A Week In Yangon, Myanmar, On A $52,200 Salary

Today: a program coordinator working at a nonprofit who makes $52,200 per year and spends some of her money this week on Aperol spritzes.

Occupation: Program Coordinator
Industry: Nonprofit
Age: 25
Location: Yangon, Myanmar
Salary: $52,200
Paycheck Amount (Monthly): $4,000

Monthly Expenses
Rent: $425 for my room. (I live with three flatmates. The whole apartment costs $1,500 — two rooms at $425 and two at $325. We pay our rent every six months in cash.)
Student Loans: $168.60 for my postgraduate degree. I’m almost halfway through paying back the total of $11,245!
Running Water & Electricity: It varies, but usually between $7-$10 for my share
Drinking Water: Usually around $2 for my share
Cleaner: $14 for my share
The New York Times Subscription: $4.90
Netflix & Spotify: $0 (My parents recently set up family accounts for these and offered to pay for me and my brother.)
Insurance: $0 (My parents are paying until 2020.)
Savings: I get paid into my French bank accounts, but I don’t use my debit cards regularly in Myanmar (only for flights or other online purchases), so instead I withdraw from an ATM a few times per month. Whatever is left in my accounts is what I consider “savings.” Last year I saved around 5% of my salary, but I hope to increase that to 10% or higher this year.

Day One

6:35 a.m. — Wake up earlier than usual because I plan to leave the office an hour early to meet the vet at home. My cat has started sprouting bald patches, which I’m not overly worried about but need to get checked out soon. Taxi to the office, beating some of the usual morning rush-hour traffic. $1.70

12:15 p.m. — Head down to the kitchen for lunch. I had some ricotta left in my fridge this morning that my friend sweetly gave me last week. Good dairy products are hard to come by here, so I happily accepted. I add a few avocado slices and eat it together. Strange combo, but it works!

5 p.m. — The vet canceled, so I don’t have to rush out as early as I thought. I’m going to a documentary screening this evening, so I head home to grab some food before meeting my friends. I get a taxi home. $1.60

7 p.m. — I meet my flatmate at home and we cook up a curry from what we have in the fridge. We end up chatting for too long and need to rush over to the event. I toss leftovers in the fridge. Luckily, the venue is within walking distance, so no cab required. We grab a drink from the bar (Aperol spritz, which has become available more recently in Yangon and is making me very happy) and settle in for the three short films. $3.30

8:30 p.m. — We walk home debriefing about what we just saw. Myanmar’s civil war has been going on for so many years, and it’s heartbreaking to see how many families have been affected from losing loved ones. We learned about some incredible women dedicating their lives to peace-building, though.

Daily Total: $6.60

Day Two

6:35 a.m. — Wake up early again, so I have some time to enjoy a cup of tea on the roof terrace before the day begins. It’s getting more humid overnight as we get closer to monsoon, but I’m enjoying the fresh air after months of dryness.

8 a.m. — Leave my apartment to race across town for a monthly networking event I support. Traffic in this town is awful, so I fully expect to spend up to an hour in a cab. Luckily, this morning I left a little earlier than I needed to and have time for a second cup of tea before we start. I pick up some printing for the event from reception and pay $9.80, which will be reimbursed at the end of the month. $2.30

11 a.m. — Coffee break. I grab some veggie samosas and savory paratha from the buffet. I am starving and can’t wait for lunch.

2 p.m. — Grab lunch (provided by the venue as part of a monthly package deal) before I head over to the location of this afternoon’s meeting. It takes a minute to find a cab, and I am now carrying around a huge box of materials. $3

4 p.m. — Get to my next venue and I have some time to kill, so I settle down in the café at the bottom of the building. Three of my friends work at two different companies in the building, and each of them comes by over the course of the afternoon, so I order another tea and then a waffle with Nutella (food of the gods) while we catch up. $3.50

7 p.m. — The second event is finished, but our hosts have set up a buffet of drinks and snacks to keep the networking going afterward. I grab a Heineken and get to know some of the new faces. We talk about feminist foreign policy, and I am in no rush to leave.

