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Yangon Post

From Sophie: London vs. Yangon

From Sophie: London vs. Yangon

You’d think that living in Yangon would be worlds apart from London. But oddly, it isn’t so different. Monday to Friday, I get up and go to the office. On Saturdays and Sundays I don’t. I have supper with friends. Watch a bit of Netflix. Play squash. Do yoga.
 
But maybe after four years I've normalised things I used to find unfamiliar. Maybe being woken up by chanting monks isn't the same as being roused by the Today programme, and perhaps hoarding tonic water in case of a city-wide shortage is not my usual behaviour.
 
On reflection, some things are a bit different. A lot different, actually. For instance...
 
You’re never cold. Ever.
 
You never sleep without air con.
 
You exist in a permanent state somewhere between a little bit and extraordinarily sweaty.
 
Anything in your wardrobe made of viscose, elastane or rayon will be unworn following its first and only outing.
 
You never take public transport, but get swished around in taxis. At about 50p a mile, it never feels extravagant. Disco lights and seat doilies are often included. Driving skills less common.
 
If you smile at somebody in the street, you’ll get a bigger one back. Even from the bin man, or the guy dredging the drains. I don’t remember this being the case on the Number 7 bus.
 
You can have 14 bunches of fresh flowers in the house, including in the bathroom, for the price of a single stem at home.

Eating sticky noodles hidden under liquid tofu and topped with chilli flakes for breakfast is not weird. It's totally delicious.
 
Nobody is ever in a rush to do anything or get anywhere. While incomprehensible to the Londoner fresh from the City, this is delightfully calming to the initiated.
 
You don’t walk anywhere. It’s generally too hot, or wet, or dangerous. 10,000 steps a day is basically impossible without a treadmill.
 
If you turn up at the office before 9 or stay beyond 5, you’ll have the place to yourself.
 
The 9 till 5 working day includes half an hour for breakfast, two to three tea breaks, an hour for lunch, and half an hour to pack up and plan your route home.
 
Being asked to spell-check love letters for colleagues is not funny. It’s extremely important, and must be taken seriously.  

Telling your boss that the reason you are late is because you were playing World of Warcraft until 4am is not considered a bad idea.
 
Your appearance and weight are an open forum for discussion. You will be told with great mirth when you have gained or lost weight. This is not offensive.
 
There are 24 bank holidays a year. That’s almost one a fortnight. Magic if you’re an employee. Totally maddening if you’re an employer.
 
You rarely wear shoes inside. There’s something very levelling about slightly pompous business men who have flown in from Frankfurt discussing deal terms in their suits and socks.
 
Online shopping manifests itself slightly differently. Airline tickets are delivered to your desk by a charming travel agent, who collects cash from you in exchange for a hand-written voucher. And food delivery may well come with a waiter from the restaurant in a starched shirt who produces your ginger beers from a mini-cold box, and your receipt in a leather holder.
 
Cash is King. You’ll pay with a card if you’re in a hotel, or an upmarket restaurant. But everything else is done in readies.
 
You can’t just google a recipe and pick up what you need on the way home, as you won’t be able to find half the ingredients. You also have to make a few stops; one for your meat, another for the bread, a third for the vegetables and dried stuff.
 
Realising that the supermarket has started stocking Bonne Maman jam feels a bit like Emma Stone turning up at your birthday party.  Even if it’s only the blueberry one and is a month beyond its sell-by date.
 
You understand that real chocolate is a total luxury and is not to be under-appreciated.
 
You think nothing of spending £4.50 on a box of Special K, or £8 on a small tub of ice cream. These things go into your essential spending bracket.
 
You don’t spend any money on clothes. There are no tempting Zara windows or H&M sales on your commute.  
 
Putting on some earrings or a jazzy scrunchy will be enough to turn your outfit from day-to-day to deeply formal. And you never wear heels. Supergas are more than smart enough.
 
Your friends are always free. Nobody needs booking in two months in advance, or squeezing in between work and dinner in three Thursdays' time. 4pm on a Friday is enough notice for your Friday night plans.
 
It is routine to be plunged into darkness in a restaurant when the power cuts out. Don’t expect anybody to comment on it.  
 
Putting your hands anywhere near your mouth is a terrible idea.
  
You can justify having your nails done once a fortnight in the swankiest spa in town. It looks like a New York beautician, but is a thousand times more thorough, and the bill rings in at £6.
 
Having your hair washed is a thing. You lie completely flat on a bed, with your head in the sink, supported by a cushioned prop. And “wash” is euphemism for 45-minute head massage, wash, deep condition and blow-dry. An hour of pure joy for £2.
 
Killing mosquitoes becomes your greatest skill.
 
Your friends adopt one-eyed street kittens or three-legged puppies from the gutters and rear them like their own children, as if they were merely helping an old person off the bus, or picking up a crisp packet from the pavement.
 
You learn never to expect anything to happen when or how you planned it. Your standard approach is to expect it to go wrong, and be surprised if it goes right. Does wonders for your patience.
 
Your idea of the perfect mini-break will no longer be Paris or the Cotswolds. Instead, you’ll set off by motorbike to seek out an off-grid hill-top village, where your terrible Burmese won’t work because they only speak their local dialect.
 
After a few months in Yangon, the culture shock of landing in Hong Kong or Singapore will make you feel like a child trying to navigate Heathrow Terminal 3 alone.
 
You miss your friends and family more than you could imagine, and adore your new ones unconditionally for making you feel at home somewhere so far from home.
 
You forget that living abroad ever felt like a daunting concept. You have total mental freedom to consider living anywhere on the planet.
 
You never, ever underestimate how lucky you are.

Oh, and you learn that instant three-in-one tea from a sachet is the drink of the gods. Move over macchiato.

Sophie x 

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Mar 28, 2019

Spot on. Have fun.

ma thanegi
Mar 28, 2019

Spot on. Have fun.

ma thanegi
Mar 27, 2019

all true especially the tea!

Lara
Mar 27, 2019

Sophie
Just read your blog on the differences between London and Yangon which i thought was brilliant.
Hope to see you both for lunch on Balnagowan over the summer
Best wishes
Paul

paul Nicoll

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