AUNG SAN SUU KYI: HER EARLY LIFE, FAMILY AND CHARACTER

AUNG SAN SUU KYI

Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced awng san sue chee) is the leader of the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar, daughter of Aung San, the general who founded Burma's army and negotiated the country's independence from Great Britain after World War II. After her initial arrest in 1989 without a trial or charges she spent 15 of 21 years either imprisoned or under house arrest until finally being released for good in November 2010. One of the world's most prominent and recognized political prisoners, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

Aung San Suu Kyi is often refereed to as the "Lady." Even Myanmar’s generals use the polite form of Daw when talking about her. Her husband wrote, "From her early childhood Suu had been deeply preoccupied with the question of what she might do to help her people. She never forgot for a minute that she was the daughter of Burma's national hero...And yet before 1988 it had never been her intention to strive for anything quite so momentous."

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote in Time: “In 1990 the Burmese military refused to recognize the electoral victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy party. Five years later, when Suu Kyi was released from house arrest, I visited her in Rangoon, where she was firm in her demands: real democracy, freedom for political prisoners, an end to government by fear. There followed a test of wills to determine Burma’s future; on one side was a totalitarian junta, and on the other this indomitable woman. For years, there seemed no hope; but then, in 2011, the authorities began to back down. Censorship was reduced; prisoners were released. Suu Kyi was elected to parliament. Now, real democracy is promised. No longer a prisoner, Suu Kyi is a political leader with decisions to make in a fragile political environment. Aung San Suu Kyi’s bravery in defying — and defeating — repression gives hope to all who cherish liberty. [Source: Time, April 18, 2013]

Books: Freedom from Fear a collection of essays by and about Aung San Suu Kyi; The Voice of Hope by Aung San Suu Kyi and Alan Clements (Seven Stories Press, 1997), interviews from 1995; The Lady: Aung San Suu Kyi: Nobel Luaret and Burma's Prisoner by Barbara Victor (Faber & Faber, 1997); Aung San Suu Kyi: An Extraordinary Life Story Told In Her Own Words by Christophe Loviny,

International Idolization of Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi was among 25 Asians chosen by Time magazine as “Asia’s greatest living heros.” In Time, the rock star Bono wrote: “Suu Kyi is a real hero in an age of phony phone-in celebrity...Her quiet voice of reason makes the world look noisy, mad; it is a low matra of grace in an age of terror...Thinking of her you can’t help but put in the anachronistic language of duty and personal sacrifice.” U2 wrote the Grammy-winning song Walk On in her honor. She was given the honor of “citizen of Rome” in 1994 but didn’t get a chance to pick up the award until 2013.

According to AFP: Aung San Suu Kyi’s soft voice and demeanor belie her status as an icon of defiance to Myanmar’s dictatorship... A slender woman who prefers traditional clothing and often wears flowers in her hair, Aung San Suu Kyi studied at Oxford, married a British academic, had two sons and seemed settled in Britain. But when she returned to Yangon in 1988 to tend to her ailing mother, she found the city gripped by protests against the military. The icon of Myanmar’s pro-democracy cause has paid a high price for her fame...As her husband Michael Aris was in the final stages of a long battle with cancer, the junta refused him a visa to see his wife. He died in March 1999, not having seen her since 1995. She refused to leave the country to see him, knowing she would never have been allowed to return Threats and vilification from the junta, along with years of forced solitude, served only to make her more determined. Critics see her resolve as intransigence that has contributed to the stalemate, but the woman known in Myanmar simply as “The Lady” remains the most powerful symbol of freedom in a country where the army rules with an iron fist. She has cast her struggle as part of humanity’s greater spiritual battle against tyranny. “The quest for democracy in Burma is the struggle of a people to live whole, meaningful lives as free and equal members of the world community,” she wrote in “Freedom from Fear and Other Writings.” “It is part of the unceasing human endeavor to prove that the spirit of man can transcend the flaws of his nature.” [Source: AFP, May 2009]