8 p.m. — As the event finishes, I grab one of my friends whose office is in the building and we head out for dinner. Her driver drops us off at a restaurant halfway between her place and mine. We split a (very cheesy) pizza and a hotdog, and I get an Aperol spritz to celebrate a successful day. Two other friends join us halfway through. Before we leave, I grab a loaf of bread from the deli section to take home. I share a cab home with the two latecomers, since we live in the same area. $15

Daily Total: $23.80

Day Three

7 a.m. — Wake up to the cat singing the song of her people outside of my door. I know my flatmate has already fed her, so she is just being whiny. I roll out of bed and make a cup of tea. Then I make toast and Marmite to tide me over until lunchtime. I get ready, grab leftover curry from the other day for my lunch, and grab a taxi. $1.50

12 p.m. — We had an internal training this morning, so I missed my usual 11 a.m. tea and I am starving when it finishes. I grab my lunch from the kitchen and eat at my desk, as I need to catch up on what I missed being out of the office yesterday. It’s not much.

4 p.m. — I get on a conference call, hoping it doesn’t take too long, as I’m meeting the vet at 5:30. I manage to wrap things up, run out of the office, and get a cab home just in time ($2). The vet tells me I need to wash the cat (!!!) once per week and gives me shampoo and lotion. I also need to pay her for a previous appointment ($96.14). $98.14

6:30 p.m. — I eat some leftover avocado on toast and head over to the venue I went to for the documentary screening the other day. They’re putting on the first ever showing of The Vagina Monologues in the Burmese language! My friend paid for my ticket ($6.50). I meet her and another friend and we grab gin and tonics from the bar and find our seats. $3.30

8:30 p.m. — The show was incredible, and those Myanmar ladies are so brave for performing! All proceeds from food and merchandise benefit two amazing local women’s organizations, so I dig deep. I buy three T-shirts (they’ll make great gifts for my feminist friends!), a poster, a pin, a tray of six vagina cupcakes for my office, and one cupcake for myself. $33

10 p.m. — Walk home with my friend. I get home, feed the cat, and pack a small suitcase for the weekend. I’m headed to Singapore to renew my visa. It’s a bit cumbersome to stay on top of this kind of admin, but it’s also often a much-needed excuse to get a break. I’m meeting my flatmate, B., who is already there for work, and I’m looking forward to a relaxing and luxurious weekend.

Daily Total: $135.94

Day Four

7 a.m. — Get up and let the cat in. She’s lucky I don’t have time to give her a bath before I leave for the weekend. She has no idea what is coming to her on Monday! I make avocado toast with an egg on top. So much for cutting out breakfast, but the avocado was going to go bad if I didn’t eat it before leaving for the weekend. I grab my suitcase and the vagina cupcakes and head to the office. Traffic is not so bad, and I make it there before most of my colleagues. $1.70

12 p.m. — I’ve already had one cupcake and am calculating whether I can make it to the airport this afternoon before I need to eat again when my boss emails me saying we’re having a pizza lunch. Yay Friday!

3 p.m. — Hop in a cab with two colleagues who are also headed to the airport. The driver takes the long way, but luckily we gave ourselves a lot of time, so we chat happily in the car. I only started this job a few months ago and am still getting to know my colleagues, so this time is really valuable. We share the cost of the cab. $1.40

6 p.m. — Check in and get through security. I buy an exorbitant cup of tea from Coffee Bean at departures so I can use their plugs. $3.20

12 a.m. — Arrive in Singapore and head to an ATM. I intend on only withdrawing once this weekend, so I calculate how much I may need to cover food, drinks, transport, and some shopping. I decide to withdraw the equivalent of $180. I take a cab to my hotel and fall asleep, dead tired. $12.50

Daily Total: $18.80

Day Five

8:30 a.m. — I hit the hotel breakfast before meeting B. later for brunch. I know it’s a double meal, but I already paid for the breakfast and I don’t know how long we’ll dawdle before we eat.

10 a.m. — I leave the hotel and walk to where B. is staying with her cousin and his wife. It’s a 20-minute walk, but I don’t mind. I love exploring new cities on foot. Singapore is massive and shiny, and I like it.

