Cover Photo: The author's grandfather, U Thein Doke, in the 1950s / photo courtesy of the author
The author's grandfather, U Thein Doke, in the 1950s / photo courtesy of the author

When the Moon Met the Tiger: Homecoming and Loss in Myanmar

A homecoming could happen across many continents. It was not a physical place, but a family’s embrace.

When we landed in Rangoon, the whole family was there: the uncles and the aunts, their faces and smiles reflecting the fading lights of Mingaladon Airport. Old, chartreuse light, pregnant with the dusty updraft of the potholed tarmac. Lights first installed in the 1970s, updated and fixed in—


The author's grandfather in London in the 1960s / photo courtesy of the author

Inside: rice, fermented fish, dried, flaky shrimp, chilies pounded and mixed with oil, salty fried shallots. Two old uncles, not blood relatives, but former officers under my grandfather’s command, called on us for dinner. Buddhist monks arrived, wearing dark saffron robes. They had come to bless the household on the eve of the homecoming of my Burmese mother and her American husband and their half-Burmese son. I was a senior in high school, suspicious of anything that smacked of religion, but even I was taken with the soft, whispered spirituality the monks seemed to embody.

In the eighteen years that had passed, I’d seen all this change unfold on frequent visits. Along the way I had met and married my wife, had a kid. And my relatives had gotten older: Great-uncles had passed. Great-aunts had become invalid.



We entered his room. The whole family was there: the uncles, the aunts, their eyes reflecting the worry of sleepless nights. Tin Tin, now in her eighties, had almost collapsed in grief, her river of black hair now wisped with cirrus clouds of grey and white.

The author's grandfather, with his daughter Tin Tin and great-granddaughter Sanda, in 2015

Adam Karlin is an author, journalist, and travel writer, and has written for outlets including the BBC, NPR, and Christian Science Monitor. He is also a regular author for Lonely Planet, where he has contributed to dozens of guidebooks. His essays have featured in multiple non-fiction anthologies, including "The Places We've Been: Field Reports from Travelers Under 35," and "Inheriting the War: Poetry and Prose by Descendants of Vietnam Veterans and Refugees." He is pursuing an MFA at the University of New Orleans. On Twitter at @adamkarlin and Instagram @adamwalkonfine.