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.