Tag Archives: expat life in myanmar

Unravelling the benefits of yoga with one of Yangon’s best known yogis

Published in The Global New Light of Myanmar on 22 October 2015

Jojo Yang swapped a financially comfortable but unfulfilling corporate life in New York and London for a yoga-led existence in Yangon

American expat Jojo Yang doing what she does best. Photo supplied by Yangon Yoga House
American expat Jojo Yang doing what she does best. Photo supplied by Yangon Yoga House

Jojo Yang spent the first 20 years of her life avoiding all forms of exercise.

“I was never athletic – I was the last kid picked for sports teams at school because I was small, scrawny and uncoordinated,” she told The Global New Light of Myanmar.

She was so determined to skip high school gym class that she used the only loophole that enabled her to do: by managing the boys’ wrestling team.

Ms Yang took her first yoga class 10 years ago after a friend promised her that it wasn’t like other types of exercise in that she could ease her body into it.

Yangon Yoga House in Yankin Township. Photo supplied by Yangon Yoga House
Yangon Yoga House in Yankin Township. Photo supplied by Yangon Yoga House

Ms Yang soon found yoga a useful outlet to counterbalance the prolonged periods she spent sitting down as a frequent business traveller – and as a way to pass the time during long evenings spent in hotel rooms. It certainly wasn’t a case of immediate infatuation.

“For the first few years, I was like, ‘I’m not sure I get it.’ I was always asking myself if I was doing it right and I was always trying to match someone else’s pose. It wasn’t until I took a few private lessons that my practice completely transformed,” she said.

The 30-year-old started getting serious about yoga three years ago. She found that if she went a couple of weeks without doing it, she’d get the feeling that “something was missing.”

At around the same time, her disenchantment with life in the corporate fast lane, both in Manhattan and London, led her and her partner to give their careers a serious rethink.

“Every day felt like the worst day of my life. My job was draining and soul-sucking. No one ever came up to me at the end of the day to give me a hug and say, ‘Thanks for that power point presentation’ or whatever,” she said.

Jojo Yang at a recent retreat at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Photo supplied by Yangon Yoga House
Jojo Yang at a recent retreat at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Photo supplied by Yangon Yoga House

Ms Yang zipped off to Bali to complete a 200-hour yoga teachers’ course and she and her partner then settled in Myanmar last year, after friends insisted that Yangon is “where the action is.”

Within a month of teaching her first class, a student came up to Ms Yang and gave her a hug – she was grateful that Ms Yang’s cues had helped her master a certain yoga posture for the first time.

“It was the best career choice I ever made. What I do is fulfilling. I wake up every day and feel excited to teach,” she said with a grin.

And it’s not as though business in Yangon is grim: since starting off a little over a year ago teaching a free class once a week in a friend’s apartment, Ms Yang now has her own studio – Yangon’s first – and a client mailing list of around 750 people. As many as 200 students visit Yangon Yoga House every week for a lesson from Ms Yang or one of the eight other teachers. Different styles of yoga are taught, with classes that cater to the beginner to the more advanced, and there’s are also pilates, barre and circuit training classses. Yangon Yoga House has arranged a number of international yoga retreats, including one at Cambodia’s Angor Wat that took place in early October.

However not everyone has been converted.

“The first thing I hear is: ‘I can’t do it because I’m not flexible enough,’” Ms Yang said.

She said this is one of the most common misperceptions about yoga – and yet as Ms Yang explains, flexibility is one of yoga’s core benefits (pardon the pun). And this is not simply about being able to touch your toes or do the splits.

“As people start to get older, things start to contract. Mobility becomes limited. It commonly starts with lower back pain and that’s because the core is weak or the hips are tight.”

Impressive! Photo supplied by Yangon Yoga House
Impressive! Photo supplied by Yangon Yoga House

The more flexible a person becomes, the better able they are to sit or stand for long periods of time. It’s also an enormously effective way of preventing injuries among those who regularly do other forms of exercise, such as running.

Another common misperception is that yoga isn’t hard enough because it’s not a cardio-based work out.

“If the poses are done properly, it’s always an effort. And if you breathe properly you will sweat and feel the intensity,” Ms Yang said.

However Ms Yang is at pains to point out that yoga is more of a lifestyle than an exercise. Serious yogis rarely eat meat and one of the most common reasons people rave about yoga is its ability to soothe the soul and de-stress the mind.