10:30 a.m. — Meet B. and her family, and we jump in a Grab to meet some of their friends for brunch inside the botanical gardens. It’s green and lush, and the air is so much cleaner than it is in Yangon! I get French toast, orange juice, and Earl gray tea. I chip in $37 for me and B., and we peel off early together. She has an interview for grad school, and I share her cab as it goes down the hill into town ($1.50). I jump out early and hit Orchard Road for some shopping. $38.50

12 p.m. — I can’t stop myself in H&M. I pick up two basic cropped T-shirts and a cute one with buttons down the front. I have been wearing a lot more high-waisted bottoms recently, and I’m getting sick of tucking in/tying knots in my regular T-shirts. I also pick up a red scrunchie at checkout. $38.20

2 p.m. — I head over to the National Museum of Singapore. I am a huge museum buff, and this is the highlight of my weekend. I get a student discount (my student card from my master’s two years ago is still valid!) and wander around for the next 1.5 hours. $7.30

3:30 p.m. — Use the museum Wi-Fi to get in touch with B. to see how her interview went. We agree to meet at the waterfront at 5 to get drinks and food. I walk back to my hotel, stopping at a pharmacy (to pick up vitamin B12 for a friend in Yangon, which will be reimbursed) and a 7-Eleven (to pick up treats for myself — KitKat sundaes are a thing now?). $11

5 p.m. — I get ready for drinks and hop in a Grab to meet B. and her cousin and his wife. (I could walk, but I don’t want to arrive sweaty — it’s still hot outside.) The driver tells me there’s a $0.70 toll fee, but I don’t remember passing a booth on the short drive, so I don’t know whether I’m being ripped off. $4.50

5:30 p.m. — We share a bottle of prosecco to toast B.’s successful interview. Her cousin graciously pays. Then we decide to make a run over to Marina Bay Sands, Singapore’s iconic waterfront hotel (featured heavily in Crazy Rich Asians!). The family is being very sweet about showing us the touristy spots. Cocktails are exorbitant, so I get a Peroni. The view is spectacular. B. covers my drink to even out me covering her brunch earlier.

7 p.m. — We have a reservation at a Mexican restaurant around the corner in 15 minutes (the only food I crave in Yangon), so we decide to grab two Neurons (Singapore’s Lime scooters). B. hops on the back of mine, and we have a blast careening around the waterfront honking at pedestrians. We’re tipsy at this point and definitely don’t care about being public nuisances.

9 p.m. — Mexican food was amazing, and after three lime margaritas each, we’re on happiness highway. We pay for dinner (I chip in $36) and decide to push on. B. and I convince everyone to get more Neurons, since they are such a novelty for us both. The scooters are paid for on B.’s cousin’s card, and he refuses to let us pay him back. $36

12 a.m. — We arrive at the Singapore Cricket Club. B.’s cousin is a member, so we get very cheap drinks. I order Sheppy’s Apple Cider (something else I miss in Yangon), and we play drinking games with the Piccolo app. We get another round of drinks. By the time we decide to head home, none of us can do math and we each throw $6.50 into the pot. This is definitely less than what we owe, but B.’s cousin continues to treat us. We grab some Neurons and scoot home. I fall into bed and know I’ll be hungover tomorrow. $6.50

Daily Total: $142

Day Six

9:30 a.m. — I wake up from the alarm I set, but I feel super rough and not ready to get out of bed. I roll over and doze a while longer.

10:30 a.m. — B. is up and also not feeling the best. We decide to take it easy and meet at a brunch place near her cousin’s at 11. I take way too long getting ready (I started watching a Netflix documentary series on Formula 1 drivers, and I am hooked — weird choice, I know), pack up, and check out downstairs. I leave my suitcase at reception and walk over to the brunch spot.

