and looked at them quizzically.  They got it.  The Myanmar word for eggs is "ooh"  no "oh".  It took ten minutes to get the eggs but I now have six new Myanmar friends.

I also picked up a bunch of DVDs for the kids and a Coldplay CD for me.  The CD was $.70.  Sorry, Coldplay, Myanmar does not abide by international copy write laws.

After shopping we walked next door to the food court.  While the other two teachers were buying some Myanmar food from one vendor, I went to the place where I'd bought the excellent coconut noodle soup previously.  I was very excited to order it - "1 bowl of chicken coconut noodle soup for take away." all in Myanmar.  The workers seemed both shocked and delighted.

If you'd like to either grocery shop or enjoy some "oh no cow sway" (coconut noodle soup) from the food court, ask any taxi driver to take you to Gandamar Wholesale (its not actually a wholesale shop) on 78th street.  The driver may also know it as the old Ruby Mart.   The food court next door has stalls with Indian, Japanese, Thai,  and Myanmar food, along with rotisserie chicken and a stall that sells coffee and smoothies.  My bowl of soup, which was enough for a meal, was $.80 USD.  By the way - when I write Myanmar words, that's my own spelling - I just go phonetically and write it the way it sounds.

After a rough morning of eating and shopping we decided we needed a rest, so headed to a beauty salon.  We spent the next two hours being pampered like queens.  The place is clean, air conditioned and the staff are lovely.  Shampoo, blow dry and massage - $6.50.

My massage therapist at Style Star.  She's tiny but incredibly strong.

Another staff member.  For the shampoo, you lie on the comfortable beds in the photo.  

Two AIS teachers (left, center) and the shop owner, paying the bill.

The owner of Style Star located on 35th St. and 70th.  It's very common for women to own businesses in Myanmar.  

The ladies who work at Style Star.
Feeling cool and refreshed, we headed back into the 100+ degree heat to one of the important religious and historic sites, the oldest monastery in Mandalay.  We had no interest in the monastery but were very interested in checking out the goodies for sale just outside the monastery.  Unfortunately, the vendors have become accustomed to interacting with tourists and have gotten a bit greedy.  After explaining that I am not a tourist, but a teacher who lives in Mandalay, I asked the price of a small wood carving.  The vendor confidently said $18, which was ridiculously high.  It pissed me off.  I understand that this is the off season and they may be lucky to see a dozen foreigners a day and want to make as much as possible but this was highway robbery.  She asked what I'd be willing to pay and I said $5.  She laughed, right up until I walked to the next stall.  Then she came running and offered the price of $6, which was fair.  But I refused because I didn't want her to think it was ok to try to rip off foreigners.

By then we were back to being hot and sweaty so stopped to buy a beer on our way home.  My interaction with the vendor was annoying but the men riding on top of a truck filled with cement bags made up for it as they waved and smiled when they saw me on the street.  That's more typical in Mandalay.

I was planning to add photos with captions explaining locations but the internet is too slow.  Here's the info

Tea Shop - on 26th St., around 65 (I think) near Aya Bank.  Not far from Mandalay Hill.  Well worth seeking out.  If you are visiting Myanmar, you MUST enjoy a meal at a local tea shop.  The locals may stare, but it will be friendly stares and if you smile, you'll get dozens of smiles in return. Plus, free tea and excellent food for less than $1 USD.  No English menu but the manager speaks some English and there's always a local or two who will be happy to translate for you.

Style Star - outstanding place for shampoo/arm/shoulder/back massage and foot/leg massage.  On 35th at 70th.  Across from Super Points.  English is limited, but no worries - they are used to foreigners.  Women only.  Sorry, guys!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Child Labor

Making the short walk from the school building across campus to my apartment this afternoon, I was sweating after walking two minutes.  I noticed a truck near the apartments from which people were shoveling dirt (or manure?) onto a pile on the ground.

As I got closer, I realized the two people wielding the shovels were boys about 10 years old.  Working quickly, they didn't seem to be fazed by the strenuous work in the heat and sun.  As I passed I said hello to the boys, first in Myanmar and then English.  Typical Myanmar reaction - they stopped for a moment, gave me huge smiles and waved.

I couldn't help but think of how mightily my brother and I complained about the chores we had to do as kids.  Putting dishes into the dishwasher.  Sweeping the porch.  Making beds and cleaning toilets.  Putting clothes into the washer and dryer.

I don't condone child labor.  I hope the boys attend school when it is in session.  It did occur to me though, that if I have my first graders do a bit of shoveling every day it might help them burn off some energy.

Speaking of digging reminds me of a story.  My father was a clever guy.  When my brother and I were about 4 and 7 he convinced us that if we dug a hole at just the right spot in our backyard in Arizona, we would be able to dig all the way to China.  Really, he showed us on a globe how it would work.  Once there we could make new friends with some Chinese children.  My brother and I were all for it and dug with great enthusiasm.  Not much skill, but lots of enthusiasm.  We gave up on the "new Chinese friends" idea not long after we started.  My dad stepped in, dug for a bit and then planted a lemon tree.  That was his plan all along.

