Friday, August 31, 2012


Yum! Yum! Pizza Seaweed! (sarcasm)

On the way to school this morning, I was pretty sure we had a breakthrough.  

      “When we go back home, can we bring seaweed?” my daughter asked. This is it, I thought. She’s completely adjusting to life here now.  She’s going to want seaweed for lunch in America. Yes!

      “Sure! We can take seaweed back,” I replied excitedly. 

      “Two boxes?  Pizza flavored?” she asked. (Yes, there is pizza flavored seaweed. It’s all the rage.)

      “No problem.”

      “YAY!” F exclaimed when I agreed we could take five boxes of seaweed. Puhhlleeez, I will buy stock in pizza seaweed if I need to, as long as this means she’s totally assimilating to life in Yangon, I told myself. 

I felt so excited. All the kids here have seaweed at lunch and now she wants it back in the States! I resisted telling her one of my best friends, E, who lives in Oregon, already buys seaweed for her boys. Pretty sure F would’ve wanted to board a plane RIGHT THEN to go home.  So I stayed quiet.  

      “…Mom.  When is it five years?”  Shiiiit, I thought.  My daughter knows we may live in Myanmar for up to five years. 

      “A long time, sweetie,” I answered softly.  Silence. 

      “I think five years is a bad idea, Mom.” What could I say?  Be honest? Tell her sometimes I think five years is a bad idea, too? Tell her that it will be OK?  

      “You know, sweetpea, it’s already been almost HALF of a year since we left. That’s gone by pretty quick, hasn’t it?” I hoped that would work: it was the truth, it didn’t discredit her feelings, but was still optimistic...

      “AH!! I’m starting to feel a miracle!!” my daughter exclaimed. 

I was starting to feel one, too. 

Maybe we didn’t have the kind of breakthrough I thought we were having at the beginning of the conversation this morning; but, we still had one. We were able – for the first time since March – discuss home and time frames without there being some sort of mini - or maxi -  dramatic event. Progress.  

This is transitioning. The: In Process. We’re still going through it. We’re getting closer to balance...

A place where we can stand right in the middle of the two homes overseas.  We can look towards the Pacific: sigh, smile, think of all that is known and familiar and loved.  We can look where we are standing now, and know it’s OK, that we are together, and that it’s becoming familiar. 

Just like pizza seaweed.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Sometimes, I find the most peculiar things around Yangon. Most recently, I spotted this sign in a bathroom stall of MarketPlace, a shopping compound with a grocery store, a couple shops, and some restaurants. 


NO! Don't SQUAT on the toilet!!!

SIT on the toilet!!

Push that lever DOWN!

Burmese script.

Don't you love the only English script is: "Center Management." 

Totally makes me laugh!

Saturday, August 25, 2012


Yangon Circle Line. All Rights Reserved: Chris James White Photography: website here and facebook here 
*Chris James White is a photographer based in Yangon.*


  • Are you moving to Myanmar soon?  
  • Are you thinking about becoming an expat? 
  • Are you just considering moving here and asking yourself questions along the lines of: OMG. I might become an expat. What the hell?  Should I do it?  

I am new to Yangon and am far from being an expert on Myanmar.  I'm also far from being an expert expat. Still, hopefully I can help a bit!

This is not my first overseas move, but it is the first overseas post with a child.  That changes things. In some ways, I have found it easier (socially) with my daughter.  In other ways, it's more challenging (helping her cope with the transition, with culture shock, with major change). Like today, when she needed to rant about many front of the driver...about his own culture. Classic, right?

Several years ago, we considered moving to Cambodia. I bought a shit load of books about expat life at that time. After spending....oh...a lot of moola, we decided not to move. I held on to most of the books, even though we were adamant we wouldn't be expats again. Or maybe it was me who was adamant... can see how well that worked out!

I think - deep down - I knew better. Out those books came nearly two years ago as we began to process a possible move to Myanmar. 

This is how I process change, especially moves: 
I read. I research.  I read. I process. I cry. I read. I make lists.  I worry. I read some more. I make notes.  I tell my husband we're crazy. Then I read more.  Eventually, I accept the change. 
(Wouldn't it be fun to be married to me?! No?  Oh, alright then. Moving on...)

The decision to move abroad is not easy. Each family has to decide for themselves what's best for them. Your family's circumstance is different from mine. We chose to take the leap and board a plane.  We believed it was the best thing for us, at that time, in our lives. 

My top tip if you do move: have a plan. Have a reason for moving, for what you want to get out of it, both personally and as a family.   

