Episode 04 – Found him!

From Mukilteo to Myanmar – the wild goose chase to track down my former English teacher, Coz, is a success.

For a long time, Myanmar was a country I would only read about (and sometimes write about) in the news. I remember the challenge of learning to pronounce Aung San Suu Kyi’s name (‘Ong Saan Sue Chi’) so I could read it on the air during my early days as a radio journalist.

Myanmar is no longer just a name in a news bulletin. After spending nine days there, it means watermelon wedges on a train chugging through the countryside, sunrise over a sea of Buddhist pagodas, and fried cashews washed down with Myanmar’s signature beer.

In some ways, coming to Myanmar in search of my former high school English teacher, Bill ‘Coz’ Costello, was as random as chucking a dart at a map. Neither of us knew it at the time, but when he and his wife, Wendy, made the decision to move to Myanmar and teach at an international school, it punched my ticket as well.

He could have landed in any country; I still would have relished the challenge of tracking him down. I can consider myself lucky that he ended up being somewhere as fascinating and fun as Myanmar.

Coz inadvertently determined the setting for the final act to my international manhunt, but he also played an unknowing role in getting me out the door in the first place.

Credit that to his ability to tell a good story: his masterfully-spun yarns have left many listeners in tears from laughing and in awe of his endless trove of vagabond adventures. As high school students in Coz’s class, my friends and I would marvel about all he had seen and done, and wonder if we would ever have such stories to tell.

In Myanmar, I was conscious of the fact that I was spinning a tale of my own. It’s captured at least a few podcast-listening ears, and anecdotes from the dusty roads of Myanmar will surely bend a few more in the years to come. The trip snowballed into one of the most memorable I’ve ever had, and it all started with the wild notion of tracking down Coz halfway around the world.

“Everybody has the capacity to go beyond their comfort zone,” Coz told me when I interviewed him in Yangon. “It’s just a matter of opening the door and doing it.”

He may have never stated it explicitly at the time, but 15 years after leaving Coz’s high school English classroom, I can recognize that sentiment as a lesson he tried to impart on us then.

With fond memories of Myanmar fresh in my mind, I like to think it’s stuck.

1 Comment

  1. R.G. Heaton

    What a remarkable story, Matt. Everything I love about literature I learned from Costello. No one did a better King Lear impersonation. He taught me to love Hemingway and even gave me an A for a poem I wrote about a Cannondale and Arlo Guthrie. Made my day to read this and so glad to see he got the hell out of Mukilteo.

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