To add insult to injury, a couple of years later my brother and his friend and I were playing sheriffs and outlaw.  I was the outlaw and was strung up by the neck from that lemon tree for rustling cattle.  Luckily, my mom saw what was happening and cut me down.  I always hated that tree.

Rainy Season Starts With A Bang

After a hot sunny Saturday I was happy to see some clouds slowly rolling in about 4:30 p.m.  I’ve been looking forward to the end of the dry season, where the sun always shines and dust is everywhere.  We’ve had a few showers recently, so things are beginning to cool a bit and the dust has settled.

What turned into an overcast late afternoon sky quickly changed as the wind picked up.  Rain started, coming from the east.  Lightly at first, with thunder in the distance over the mountains.  Then the wind really increased and the rain intensified and the lightening and thunder were close enough that counting to 1000 after each strike didn’t get out before the thunder boomed.

The power was off and on every few minutes and I stood in the corner of my living room, floor to ceiling windows on both walls giving me a perfect view of the spectacular storm.  Suddenly the wind shifted violently and instead of typical strong winds from the east that accompany a thunderstorm, the rain and wind were coming from the west, in a horizontal line.  At first it appeared to be heavy rain blowing by.  Or was it dust?  No, it couldn’t be dust, with all that rain.  As I was trying to decide the wind grew even stronger.  With a noise like a jet roaring past, I watched the small building used to hold construction materials rip apart.  The tin roof flew about 40 yards across the soccer field.

Lightening, thunder, torrential rain, a steady roaring and objects being blown around the school campus made me finally realize that standing between two large plates of glass might not be the best place to be if this really was a tornado, which is what I thought it might be.

I headed into my closet to avoid shattered glass, if it came to that.  After a couple of minutes, the noise and storm continued but then I started to worry about flooding in my room.  I grabbed a couple of towels and put one under the one window which leaks and another under the front door, where rain was being blown into my apartment.

Since things seemed to be calming a bit, and I heard yelling, I opened my door a crack to see if everyone was alright.  In front of my door was the garbage can which is normally around a corner and about 15 feet from my apartment.  How it got around the corner is a testament to the wind shift.  I also found a shattered plastic shelf and a variety of shoes.  Normally kept next to the front door of another teacher who lives at the other end of the building.  I rescued as many shoes as I could but as she inched her way down to me, we saw more had blown down into the street, three floors below.  I say “inched her way” because the hallway was completely wet, as it is after every rain, and because they used the slickest tiles in the world (the same as at the school), they make walking a treacherous adventure every time it rains.  Lucky for us (sarcasm), the stairs are made of the same tiles.

The power went out yet again and this time the generator didn’t kick on.  Although it wasn’t quite dark, I got out my headlamp just to be on the safe side.  I also contemplated the tuna casserole that I’d placed in the oven about 4 minutes before the power went out.  Damn.

About 30 minutes later, though, power was back and there was a break in the storm.   I ventured out to see how everyone was doing.  The few of us in residence gathered to admire the view of the now crystal clear mountains and assess the damage.  At least one window blew out from an apartment.  Teacher Matt, glad you changed apartments and weren’t in your old one when your front window blew!

AAT and Tr. YC came over from the main school building to check out the situation and told me that all the large metal lockers at the main school had been toppled.  I’m not sure what other damage occurred.  The main school building took the brunt of the storm when the wind shifted and came out of the west, since the main school building blocked our apartment building.

Things continued to remain calm, even as the rains returned.  Gently now, with less wind.  The lightening was a treat to watch in the distance as the storm moved away.  No internet, of course and I think my satellite dish needs to be recalibrated since I now receive only two channels, but no one at the school was hurt.

I met a woman Saturday morning who is visiting Mandalay and interviewed this morning for a teaching job.  She’s staying at a hostel nearby, which, I imagine, is not nearly as well built as our new apartment building.  I hope the storm didn’t scare her off.

The storm was scary for us in a strong, well built apartment building.  I can’t imagine what it was like in the typical local houses with sides made of woven bamboo and roofs of wood, tin or thatch.   I do not take for granted that I live a very luxurious life compared to 98% of the people in the country.  Whether due to luck or good behavior in a past life, I was born into a status that has given me comfort, security and safety. 

I had a bad day at work the other day.  Not horrible but frustrating.  Then I left the air conditioned classroom to walk home past women who’d been shoveling sand and carrying bricks for 8 hours in 100+ degree heat.  And would have to then walk home and do all the household chores and take care of their families.  Perspective.

UPDATE:  I just heard that according to the news (someone else heard, since my satellite dish was a victim of the storm, at least temporarily) the wind strength yesterday was 201 km per hour – considered tornado strength although it wasn’t a tornado.  I hope not to experience anything like it again.  I also discovered that the wind broke a small piece out of one of my small windows.

