Tag Archives: expat life yangon

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

Before the big opening

Published in Mizzima Business Weekly on 31 March 2014

Long-term expats with a total of more than a century in Myanmar talk about how times have changed since they first arrived.

The Chai family (pic supplied)
The Chai family (pic supplied)

Few countries in the world have undergone change as rapidly as Myanmar has in recent years.After half a century of military rule ended in early 2011, the former pariah state launched a reform process which inspired the United States and the European Union to lift or relax their sanctions, precipitating a rush of foreign investors and an influx of expatriates. After the military under General Ne Win seized power from a democratically-elected government in 1962, the regime adopted as state policy a bizarre mix of Socialism and Buddhism and closed the country to the world. Foreigners were expelled, foreign organisations were banned and tourist visas were limited to a maximum stay of three days. Yet despite Myanmar’s hermit identity, an expatriate community has existed for decades, albeit in negligible numbers. Many of these “old hands” came when the military successor to Ne Win’s regime opened the doors a fraction in the early 1990s.

“There weren’t very many expats living here full-time because it was a really hard place to live. The backpacker crowd and the young crowd that’s here now just didn’t exist,” said Damon Zumbroegel, an American architect who moved to Myanmar 10 years ago.

“Nobody encouraged us to come,” said Aysha Bhuiya, a Bangladeshi who moved to Yangon with her family 15 years ago.

“But due to the expense of international school fees back in Dhaka, we saw my husband’s transfer as the opening of a door for our children’s education.”

Most foreigners, however, weren’t convinced that life in Myanmar could offer any advantages.

“The embassy postings and NGO jobs used to be considered the non-desirable ones. I have a friend working for an NGO and he said to me the other day: ‘It’s insane: we’re getting thousands of applications to come to Myanmar,’” Mr Zumbroegal said.

Indeed, until after the installation of the Thein Sein’s reformist government in early 2011 there were frequent reminders that Myanmar was a police state, determined to “crush all external and internal destructive elements as the common enemy.”

“Up until six or seven years ago, you couldn’t talk about building a university,” said an expat who spoke on condition of anonymity. “My colleagues and I would turn off all the lights [in the office] and whisper so that no one could hear us talking about it,” said an expat who declined to be named.

Universities have long been distrusted by authorities, as they have often been the hub of protests, such as during the suppressed democracy uprising of 1988.

In fact, anything linked to education was a sensitive topic and expatriate journalists who worked on Yangon publications in the early 2000s can remember being instructed by government censors to change any references to privately-run schools to “educational institutions”.

Peter Swarbrick, a British writer who came to Yangon with his Myanmar wife and son in 2007 said: “Almost everybody I met told me to assume I was being followed. There was just a kind of general feeling that it was a military regime and supposedly xenophobic, though the people themselves are not xenophobic at all.”

Australian Geoffrey Goddard, who arrived in mid-2001 after being appointed editor of the English edition of the Myanmar Times, discovered that even seemingly innocuous behaviour could result in unwanted attention from the authorities.

Mr Goddard and the then Deputy Head of Mission at the British embassy, Martin Garrit, were laying a trail of shredded paper for a Yangon Hash House Harriers event in Shwe Pyi Thar Township one Saturday morning in 2004, when they were detained by government intelligence agents and taken to a community hall.

“There were four of them and they sat us down in the hall and began the interrogation, asking what we were doing and writing down our names; I think we might have been detained longer had Martin not been a diplomat,” he said.

“My most vivid memory of the experience is that one of these young men was looking at me with an expression of pure hatred.”

In the 1990s, the Saturday afternoon events organised by the Yangon Hash almost always took place under the close and conspicuous surveillance of intelligence operatives, including filming the participants. And sometimes the Hash incurred their extreme displeasure.

When the Hash was planning an event in 1999 which was being quietly promoted as the 9-9-99 run, a combination of numbers not likely to enthuse the authorities due its astrological link to the 8888 uprising 10 years earlier, one of the group’s organisers received a threatening call from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“If you value your continued good health, we advise you not to run tonight,” the caller said.

Other interactions between foreigners and the authorities were less sinister, but equally bewildering.

American architect Amelie Chai, who came to Myanmar in 2004 to join her husband, Zaw Moe Shwe, who launched Spine Architects the previous year, was driving through Yangon’s poorly lit streets one night when she ran into a ditch.

An official from the local township office accused her of damaging the ditch and told her she was lucky not to be fined.

French citizen Natasha Schaffner, who owns the Alamanda Inn in Yangon’s exclusive Golden Valley neighbourhood, has lived in Myanmar for nine years. She is required to give authorities three weeks’ notice before hosting a function.

“I think they’re stricter now than in the past,” she said.

“This might be because Myanmar people are out drinking a lot more, whereas in the past no one used to go out late in the evening,” she added.

The Bhuiya family (pic supplied)
The Bhuiya family (pic supplied)

Ms Schaffner cited acute electricity shortages and a lack of imported foods as the biggest challenges to running a French restaurant in Yangon, though fortunately neither is anywhere near as severe a hindrance today.

Another expat, who declined to be named, said that while Myanmar people were constantly on edge about being monitored by the country’s countless spies and informants, foreigners were able to move around more freely.

“It wasn’t like going to East Germany back in the day and literally knowing that over your shoulder was some shiesty little guy following you.”

However, friendships between Myanmar and foreigners were strongly discouraged. In 2001, the Myanmar Tourism Promotion Board issued an order for officials to limit “unnecessary contact” between locals and foreigners. The director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, Brad Adams, was quoted as saying in 2004: “Average Burmese people are afraid to speak to foreigners except in the most superficial of manners, for fear of being hauled in later for questioning or worse.”

Aysha’s husband, Fahmid Bhuiya, who is Chief Operating Officer of Pact Global Microfinance Fund in described the relationship between Myanmar and expatriates when they first arrived in the 1990s as “uneasy”.

“Locals had some sort of reservation – not fear, but a reservation to meet foreigners.”

His interactions with neighbours were limited to basic pleasantries: “There was no socialising.”

Mr Zumbroegal explained that a great deal of trust had to be established before friendships were formed.

“I was never going to get into trouble, but whoever I was associated with would. There really was a lot of fear. People opened up to me, but very, very slowly. But then there were times when I’d get in a cab and the driver would roll up the windows and say, ‘This is the way my country is …’”

Until imported vehicles began in flood in to Myanmar about three years ago, there were far fewer cars on the streets, and many of them were ramshackle rust buckets.
Until the import restrictions on vehicles were eased, cars were a preferred investment, along with real estate, because they retained their value.

Mr Zumbroegal said that in 2009, a second-hand Mitsubishi Pajero cost about US$120,000 (about K116 million), with the permit itself costing up to $60,000.

For those whose costly new cars didn’t match the new requirements, there were two options, as Mr Zumbroegal explained.

“You could get a car ‘re-licensed’ if you knew people and paid money under the table, or you could cut the back off with a chainsaw to make it resemble a lightweight truck.”

People opted for the latter in droves.

“I still see a lot of cars with the backs sawn off,” Mr Zumbroegal said.

Mobile phones were also rare, due to the prohibitive cost of SIM cards, which in 2003 was set at an exorbitant $5,000.

“It seemed that mobile phones were for the privileged – well-connected businessmen and high ranking members of the military,” said Mr Goddard, now an editor with Mizzima Media Group.

The cost of a SIM card hovered at about $1,000 until President Thein Sein’s government slashed the price to $1.50 in July last year. However, the number of SIM cards available is inadequate and there have also been allegations of corruption in the awarding of “SIM lotteries.” Most people continue to buy SIM cards on the black market, for about $100.

Few businesses had internet connections in the early 2000s, but the situation had begun to improve within a few years. But with limited internet access and international telephone calls from landlines prohibitively expensive at up to $8 a minute, many expats felt cut off from their family and friends.

“We gave our letters to the French embassy to post so as to be sure they would arrive,” Ms Schaffner said.

“I felt suffocated by the information gap; that was the biggest problem for me,” Mr Bhuiya said.

