On my first blog here at Ajarn.com, I made some reflections on my first ten months teaching in Thailand. There was one important thought in the back of my head as I wrote that summary that I didn't include. Namely, soon I would be unemployed!
Working for a government school on a ten-month contract, the end of school year wasn't the joyous and celebratory event it was for a student. No, as a teacher, summer meant I was out of a job. Until May. There were some overtures of wanting me back next year, but that didn't take care of my immediate concern: I needed a paycheck.
Having only been in Thailand for that one year, my roots did not run deep, and so when I began my summer job hunt, once again here at Ajarn.com, I didn't constrain myself to just Thailand.
I found a couple listings for jobs in Myanmar. Apparently, the recruiters next door know where to look for NES teachers: right here in Thailand. I applied, got an interview, and a week later I was on a flight to Yangon to begin a new job in another new country. Bit of a whirlwind, but it fit my needs for a job straightaway.
Mind you, I had been considering Myanmar as my next destination for some time. I'd heard old-timer TEFLers describe it as the next place to be. It's a new frontier in a country that's just opening up. A land of opportunity. It's the Wild West, Southeast Asian style. I began doing some research into what it's actually like here.
I read some disconcerting things. I read some positive things. I read some preposterous things that I simply couldn't believe until I saw them with my own two eyes.
Now, I'm doing that. I'm seeing things here. A lot of what I'd read online about this place is turning out to be untrue or exaggerated. Some of it has been spot on accurate. After less than two weeks here, I don't want to seem like I am setting myself up as an expert. My reporting is based on but the slimmest of experience, but sometimes first impressions are the most accurate. I present to you: Myanmar - Fact or Fiction!
The internet is inaccessible or painfully slow. Partially fact. At the language institute where I work in Yangon, our internet connection is very good. Nearly as fast as anything I came across in Thailand. We're on a wifi network, and at peak times in the afternoon when everyone in the office is checking Facebook at once, it can slow down and drops you, but all in all, it's acceptable.
Mind you, as I write this, I have no internet access at home. I am still waiting for the local 3G mobile provider to turn on the data capability on my phone (which I paid for 5 days ago), from which I will use its mobile hotspot capability to go online, but since that hasn't happened yet, I rely on work and internet cafes. I was told internet cafes didn't exist here. They do, and their computers are faster than those at work. At 400 Kyats (13 Baht) per hour, they're quite reasonable as well.
The cost of living in Yangon is high. Mostly fiction. Food, beverages, cigarettes, sundries, transportation, laundry, office supplies, you name it, it's fairly cheap in Yangon. There is one glaring exception: housing. From what I've heard, the Yangon housing market is booming. Property values are soaring. These value increases are trickling down into the rental market, and particularly, the rental market for the expat.
I'm sure the middle class Burmese living in a similar place to mine pays less than I do, but at $200/mo, it's not too bad. Amenity for amenity, my place probably would have been about 5,000 Baht/month in Bangkok. One does need to come up with either six month's or one year's rent up front however. You don't pay monthly rent here. You pay it all when you sign the lease.
Western-style food is hard to find and expensive. More fiction. True, there is no pizza delivery. There are no KFCs, McDonalds nor Burger Kings. I've not roamed much beyond my little northwestern corner of the city, but even up here, I've seen three Italian restaurants and 4 or 5 hamburger joints in a 3-mile radius. Many of the sit-down restaurants sell sandwiches along with Myanmar food. They all have french fries. Having just got here, I haven't had too many cravings for the tastes of home yet, but when I do, I've plenty of choices and at about the same prices as you'd find in Bangkok.
(Photo: Burger King hasn't reached Myanmar yet. Not that Burger King anyway)
Myanmar food is unimpressive. It's all either Chinese food or deep fried, I was told. Fiction. The local cuisine combines the many influences of the different cultures and traditions which make up the Union of Myanmar. The diversity of offerings is staggering, and I've only begun to scratch the surface of this culinary wonderland.
There's also plenty of Thai, Chinese and Indian dishes available, but I'd have to say the food from Myanmar itself is the best. Furthermore, unlike in Thailand where sampling a random dish you've never tried before could leave you grasping for the water bottle, sweating and with tears in your eyes, the food here is safe for those of us unimpressed by the power of the chili. It's not too spicy.
The electricity goes out everyday. Fiction. In my 12 days here, the power has failed twice, both times when I was in the middle of teaching a class. There were a couple minutes of inconvenience while the school's generator kicked on, but it wasn't a problem. Service came back within an hour. No one is going to say that any of the infrastructure here is world-class, but the daily power outtages I'd read about haven't been my reality. We're not quite into the hottest part of the dry season yet, when I hear it gets worse because of the increased air-con use, but so far, the juice has flowed non-stop.
A choice I made out of necessity is turning out really well... so far. I feel confident that I will continue to thrive here in the Golden Land. If anything, my experience has taught me one thing that I've learned many times before: don't believe everything you read on the internet!