Aung San Suu Kyi is often compared to Nelson Mandela— both of whom won the Nobel Peace Prize—as well as Vaclav Havel and Corazon Aquino. Oscar-winning actress Anjelica Huston wrote in Time: “For nearly two decades, Nelson Mandela languished in global obscurity while imprisoned under the apartheid regime in South Africa. Then, during the 1980s, millions around the world mobilized an effort for his release and an end to apartheid. Now Mandela is a global icon for human rights. Today's Mandela is Aung San Suu Kyi, a woman who has been held under arrest for 12 years in Burma. Suu Kyi, 62, has been a courageous advocate for human rights and democracy, and she is the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient. She became a target of her country's military junta after spearheading a nationwide effort to end decades of military rule. The current regime is exceedingly brutal—incarcerating up to 2,000 political prisoners, recruiting more child soldiers than any other country in the world and carrying out a campaign of rape against ethnic-minority women. It has pursued a scorched-earth policy against minorities, destroying medical clinics, food supplies and homes. Suu Kyi has appealed to the global community to take up the Burmese cause, saying "Please, use your liberty to promote ours." It took decades for us to come to Mandela's aid. Suu Kyi—and the people of Burma—are waiting to be freed now. [Source: Time magazine, May 12, 2008]

Hannah Beech wrote in Time: “In a world that struggles to find heroes, Suu Kyi stands as one of the few enduring symbols of moral courage. Part of that endurance is courtesy of one of the age's most repressive regimes, which has tried for 21 years to silence its most compelling — and graceful — opponent. For it matters, one must admit, that Suu Kyi is beautiful, a 65-year-old sylph who wears jasmine in her hair. But beyond her delicate features, it is Suu Kyi's fortitude — a stalk of bamboo swaying in the winds yet never snapping — that has inspired millions....The question now is whether she can translate the lofty principles she has so eloquently articulated into reality. In any country, making the transition from an icon of democracy to a player of hard-boiled politics is difficult enough; consider, for example, the mixed legacy of Poland's Lech Walesa, a lion of resistance to communist rule but a disappointing President. Figureheads have to come down to earth, negotiating not just with those they have stood against but often with those who fought while their leaders were away. And Suu Kyi must complete this evolution in a place where the generals still rule. [Source: Hannah Beech, Time, November 29, 2010 ++]

Penny Wark and Richard Lloyd Parry wrote in The Times: “To say Aung San Suu Kyi is an embodiment of hope, of freedom of spirit, of indomitable strength of will and unyielding courage is no exaggeration. She is a global icon, and that is not to underestimate her significance as a symbol of democracy and peaceful resistance in Burma. That said she views herself as someone who wishes to do her duty by her people, she is a reluctant heroine.”

Aung San Suu Kyi's Early Life

Aung San Suu Kyi was born in Rangoon on June 19, 1945, the daughter of independence hero and national leader General Aung San and Daw Khin Kyi. Her name means "A Bright Collection of Strange Victories. She was only two when her father was assassinated on July 19, 1947. Aung San Suu Kyi has no memory of her father. Her mother, Khin Kyi, was a prominent figure in Burma’s first civilian government, and became the Ambassador to India and Nepal in 1960. Aung San Suu Kyi said: “It was my mother who was the head of the household, and as far as I could see, she could do anything that men could do.” Suu Kyi has a brother who now lives in the United States.

Joshua Hammer wrote in The New Yorker, “Even as a child, Suu Kyi displayed remarkable determination. She overcame her fear of the dark, she once said, by forcing herself to walk around in the middle of the night.” On her early influences Aung San Suu Kyi said: “When I was ten or eleven I wanted to enter the army. Everyone referred to my father as Bogyoke, which means general, so I wanted to be a general too because I thought this was the best way to serve one’s country.”

