A Journey of a Thousand Miles…
Started in a Living Room

Confucius said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I have been on dozens of journeys in my life all over the world. However, the most important journey took place nearly five years ago. I flew to Myanmar (Burma). In Myanmar, they have what is called the tourist triangle, which consists of Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, and Inle Lake. Go to the travel section, and you can see some of the various journeys in that country.

Having said that, of all the journeys in my life, the most important began in Inle Lake. My tour guide, Moh Moh, had to pick of some papers at her home regarding where I would be going after Inle Lake. She said that it would take ten minutes and apologized for the inconvenience. I didn’t care about stopping and the ten minutes didn’t matter to me at all. I was spending a month traveling in her country. Moh Moh added that I could meet Ti Ti, her nine year old daughter, who was home on winter break.

What a serendipitous and profound event. When we got to her home, I met Ti Ti standing in the middle of the living room. She wanted to know whether I wanted to play some games. Well, we played Scramble for nearly an hour.

The game was the first step of a very long and happy journey for me. It was Ti Ti that became the link that blended our two families together. Ti Ti is my granddaughter. In fact, she calls me PaPa Al. During my stay in Inle Lake, I met her two younger sisters, Snow and Fatty, and Ko Ko, her father. My first step into her living room began a long journey for me emotionally with Ti Ti and her entire family.

Four years past before my second trip to Myanmar. During my absence from Inle Lake, Ti Ti and I emailed each other about all sorts of issues. She and her family wanted to know the exact dates that I would be in Myanmar. Ti Ti wanted me to write the end a poem that she was writing about us. I declined the offer and told her to write her poem about us, and I would write one. Ti Ti also wrote about her being a magician and whether I knew any magic tricks. She mesmerized me with her magic tricks on my second visit.

Four years was a lot of time to be away from Ti Ti and my family in Myanmar. Ti Ti was no longer a cute little kid but a beautiful young lady. Snow was six and Fatty was four when I returned. I dearly love my granddaughters in Myanmar.

I have struggled to grasp or even come close to fully understanding the emotional change within me that took place during my winter break from teaching in 2013-2014.

What I grasp is that it was Ti Ti that tied my family with her family. If this is the first essay that you have read about my family in Myanmar, you might think that I am merely guiding the lily. Trust me. Ti Ti and her family are my family. I will do anything for them. It is far more than just a cute story. It is a wondrous journey for me.

Several months ago, I happened to write to Ti Ti about looking for a new web administrator. She volunteer to do it for me. While it will take her some time to master the technical issues of being a web administrator, she has the ability to do so. In fact, I told her that she needed to talk with someone at her school about training her to be a web administrator.

Nevertheless, I asked her to help me with several hundred pictures in six folders that I took while on my second trip. She has completed two folders already and is working on the third. She will be halfway done in a couple of weeks.

Additionally, Ti Ti has a part of my webpage where she will do videos describing tourist sites in Myanmar. She has done one already about Inle Lake.

Ti Ti enjoys cooking and baking. She showed me her cooking abilities on my last trip.

In all honesty, Ti Ti can do almost anything that she wishes to accomplish. She is extremely gifted.

Academically, Ti Ti is brilliant. A week ago, Ti Ti emailed me about passing her exams, which are what we call entrance exams. This is a direct quote, “I pass the exam with good marks. I'm not the best, but I got No. 15 out of 97 students. I'm in section A now. It's the best class in school.” Ti Ti is attending a school for gifted students, and her response was that she wasn’t the best in the school. Well, my response is that she is be driven to be the best. I’d bet on her moving closer to the top of her class by the next exam. In respondence to her email about being in section A, I wrote, “I told you that you are smart and intelligent!  Remember what PaPa Al told you.”

Now, if you wish to know more about Ti Ti, go to the tool bar, click on Search and type in Ti Ti.

However, this essay is an attempt on my part to explain why. Why has Ti Ti capture my heart? What’s with it that a young person who lives nearly 24-hour flight from me impacted my life? A large part of the answer has to do with Rod Stewart’s song, Forever Young. For years, I thought it was about two teenagers who fell in love. Watch the video by Rod Stewart. It isn’t about two teenagers. It is about an old man, a young kid, and their relationship. That song is about my relationship with Ti Ti, Snow, and Fatty.

I have danced with death twice. Those two dances were teaching moments for me. I get that my clock is ticking. People that have done the dance understand their mortality at a profoundly different level than the rest who haven’t danced. My dances were blessings for me. I woke up to the reality that my time is severely limited in this world. I refuse to waste a moment of it. I want to tell Ti Ti, Snow, and Fatty that I truly love them along with their parents. Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamazov, “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” My family in the States and my family in Myanmar are my reasons for which to live a purposeful life.