Living in Myanmar
Myanmar has been Southeast Asia’s outcast for decades, but the country has finally started to open up to the outside. Just five years ago tourism was just a trickle and ESL teachers would never consider visiting, much less looking for work there. However things have started to change in the past few years. Investment is flooding in from abroad, and with it the need to learn English is rising. The supply of teachers is still low, however, leading to some opportunities to find well-paid work in the country.
Burmese script uses 33 consonants and 12 vowels. Like Khmer, Thai and Lao, there are not spaces between words though there are spaces between clauses and sentences in modern written Burmese.
Burmese is also a tonal language. There are four different tones. Unlike Thai and Lao, in which the tone is indicated by the pitch of the voice, Burmese tones can depend on pitch, volume, “creakiness” of the voice, and other factors.
One difficulty of learning Burmese is that there are few books or other materials that have been produced for the task. Look for eBooks or western university textbooks to help you study. You may also have to find a private teacher to help you study, as there isn’t yet a large market for group Burmese classes for foreigners.
Eating in Myanmar
You’ll have to stick to local food for the most part if you’re living in Myanmar. You’ll find a bit of Indian, Bangladeshi and Nepali food as well, and the occasional western restaurant as well. Things are changing quickly, though, and as foreign businessmen and tourists come in then local businesses will try out new dishes to appeal to them.
You’ll likely do most of your eating from local food shops and street carts, of which there are many. Burmese milk tea with fried bread is a local favorite. Tea leaf salad is famous for its combination of nuts, onions, tomatoes and fermeted tea leaves. Other thick curries and stir fried dishes are easy to find.
If you want to cook on your own, you’ll have to do most of your shopping at local markets and small food shops. Modern supermarkets have yet to make an appearance in Myanmar, though they may be coming soon.
Myanmar is the “wild west” of Southeast Asia. The expats you’ll find there are mostly there for a purpose – whether to work with NGOs, study and report on the country, set up new businesses, or to teach. This leads to an interesting mix of people who are active and motivated, and opportunity is in the air. The backpackers may pass through, but if they try to settle down to teach they’ll probably do so in slightly-more-comfortable Thailand or Cambodia.
You’ll not find the wide range of social activities for foreigners that you would in Bangkok, Phnom Penh or Ho Chi Minh City. You’ll find a close-knit community of expats, somewhat like in Vientiane, with the exception that Myanmar feels like a much more dynamic place than Laos.
One of the many idiosyncrasies of Myanmar is the still-standing ban on motorbikes in the main city of Yangon. The ban is supposedly due to a large number of traffic accidents involving motorbikes, but there are other theories regarding the true reason. In any case, residents of Yangon will need to use public buses, which are fairly extensive, or car taxis to get around the city.
Other cities allow motorbikes in at least some areas of the city, and also tuk-tuks and even the fading pedal-powered rickshaw.
Teaching in Myanmar
As in Laos, there’s not really any website where you can look to find information on teaching in Myanmar, and your best chance is to travel in the country for a while and look for work. You can check out Ajarn.com, which mostly focuses on Thailand, since some placement agencies advertise for teachers on that website’s job board.
There are a few language centers for adults, including the prestigious British Council. Other language centers are popping up quickly, as well as international schools for the children of wealthy locals and expats.