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Top Gear: Burma Special, Part one. A Review

March 20, 2014


Just wanted to highlight this as my friends back home (that’s my UK home, not my other ones) have been talking quite a bit about this programme. I haven’t seen this particular episode but know Top Gear well, partly thanks to endless re-runs on Asian satellite TV channels… however I’m sure I would be in agreement with Cliff!

Originally posted on a life outside parentheses:

I’m not a Top Gear aficionado, I’ve seen it once or twice, I know it exists. And I am aware of the pleasure it brings to millions of TV viewers around the world.

And if seeing Diana Ross driving around a race track in an Austin Maxi is your kind of thing then that’s fine by me.

But this is the first ever episode of Top Gear that I have actually intentionally watched, and only because I had a vested interest in the subject.

And I won’t be watching part two.

Did you know that in the UK it is possible, through careful channel hopping to view Top Gear twenty four hours a day, every day, and as far as the TV scheduling allows, and based on the number of programs that they have produced this could be possibly be continued for all eternity?

Perhaps this is what awaits us…

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Business Cards

March 20, 2014

Business Cards Will Take Over Your Life

One of the things you will notice when landing in Yangon, is the proliferation of business cards. Not only the domain of businessmen and women, these cards can be found in every shop, restaurant, bar and office.  Because of the previous lack of internet connectivity, or laptops, handsets and other mobile devices, coupled with a lack of either online or hard copy directories, these cards are the only way to find and keep the address and contact details of businesses. Many feature English on one side and Myanmar on the other, and the really good ones include a small map.  These cards are absolutely invaluable when getting around town because you can show them to taxi drivers to help you get around.

Because of the very cheap cost of printing here, business cards are also carried by individuals, which is another way of quickly exchanging contact information without resorting to the old pen and paper method.  It also helps enormously with any language barriers; it’s not always easy to jot down numbers and names correctly, so having a card with the details clearly printed out is a godsend.  Certainly many people will be surprised if you do not carry business cards of your own, even if you only have your name and telephone number printed on it (and email address nowadays of course).  Swapping business cards is a feature of most meetings, however casual and you will often see individuals handing out their cards to a whole group of people around a bar.  So quick, so cheap, so simple!

Therefore a really good business card holder is a good investment.  In varying price ranges and finishes you should be able to find one to suit you and most will hold at least 100 cards.  We add another one each year and a stack of these folders rests by the phone.  Because we had to travel a lot in our first year here, we got so used to picking up business cards wherever we went and now have folders for Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and of course the UK too.  It’s one way of remembering favourite restaurants and shops, though perhaps a bit quaint and old-fashioned these days!



March 18, 2014

Cases of Dengue will always rise during the rainy season, but the vector does live year round and thus you are always at risk. So here are some reminders.

What is it?

Dengue is a nasty flu-like illness caused by a virus, and spread by an infected mosquito having a blood meal off you. The Aedes mosquito which spreads the virus nearly always bites during the day specifically in the 3 hours around dawn and the 3 hours around sunset.

Where and when is it found?

Dengue fever is increasingly being found world-wide. After malaria it’s one of the most common tropical illnesses affecting travellers. It is prominent across the whole of Indonesia. The mosquito has adapted to specifically live in our houses and offices. You are as likely to get it in a city as out in the country, however big epidemics occur in cities. It is more common in the rainy season as there are more mosquitoes.

What are the symptoms?

Severe muscle and joint ache (in the old days it was known as Breakbone Fever), headache, fever and rash, the whole illness coming on very suddenly. However, many people get a milder version.

Dengue often seems to get better then comes back again hence another name for it is Saddleback Fever. Usually the worst symptoms are over in a week, though it can take time, sometimes many weeks, to get your energy back.

There is a more severe form of Dengue called Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever with bleeding into the skin and other organs. This tends to affect local people who are poor and malnourished and is very rare in travellers. Yet it does occur and there is no evidence why some get it and some do not.

Dengue is a very real nuisance but rarely leaves any lasting problems.