Aung San Suu Kyi was educated in Rangoon (Yangon) until 15 years old. After Aung San Lin's death, the family moved to a house by Inya Lake in Rangoon where Suu Kyi met people of very different backgrounds, political views and religions. She was educated in Burma, India, and the United Kingdom. In Burma she attended Methodist English High School (now Basic Education High School No. 1 Dagon) for much of her childhood in Burma, where she was noted as having a talent for learning languages. [Source: Wikipedia]

Aung San Suu Kyi left Burma when she was fifteen. In 1960 she accompanied her mother to Delhi on her appointment as Burmese ambassador to India and Nepal. Suu Kyi's mother, Khin Kyi, gained prominence as a political figure in the newly formed Burmese government. Aung San Suu Kyi attended Catholic high school and college in New Delhi. She also studied in the Convent of Jesus and Mary School. There she was greatly influenced by the nonviolent philosophy of Mohandas K. Gandhi. She graduated from Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi with a degree in politics in 1964. According to The New Yorker in Delhi Suu Kyi “acquired the diction of the Indian elite and the upright posture, still visible to this day, that came from never being permitted to lean against the back of a dining chair.”

Malavika Karlekar was a friend from New Dehli who also went to St. Hugh’s College with Suu Kyi at Oxford. She is now an academic in Delhi. She and Suu Kyi are close now and regularly talk on the telephone.

Aung San Suu Kyi' as an Oxford Student

Between 1964 and 1967 Aung San Suu Kyi studied at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford University . She got a BA in philosophy, politics and economics in 1969, graduating with a third-class degree. She was elected Honorary Fellow in 1990. On her education Aung San Suu Kyi said: “At Oxford I learned respect for the best in human civilisation. It gave me a confidence in humankind and in the innate wisdom of human beings. This helped me to cope with what were not quite the best of humankind.”

Fellow students remember her walking “ethereally” in the rose gardens and under the huge cherry trees at St. Hugh’s that are still there today. The main difference between the college today and in Suu Kyi’s time is that it is now coed not women only as it was in her time and the number of buildings have doubled since the 1980s. St. Hugh’s was founded in 1876. The junior common room now bears here name.

At Oxford Aung San Suu Kyi met her husband Michael Aris, a fellow student, in 1965. He later became a professor of Tibetan studies at Oxford. She wrote books on Bhutan and Nepal and many articles.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s British guardian was Lady Gore-Booth, the wife of the former British Ambassador to Burma. She died in 2012 at the age of 90.

Aung San Suu Kyi in New York, Bhutan, Japan and India

After graduating from Oxford, Aung San Suu Kyi lived in New York City with a family friend Ma Than E Fend, who was once a popular Burmese pop singer. Ma Than E was Suu Kyi’s “emergency aunt.” She died in Oxford in 2007 at the age of 99. From 1969 to 1971 she wroked as an Assistant Secretary, Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, United Nations Secretariat, New York. She worked at the United Nations for three years, primarily on budget matters, writing daily to her future husband.

In 1972 Aung San Suu Kyi served as a Research Officer, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bhutan. 1987 Aung San Suu Kyi was a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies (IIAS) in Shimla, India. She also worked for the government of the Union of Burma.

Aung San Suu Kyi in Japan

In 1985 and 1986, Aung San Suu Kyi was a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University. The room at Kyoto University's Center for Southeast Asian Studies where she conducted research from 1985 to 1986. The room has since been named the "Suu Kyi Room," and still has the desk that the democracy leader once used.