However for some, yoga’s spiritual aspects (namely, chanting) are off-putting; for years yogis fought against the stigma of being associated with hippies. Yet it’s they who are having the last laugh as more and more become converted; perhaps in part out of sheer envy of practitioners’ beautifully toned and sculpted bodies. (For the record, when asked, Ms Yang put her total lack of body fat down to “luck in the genetics department.”)

Yoga’s meditative element

Interestingly, up until quite recently, yoga and meditation were one and the same. The sole purpose of a ‘vasana’ (posture) was to prepare the body to sit for extended periods of time during meditation. It wasn’t until 100 years ago that yoga became a separate discipline and a host of new postures were invented.

Everyone gets the yoga glow after a class at Yangon Yoga House. Photo supplied by Yangon Yoga House
Everyone gets the yoga glow after a class at Yangon Yoga House. Photo supplied by Yangon Yoga House

“Back then, being a yogi was like being a hermit – the original tradition was to retreat into the Himalayas and sit in a cave and eat very little,” Ms Yang explained.

It’s ironic that in today’s modern age, in which we stare at computer screens for hours on end – during both work and play – that yoga’s potential benefits have never been greater.

The West has in general been pretty slow to catch onto the benefits of the ancient practice, whose origins lie in India. Yoga was first mentioned in the texts of Hindu Upanishads and Buddhist Pāli Canon during the third century BC, but it took until the 1980s for yoga to be accepted as a legitimate form of exercise in the western world.

“In terms of general wellness, the exercise is just one element. If you really want to get healthy you need to bring it into your diet, how you approach life – stress plays a big part in how your physical being is. It’s all connected.”

As someone who never had the confidence to take on traditional sports, Ms Yang is keen to emphasise that everyone can enjoy the benefits of yoga.

As featured in The Global New Light of Myanmar - the first spread ever to grace its pages!
As featured in The Global New Light of Myanmar – the first spread ever to grace its pages!

“It’s about accepting where your body is now. Yoga is a journey and there is no destination or end point. It’s simply something you can do for the rest of your life.”

For more information about Yangon Yoga House, visit yangonyogahouse.com

Australian expat in Myanmar: my interview on expatsblogs.com

Here’s a snippet of my interview about being an expat in Myanmar, which was published on expatsblog.com

Feeding a beer at Yangon Zoo
Feeding a beer at Yangon Zoo

Jessica Mudditt is a journalist at The Myanmar Times and she has lived outside her home country of Australia for the past seven years. Jessica moved to Myanmar in July 2012 and her blog contains feature articles, light-hearted accounts of life in Myanmar, book reviews, photo essays and short documentary style films made during her travels. Jessica was accredited as a newspaper journalist in the United Kingdom in 2009 and afterwards moved to Bangladesh, where she worked for Bangladeshi newspapers for almost three years. She lives with her Bangladeshi husband in Yangon and hopes to travel extensively throughout Myanmar in the coming months and years – the best bits of which will be published on her blog.

Here’s the interview with Jessica…

Where are you originally from?

Melbourne, Australia

In which country and city are you living now?

Yangon, Myanmar.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?

With reporters at The Myanmar Times Christmas Party 2012
With reporters at The Myanmar Times Christmas Party 2012

I came here in July 2012 and hope to stay at least until the elections are held in 2015. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, boycotted the 2010 elections, however she is now a member of parliament. Although constitutionally she is ineligible to be president because she married a foreigner, there has been so much positive change in Myanmar since 2010 that I think the lead up to 2015 will be fascinating to observe. Myanmar is a very exciting place to live right now.

Why did you move and what do you do?

I moved because I was offered a job at The Myanmar Times. I had been living in Bangladesh for almost three years, working for the United Nations as a stringer and as a special correspondent for a national newspaper called The Independent. I had no idea I would live in Bangladesh so long – I initially came from London to do a six month internship with another Bangladeshi newspaper called The Daily Star. It was an incredible time for me, both professionally and personally (I married my translator!), however Dhaka is one of the world’s most densely populated cities and after a few years I began to feel worn down and longed for a new opportunity.

My husband and I at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon
My husband and I at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

I work for The Myanmar Times as features supplement editor and really love it.

Did you bring family with you?

Yes, my husband Sherpa came with me and he is now the editor-in-chief of another newspaper in Yangon, called Myanmar Business Today. It took us a few months longer to arrive than we hoped because getting visas from Bangladesh was difficult. We also brought our cat and have since adopted a street dog called Ripley.