How can I avoid getting it?

It’s not easy but possible.

  • Keep covered in the day.
  • Use an effective repellent such as DEET (Citronella or Vitamin B have no scientific base).
  • Sleep with a bednet
  • Keep houses and offices screened (doors and windows).
  • Use an insecticide in the house or office preferably use a residual spray.
  • You could also treat your clothes with a repellent.
  • Reduce and remove mosquito breeding sites
  • If you hear of an outbreak then increase your adherence to the precautions.
  • There is no vaccine.

What do I do if I get it?

Because it mimics malaria you should see a doctor and get a malaria blood test. If the diagnosis of Dengue seems likely then rest, keep up your fluids, take a painkiller (not aspirin based) and be patient. Get back to work and normal life slowly. It may take up to a month or two to get all your energy back, and sometimes you can feel a bit low afterwards.

With thanks to PW and the Red Cross

How to Find a Nanny Part II

March 16, 2014

Following on from How to Find a Nanny Part I –

So apart from actually finding a person to mind your children, what are the other things you need to take into consideration?  Far from an exhaustive list, here are a few things to think about;

  1.  Salary.  The best thing to do here is talk to people and find out what they are paying.  Salaries have increased a lot over the last year and there is no longer a benchmark amount, so do your homework.  Be aware that live-out usually costs a bit more than live-in, on the basis that your nanny will need money to travel and pay her rent, which she won’t need to do if she lives in.  You should also be clear on bonuses (some people pay an extra month’s salary at Christmas for example) and pay rises (usually yearly).  It should go without saying that you ALWAYS pay her on time, usually at the end of each month.
  2. Work hours.  Be very clear on this.  When do you expect her to start and finish on each day and what will you do about ‘overtime’?  Will she be working weekdays and/or weekends and how much will you pay for babysitting in the evenings?  (Don’t forget to add her taxi fare home).  Will you expect her to work public holidays and will she be remunerated for this?
  3. Holidays.  It’s pretty much accepted that your nanny will take her holidays when you are away and most people don’t have any kind of separate arrangement for this; you simply pay her monthly wage as always. However, you may wish to make it clear that she can take extra days if needed on the basis that she lets you know in advance.  Some people may ask that she makes the hours up another time, others simply let it go as it’s such a rare occurrence!
  4. Discipline.  This is the hardest one to ‘get right’.  One of the joys of living in Myanmar is the affection that people shower all children with and your main ‘problem’ is going to be your kids being spoiled.  By this I mean that your nanny will most likely tidy up without asking your child to help and will probably happily spoonfeed them at mealtimes, long after we, as parents, feel they should be feeding themselves!  Again, you need to have a good relationship with your nanny and outline what you feel is acceptable behaviour in your children.
  5. Safety.  We are blessed to live in a country where your children’s safety is paramount and consequently they will be wrapped up in cotton wool and have an adult hovering near at all times.  This blessing can turn into a curse however, when your child is not allowed to go up and down stairs, climb on frames or run freely because nanny will always be holding on to a hand or an arm, just in case.  Be firm on this and make it clear that you value your child’s independence.  Similarly, it’s important that children are able to play by themselves sometimes and it can be hard to explain this kind of thinking to your well-meaning nanny, who feels she should constantly engage with your child in some way.  On the other hand, my toddler LOVES to help for example, and I have had many discussions and demonstrations with my staff, showing them how letting him ‘wash up’, vacuum, dust, hang washing and sweep really does bring him a lot of happiness and self worth.   I’m sure they think I’m most peculiar!
  6. Additional gifts and bonuses.  It’s no surprise that most people treat their nanny more as part of the family than staff, because her role in taking care of your children and ensuring their wellbeing and happiness is of such importance.  Therefore remembering her birthday, her kids’ birthdays, paying for medical treatments, processing and paying for passports where applicable and passing on your unwanted clothes to her first, or buying small gifts for her/her children children whilst on holiday, are all part of the unwritten ‘terms and conditions’ when you employ a nanny and go a long way to indicate and confirm her status.  There’s lots of other help you can give her of course and much depends on her situation.  But having a photo of your kid(s) for her to take back to show family and friends is a sure-fire favourite!
  7. Parting ways.  There will come a time when one of you is moving on and it’s usually a sad time for everyone involved. If you are the one leaving make sure you find your nanny a new family or job to go to, if that’s what she wants.  You can also give her a written reference with your contact details on it should anyone want to get in touch.  The hardest part will of course be for your children and your nanny and this should be managed sensitively with plenty of time for discussion on both sides, if possible.!forum/yangon-expat-connection

