San San Tin: No Time for Dreams
A new job in Washington, D.C. leads to an old friend
In my life I never dreamed that one day I would be in Washington, D.C. saying “Good morning” to radio listeners, or that sitting next to me in the Radio Free Asia studio would be my old friend San San Tin.
- In Burma if you want to hear about issues the newspapers can’t talk about, you should go to a tea shop. Tea houses were where I used to meet with other activists, writers and artists, as well as where I built friendships. Within tea houses we talked about Burmese writers, literary trends we noticed, and, of course, politics. This online space attempts to emulate the conversations I enjoyed in Rangoon’s tea houses.
- Khet Mar is a journalist, novelist, short story writer, poet, and essayist from Burma. She is the author of one novel, Wild Snowy Night, as well as several collections of short stories, essays and poems. Her work has been translated into English and Japanese, been broadcast on radio, and made into a film. She is a former writer-in-residence at City of Asylum/Pittsburgh.
San San Tin and I became friends in the early 1990s when we spent many joyful hours together in Rangoon, sitting in tea houses or attending literature festivals and other events.
In Burma San San Tin studied at the Rangoon Arts and Science University, and received her B.S. in Mathematics before earning a RL (Registered at Law) degree from Burma’s Ministry of Education. She is also a writer, and has published poems, short stories, essays, and books, most notably A Greener World: Introduction to the Environment (in Burmese). Additionally, San San Tin served as the translator for UNICEF/Rangoon’s Where There Is No Doctor, and a collection of British short stories. Plus, from 1980 to 1991 she worked as a reporter and editor for the News and Periodicals Enterprise of the Ministry of Information.
In 1999 San San Tin went to the University of California, Berkeley as a journalist and an exchange visitor. At the time no one knew that the trip would take her away from her native country for more than a decade.
In 2009, San San Tin and her journalism professor Carolyn Wakeman published No Time for Dreams: Living in Burma Under Military Rule (Asia Voices).
No Time For Dreams tells the story of San San Tin’s remarkable personal and professional journey. In the book San San Tin recounts the legacy of her father, Ba Tin, who struggled against British colonialism beginning in the 1930s, while also telling her own story of growing from a student into a journalist with an unbroken belief in resistance.
Although San San Tin was dutiful in publishing this book, as it was something she had to do, her return home was indefinitely delayed because of it. With No Time for Dreams she didn’t chose the path that would take her back to Burma. Rather than return to a country controlled by generals who don’t forgive their critics, San San Tin chose another path: She decided to help the Burmese people as an international broadcaster at Radio Free Asia.
“I never thought, ‘I am going to broadcast on the radio.’ And broadcasting with Khet Mar from a studio in Washington, D.C. is something I didn’t think about, even in my dreams,” San San Tin said with laughter and surprise. But our laughter stopped when we asked each other, “When do you think we can go home?”
That question has always lead us to respond with uncertain answers.
At these times, our conversation changes subject and our attention returns to work. We do not speak about it, but I think about the day when we will return to Rangoon and sit in a tea house together. But at present, we are working on something that has meaning for our country, even though it might be difficult. This reunion is a silver lining to life in exile.
Translation: Courtney Wittekind