His teenaged son told him a few years ago that he was unable to compete with students elsewhere in the world because his school did not have internet facilities.

“He told me his school was 20 years behind.”

Mr Zumbroegal said he and his young family were so isolated that for days after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 they were unaware of the devastation it had caused.

“We’d been trying to get flights to Bangkok but travel agents refused to sell them or give an explanation as to why. We finally got a note from one of our parents a few days later – they were going crazy because we were supposed to have been vacationing in Phuket over Christmas.”

Horizon School Principal Vugar Bababayev from Azerberjian arrived in Myanmar 17 years ago and initially lived in Mandalay, where there was no internet whatsoever. When the technology did arrive, internet cafes were under a state monopoly and it cost $1 to open or send an email.

The concept of privacy was unknown, as Mr Bababayev explained. “A few days after I first went to an internet cafe, someone there phoned to say that I’d received a new email,” he said. “When I returned to read it, I was shown a piece of paper with my colleagues’ email addresses and passwords and was asked to choose which one was mine. It was bizarre.”

As well as the monitoring of online content, internet speeds were exceedingly slow.

“I remember sitting for hours in an internet cafe waiting for a page to load,” Ms Schaffner said.

Two years ago, an internet connection at home cost $1,700. Connections are available now through wi-fi on ubiquitous smart phones.

Yet despite the hardships of everyday life, many of Myanmar’s long-term expats share a fondness for the past, when the streets were quieter, prices lower and the pace of life was more relaxed.
“As an expat, I do kind of treasure some of the past, the quietness,” Ms Chai said. “I have mixed feelings about Myanmar opening up, though it is of course good for the economy.”

“When my wife and I first came to Myanmar, we felt we’d found a place on Earth that wasn’t caught up in the crazy materialistic cycle like the rest of the world. Until a few years ago, that is,” Mr Zumbroegal said.

“A lot of my friends who have been here 20 years have been making an exit strategy, and others have already left for Chiang Mai or Nepal,” he added.

The A-Z of expat rentals in Yangon

Published in Mizzima Business Weekly in December 2013

“Everything in Myanmar is negotiable:” an interview with Robin Aung Saw Naing, Managing Director of Pronto Services

Robin Aung Saw Naing runs the only house hunting service for expats in Yangon and he talks to Mizzima Business Weekly about doing business in one of the world’s most inflated real estate markets.

When did you set up Pronto Services and why?

I established Pronto Services in February this year. For the past 12 years I’d worked for international non-government organisations (INGOs), so I had a lot of contacts in the expatriate community in Yangon. I enjoyed working on humanitarian issues, but at the beginning of the year I decided to try my hand at a commercial business. I’d always wanted the opportunity to be an employer rather than an employee.

How would describe the rental market in Yangon at the moment?

It’s crazy. Super crazy. And the prices are still going up. It will take a few years for things to settle down and for rents to become more reasonable. There might be some relief next year, when some of the major construction projects are finished, such as Shwe Hin Tha Condo. There are about four or five big condominiums being built at the moment – although rentals at these places still won’t be cheap, they will at least offer quality accommodation. Often people in Yangon say, “Let’s put an elevator in the middle of the building and call it a condominium.”  But there’s no swimming pool, grocery store, gym – nothing. That’s an apartment with an elevator, not a condo…

Why is renting so expensive in Yangon?

People say it’s due to high demand and low supply, but that’s 100 percent untrue. There’s still a lot of empty houses and vacant land, even in popular areas such as Golden Valley. There’s plenty of supply. The problem is that 90 percent of the apartments and houses don’t meet any requirements an expatriate is going to have. For example, owners want to rent out a house with squat toilets, or every room is painted a totally different colour. Sometimes owners install dark glass on the windows, so the lighting is poor and makes a place dark and depressing. There are many beautiful homes that fall short on quality. It’s a problem. We have 1,000 properties in our database, but I’d say that only 200 would meet an expat’s requirements. The rest are junk, to be honest. Pronto is planning to host a workshop on renovating homes, which will probably take place in February next year.

Is Golden Valley in Bahan Township still the most popular area for expats?