Click here to read the full interview…

The pet export process: A guide for animal lovers

Published in The Myanmar Times on 15 October, 2012 [Scroll to the end for a list of vets in Yangon]

My cat Butters with staff at Motherland Inn II in Yangon
My cat Butters with staff at Motherland Inn II in Yangon

According to pop psychology, the three most stressful events in life are the death of a loved one, getting divorced and moving house. For pet owners, the idea of leaving behind a furry friend undoubtedly dampens the excitement and trebles the stress of becoming an expat in Yangon.

Fortunately, any healthy dog or cat over eight weeks of age can be exported. Staying together isn’t expensive either: My own cat flew from Bangladesh to Myanmar via Bangkok for just over US$20. Heavier pets will cost more — expect to pay about US$4 for every kilogram, including the cage.

However, one Yangon expat with two Canadian-born cats described the assortment of export and import requirements as “a bit of a nightmare to figure out” and said it’s crucial to leave lots of time to prepare.

The most vital part of the transition is getting an export license: A pet can’t leave home without it. Getting a license isn’t onerous — essentially it’s a health certificate issued in the country of departure. However, requirements differ from place to place, and solely relying on information provided by the airline is inadvisable, as I discovered the hard way.

Bangkok's animal export zone
Bangkok’s animal export zone

In Bangkok and Yangon, the procedure involves a quick temperature reading and presenting the pet’s original vaccination records along with the owner’s passport and flight details.

A record of the microchip number is also essential.

In Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi Airport’s animal export section, which is better known as the “free zone”, is shut on weekends and it’s a 15 minute drive from the airport itself. Queues can also be long. Therefore it’s too risky trying to get a license on the day of departure, regardless of whether the animal is in perfect health. As uninitiated pet exporters, we ended up missing a flight because of this omission.

Leaving Yangon for Australia, Singapore or Japan — basically most island nations, as well as many parts of the European Union — requires a different process altogether.

Yangon veterinarian Dr Martin Nyun told The Myanmar Times that owners must send a blood sample to government-registered animal laboratories in the destination country at least three months in advance — it’s wise to check specifics at the embassy.

Making friends in Yangon
Making friends in Yangon

Dr Nyun cautioned that failing to comply with requirements is likely to result in a pet spending up to seven months in quarantine, which is sad and very costly. He added that in the worst-case scenario, an “unlicensed” pet appearing unwell might be destroyed at the airport.

I assumed the procedure for getting an export certificate in Myanmar was the same as in Thailand. This was a mistake and my cat did not appreciate spending a wet afternoon being dragged around Insein township as a result.

After discovering that four photographs are part of the required documentation, I felt more than faintly ridiculous while trying to keep my cat Butters still in front of a blue backdrop while a bemused photographer took two front-on shots and one of each side.

Some pictures were retained by the Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Department, and Bangkok Airways said I could keep the rest.

It’s also necessary to collect an export certificate form from a departmental section called the Animal Quarantine Disease Diagnostics Laboratory for a fee of K500, which must be filled out by a vet at the sub-divisional office nearby.

A beautiful street cat in Yangon
A beautiful street cat in Yangon

Airlines requirements differ. While Air Asia “doesn’t have room for pets” and smelly, noisy or aggressive animals aren’t welcome on any airline, Dr Nyun advises owners to be cautious about the issue of sedation. [NOTE: I have since learned that animals should never, ever be sedated for air travel, as the effects of the drugs can change due to altitude and result in death].

He said that over-sedated animals have been declared unwell and thus kept under observation in Bangkok’s quarantine area for a few days.

Dr Nyun recommends keeping a pet in its travelling cage for a couple of hours several times in the lead-up to departure. This will lessen the animal’s distress (and noisiness) when the time comes to check-in — Dr Nyun considers this a preferable alternative to sedation.

In Yangon, staff from Bangkok Airways will insist that all pets be sedated, but this is not the case when leaving Bangkok unless the pet weighs more than 5 kilograms. When Yangon airport officials summoned a vet with a human-sized syringe and said my 10-month-old cat weighed 5 kilograms, I heeded some earlier advice from an expat.

“Self-education is important here — you need to be fairly aggressive and stay on top of things,” she said.

I didn’t make any friends by insisting I return to the check-in area to weigh my cat on the scales, but I was relieved to see the dose adjusted: She weighs half the estimate.

Assuming the pet and its owner are free to exit the airport, what next?

Happily, there’s no obstacle to holidaying in Thailand with a dog or cat in tow. Bangkok provides two options: Canadian expat Benoit Trudel said she found a hotel willing to allow her dog to stay with her for an extra fee of $25 a day. Universe Inn allows a cat for 200 baht ($7) extra and Amarin Inn asked for nothing.