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Source of photograph from here.  Photography credits to TJ Mullinax/Yakima Herald Republic

"Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasure."

                                                                                            - Rumi

I'm not really sure where to begin.  Do I start with giving some advice, sharing our hard lesson learned?  Perhaps it begins with the official notice that we would be moving to Myanmar.  No. That's going too far back.  Maybe it's the point when we were making mental - then physical - lists of "what's to go" and "what's to stay" before packing up. Yes. I think it starts there.

How do you decide what to leave behind, to store in safety, when moving across continents?  Do you take all your most prized possessions to the new country, to keep them near you, or do you pack them up into neat little boxes and open them at a later time.

We chose to take what we "must" to be comfortable in Myanmar. All our daughter's toys.  Much of our furniture.  Most of our belongings.  Special books I've carried with me across four continents and five countries (they've traveled more than some people). They came along this time, too.

Yangon used to be a tropical rainforest. I mean, it still is a tropical rainforest, just with a city built on top of it. Nature takes over quickly, though, and is not tamed by cement and motors. It's a humid place. Mold rapidly grows and we worried about it destroying baby books, antique furniture, precious family heirlooms, our daughter's ultrasound pictures.

Those belongings with the greatest sentimental value - those that we would cry and mourn for if ruined - we left at home. The storage unit was a warehouse and the owner boasted of its safety and how the military housed items there, so security was tight. I felt secure and confident trusting my great-grandmother's dishes and jewelery to them.

We figured the greatest risk would be if the container blew up or sank for some reason.  We insured our air and boat shipments to Myanmar. After all, they were the more necessary items. And, thankfully, they arrived unscathed.

We did not insure our storage belongings.

Friday, August 17, 2012


 In Yangon, this t-shirt might read, "...see my nanny for details." 
Anyone moving to Yangon will benefit from getting to know the nannies of kids, as they often know the playdate circuit and can help get your child involved.  Of course, talking to the parents will help, too.  Just the nanny aspect was new to me, and I've learned getting to know them really helps, too, especially as I don't have a nanny for our child.

Yangon is a quiet, laid-back kind of place: except for the increasing traffic.  Nevermind the traffic jams that keep you bottle-necked (still not as bad as many large cities); it's still pretty peaceful.

There's not a huge variety of nightlife or things to do in the evening.  Not lots and lots of museums to visit or well maintained playgrounds in public parks for kids.

The quiet aspect of this place, I think, forces families to be a little more creative; the good thing about this is that there are an abundance of playdates available.

In fact, before we even arrived in Yangon, my five year old had playdate invites.  How amazing is that?  I had heard that the expat community here was small and very welcoming, but I didn't expect my daughter to have a social life already lined up before we boarded the plane.

We arrived at the end of the school year. Most expats seemed to pack-up for the summer (after all, it's the Monsoon season) and head off to different lands for holidays: the expat community dwindled to a very small size.

Still, my daughter was lucky that some of her classmates stuck around for the rains, giving us the opportunity to spend lots of time with other five year olds.  Lots of playdates. And lots of opportunity to get to know other kids who are in the same boat.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Rat seller in Thailand. Photo Credit: Chris James White Photography. All rights reserved.

We've had unwanted residents in our house.  Hopefully, only one. A rat. And just in case you're wondering, it was much, much larger than the one pictured here.

Let me just start by saying this: I hate rats. Hate them. In fact, I hate all rodents. They completely and totally gross me out.  They're disease infested, nasty creatures. Should I feel some sympathy for another mammal? My husband says I should; yet, I do not. Not at all.

We're hygienic.  Our house is clean. The kitchen especially...especially because, yes: I hate rodents. I don't like seeing little visitors.  

The day my daughter and I arrived in Yangon, and for a couple weeks after, I saw evidence of rodents. I saw droppings. Come on, though. Let's just say what it is: POO! I saw rodent POO. 

The husband's then-boss - even the husband himself - tried convincing me it was just gecko poo. Problem: gecko poo is black (same shape as rat poo) with a little bit of white on the end.  

Well, these little black poo bits had no white on the ends. Trying to appease me, I was told, "The white bit probably just broke off." YEAH, RIGHT!  I was pretty sure I wasn't seeing gecko poo. I mean, why would a sticky gecko want to be in our kitchen drawers?  I'm no fool.  

Late one night last week, the husband and I heard a loud clanging noise in the kitchen. I was startled and I'm sure he recognized my panicked look.  The husband had a fairly reasonable explanation, but I took notice that neither of us checked the kitchen.

