Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi

I’d just experienced one of those memorable once in a lifetime experiences and the awe of it all was still clear in mind as I negotiated Immigration and Customs lines in the shed that served as departure terminal in Yangon for the Socialist Republic of Myanmar.  It was the 1970’s and I’d taken advantage of the customary twenty-four hour stopover permitted in those days en-route to Thailand and the countries of South-east Asia.  It was nice to take a break from my audit assignment in Bangladesh.

I’d enjoyed the hospitality of the Tamada Hotel, which had been the President Hotel in British days, and even managed to get a smile from the door keeper placed at the front of the hotel to keep watch over comings and goings of rare foreigner visitors at that time, and make sure the government was informed so we could be followed around the city to see we didn’t act as agents of unwelcome change to their socialist system. We enjoyed a daily choice between The Guardian and the Working People’s Daily newspapers. They seemed to have identical news items, but at least they were printed in English.

My memorable experience was a visit in company of a local friend to the home of Aung San Suu Kyi.  This visit was to her venerable Mother, and it was long before Suu Kyi returned to Myanmar to care for her then aged Mother. I remember well guards at the gate as that great lady was under constant supervision of the regime, and in hindsight it’s amazing we were permitted that visit. Hers had once been a stately home in British days with a grand view of the lake.  The house was now in considerable state of disrepair, and view of the lake consisted of overgrown reeds well out into the lake area.

Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of one of Burma’s most cherished heroes, the martyred General Aung San, who led his country’s fight for independence from Great Britain in the 1940s and was killed for his beliefs in 1947. Suu Kyi has equalled her father’s heroics with her calm but passionate advocacy of freedom and democracy in the country now called Myanmar, a name chosen by one of the most insensitive and brutal military dictatorships in the world.

Suu Kyi (pronounced Soo Chee) was two years old when her father the de facto prime minister of newly independent Burma was assassinated. Though a Buddhist  the predominant religion of Burma  she was educated at Catholic schools and left for India in her mid-teens with her mother, who became the Burmese ambassador to India. Suu Kyi went to England where she studied at Oxford University. There she met Michael Aris, the Tibetan scholar whom she married. They had two sons, Alexander and Kim.

A watershed in her life was 1988, when Suu Kyi received a call from Burma that her mother had suffered a stroke and did not have long to live. Suu Kyi returned to Burma, leaving her husband and two children behind in England, having cautioned them years earlier that duty may one day call her back to her homeland.

She arrived back in Burma to nurse her mother at a time of a burgeoning pro-democracy movement, fuelled by the energy and idealism among the country’s young people. There were demonstrations against the repressive, one-party socialist government. Suu Kyi was drawn into the pro-democracy movement, which was snuffed out by SLORC, which seized power on September 18, 1988. Thousands of pro-democracy advocates were killed. http://www.dassk.com/index.php

But the day of my visit was not filled with memories of pro democracy students.  The nation was under tight control, and Suu Kyi’s mother carefully guarded as a potential dangerous rallying point for those who nostalgically remembered the days of her husband General Aung San’s popular and prosperous leadership of new Burma free from colonial occupation. What a contrast between Burma which was the rice basket of Asia in those days, and the Myanmar of the time of my visit.

We sat and chatted about happy days spent in her role as Burmese Ambassador to India as we sipped tea together.  Photos of Nehru and Indira Gandhi were prominent on the walls of her bungalow, and we went through album after album of this great lady in black and white print in the company of various world leaders of the time. We felt together the elation of those memories, and sadness of conditions under which she and her people now lived.

It was only later that her daughter Aung San Suu Kyi, not there at the time of my visit, took over a leadership role trying to inspire the ruling SLORC to bring about democratic change and free her people. In the process she had to give up her role as mother and wife in the service of her nation.

While it’s unlikely Aung San Suu Kyi will be successful in changing the self-seeking military regime’s way of thinking in her lifetime, her shining example will inspire others who will someday be successful in bringing freedom to those various cultural groups which make up modern Myanmar.  She will be remembered in history along with her illustrious Father and Mother as beacons of democracy.

“© Copyright Ian Grice 2015 All rights reserved

23 Comments Add yours

  1. Jane Thorne says:

    Ohh Ian, what a rich memory of this meeting with such an inspiring woman and look at the daughter they have raised and what sacrifices they have made, for things that we take for granted. Thank you for sharing this and we are blessed with your vivid recall for detail and for your writing that takes us there with you. 🙂

    Like

    1. Hi Jane! My memory is not all that reliable, however the notes I made after events in my life and carried around for years afterward before putting them up as blog postings are fairly reliable. This particular event stands out in my memory because it was only several years later when Suu Kyi became a prominent news item I realized how fortunate I’d been to meet her mother.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, what an awe-inspiring time. Your post is a reminder of the value of democracy, which many people take for granted daily.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for visiting Christy. It’s only now in retirement that I get to reflect on how fortunate I’ve been to travel the world in my working life and meet some of the most interesting and inspiring people in those travels. I’m not tempted to travel now, done too much living in airplanes, trains, taxis, auto rickshaws and the hand pull variety. Even been met for transport in a bullock cart and a tractor drawn trailer. lol.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Eddie & Esther Norton says:

    Brave woman!

