For Har Shaing, America is a place where he can live his life the way he wants.
The organization World Relief brought him to Jacksonville in 2007. He enrolled at Florida State College at Jacksonville where he studied English and earned his GED degree.
His first job was as a custodian at The Bolles School’s Bartram campus. After a few months there, he went to work for Mac Papers, operating a machine that made envelopes. But, last year, after injuring his back, he decided the time had come to pursue his dream.
“I wanted to run my own business,” Shaing said.
That business is the Taungzalat Asian Market, located in the University Center shopping center at 4329 University Blvd., a few blocks south of Memorial Hospital. It’s a part of town where a lot of Asian immigrants live, Shaing said.
The market, which opened in May 2016, sells groceries which can be used to create Southeast Asian cuisine, particularly Burmese, Malaysian and Thai dishes. There is lots of rice, a variety of teas, assorted sauces and spices, some fresh produce.
Shaing and his wife, Suilen, who is also from Myanmar though they met in Jacksonville, operate the store from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. Most days their two daughters, Khawti, 4, and Pai, 2, are also in the store with them.
The long hours mean there is not a lot of free time. But when there are some opportunities for recreation, Shaing and his family like visiting Hanna Park and the Jacksonville zoo, he said.
Shaing, who is also a licensed Realtor, is planning to expand his grocery into the storefront next door. His plan is to begin selling some hot foot, primarily Burmese dishes, for take out.
“I’m enjoying it,” he said. “It’s my own thing.”
What he’s not enjoying, he said, is the rising hostility toward immigrants that he perceives is happening. One man recently came to his store and berated him with profane denunciations of the fact he is Asian.
“As immigrants, we feel a lot of tension,” he said. “I came here as a refugee. We pay taxes. I’m living the American dream.”