In search of a lady in Rangoon

January 2, 2013

Last Friday, my daughter Lily and I flew to Rangoon. We were met by our bowing, smiling driver: “My name is Bon; James Bon!” he said, laughing uproariously.

I opened my itinerary. “Tourists may be followed by plain-clothes officers for the first few days.”

“Bon, this is your territory, go fast… slow down!”

“Dad! What are you doing? I’m about to be sick.”

It’s OK, darling,” I said. “I think we lost them.”

In the city centre, I realised something was wrong. It was too quiet. “Something” was missing. It hit me. Where were all the millions of people on scooters and motorbikes you see zooming around every city in south-east Asia, with whole families on the back?

“The General banned them,” said our happy guide Aung. “What! How can he ban all the scooters and motorbikes? Did his family get mown down by a gunman on a scooter in an assassination attempt?”

“No, just a small accident in his car one day with a motorbike rider. He got a little angry,” Aung said.

“I’d hate to see what happens when he really loses his temper. There must have been millions of scooters! How do they all get around now? By bicycle?”

“Oh no, he banned all the bicycles, too.” Aung said.

“This is bad… I’ve been dreaming of riding round Rangoon on a scooter for months. I’m going to go and see the Lady. I’m sure she can help. Aung, where does Aung San Suu Kyi live?”

“You know the Lady? Ang said, with eyes widened.

” I know a lot of people, Aung,” I said.

“I don’t know if The Lady is home. Maybe she’s at the new capital.”

“Three years ago,” I explained to Lily, “The government announced they had a little surprise; in secrecy they’d built a new capital. All 250,000 government workers had to live in the middle of nowhere.”

“You mean like when the BBC moved everyone to Manchester last year?” she asked. “Exactly,” I said.

Tomorrow we can go and see her,” Ang said, smiling. “I will call her office.”

“Tell her I’m a good friend of the granddaughter of a friend of her father’s .”

“Dad! You don’t know Aung Sun Suu Kyi!” Lily said.

“Who do you think that woman was I was talking to on the plane?”

“That little old fat woman? She definitely wasn’t Aung Sun Suu Kyi!”

“No, she was a retired gynaecologist, but her grandfather and Suu Kyi’s father were old friends.”

” Dad! She’s only the most famous woman in the world. You can’t just drop by her house!”

“She probably loves to have visitors; she met that guy three weeks ago, from America; she didn’t know him before either.”

“Dad, that ‘guy’ was President Obama.”

The next day Aung told me that The Lady was out of the city. But I did get to see her when we visited Rangoon synagogue; or at least a large photo – in the entrance. She was standing proudly next to what looked very much like a barmitzvah boy.

So, maybe she’s Jewish…