11:40 a.m. — That took way longer than anticipated. I get an avocado superfood plate with extra smoked salmon and a banana milkshake. The meal is good but a bit too green for my taste (why do you need to put broccoli on toast?). I only have $35 left, so I put down $30, which about covers my share of the check. $30

12 p.m. — We tag along to a supermarket where B.’s cousin and his wife are doing their shopping for the week. Then we wander into a weird Japanese shop and giggle at the sex toys. Super mature, I know. We pick up our favorite brand of peanut butter from New Zealand and hope it won’t get confiscated at the airport, since we didn’t pay for checked bags. I pay on my card, as I don’t have enough cash left. $5.80

1 p.m. — We have an hour or so to kill before we need to head to the airport. We get a Grab down to Haji Lane to check out the cute shops and murals. B. pays, since I bought the peanut butter and she still has some cash. We then head back to her cousin’s place to pick up her suitcase. We order a Grab to stop at my hotel to pick mine up on the way to the airport. She pays again.

4 p.m. — Arrive at the airport and check in. We head to the bathroom to change into warm clothes (Southeast Asian airport A/C is no joke) and then head to an airport bakery for a snack and to spend our last Singapore dollars. We split a small pizza and each get an almond-chocolate croissant. I pay $3.50 and B. pays for the rest. We head to the gate and I realize I forgot my passport and boarding pass in the bathroom!! We run over to the information counter, and the lady gives me an annoyed look as she hands it to me. I swear this is very unlike me! $3.50

5:30 p.m. — Board the plane (the peanut butter gets confiscated, and I’m more annoyed than I thought I’d be) and promptly fall asleep. Once we land, my neck is killing me after the 2.5-hour flight. We go through immigration and get a Grab home. $1.60

8 p.m. — We have no food in the house, so I head to the supermarket to pick up our essentials for the week (Grab costs $1.30). I get apples, yogurt, carrots, red peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, feta, Parmesan, canned tomato, tomato paste, a coffee plunger, a sponge, and cat food ($17.50 for my share). The cab back costs $0.90 (I finally remembered to use some of my Grab points for a discounted ride). $19.70

9:30 p.m. — I get home and my flatmate is already cooking up roast potatoes and falafel for tomorrow’s lunch. I unpack the groceries and prepare carrots, broccoli, and red peppers to add in. We chat and play with the cat as our food cooks, and then I fall into bed exhausted. I can’t help watching another episode of the Formula 1 documentary on Netflix. These people are fascinating.

Daily Total: $60.60

Day Seven

7 a.m. — I wake up before my alarm with the cat outside my room. Then I lie in bed for four minutes, contemplating different ways of training her to stop this needy behavior. I make a cup of tea, grab a slice of toast and Marmite, get my lunch and a yogurt from the fridge, and I’m out the door by 8. $1.60

11:30 a.m. — I’m bored, so I grab my yogurt from the fridge as a snack. I am proofreading a long document today, and it’s hard for me to stay focused on it for longer than 30 minutes at a time.

12:30 p.m. — Go to the kitchen and heat up my lunch, carrying it back to my desk. My boss has a meeting with a donor this afternoon and needs some support doing last-minute drafting, proofing, and printing on the materials she wants to show them about our projects.

5 p.m. — The power goes out for two hours this afternoon, making it even more difficult to concentrate. My team sits on the top floor of the building, so I feel like we are extra affected by the lack of A/C. I finish for the day and head home ($1.60 for the cab). I’m meeting my landlord to pay our rent installment this evening. I recently negotiated the rent down $25 per person per month, which makes a difference when you’re paying six months ahead. I hand over $2,550 in crisp Ben Franklins. $ 1.60

8 p.m. — The landlord leaves and I have my dinner (more falafel and roast veggies, yum). Then I cook tomorrow’s lunch: lentil and bulgur Mediterranean salad. When B. gets home, I enlist her help to give the cat her first bath, following the instructions from the vet. We begin by clipping her claws down to minimize the damage, but she is still not happy. It’s hard to hear her crying, but I know it’s for the best. Then B. and I and our two other flatmates head over to our local massage place to get all the kinks out from the last few weeks. Cheap and good beauty/self-care is one of the greatest reasons to live in Southeast Asia. $9.20

Daily Total: $12.40

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