Alternatively, check your loved one into a pet hotel for about the same price as a budget guesthouse. During our first layover, Butters stayed at Ozono’s Cat Societie, which is run by a tender-hearted Thai called Dhanesha. I spotted another pet hotel nearby specifically catering to canines.

No equivalent exists in Yangon, but Ms Trudel said it’s easy enough finding a hotel that allows dogs, and the following allow cats (but do check in advance): Motherland Inn II, MGM Hotel, Hotel 63 and Sunflower. A smiling staff member at Sunflower simply asked how many cats I’d like to keep in the room.

Butters with her travelling cage
Butters with her travelling cage

Most expats said that while the standard of veterinary care in Yangon is sometimes disappointing, generally if vaccinations are kept up to date pets stay healthy while living here. Needless to say this is important in itself, as well as to ensure that when the time comes to leave Yangon, an export license can be issued.

“Parvo virus and heartworm are extremely prevalent here,” one expat cautioned. “I’ve lost a number of dogs to both: puppies to parvo virus and older dogs to heartworm.”

According to the Golden Guide to Yangon (2012): “Monthly preventative tablets [for parvo virus and heartworm] are usually available in Myanmar. … [I]t is advisable to have a blood test done and make sure [dogs] receive preventative medication at the correct dose each month. This should be continued after you leave.”

As for renting, a real estate agent in Yangon named Moe said, “It’s not a problem for renters to have pets in Yangon. There’s no rule against it.”

Although large dogs might be a bit trickier if looking for an apartment as opposed to a house, five expats interviewed by The Myanmar Times said that having a pet caused no issues whatsoever.

About the same number of pet owners said household staff care for their pets when they go on holiday. “People seem to love pets here,” one expat said.

Virginia from Canada agrees.

“Our landlady sent her daughter into the ceiling to rescue our cat; our gardener keeps an eye out for them while he works, and taxi drivers smile and tickle the kitties, rather than driving off,” she said

“Our staff love [our dog] to the point that they say they will miss him when we leave,” another expat said.

——————-

VETS IN YANGON

My favourite is Dr Maw Maw Thein, who does house visits and explains things thoroughly. Her phone number is 0942 1040 872.

Dr Nilar – she and her husband run May Li Kha Vet Clinic on Wireless Lane Three, which is off Kabar Aye Pagoda Road and near Chawdingyone intersection in Parami. The clinic is open from 9am-8pm (with a half day on Saturdays) and Dr Nilar’s phone number is 09421 071 288.

Below is a list of other vets that people living in Yangon provided me with while researching this article. If you can recommend another, please leave a comment or contact me at jess.mudditt[at]gmail.com so I can update the list.

Dr Myint Wynn 095186391 He’s been our vet for 5 years.

May Vet Clinic, Dr Soe Min Lin, Kan Street , Kamaryut township, Hlaing Myint Mo Housing estate. 097313 3112

The vet we used after the stray attack was called Royal Vet on Shwe Gone Dine. It’s an open shopfront with a table in it. Doesn’t really inspire confidence, but the vet was fine and the price was very cheap. I’ve heard stories of vets re-using needles, so that would be one concern. Also, check the dates on vaccines etc. When my Mom visited from Canada, she brought dewormer and de-flea stuff. We de-wormed everyone – including the stray outside!

Myat Oo is the vet at Royal Vet 8am – 11am, 4pm to 8pm Mon to Sat and 4-8pm on Sunday. 287 Shwe Gon Daing Rd, Bahan township – phone 0986 160 037

There are various vets here, the one I’ve been referred to (but haven’t had the need to use) was trained in Australia, speaks good English and does house calls. Dr Kyaw Naing Oo, tel. 098628721 or 095015586 and email is kyaw87vet@gmail.com

We currently use Dr Martin Nyun – overall have been satisfied with him, but self-education is important here – you need to be fairly aggressive/on top of things with your pets so you can work with the vet to get what you need done. 09507 5737 or 0951640315 (Note Dr Martin is living abroad as of 2015)

Dr Myint Wynn, Paing Phyo Vet Clinic. 006, Building 4, Myaing Hay Wun Housing. 8th, Mayangon, Yangon

Ph: 01 6535 575 ext 230

If your hedgehog gets sick (or some other extremely cute and unusual pet), please try Dr Myint Win. His clinic is in 8 Mile and his services were warmly recommended by my friend Shibani. He’s also deputy director at the Ministry of Livestock and Rural Development.

Mobile: 095186391