The Mainichi Shimbun reported: “Japan was the starting point of Suu Kyi's father, General Aung San's struggle for Myanmar's independence. For nine months, starting in October 1985, Suu Kyi retraced her father's steps and Myanmar's independence movement at the center. She generally spent her weekdays going through relevant documents and literature, and the weekends visiting former Imperial Japanese Army officials who assisted her father in his efforts. [Source: Mainichi Shimbun, April 15, 2012 ||]

The room where Suu Kyi spent much of her time is E306 on the third floor of the east wing. After Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, the room was renovated and renamed the Suu Kyi Room. Items linked to the leader, including her portraits and books she read, are exhibited in the room, which is still in use as an executive office. While the room is not open to the public, the university allows researchers and other visitors into the room; of the 450 or so names in the room's sign-in book, some belong to other democracy activists from Myanmar. ||

Yoshihiro Tsubouchi, 75, a professor emeritus of cultural anthropology at Kyoto University, remembered Suu Kyi from her days at the university, saying, "She was a very composed, sincere person. She had a strong desire to understand Japan, and I recall explaining the Japanese spirit and mentality to her. She's experienced much hardship, but I'm glad she's been able to come back to Kyoto after 27 years." ||

Joshua Hammer wrote in The New Yorker: “She was fascinated by her father’s life; when she was a student she travelled to Tokyo and tracked down his military instructors. “I asked one of the officers who trained him, ‘What did you think was different about my father compared to the others you trained?’ ” she told me. “He mentioned two things: One, my father read as much as he could, while the others were so tired by the end of the day they just went to sleep.” The other, she said, was that when the trainer was giving classes on military matters “my father would always come to his own conclusions, whereas the others would learn everything by rote.” [Source: Joshua Hammer, The New Yorker, January 24, 2011]

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Family and Name

Aung San Suu Kyi derives her name from three relatives: "Aung San" from her father, "Suu" from her paternal grandmother, and "Kyi" from her mother Khin Kyi. She is frequently called Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Daw is not part of her name, but is an honorific, similar to madame, for older, revered women, literally meaning "aunt." She is also often referred to as Daw Suu by the Burmese (or Amay Suu, lit. "Mother Suu," by some followers), or "Aunty Suu", and as Dr. Suu Kyi, Ms. Suu Kyi, or Miss Suu Kyi by the foreign media. However, like other Burmese, she has no surname (see Burmese names). [Source: Wikipedia]

Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, Aung San, founded the modern Burmese army and negotiated Burma's independence from the British Empire in 1947; he was assassinated by his rivals in the same year. Aung San Suu Kyi grew up with her mother, Khin Kyi, and two brothers, Aung San Lin and Aung San Oo, in Rangoon. Aung San Lin died at the age of eight, when he drowned in an ornamental lake on the grounds of the family house.

The anniversary of Aung San’s death is marked every year in Myanmar as Martyr’s day. Aung San Suu Kyi used to lay three baskets of flowers at her father’s tomb every year until 2003 when her house arrest prevented her from doing so. In 2005 she was invited by the military government to lay a wreath at the tomb but she declined.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s estranged older brother Aung San Oo is emigrated to San Diego, California and became a United States citizen. Joshua Hammer wrote in The New Yorker, “Aung San Oo, a U.S. citizen, is close to the junta and has been estranged from her for decades. In 2000, he sued her in Rangoon High Court, demanding a half share in the family’s villa, but, in a surprising decision, the court ruled against him. Tin Myo Win, Aung San Suu Kyi’s doctor, says that her Buddhist beliefs have helped her to cope with family ruptures. “I strongly believe that she has no bitterness,” he told me. “She has never shown anger or short-temperedness. It is a quality of indifference that I have only come across in senior Buddhist monks.” He added, “Inside the heart you may have some feeling, but your mind is above the heart. . . . She loved her sons very much, but you may say that her Buddhism transcended it.” [Source: Joshua Hammer, The New Yorker, January 24, 2011]

At Oxford in 1965 Aung San Suu Kyi met her husband Michael Aris, a fellow student and a Tibetan scholar. They were married in late 1971. She told him that she would marry him but only under the understanding that she might have to return one day to Burma to help her people. She and her husband lived and studied in Bhutan, Japan and India and then settled in Oxford in a Victorian house with a Himalayan terrier named Puppy.

