During my time in Myanmar, my fixer was able to secure an interview with the famous dissident U Win Tin, one of the three founders of the National League for Democracy. I waited for what seemed like an hour to see him at the house of a supporter, sharing the waiting room with Burmese émigrés who had returned in the wake of the country’s opening and had come to pay their respects.
I spoke with U Win Tin in a small gardener’s house in the side yard. His English was shockingly good for an octogenarian, even if he spoke in a very slow measured pace. He spoke on the history and future of the NLD as well as his role as a political prisoner. He is, after all, perhaps most famous for wearing prison-style garb even after being released from his roughly 20 years imprisonment. He intended to send the message that without democracy, all of Myanmar remained a prison.
And then, the interview sat. I returned from Myanmar and wrote a piece on the launch of daily newspapers and another on the Kachin ethnic conflict in the north of the country — both stories seemed more pressing. I intended to write a third on the future of the NLD. But my job as editor of China Economic Review was just beginning and time was too short. So it never happened and an interview with one of the country’s great dissidents gathered dust.
Then, one day this spring, I had called in sick to school but was really just tired. I slept until noonish and went to get some noodles. I popped open my BBC app and saw there in the top stories that U Win Tin had died. I emailed that editor at Foreign Policy I had gotten in touch with and never got around to pitching: Yes, they were interested in the interview.
Little did I know that between U Win Tin’s accent and the background noise of the street from the side yard, the interview was very hard to understand. I spent six hours trying to transcribe it as accurately as possible and another two editing it and writing an introduction. I tend to stick pretty closely to my interviewees words, editing sparingly for clarity, but the FP editors pretty heavily polished his words. I figure that’s their prerogative, so long as his original meaning is retained. I believe this piece succeeds in doing that and hope it serves as a tribute to his work toward democracy in Myanmar.
You can find the story on FP’s website, where it got a respectable 47 shares, here: