I’m not an allergic person by and large. To my knowledge I’ve never so much as suffered an allergic reaction to anything (save, possibly, a pomegranate age 9, when I got a bout of colic the next day. Hmm). So it came as something of a surprise to find that my eyes have been itchy and sore and my nose has been running for a tap, since, well since about July. It was noticeable because it started once we got back from our holiday in Sweden so at first I thought I’d either picked up an eye infection or was just re-adjusting to the climate here. But on it went, on and on and on. My eyes itched particularly in the inner corner and nothing would relieve it. My nose ran like a tap, especially in the mornings and I could sneeze fit to bring the house down. The only relief was a) getting out of town or b) taking Piriteze, an antihistamine.
It was all the classic symptoms of hayfever except, being that non-allergic person as I stated, it took me several months to overcome my denial. I was suffering an allergic reaction. What to? Is the next and obvious question. Well, I don’t know but it could be the greenery round here, because Yangon is very green or it could be the pollution, because Yangon is very polluted and getting worse. Our kids have suffered coughs on and off since we arrived and one sage doctor said it’s just the tropics; kids particularly seem to have all sorts of respiratory ailments but mostly mild and mostly undiagnosable. It’s just a fact of life where it’s humid and hot and well, not too clean. We regularly clean our house of course and have the aircon serviced, because my mum read a frightening article all about the fungus that can live in the filters (and believe me, the yuck that comes out when you clean is pretty horrific). And maybe we just aren’t designed to move from dry, cold aircon rooms to hot, humid tree-lined roads, filled with petrol-guzzling, no-eco-clean-up-here, cars and buses. But whatever the reason, I have started to hanker after my Swedish roots, with plenty of clean (albeit cold, mostly) air and tonnes of trees and forests but absolutely no allergies to be found, thank you.
In the meanwhile, I pray for rain and hope the rainy season might bring some relief.
I sit down to do some chores, mostly online these days of course. I need a new pin for my credit card which I can’t order online, I have to telephone the bank’s 24-hour service. Fair enough. So I go to Skype, where my credit has run out. In order to buy more credit I have to use the credit card for which I have no pin. First I have to change the details on my Skype account because I have a new credit card. Then I have to go to the secure payment window which times me out, presumably because of the crap connection here. So I start again. This time I try with my PayPal account. This account has been suspended for 3 months because of somethingorother, possibly lack of use, and I had to provide scanned copies of my passport and home address. I did that 2 weeks ago but haven’t checked back to see if it’s working yet (I do have a life!). We are now 35 minutes into this transaction and as yet haven’t got anywhere. I feel like my life is slipping away. Of course I can’t remember my PayPal password, which when I accessed it 2 weeks ago I had to change about 3 times, but thankfully the second attempt works. I have downloaded LastPass to remember all these passwords but a) it seems to appear and disappear at will (no, I haven’t had chance to sit down and work out how it all works…) and b) it won’t download on my Mac so I have to go upstairs and use my trusty Windows laptop.
My PayPal account, once I am in, is still blocked. We are now 40 minutes into this attempt to get a new pin for my credit card. Time is of the essence as Pete will be in the UK next week and needs to pick it up from our house in London (obviously it can’t be sent anywhere else because sending to a house full of strangers who are renting it is much safer than sending it to an address I choose, like, say my mum or sister or something).
PayPal. The safer, faster way to pay and be paid.
Well that’s a frickin joke isn’t it? Now I am finally in, having put my password in about 4 times (and that’s the correct one, which mysteriously Last Pass does not autofill) it seems that the scanned copies I sent are not good enough so my account is still suspended. The good news is that I have nearly 50 quid in there! The bad news is of course that I can’t spend it on anything.
F**k. Right, back to square one, attempting to pay Skype with my Halifax credit card so that I can get enough credit to call Halifax to send me a new pin. Today.
I hate technology but for the purposes of this blogpost will persevere with this ridiculous transaction. 45 minutes and counting. The Skype page to buy more credit takes so long to load I have a chance to write this, Skype message Pete about the aborted PayPal mission to unlock our account and check some emails. Skype asks me if I want to pay with Skrill or Ucash. Is this a joke? WTF are they? Skype is very clever however, because every time I make a change it ticks the Autofill option for me which I have to tediously untick every time, thus adding vital seconds to this already bollocks transaction.
I’m back to adding my new credit card details to my Skype account AGAIN, just like I did 20 minutes ago.
What’s going to happen next?
The page you are about to visit is hosted by your credit/debit card provider. They will ask security questions. To verify payment, just follow the the steps asked by your bank.
OK, let’s have you then.
Your order is being processed. You can check the status of your order in the Account section of our site.
We’ll send you a confirmation email to email@example.com once your order is completed.
Then you can click the Dial tab in Skype and start calling your friends on landlines and mobile phones.
Woop de woop! No extra secure banking verification for me! Just straight to the order. Thanks. I wonder if I have to somehow verify this by checking my email inbox first? Hmm. Now I’m in my Skype account which is all jolly and asking when my birthday is so I can complete my profile. Oh sod off. OK, I make the call and…. No answer. And again. No answer. It’s a 24 hour telephone banking line, how can there be no effing answer?
One hour gone. I want to tear my hair out and throw this laptop into the pool. The supreme irony is that I do have a Skype account with £10 credit already on it. It’s my business account for whatsonyangon.com but I have forgotten my password. Yep, it’s being sent to my webmail which, miraculously, I can actually access this morning (very unusual, I forward it to my gmail for this reason). Of course the password reset link isn’t there. Where is it? Who knows? Who cares? So now I have 2 Skype accounts both with £10 credit on and neither of any fecking use to me whatsoever because I can’t get hold of the banking people to request my new pin.
There is another point to this rant. I’m a stay at home mum. I also run 2 businesses as well as getting back to work as an actress. We are now 65 minutes into ONE item on my to do list. This is normal. I now have an hour and a half before I have to get in the car and spend an hour in traffic to fetch Alfie home from nursery. I still haven’t showered or done any exercise or answered any emails. It would be easy to blame all this on the risible internet connectivity we have here in Myanmar, or indeed my addled mum of two brain and 40-something technophobia. But you know what? Technology really is slowing the world down. FACT. And causing unnecessary frustration and stress on a daily basis. Nice.
I go back to the Halifax page to check if I somehow got the number wrong. Of course it’s over 10 minutes since I checked it so I have been logged out. Great, groundhog day here we go again. The number is correct according to Halifax, Skype tells me it’s invalid, probably because it’s an 0845 number and I’m calling from abroad.
One hour and 10 minutes down. Achievements? One Skype account credited with £10. One blog post written. Yayy to me. I’m going for a shower.
The Cola Wars
So Pepsi fired the first salvo in the Cola Wars by announcing, the day after (US) sanctions were lifted, that it would be manufacturing and distributing in Myanmar asap. There are now rather disturbingly large billboards around town featuring some guy called Messi who apparently drinks Pepsi. This does not make me want to buy or drink Pepsi but I am not the target market, so fair enough.
Coca Cola, somewhat slower off the mark, are now wading in with the big guns and promising just as much, if not more, than Pepsi on the whole manufacture/distribution front.
Myanmar, in case you weren’t aware, is one of only 3 countries in the world yet to bend its knee to the cola empires; the other two being North Korea and Cuba.
This would all be terribly exciting of course, except for the fact that coke has always been available here. Coca Cola (including Light and very occasionally Zero) is imported from Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. Some say illegally though what they really mean is that they are imported from retailers rather than the corporation itself. Although the cans look the same they do vary in price, so you have to be careful which one you pick off the shelves at City Mart (Malay Coca Cola is very expensive, maybe because it is halal). They all taste the same of course.
The local brew, Star Cola, is about a quarter of the price and also widely available. They took over the abandoned Pepsi plant, when they hightailed it out of the country in the 90’s, and are using the same bottles, ink, printing and in all likelihood recipe too. It certainly tastes the same to me.
There was apparently some concern that either of the Cola giants may instigate their ‘killing price’ strategy whereby they price their own products so low (affording, as they are able, to run at a loss) that they in effect kill any local competition. It seems unlikely however, as there is a thriving soft drinks industry here which is very low priced already.
Interestingly, I heard from a bar owner that Pepsi work closely with Pizza Hut and KFC and where the cola giant goes, the fast food chains follow. If Coca Cola wins the war? Then we get McDonalds and Burger King. Oh, like, great. Come back in a couple of years and see where we’re at.
I went to the bank last week. Not something to write home about, you might think, we all go to the bank now and again (or do we? Surely it’s all cybervirtual banking these days?). In any case, this was an eye opener.
Contrary to popular belief there are banks here, and even ATM’s these days. Not for us foreigners of course, just for rich folk. But I had occasion to go to one and pick up some wages for a job I did with the UN back in March. (Yes, they did take that long to pay me.)
The bank was downtown and about the size of 3 gym halls, the first being old colonial style and the last being a horrible old 60’s monstrosity, joined in the middle by a building site. I’m not joking, one side was entirely open to the street with piles of sand and bamboo scaffolding and such. There was security at the entrance, well I had to put my handbag through a scanner anyway, but once you got inside you were left to your own devices.
My days! To my left a chest-high counter running the length of the room with old fashioned iron grilles and space for 20 cashiers. Behind them, at tables of up to 8 people, sat an army of workers diligently writing in ledgers, a mountain of which were piled on every surface. Ledgers! It was like Gringotts without the trolls and Harry Potter. I saw one computer screen in the whole place. Bonkers!
Thankfully Amber had come with me to help and we were duly shepherded to a counter. I produced my 3 slips of paper plus passport and then we had to run and get photocopies of everything before lots of things were written on more bits of paper and I had to sign a (small) ledger. “Come back in 45 minutes” the lady beamed at me. Eh? What? Sorry? Yes, come back in 45 minutes for the cash. OK, well can I get a slip of paper or something? Oh yes, you get a green slip. Right. When you come back. OK, er, wait, hang on. So I leave now, with no bits of paper, and come back in 45 minutes to pick up a bit of green paper? Exactly! Said with a smile, God bless her.
So I did. I went to pick up the bit of green paper and sign another book. By this time (about 11am) the place was absolutely heaving. I have no idea who all these people were but it was like a train station with everyone rushing somewhere. How they knew where they were going is anyone’s guess because there were hardly any signs anywhere. The benefit of being a foreigner of course, and a very blonde one at that, is that all I had to do was wave my bit of green paper and look baffled (not difficult) and be kindly shepherded to what turned out to be the very furthest away counter possible from where I started, in the far building but close to the exit (you go in one building and out another, very strict on that they are). This was the counter for dollars, cash out (as opposed to the other 60+ counters for goodness knows what). Miraculously, and I was quite impressed at this point, my papers had made it there before me. Well, they had had 45 minutes I suppose. In any case, the new beaming lady took one look at me, got the right papers out (perhaps they had ‘small blonde’ written on in secret code or perhaps I was the only one fetching dollars that morning) barely glanced at the green slip and counted out the cash. I then signed 3 bits of paper and escaped with my booty. The whole procedure taking something like two hours and several trees’ worth of paper. It must be like banking in the 1950’s.
I’m quite proud of my adventure. There are hardly any foreigners here who have ever had cause to go into a bank so haven’t seen the inner workings, so to speak. Mind you, how they are going to cope when credit cards are introduced, is anyone’s guess. I hope they don’t destroy all those ledgers!
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk is a book by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, which I can highly recommend. I do like their style and easy to digest approach to parenting. They have also written the very excellent Siblings Without Rivalry, but that’s for another post.
Having grown up as a non-talker I wondered how I could do things differently with my kids. So I ordered HTTSKWLaLSKWT about a year ago and read it cover to cover in a week. Ooh, I thought enthusiastically, that makes SO much sense, of course I will follow all the principles within forthwith! And promptly forgot all about it.
Fast forward to a fortnight ago. We’ve been having some awful mornings with Alfie; the meltdown starts from the moment he wakes up and everything, but EVERYTHING is wrong. “Not Daddy, not Daddy, only Mummy, GO AWAY Daddy, go away, No mummy, don’t open the door, only wait, take your T-shirt OFF Mummy, NO T-shirt, not that one, CARRY ME, NO not there, here, carry me HERE, no, no NO, NO!” And so on. The sobbing and shouting and crying reaches a crescendo and we haven’t even left his bedroom and there’s still the whole morning routine before nursery to go.
