Monday, July 30, 2012


Muriel Rukeyser

"It is...hard to write about a city we just moved to; it's not yet in our body.  We don't know our new home, even if we can drive to the drugstore without getting lost."  
  "Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within," by Natalie Goldberg.

And this:
"Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan.  I did not know it was too early for that because I did not know Paris well enough." 

This may be why I don't write a lot about Yangon. How it feels here.  What it smells like.  The rhythm of the city.  It's because I can't possibly know it yet.  It takes time to absorb a new place, to sift through all the new senses.

What I can say, without writing very beautifully about it, is that Yangon is green. It is one of the most striking things about it.  It's one of the first things I noticed upon arrival in April.  Yesterday, on a flight from a weekend in Bangkok, the plane began to descend and a man sitting next to me commented on just how vibrant and green Yangon is. It's a stark comparison to Bangkok.

The monsoons have opened up her arms and released all her rain. Not rain like I've ever seen. Mini flash floods pop up all over the city.  You can smell it.  It arrives multiple times a day. Sometimes, it comes quietly and quickly.  Other times, it's so loud it almost hurts the ears. It can be rapturous.  Windy.  And I can tell you that bamboo is incredibly flexible and nimble. (Never seen anything sway like it.)  We've found dead tiny, tiny little silver fish under our porch/deck (there's no water there).  It's wet.

I can't write about it. I can't even describe it. But, I do love the rain here: it's beautiful and feels magical to me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Did you know I'm shy? And introverted?  Did you know it takes me a long time to make decisions and I don't like change?  Actually, that's not true. I don't dislike change. I'm just very slow to change.  I like to have roots: I'm not a wanderer.  It's very difficult for me to take the initiative and make friends.  Actually, it's completely unnatural for me. 

It doesn't help that I find it difficult to verbalize what I want to express.  I pause a lot, use fillers like "uh, err, ummmm..." and go all monotone. be JUST there, where I can nearly grab them and stick them in my mouth, but they flutter quickly to some distant part of my brain and I'm left fumbling all over myself. I'm not concise.  I'm inarticulate.

But I can write.  OK, I'm not an amazing writer or anything like that. Yet, the words generally linger long enough so I can snap them up and slap them down on the page.  They might not be the best words to use, but it's easier for me than talking.

It has always been this way.  My friends from early childhood may remember me - even in 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade - spending my lunchtime sitting on the floor against the orange lockers, writing in a massive notebook.  I could find some solace there.  Escape sometimes.   

Perhaps you can imagine, then, that moving to a new country isn't particularly comfortable for me.  For my type. I mean, come on. I'd only *just* started to feel snugly in my "hometown" that I had lived in (off and on) since the age of 14.  Now, I'm not going to tell you how old I am, so let's just agree that I was 14 a long, long time ago.  It's taken...THAT long...for the "hometown" to feel like home.

I'm guessing it will take Yangon a....very long time to feel like home. Probably won't actually feel completely like home - ever - to be honest. Still, it's something to aspire to. I need to feel comfortable here. At ease.  At least.

That means I have to put myself "out there." (Gulp.) I know that I have to try to meet people.

However challenging it is, however unnatural it is for me to do this, I have tried to meet people since arriving.Good things have come from it.

I've hosted quite a few playdates already.  I sought advice about living in Yangon before we arrived.  I've asked an e-group if moms without nannies want to get together. I've asked if there was interest in creating a book club (then got invited to one).

I've also joined a writers' group.  Which brings us back to the introverted, shy girl who likes to write and stay away from crowds.  It's generally been difficult for me to share my writing. It's always been quite personal, so joining a writers' group is a leap for me.  It's also something I've wanted to do for a long time, but didn't have the balls.

Though I'm very nervous to meet the group tonight, let alone share my writing to the group of strangers who are meant to critique it, I'm quite proud. I'm proud that I have the guts now. I'm proud that I'm writing...even if it's complete shit.  And I'm proud that I've been meeting people and pushing my limits.

I'm learning I'm braver than I think. It's not like any of this takes a huge amount of courage, I know; still for me, it does. In this way, moving to another country (again) has been good for me. And it's great that I have the time to pursue a more creative side of myself while here.

It's a good thing. And I'll keep writing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Skype does put your family together.  When you think about it, it's pretty amazing.  Long are the days that you have to post a letter in the mail and hope that eventually it will reach your loved one.  Oh, wait. Actually, this does still apply in my circumstance!  Alright.  But at least that long-awaiting post is supplemented by Skype.

On Sunday, I was able to Skype with my brother, my sister-in-law, and one of my nieces in the good 'ol US of A.  It was the first time I had heard their voices and seen their beautiful faces in four months.  My daughter got to speak (although in a very silly way) with her sweet cousin.  It was good.  It was better than good.  It was great.