The morning after: RAT evidence!
 - Soup stock cubes dumped onto the counter, chewed with large fang-like teeth marks scouring the cardboard box and the cubes themselves. 
- POO (black, no white bits!) on the floor.
- POO in the kitchen drawers.
- Sandwich bag box gnawed...with...yep! POO!


Well, I kept seeing little shit pellets from that little shit rat throughout the weekend.  Fewer, though.

Once, I was walking into the kitchen. I heard clang CLANG CLANGING again; this time, it was under a cabinet (we don't use any of the cabinets under the counters because they're just so gross anyway. Note: kitchens in Yangon are pretty yucky anyway).

"You have rats," D, the housekeeper, informed me yesterday. The pesky thing(s) even ate through some coconut milk, stuck its teeth into plastic Tupperware lids (WHY?), and just, well, wrecked havoc as far as I'm concerned.

We caught one last night within 30 minutes of putting the glue-sticky-traps down. Those things work.  Though, the rat struggled. At first, only its tail got stuck. It managed to get unstuck, then promptly flopped itself onto another glue-sticky-trap thing. 

Stupid rodent.

Hopefully, there will be rats no more!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


I wrote reminders on my daughter's hand yesterday: I love her, she sparkles, is a star, and to me, a rainbow

My daughter’s first day of Kindergarten was yesterday.  She was scared the night before.  It’s her second school in four months.  Both in a new country.  Since infancy, she has been in seven different schools; she’s only five.

Change isn’t new for the little girl.  I carried her inside me across continents; she was ‘Made in Kenya' and born in America. Before she was born, she had been in three countries. My daughter started ‘school’ (daycare) at the tender age of four months.  Even then, I was told she was "intense.”  Intense infant.  Intense child.  

I tell others, “she’s either intensely happy, or intensely not.”  There’s not a lot of middle ground with her.   

She was born with her eyes wide open: this is truth; not a hyperbole.  Actually, I think she was intense before she arrived into the bright hospital light. 

Every Friday morning, when pregnant, I drove to the hospital for non-stress test monitoring of my daughter.  They needed to measure her movements.  She liked to sleep in the mornings.  I had to wake her up.  So, after chai and a snicker doodle, the sugar rush stirred her. Jumps. Hiccups.  With a smile, I’d lie down on the hospital bed and sing to her. Just to keep her up. I wanted her results to be good, but that meant kicking her out of her routine.  Even then, I knew her.  I knew how to wake her up. And boy, would she wake.

She still has a sweet tooth for “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” chai, and snicker doodles.  She rolls her eyes back in her head, coos, This is heaven.” She feels: intensely, strongly. It’s no surprise she thinks she’s electric. She’s all spark. A live wire

My daughter shocks me. She’s brave; knows herself.  She speaks freely, openly (on her own terms only) about her feelings. “I felt so, so sad. And so, so lonely. And then, suddenly, I was happy!” she says about her first day of school yesterday. When my daughter speaks, her muscles, her tendons seem to light, to move, with each emotion. Her face, so expressive.  She contorts. 

Sometimes I think she can’t possibly hold all of what’s going on inside of her. It’s like she’ll burst. It scares me. I don’t understand how she can let such fire burn through her, unabashedly.  I’ve never been so free.  I’ve never lived so loud. I feel like a whisper next to her.

I love her. I navigate with her. She teaches me. I’m sure all mothers say this about their children.

Still, this intense little soul – whose soul is not little at all – smiled deeply at yesterday’s reminder “you’re star dust. You sparkle. You’re special. I love you,” while hugging her in front of the Kindergarten classroom.  Something shifted.  Her eyes flickered. A gulp.  Her back more resolute. A concerted stare. Quiet and contemplative, as though summoning her bravery.  She was ready to go.  “You’re OK now?”  I asked.  A small, yet firm, nod.  I put her down. Kissed her. 

She walked through the door, holding another girl’s hand, right on into the next chapter of her life: real school; big girl school; big girl life in a big, big, world; all within a new, spinning, green country, that’s rewriting its own story, just as my daughter’s story unravels in the palm of my hand. 

Monday, August 6, 2012


Daughter's new feet. 2006.

 Parenting as an expat is weird.  It’s not the same as it is at home. I mean, parenting is strange and crazy anyway, but it’s different here.

