By Daniel Opacki
Several weeks have passed since I’ve read another duplicated criticism of Aung San Suu Kyi and her slipping/cracked/falling/lost/melting/peeling/oxidized/rusting/tarnished/shrinking/low-hanging halo.
The metaphor of her “lost halo” and coming soon no doubt, her quest to reclaim it, may one day be akin to searching out the Holy Grail. We may see a Buddhist version of the movie The DaVinci Code. In a movie Tom Hanks, or Jackie Chan, will run around jail breaking the mysteries and symbolism on the temples of Bagan in a movie called The Teashop Codes. It could end with The Lady’s halo found in the valley below Golden Rock at a geometrically perfect place on Google Maps inside of a grass basket filled with tomatoes. Who knew?
With nothing better to do, I googled “Aung San Suu Kyi + halo,” and got 65,800 hits. I also queried my unmonetized, unadvertised, quiet website, “Bamboodazed” and discovered a miserly, yet oddly generous, 1,350 hits. Combined, a search for, “Aung San Suu Kyi + Bamboodazed” sputtered an unsurprising pittance of 274 blags. What does it all mean?
All I know is that the journalist Bertil Litner, with his expert knowledge from years-long and deeply burrowed insight into Burma, didn’t start the trend of the Lady and her halo. Nevertheless, Litner’s 2016 article, One Year On In Myanmar, Is Suu Kyi’s Halo Slipping?, is one of a respectable few articles on Suu Kyi’s halo worth time to read.
As to Suu Kyi’s mystical headlining halo’s haranguing happenstance, as far as I can tell, it began with The Economist online in 2013 titled, Aung San Suu Kyi, the halo slips. Indeed.
These days everyone blame’s everything wrong with Myanmar on The Lady. Finally, I may join the bandwagon with a clenched-teeth mention of her indivisibly creaky and mythical appendage – the halo.
My belief though, for what it’s worth, is that Aung San Suu Kyi deserves more credit than unstoppable bandwagon blame and fierce criticism. The Lady was not a shooting star. She was under house arrest for years while millions of Myanmar’s people suffered under the military dictatorship. She could have easily cut and run to London faster than the British gave up Singapore during World War II. Instead, she’s earned her current position admirably and won the right to help pave the way for her nation’s future. I say let’s not wag her down so fast, and let’s dispense with the halo nonsense.
Public skepticism and doubt of politicians are necessary forms of dissent in a Democracy. Surely, Suu Kyi deserves no more or less than any other politician. It was her choice to join the racket. But the West benighted Suu Kyi with a halo long ago, and the international focus on Suu Kyi probably saved her life at one point. But watching the herd of formerly adoring Western supporters peck off her supposed halo is unpleasant.
Possibly, the take down of Suu Kyi’s halo has more to do with western supporters bothered that their expectations amounted to disappointment. But the constant criticism can only drive her to seek unity with some very crafty fellows.
As expected reforms occurred an opening to build a better future for Myanmar appeared. Today, cranes reach skyward everywhere in and around Yangon. Shopping malls and massive developments have emerged while traffic has increased beyond the capacity of existing infrastructure. It’s all a mess, but it’s a mess that most of Myanmar’s people have accepted with enthusiasm.
People are working while small business owners and entrepreneurship flourish. Private and non-profit education centers, schools, and training options for those unable or unwilling to attend state universities have increased. Every Myanmar person I’ve asked has said they like the changes, the chaos, the bustle, and even taxi drivers prefer traffic jams over no traffic at all.
Oddly, joining in the criticism of Suu Kyi recently was one of Myanmar’s billionaires, who I assume amassed his fortune during the golden days of the Dictatorship. He complained that the National League for Democracy and Aung San Suu Kyi was failing on the economy. Was Myanmar’s economy so good when the NLD won the government that they shot the golden duck? It was not long ago when electricity got doled out in two or three-hour stretches between midnight and four in the morning. Yeah, it must have been billionaire heaven.
The real issue Western media and civil society have with Suu Kyi’s halo is not about the economy. It’s that she will not amplify the troubles in Rakhine State. However, at times, not taking a stand publicly is an option if it will avert renewed and newer conflicts. Pragmatically, Suu Kyi knows unbalanced speech or generating a perception of bias, if only to appease westerners, will create further division in Myanmar society.