Aung San Suu Kyi raised two sons in England. Kim (born in 1973) and Alexander (born in 1977). Both were studying abroad in the 1990s. They were stripped of their Burmese citizenship after Aung San Suu Kyi smuggled a pro-democracy tape out of Myanmar. Her sons were 16 and 11 when she left England. Kim is named after the character in a Rudyard Kipling’s novel.

Aung San Suu Kyi as a Housewife and Researcher in Oxford

Hannah Beech wrote in Time, “In the 1980s she was content to focus on academic research and serve as the mother of two sons and the wife of a British academic at Oxford. On picnics in the English countryside, Suu Kyi wore shorts and drank soda; she gave little hint of the democracy icon she would become. [Source: Hannah Beech, Time, December 29, 2010]

Between 1985 and 1987, Suu Kyi was working toward an M.Phil in Burmese literature as a research student at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. She was elected as an Honorary Fellow in 1990.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s family lived in a five-story house in Park Town. Valued at $4 million, the house has become a pilgrimage site of sorts for some Buddhist monks today. The present owner, John Guthrie, who runs a Moscow-based investment firm, told The Times: “They come and knock on the door about twice a year to pay homage. Very gentle folk as one would expect.”

Thant Myint-U first met Aung San Suu Kyi during a short visit to Oxford in 1986. He told The New Yorker that she struck him as “a self-assured, charismatic person, even though we were just having tea and talking about the movies.” She conversed in an informed way about Burma, but gave no indication that she would return there. “Perhaps in hindsight you could say she was waiting for the right moment, but I wouldn’t have said that then. She was a housewife, doing historical research, looking for a fellowship.” Still, early in her marriage she had told Aris that she might eventually be drawn back to Burma. She insisted to me years later that this sense of obligation came not from being her father’s daughter but from the realization that her countrymen were suffering under the military dictatorship, and “if they required the help of people outside Burma we would have to go back.” [Source: Joshua Hammer, The New Yorker, January 24, 2011]

Michael Aris: Aung San Suu Kyi’s Husband

Aung San Suu Kyi’s husband was Michael Aris, a British scholar of Tibetan Buddhism whom she had met at Oxford. “Michael was a gentle man, a stoic—very old-school English,” his close friend Thant Myint-U, a Burmese historian and the grandson of U Thant, the former U.N. Secretary-General, said.

Speaking at his funeral,Aris’ friend Justice Marcus Einfeld said: “Michael Aris died of cancer on his 53rd birthday. He was born on 27 March 1946, in Havana, Cuba and educated at Worth School, Sussex from where he went on to read modern history at Durham University. After completing his BA in 1967, he spent seven years working as a private tutor to the royal family of Bhutan and was also the head of the Bhutanese government's Translation Department. [Source: Justice Marcus Einfeld, an Australia judge and UNICEF official, from a speech at Michael Aris’s funeral ^]

“In 1974, Aris began his post-graduate studies in the School of Oriental and African Studies of London University in Tibetan literature in which he subsequently took a Ph.D. at Oxford. He became a research fellow at several colleges of Oxford University after his graduation, supervising graduate students on the other side of the Atlantic as well when he became a visiting professor of Tibetan and Himalayan studies at Harvard University between 1990 and 1992. Upon his return to Oxford, he rejoined the Asian Studies Center of St Antony's College as a senior research fellow - the position he held at his death. His many lectures and wide range of articles on subjects within his area of expertise won him worldwide recognition for his academic excellence in the culture and political history of Tibet and the Buddhist Himalayas.” ^

Love Between Michael Aris and Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi wrote 187 letters to Michael Aris before they were married. "Recently I read again", he wrote, "the 187 letters she sent me in the eight months before we were married.... Again and again she expressed her worry that her family and people might misinterpret our marriage and see it as a lessening of her devotion to them. She constantly reminded me that one day she would have to return to Burma, that she counted on my support at that time, not as her due, but as a favour..."