We try every which way to lessen his distress but we are not getting anywhere except exhausted and frustrated, which has absolutely the opposite effect. So one day I pick up the book again, browse listlessly and read about half a chapter. Bingo! Adele and Elaine say that kids behave right when they feel right. Which makes sense, right? So clearly Alfie is not feeling right, none of us are.
The basic principle, in a nutshell, is listening with empathy, which takes a lot more work than it sounds. We are locked into an automatic response to negative behaviour, for example my default reaction of trying to explain rationally and logically why we have to do something/go somewhere etc. or the easy dismissal/denial – “it’s not that bad, it’s not worth crying over, you’re just tired..” and so on. It’s like we’re afraid to give a voice to the feelings and behaviour of our children in case we make it worse (and God knows, in a lot of families even having feelings is taboo). But rather than try to explain the whole book here, let me give you a couple of examples of what happened when I put Adele and Elaine’s ideas into action:
1. It’s bedtime (what else?) and Daddy brings Alfie upstairs for his bath. All the way upstairs he’s saying “I want to go downstairs, I want to go downstairs” like a mantra. Sure enough it escalates to the point of tears and he doesn’t even get to enjoy his bath, insisting on coming out as soon as he’s got in, now sobbing his heart out. Like Pete I’m tempted to rationalise; tell him we do bath and bed every night, or distract by playing a game, using a silly voice etc. But he’s properly on the verge of a tantrum now and runs into my arms, hoping, I guess, that I will relent. But instead I remember the book and take a deep breath. I hold him tight and say “You really want to go downstairs don’t you?” There is a pause and a muffled “Mmm”. We sit like that for a while. His sobs subside while I frantically try to recall what to do next. “Because downstairs is where all the fun is?” I venture. He looks at me for a fraction of a second, says a resounding “Yes!” and promptly crawls on to our bed to play with his baby brother and proceeds to get ready for bed with good humour and smiles.
Honestly? It feels like I just waved a magic wand.
2. I turn the iPod off, as agreed, at the end of the Chuggington episode he’s been watching. Alfie is livid, roaring and shouting at me, properly angry, distressed and sprouting a fountain of tears. I force myself to remain calm and NOT react, but listen instead. I take him into my arms and say “You really want to watch Chuggington don’t you?” (I know, I know, hardly original.) But feeling brave I carry on; “I bet you’d like to watch Chuggington ALL day wouldn’t you? No breakfast, lunch or dinner, just Chuggington? No nursery, no swimming, no running or playing, just Chuggington all day every day…” And so on. I take it slowly at first, while the sobbing stops and I can feel him breathing normally, even chuckling a little bit. Then I carry on until the fantasy concludes with him being a Chugger and me discovering a train in his bed one morning instead of a little boy. By now he’s roaring with laughter and joining in, like it’s the funniest thing ever. As the giggles subside, he looks at me and says “Shall we go for a little swim?”
3. Time to go to nursery. Our neighbour’s car is waiting (she takes her daughter and Alfie in the mornings, I pick them up). Alfie has been running around the house playing dragons and dragon warriors and as I say brightly “Let’s get your shoes on” he runs in the opposite direction and says firmly “Don’t want to go to nursery”. Of course he does, because he loves it there, but what he’s really saying is that he doesn’t want to stop playing dragons and having a nice time at home. Perfectly understandable, I think sometimes the transition from one place/person/game to another takes much longer than we as adults realise. So quick as a flash, feeling more confident now, I look up at the ceiling and shout “Right you dragons, no more flying and playing because Alfie has to go to nursery now. You can have a sleep until he gets back and you can play again. Thank you.” By which point Alfie is already half way out of the door, dying to tell Yasmina all about the pink dragon warrior. Result!
OK, I’ve tried at other times and not got anywhere and I’m still practicing of course (and now reading the whole book all over again). But it was like a lightbulb going off for me and I wanted to share it with you. I’m sure we’re a much calmer household already. Two things I have noticed already – being silent (whilst actively listening) is more effective than I had realised, as I’m usually tempted to chatter away to Alfie all the time, which only leads to him tuning me out. And I feel a lot closer to him and more connected than I have in ages. Feels good! Oh, and those horrible mornings? Gone. For now at least…
So go on, get the book out of the library/borrow it off a friend/buy it on Amazon and tell me what you think. As Good Housekeeping said; “No peace-loving parent should be without a copy.”
