A Tribute to Ti Ti
The Young Lady

This is the first of a three-part series about my three granddaughters. Since Ti Ti is the oldest, she will be the first. I have mentioned countless times over the past half-dozen years that I met Ti Ti on my first trip to Myanmar. This is Ti Ti with her parents six years ago.

At the time, she was nine-years-old and home for winter break. Her mother was my tour guide when I visited the area around Inle Lake. Had it not been for her mother having to put up my itinerary after I left Inle Lake, I would have never met Ti Ti.

I had gone to Myanmar primarily to interview, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, often called the Lady. While failing a long held dream of interviewing the Lady, I discovered a young lady. It was Ti Ti that linked our two families together. Many events in my life have richly benefited me. However, my accidentally discovering my family due to Ti Ti radically changed my Weltanschauung. I am far more driven and focused than ever before.

Strangely, I am happier than I have ever been. I wasn’t depressed before finding my family. That being said, compared to the time before my family and now, I am truly the happiest person that I know.

I have written about meeting Ti Ti the first time at her home. Moh Moh had to get my itinerary, which meant wasting 15-minutes one day while visiting Inle Lake. That 15-minute waste of time expanded to an hour or so. I was greeted by a nine-year-old saying in perfect American English, “Hi! My name is Ti Ti. Do you want to play some games?” That greeting began the process of uniting our families. This photo is us playing Scrabble.

Now, Ti Ti and I are both first-borns, which means we are competitive and are driven to win in the game of life. Nevertheless, when she and I sat on the floor to play Scrabble, I wasn’t driven to beat some young kid. I just want to have fun. Well, Ti Ti also wanted to have fun, but, more importantly, she wanted to win. We played for less than an hour much of which was devoted to laughing more than playing. At the end of the game, I started to get up until she told me to wait until she added up the score.

So, I sat back and watched that determined nine-year-old tally the score. Then her eyes seemed like they were three times their normal size, and she said, “I won. I did bet you.” Well, I quickly responded by sticking my finger in her face and said, “Don’t you ever forget get this. You bet me in my game, in my language, in your country.…” I interviewed Ti Ti for my webpage on the second trip four years later, and she remembered that game.

Ti Ti is a lot like me. She is both driven and happy. She is also extremely caring. Additionally, she is brilliant. I have had three children of my own and have taught for over two decades. It was apparent to me that Ti Ti was a gifted intellectual at nine. At the end of last year, she won first place in math for the entire Shan State where she lives.

One of my favorite singers is Rod Stewart. I love nearly everything that Stewart has either written and song. Forever Young is one of my favorite songs.

I wrote it off as a love song about Stewart and a lost love of his. I was wrong. Forever Young is about a relationship between him and a young child who is a relative of his. That is precisely how I feel about Ti Ti and her two younger sisters.

Forever Young

May the good Lord be with you
Down every road that you roam
And may sunshine and happiness
Surround you when you're far from home
And may you grow to be proud, dignified and true
And do unto others as you'd have done to you

Be courageous and be brave
And in my heart you'll always stay
Forever young, forever young
Forever young, forever young
May good fortune be with you
May your guiding light be strong
Build a stairway to Heaven
With a prince or a vagabond

And may you never love in vain
And in my heart you will remain
Forever young, forever young
Forever young, forever young
Forever young, forever young, yeah
And when you finally fly away
I'll be hoping that I served you well
For all the wisdom of a lifetime
No one can ever tell

But whatever road you choose
I'm right behind you, win or lose
Forever young, forever young
Forever young, forever young

Forever young, forever young
For, forever young, forever young

Ti Ti is going off to college in several months. I will be back in Myanmar in another year and a half. Additionally, I will see Ti Ti graduate from college four years from now.

One other comment about Ti Ti. On my second trip, Ti Ti came up with my name. She called me, PaPa Al. When I heard her use that name, I thought that it was precious and a cute expression that Ti Ti invented. I don’t recall where I mentioned it to Moh Moh. It probably was in Yangon while visiting her mother and Moh Moh’s younger siblings.

Interestingly, Moh Moh has a very nice way of informing me about something that I didn’t grasp. I didn’t understand what was really behind Ti Ti’s name for me. Quietly, Moh Moh told me the story that her father had died around the time Ti Ti was born. They never met. She continued to calmly say that I was the only grandfather that she has ever known. Man, that gentle correction of my lack of understanding still resonates like the roar of an ocean in my head. Now, I fully grasp Ti Ti’s love and care for me.

Finally, this is to Ti Ti. I owe you so much for what you have given to me. You are truly the most wonderful young lady in the world. The only caveat is that Snow and Fatty share that distinction with you.

Years from now when you tell your children about PaPa Al, remember that words cannot express how much I love you. Tell them that he saw their mother as a beautiful and brilliant young lady. Tell them that some old guy from America stood in awe of you since that first time we met.

Ti Ti, I love you. Just writing about our times together, my eyes welling up just thinking about you. I miss you, but I will return.