musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Today’s guest photographer is Zin Ko (pictured above), a 10-year-old student in Mandalay. Dig the amazing thanaka design on his face, skillfully applied by his artistic mother! Zin Ko is one of the regulars from the 90th Street neighborhood that I visit each time I’m in town, in particular the little teashop owned by U Tin Chit.

 

Except for the first photo that I took of him, Zin Ko took the rest of the shots in today’s post by himself. Each time after he takes a shot, he’ll trot over and show the image to me, as if seeking my approval. I usually reassure him that it was indeed good — gaun ba de! — or sometimes I’ll offer a suggestion on how he might make the composition even better, or how to use the flash. He’s a quick learner, and has also figured out the video function on the camera. Unfortunately, he has the habit of turning the camera upside down when he’s filming, making for a slightly bizarre viewing experience afterwards.

 

U Tin Chit’s teashop is a very basic little joint. It’s an open-air building with no AC or ceiling fans. Yes, it gets hot! For those toasty times, they have little hand fans for the customers, and maybe you can coerce one of the kids to stand there and fan you. Other than a big screen TV that was added last year, there aren’t many other amenities at the teashop. They don’t have any wi-fi service, and there aren’t any comfy chairs and sofas to lounge on; just the ubiquitous tiny plastic stools and a few wooden planks to perch your posterior.

 

The teashop never closes; it’s open 24 hours a day, rain or shine, holidays or hot days. U Tin Chit never seems to mind the steady stream of kids flowing in and out of the teashop, especially when someone is taking photos. Besides the kids and other regulars, I often see monks dropping by to sit and shoot the breeze, housewives hunting for their stray husbands, plus legions of betel nut spitting patrons. For me, this human tapestry is all part of what makes the teashop so colorful and pleasurable.

 

On the subject of wi-fi, I actually noticed a sign posted in a larger Mandalay teashop this trip, trumpeting the fact that they offered wi-fi service. Words cannot express my shock and dismay. I think this could be the end of the civilized world as we know it. Wi-fi in a Burmese teahop? Is nothing sacred? Really, it’s a totally perverse notion. Teashops in Myanmar are places to hang out and sip tea, eat a tasty meal (noodle and rice dishes are favorites, as are snacks such as nan and samosa) and socialize, gossip, read a newspaper, or maybe watch a football match on TV. Teashops are communal places. I can’t imagine some geek sitting down, pulling out a laptop and tapping away while they sip their tea and ignoring everyone around them. I shudder to think of such a depressing sight happening at the teashop on 90th Street. What would the neighbors think?

 

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