Category Archives: Japan

Heavens! It’s the 86-year-old stripping granny in her blue chemise in Japan!

American comedian and burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller, based in London, has been on her travels again…

Here she tells all…


I finally got to Japan after two days worth of flights.

It was HOT: about 30 C and humid.

“This was a girly-girly revue with a difference”

My first gig was burlesque in an after-hours club. This was a girly-girly revue with a difference; there were four acts altogether and the finale was a trio of contortionist dancers that were absolutely amazing, synchronized and graceful. After each performance, the performer greeted each member of the tiny audience personally (I would guess there were 15 people there, mostly men) and each person tucked money in their clothing. Since the women were not wearing much, it was easy to tuck in a 10,000 bill and get a little extra.

The audience tucked nine of those bills in my little chemise and told me I was amazing. I said no, I was not – I was just old.

A city filled with flashing lights…

On the way home, I was struck with how bright the streets are in Tokyo no matter how late the hour. The city is filled with flashing lights and tall buildings that create the same aura as Times Square in New York without the noise, the honking horns, the crowded streets or the smoke. No-one is allowed to smoke on the street in Japan.

The Japanese are very security-conscious and I needed a code to get into the building itself and another to get into the room. When you are my age with no memory whatsoever there is a real danger of spending the night on the streets. The consolation is that the streets are very safe.

The next night was the reason I took the trip to Japan: Alex Camp had booked me to headline at his venue The Good Heavens Comedy Club. The event is held in an English Bar and the menu is very British featuring fish and chips, pork pies and a lovely chicken curry. The audience is just about all English-speaking.

The first half of the show was a standard comedy line-up with four comedians doing five to ten minute sets. There was an interval and then I took the stage to do my hour-long comedy show, I Never Said I Was Nice. I got a standing ovation (actually, it was one person… but still) and, to my surprise, the following was posted on Facebook the next day:


“What happened today on the stage of Good Heavens…?”

What happened today on the stage of Good Heavens? The world’s oldest comedian, 86 years old Jewish lady, flew over to Tokyo, wore her blue chiffon dress, silver bracelet, stepped on the stage, held that microphone and broke our chests – first with that laughter we couldn’t resist and then with those tears we had to breathe really deep to hold down.

Her story took one hour to tell and the whole life to build.

We sat there, sat still, all equally amazed – learning each his own lesson, smiling each at his own angle.

But then she sang. A 86 years old Jewish lady, in her blue chiffon dress and silver bracelet who crossed the ocean to tell us her story, was choking with happiness on that stage singing to us and to the Universe.

“I don’t know if I make it to the end of the year,” she sang… “I don’t know if I make to the end of the show,” she ended. “But all I need is time. Please give me time, as I’ve got plans.”

What I was lucky to witness today is a great storytelling talent. Great comedy talent. But, most importantly, a talent of praising the gift of life.

When I grow up, I want to be like her.

ELENA DAVYDOVA FROM THE UKRAINE


I almost literally floated home to my hotel I was so happy.

“In 1945 over 42% of it was reduced to rubble”

The next day, Alex Camp and I were both in a show in Yokohama. It was run by a young Southern American named Taylor at a place called Antenna America.

The audience was mostly American, many from the military bases there. The show felt more like the ones I did in San Francisco, probably because almost all of the comics had American accents. After the show, we walked the streets of Yokohama to find a restaurant and I was struck with how modern Yokohama was.

Alex explained that was because it had to be totally rebuilt after World War II.

In 1945, over 42% of it was reduced to rubble in a little over an hour after one disastrous bombing. Now it is clean and modern with wide streets and pedestrian walkways.

“My standard Stripping Granny routine – everyone went wild”

On the Friday, Taylor Wanstall created a show just for me, called the Tokyo Closet Ball. This was burlesque variety and it reminded me very much of the old fashioned British Music Hall shows. Casual, outlandish and camp, it was another highlight of this trip. I finished the show with my standard Stripping Granny routine and everyone went wild.  Taylor bought drinks for the cast afterwards and promised to have me back in April.

The next morning, Alex took me to the train station to go to Fukuoka for my final show. This was to be my big finale since Fukuoka Comedy is very well known and features major English speaking comedians. The train was immaculate and very spacious. Everyone is very quiet on the trains in Japan: no music; no conversation. Fukuoka was also torn apart during World War II and had been rebuilt extensively. It is a beautiful, clean port city and, in 2006, it was voted one of Newsweek’s 10 most dynamic cities.

