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

90th Street Sorrow

The untimely death of young Aung Phyo Zaw in Mandalay last week really shook me. When tragedies like his drowning happen, one feels helpless. What can you do to help the family members and friends who are grieving? It’s especially frustrating when they are in Mandalay and I’m in Bangkok and I can’t physically be there to pay my respects.

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Nevertheless, I wanted to do something, felt like I needed to do something. I feel a real solidarity with the people I’ve met on 90th Street in Mandalay. They treat me like family and I want to reciprocate whenever possible. I sent e-mails to two of closest friends in Yangon, Ma Thanegi and Win Thuya, and also sought the advice of Zin Maung Maung, my Burmese tutor in Bangkok. I asked them all for details on the Myanmar custom for dealing with death, and what would be appropriate for me to do in this case. I also expressed concern for the two other boys who had been swimming with Aung Phyo Zaw and what could be done to help or console them. I received these suggestions:

“You can send money saying please may you share in the merit of giving a Soon Kyway meal to the monks. They will be doing that anyway, and your contribution will be convenient for them.

“The Buddhist belief is that it’s karma from past lives and that nobody escapes the time of their death when it arrives. Tell them that accidents happen. It’s such a tragedy, but is karma. With these beliefs, Burmese Buddhists can deal with trauma.”

“In Burmese custom, we invite some monks at home and do some good donation for him on 7th day. So, if you want please give some money to use for the donation and offering for monk.”

I decided to donate some money for the Soon Kyway ceremony, which was held on the 29th at the family’s home in Mandalay. I asked my friend Walter, who is teaching at a school in Mandalay, to take the money down to U Tin Chit’s teashop on 90th Street and give to him or ask for Khin Nwe Lwin, if she was around. I have no idea what sort of turnout that they have for this type of ceremony, nor what the vibe is like. I doubt it’s some sort of festive wake in the vein of what you see in New Orleans. But I’d like to think that it wasn’t all sorrow and tears, that the people gathered together last Saturday on 90th Street remembered Aung Phyo Zaw and his shy smile and the good times that they enjoyed with him.

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So today, in remembrance of Aung Phyo Zaw , I’m posting photos of some of the people from 90th Street; the neighbors, the children, his friends, my friends.

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