On a steamy evening at the beginning of the rainy season, a crowd of 10,000 packs the street outside the National League for Democracy headquarters in downtown Yangon. Volunteers pass out bottled water in the oppressive heat, while a Burmese vaudeville team performs folk dances on a red carpet. This headquarters, a crucible of opposition to Myanmar’s military junta until it was forced to shut down nearly a decade ago, is about to reopen in a lavish ceremony. At 6 p.m., a white sport utility vehicle pulls up, and Aung San Suu Kyi emerges to a jubilant roar. “Amay Suu”—Mother Suu—chant thousands in the throng. Radiant in an indigo dress, white roses in her hair, The Lady pushes through supporters and cuts a ribbon with a pair of golden scissors.
I’ve wangled an invitation to the VIP section, next to the building’s entrance. I’m soaked in sweat, overcome with thirst, and my lower back is throbbing from waiting on my feet for The Lady for nearly two hours. Suddenly, in the midst of the crush, she is standing before me, exuding not only rock-star magnetism, but also an indefinable serenity. Even in the press and tumult of the crowd, it’s as if the scene stands still. Standing ramrod straight, reaching out over admirers and bodyguards to clasp my hand, she speaks to me in a soft, clear voice. She wants, she says, to give thanks for support from the international community. She has a trip to Thailand planned in a few days -- her first out of the country since 198 -- and her schedule is even more jammed than usual. I ask her whether, as I’ve heard, she is meditating for an hour every morning, following the Buddhist practice that kept her calm during nearly two decades of house arrest. “Not mornings,” she corrects me. “But yes, I’m meditating every day.” Then her security team nudges her away and she mounts the steep staircase leading to the third-floor headquarters.