Layers of mold, fish sauce, gasoline and scented soap

In 20 years when we look back on the time that we lived in Myanmar, it will be the smells will bring us back to thrill, the frustration and the excitement of this adventure. The layers of mold, fish sauce, gasoline and scented soap have transformed from striking new stenches to shockingly familiar scents in just one week.

The buildings in Yangon are either very old or very new. They tell the story of these people and this culture. They provide the framework for the luxury, the turmoil and the change this city has gone through. The ubiquity of  vibrant moss and trees growing from the side of six story buildings makes it seem like this city was plopped down in the middle of a jungle. When the city stopped growing, the jungle didn’t. Both the jungle and the people are seeking light through cracks of opportunity.

A vibrant mossy building downtown Yangon.

A vibrant mossy, wet and moldy building, downtown Yangon.

A mossy and moldy building, downtown Yangon.

Inside an old Colonial building. We just happened to walk into this building. There are probably 10 more just like this; old, beautiful, abandoned and in disrepair. The Yangon Heritage Trust is working tirelessly to find gems such as these and restore them to their original beauty.

We wrapped up our first week in Yangon with a day exploring the city. After 3 hours of walking around downtown, we left Bogyoke Aung San Market in a down pour and spent the next 40 minutes in a cab asking ourselves common questions in Myanmar; why do our hands smell like fish sauce? Is the four foot long gas tank behind my head in the trunk totally necessary? Does the cab driver understand where we wanted to be taken? How does every car in this city avoid hitting one another? Where is the closest hospital just in case? Am I going to get sick from all the delicious street food we just ate?

A young woman walking through Bogyoke Aung San Market.

A young woman walking through Bogyoke Aung San Market.

Nuns collect their daily offerings in Bogyoke Aung San Market.

Sule Pagoda.

Sule Pagoda. Yangon is setup around this pagoda. Things will be referred to as “7 mile” or  “6 mile” referring to how far away the destination is from Sule Pagoda.

Street food. They crack a quail egg into a sizzling little hole and then fry it up. 10 for K1000 (about $1.00).

Street food. A quail egg gets cracked into a sizzling little hole and then gets fried up. 10 for K1000 (about $1.00).

Shan Noodle Soup. A traditional dish from the Shan State; vermicelli in a broth with tomatoes, bok choy and meat with varied toppings. Our favorite meal so far!

Shan Noodle Soup. A traditional dish from the Shan State; vermicelli in a broth with tomatoes, bok choy and meat with varied toppings. Our favorite meal so far!

Don't buy the food in the middle of the markets. They are put there so cars can drive down the alley way. Only in Asia!

Don’t buy the food in the middle of the markets. They are put there so cars can drive down the alley way. Only in Asia!

Yangon is so unique. It is exactly what you imagine; old, colonial, moldy, mossy and colorful. It is also so much more than I imagined; there are contemporary and thriving businesses, there is a fast paced beat and it is quickly being built up more and more. There are many new cars on the streets, traffic is abundant, people are holding smart phones everywhere you look and serviced apartments for Westerners are spreading like wildfire. You can go to a licensed Apple retailer in the mall or buy whatever Timberland attire your heart desires.

Yangon has adopted many cranes to complete the skyline.

Yangon has adopted many cranes to complete the skyline.

Rain or shine, light or dark, nothing stops workers from  building.

Rain or shine, light or dark, nothing stops workers from building.

Street life in downtown Yangon.

Street life in downtown Yangon.

A Yangon book store. There was a whole shelf dedicated to Orwell novels.

A Yangon book store. There was a whole shelf dedicated to Orwell novels and a shelf dedicated to Myanmar travel books (outdated ones of course).

A talent show in the middle of Junction Square mall hosted by a skin care line. This mall is fancier than most malls in the States.

A talent show in the middle of Junction Square mall hosted by a skin care line. This mall is fancier than most malls in the States.

It is fascinating to watch this place transform from a society stuck in time to a modern day thriving city. It has a long way to go, but we feel so lucky to be here to watch these people and this country embrace the old, welcome the new and thrive.

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We made it!

We left San Francisco at 1 am on Sunday morning, stopped in Hong Kong, then to Singapore and finally landed in Yangon on Monday afternoon. The view from the Hong Kong airport is incredible. The airport sits on a man made island surrounded by brilliant jagged green mountains and beautiful blue water. The Singapore airport is a destination in itself. During our three hour layover, we visited the sunflower garden, the tropical indoor gardens, Koi ponds, movie theater and LAN gaming room. If we had about 30 more minutes, we would have gone for a dip on the rooftop swimming pool. The bathrooms at the Singapore airport were the cleanest we had ever seen. They even have touch screen surveys to “Rate this toilet.”

Indoor garden in the Singapore airport

Indoor garden in the Singapore airport.

Standing over a Koi pond in the middle of the terminal.

Standing over a Koi pond in the middle of the terminal.

The Sunflower Garden on top of the Singapore airport.

The Sunflower Garden on top of the Singapore airport.

Three hours later we were in the air and could spot land from above. There was a moment on the airplane as we got closer to landing that reminded me that the past nine months of planning this move were about to become our reality. As we hovered golden stupas that stood out against the lush green jungle, I had this overwhelming feeling and said to myself, “we made it!”

Flying into Yangon. There is a golden stupa just left of the wing.

Flying into Yangon. There is a golden stupa just left of the wing.

A grand golden entrance on the tarmac.

A grand golden entrance on the tarmac.

The airport was very small and surprisingly efficient. The director of the school picked us and our six enormous duffle bags up at the airport. Driving through Yangon was so much more vibrant than either of us thought. The contrast of golden arched entry ways against the lush green foliage is striking! The arches make you feel like each one is a palace, and the arches are your royal welcome. The streets are filled with vendors, beer stations, busy workers and busy dogs.

When we arrived to our apartment building we were greeted by many friendly ISM faces. It seems like most of the ISM staff live in our building. We were supposed to move into 906 but apparently there was a leak. So then they decided to move us into 704, but that apartment was leaking too. So after a lot of charades and going up and down on the elevator with everything we currently own, we spent the night in 1501 with a picturesque view of the Shwedagon Pagoda. Not too shabby!

The view from the front door walking into the apartment.

The view from the front door walking into the apartment.

The master bedroom with Scott getting stuck trying to open the wardrobe.

The master bedroom with Scott getting stuck trying to open the wardrobe.

The guest room.

The guest room.

The next morning, we got picked up by the ISM bus at 6:45 am and brought to orientation with the entire K-12 staff. We have now worked for three days and are really ready for a break and to see more of Yangon.

The road in front of the high school leading to the street market.

The road in front of the high school leading to the street market.

Mohinga for breakfast.

Mohinga for breakfast.

A beautiful Myanmar woman with her beautiful greens.

A beautiful Myanmar woman with her beautiful greens.

Birds.

Walking to the high school from the market.