Friday, December 2, 2011

Rangoon, Dec 2

We're wrapping up the Burma trip. It's been amazing -- we spent the morning at Aung San Suu Kyi's house, where she was under house arrest for close to 20 years.

Its a slightly dilapidated villa on the shores of a large lake, the same one that the American nut swam across several years ago in an attempt to "save" Suu Kyi. There is now a chain link fence topped with barbed wire along the shore line, but the rest of the house looks pretty untouched although Suu Kyi's people said they had been trying to fix it up for Clinton's arrival. The new paintjob seemed to limited to the veranda where she and Clinton made their public remarks.

We arrived before Clinton, whose motorcade came in about 15 minutes after we got there. It was impossible to see Aung San Suu Kyi (well anything except the flower decorating her hair do) as she welcomed Clinton to the house, and then they both went inside.

It was sunny and extremely hot, so we wandered around looking for shade. Along the way I encountered Aung San Suu Kyi's dog (see picture above). The name is unpronounceable and, even tho it looked mighty cute, Suu Kyi's aides said it has a nasty temper.

After their talks the two women -- the most famous female political figures in the world? -- walked around Suu Kyi's garden and then came to the veranda to make their statements. In person you can really see why Suu Kyi is compared to Mandela...she is as beautiful as he is handsome, and just as patrician. She and Clinton held hands as they addressed the media, and both said exactly the right things about democracy, halting rights violations, and making sure that Burma's ethnic conflicts are brought to a close.

After they finished it was an absolute scramble to call in the quotes. We are wrestling with satellite phones here...regular cellphones don't work here ... so every call is a gamble to see if the phone will find the satellite and the call will go through. And you have to call over and over again because the line keeps dropping, so I was dictating essentially a sentence at a time to the Reuters office in Bangkok to get the key quotes in.

We did that in the herky-jerky minibus headed to the ambassador's residence. This is one of the best looking U.S. ambassadorial setups I've seen -- also on a lake, great gardens going down the water, a tennis court, and a lovely house with teak paneling, ceiling fans and simple furniture. Looks like a good place to live.

My friend Neil Hamilton made me smile today with a message saying that he'd heard the design esthetic here is "Myanamarist"...which I guess is true.

The scene here is the view from my hotel window this morning as dawn broke over Rangoon. We haven't been able to see much of the city at all, but at least it looks like a real city unlike the brutal made-to-order capital. In the evening, the Shwedagon Pagoda is lit up in the distance and bars and restaurants twinkle beside the lakes that dot the city. The people seem reserved but friendly, and there were lots of smiles. But I don't think most people really knew who Clinton is or what this visit is all about. The state media has not been playing it very strong (not as strong as their front page story about the visiting prime minister of Belarus!) so they must be mystified as this great screeching motorcade plows through the city.

We are waiting for another Clinton press conference, and then its back on the plane for the 22+ hour trip home. I'm going to try to write up a "reporter's notebook" on the trip to file from our stop in Yokohama.

UPDATE: here's a link to the reporter's notebook piece