As was inevitable, Aung San Suu Kyi has disappointed so many now that she’s proven to be a staunch pragmatist focused on democratizing Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi has made that crystal clear to anyone listening to her and not listening only for what they wished to hear. She is working to solve problems and according to precedent she won’t be pushed by opinion or adverse international judgment.
During a June 2011 meeting there was a critical message Suu Kyi shared with her young admirers. The last thing she wanted was for protesters to get shot down in the streets. Suu Kyi said there has to be more than opposition. She predicted that a cooperative transition to move Burma forward would take many years but that it had to happen under the existing rule of law. Observing the Rule of Law, like it or not, was the most promising way forward no matter how unpopular a tactic it might be. That was a halo moment.
Suu Kyi told the young students that her actions would reflect what she believed would be best for changing Myanmar. She spoke about how waves of uncertainty and criticism would swarm over her with rising voices of impatience. She explained her insightful and provocative ideas that she’s had plenty of time to examine.
That day she spoke to the students not as a de-facto President, or a world leader accepting a Nobel Prize, but as a leader and a newly released political prisoner. Her predictions have come to pass the test of time. I believe she has not wavered a bit since then even though, understandably, many think she’s failed.
But what the halo! When I first met Suu Kyi, I watched her emerge from a cloud-like white chariot that resembled a 1980’s Toyota Camry with some rust spots. I was awestruck with the immaculate vision. Though, I failed to notice her halo. She was wearing a longyi, with bright yellow flowers in her hair, and as she walked, she did seem to hover as if in a mesmerizing Spike Lee Joint movie scene. She was smiling and happy. Fondly looking back on that day, I think maybe she kept her halo inside her purse while in the company of friends. If there was a halo, I missed its glow.
Another time at one of the private events where Aung San Suu Kyi finally appeared the crowd buzzed with excitement and the ex-political prisoners in the room, (just about everyone) wildly cheered. I’ll be damned if, during all the excitement, I missed observing her halo yet again.
I suppose, in the presence of deities, a heroic General’s daughter no less, one should always notice the accouterments of her assumed pretentious holiness. I just never saw the halo.
Finally though, while rummaging through Google hits on Suu Kyi’s halo, it became to me so glaringly obvious that I was missing the point. I have to admit, after all, due to a hive-like collection of hundreds of bright yellow Chinese made buses parked at the mall on Pyay Road in Yangon, where the scene of Shwe Dagon Pagoda once was. I can no longer see my favorite view of Shwe Dagon. I must attribute that fact to Aung San Suu Kyi’s slipping halo.
I happen to know that Yangon bus riders are not looking forward to sitting on comfortable bus seats in an orderly fashion without sweating and suffocating from lack of air conditioning. They don’t want to ride buses packed without tired and sweaty human bodies whose exposed wet armpits emit stink into the air as the arms attached to the pits dangle from broken plastic holsters on high. They don’t want to ride buses free from exhaust fumes, or humidity and rain. They obviously love their dampened warm bodies smashed together during monsoon season, and to get jostled about on the unsteady old buses as if they were a bag of prawns dumped into a hot wok. Nope, Yangon bus riders, I am sure, are not looking forward to riding on new buses, nor do they want any change in comfort levels with public transportation. Someone ought to take charge of those casino-chip buses and get them on the road or send them back to China.
These days when I see my taxi driver or my Myanmar friends inside my cab pray with cupped hands as we glide by Shwe Dagon, I wonder if they are praying as usual or are they, I wonder, adding an extra prayer for those buses to hit the road so that they can see Shwe Dagon.
Surely there are worse things I can use to shame and blame you, Aunty. After all, you are a politician, and politicians take heat for many reasons. But, if you do have a halo, you must also walk on water. And if you can walk on water, would you mind to please walk on over to Pyay Road during this very wet season and move those buses away from the single greatest sight in any city in all of South East Asia? You can wave your magic wand, or give a swoosh of your magical hand, stomp your left foot three times and open up the view for all to see.