Screenwriter Rebecca Frayn wrote in The Telegraph: “When I began to research a screenplay about Aung San Suu Kyi four years ago, I wasn’t expecting to uncover one of the great love stories of our time. Yet what emerged was a tale so romantic – and yet so heartbreaking – it sounded more like a pitch for a Hollywood weepie: an exquisitely beautiful but reserved girl from the East meets a handsome and passionate young man from the West. [Source: Rebecca Frayn, The Telegraph, December 11, 2011 ++]

“For Michael Aris the story is a coup de foudre, and he eventually proposes to Suu amid the snow-capped mountains of Bhutan, where he has been employed as tutor to its royal family. For the next 16 years, she becomes his devoted wife and a mother-of-two, until quite by chance she gets caught up in politics on a short trip to Burma, and never comes home. Tragically, after 10 years of campaigning to try to keep his wife safe, Michael dies of cancer without ever being allowed to say goodbye. I also discovered that the reason no one was aware of this story was because Dr Michael Aris had gone to great lengths to keep Suu’s family out of the public eye. It is only because their sons are now adults – and Michael is dead – that their friends and family feel the time has come to speak openly, and with great pride, about the unsung role he played.” ++

Michael Aris and Aung San Suu Kyi’s Life Together

Justice Marcus Einfeld said: “Michael and Aung San Suu Kyi shared a cause and a life - yet they did not live together for more than a decade. He met Suu Kyi while they were both students at Oxford University in the 1960s. She had come to Britain from India where her mother had been Burmese Ambassador. They married on 1 January 1972, after which they shared many trips and periods of residence in the Himalayas including Bhutan, Nepal, Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. They had two sons, Alexander and Kim. [Source: Justice Marcus Einfeld, an Australia judge and UNICEF official, from a speech at Michael Aris’s funeral]

Rebecca Frayn wrote in The Telegraph: “The daughter of a great Burmese hero, General Aung San, who was assassinated when she was only two, Suu was raised with a strong sense of her father’s unfinished legacy. In 1964 she was sent by her diplomat mother to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford, where her guardian, Lord Gore-Booth, introduced her to Michael. He was studying history at Durham but had always had a passion for Bhutan – and in Suu he found the romantic embodiment of his great love for the East. But when she accepted his proposal, she struck a deal: if her country should ever need her, she would have to go. And Michael readily agreed.” [Source: Rebecca Frayn, The Telegraph, December 11, 2011]

“For the next 16 years, Suu Kyi was to sublimate her extraordinary strength of character and become the perfect housewife. When their two sons, Alexander and Kim, were born she became a doting mother too, noted for her punctiliously well-organised children’s parties and exquisite cooking. Much to the despair of her more feminist friends, she even insisted on ironing her husband’s socks and cleaning the house herself. Then one quiet evening in 1988, when her sons were 12 and 14, as she and Michael sat reading in Oxford, they were interrupted by a phone call to say Suu’s mother had had a stroke.

Aris said: "As the one who claims to know her best and love her most, I need hardly tell you what it means to me to see her properly recognised in this way."Every day of the week in Burma's official media," he once said, "Suu is vilified, calumnied, slandered, taunted, ridiculed and insulted. In the cowardly way adopted by soldiers who have lost their sense of honour and dignity she has no right of reply". [Source: address by Michael Aris at Melbourne University where he accepted "on behalf of my brave wife Suu" an honorary degree of doctorate of laws]

Justice Marcus Einfeld said: “What he described as "the turgid sewers of official abuse" were regularly directed at ridiculing Suu Kyi's decision to marry a European, in the most lurid and racist way. She was portrayed in the official media as a prostitute and traitor to her nationality, and their two sons derided as illegitimate. Pornographic drawings of Suu Kyi with white men were circulated in Rangoon, clearly with the approval of the junta. Aris rightly saw such personal assaults as merely reinforcing the great gulf in moral authority between Suu Kyi and the discredited generals. [Source: Justice Marcus Einfeld, an Australia judge and UNICEF official, from a speech at Michael Aris’s funeral]

