Mingalabar! Once again, hello from Myanmar.
Compared to Cambodia where I spent the last 4 years, I can go by a full week in Yangon without meeting another foreigner. Whereas in Phnom Penh, every corner you turned, there were at least a couple of foreigners hanging out.
So, obviously, I attract a lot of stares. Now, initially, I thought – OMG, they are just like the Cambodians! But then, having interacted with both locals and foreigners alike, I realised that I just look strange to them. Even stranger than a mat salleh would, simply because I look like one of them, but I am not one of them. In other words, I just look strange. In the way I dress, my hairstyle, my tattoos (yes, while tattoos are a big norm here for local men, it isn’t so for the women and definitely not when there’s a slapping big one on the thighs!)
On the odd days where I see a foreigner (who isn’t associated with us via work or friends), it gets a bit like “Oooh! Oooh! Look! Foreigner!!” Being the odd one out has brought about very odd behavior from me as well Before we moved to Myanmar, MOH and I had decided that we will not live in an expat bubble – which also explains why we’re in a very local neighbourhood (complete with geese-rearing, nurseries and local markets). I will not be one of those hi-so expat tai-tais either (darn it!) hanging out for tiffin teas and such. And by gosh – it is so easy to stay out of the expat bubble here that I want to get in!!
Having said that, OF COURSE there are other expats in Yangon. Just that the city is so huge, you don’t meet them unless you go to the expat hangouts like 50th Street Bar which is in downtown Yangon or otherwise – a sure place to meet them would be at the hotels or the gyms. Though at the gym – it also depended on the hours you go. Oh, and of course, you definitely meet other expats at Marketplace – which is a high-end supermarket by Citimart, much like the “Marketplace” we have at The Gardens Midvalley. Still, I can count the number of foreigners in one hand. The long lines are usually made up of locals.
I think I mentioned this before – you know for sure you are outnumbered when you called the gas delivery guy and all you had to say was “Malaysia!” and he’ll know where to deliver the gas. Since I haven’t mastered the language yet, it’s great because then there’s no need to speak too much, thereby avoiding any confusion or miscommunication Even the taxi driver does that! Here’s a funny conversation I had with our regular taxi driver – “Hi Ali (yes, we have a regular taxi driver who is Muslim), you remember me?” and he’ll be like “Yes! Malaysia!” And I wouldn’t even need to tell him where to pick me. How great is that? I suppose, when the expats start pouring in, the taxi drivers or gas delivery guy or the water delivery guy would just have to do ‘Malaysia 1’, ‘Malaysia 2’, otherwise, he would have to start remembering names or keeping a proper record book.
I have also done an orientation prior to my starting volunteering with Life Garden Orphanage – an orphanage supported by Friends of The Children of Myanmar (FMC). They told me that they have other volunteers and I had expected foreigners but ALL their volunteers are locals. MOH and myself would be the only foreign volunteers except for when the FCM team from UK visits. It is really very different here. We constantly have to re-tune our mindset to adjust to this “being outnumbered” situation. But it’s a goo d situation to be in, I suppose since there’s nothing like learning the country’s culture and customs by getting down with the locals.
Just over the weekend, my first floor neighbor made the climb all the way to the fifth floor to invite MOH and myself over to their home for housewarming. This marked our first visit into a local’s home. It was a pleasant surprise. As I said before, the locals are very kind, gentle and helpful people. And now, we’re going to add warm and hospitable to that as well. A Do Sheila (which just means Aunty Sheila) stays in the apartment with her 3 daughters (and very pleased to know that the eldest daughter is a trained paramedics!). When MOH finished his second helping of mohinga – a staple diet of curried-noodles for the locals, he told A Do Sheila that he “loves curries.” She excitedly replied saying “I love cooking! Good! I’ll adopt you as my son!” That was a funny moment. She told us too that if we ever need any help, please look her up. Best of all, A Do Sheila and her sister, A Do Vicky both speak the Queen’s English! Yay! I foresee me visiting her to brush up on my Burmese and I foresee MOH growing at the waistline.
I will begin my work at Citimart soon after I am back from a 3-week break in KL. I have since met one of my soon-to-be colleague who hails from Manila. She was so excited when I told her I was joining the team, albeit part-time only. She said this : “It’s good to have more foreigners join the team because right now, there are only 2 foreigners. You want to get anything done, it’s like 2 versus 100! Majority always win!” Oh dear. She also gave me tips on having extreme patience and adopting the attitude of “letting things be” at work. I see I will be having loads of fun at work, eh? Like I said, I’m excited to start and I’m sure there’ll be days where I’ll tear my hair out (internet speed aside) but it’ll all be part of my learning experience of life in Myanmar. I’m going to be praying for more patience everyday and luckily, from the balcony of my apartment, I can see the Shwedagon Pagoda – one of the must-visit places when in Yangon.
I have bags to pack and a flight to catch. I look forward to coming home for the next 3 weeks and getting as much work done as I possibly can with super-speed internet. But I know I will miss my new home here for that three weeks despite all ‘complains’ I have launched about telecommunications and internet So, folks, till the next time around. Be well.
- What We Liked
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