From Then to Now
What a Difference Seven Years Has Made

I love to travel and teach. Almost seven years ago, I went to Myanmar during winter break in the hope of interviewing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, often called the Lady. I had tried contacting her for a half year before even leaving the States and failed. I tried when I got to Yangon. I spoke with many of the 88 Generation including Min Ko Naing. Despite all my efforts, I couldn’t find anyone who had her email address.

Even though I failed, I still wanted to see Myanmar. Therefore, I did the traditional tourist triangle. One of the places that I visited was the area around Inle Lake. Moh Moh, my tour guide, had to stop at her home and pick up my itinerary after leaving Inle Lake. The event was a fortuitous occasion. I met her daughter, Ti Ti.

The two of us played Scrabble on their living room floor. When I left there that day, I realized that I met my granddaughter. Ti Ti was the link between her family in Myanmar and my family in the States.

Over the past seven years during winter break, I have returned to Myanmar twice to visit Ti Ti, Snow, and Fatty along with their parents. They are my family. A couple of years ago, I did a video for Ti Ti and put it on my webpage. She was 14 years old at the time. That video was about a reciprocal deal that I was offering her. I asked her to give me five things that she wants to do after graduating from college. Ti Ti responded in slightly more than a nanosecond. This is a part of her email.

I haven't thought all the five things yet. But the first thing I want to be when I grown up is inventor. Just like I told you five years ago. Cause I want to make the world better and also I want to serve my country.

Next, I want to be a data scientist since I am interest in Science, math and engineering.

The next one, I want to be a travel blogger. The reason is I love travelling and love natural beauty.

Ti Ti is a brilliant young lady. She is driven. Those three paragraphs were written by a 14-year-old. Our reciprocal deal was that she would tell me what she wanted to do, and I’d make sure she went to college. In that way, she would get the education necessary to accomplish her dreams. When I was visiting Ti Ti and her family during winter break this past year, we talked about the details of our deal. We were happy. I returned home all excited about Ti Ti going off to college, but then COVID-19 arrived in America on my birthday, January 20, and a month or so later in Myanmar. As Bobby Burns wrote, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” This is true for the entire world due to the coronavirus.

As for Myanmar, at the present time, they have 6,743 confirmed cases and 115 deaths. It was fortunate that Donald the Dumb was not Myanmar’s fake president. We have nearly 7,000,000 confirmed cases and over 200,000 deaths. Granted, America’s population is five times that of Myanmar. Therefore, multiply Myanmar’s confirmed cases by five, which would give you 33,715 confirmed cases and less than 600 deaths. Myanmar is doing better controlling COVID-19 than almost any nation. At least, they have a plan. Donald the Dumb is working on developing one soon.

Due to the coronavirus, every time for the past nine months that I send an email or chat with my family on Facebook, I ask about what university Ti Ti wants to attend. Moh Moh thinks I am impatient. Who me?

Finally, Ti Ti emails me on Monday to tell me of her two choices. To say that I was excited would be a gross understatement. I was just this side of delirious. My granddaughter has come of age. Ti Ti is about to take flight.

That’s Ti Ti.

Unfortunately, my euphoria wasn’t long lived. I became a bit troubled. Okay, I became very troubled. My granddaughter was about to begin the process of leaving home, and I couldn’t protect her from the real world. Granted, I can’t do anything to protect her from halfway around the world either. Nevertheless, I was grappling with the duality between happiness and worry.

Nonetheless, I am a loving and protective grandfather. I want to see Ti Ti become even more than she dreams of being. Therefore, this essay has three suggestions for Ti Ti regarding living life in the real world.

The first suggestion is something that Bobby Kennedy wrote. I have written countless essays about Bobby Kennedy’s paraphrase of something that George Bernard Shaw wrote in Back to Methuselah. This is Bobby’s version, “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.” That sentence has appeared in every email that I have sent in the last quarter of a century. I learned from Bobby the critically important issue of dreaming.

Ti Ti, dreaming is an imperative for you as you are about to stretch your wings. Remember, it is only you that can limit your achievements and successes. That will occur when you don’t dream. Dream on, young lady.

Without dreaming, we are not much more than a collection of nearly two dozen different elements like oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, etc. You wrote to me about wanting to be an inventor and help the world and your country. That was written when you were only fourteen. Young lady never stop dreaming. It makes life worth living for both you and for those whom you will help.

Ti Ti, the second suggestion also comes from Bobby Kennedy. In 1966, he was in Capetown, South Africa where he gave a speech on the Day of Affirmation at the University of Capetown. It was the time that South African’s called apartheid. In America, we would use the term, segregation. This is a link to his entire speech.

However, this single paragraph from that speech is known as the ripple effect. We all need to create ripples in our world, which will help others to be able to live life as free people without being oppressed. This is the ripple effect paragraph.

“Give me a place to stand,” said Archimedes, “and I will move the world.” These men moved the world, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. Thousands of Peace Corps volunteers are making a difference in isolated villages and city slums in dozens of countries. Thousands of unknown men and women in Europe resisted the occupation of the Nazis and many died, but all added to the ultimate strength and freedom of their countries. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. 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.

Ti Ti, I am finally at my third suggestion. In 1980, I watched the Cosmos series on TV, which was composed of 13-episodes. The program was watched by 500 million viewers throughout the world.

On one of the Cosmos programs, Sagan told a story of an old French aristocrat who was discussing with his landscaper about the trees that he wanted planted in his new chateau. The old aristocrat told the landscaper about a certain type of tree that he wanted on his estate.

The landscaper wrote off the aristocrat’s choice of that tree, because it grows very slowly. Essentially, it was a politically correct way of saying that the old man will have died long before that type of tree matures. The aristocrat's response was to start planting those trees at once.

Ti Ti, I am fully aware that my days are dwindling down to a precious few. I know that my clock is ticking. I can’t waste the time that I have. I have successfully led death on the dancefloor of my life…twice. Someday, I won’t have even a day. I understand that insight in my head and more importantly in my gut.

None of us knows how much time we have in this world. Therefore, I want you to remember what the old French aristocrat said and apply it to your life. Don’t waste the precious time you have.

I’m proud of you, Ti Ti. At your graduation, I’ll tell the world that you are my granddaughter.