Aung San Suu Kyi on Her Family

Aung San Suu Kyi married Michael Aris in 1971, and gave birth to first son, Alexander, a year later. Her second son, Kim, was born in 1977 The last time she saw her husband was at Christmas 1995. He was refused a visa after a diagnosis of prostate cancer in 1997, and died two years later. On dealing with her husband’s illness she told the BBC: "There never was a point when I thought of going. I knew that I wouldn't go. And he knew too." "I think she's genuinely strong. And you know even if she's sad at something, she knows she's got to get on with things. She's not going to waste time crying about it," he son Kim said. Eamonn Walsh, BBC News, September 22, 2012]

"Of course I regret not having been able to spend time with my family," Suu Kyi told the BBC. "One wants to be together with one's family. That's what families are about. Of course, I have regrets about that. Personal regrets. I would like to have been together with my family. I would like to have seen my sons growing up. But I don't have doubts about the fact that I had to choose to stay with my people here."

When she returned to Burma to care for her mother, Suu Kyi became a figurehead for democracy protests, founding the NLD party. Suu Kyi said she always believed it was her destiny to serve the people of Burma, even telling her English husband-to-be Michael this on the eve of their marriage. "I wanted to make sure that he knew from the very beginning that my country meant a great deal to me and should the necessity arise for me to go back to live in Burma, he must never try to stand between my country and me," she told the BBC.

"The parting of the way came when I was placed under house arrest," she says. "Then of course I knew that my relationship with the family was going to change considerably because we would not be able to be in touch with each other... The first Christmas after I was placed under house arrest, Michael was allowed to come to see me but they wouldn't let the children come. are things that you do together that you don't do with other people. It's very special. A family is very special. So when a family splits up, it's not good, it's never good.”

It was 12 years before she would see her younger son, Kim, again. "He brought his music with him. He had all these tapes and he would say, 'Now do you know who that is, mummy?' "And I'd get it all wrong, but later I began to learn who was who. He plays a lot of Bob Marley, so I learnt to like Bob Marley," she says.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Appearance

Aung San Suu Kyi turned 68 in June, 2013. She is a thin, attractive almost frail-looking woman who wears her hair pulled back in a bun. She has high cheekbones, looks younger than her age, and likes to scent her hair with jasmine. She usually wear a simple blue sarong and bodice. Peter Popham wrote in the Independent, “A firm handshake, very long fingers: a head rather large for the slim, fragile-looking frame...and she is certainly ashy pale. But the gaze of her large brown eyes is bold and steady.”

Richard Paddock wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Slender and graceful, she dresses in traditional Burmese attire and often wears a flower in her hair.” Hannah Beech wrote in Time: “Her carriage is regal, her English accent impeccable. The blossoms she customarily wears in her hair never seem to wilt, even as everything else droops in Burma's sullen heat. In the NLD office, with its intermittent electricity and maps of mildew spread across concrete walls, Suu Kyi floats like some otherworldly presence, calm and cool as others are flushed and frenetic.” Steve Finch and John Pomfret wrote in the Washington Post: “Sitting alone in her office, Suu Kyi wore a turquoise longyi, a Burmese sarong, and a pale side-buttoned blouse with embroidered flowers. In the British accent she picked up during her undergraduate days at Oxford University, the 65-year-old spoke frankly about her release and her plans.” [Sources: Richard Paddock, Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2005; Hannah Beech, Time, December 29, 2010; Steve Finch and John Pomfret, Washington Post, November 15, 2010]

Joshua Hammer wrote in The New Yorker: “Aung San Suu Kyi sat rigidly upright on a wooden settee inside a second-floor meeting room, both hands resting in her lap. Fine lines were etched into her delicate features, and she looked gaunt, even though, according to her physician, Tin Myo Win, during her years in confinement her weight never fluctuated from a hundred and five pounds. [Source: Joshua Hammer, The New Yorker, January 24, 2011]

