As the people of Burma rise up again, we have had a rare sighting of Aung San Suu Kyi. There she stood, at the back gate of her lakeside home in Rangoon, where she is under house arrest. She looked very thin. For years, people would brave the roadblocks just to pass by her house and be reassured by the sound of her playing the piano. She told me she would lie awake listening for voices outside and to the thumping of her heart. "I found it difficult to breathe lying on my back after I became ill, she said."
That was a decade ago. Stealing into her house, as I did then, required all the ingenuity of the Burmese underground. My film-making partner David Munro and I were greeted by her assistant, Win Htein, who had spent six years in prison, five of them in solitary confinement. Yet his face was open and his handshake warm. He led us into the house, a stately pile fallen on hard times. The garden with its ragged palms falls down to Inya Lake and to a trip wire, a reminder that this was the prison of a woman elected by a landslide in 1990, a democratic act extinguished by generals in ludicrous uniforms.
It's sort of hard to read or listen to an interview with Aung San Suu Kyi and not fall just a little bit in love. She has distinguished herself as one of the great heroic figures of our time, although she is quick to dismiss it:
"People I've spoken to regard you as something of a saint, a miracle worker."
"I'm not a saint and you'd better tell the world that!" "Where are your sinful qualities, then?"
"Er, I've got a short temper."
"What happened to your piano?"
"You mean when the string broke? In this climate pianos do deteriorate and some of the keys were getting stuck, so I broke a string because I was pumping the pedal too hard."
"You lost it ... you exploded?"
"It's a very moving scene. Here you are, all alone, and you get so angry you break the piano."
"I told you, I have a hot temper."
I tend to disagree with hero worship, since it discounts the daily struggles of the people. But a hero provides an entry point, an interviewable spokesperson, and 30-second sound bytes that drive today's media. Put simply, a hero gets on TV. And a hero can more easily be emulated. Aung San Suu Kyi may not be a saint, but she is indeed a hero, and so are the monks, the Karen, and other regular people in Burma. Their people power faces the immense military power of the junta; we in the West could certainly learn from them.
... no matter the regime's physical power, in the end they can't stop the people; they can't stop freedom. We shall have our time.
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