Sadly for me and happily for the country, Japan had won the rugby games the night before. So my audience was six people, two of whom were the comedians in the show.

I did the same performance I did for Alex at the Good Heavens Comedy Club and, small though the audience was, it was very appreciative. After the show, we all went out for dinner at a place that served every part of the chicken on skewers. Yes, even the part that goes over the fence last (my favorite part…which says something very negative about my personality). It was a delicious meal and a memorable evening.

Whenever I do these long jaunts across a couple of oceans and several time zones I am so jet lagged when I get back to London that it takes me days to figure out where I am and what time to eat dinner. This time, however, I did not have the luxury of lolling around trying to figure out when it was night and when it was day.

I had a rehearsal for two shows coming up and a dinner date.

Thank goodness for Melatonin.

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Filed under Burlesque, Comedy, Japan, Travel

Japanese Rakugo storytelling from a Canadian in London and New York

When I met Canadian performer Katsura Sunshine at Camden Lock in London, he was wearing a denim kimono and a bowler hat.

“What was your original name?” I asked.

“Gregory Conrad Robic,” he told me. “I’m a Slovenian citizen, born in Toronto.”

“So why are you doing Japanese stuff?” I asked

I met Katsura Sunshine in Camden Lock, London

“In my youth,” he told me, “I was writing musicals based on Aristophanes. One musical version of The Clouds ran for 15 months in Toronto. As I was researching, I read that ancient Greek theatre and Japanese Noh and Kabuki had all these similarities yet there was no chance of cross-pollination. They were coincidental similarities. I thought that was really interesting, so I went to Japan to see Kabuki. I intended to stay for 6 months, but 18 years went by and now I live in Tokyo and London.”

“Half and half?” I asked. “You are based in Tokyo and Camden Town?”

“Yes, for the last few years. I am going to perform at the Soho Playhouse in New York in November and then I might move to New York. Nothing is planned. I might not.”

“So,” I asked, “how are ancient Greek theatre and Japanese theatre similar?”

“Use of masks,” said Sunshine. “And the same actors playing different roles. And the musical instruments are very similar.”

“And, from Noh and Kabuki,” I said, “you got interested in other styles?”

“Yes. I loved being there so, after five years, when I could actually speak some Japanese, someone introduced me to Rakugo performance, which is quite inaccessible to a non-Japanese speaker; it’s not commonly done in English. Kabuki is very visual, but Rakugo is basically kneeling on a cushion and moving your head left and right to delineate different characters.”

The Kamigata Rakugo Association Hall in Osaka, Japan

Sunshine is currently the only professional non-Japanese storyteller officially recognized by the Kamigata Rakugo Association.

“It’s traditional Japanese storytelling,” I said.

“Yes.”

“So what attracts you to Rakugo?”

“The simplicity of it. All you need is a kimono, a fan and a hand towel to create a storytelling world for people. The first half is a lot like stand-up comedy, where you are just doing anecdotes and trying to feel out the audience and, while you are doing that, you are trying to figure out which story to tell… When you decide which story would suit this audience, you take off your upper kimono and launch into the story.

“The stories have been passed down for 200, 300, 400 years from master to apprentice, from master to apprentice. There is a shared pool of stories. My own master (Katsura Bunshi VI) has made up around 250 different stories.”

“The style of the stories,” I said, “is traditional but the details in them could still involve something like travelling on a metro or in an aeroplane?”

“Yeah. Stories about city life, the neighbourhood, human relations. The style of the story transcends the centuries.”

“It’s either funny or it’s wordplay or it’s clever…”

“So when you tell a story,” I asked, “are you improvising details within a template story?”

“No. You improvise in terms of the choice of material but the actual material is set. You limit yourself to two characters in conversation or, at most, three and every story ends in a punchline, as if it were one long, extended joke.”

“A funny punchline?” I asked.

“It’s either funny or it’s wordplay or it’s clever, but it’s something that ties the whole story together in a satisfying ending.”

“You said ‘wordplay’ OR ‘funny’,” I pointed out. “As if Japanese wordplay is not necessarily comedic.”

“There are so many levels,” Sunshine explained. “Japanese has a limited number of sounds so there are many levels to wordplay. Some are funny; some are beautiful. It’s not always making someone laugh with wordplay.”

“So sometimes the audience just appreciates the cleverness?”

“Yes.”

“There are basically three types of venue,” I said. “Comedy, theatre and music venues. Which is Rakugo most suited to?”

“That’s an interesting question,” said Sunshine. “It is a theatrical form that happens to be comical.