I’ve always wanted to live somewhere sunny (“but not necessarily hot!” I would quip) because I reckoned life must look very different with eternal sunshine and perhaps I hankered after a slower pace of life. I think I must have been imagining a Caribbean island! In any case, here we are in the tropics and the weather does have quite an effect on you.
This morning at 7am it was 30C. That means that we are gearing up for hot season when temperatures will reach an average of 40C in the day. Of course you avoid going anywhere and doing anything in the middle of the day but what you don’t realise is that, in hot season, the temperature hardly drops at night. So we are averaging probably about 27C in the evenings and maybe as low as 22C in the early hours of the morning. The telltale sign is the pool which is easily warm bath temperature by the afternoon but still relatively cool and refreshing first thing. In May it will just be hot all the time. Crikey, I must be getting old, I’m noting actual temperatures!
What I hadn’t appreciated, even though we are now in our second hot season, is how impossible it is to be outdoors and how much I really, really want to be outdoors! We go from aircon house to aircon car to aircon shop/office and then only if we have to. Finding things to do for Alfie is hard. Thankfully he’s pretty worn out by nursery but the afternoons are either swimming or playdates – indoors. And having a pool on the threshold means it’s no longer that exciting to go swimming these days. There is the odd shopping centre which has an indoor play area but they are not always the easiest places to get to or to sit in, while your little angel runs around.
I also realised, while on holiday, that I can only take Oscar somewhere if I know I can get him cool again, if that makes sense. So we didn’t do an elephant safari in Thailand for example, because whilst Alfie and Daddy went off, there was nowhere cool for me and Oscar to sit and wait. And I was thinking of starting riding again, bringing Amber with me to hold Oscar while I have a lesson, but there is no air conditioning at the riding school so he would get too hot and I would only be able to cool him down in the car. We’ll have to wait with that one!
They say the heat saps 30% of your energy and it’s easy to forget that. I rarely walk anywhere except to an exercise class I have found nearby but I notice that I still walk twice as fast as anyone else. I do take an umbrella with me though; the locals are horrified if they see you walking in the sun without one. And I sweat. Boy, do I sweat. I think pretty much everyone is used to seeing me with my hair plastered to my head and a glistening face. Not a great party look, but there you go. (When breastfeeding it gets even worse as my boobs turn into Exocet Missiles and poor old Oscy practically has to swim for his breakfast sometimes.) I change my underwear at least twice a day and the only consolation is that in this heat, the washing dries instantly so filling up the washbasket doesn’t feel too extravagant. But more than anything I miss my walks. When Alfie was a baby I would put him in the pram and walk every day, even if it was just round the corner to the papershop. But often much longer, to parks and friends’ houses, to his swimming class which was a good 45 minutes away. Lots of times it was boring but at least it was freedom of a sort! Gazing up at blue skies and palm trees ain’t bad, but I can’t help feeling a bit cooped up and I’m longing for a bit of outdoor life.
So my mate A phones me last week, “Where can I get a chicken pie?” she says.
Really? In this weather? (It’s pushing 30C even at 8am these days). Yes, she says, a proper English chicken pie. OK, well, I have some recipes; Delia and Jamie spring to mind. She can get that off the internet of course. I should explain that A is from Austria and has no idea what a proper pie looks like. I give her a brief outline of British comfort food and pub grub, stressing the importance of gravy and pastry. She tells me that her landlady has requested the pie and as she’s such a great landlady, A does her best to help out whenever she can. Hmm, well the British Club should be able to sort it out, if anyone can. I suggest she calls our friend’s husband, who is in charge at the BC and will know more. And if she gets no joy, she can always pop over and borrow some frozen pastry I have in my freezer and we’ll cobble something together.
I saw A yesterday and asked how she got on. The British Club was a score! They have proper home-made chicken pies all ready to go in their freezer and she bought 3 and passed them on. In return, her landlady delivered a card for her, emblazoned with the NLD logo, which she shows me. Inside it reads: Thank you very much – great pies! Aung Sang Sui Kyi.