Life in Yangon, Myanmar : The Introduction

Day One, the first words I wrote were as follows :
“What. The f.… Have you done?
Why do you put yourself through this?

How did you think living in a third world country would be a fairytale? Especially when you’ve done it before and know better? What draws you to smelly sewers, squatty potties and dead dogs?”

I’d entered into a different world than that which I’d previously known and had blindly committed to it for six months. Like buying a well-used bicycle from a stranger without so much as seeing it first, I knew it was full of rust with squeaky components in need of some love. I also knew it had a handful of elements I’d enjoy and wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere.

Myanmar was a place I’d heard about and dreamed of. I yearned to live in the jungle, to walk among monks, marvel at golden pagodas, and most importantly, to take to the classroom once more.


Click on a photo and scroll through to enjoy pictures of Downtown Yangon, Myanmar:


On Day Two, I started teaching.
The teacher whom I replaced was still in town before leaving for  Belgium to start a Master’s Degree program. We had two days to transition from Teacher A to Teacher B, and it was a great time, complete with a birthday party for the class’s youngest pupil and subsequently, my first taste of bland Myanmar cake. Not only did I take over her position in the class room as a Year 4 (Grade 3) teacher to 24 students, but I also took her room in the 5th floor apartment between school and downtown. Twenty minutes walk one way, ten minutes walk the other, it was in an ideal location.


Click on a photo and scroll through to enjoy pictures of my Yangon, Myanmar apartment:



The apartment was owned by a Myanmar man and was shared with a young woman working with an NGO from Australia and a young man from Germany. The first few nights I was invited to sleep on the wooden pallet couch and after that was given my own room and bathroom with a western toilet and no hot water. The other bathroom was a squat toilet built into the floor with a bucket to wash away any…residue. This second bathroom had a shower which was connected to the hot water pump. Refilling the tank was essential after each wash, and lucky for us, our water tank was able to be filled with the flip of a switch and twenty minutes wait. Those apartments which are not so modern require tenants to fill their water tank each day by carrying buckets from an outside reservoir to their own flat’s tank.

The five story climb was worth it, especially when I could come home, open the pages of Emma Larkin’s captivating “Finding George Orwell in Burma” and relax while late afternoon suns gave way to splendid watercolored sunsets day after day.

Click on a photo and scroll through to enjoy pictures of sunsets from my apartment in Yangon, Myanmar:


Decorated with local goods, the flat was given a special touch by the handyman, who built everything from bamboo clothes racks to a folding table and stools to fit inside our small kitchen. The breeze shot through from front to back, bringing with it fresh air on 35 degree afternoons and hard rains during monsoon season. The occassional cockroach and more frequent rat issue sent me packing after the first month. Not, I must say rather proudly, not before scooping up the rotting remains of one unfortunate creature from under our kitchen counter and being greeted just seconds later by his curious cousin. The remaining five months I slept in a hostel (yes, I shared a room with 7 strangers for 3 months  – breakfast and wifi included!), and rounded out my time in a small yet comfortable single bed hotel room in Yangon’s most lively neighborhood : Chinatown! The setup was unusual for most, but comfortable for me. I didn’t need much room and enjoyed the flexibility of renting a place which didn’t charge when I traveled away for holiday!


Click on a photo and scroll through to enjoy pictures of Miss Maps Rat Power in my Yangon, Myanmar apartment:



On Day 3, I tried to talk myself into believing I’d made the right decision:
I wrote, rather confidently : “Here, you’ve got to either cherish life as is it or set yourself free from it. That’s the idea of experiencing a new culture: To experience it – don’t run. Learn to live in it and embrace it for every dirty sewer you have the opportunity to skip over.”

On Day 187, I was torn between staying and leaving
To postpone travel plans and continue to live in Burma, or travel now and hope to return one day soon? I could barely pull my own self away. The people, the weather, the train rides and golden pagodas. The weekly bouquets of fresh flowers, the continued ‘mingalaba’s with a (different) bird lady. Chinese New Year, eating cake with chopsticks, laughing uncontrollably with my students, and working 7 day weeks for months on end… this is how my time was spent.

This is only the beginning.
Get ready for Life in Yangon!

Shwedagon Pagoda from my Bedroom Window - Yangon Myanmar - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps -
Shwedagon Pagoda from my Bedroom Window – Yangon Myanmar – by Anika Mikkelson – Miss Maps –

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