A lot of people have written books about expat parenting. I read several of them before we left America. In fact, I began reading some of them quite a few years ago when we were just considering moving abroad. The books are meant to help your family weigh up the pros and cons of expat life and whether it’s a good fit for you.  I’ve had concerns about up-rooting my daughter and the books helped.

The husband is pretty used to shifting around; he has lived more years outside his home country than he has lived in it.  He’s considered a “Third Culture Adult” (this is a real term) or “global nomad.”  I’ve spent only four-five years of my adult life living abroad, but I managed to squeeze in three countries during that time.  Still, I guess I’m a bit of a newbie at this.  Our last overseas posting was six years ago.  At that time, we didn’t have a kid.

Having a child changes…everything, including parenting as an expat. It makes sense, right?  Our familial routines have altered and new people have a daily role in it. 

I admit it: sometimes I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, or how to even deal with the things that come up as an expat parent.

I’m not sure how to navigate the relationships of four more grown-ups in my child’s daily life.  They seem to care for her, but they also don’t have the same ideas about parenting as me.  They cater to her every whim.

When my daughter gets sassy and tells me she’s “never going to talk to” me again (did I mention she’s FIVE and not 15?!), and I send her to her room, the house cleaner eyes me, then later tells me how the child is just bored and that I will feel better when school starts.  I’ve caught my daughter sneaking off our property (none of the four adults asked me if it was OK!), going down a hill with her scooter (no helmet, no safety gear) only to see the house cleaner chasing after her.  When the daughter breaks rules and mouths off in the car, and I scold her, the driver goes silent, then later brings her flowers.  Get the idea? 

They care for her, but they’re indulgent and that only adds to my overriding concern of how to bring her up in this life, where she is extremely privileged, without having a sense of privilege and entitlement.

On this point, I’m clueless. I don’t want her getting totally used to having a driver and someone who cleans up her room.  I want her to be grateful for what she has, and not feel she’s entitled to it, or doesn’t have to work for it.  I want her to go back to the USA when this is all done and be humble.  

The other main concern I have is that I don’t want her to become rootless. I want her to have a sense of home, of where she comes from.   

This get slightly tricky because not only is she now a “third culture kid” she is also the child of a third culture adult (her dad) and she comes from a bi-cultural household. I’m from the USA and her dad is from England (a place which is dear to her).

Our child also really misses “home.” Daily, she talks about her family members and friends that she adores and misses.  She draws pictures for them, cries for them, and wishes they could come over and visit. It was heartbreaking for her to leave our dog in America (with wonderful friends who take very good care of him).    

She complains about living here, is quite open about not liking it, and has often asked why we couldn’t move to England instead.  Despite making many special new friends in Yangon, it doesn’t make her memory of home fade any less.

How do I help her feel a healthy connection to the USA and all those we love, while instilling positivity towards our new life here, and at the same time, honor her feelings of sadness for what she has left behind?  It’s not easy.  I worry I get it wrong. I’m not even quite sure how to do that for myself.  I keep trying though.

So, I’m not saying there aren’t a million positive things she won’t gain from having this experience. OF COURSE there are. They’re obvious. Our kid can probably recite them all because we tell her all the time.  We tell ourselves all the time, too.

But this post isn’t about all the great things our kid is going to gain from being a “third culture kid.” 

This post is about navigating a new frontier for me in parenting.  How to make sure my kid doesn’t become entitled, how to make sure she has roots, how to make sure she is able to make strong connections with people (in a transient life where people are transient), how to ensure she belongs.

We’ll do our best, make mistakes, and keep trying! That’s all you can do, really, isn’t it? Oh, and probably by more expat parenting books.

Friday, August 3, 2012


This is "C," our guard.  He caught this fish in the little ravine that runs along side our house. It was a cool day.

Warning: Unless you’re quite a wealthy individual living in a developed country, or someone who has lived in developing countries before, you may think that having “house help” is very extravagant and indulgent. You may also think feeling sometimes uncomfortable with having “staff” might seem weird.  (I mean, who doesn't wish for someone to wash and iron their clothes, right?!)  This post might seem strange to you. Keep an open mind.

So this is the deal. We have “house help” in Myanmar.  Staff. Whatever term you want to use.  I don’t talk about it on Facebook because I don’t want to look all fancy. We’re not fancy. 

I also don’t want to write emails about it or post status updates about it because if I ever hint at complaining…it may seem like I’m a complete selfish brat. Or worse yet, a bitch.  

So I’ll come clean. I mean, how can I write a blog about living as an expat if I don’t spill the beans?

