How Playing Scrabble Changed My Life
Who Would Have Thought?

I love traveling…anywhere. This is especially true overseas. After graduate school, I wanted to see the world, and, in the last five decades, I have seen much of what the ancient Romans called terra firma. During that timeframe, I have seen all of Western Europe, except for Scandinavia, much of Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and a handful of islands in the South Pacific. Even so, the countries that make up Asia have fascinated me.

However, there I was in Myanmar just over six years ago. I went there to interview Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi, often called the Lady…and I failed. Nevertheless, there is a lot to do and see in that Southeastern Asian country. As chance would have it, l spent a week traveling around the town next to Inle Lake and seeing the lake from a boat. My tour guide was Moh Moh. During my time there, she apologized to me about having to stop at her home to pick up a piece of paper with my itinerary when I left the Inle Lake area. Moh Moh didn’t want to inconvenience me by wasting fifteen minutes of my tour to pick up my schedule. However, she added that I could meet her nine-year-old daughter.

That serendipitous moment in time changed my life. We walked into their living room and were greeted by Moh Moh’s daughter, “Hi, my name is Ti Ti. Do you want to play some games?” We played Scrabble for maybe forty-five minutes and laughed as much as we played. Ti Ti beat me at Scrabble, but I found my Eppie.

Ti Ti was the bridge which united two families, which lived on the other side of the world from each other. That family includes Snow and Fatty, Ti Ti’s younger sisters, along with Moh Moh and Ko Ko, their parents. Two years ago, I returned to visit my family. Two months ago, I returned for my third trip. We toured part of their country: we rode an elephant and flew in a hot-air balloon. We visited Bagan, Loikaw, and countless other places as a family.

To say that I love each member of my Myanmar family is obvious to anyone. However, Ti Ti is getting ready for her matriculation exams. In the States, we simplify the term with college entrance exam. She studies all the time and has tutors who work with her every day after school for several hours into the late evening. I have taught at the college level for over two decades and have never seen her equal. She is the brightest young person that I have ever met.

Ti Ti will complete her exams around mid-March. So, I did a video for Ti Ti to help her get ready for them. That video included a half hour of praise, advice, and my feelings about her. I also had Sandy, my web administrator, do one for Moh Moh. Today is Moh Moh’s birthday. When Sandy posted them to my webpage, I emailed Ti Ti and told her about both videos but not to say anything to her mother until today. I wanted Ti Ti to keep it as a secret between us. This was her response.

Dear Papa Al,

I promise I'll keep it as a secret.

How's the weather in your place? In mine,it rained yesterday.It's so strange because this is now in summer.Also, I hope all of you are in best of your health.I'm in the best condition too.But I'm a bit scare of the virus.I hope it will be fine soon.

Also,I wanted to go to political science.But I'm afraid that what if I'm not succeed .Still,''To be a data scientist'' is my ambition too.When I think twice of being a government ,I sometimes feel like I prefer living alone peacefully .I also don't want to be famous .Sorry.I can't decide yet.Right now I'll just focus on my matriculation exam.I 'll try to talk to my seniors.Thank you for waiting.

I'll finish my exam at 18th March.After the exam ,I have nothing special to do.l applied for Japanese speaking class.But I got a lot of spare time.So,I would like to learn web designing from Sandy.May I?I would be so please if she have some time for me.

I love you Papa Al.

When I received her email, I continued my attempt to reflect back to her what I have seen in her for the past half dozen years. When I have a chance, I’ll always seize it.

Ti Ti,

I always seem to give you advice. Hey, you are a major part of helping me become all that I can be. So, here is some more advice about your future profession. Master Kong, aka Confucius, is said to have written this morsel of knowledge…I think that he wrote it to his granddaughter, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

This is my quote, “Before jumping into Inle Lake, test the temperature of the water first. Then take off your shoes and jump.” A century from now, people throughout the world will say, “PaPa Al was a really wise and cute young guy.”

You have time to test the waters of your future vocation, and you do have a problem. You are too good in too many areas. So, you will have to play around with each of the areas that interest you. You will find the right profession. Talk to people who are in those areas.

As for Sandy, she would love to help you. Now, this is one idea, and you did it two years ago for me. If I put some photos together and have you write captions under them, Sandy would help you play around with web design, etc. Email her.

Now, do you remember me taking a photo of you with 8,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kyats in your hand fanning yourself when you were recognized and given an award along with all that money? I think that your award was because you were PaPa Al’s granddaughter. I’ll pay you as I did before when you put captions under all my photos of my second trip to see you and your family.

There is only one caveat…. We talked about this when you, your parents, and I talked about your going to college. You need to jump back into school ASAP. Learning Japanese is a good idea. Either you will start college soon, or you might have to wait a couple of months but keep studying. Sandy will help you.

Now, the flipside of that staying involved educationally is not to overextend yourself with too much. Sleep, eat properly, and exercise daily.

Finally, one more item…. Ti Ti, you are the greatest!

I love you,

PaPa Al

This is Ti Ti fanning herself with 8,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kyats.

This is another one of my quotes. “It is in giving that we get.” It should be obvious to anyone that knows me that my family has changed me. Bobby Kennedy was the single most important mentor in my life. He grasped that seeming contradiction of giving and getting.

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Finally, this is to Moh Moh. Happy Birthday. You and Ko Ko are remarkable people and parents. Your three girls reflect the character and caring that you have given to my three granddaughters.

Let the entire world know that I am proud of you and Ko Ko. You and your family changed me. It was not a change in directions, but it was a change in the intensity of my drive to become who I want to be.

Thank you both and Happy Birthday, Moh Moh.