I have long wanted to publish this post as I think flat renovation is one of my milestones in life.
I have been working as a doctor and as you all know, doctors in Asian countries are not well paid especially when you work for government hospitals. I worked in Malaysia and my starting salary as a doctor in 2004 was around 800 us dollars per month that time. Although my salary increased regularly like other doctors in more than ten years, I could never manage to save effectively as I needed to sit for post graduate exams and they cost me a lot, a lot more than you can imagine. When I turned 39, I had a strong desire to have my own place. And you can’t blame me as I never had my own place before. I am originally from Myanmar, but I rented a terraced house in Malaysia for more than ten years. As I am a very homey person, I decorated the rented house as my own and even renovated the house and partially paid for it. But in the end, it is not your house and I know I would need to leave things behind once I move back to my country.
In 2014, I only had around 6000 us D in my hand. I had a notion that I could use it for house as I finished all my exams in 2013 and no need to pay for my further education. It’s quite pathetic because I worked ten years continuously overseas as a doctor and that was all I had that time. And I came back Burma on holiday in 2014 and tried to find a place to buy with that money. Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t buy any flat with that money in Yangon. Then my friend told me “ Do you know you can buy a flat with installment in Taunggyi? If you want, I will show you”. So I went to Taunggyi, 12 hours drive from my parents’ place for house hunting. Then the developer showed me the photos of the plan and the location they were going to built apartment building. They are small apartments and one is only 675 sq feet. I can’t imagine I can live in that small apartment, so I decided to buy two apartments together at ground floor side to side. I asked them not to do partition between two apartments. And the developer built the building for nearly two years without my presence. Within two years, I was very thrifty and save every penny to have my dream house. I could pay regularly for the house installment once I determined ” No, you can’t spend much. You have something to pay”. I think it’s the power of mind. If I had not bought that flat, I might have finished all I earn for my holidays. Luckily, my salary became better as I passed my post graduate exam and promoted as a clinical specialist.
When I came back to pay the last payment, I went down to the apartment to see my place. I was aghast. The floor is plain concrete and as they didn’t do proper foundation, the floor was forever wet. The walls were uneven and painted terribly. The doors had gaps . The toilets were very dirty and the floor was uneven . But my relatives told me that is the standard I will face in Myanmar as my apartment is not a condo and it is relatively cheap. However, I felt the developer should have done better . For a few weeks, I lived in misery as if my dream was shattered. I never had experience with renovation and I couldn’t imagine how to renovate the place. Some people advised me to sell it back , but I know it will cost more to build on my own as I need to buy the land as well as find a constructor. I don’t have that amount of money.
Then my brother in law who was a professional constructor offered me a helping hand. He asked “ how about I do this for you and I won’t charge you a lot?”. SO I handed him the remaining of my saving . We had to request the designer, the pipe man, the ceiling man, the electricity man from Yangon to come to Taunggyi. As a result, it cost me more as I need to pay for their transport although they don’t charge me a lot. Luckily, one guy called Thein Zaw can do almost everything including the piping and electrical wiring. So we requested him to stay at my flat temporarily. I went to the place to check every 3 days or once a week. I told the constructor I would not want a lot of colors in my house, rather I prefer only black and white. It made my brother busy because he needed to design floor in different patterns of black and white. For the pathetic looking toilet, I decided to break it down completely as I couldn’t stand the sight of it. Out of two toilets, we left the better one untouched except tiling the wall higher. The floors are blue color and I think it’s ok. But for the master bedroom toilet, we laid the completely new tiles and floor which cost me arms and legs. Anyway, I told my brother it’s always better to renovate before you moved in.
At first, I thought I would take only two or three months to renovate, but the renovation completed only after six months. It was partly because I ran out of money and needed to save again to be able to continue. We downloaded a lot of design . I was very thorough in finding lights and chandeliers. I don’t like chandeliers that much, but one may be ok. So we decided to buy only one which matches the color of our floor for the living room. It is also black and white color.
I chose cute side lamps in black and white. I even bought the plates which match the house color. I am that crazy.
We wired the whole house in to different electrical system. We made sure we have a lot of sockets in the house so that we can use electrical appliances. We changed sink and shifted the old one to the balcony so that we can use it when we want to water.
Above photo is the before and after renovation of balcony.
At first, I wanted to hunt the old furniture, but the old furniture cannot be bought in Taunggyi and to buy from yangon is quite costly if I include the transport fee.
We made our spare room into an altar room. I made that plain and simple with all furniture I have. I plan to hang some philosophy such as ” religion is not required if you have humanity”. I might probably be scolded by my parents for that.
Luckily, I got contact with furniture men from yangon as my friend introduced me. I invited them to do some measurement in my house. My aim is all the furniture should be functional more than once. For that reason, I made the sofa with drawers to store my books. The dining room has the hangers for pots and pens and the cardboard has wine cellar, etc.
I made the dining table with drawers and storage. Apart from that, I fix the wheel so that we can move the table easily. I asked them to pain all black and white.
The wood is rubber and not teak as I cannot afford the teak furniture. They asked me 2500 us D for a piece of furniture made in teak. While I was having a stroll in downtown, I caught a glimpse of Indian fabric. I made them into covers of my dining chair. I had to fight with the tailor as she didn’t know how to center the wheel . It was a pain to buy the fabric and redo again.
Outside, we can sit down at balcony and see the sunset or the sunrise as our house is surrounded by mountains. As a minimalist, I am trying not to put a lot of things into my flat as it’s only 1350 sq feet. I always ask question before I buy something
“ Do I really need it?”
“ Will it be functional for a long time?”
“ Can I maintain this ?” for example, I voted against getting some teak wood furniture from my parents as they are crafted things and tend to be dusty very often.
I stil think I am a minimalist. I try to minimize things as much as I can and decided not to hang a lot of pictures . I now feel that my house is a home because I did that with my heart and soul.