Sometimes so many things come together that you can hardly believe your luck and you wait for the bubble to burst, for the honeymoon gleam to turn lacklustre. This is why I haven’t published since landing in Yangon. As it is, in spite of the thought of how first impressions can change into something lesser, these words drifted into my mind as I rode a taxi back from downtown to home.
“I’ve found my pocket in the world, it is Yangon. Sliding through the landscape of decomposing and upward buildings, in-between the crumble and the new, where the old shanty fronts of mildew-soaked laundry-hung condominiums look as Barcelona’s Casa Batllo, taking on an unnatural living beauty in the dusky city light, I rode the taxi and thought this is a place to live in and to stay.”
Before leaving India, a wealth of nightmares about the transition had occurred. They were namely to do with travelling with a cat to a foreign land all by myself. I pictured me, alone, independently doing a fine but losing balancing act of too much luggage and not enough hands along with Tiger, locked in a raspberry and cream cat-carrier, getting more and more angry, more and more frustrated, her green-gold eyes widening in abject horror and hatred while needing more and more a toilet to go to and someone to sink her claws into.
Never fear. Never worry. It could not have gone more seamlessly. OK, my Indian-made five hundred rupees (£5) suitcase exploded prompting a mad dash back through customs and the scanners to get it cellophane-wrapped but with that aside and rather like my suitcase the journey did go seamlessly. Thank you Thai Airlines and every person who helped me on that day. I didn’t lift a finger and was grateful beyond measure for the patience of strangers, the power of money as well as the worth of professionalism, understanding and grace under pressure. They even gave me a discount on my excess baggage while a fuming Canadian in the queue next to me did not; he never smiled but rather raged on uncontrollably about the extortionate costs of excess… as if he hadn’t done his research. (I gloat. I had. It came as no surprise.)
As the plane rested on the tarmac at Bangkok airport where I transited and the sun rose above Thailand, I looked out of the window and saw my bicycle in its case and Tiger inside her crate bouncing around upon the back of one of the luggage handlers trucks. It was a surreal sight to see my possessions out of my control, being managed on my behalf at that halfway point on my way to somewhere new. The cabin staff even had a picture text to them from the ground staff to prove to me that Tiger was on the plane and alive.
Fly into Myanmar, look out of the window and see water-soaked flat green brown mustard coloured snaking rivers and fields spotted with golden pagodas. Land in Myanmar when it’s just rained and it’s fresh and cool, a welcome, though temporary, break from the humidity of South India.
Stumble out of customs into the country that shall be my new home.
The next question I had was: what living place have I committed to? And, what will these people be like? Let me set the picture better. Yangon’s renting situation is pretty vile. Six to twelve months’ rent is demanded upfront and these are not reasonably priced rents such as can be found elsewhere in Asia. Oh no. $400 a month can find you a box room without furniture, without light, and placed on the seventh floor with no elevator. Knowing this, and aware I was travelling with a cat who likes her outdoors, I’d set about making the utmost of the Internet. Expat Yangon Connection on googlemail then Facebook with its various Yangon resources proved priceless. One Skype call, a healthy dose of trust and positive thinking later, I decided on what would be my new home while still in Kerala. That my new home had been seen only through the eye of a laptop camera and that the people who would be my welcome party and housemates had been met only likewise somehow gave me no cause for concern. I travelled with an open-heart though, as the car rolled up at my new address, I did think, “Well, here goes.”
The gates are knocked upon and I am met. I got lucky. I was met with hospitality and ease. Now, my lifestyle is how I never imagined it might be. There is a courtyard where I can sit peacefully while listening to the sounds of the market street that we live on. We’ve someone who does the cooking, the cleaning, and the ironing. I have so much time and none of it is dedicated to everyday chores that absorb so much of our lives.
As I read the Guardian’s online pages about the dire straits of the Y Generation, of which I am a part of, I can’t help but appreciate the outcome of a decision made nearly two years ago. Sure, I don’t own a home; I do not have a partner to share costs, burdens, life with; admittedly, my savings have dwindled and by the standards of my some of my peers my earnings are meagre. Although, really, are these the necessary benchmarks by which to measure one’s life or one’s successes? My life feels rich. In the end I felt I was unable to make England work for me, though I worked for it. I don’t know what will come of my time in Myanmar but I can feel myself hedging towards realizing the dreams I used to have: about making plays, about having the time to write, to finish projects as well as plenty of other notions. Some of this has been made possible by my decision to change the way that I made my income.
A long, long, long time ago, one disco-lit night in Brighton, I ran into an acquaintance who I was aware had been enjoying his time in various tropical climes, even though I knew he wasn’t well off. I asked him how he did it and he replied TEFL. A seed was sewn and eventually manifested itself.