Great to connect with my family.  OK, so afterwards, I had to hide myself in the kitchen and blow snot into paper towels for ages.  My eyes were swollen for the rest of the day and I had a pit, an ache in my stomach.  Though connecting brought me happiness, it was a raw reminder of how far away we really are, too.  I can't just drive up to my brother's and stare at their clear sky while the strong valley winds bluster.  Bittersweet.  Hard to swallow.

I know that each time I connect, though, the bitterness bites less and the sweetness lingers longer.  I've been able to Skype with a couple of my besties a few times each; each time it gets easier.  (Translation: less crying after or during.)

Bangkok visits are like this:
The internet connection is stronger and faster, so we can video chat the whole time.  In Yangon, people can't see us (not such a bad thing!), but we may be able to see you, if we're lucky.  Voice chatting is just fine, though.

To any of you who haven't uploaded Skype yet, I hope you do so we can chat! It's easy, it's free, and it's just like talking on the phone.  Um. Except you have to put up with my poor internet connection and the fact that we'll get disconnected multiple times. Aside from that, though, it's just like being on the phone!

And I promise, I will call you back when we get disconnected.  Unless I can't.

P.S. if you do download Skype (FREE!!!!!!!), then add me.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Yes.  A big coffee (or mug of tea) and a good book = Happy Becky. Since arriving in Yangon, I have read several books. At least eight.  Eight + books months.  That's a lot of books!!

There's a nice bookstore in town.  There are also streets that sell books on the road. I prefer the bookstore though.  Upstairs is a cafe where you can get a coffee and log-in to wifi.  It's next to the "Art" section. Hurrah!  The air con doesn't seem to work well up there, though, so lately I haven't been hanging there much.

When we first arrived, I spent several days a week at the bookstore and now some of the staff know me and my daughter by name.  When I don't come in for awhile, they ask where we're been, how we are, etc.  Sometimes, books are recommended to me as well. 

A month ago, I posted on a web-group for expats here that I'd like to start a book club or join one as a way to meet more people. I was invited to join one; they said they had room left for one more person.

Tonight is Book Club Night and it's my first time to go! I've been grumpy and tired today, but the thought of discussing Alexander Pushkin's Eugene Onegin is a bit invigorating.  I miss discussing books. Words.  Lines.  Prose.  It will be good to continue to meet people living here who are like-minded.  I'll let you all know how it goes.

Next month, we're meant to read a book by Virgina Woolf: "To the Lighthouse." I've never read it and will try to pick it up in Bangkok when I go there later this week.

Ahh...Bangkok.  Starbucks.  Big, big bookstores with lots and lots and lots of books!  YES!

Friday, July 20, 2012


I miss grabbing my car keys and heading off wherever I want, whenever I want. It provides some freedom, to come and go as you please, to be alone in your car. You can yell, sing loudly, whatever. There’s solitude in that.  A moving refuge.  The company car sits here every night, taunting me, “Take me for a spin!  Get out of the house. Drive around and explore Yangon.”  I’m very tempted, but I don’t have the keys for the car. Actually, I don’t have any keys. 

I also don’t have a license to drive here.  The husband just got his.

We’re fortunate to have a company driver take us where we need to go, but there are times I yearn for privacy.  I don’t always want someone knowing which days of the week I go to the supermarket and what’s inside the plastic grocery bags.   

I don’t always want to keep my mouth shut tight, polite, ever mindful of my husband’s position at work, and that I am reflection of that. “Behave,” I tell myself. “Be quiet,” I scold myself.  “Don’t make a noise when the car almost hit a pedestrian or a bus nearly hits the car. Might make the driver lose face.” 

I don’t care if I lose face. Pretty easy for me.  I wear my heart on my sleeve. No. Scratch that: heart on sleeve. I wear my heart, my thoughts, my feelings, all over my face. My face reveals me.  No mask here.  Anyone that knows me in the slightest knows this. I’m all about losing face. I don't know how NOT to lose face. I suppose that’s why the entire concept is lost on me.  

By god, when I get a hold of keys to that car, I will set-off on a loose-faced, losing-face mission. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Cute photo comes from this blog

Connecting can be an issue here. For the first couple months, we didn’t have internet access at home. Once Freya began attending school, I would schedule my days around her schedule, so I could fit in a couple hours weekly at a café, getting my wifi fix.   

This became expensive; I was either drinking copious amounts of coffee (alright, I would’ve been doing this anyway…) or buying lots of very expensive imported books (the bookstore has a café upstairs with free wifi….well, if you purchase something).  Sometimes, though, there would not be any connection at the cafes. On those days, I had mini tantrums.  I was aching to go to Bangkok so I could just frickin’ check my email and upload photos! (OK, I still feel that way.)

