Watching the world game in Myitkyina

World Cup fever inspires a Mon-American couple, plus cat, to embark on a quest to find the perfect venue to watch the beautiful game in the Kachin State capital.

By EMILY FISHBEIN | FRONTIER

I’M AN American and I grew up watching football – but the version with quarterbacks and touchdowns. I’m not so familiar with the game that Americans call soccer. But this year, adopting the spirit of my Myanmar friends, I resolved to watch the World Cup. But where?

In Yangon, the options seemed to be endless; in the Kachin State capital, Myitkyina, not so much. Joined by my partner, a lifelong Brazil enthusiast from Mon State, and an orphaned kitten, we began our quest.

Our first stop was an unnamed hall. Hidden behind an iron gate, it was easily missed except for a blackboard with the game times in Burmese. With popcorn and a projection screen, it was a promising start. However, although the hall had been packed for English Premier League matches, the screen was blurry and viewers scant.

So, on to Ledo’s Bar. It had an outdoor screen and plenty of spectators, but with its well-dressed patrons and cosmopolitan feel, it lacked the raw energy we sought.

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Our next stop was Night and Day. With its disco chandeliers made from old CDs, friendly bartender and crowd of regulars, the place has a real dive-bar feel. We snacked on la phet thoke and sipped our beer; our cat liked the dark atmosphere and promptly fell asleep. We were making progress. However, except for modest cheering when goals were scored, fans were few and the dance music was distracting.

At BFM Restaurant, our next destination, we had cushioned chairs, helpful waiters, and a large room to ourselves. But we found it too quiet, and by half-time, I was shivering from the air-conditioning.

Then we stumbled on Melody, a house restaurant run by a Nepali family. It was a refreshing change. We took our seats in the living room next to grandma and her many descendants. We ate our curry, they ate theirs, and we watched late into the night. Although delightful, with several late-night games to go, sitting in a family’s living room was not a sustainable option.

Just in time for Japan’s final qualifying game against Poland, we made a spectacular discovery. Downtown, games were being shown in public on two outdoor screens. We watched first from a street-side teashop, but a blurry screen and narration in Chinese made the game hard to follow. Beneath the second screen, we found a street full of families, couples, and tuk-tuk and trishaw drivers seated on the curb, on vehicles, and chairs brought from home. We had found our perfect place … but wait! With four minutes left, and Japan down by one goal, the screen suddenly, inexplicably, went black.

On the rest day for the World Cup, attention in Myanmar – and especially in Kachin State – was focused on Aung La Nsang’s ONE Championship title defence match against Ken Hasegawa in Yangon. We returned to the outdoor screen, now packed with fans. Yes! But, nearing the final match, the screen again went black. The cat, perhaps expressing her frustration, excreted on my lap.

We rushed home, bathed the cat, changed clothes and raced to Bum Masha Bar. Alas, it was closed. About to leave, we spotted some boys peering through a window to get a glimpse of… the match? We approached, and the exuberant owners, watching with family and friends, waved us in. Beer and goodwill flowed, and Aung La Nsang retained his middleweight title.

With the round of 16 matches approaching, we were still yet to find our perfect venue. Hope was running low. We expressed dismay to a friend, who suggested a teashop called Alin Thit/N-Htoi-N-Nan. We arrived to find it full of energetic spectators, open to the fresh air, and even serving Ovaltine, milk and coffee – thus meeting our needs and those of the cat. Bingo! The quest was over.

By Emily Fishbein

By Emily Fishbein

Emily Fishbein is a freelance writer who has been based in Myanmar since 2015. She seeks to share diverse stories and perspectives, especially from Kachin. Prior to writing, she worked with refugees and IDPs in Myanmar and the United States.
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