Event Review: Aung San Suu Kyi in San Francisco

The Lady
Aung San Suu Kyi is a rock star.  And the Burmese community in San Francisco screamed like she was when she appeared on stage Saturday morning.  As for me, well, the only reason I'd ever get up at 5:15 on a weekend morning is the opportunity to see a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate in the flesh, because those just don't come around every day.

Aung San Suu Kyi gave her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech this summer, twenty-one years after she'd been awarded it.  Finally released from house arrest and able to travel outside of Burma, she also just accepted the Congressional Medal of Honor in Washington DC.  Forty years after her last visit she's returned to San Francisco with, as she notes, "flowers in her hair."  Home to the largest Burmese community in the United States, San Francisco is an obvious stop on her victory lap.

Aung San Suu Kyi
After years of house arrest in Burma, during which her husband died in London and she was separated from her sons for ten years, Aung San Suu Kyi is finally a part of Burma's democratic process.  Fiercely committed to Gandhian principles of non-violence, she resisted a brutal military regime in Burma that oppressed Buddhist monks and ordinary Burmese alike.  Her own father, a prominent figure in Burma's independence from Britain, was assassinated when she was two years old.  But after years of international pressure and sanctions, Burma is finally moving toward democracy and Aung San Suu Kyi is finally free.

So I was expecting someone austere, someone rather serious after all that she'd been through.  But instead I discovered Aung San Suu Kyi is funny and irreverent, keeping her audience in constant stitches.  Her Oxford-accented English is charming, but it's in Burmese that she's most animated.  She conducted the majority of the morning in Burmese, a gutsy choice after receiving the key to San Francisco from Mayor Ed Lee (in one of the most off-topic speeches I'd ever heard) and being lauded by Representative Nancy Pelosi.  But Aung San Suu Kyi is here to connect with and ask for support from a Burmese community that's been splintered from their homeland for decades.

Not So Sure About Bo
Aung San Suu Kyi is working to set expectations low, counseling those who want to invest in Burma to do so "very, very carefully through appropriate channels."  When we came out of the event we were met by protesters advocating the citizenship rights of ethnic minorities in Burma.  Although free speech is certainly legal in the US, it's her commitment to the democratic process that was reflected in protester's signs.  She's got a hard road ahead, but many never thought they'd see the day which she would be part of the Burmese government.  And it's an honor to get a chance to witness that history happen.  

Huge thanks to Cleo for getting me a ticket to see The Lady.  And props to Burma Superstar Restaurant for underwriting a serious portion of the event.