We’re no longer just a very private, sometimes reclusive, family of three.  Instead: insta-four-more-people came into our world. By default of expat life. (Well, mostly.)

These are the people in our daily lives:
  • "D," the house cleaner. Sometimes she babysits our child in the evening (a few times a month). We pay her extra for this. She’s all smiles, an uber hard worker (we’re messy), and just lovely.  My daughter loves her.
  • "W," the gardener/guard. He lives on the property we rent.  He doesn’t live in our house, but has his own space. He doesn’t speak English, but it doesn’t matter. We get around it.   The husband’s company pays half of W’s salary because it’s actually part of our benefit package.  (There are perks to living overseas....) He is all smiles, like D, and quite amazing.  My daughter loves him.  

  • "C," the guard. He just showed up one day.  We had no idea he was coming!  From what we understand, the husband’s organization has required – in accordance to labor laws – that we have an additional guard so W has enough days off. Fair enough, right? So one day, he just arrived.  I suppose he was sent by the husband’s company.  We don’t pay him.  He rarely speaks.  He tries to give my daughter ants, but she still likes him.

  • "E," the driver.  He drives the company car; he works for the husband's company and has been “assigned” to us.  He speaks good English. E brings my daughter flowers several times a week.  She hugs him and tells him she loves him.

All this may sound really crazy and excessive.  It kind of is, I guess. 

Still, we actually have a pretty small number of staff.  (Don't laugh!)  It certainly seems uncommon for families not to have a nanny.

Also, keep in mind it is normal in Myanmar society to have staff if you can afford it.  It's normal in most developing countries.  Because we’re westerners, expats, we instantly fall into the “can afford it” category.  It's expected. It provides jobs in the community.   

Still, it's strange for me and it has been an adjustment.  

Sure, sure, sure. Laugh at me. Gasp. Mock me! I know. You're thinking I am crazy and spoiled. You're probably thinking that YOU wouldn't have any adjustment to having someone clean up your dirty dishes and do your laundry!

Now look, I'm not going to lie and say it isn't nice. Isn't helpful. Of course it is. It's also weird! 

Some of the things I can't really do when people are coming in and out of the house:
  • Walk around buck naked  
  • Keep my bra off all day
  • Forget to brush my teeth
  • Have crazy, toussled hair. I have to comb it. LOL 
  • Keep PJs on late into the day

Okay, none of those things are bad, but it just means I can't lounge around like I might on a Saturday or Sunday.  D shows up around 10am four days a week.

I have to look kind of presentable by the time she comes or else I look like a complete lazy cow. (She doesn't need to know the truth!)

Anyway. Like I said. Don't think we're fancy.  And don't be a hater! LOL 

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Not sure of the original credit for this print. Found it here.

We use a lot of taxis here. And if you saw my Facebook page the other day, you would've noticed the photograph I took of how the monsoons can impact these taxis. The handle had black mold growing on it. 

That's typical here.  Most taxis are older cars. Rusting.  Paint chipped.  Dints and bangs on doors.  Sometimes, the inside has been gutted. Perhaps there's no door panel.  Often, windows are stuck in a semi-rolled-down stance. No matter. 

Unless it's raining. And all the monsoon's glory comes showering you, sideways, through windows. You're soaked. Wiping rain off your cheek. 

Well, both cheeks, really. Because, usually, you sit down on damp seats. The other night, I got home with even my panties soaked through. No Joke.

But that's exactly what you need, actually.  Insert: Sense of Humor. It's necessary. A requirement. Otherwise, you may be...uh...slightly grossed out.  

Regardless, you will be wet.

I often get flashbacks to when we lived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (2003-2004); the taxis were much worse than these old, crumpling Toyotas in Yangon.  In Addis, you got old, crumpling Russian Ladas! Don't know what a Lada is? Here:
 Credit from this site.

That's a real taxi from Addis Ababa. A nice one, too!  I have vivid memories of the following:
  • Rusted out bottoms of Lada taxis with gaping holes. Had to be careful to place your feet on either side of the hole as you got a great view of the quickly passing pavement below!
  • Seats taped together.
  • Seats held together and kept tightly (sorta?) upright with bungy cords. And string.
  • Flea bites after Fasika.  During Fasika (Easter), people buy goats from the side of the road and transport them home in Lada taxis for a feast. You'd get flea bites afterwards. 
I haven't had any flea bits in Yangon. So I think I'm good...

... Just a very, very wet bum.  Oh, and lots of inhalation of highly (I think?) toxic mildew and mold. 

That's not so bad, though, is it?