Kenneth Denby wrote in The Australian: “Several things strike one on meeting Ms Suu Kyi. The first is how improbably well-preserved she is. At her press conference on Sunday, a Burmese journalist even asked her for her beauty secrets. Consider how Tony Blair and Barack Obama have been aged by the strains of office. Ms Suu Kyi has faced assassination attempts and separation from her family, and has spent 15 of her past 21 years in jail - and still looks 10 years younger than one born in 1945. The second thing is her calm, her equanimity. She talked about her detention as someone else might recall a tiresome delay at a fog-bound airport - a minor inconvenience it would be indulgent to make too much of. [Source: Kenneth Denby, The Australian, November 20, 2010]

Aung San Suu Kyi said: “People give me flowers all the time and I wear as many of them as I can. My mother often quoted a Burmese saying: "A man without knowledge is like a flower without a scent." I prefer scented flowers.”

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Character

Aung San Suu Kyi is known for her eloquence, wisdom, steadiness, determination, intelligence, unpretentiousness, serenity, stubbornness, patience, erudition, and her sense of humor. Philip Shenon wrote in the New York Times, her remarks were "accompanied by a piercing gaze and often by a determined smile. her words are frequently laced with gentle laughter."

Scott Kraft wrote in the New York Times, "In person, Suu Kyi is low-key and polite, though her determination is evident. She always refers to the country as Burma...She meets visitors at home in a square room surrounded by 1940s-era photographs of her family and a wall-sized painting of her father." "The painting’s a bit Andy Warhol, don't you think?" she asked Kraft. "But it's really a good likeness." When asked if she worried about he safety she told Kraft, "No, I don't worry very much at all. It's not because I'm all that courageous or anything. It's just that there is no point in it. If they want to do anything to me they can do it any time they like."

Richard Paddock wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Those who know Suu Kyi describe her as charming, brilliant and idealistic. The daughter of beloved independence leader Aung San, she is widely admired for her principled stand and self-sacrifice. Although she projects a sense of calm, she can be exacting and formidable. "This is a very tough lady," said a Western diplomat who has met with her numerous times. "She is very focused. She is willing to put up with a lot to defend the principles that she sees as important. Compromise is not necessarily a term she is comfortable with." "The moral high ground is the place where she feels most comfortable," another diplomat said. "She has an idealistic view of the world. I don't think she has been prepared to make some slightly dirty compromises to move the situation forward." [Source: Richard Paddock, Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2005]

Hannah Beech wrote in Time, “Suu Kyi may cherish her interactions with ordinary Burmese, but there is a distant quality to her, a sense that she lives most comfortably in her head, not among the crowds. Part of her remove is born of circumstance. She speaks proudly of being her father's favorite child, yet he was assassinated by political rivals when she was just 2. For so much of her recent life, Suu Kyi has been sequestered from normal human contact; noble ideas and fine words have kept her company. While under house arrest, she obsessively read books ranging from biographies to spy thrillers. "People think that I had nothing to do [while in detention]," she says."But I spent five or six hours listening to the radio every day. If you're under house arrest and you miss one item, there's no one there to tell you about it, so I listened very carefully." Even her taste in classical music speaks to her sense of discipline and composure. Mozart, she says, makes her happy, which is all well and good. But she prefers Bach. "He makes me calm," she says. "I need calm in my life." [Source: Hannah Beech, Time, December 29, 2010]

Kenneth Denby wrote in The Australian: “It is said that Than Shwe, Burma’s “Senior General”, hates her—but I imagine that he feels as much terror as loathing. There is not an ounce of meanness in Ms. Suu Kyi, but she has the stern authority of a good headmisstress who eats silly little boys and almighty military dictators, for breakfast...Inane and unfocused questions are met with dry but withering put-downs...When one poor fool asked her what her ‘next step’ was she replied: ‘To get ths press conference over with.” [Source: Kenneth Denby, The Australian, November 20, 2010]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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