From that point in the past we go to sometime in August 2015 when I projected myself outwards and forwards and realized what it is to teach English as a foreign language. It’s to find opportunities present themselves easily and to feel intangible aspects of oneself move towards one’s futures in the way a blind-seer’s fingers caress the air before them to detect what might lie ahead. Off they went, those aspects of myself, to experience, precede and play out all possibilities prior to the final act of a decision and a job offer that would then become set in history as the event that actually happened. All of this – this tampering and toying with possibility – occurs because here’s an industry that is so immense it encapsulates the globe and is burgeoning, swelling with opportunity, giving people chance to dream, to unspool reels of film that project what life could be and the ability to make them a reality; it is a job that affords you – me – anyone – the art of transitioning from a life not-so-adored to a life plenty with opportunity. Sure, great riches may not befall we teachers, at least not the fiscal kind, but other riches, riches hard to measure or to put a stamp upon, do come.
At the time of thinking about where to go next, I was reading a couple of books both loosely related by content. My understanding of their subject matter is Layman’s stuff. I am neither physicist nor philosopher. I am a paddler in the shallow end of deep pools. However, I was fascinated to feel I was experiencing precisely what I was reading about. It seems particles or waves or some such quantum entities have been proven to project forwards into the future and to play out every single possible event, outcome, consequence of a route, unobserved. It is only when an observer is applied that things become set and what might be becomes what happens. Your future is what you make of it, until you arrive and then it’s done and is history, so to speak.
Because of the material I was reading, I felt somewhat akin to the experiments described. I felt a thousand aspects of my future self strobe out into the wondrous blank unknown upon a course of enquiry. Curious intangible parts tested the future, played with it, tried it on for size, for weight, for potential. When I talked to interviewers in China, I experienced what my future there would be. I conjectured while my unwritten (as yet) path loomed forwards to there in a possible future. The same was true of jobs in Europe, in South Korea, in Indonesia and in Myanmar. Each time I responded to a job advertisement or to an interviewer’s questions, I played out un-played by physical-me potential futures. Feelers and whiskers went boldly into the spaces to which I could not physically go to play out myriad variations on my absent behalf as if we do have multiple potential futures and only one certain “future,” (more like present) which is the one that we take or are conscious of observing.
All those months ago, that is what began and I couldn’t find the language to describe the record that I’d started to play, not until its end. In the roulette wheel of life and of selecting where to go to next there was no way of knowing. Intuition was the sole thing, not logic. Then again, when I look back along the line of mirrors set up before one another reflecting themselves ad infinitum as the trail of my past, I see a scattering of clues that set me up to come only ever here. Looking at the raft of decisions and choices that lay before me, it would have been easy to say that I had no idea but our past can write our future. One of my earliest memories is of my gran quoting Rudyard Kipling’s “Our blunt, bow-headed, whale-backed Downs.” She worked at the Kipling museum in Rottingdean. His Just So Stories are what she told. She imbued me with her wonder of this storyteller, who it transpires was placed in Burma, as it was then. Then, too, my mother told me of her enjoyment of George Orwell, another writer who was stationed here. You might tell me these are tenuous signs that I’ve filled with meaning only upon making my decision; those same writers were stationed in other places, too. I would have found other author’s who relatives admired and responded to no matter which location I chose. Well, I don’t care for that opinion and prefer to feel that it was not only intuition but history, too, that helped me to decide on the fact: Myanmar sung louder than all of the rest.
I have slotted in and I couldn’t have dreamed of a smoother transition or a better landing site. Away from the restrictions of Kerala, its impositions and ways, I’ve come to a place where the people have welcomed me, have shown me the way, have been more hospitable than I could have imagined. I thank my new housemates for their generosity of spirit. I am thankful for the things that seem to have lain here in wait – &Proud, Tuesday evenings at Fahrenheit, etc. – as though all knew I was coming and knew how much I wanted to find a landscape of acceptance, variety, creativity, kindness, beauty and wonder. I admit a timid part of me will not be surprised if the bubble does burst. I’ve felt like Alice In Wonderland landing into the mad hatter’s tea party but I think she, Alice, that fictional character, was perplexed whereas I am something that I’ve not got an adjective for. From &Proud Film Festival to Bike World’s Bike Rides, to Yangon Connection to film night’s, to dinner parties, to integration, chatter, networking and all of the rest, it’s been a dizzying, gratifying and satisfying reception. As I sat around a table at the Mexican bar-restaurant in downtown Yangon, I sat amongst strangers – with Australians, Italians, Danes, Dutch, Indians, Brits and Burmese – and had never felt more at home. In landing and arriving, in participating and throwing myself head first – deep breath and plunge – into what is available, I come to understand what it is to be an expatriate in the warm sense of the word and not in its inhospitable state where all the negative – no language, cultural barriers – come to play.
There’s no point to this rambling entry other than to say: I like Yangon very much. The first few weeks have been kind and I have been surprised, astounded, curious to find my possible imagined future turning into my present. I’ve pinched myself, honestly, under the table bedecked with beer bottles and cloaked in friendly chatter. I’ve marvelled at the strangeness of feeling at home in a place that is so very, extraordinarily foreign. All I can say is kindness and people can work wonders. Yes, honeymoons can turn into loveless marriages, divorce and worse. But, I am not married to Myanmar. I am, however, here and excited by being so.