At least for the last month we've have internet “connection” at home…but…contain yourself. Don't get too excited. Connection here is all relative.  So, here you go. This is:

 "The Story of How Becky *Kinda* Got Internet at Home"

  • The guys show up to connect us.  They’ve got the modem. They’ve got a power surge inverter protector thing. They’ve got a wifi whatchamacallit.  I was nearly shaking with glee. BUT! They couldn’t get us hooked up because of a simple admin mistake: a typo. A telephone number typo.  I nearly screamed, “are you kidding me?!”  “Another two weeks to fix this, madam,” I was told. “And you have dial-up.”   I about cried.  

  • Two weeks later, the telephone number issue was rectified. Connection?  Yep!  Well, uh, sort of. Problem: I couldn’t actually get online. Couldn’t… actually…connect. After a few days of this, I desperately asked the maintenance guy - who was looking into fixing our about-to-fall-down ceiling - about our lack of connection. He did the most crazy thing: picked up our telephone receiver, waited for the tone and the beeping sounds, and suddenly, the internet light on the modem started blinking!  Hurrah!  (As you know, blinking means it’s not a strong connection, but at least there’s a signal. This is usually how it is: no strong connection.) 

  • The next few weeks went like this: on average, every five minutes, I’d pick up the phone because I was getting disconnected. Pick up phone. Wait for the dead tone. Pick up phone. Wait for the dead tone. Pick up phone. Wait for the dead tone. You get the idea.  It’s – uh – challenging.

  • Eventually, some guys came out to check our telephone line because they thought it must not be very good.  The lightbulb slowly registered in my brain and I thought, “Ohhh! That must be why no one can EVER hear me when I call them from our landline!”  I think they fixed the line. Or at least it was fixed for a few days.
  • The next day, the phone went dead. The modem, for the first time ever, cheekily had solid internet and Ethernet lights. Not blinking. But I couldn’t connect. And our phone was totally dead.   It seemed beyond resuscitation.  A few days later, someone came to fix it. But I don’t know how they did that.

  • A couple days later, in the same week, on a Friday (last Friday, in fact!), the phone went dead…again. No one came to fix it. Because it was Friday afternoon. No internet on Friday. No internet on most of Saturday. Then, our telephone rang once or twice. No one on the line. As if by magic, this appeared to have jolted the phone from the depths of its death, and once again, internet worked. The following day, it died again. The phone rang. It once again was reborn.

No more dead phone issues, but the phone line seems bad again. I’m back to picking up the phone. Waiting for tones.  Picking up the phone.  Waiting for tones.  Over and over and over again.

Summary of the story:

 To get internet connection at home we either have to constantly pick up the phone and let it beep for ages, multiple times in a row, to get a connection, or, we have to RING our telephone to resuscitate it. 

So, connecting isn't...always easy.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012



We arrived in Yangon about three months ago. Belongings showed up six weeks later. Unpacking: nearly complete. Yet, we are still arriving. We're new. And I think we'll be arriving for a long, long time. As long as it takes until this feels like home. Or as much like home as possible.  (Currently, my daughter doesn't think it will ever feel that way.)

We've moved around quite a lot, but this is the first overseas move with our child and that makes being an expat this time around different. And, new. Everything about the move feels new. Everything about Myanmar is new. And, when seen through our child's eyes, it just adds another dimension

Every week, however, being here feels more comfortable. I know which supermarkets I can buy western food from. I know directions, the roads, to places we drive most frequently.  Learning exactly which street sells beautiful, ornate, artistic ceramic pots was a small victory that felt monumental. My daughter has developed friendships. I've progressed from holding play dates that only involve children and nannies, to play dates where the moms stick around, too. (Thank god.)  Now I've made friends. Significance: not underestimated. 

I know that friendships make or break living somewhere. Without friends, the kind of loneliness that you can choke on creeps up your spine.  Been there. Done that.  Not this time around though. I've learned through all my shifting around, that I must initiate friendships, put myself out there.  This is only a new lesson.

Thankfully there is a great gmail group in Yangon for expats. I've invited people to join a book club or have play dates (moms required).  I've met a friend this way (she's lovely) and have been invited to join a book club. Through initiating play dates, I've met wonderful moms who don't have nannies (like us). We drink tea and coffee while our kids play. Have meals. Break bread. This is the stuff friendships are founded on.

It's the stuff that brings peace of mind, too. Don't think I'll ever have the type of peace that the pictured Buddha has, but I don't have loneliness clawing at my throat. To me, that truly is a monumental victory when adjusting to expat life, moving 7,500 miles from all things familiar.