Sunshine at the Leicester Square Theatre, March 2017

“The first year I went to the Edinburgh Fringe, I listed myself in the Comedy section, but I think a lot of the audience were expecting guffaws from the very beginning. It is storytelling, but not laugh-a-minute and there is a through-line and I don’t think it suited that audience. The next year, I put myself in Theatre and I think it suited the audience much better.”

“How many years have you played the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

“This would have been the fourth year, if I had made it. I had to cancel my whole run because, once you get out of hospital, they instruct you not to fly for a certain amount of time.”

“And you were in hospital,” I prompted, “because you had…?”

“Deep vein thrombosis and Economy Class syndrome – pulmonary embolism. I had one long flight back from New York which… I think that’s where I contracted it.”

“But you are OK now?”

“Mmmmm….”

Earlier this year, in March, Sunshine played one night at the Leicester Square Theatre in London, packed to its 400-seat capacity.

“You are,” I prompted, “doing ten more shows at the Leicester Square Theatre starting this Sunday and running until October 15th.”

“Yes.”

“In English.”

“Yes. Rakugo is surprisingly translatable. I don’t really adapt the stories. They are directly translated into English. The points where people laugh in Japanese are generally the same points where people laugh in English. The humour of the traditional Rakugo stories is very situation-based and character-based – miscommunication; husband and wife fighting; a thief who never manages to steal anything. It doesn’t depend on the intricacies of language as much as situations which anybody in any culture can understand.”

“Comedy audiences in this country,” I said, “are maybe in the 20-35 age range. Below that, they can’t afford to go out a lot. Over that, they may be stuck at home with children. So the material is aimed at younger adult audiences.”

“Rakugo is very ‘clean’,” said Sunshine. “Very family-oriented, so the whole family come; they bring the children.”

The chance of Rakugo dying out is about this…

“Is Rakugo dying out in Japan,” I asked, “with each new generation?”

“No. There are 800 professional storytellers in Japan and they all make a living from it. There’s a huge number of shows going on every day all over Japan, particularly in Tokyo and Osaka, but we travel all over the country all the time.”

“Is there storytelling on Japanese TV?”

“Not too much. Storytellers get on TV in the variety shows.”

“So it is not dying out?”

“No. No chance, though it goes in waves. Maybe every 3 or 4 years, there are TV series looking at Rakugo and that gets people interested again. In terms of the number of storytellers, it’s at its peak right now.”

“Men AND women perform?” I asked.

“It’s traditionally quite a male world, but now more and more women are joining the ranks. Out of the 800 storytellers, there are maybe 40 or 50 women. About 30 years ago there were almost none. In the Osaka Tradition of storytelling, the most senior Master is a woman and she is I think under 60 years old.”

“When you do your shows in Japan,” I asked, “do you see the audience?”

“Yes. One big difference to Western theatre is that, in Japan, we keep the house lights on. You want to see everybody in the audience. The visual communication is very important.”

Sunshine posters in London’s tube

“The lights will be up at the Leicester Square Theatre?”

“Yes.”

“You have,” I said, “posters promoting the show on escalators in Leicester Square tube station.”

“And in Piccadilly Circus station,” said Sunshine. “My dream was always to perform in the West End with posters on the escalators and my face on a London taxi.”

“You have ads on taxis?” I asked.

“Well,” said Sunshine, “to really advertise effectively on a taxi, you need about 200 of them.

“We just got one taxi painted. It is about £250 to have it painted and then something like £200 per month for one taxi plus £75 for one hour with a driver.

Man! You’ve made it! Sunshine is a big success in London!”

“So we paid a driver for two hours and just took pictures all round London. So, in terms of social media, the cost to have a Sunshine taxi all over the internet was maybe £600.

“When I put the pictures up in Japan maybe six months ago – six months before these shows in Leicester Square – people were like: Man! You’ve made it! Sunshine is a big success in London!

“And,” I said, “the name Leicester Square Theatre will impress the Americans.”

“Yes.”

“You are a very clever man,” I said. “And it is a very nice denim kimono.”

“I designed it myself,” Sunshine told me. “The sleeves are removable so I can change them. I will wear a more traditional kimono on stage.”

I did not ask him about the bowler hat.

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Filed under Canada, Comedy, Japan, Performance

The sperm whale which exploded today

Beware of exploding 50-ton sperm whales

In enclosed spaces, beware of exploding 50-ton sperm whales

Look, because of the flu, I am all over the place. Normal service will be resumed soon-ish.

