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

Posts tagged ‘90th Street’

Baby Bonanza

If I hang out long enough at Ko Tin Chit’s teashop on 90th Street in Mandalay, the babies start coming out of the bamboo woodwork. Yes, once word gets out that I’m at the teashop, I can rest assured that a baby — or three — will materialize that day. Actually, it’s not the little tikes who arrive all by their lonesome; it’s the parents who drag the infants into the teashop for a photo session, or they’ll meet me out in the street. Some of the babies, of course, will cry or pitch a fit (“Why do I have to pose for this geek?”), but sometimes you get a really happy kid who finds the whole scenario delightful.




Mandalay Teashop Hospitality

Here are some shots I took last month at the teashop and around the 90th Street neighborhood in Mandalay. From the very first time that I accidentally discovered this non-descript little teashop while aimlessly riding my bike around the southwest “Monk Quarter” of the city, they have never let me pay for any tea or snacks. Such generosity does not go unnoticed, so I always try to bring some small gifts for the owner, Ko Tin Chit and his staff, and also for the children in the neighborhood.


It’s also become a tradition that I take a group of kids on a half-day or full-day trip to some interesting place in the area. But this time I wasn’t sure if I would be able to afford any trips while in Mandalay. My finances were already stretched after three trips to the balloon festival in Taunggyi (only one of which I had budgeted for) and I was looking at another week — or two — of additional expenses. Because there are no ATMs or money transfer services in Myanmar, whatever cash you bring with you is all you have to spend.


Once I arrived in Mandalay, my first order of business was to drop by the teashop and see everybody. I stay in e-mail contact with Khin New Lwin, a university student who is the daughter of one of the teashop regulars, so they knew of my arrival. But I was feeling very torn as to whether to blow my budget and try and take the kids somewhere this time or not. I still had enough cash, but the big uncertainty was how long I would be staying in Myanmar this time, and I didn’t to be a little frugal. With the flooding situation in Bangkok it was looking more and more like I may need to extend my stay in Myanmar, thus I was going to need all the cash I had. I was about to plead poverty and tell the kids something along the lines of: “Sorry, I can’t take you anywhere this time, but next time I’ll make it up to you.” But after talking about the flooding in Bangkok, Ko Tin Chit seemed to have a good understanding of my predicament and suggested that I postpone any trips and save my money this time.


I was relieved that they understood, but still a little sad that we weren’t going to be making another communal excursion somewhere. But then Maw Hsi, one of the men who frequent the teashop, volunteered to take me around to some of the monasteries and pagodas in the area. “I’ll be your guide this time,” he laughed. Of course, once word got out of this plan, several of the kids wanted to tag along with us, which was more than fine by me. So that meant that Moe Htet Aung, Zin Ko, Ye Htit, Thar Nyi, and some of the other kids joined our afternoon neighborhood tours. And this touring wasn’t confined to one day, but was spread out over four different days. We went to big monasteries, tiny monasteries, teakwood monasteries, old pagodas, and one complex next to the river that housed some Buddha figures that had been salvaged from the water. Of course this — and the unusually steamy November temperatures — gave the kids a good excuse to go swimming.


Instead of it being a “see you next time” one-time visit to break the news to the kids that there would not be a trip this time, I ended up going back to the teashop every single day while in town, and those no-stress visits were one of the highlights of my trip. And every single day I visited some parent would give me a present of some sort, ranging from bags of fruit and sweets to sandals and longyis. Just another example of why I like going back to visit this friendly neighborhood: charming place and charming people.





Photos by Zin Ko

Today’s guest photographer is the youngest member of the Garlic Never Sleeps photo corps, 8-year old Zin Ko (pictured above), a primary school student in Mandalay. He’s one of the kids who can be found around, in, and out of the friendly little teashop that I frequent on 90th Street. Over the last three or four years I’ve taken the kids from this neighborhood on field trips to destinations in the area such as Pyin U Lwin, Monywa, Amarapura, Inwa, Paleik, and Mingun. Zin Ko wasn’t among the inaugural bunch that went on trips the first year, but at some point he joined the rest of the gang.


It’s still not clear to me how the kids are chosen for these trips. Instead of choosing them by myself, I leave it to the teashop tribunal. Whenever I arrive in town I usually talk to the teashop owner, Ko Tin Chit, or one of the parents that hang out at the 24-hour teashop, and let them know where I’m thinking about going this time. They will ask me how many kids I want to go, and I follow that with a question of my own: It’s up to you; how many kids can the truck handle? And when I show up the next day, the truck is packed with about fifteen —or sometimes close to twenty — children from the neighborhood. Zin Ko is now one of those trip regulars, but I still have no idea if I’ve met his parents or if he has any brothers or sisters amongst the crew.

The rest of the photos in the post today are ones that Zin Ko took with my camera when I was in Mandalay last month. It took him a while to get used to the camera, but like most kids, after he started taking photos it was hard to take the camera away from him! Most of the shots were taken inside or outside the teashop, or down the narrow dirt lane that constitutes this section of 90th Street.

Spinning Tops in Mandalay

Every time I visit the kids on 90th Street in Mandalay, they are always playing a fun game of some sort. One day they might be flying kites, having an intense marbles match, or leisurely playing badminton. Another day they might try to get up enough players for a game of football (if someone has a ball!), or they might get creative and construct a putt-putt golf course from piles of sand. Swimming? Show them a body of water, no matter how shallow, and they’re diving in quicker than you say “ye ku de!” This time in town I was treated to a frenzied session of spinning tops.


Your guides to the spinning tops today are Zin Ko (pictured above) and Moe Htet Aung (below). These boys and their friends would wrap a piece of string around their top, pull with all their strength, and then hope the top would spin properly. And each successful spin was accompanied by a loud cheer. Zin Ko and Moe Htet Aung will also be taking turns as my guest photographers next week. Come back to see those pics — from the local teashop and around the neighborhood — in a few days.


One of the best things about the games that these kids are playing, at least from my perspective, is that they are all held outdoors. Nobody is staying inside, glued to a TV set or a computer terminal. They are outside, running around, acting silly, and getting exercise. Very cool indeed!



More Mandalay Monks

Owing to the fact that I went a little wild and took several hundred photos at this monastery on 90th Street in Mandalay, I couldn’t resist posting some more of them. Actually, I’ll blame the novice monks for the high photo total: when I returned for the second time they bombarded me with requests for more photos, and of course I couldn’t say no. But these kids were just so naturally sweet and funny, that I didn’t mind whatsoever. And I still laugh out loud when I look back at these shots. Hopefully, the next time I return to Mandalay — when I return with prints of the photos for each monk — I’ll think to ask them to tell me the name of the monastery!




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