How to Find a Nanny Part I

How to Find a Nanny Part I

March 14, 2014
If only...

If only…

How to Find a Nanny – Part 1

In order to find a nanny, you need first to find a nanny.  Bear with me!  By that I mean that no amount of advertising or emailing community groups and websites will ever get you as close to finding a nanny as finding another nanny at a playgroup will.

You need to get out and about as soon as you arrive, chatting to other parents and attending playgroups. In this way you will advertise your need and the other nannys that you meet will be able to recommend you.  That’s right, they will recommend YOU to their friends and colleagues.  You may think it would be the other way around, but there is very much a nanny network here in Yangon and you would do well to dip into it as soon as you can.

If you already have other staff, such as a housekeeper, cleaner or driver, be sure to ask them if they know of anyone.  This serves a dual purpose because all your staff need to get on, and they may well be able to recommend a friend or family member, even in the short term.  Be aware of cultural differences however, because they may NOT recommend someone they know well, on the basis that if it doesn’t work out, all parties will be embarrassed by the transaction.  It’s a delicate line!

What if your children aren’t school age yet?  Then it can be harder to meet other parents but don’t be afraid to approach anyone you see, in the supermarket for instance.  Don’t know what to say?  How about “I’m new in town and thinking of starting a playgroup to meet some other parents, would you like to come?”  It worked a treat for me; not only did I get a superb nanny out of it but a lifelong friend too.  Likewise, it’s never too early to check out nurseries and schools and this is of course a great way to meet other parents who already have kids at school but may also have younger ones at home.  Don’t forget to take this opportunity to ask what people are paying their nannys and bear in mind that live-in and live-out options make a difference (see my other post on How to Find a Nanny – Part 2 ).

When you do finally meet your nanny, make sure that you begin with a trial period so that if there is a lack of connection neither of you feel embarrassed to state that it’s not working and you need to move on (that said, if you have Myanmar nanny she will be so polite it’s very likely you will have to be the one to initiate the conversation).

If you’ve never had a nanny before it can be a daunting task, but be led by your children.  If they interact well and are happy, then give them some time to play alone together and form a bond.  If possible, let them attend a playgroup together and get some feedback from friends afterwards. Only time will tell, but having clear expectations and guidelines will be of enormous help at this point.  Before you know it, you will be able to spend more time out of the house/at work and your children won’t even miss you. And that’s the hardest part!!forum/yangon-expat-connection

Top Yangon Blogs

March 12, 2014
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Apparently there are some 10 000 blogs in Myanmar and therefore it would be impossible to list them all here!  However, here is a selection of very popular English language blogs from expats.  You can also access local blogs via two great directories; and

