Meet Chinatown’s Mr Fixit, Tan Xin Khoon
Yangon’s Chinatown is a traveller’s hotspot. Every evening 19th Street turns into a jovial street food bazaar where backpackers feast on beer and barbequed skewers and you find plenty of cheap and cheerful hostels with free breakfast and cosy rooftop bars. The whole neighbourhood has a distinct Chinese character and festive feel with red lanterns, colourful temples and mooncakes galore. But it wasn’t always like that, under the military rule life wasn’t easy for the Chinese people of Yangon. Many fled the country, those who stayed, kept a low profile and blended in. Now under the new regime, Chinese life is no longer confined behind closed doors but can once again spill out on the streets. Character signboards appear on shopfronts, people start learning Chinese, dim sum recipes resurface and every year the Chinese New Year celebrations grow bigger. We meet Tan Xin Khoon, the ‘best neighbour in the hood’ to talk about his family history and what makes Chinatown so special.
“I first gave blood before I was technically the legal age,” retells Tan Xin Khoon, in his home on Sint O Dan street. “The headmaster at my school needed to urgently collect blood as his daughter had an abortion and she was losing blood.” The then 15-year-old, raised his hand and volunteered to donate his blood without a second thought. That was the first of over 40 times he has donated blood. Tan Xin Khoon is the person to go to if you have a broken fan, but also if you need an emergency blood donation.
As soon as you walk through the door to Tan Xin Khoon’s home there are cluttered, yet organised piles of books, electrical extension cords and tools. Above his portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi lies a row of staplers perfectly spaced one hand apart on a shelf. Two clocks. An aerial. A buzzing TV in the corner with the local news bulletin. And snug in the corner is a small trophy awarded thanking Tan Xin Khoon for his high number of blood donations to the community.
Tan Xin Khoon in his home on Sint O Dan street in the middle of Chinatown
Tan Xin Khoon is the person to go to if you have a broken fan, but also if you need an emergency blood donation
Tan Xin Khoon’s home is filled with cluttered, yet organised piles of books, electrical extension cords and tools
Not only does he donate blood but he also organises others. Yangon hospital doesn’t have a computer system to record donors’ profile, but Mr. Fixit keeps them all, tidily in a small box with all the names that he can call whenever stocks are low.
He became the general hospital ‘Mr Fixit’ when he first found a problem with the fridge that holds the blood bags. After learning basic electrician skills in an intense 4 months course he then decided to train others around him. When a single mother or young women call for help, he also refuses to accept payment. “I just want to help when I can,” he shrugs.
The trees are gone, it used to be overgrown like a jungle, but now it is a concrete jungle.
His family history in Chinatown goes back decades. His great-grandparents migrated from Mongolia and made their way through China and settled in the Kokang region. Two portraits of his parents and grandparents sit perfectly aligned on the wall with a small shrine always lit.
When asked what he has noticed that has changed the most in Chinatown, he looks at the window to the pavement and states, “the trees are gone.” Not taking his eyes off the street he continues, “it used to be overgrown like a jungle, but now it is a concrete jungle.”
His most prized possession? He’s not sure, but one item he always keeps on him is his card which declares his body is to be donated after he dies. A selfless act planned even for after his death.
One item he always keeps on him is his card which declares his body is to be donated after he dies
Snug in the corner is a small trophy awarded thanking Tan Xin Khoon for his blood donations to the community
His family history in Chinatown goes back decades. His great-grandparents migrated from Mongolia and made their way through China
Inside the house of Chinatown’s ‘Mr Fixit’, he just helps wherever he can
Want to find the spirit of Chinatown?
Ready to explore the streets of Chinatown? There’s plenty more to see. Get your hands on the iDiscover Yangon Guide with 4 handcrafted itineraries that bring you the honest and authentic in the city’s most historic neighbourhoods: Chinatown, Indian Quarter, Pansodan and around the Secretariat. Comes with a free navigational app so you can get lost without getting lost. Feel more like a guided tour? Check out Yangon Heritage Trust, they’re the best.
Find Chinatown’s hidden gems and insider secrets with the iDiscover App&Map
Words and photography by Libby Hogan
Libby is a freelance journalist who has documented the changes across Myanmar’s many ethnic states in the past three years after Aung San Suu Kyi won elections. Her passion is looking at youth culture and stagleaping to isolated regions to hear untold stories from those who never had access to media or the opportunity to speak freely. Check out her website.
Libby’s favourite spot in Yangon: watching the sun set behind Shwedagon Pagoda when walking the boardwalk at Kandagyi Park.
Interviews by Tiffany Tang
Tiffany Tang is iDiscover’s community manager. Hong Kong born free-spirited and adventurous urban traveller Tiffany has a passion for culture and cities. Born in Hong Kong, she speaks Cantonese, Mandarin and English and even a bit of Tai Shan (Southern Guang Dong province) which came in handy during the interviews. She has fallen in love with Myanmar for its friendliness and relaxing creative environment.
Favourite spot in Yangon: Central Train Station, on my way to a new destination in this beautiful country
Translation & facilitation by Thurein Tint
Thurein (or just call him Tim) is 19 years old graphic designer and recent graduate from the prestigious Pre-Collegiate Programme in Yangon. He loves the city where he was born and raised, but dreams of going overseas one day to explore new adventures. Find him at @timmmdraws
Favourite spot in Yangon: they do a really good mohinga breakfast at 11th street in Chinatown
Map design by Mekong Kyaw Swar
Mekong is an art director and illustrator who handcrafts minimalistic elegant works of Burmese heritage and sunny landscapes out of his hometown Yangon. Find him at @mdesignygn
Favourite spot in Yangon: BBQ with beer on 19th street in Chinatown