In the meantime, this is the 11th anniversary of the day a whale exploded in the middle of the town of Tainan in Taiwan.

For some reason, I identity with this biological incident, though I’m not quite sure if it is the whale or the town I identify with.

The sperm whale, weighing over 50 tons, died on the beach and it took three large cranes and 50 workers more than 13 hours to shift it onto the back of a truck.

According to the local Taiwan News, while the whale was being moved, “a large crowd of more than 600 local Yunlin residents and curiosity seekers, along with vendors selling snack food and hot drinks, braved the cold temperature and chilly wind to watch workmen try to haul away the dead marine leviathan”.

When it exploded, the whale was on the back of the truck, near the centre of the town, splattering blood and whale entrails over surrounding shop fronts, bystanders and cars.

There is a rather strange video on YouTube about the explosion.

I think I identify with the whale, though having had flu is obviously somewhat different, even with the addition of a late laxative for constipation.

Apparently the explosion of dead sperm whales is not unusual. It is the buildup of gas inside the decomposing body which causes them to explode.

That much I understand.

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Filed under Animals, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour, Japan

Exclusive! – Mr Methane reports from World Fart Championships in Finland

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Mr Methane (left) and Championships presenter Phartman

Mr Methane (left) & Championships’ presenter Phartman

This morning, dramatic news from Finland via my professional farting chum Mr Methane.

Yesterday, at the first ever World Fart Championships in Utajärvi, Finland. the single and team events were won by two Russian friends, Vlad & Alex who had flown to Helsinki from Moscow and then made a five hour train journey to Utajärvi.

They had heard of the farting festival earlier this year on Mr Methane’s website and Vlad said to Alex: “There is a farting contest this summer in Finland. Shall we go ?”

Alex replied: “Yes we should.”

Vlad said: “There is more. Mr Methane is performing there.”

Alex is said to have replied: “Wow! I have already packed.”

Not unreasonably, they decided that the double whammy lure of a farting competition AND possibly meeting Mr Methane, their hero, was too good to miss.

“So,” Mr Methane told me this morning from Finland, “they came and won both prizes for Russia yesterday, establishing a new festival volume record in the bargain.”

Japanese fart battles of the 17th century

Documented air battles raged in Japan between 1603-1868

Admittedly, this was not difficult, as it was the first World Fart Championships, although the tradition of farting competitions goes back at least to 17th century Japan where, between 1603-1868 there were “He-gassens” – fart battles.

In the 199os, a collection of scrolls showing some of these bitterly-fought air battles was sold at Christie’s in London for $1,200.

At yesterday’s World Fart Championships in Finland, Mr Methane was not competing. He had been invited by the organisers as a farting icon and the inspiration to a generation of Finnish flatulists.

Before the event, presented by local entertainer Phartman, both Mr Methane and I had been a bit vague about how the organisers were going to make farting into a competition and how they were going to decide winners. All was revealed yesterday.

Winning Russian duo in the team event

Winning Russians Vlad (left) & Alex in the team event

“Contestants had to drop their trousers,” Mr Methane reported, “but they kept underpants on. There was a large egg timer and they had 30 seconds in which to fart. There was a decibel meter and a microphone in a pipe below the seat on which they sat. For team events, there was a double seat.

“Contestants had two attempts – not one after other – they went to the back of the queue. It was all about the volume.”

“How loud were the Russian winners?” I asked.

Mr Methane performed with backing from the local Utajärvi brass band

Mr Methane performed The Blue Danube to hushed crowds in Finland yesterday with backing from the Utajärvi brass band

“Sorry,” Mr Methane told me, “I can’t remember the exact decibel meter reading, but it was just under 90.”

“And the audience?” I asked.

“They were polite, enthusiastic and appreciative of my show which was the matinée intro to the Fart Championships themselves. I also closed the Championships with a long fart at the end.”

The Russians’ secret weapon

Russians’ secret weapon

“Did the Russians have any particular technique?” I asked.

“They told me they thought a particular Russian drink had helped them win the contest,” said Mr Methane. “It is non alcoholic but fizzy.”

It is called квас оцаковскии – kvass otsakovskii. Kvass is a fermented drink made from rye bread and is marketed in Russia as a patriotic alternative to cola.

Coca-Cola launched its own brand of kvass in Russia in 2008 and Pepsi has signed an agreement with a Russian kvass manufacturer to act as a distribution agent. So the kvass wars cannot be far off.

You read it first here.