    Like

    1. I have followed Aung San Suu Kyi’s progress with awe. I suppose meeting her mother and seeing the way that great woman was treated by a regime who should have been grateful for her service in the diplomatic field tweaked my interest in her daughter’s life work. She was a brave person indeed to take on a military who jailed many people I knew for the slightest offenses.

      Like

  4. I am in awe of your experiences and opportunities, Ian, and your memory! What a story this is and how fortunate you were to be able to sip tea with this lady, a true example of bravery and heroism…it’s interesting reading that her daughter had to give up her role of mother and wife to take a leadership role and serve her nation. It makes me wonder what happened to her family and how her life turned out…

    Like

    1. Her husband took ill and died and she was unable to attend to him otherwise she would not have been allowed back into the country at that time. The husband had told her firmly that she should look on her nation’s need as paramount and he urged her to stay in Myanmar. It must have been a terrible grief for her.Of course there is no problem for the children to be with their mother now but of course they have their own lives to live as grown ups. I’m unfamiliar as to where they are located. Probably in England where they were brought up.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As a mother and wife, I can feel being torn between both roles, but of course, one must do what needs to be done. It’s sad that she wasn’t able to see her husband before he died. I’m truly grateful for my simple, yet blessed life. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. jstansfeld says:

    Touching story the more so that it is true and depicts such heroism. I may have missed it, but what eventually happened to Aung San Suu Kyi?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The last I saw on the news is that she travels the world now as a quasi ambassador for her country and the military regime still in power through their proxies in the so called civilian elected government has softened their approach to attract development capital. Suu Kyi has such international stature that it is in the military interest to allow her freedom to travel and soften their image. Myanmar has progressed much since the days I used to visit. Suu Kyi is an elected member of their parliament now but I doubt the military will ever allow her to head the country. She is so popular that she would get that position in a fair election and then the military leaders would be held accountable for their plundering of the country in times past and even now.

      Like

  6. borika45 says:

    What a storehouse of memories you must have Ian. Enjoyed this pie e about someone that I don’t know but feel after reading that, that I’d love to meet her!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was privileged to know her mother in that brief experience but wish that I’d met this great lady her daughter. However having visited Myanmar so many times in the rigid military years I feel I know a little about the family having looked through family albums and seen pics of famous people on the walls of her house.

      Like

  7. Mags says:

    A beautiful and brave lady sweet Ian. You are not only a very interesting person who writes some amazing stories but you have met some very interesting people. Thank you for sharing your wonderful experiences sweet friend. Thank you so much too for the hugs and comforting comments on my blog they are well received and much appreciated. Have a great weekend and I wish you and your sweet Georgine all the love, happiness and good health you can stand. Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I’ve been fortunate to meet some of the movers and shakers around the world and I feel so privileged to meet lots more like yourself on the internet. Your life has been so nurturing of others and I greatly respect you for what you have done and are doing now.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Mags says:

        You are a very kind soul sweet Ian. I feel blessed that you are my cyber friend.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. cardamone5 says:

    Informative, and fascinating, as always, Ian. What a life you live!

    Fondly,
    E

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well I live a very sedate life in retirement now. Health issues dictate that I don’t travel long distances any more and I’ve done so much travel in my working life that I’m content to have this peaceful and beautiful retirement resort to live in without that travel. But I have lots of recorded memories to fall back on.

      Like

  9. Oh I totally agree with you. I’m sickened by the money we pay to our so called celebrities and the way they can seemingly get off with a slap on the wrist for things the legal system would throw the book at for the rest of the population. I feel so privileged to have met some of the true heroes in different countries I’ve visited. You won’t ever see their names up in print or on the screen in most cases but they selflessly and silently make their unique valuable contribution to society . Here is a woman to truly admire and while I’ve never met her personally her mother would be one of the finest women I’ve been privileged to meet even though for a brief encounter.

    Like

  10. billgncs says:

    to have a chance to meet people who lived the courage of their convictions is a true honor, much better than any celebrity with little beyond looks or sport prowess.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I totally agree with you. I’m sickened by the money we pay to our so called celebrities and the way they can seemingly get off with a slap on the wrist for things the legal system would throw the book at for the rest of the population. I feel so privileged to have met some of the true heroes in different countries I’ve visited. You won’t ever see their names up in print or on the screen in most cases but they selflessly and silently make their unique valuable contribution to society . Here is a woman to truly admire and while I’ve never met her personally her mother would be one of the finest women I’ve been privileged to meet even though for a brief encounter.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. billgncs says:

        This post might interest you – it’s about a conversation I had with one of my teammates who was born in the cultural revolution in China: https://bwthoughts.wordpress.com/2015/01/18/lunch-and-heroes/

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you for directing me there. I left a comment.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.