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On the road to Mandalay...

sunny 40 °C

Dear Blogasphere, it has been a long time since my last entry, and for this I can only apologise!

I find myself once again on foreign soil - this time I have moved to Mandalay in Myanmar (formally Burma) for another English teaching position.
This was a somewhat last minute decision, but one I think will bear fruit sooner than anticipated.

I arrived at Mandalay International Airport after a somewhat gruelling 20 hours or so travelling time across three flights and 4 airports to be greeted to an incredible heat.
It's hard to describe the current climate as it's almost like walking behind a bus and getting trapped in the heat of the exhaust without the stuffy, polluted air. It's a thick heat without too much sweating, which is always good. The air smells warm and inviting without being uncomfortable or difficult to breathe.

I was collected by one of my soon-to-be colleagues, a delightfully miniature woman in the form of Jolyn. Though tiny, she was full of smiles and a positive, welcoming countenance that was just what I needed after my nearly full day of travelling.
We hopped into our waiting taxi and were soon on our way to my home for the next year or so.

As we drove along the somewhat uneven highway, we passed huge masses of green trees and fields, lakes and rivers, cows and goats, and people lounging about under the shade of the roadside trees. People haphazardly swerved around our car on the mopeds, three people at least on each bike, helmets on one or two of them, but blissfully riding along without a care in the world.

I saw a long wooden bridge stretching out over a placid lake, and by long I mean at least a few miles, and countless gold topped temples, palaces and pagodas - truly beautiful, nestled in amongst the land's natural wonderment.

As we got closer to town, more people and vehicles began to appear, including a small truck full to the brim with Buddhist monks, inside and atop, giving off an air of pure zen-like contentment; woman carrying what appeared to be obscenely heavy cargo on their heads, items my sturdy neck would struggle to support. This seemed to be a theme as I passed by countless numbers of women carrying various loads, including one women who was supporting a healthy number of bricks on her head at a local construction site.

It seems the Asian vehicular phenomenon is not only limited to the larger countries of China, Thailand and Vietnam, but is in fact a staple requirement of driving or riding in this part of the world.

We arrived at the hotel where I was shown to my room, complete with twin beds and an en suite bathroom, all for me, and proceeded to empty my heaving suitcases into their final resting places of various drawers, cupboards and wardrobes and lying on one of my beds whilst saying out loud "God, I love my life!"

Having not slept the entire way here, I thought it best to stay awake as long as possible to avoid the dreaded jet lag, which over the years, I have become somewhat proficient at escaping.

I met my boss by accident in the hallway towards my room, who took me to a bureau de change around the corner from our hotel to change the US dollars I had in my purse into Myanmar kyat (pronounced chat) and then on to the other teachers rooms around the hotel complex.

What an eclectic mix of individuals; the chilled, almost hippy-esque kind; the somewhat bawdy Londoner; the cute mixed nationality couple; the pixie like gem; the quirky and funny one – all lovely and welcoming, and all with different stories to tell.

It’s a little intimidating to be thrust into a well-knit group of people as a newbie, but a situation I am all too familiar with and can appreciate for what it is; a new and exciting opportunity to be something different to add to the mix!

The sun rises incredibly early here and sets in much the same way, so when a blanket of darkness finally fell around 7:30pm, I crawled into my cosy bed, in my marvellously air-conditioned room, and slept for at least 15 hours!

The next day I went to the small hotel restaurant, even that being too big a word for the space available, to enjoy my free daily breakfast of fried egg, fried rice or noodles, toast, fruit, juice, tea and coffee before meeting, purely by accident, one of the other teachers who told me when to get the bread van to the main teaching centre to observe some lessons.

  • Please note, that it is of course not a bread van, but a small, almost camper van shaped commodity that shepherds us back and forth from the various work outposts everyone needs to get to.

I was soon on my way, learning ever more useful titbits of what to expect from my new life in Mandalay, until arriving at the very off the beaten track building that was to be my new teaching centre.

Basic is not a word I could use to describe it, but everything somehow worked perfectly for the area and purposes required. Discordant harmony is probably the best way to define it, but without any negative connotations! Confusing I know, but do bear with me!

It was almost like this place had decided, whether consciously or not, that they would strip away the frivolous teaching methods, styles and equipment of the western world, leaving nothing but a pure, totally unambiguous and instinctive teaching core beneath. This space was completely, 100% for the love of learning and the desire to be educated without any of the bells and whistles to glam it up. It was actually quite overwhelming, and intriguing.

I observed a lesson and then made my way back to hotel (via the bread van) where I made the fatal error of lying down for a moment.

4 hours later, I awoke to a hunger I hadn’t felt for a long time! The immediate need for sustenance forced me from my bed to the local bar, almost attached to our hotel, Central Park.

I joined some of the teachers I’d met earlier and had some dinner with them, before going back to my room to sleep due to the sneaky jetlag induced exhaustion.

The next day, I had breakfast again before getting collected by Jolyn who, in the bread van again, took me to the centre where I graded some papers and had an interesting lunch of rice, vegetables and some kind of cured meat from a lady with a pop up shack around the corner from the teaching centre.

I stayed for most of the day before heading back to the hotel and napping briefly, and then got escorted to a local BBQ place to have a welcome meal with my fellow colleagues. For less than a fiver, we gorged ourselves on various BBQ classics, plus some fried noodles and beer cheaper than a packet of crisps in the UK!

I was still pretty tired so decided to head back whilst everyone else moved on to a bar, only to walk a few metres from the BBQ place to find my feet not touching the ground as I had anticipated.

Before I knew what was happening, the floor began getting closer to my face as my hands thrust out in front of me and I instinctively turned my body for my back to take the brunt of the fall.

Yes, I had fallen down one of the many holes in the road and had, within hours of meeting my colleagues for at least the next 6 months, promptly fallen down like a blob of human ineptitude in front of them all.

With the skill and grace of a person used to falling over their own feet, let alone pot holes or off high heeled shoes, I laughed at myself before heaving my still quivering mass off the tarmac and brushed off what I can only hope was just dirt from my hands and then somewhat sore arse.

It was only after separating from the group that I remembered the torch I’d so sensibly stowed away in my bag, which I immediately removed from said bag and used to light my way home.

After applying antiseptic cream to my scraped knee, I crawled once more into my soft, welcoming sheets and beckoned sleep to me like a vampire in a coffin.

The following day I made the catastrophic error of not getting up early enough for breakfast, and having not yet located the nearest supermarket, went to work at 12pm without any input of any kind to then work for 6 hours straight using only the odd cigarette break to stifle my hunger pangs.

Luckily though, my new students with their enthusiasm and general loveliness saw me through to the end of my shift by playing countless games, getting-to-know-you activities and having interesting conversations.

As is standard in Asia, the students give themselves their own English names, and without fail, I once again have some absolute corkers, including but not limited to, Starlay, KK, Arr, and Moses.

After my successful lessons and first complete day of teaching, me and a fellow late nighter got in the bread van and made our way back to the hotel before accosting another teacher and heading out for dinner up the road a few blocks from the hotel.

We sat in Central Park after dinner for drinks and long discussions about our lives before Mandalay before walking back to our rooms and saying goodnight on this, my first real day.

Posted by Lady Mantle 10:24 Archived in Myanmar Tagged teacher burma mandalay asia myanmar first_day esl new_students love_my_life new_city new_life Comments (3)

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