Everybody wants to live there, though for different reasons. Some people who have never been to Myanmar arrive in Yangon with the impression that Golden Valley is the safest, nicest and quietest place to live. But it’s not completely true. Thieves are a bit of a problem there and it’s not easy getting a taxi as there’s not a great deal of passing traffic. Although rent prices in Golden Valley have increased this year by more than 100 percent, people still want to live there because it’s in the middle of the city, which makes it a very convenient location. But the main reason why most expats want to live in Golden Valley is because of ISY [International School Yangon]. Most of the expat kids, especially those from the diplomatic community, go to ISY. So parents want to be close to the school. It’s only natural that priority will be given to the needs of their children.

One township that’s becoming very popular is Mayangone and the Seven Mile area. Prices there are more reasonable and it’s still a lovely place to live. As the traffic is getting crazier in Yangon all the time, a lot of people who don’t work downtown and don’t want to pay the sky high rents in Golden Valley prefer to be in either Mayangone or Yankin townships.

How much should an expat family expect to pay to live in a house in Golden Valley?

The thing is that price doesn’t really depend on how many bedrooms there are – nor does it even depend on the quality of the house, or the location. It all depends on the attitude of the owner. It’s a crazy market and landlords are just shooting for the sky. We rented out a home in Golden Valley for $3,000 a month and then the one next door came on the market – it’s smaller but someone agreed to pay $4,000.

What’s the most expensive property you have listed?

The most expensive place we have on our database costs $25,000 a month. It’s on Dhamazedi Road. Even though it’s a great place, I myself wouldn’t pay such money. That’s a lot of money!

Do you ever ask owners to reduce the amount of rent they’re asking for?

We always negotiate with owners. Everything in Myanmar is negotiable – I really believe that. I often joke with my expat friends, saying to them, “Guys, everything in Myanmar is negotiable – even whether you’ll go to heaven or hell.” [laughs]

Most landlords are willing to negotiate with us, but every now and again we get a tough one and it’s difficult to do so. We also always tell our clients not to act as though they really like a place, even if they do. That will make it a lot harder to get the price down.

It’s good to see that Pronto doesn’t charge renters an agent fee, but is there any end in sight to the requirement that rent be paid 12 months upfront?  

This has been a very common practice in Myanmar for a long time – it’s the same for expats and locals. It will be very hard to change this – very few landlords are willing to sign a lease for three months. I know it’s frustrating: when I was living in Cambodia, I had a really nice apartment for only $700 a month and that included utilities and the internet. I paid on a monthly basis, as I did in Bangkok. I do try to negotiate with owners but most of the time they refuse. Some landlords ask for three years upfront – we even had one in Yankin who asked for five years!

Most foreigners can afford to pay higher rent – but what is the effect on locals?

It’s true that most foreigners can afford to pay. Most of our clients are diplomats, or work for NGOs or large companies, so it’s the organisation that covers the rent. Sometimes we get individuals who are looking for an apartment for around $800 and we help them too. But for locals – well they have to manage somehow. What we’re seeing is that especially in the downtown area, where there are so many offices with a lot Myanmar staff, is that they’re being forced to move out of the apartments they were sharing with friends. Rents downtown have also increased 100 percent this year, so that would mean having to spend 80 percent of their salaries on rent, which is impossible. So a lot of young people are moving out to Thaketa Township and spending more time commuting to work. Local staff around the Golden Valley area are also having to move further out. Increased rent prices are affecting many, many locals. Even me – I’ve been paying $1,000 a month for this office [in Kandawgyi Towers] but the owner said he wanted $2,000 next year. I told him I’d go and set up an office in a monastery, even though it’s illegal… But seriously, we’re moving to an office in Yankin Township in March.

Has the government made any attempt to regulate prices?

A couple of months ago YCDC introduced a tax scheme – a price was fixed per square foot according to which township a house or apartment is located in. This happened in Mandalay too. But in reality it didn’t work – owners just pay the fixed amount of tax when they go to the government office and then charge whatever they want for rent.

Are there many nice places to live in the downtown area?

