The Quiet Teahouse Owner Who Secretly Undermined Myanmar’s Dictatorship
The soft-spoken restaurateur served a killer bowl of noodles, but his clandestine activism against decades of military rule is the real reason his legacy will live on.
Illustrations by Jared Boggess
At first glance, Seit Tine Kya feels like any other teahouse in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city: boisterous with animated chatter, the sipping of milky tea, the slurping of greasy noodles, the shuffling of sandals on concrete, and the kiss-kiss of old patrons calling out to young waiters.
On a Saturday morning in late September of 2016, Seit Tine Kya appeared wholly unremarkable. Yet for its customers and wait staff, there was a conspicuous absence. The teahouse’s founder, a philanthropist and democracy activist named U Aung Htike, had died unexpectedly eight days earlier from septic shock brought on by prostate cancer. His passing was a blow to the community. For many, the soft-spoken restaurateur had come to represent the best aspirations of Myanmar’s nascent democracy: charitable, strong-willed, fair-minded and driven by high ideals in an era when high ideals could be fatal.
“We lost a man who helped us,” says Aung Naing, 46, a vendor who has sold sundry …
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