This is the very last photo from our trip to Myanmar nine years ago. We were there on a weeklong assignment to research and photograph for a travel guide. Things had started looking promising for the country and Aung San Suu Kyi was sharing at least (theoretically) some of the power with the military junta. It felt okay to visit. We experienced a half dozen beautiful locations and always felt safe and secure. Well, at least when we weren’t flying on the domestic airline Air KBZ, which at the time was a bit sketchy.
I’m not sure if Charlotte or one of the Buddhist nuns took the above group photo. Nor do I know why one sock is so much higher than the other. What I distinctly recall is that everybody we met throughout the country was friendly and hospitable.
My first visit to Asia was in 1988 when I spent six months in the south of Thailand. Since then I’ve always benchmarked other nations from those experiences. Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos have a lot in common with Thailand, especially culturally and I’ve never been chagrined during any of my visits to those countries either. I really liked Vietnam, but it’s so totally different than the rest of former Indochina.
Some would argue that several of the nations in South East Asia, as well as China, could use a nice big injection of democracy. That it’s time to retire autocracy and totalitarianism. Political oppression and military rule are not fitting for a people who in general are among the kindest and friendliest I’ve had the pleasure of encountering.
So I certainly don’t condone nor justify the Myanmarese regime’s recent power grab and declaration of a state of emergency. But it’s also hard to see beyond how Aung San Suu Kyi’s pseudo-democratic government neglects the persecution of the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority.
Whenever I read about Aung San Suu Kyi, I remind myself that she comes from a family of extreme privilege and is one of a number of people in the region who are the sons or daughters or widows of leaders and at least to a degree, ride on the shiny coattails of their fathers or spouses. I’m definitely not saying that Aung San Suu Kyi still couldn’t be a really great leader and lift her country and compatriots to new heights and help Myanmar evolve into a democracy.. But her track record thus far has been lackluster and disappointing. So, perhaps it’s also time for Aung San Suu Kyi to retire her dynastic ambitions.