So it’s been a while since I’ve written a journal-style post about what I’ve been doing. I don’t really like doing these kinds of posts anymore because I don’t want to seem like a big douche saying, “Hey everybody! Guess what I did in Thailand this week!” I’m pretty sure everyone gets that I live in Asia by now.
However, about a month ago or so, I found out that I was going to get to spend 3 weeks in Myanmar (the artist formerly known as Burma) teaching TESOL to a group of local teachers. I’ve been here for about a week now and decided to do a summary at the end of each week.
Last week, I commenced the epic journey that took me from my little beach town south of Bangkok to a place called Tachilek in northeastern Myanmar. This trek began at 5:30 in the morning, lasted 10 hours, and involved 6 different modes of transportation. 1 scooter, 2 minivans, 2 taxis, 1 songtaew, 1 car, 1 plane, and a fair amount of sweating. Okay so the last one isn’t a mode of transportation. Unless you’re into disgusting slip-and-slides.
While some parts of Thailand are more developed than others, I knew as soon as I crossed the border that this was a different ballgame. I’m not going to say anything bad about it because it has a complex history that has led to it being this way, but it’s clear not much money has been invested in infrastructure in a while. That being said, it’s a wild, unique place with tons of character. There’s no ATMs, the men wear skirts, cars have steering wheels on the right side while also driving on the right, monks wear red robes, women wear a yellow-golden face paint, and the written language looks like a sketch of the glass window on the side of a pool table where the sunken balls go. It’s also currently rainy season and it’s poured every day I’ve been here.
A couple of my friends from my original TESOL course are based here as teachers, which has been awesome because they’ve been able to show me around and teach me enough words to be able to feed myself. They’ve also introduced me to all of their Myanmar co-workers who they live and work with. Besides various first impressions of the country, the English ability of the local people has been one of the biggest surprises. In the school I’m working at, the majority of both the teachers and the students are all almost fluent. It’s a private school that I’m at, but even some of the kindergarten students here have better English than some of my high schoolers did back at my Thai school.
There have been a couple cool stories from the week so far (I’ll save my impressions of teaching Myanmar people vs. Westerners until the end. I also continue to want to call Myanmar people ‘Myanmese’. It’s not a thing though). On Wednesday morning, my friend said that some of the teachers were going to play football after school and wanted us to play. I figured, “Why not?” I may have never played soccer and would probably suck, but at least it’d be a cool way to bond with the people I’m teaching. However, as I should have learned from Thailand, you can never really predict what you’re walking into in this part of the world.
When we show up, there’s about 100 people there in attendance just to watch. There’s a referee, a full speaker set up, and everyone has official jerseys. So apparently this is going to be more than a pick-up game. As we got started, it became clear pretty quickly that the other team has played together before. A lot. But hey, I figured I’ve played enough Xbox FIFA in my day to hold my own (I didn’t). I almost managed to make it through the whole game without doing anything too stupid until I scored an own-goal and missed a wide-open shot in front of the correct net. We ended up losing 4-1, but it was fun and I actually had a couple plays that got the crowd cheering. And I got to keep the jersey and I had about 10 different people come and ask to take a picture with me afterwards. Celebrity status: achieved.
The other cool story was I got to spend a day hanging out with 4 Myanmar ladies. The other Western teachers had a trip planned for the weekend so they left town on Thursday. The ladies heard that I was going to be by myself so they invited me to go across the border to Thailand with them the next day (Friday was a public holiday). Of course I agreed and was excited for whatever we were going to do. Out of curiosity, I asked what the plan was and they said, “Oh maybe go to Tesco and eat some food.” I thought it was a little weird to get invited to go grocery shopping, but hey you don’t turn down an invitation from locals when living abroad.
The first thing we did was go to the market because I told them I wanted a longyi, one of the traditional Myanmar man-skirts. Say what you will, but these things are some of the comfiest things I’ve ever worn. When we crossed the border, we visited an awesome pagoda on top of this mountain.
Apparently the mountain itself used to be in Myanmar before the British colonized. They eventually changed the border so now it’s in Thailand. It was cool and had incredible views looking out over Myanmar. Then we went to a restaurant and I was able to peacock a bit by speaking Thai to the waitress (they were impressed).
Afterwards we finally made it to Tesco for what I thought was part of their errands. After walking around for 15 minutes and just one of the four ladies buying something, it quickly became apparent that we were just there for me. I mean I love Tesco and all, but I was just content hanging out with them and doing whatever. I just thought it was funny that they thought white guy visiting -> let’s take him to K-Mart. They are sweet ladies and just wanted to show me a good time. After attempting to force feed me a second and third meal only a couple hours after our first meal, we went back to Myanmar because they’re only allowed to be in Thailand for 8 hours at a time. All in all, it was an awesome day.
Welp, that’s about it for the first week. I meant for this to be fairly short but apparently I’m not very good at that. I have a full week of class ahead and am gonna hike up a mountain next weekend. Until next week interwebs.