  1.  Feisty Blue Gecko is an award winning blogger who has lived in Yangon for over four years and chronicles her life as a development worker and breast cancer survivor.  Gripping reading, she posts regularly and has an inspiring take on life.
  2.  Becky is another award winner, and a super resourceful writer who happily shares all her ups and downs of life in Myanmar with her readers.  From culture shock to divorce in an expat community, she’s not afraid to tackle all the issues straight on. She’s also made some super resourceful libraries with links to all sorts of information, including a special tab for expat kids. Sign up for her newsletter and get her gorgeous Expat Manifestos; there’s even one just for the children!
  3. Julian Ray is a photographer who shares images on his blog, which often, as he says, resist being defined into simple categories.  Check out the Burma section though, it’s beautiful.
  4.  An often humorous and wry look at life in Myanmar, you can find posts on the cost of living (for expats), how to negotiate Yangon traffic and Burmese hblogospitality, plus more.
  5.  Gorgeous looking blogsite with tonnes of tips and tricks for both visitors and residents alike. Lovely photos and short, snappy posts about finding the best bread and living in a cash economy, and much more. Highly recommended.
  6. by respected journalist Douglas Long is a great read, often describing his intrepid journeys around Myanmar, often to less-visited places and to those that have newly opened up.  In his own words;  “I try to explore aspects of Myanmar that can’t be gleaned from reading Lonely Planet. Content includes travel and culture articles, photographs, book and music reviews, complaints about the atrocious cycling conditions in Yangon, and the occasional video link. Nothing on business or real estate though — soul-killing subjects in which I have zero interest.”. Don’t forget to check out his column for the Myanmar Times too. A favourite!
  7.  Jessica Mudditt is another journalist with an interesting life and an intreresting take on life!  It mostly contains articles on business, culture and society that she has written for various newspapers such as The Bangkok Post, as well as some tips about living in Yangon and travel in Myanmar. Jessica is a regular blogger and a great person too (I have to say that, she interviewed me once and it was great fun!)
  8. Is essentially a photo blog by a very talented photographer, Chris James White, who can also be found here;  Really gorgeous stuff.

Secrets of a Successful Playgroup

March 10, 2014

Hosting a playgroup is one of the best ways of getting to know people and finding friends for your children. Of course your kids will always prefer to play with someone else’s toys but they also enjoy the opportunity to have friends round and show theirs off! It really doesn’t take too much effort, but some of the points below might help to get you started;

1. Be clear on the start and finish time. Most playgroups are about two hours and the understanding is that you can drop in at any time between the start and finish. You never know when the little ones are going to nap/have a tantrum or how bad the traffic will be so being flexible is the best option when inviting people. That said, it’s also good to manage expectations and if your kids need to have an uninterrupted lunch at 11.30 then make sure you indicate that the group finishes around 11.

2. Directions. Of course you need an address but don’t forget to include your phone numbers, landline and cell in case one or other doesn’t work, PLUS some brief directions. Road numbers don’t always make sense here and it pays to highlight landmarks and the colour of your gate.

3. Snacks. Fruit and water or juice works for the kids, with perhaps some crackers, popcorn or biscuits if you like. No need to go overboard though if you are an enthusiastic baker or have an amazing cook, feel free to show off! It will be much appreciated. Tea and coffee for the adults if you like and make sure there’s something for the nannies too; mine likes 3-in-1 coffee particularly.

4. Will you be there? Some groups are nannys only and some are mainly parents. Others are a happy mix of both but it might be prudent to indicate whether you will be around and expecting to socialise.

5. Don’t feel the need to put on entertainment or organise games. It’s usually enough to share toys and snacks and let everyone have a good old chat. If weather and your location allow, you can let people know that outdoor or messy play is on the agenda.

6. Before the playdate, have a conversation with your child about sharing, especially when they are younger. If there are particular toys they feel precious about then it’s absolutely fair enough to put them away for the duration of the playgroup. Of course, that won’t avoid meltdowns completely but at least gives your child a bit of a say in matters!

7. RSVP. If you would like to know who and how many will be attending then ask for an RSVP. There are times when you might have only one person turn up and it’s bound to be the morning you re-arranged everything to be at home! That said, if it’s a nanny group then it’s pretty self regulating and you probably don’t need to get involved at all.

8. Relax. Playgroups are supposed to be minimal effort and maximum fun. The kids will just enjoy being in a different environment and parents/carers will be glad of the chance to get out of the house and socialise.

Don’t worry too much if you feel that there aren’t enough playgroups and playdates set up. Once you’ve hosted and once you have a nanny in place, you will find that in no time at all, your little ones will have a much livelier social life than you!



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