It’s a bit difficult to find a nice apartment that meets all the requirements of an expat. A person would need to spend around $3,000 a month for a decent place. I’m always on the lookout for one of those beautiful apartments in a colonial building but they’re not very common, unfortunately. Again, it’s because renovations are needed before someone could move in.

How does Pronto help an expat find a house or apartment?

A client emails us with their particular requirements and we come up with a shortlist of properties from our database. We send the list back to the client, and then we invite the client to our office – or we can go to their office. But it’s better for them to come here, because then they can see all the properties.

At the moment we don’t charge extra for services: we provide free transport to go to view the properties a client is interested in and we provide an English speaking, non-smoking, non-betel chewing driver. On the way we show the client all the info and specifications on a laptop, so it’s fresh in their memory.

Before we even start negotiating with a landlord we have to find out who the real owner is. A couple of times people have said to me, “I am the owner, why do you need to see the ownership certificate?” And I say, “Look, their rent will be paid by the government in their own country. If the person works for an INGO, the money is coming from the donor.”

And then the “owner” runs away! There’s a lot of monkey business in real estate, so we need to be very, very careful. It’s a big amount of money that’s being paid up front.  We don’t deal with other real estate agencies either, just directly with the landlord. If it’s a new building, we also check whether YCDC gave the property a residence permit after construction was finished on it.

Once we have the documents, we’ll return to the property to check that the electricity supply and water is working. We check everything. Once that’s done, we start writing up the contract. Our contracts are very thorough: for example, an owner must allow a foreigner to transfer the property to another expat if they have to leave Myanmar, or the rent money must be repaid. If they refuse this, we don’t proceed any further.

Once the cash deposit has been made, we strongly advise our clients to pay the final payment via a bank transfer. This is because it’s a large amount of money and a bank transfer will offer proof it’s been made, and the owner has to show ID and so forth to collect it. Myanmar also has a strange system of only accepting crisp, clean US bank notes, so it avoids a lot of the hassle of that. It’s now a lot easier to make bank transfers to Myanmar which is really good.

What about choosing furniture if the apartment comes furnished?

Ah, sometimes the furniture in a place is so funny in Myanmar. Sometimes owners say they will provide a furnished apartment but if it’s stuff from China it will only last for two days before it breaks. So we negotiate to be allowed to choose the furniture – but at the same time I ask expats not to choose the most expensive things. It’s a compromise. The deposit will generally always be higher if a lot of furniture is provided.

Why don’t you list the properties on your website?

Our website is still under construction – it will be ready by the end of the year and we will put our properties on it then. However I’ll only list the properties that I think are satisfactory in terms of quality.

What happens if there’s a problem during the term of the lease?

We take responsibility to solve it. We’ll ask the expat to sign a document giving us the power to take legal action, and we’ll send a legal advisor to speak to the landlord –with a recording machine, so that we have proof that a landlord has said they’re unwilling to follow the terms of the conditions of the contract.

It’s not just landlords who aren’t following the terms – we also encounter expats who are subleasing even though the contract doesn’t allow it. Or sometimes an expat has a friend staying on a tourist visa, which isn’t allowed under Myanmar law and when the landlord finds out, they’re not happy. This is a strange law also – when I go to Bangkok I stay with my friends, but you can’t do that here…

Do you have any plans to expand your business?

We have 14 staff at the moment and I am thinking of expanding the types of services we offer. At the moment it’s a house hunting service for expats, plus maintenance services. Whenever someone has a problem with a place they’ve leased from Pronto, they can just call us and we’ll come and fix it. But I’ve also bought a lot of tools from Switzerland, which I’ll bring in next year to use for repairs and what not. We have an engineer to do the repairs, but we could make this service available for all properties in Yangon.

My other idea is to set up a fully-fledged legal department that could take on a variety of issues expats may have. We already have two part-time legal advisors who come in whenever we need them to. In future we will also take responsibility for the registration process at immigration and will source cleaning staff and so on. We’re also thinking of offering a visa extension service for expats.

For more information, contact Robin Aung Saw Naing on robin@prontorealtor.com