Started work today. I’m teaching science in English to the lower elementary grades. Bit of a switch from the advanced information technology I was teaching a few weeks ago in Italy, and tonight I had a discussion with my son (doing anthropological fieldwork on martial arts in Korea) on the vagaries of 3000 year old fighting manuals in classical Chinese. Scrambled egg looks organized compared to my brain right now.
I was a little nervous going to school but had my best foot forward. I showered, shaved, and dressed in neat cotton shirt and trousers. People in Myanmar – especially middle class – take great pride in looking magazine fresh. Teachers at my school all wear a teacher uniform, and the students wear uniforms too. Foreign teachers are exempt but must be neat and clean. Casual is OK – up to a point. I sent my work clothes out to be laundered today and they came back immaculate. Even the socks were ironed.
I am the only foreign teacher at my school which is OK. I’ve yet to see a Westerner in Mandalay except the foreign teachers I have met. Yet . . . unlike in China, no one gives me a second look, with the exception of the occasional passerby when I am out walking who wants to chat. But that’s it; they either engage me or ignore me.
My nervousness stemmed from the fact that I’ve never taught really young kids before. It went fine, of course. Little kids like showmanship and I like it too. It’s just like acting. I gave them my rules for the classroom – no talking when I am talking, put your hand up if you want to speak etc etc. I brought in a heart-shaped bottle of sand from Bermuda and asked them to write down a description and draw a picture. They were fascinated by it and wanted to look and look, and ask questions. I went round the class checking their work. I also have two Myanmar assistants in each class who go round to make sure each student is doing what I ask. All efficient.
Three classes went by in a flash.
Then the headmistress wanted to see me to explain the curriculum for the pre-school where I will teach on Mondays. Five classes at different stages depending on their intake month. Mostly they are learning vocabulary. I’ll follow her directives but it was heavy weather. I’ll learn by doing and I’m sure we’ll get along. How long I’ll stay at the school is another matter.
After my siesta I took a walk north to get the feel for the city a little better. It’s two worlds. One is the old Myanmar – poor and broken down. The other is all new construction, reminiscent of the MacMansions of the US. Worlds in collision. I’m glad to be here before it all changes. Apparently Yangon is already much more modernized, but Mandalay is still on the cusp. New construction everywhere, all done by hand. Cement is taken to building sites by women carrying it in baskets on their heads. There men mix it and lay it all by hand. Not a cement mixer or cement truck in sight. Scaffolding is hand built out of bamboo and workers climb it hand over hand, carrying building materials.
I walked for about 2 hours in sweltering heat (40C/100F) with my shirt wringing wet after 10 minutes. First mistake – forgot my umbrella. Won’t do that again even though very few people carried them – and only women. No worries. I’m not proud. Besides I’m a foreigner, so a foreign man with a purple umbrella will be no stranger than a foreign man without one. A couple of people stopped me on the street to ask me if I were lost (sub-text, “are you a blithering idiot walking in this heat?”) I smiled and said I lived in Mandalay and was just walking around to take photos. Didn’t satisfy them, but they nodded and walked off.
Home for a siesta at about 5:30. Then dinner of Myanmar green curry. So far I have not found what you might call “authentic” Myanmar cuisine. It’s Thai or Chinese or Indian or a blend. The curry was basically Thai but with a local twist. All rice I have eaten so far has been basmati.
And so to bed. . .