Successful Shopping

It was hot and sunny yesterday, May 10.  Typical weather.  Not as blazingly hot as April, but hot enough to start sweating after about three seconds in the sun or an enclosed space. 

I spent a couple of hours in the afternoon doing some work and personal errands.  I went with the school driver and the head Admin guy to go to the printers to check on the status of our summer school materials.

We stopped first a few blocks from the printers at a small store that sells all things plastic.  I wanted to buy containers to help keep my classroom more organized.  No, I’m not keeping each student in a large plastic bin, although on full moon days that has some appeal.

I bought a large bin to keep all of the games and puzzles I use for the after school club and for the kids to use during free time (before school, after lunch, etc.)  Thanks to an idea from, I bought plastic soap dishes to hold all of the card games.  Even though I’d taken them out of their boxes and put them in Ziploc bags (yes, we have that brand here), they still got tattered and I went through the Ziplocs on a regular basis.  I also found a plastic thing designed to help drip dry utensils in the kitchen that I think will serve nicely to hold my whiteboard markers and eraser (or, duster, as it’s called here and in Samoa).

I also found a cylindrical metallic vase that is now working perfectly to hold my spatula, spoon, ladle, scissors, etc. in my kitchen. 

When we pulled up to the printers, I was expecting…a print shop.   Back in the dark ages, I was responsible for a magazine that went out to all the bank’s customers where I worked.  I’m familiar with silver prints, editing, layouts and the printing process.  This was not a print shop.  It was a tiny space, with walls on three sides and three very dusty copy machines.  And three guys busy making copies.  The SNL jokes were racing through my head.

Andrew, the Admin guy and my buddy, introduced me to Theory (I’m 100% sure that spelling is incorrect but that’s how her name is pronounced.)  She and her charming husband own the copy place.  She used to be an assistant teacher at AIS but left last year, very soon after I arrived, due to health reasons.  She and her husband showed us samples of what they’d done so far and showed us the progress that they’ve made.  I was very relieved to see that they should have everything done before school starts.  And, it appears to be quality work.  Given what they’re charging, I can’t imagine how they are able to make a profit.

After concluding our business, Theory insisted we head next door to a tea shop so they could thank us for our business.  She and her husband treated us to a beverage and we had a nice chat.  Theory and I hit it off immediately.  I think that was in part because she looks like she could be a sister of one of my best friends, who is from Guam. 

After 15 minutes of chatting and drinking coffee, or in my case, fresh orange juice, we headed off.  An aside, as I was drinking the delicious, fresh squeezed juice, with ice, I couldn’t help but wonder what that might do to my innerds.  On Friday morning, I’d developed a “bad belly” not bad enough to go home, but enough to ensure I didn’t eat lunch.  By the time I got home that afternoon, I started getting concerned.  I had a fever and spent more time in the bathroom than the bed.  I figured Saturday would involve a trip to the doctor.  But, I got a decent night’s sleep and by Saturday morning I was feeling much better.  I did not want a repeat performance thanks to bad ice.  Ah well, it was hot, I was thirsty and it would have been rude to decline.  (It’s now Sunday and my iron stomach has prevailed.)

As we were driving, I’d asked Andrew if he knew of a place where I could buy a cake pan.  I promised to bake a cake for each of my four ESL classes to celebrate our last class.  Last week, debate class ended and I made cheesecake brownies, which were well received by the students.  This week, I’d need four of them, using my one pan.  If I had more pans, that would help.  I brought the one pan from the US but figured as many bakeries as there are in Mandalay, somebody has to sell bakery supplies.  I also haven’t been able to find baking powder or soda in the last several months.

We took a quick detour to a place he’d found when he’d helped a visiting Science teacher find Cream of Tartar, something else not available in grocery stores.  It seems that people in Mandalay love baked goods but they do not make them at home, even in the wealthiest families.  When I baked cookies for my kids in class their reaction would have been no different if I had levitated in front of them.  It was magic.  Better yet, it was edible magic that they got to help make.

Anyway, we pulled up to the store that clearly supplies the bakeries.  I was in heaven.  Huge, industrial sized mixers, giant cake pans and all the chemicals required to make commercial baked goods.  I immediately spotted a small cake pan, the type you’d used for the top layer of a wedding cake.   Surely they must have pans for the next layer down.  Finally, they found one.  A bit beaten and dented, but a round 10” pan.  For $3.20.  They also had baking powder, from China.  I now have an industrial sized tin, which cost less than $2.00.  They had two colors and sizes of cupcake papers so I snagged those, too.  $1.10 for each and each has about 200 papers.   I like to use them for crafts with the kids and planned to bring them back from FL, but when I saw the prices, even at the Dollar Store, I refused.  This was a score.

By the time we left the store, I was a happy, dripping-with-sweat, woman.  Ready to head back to my apartment to relax and contemplate the logistics of cake making this week.

Note:  my new cake pan is a bust.  It is too dented/bent to hold liquids without leaking like a sieve.  One cake at a time it will be.