By Aung Khant
In the early hours of Friday the 23rd of September 2016, U Aung Htike passed away with peace and painless swiftness. On Sunday the 25th, his funeral service was carried out under heavy rains and heavy hearts.
The passing of U Aung Htike is not only a painful loss for his dear family, but is also a loss for all of us, in Yangon and beyond. As a bright young university student, he was on his steady path to a medical degree when the 1974 general elections, where General Ne Win further cemented his grip on power, forced a young Aung Htike to abandon his initial plans and join the opposition movement. Arrested in July 1975 for his part in the student workers protests, he was sentenced to 8 years in the infamous Insein prison. During this time in Insein, he endured severe maltreatment and torture that would leave him with an eye problem that persisted for the rest of his life. About three years later, he was released on the 10th of April, 1978. Beaten but not broken, U Aung Htike decided to pursue a more humble career in low-level business and opened a small pharmacy. In 1987, he would start what began as a small teashop in Myanigone, and which would later become one of Yangon’s most established places.
For most readers, U Aung Htike was known as the cherished owner of Seit Tine Kya, which since opening, has become a veritable institution and highly-frequented locale for all who grew up in Yangon.
People close to him will also remember him as an unwavering member of the NLD and as a Yé baw (a fellow compatriot) in the democratic struggle. To my family, he was a dear friend and a welcome compatriot during times of much need, and against the dark days of military oppression in Burma’s recent history.
During the long period of forced political silence throughout the country, Seit Tine Kya was not only successful in serving up on of the best local brews of tea, bean cake, “sate soup” and “u-min”, it was also a haven where all ideas and discussions were free, safe and welcomed.
At a time when certain words were made taboo by harsh dictatorship, and fear of military intelligence loomed over everyone’s shoulders, U Aung Htike was always openly unapologetic in his support to the NLD and the democratic movement of Myanmar. His presence in the teashop each morning was a warm welcome to patrons from all walks of life.
While new, trendy and pricier cafés have popped up around town, the teashop remains very old school and staunchly for the working-class to this day. Opening in the early dawn hours everyday and almost never shutting its doors, little has changed in Seit Tine Kya despite the economic ups and downs.
Most business owners would have been keen to ban other poorer vendors for being unsightly or harmful competition, but U Aung Htike instead allowed them all permanent stalls under his own roof. The vendors still sit there, right at the very entrance, to this day.
Frequent patrons to the original Seit Tine Kya in Myanigone will always associate the place with Daw Pyone, the newspaper vendor, U Min Han, the mohingar vendor, and last but certainly not the least, Ko Khin Maung Lwin, the man with just one leg, but a cheerful face full of smiles who was hired as a parking assistant and usher-in-chief.
U Aung Htike’s generosity and sense of charity is second only to his steadfast leadership and personal devotion to his teashop, one which carried on until the last two days of his life. This dedication is also equalled by his impassioned commitment to positive political agendas. In the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, his teashop was also set up as a make-shift charity point in order to collect and redistribute funds to the affected communities. His small army of employees, too, are not just hard-working servers and cooks, but also volunteer as catering teams for various public donations and blood drives for the needy.
Throughout his successful and immensely rewarding business career, U Aung Htike remained a fervent and unwavering supporter of the democratic cause. He would be there each morning to personally welcome his patrons like no other business owner, listening with great patience to all their day-to-day struggles, and turning it all into his energy to further promote the fight for a democratic Myanmar.
U Aung Htike paid a hefty price for this and was arrested again in 2003 and 2008 for his continued financial support to the NLD party. He would also continue his financial assistance to the families of political prisoners, and to young bright medical students who he personally sponsored throughout their education. In 2005, he returned to his birthplace of Yétarshay district where he helped build a local hospital.
For his eulogy speech today, U Ko Ko Gyi of the 88 Generation Peace and Open society, described the value of a person’s life is not to be judged by death, but by actions and by how the person chose to live their life. U Aung Htike was not a man of just singular acts of heroic altruism, but truly exemplifies an everyday hero in carrying more than his share of contribution to society, and in the small steps he took everyday to make the world a better place than when he first arrived.
At 65 years of age, U Aung Htike did not have a short life in this world, rather it is us who are fortunate enough to have known just a little of him in our lives. He was truly an exemplary everyday hero who built his own success and who would inspire and help others throughout his life. He is succeeded only by his legacy, that lives on in the lives of so many other individuals he has helped throughout his journey.
As a man of such poise, dignity and a life well-spent in helping others, I have no doubt that U Aung Htike is now in a much better place.