Tuesday at 3:05pm, right after classes had finished for the day, we got the news that school would be moving to virtual learning effective immediately and lasting until at least May 4. It was not super surprising as there had been a growing feeling of unease among the expats in Yangon and some embassies started asking non essential employees to repatriate. The strange thing here is that no one is panicking about corona virus (there are apparently still no confirmed cases in Myanmar) but rather about routes to get home or even out of Myanmar being shut down. The main problem being that health care in Myanmar is not good and if it is not possible to get to Thailand for decent medical care and you have an incident (not even related to the virus) all of a sudden things start to look a little bleak.
Gav and I had discussed what we would do in this situation and had come to the conclusion that we would probably stick it out in Yangon as the option of going to either the US or the UK was looking even more dire. We have a nice big house here, no one is panic buying out the grocery stores, and we also have Nell to consider. Well it turns out that in any case we were told that we were “essential employees” at school and were asked to stay put in Yangon. It’s kind of nice having the decision taken out of our hands.
But before all this hit the fan, last Saturday night we had a fun evening celebrating our friend Greg’s birthday. Greg had organised a pub crawl to different cocktail bars in downtown Yangon. After leading us to two fun places, we emerged from our drinking establishment to find a fleet of trishaws waiting to take us all to dinner. Trishaws are traditional type of transport in Myanmar that is a bicycle with a kind of sidecar. You can still see people taking them around, especially downtown, but obviously usually it is much easier and more comfortable to take a taxi. These poor guys are used to cycling a tiny Myanmar granny home from the market, not a herd of giant western people from a bar to a restaurant, but they were good sports. I don’t think any of us had ever ridden one before, so it was quite the experience and lots of photos and videos were taken.
We are all glad we had one last care-free night on the town as some of the members of the party have now decided to leave Yangon and it will be a while before we see them again.
This past week has been very weird. All teachers were required to stay and go to school as usual through Friday, so I had a very frantic three days of running around helping people get set up and troubleshoot for virtual learning. When the school announced the move, they gave students 3 hours on Wednesday to come and collect anything they needed. I kept the library open because some teachers wanted kids to come by to collect some textbooks, but I told 2 of my 3 assistants they didn’t need to come in. Big mistake. It was complete pandemonium. At one point there must have been over 100 people in the library-parents were bringing in all their kids (even tiny ones not in school yet) to hang out and check out millions of books for the shut down. At several points I had to yell “if you are done checking out your books, please leave!” because everyone was just hanging around having a good old chin wag and also coughing all over the place. Tiny kids (as I have told you before) are disgusting and I could hear them sneezing indiscriminately and I was pretty cranky. I also kept thinking “is this not the exact thing we are trying to avoid by going virtual?” When we finally shut, it looked like locusts had been through the library and the return box/table was just piled with books.
I asked my one co-worker to come back the next morning for a few hours to help me at least get all the books returned through the system even though he is technically no working due to not being deemed “essential” support staff. Things are a little more in order but I guess I have lots of time to get things fixed before May.
By Friday afternoon I was totally at the end of my rope and so tired of hearing people debate whether to stay or to go. Basically everyone who wanted to leave left this weekend so at least when we return on Monday it should be a little more calm. I feel badly for the people who wanted to leave but were told they were essential and had to stay through this week. But, we are all in this together and when you choose to live in exotic places sometimes “exotic” things happen!
Now that all the panicky people have left, things seem very calm in Yangon. The supermarket is well stocked, all bars and restaurants are still open although the ones geared towards expats have put a lot up on social media about their cleaning routine and have removed tables to space people out more. Gav and I did go out for a quick cocktail last night at our favourite place just in case the government asks for a shut-down. We went nice and early and only one other person was in the bar. Sadly, all the social distancing in the world could not help with the fact that she was loudly Facetiming someone back home in Australia.
Shut UP lady. Picture of shame.
Long story short, we are staying here for the time being, trying to live life as normally as we can. We are only concerned about stocking up on the essentials, so yesterday we ran to the supermarket for a case of it.
Now we’re prepared!