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

Posts tagged ‘90th Street teashop’

Mandalay Movers

As I wrote in a previous post, I had to go to Mandalay recently to move things out my friend’s apartment. This friend, who I’ll call “H,” has been hospitalized for the past two months in Bangkok. He’s still in ICU and his condition has not improved. In fact, talking to one of his doctor’s earlier this week, it appears that he has suffered considerable brain damage and will need long-term care … that’s if he even survives the infection that they are currently treating him for.


I had an early afternoon flight on Bangkok Air to Mandalay. Once I was settled in my hotel, I called Kyaw Moe Aung, the assistant principal at the Horizon International School where my friend has been teaching. He arranged for a meeting the following morning. A van from the school picked me up at my hotel and took me to the school’s campus on 58th Street. I met with Mr. Ahmet, the principal, and also Kyaw Moe Aung. They were both very polite and cooperative, assuring me that they wanted to do whatever they could to help. As I was telling them about “H” and how long I’ve known him, I recalled some of the things he’d done to help me in the past … and I started breaking down, crying right there in the principal’s office. I can’t remember the last time that ever happened, but there was nothing I could do about it; the emotions just hit me all at once.


Knowing that “H” could sometimes be a demanding and difficult person to deal with, the school wanted to make sure that we took a careful and thorough inventory of his possessions before moving anything. They have a contract with the apartment building where “H” was living, and several other teachers and administrators from the school live there too, so they had keys, and I had a set of keys too, so we arranged to go to the apartment that day and make an inventory of everything. Along with Kyaw Moe Aung and myself, one of the teachers came along to take photos, a secretary from the office came to write a list of everything we found, plus another teacher and the school’s lawyer came to witness the whole procedure.


 It was more than a little eerie being in the apartment without “H” being there. I’d been there the last time I was in Mandalay, back in late August, and he took me from room to room, showing me all the things he’d bought for the place. He had obviously spent a lot of money furnishing the apartment and making it look very nice, and he was very proud of the place. It saddens me that he’ll probably never set foot in the apartment again. We spent several hours going through drawers, shelves, and closets in each room, making lists and taking photographs of everything, including of all the documents and receipts he had. In the kitchen alone there was an incredible amount of food, condiments, utensils, pots and pans, and other stuff. I knew that “H” liked to bake and cook, but I was astonished by the amount of stuff that he had. He lived alone, but he was equipped to cook for an entire football team!


After that first day, we returned for another day of boxing, bagging, and moving everything. After discussing the situation with Mr. Ahmet, we decided to keep everything in the apartment for the time being, but move it all into one side of the living room. This way, the next tenant (a new teacher, most likely) will be able to use most of the apartment except for the one room with all the stuff in it. On that day, three of my friends from the teashop showed up to help. The teashop owner, U Tin Chit, came along with Ko Maw Hsi and U Nyunt Tin, Khin Nwe Lwin’s father. The fact that these men volunteered to help me, sacrificing most of their day (and in the case of U Tin Chit, giving up the time when he normally sleeps) really touched me. The school also furnished six people, so we had a lot of helping hands that day. I was afraid it was going to be a case of “too many cooks in the kitchen” but we managed to get everything done without too much disorganization or inefficiency. We made more lists, took more photos, and managed to box, bag, and cover everything by early afternoon. The school arranged for lunch to be brought over, and we had a very filling meal.


I thought everything would be done that day, but I got a phone call from the school that evening, asking if I could come back again the following morning to move some more stuff. They had decided that we needed to disconnect the fridge, washing machine, and water cooler and put those things in the back room also. I had made plans to take two of the kids from 90th Street, Zin Ko and Moe Htet Aung, to Zeigyo Market that morning, so I arranged for the school van to pick me up a little later, at 11:30. I brought the two boys with me, and along with one of the teachers from the school, we got the rest of the stuff moved in short order.


Finally done, I surveyed the room, feeling both sad and satisfied. We’d done a good job of organizing, inventorying, and storing everything, but I don’t think my friend will ever see this stuff again. Plus, I fear that this will only be the first step. Unless “H” makes a miraculous recovery, I’ll probably need to return to Mandalay at some point in the near future and arrange to sell some of his things or donate some of it to a charity of some sort. But at least I can be assured of many nice people, pitching in to help. And it’s in Mandalay, a city I love, so it won’t exactly be a hardship.



Finding Zin Ko at a Burmese Teashop

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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