Yangon Inconveniences

There are some real advantages to living in a developing country. Cocktails are cheap, tourists are few (or non-existent) and life is a a little less complicated for the most part. But every once in a while something crops up that just seems so absurd that you are reminded that every place on earth has its drawbacks.

Gav introduced you to our new car last week. It is entirely impractical for us to have a car here, there is really no need since we have our scooters, but he loves having it and it makes him unreasonably happy so here we sit with more vehicles than people in our house. So far we have gone to the hardware store once and the plant nursery once (total cost of having a cab take us on those excursions? Probably $8) but Gav is at this very moment on a birding adventure north of Yangon so the car is useful for something. One tiny problem is that the Yangon city works department decided a few weeks ago to repave the road nearly right outside our house.

We live on the corner of a small road that connects two larger thoroughfares. Way at the other end of our road is a giant 4 lane major artery, but just a few steps from our house is another important road that can get quite busy at certain times of the day. This road has been plagued with potholes in the tarmac consistently since we arrived. Once in a while someone will attempt to fill them in (sometimes properly with some more tarmac but sometimes with a mixture of crushed up bricks and sand) but they come back pretty rapidly and can cause some traffic jams as people try to navigate around them. Well it seems that the Yangon city council decided to repave this road completely. Only instead of doing it with tarmac, they just decided to pour about 5 inches of concrete on top of the existing road. This is entirely done by hand with a large crew of men who first come and build wooden barricades on the side of the road, then put down a load of sand, and then pour the concrete. They do this in sections along the road, but there seems to be very little forethought about which other roads they block while they do this work. Sometimes it is possible to do a rat-run around to avoid the section that they are working on, but there usually comes a time when their work completely blocks people from being able to leave their road or house with a vehicle. This should only last about a day as the concrete dries very quickly here, but there is another problem.

The new road is now 5 inches higher than the old roads that connect to it. So even when the concrete is dry, you cannot actually get on or off of the road. No problem! Surely the council comes back to connect up the roads, right? Wrong! It seems like maybe it is the neighborhood’s responsibility to pay someone to do the work? We are not sure. We know from having our own road repaved that it was each house’s job to hire someone to connect their driveways with the new, taller road but it seems ridiculous that this is the case when connecting up roads!

What has happened in reality is that quite quickly, people create makeshift connections out of sandbags or concrete bags or rubble or a mixture of all 3 of those. This is what appeared to connect our road with that new road.

It has been fixed and added to a few times-at the beginning it was just sand which quickly dispersed leaving a still significant drop from one road to the next. A few days ago it seems like someone fortified it-probably because we noticed lots of low-slung cars being unable to actually come down that without scraping up their car. Let’s get a closer look:

Better, but I sure would like something there that won’t wash away in the rainy season.

So now we just have this road with all of these janky exits off of it and also quite a treacherous drop off the side if you happen to drift off the road slightly. A few nights ago we watched a car slam on the brakes, slide in the sand that is all over the road and get two wheels off the road and into the ditch beside. We thought they were in real trouble but by the time we came back they had somehow extracted themselves!

Aside from our road problems, Myanmar is experiencing major problems with electricity lately. Most of the power for the country is hydroelectric, which means at this time of year (end of the dry season) we always experience some power outages due to there not being enough water in the reservoirs to keep the supply up with the demand. But this year is especially bad. It’s been very dry for a long time and something is wrong with the back-up electricity supplies so Yangon has been experiencing unprecedented power cuts. I actually began writing this post LAST Sunday but the power cut right as I started complaining about the power up there. It was out until 7pm that day.

Some neighborhoods have had 20-24 hours without power. There was a rumor last week that we would have 7 days of no electricity for the entire country to try to conserve power! Luckily that did not come to pass, but even our neighborhood has regularly had 8 hour outages. It’s also the hot season, so that means no AC or fans or anything in the 38 degree heat. Our house has a back-up diesel powered generator that we can turn on, but it is super loud and smelly so we try to severely curtail how often we use it. This helps somewhat with the smell, but every single one of our neighbors turn their generators on the second the electricity cuts, so it is still very loud.

This is our generator, sits in the driveway.

One problem with the generator is that it’s not automatic. We have heard rumors of people who have generators that kick in when the power cuts and turn all automatically when the power resumes, but honestly I think those people who think they have an “automatic generator” actually have house help that just run and turn everything on or off. Getting the generator to run the house electrical supply is a multi-step process. First you have to prime the generator, then tun it on with a key and then flip a switch that must first be in the “Off” position (but is colored green) and then gets turned to the “On” position that is of course red. Then you have to run into the garage (though the house) and flip two breakers from the general electricity position to the generator position. When power resumes, you do all those things backwards. The generator doesn’t power everything in the house-luckily it does all the AC units and most of the outlets. But curiously although the lights work in the kitchen, none of the outlets do so you have to plug the coffee maker into somewhere else like the living room. Also the oven is not connected to generator power (but it is gas so you can light it manually). BUT this is very convenient because the only way you know if power is restored is if the oven clock comes back on!

Like I said, we try not to run the generator during the day. At night we have to because a) it gets dark at 6pm and b) I cannot sleep with no AC on. So that means that when the power is out at night, we set an alarm for every two hours and alternate who has to go downstairs to see if the oven clock is on so we can switch off the generator. It’s not ideal. But we have been lucky that we haven’t had the power out at night too much and in the next month the rains will come and hopefully fix the problem.

For those of you waiting with baited breath, Gav got his shirts back from Ms. Wah Wah! I promised you a fashion show, so here it is. He is very pleased with them and the best part is that they each only cost 7,000 MMK or about $4. Bargain!

Vogue, we await your call.

3 thoughts on “Yangon Inconveniences

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  1. Haha! Yes, first world problems in third world countries…
    Going back 30 years when Julie and I first moved to Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa, I remember writing to my best friend Duncan that we were having difficulty getting, amongst other things, quality toilet paper. Tow months later a Christmas card arrived containing, yes, a single sheet of soft, Andrex toilet paper.


    1. PS Gavin – here in Suffolk, the bitterns are booming and the marsh harriers are sky dancing.
      We’ve seen ever increasing numbers of great white egrets, glossy ibis and red kites galore.
      Let us know the next time you guys are in the UK – would love to host you two for a day or two at Minsmere and the local Adnams pubs… My son is the head chef at one of them!


  2. OK, I would wear ALL of those shirts. (Not at the same time.)

    That road design is half-assed, excuse my French. (Actually in French it’s apparently “à moitié cul,” at least according to Google Translate.) And the generator situation definitely does not sound ideal, but at least you’re maintaining the A/C!


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