Mr Methane tells me: “It tastes like fizzy Marmite. Vlad and Alex presented me with a bottle as a gift and then sang a couple of verses of my song Cut The Cheese (available to view on YouTube)”

“Did they get a prize?” I asked him.

The Russian winners and their prize

The Russian winners with part of their prize

“Yes,” said Mr Methane. “52 cans of nuclear pea soup, the fuel that Phartman uses. Their two straight event wins mean that they went back to Russia with 104 tins which could be a problem at the airport baggage drop. But the organisers put their prize in a wheelbarrow and gave them a lift to the station for the 11.00pm overnight train back to the south.

“The weather had looked a bit dodgy before the Championships – overcast and showers – but it brightened up once the farting started and the sun eventually shone.

“I stayed overnight in a disused mental asylum in middle of a forest with Phartman who turns out to be a psychiatric nurse. It is very Soviet Union. The mosquitoes in the woods around the mental hospital have bitten me nearly to death. I am now off to catch a plane. There are strong winds here at the moment.”

Mr Methane will be talking about his life farting around the world in his own full-length show at the Edinburgh Fringe in August and, unless discovered by Hollywood, will be performing at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on 23rd August.

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Finland, Japan, Russia, Travel

Mr Methane meets The Burper King on Japanese TV again & plays toilet videos

The Burper King and Mr Methane preparing at Westminster

Last October, I blogged about the occasion when my chum Mr Methane, the world’s only professional farter, met Guinness world record holder Paul Hunn, ‘The Burper King’.

They were appearing on a Japanese TV show called Sekai no Hate Made Itteq! (Let’s Go to the Ends of the World!) hosted by Japanese comedian Ayako Imoto.

The Japanese were back again for more last month and, at the weekend, they transmitted their piece on Japanese TV (there was an embargo on what was in it until today). Last week, Mr Methane and Paul Hunn told me what happened during the filming. They met at about 10.30 one sunny morning near Westminster Bridge in London…

“Basically,” Paul told me, “we had the chance to ad lib a few. There were lots of people around so there were various looks of disgust and horror apart from the Japanese tourists, who instantly recognised Imoto and seemed very impressed.”

Filming for Japanese TV in a gondola on the London Eye

“Then, obviously,” said Mr Methane, “we did lots of farting and carrying on up in a gondola of the London Eye and then we did a scene where we’re farting and belching in the car going between the different attractions.

“We tried to get into the British Museum but were not allowed. You have to have a Media Pass and they couldn’t get it until the next day – they only allow so many in on each day… At least, that’s what we were told. Maybe they just didn’t like the idea of a man dressed in green farting and a guy belching.

“Then we went to a pub near the Oval and, because Paul’s a world record holder for belching, Imoto looked through a book and found a world record we could all do, which was sorting socks. The record was 17 pairs of socks in a minute into a box and, if we didn’t beat it, we had to eat a raw chilli.”

Paul explained: “I think the record used to be held by a Japanese guy, but he was beaten a while ago. You get 30 pairs of socks, separated and jumbled-up and you have to sort as many as you can into pairs inside a minute.”

Mr Methane went first.

“I only managed 8 pairs,” he told me, “so I had to eat this raw chilli. They were very delighted when I was giving it plenty of like… y’know…  Whooaaa! I’m burning up! and so on… and drinking milk.”

“I managed to sort 9 pairs,” said Paul. “So then I had to eat the chilli. I bit round the edge to avoid the seeds, but I made the fatal error of touching my eyes. As you know, after you eat chillies, you don’t touch your eyes or ‘touch downstairs’. I couldn’t see for about 15 minutes afterwards and I instantly had hiccups as well. I can only think that’s what CS gas feels like – but without the hiccups.”

“How did the Japanese react?” I asked.

“Oh! They loved seeing me in agony!” he said.

After that, our dynamic audio duo went to The Exhibit pub in Balham which has a video game in the urinals.

“There are only two or three of these in this country,” says Paul. “and ten in the world. The guy who runs the pub is the guy who invented it. He was on Dragon’s Den and didn’t get very far with it, but he says the idea has really taken off since the programme.”

“They probably thought he was taking the piss,” I suggested.

Paul did not react.

“There’s a screen above the urinal,” explained Paul, “and a sensor underneath and you pee to operate the game. There are three or four different urinals. There was talk of us using water bottles and pretending to pee, if we couldn’t rise to the occasion with all the film crew around us. But we managed.

“One of the games was a quiz which involved a Yes/No answer, so you aimed either right or left to give your answer.

“Another involved painting a picture. There was a picture and you just aimed your pee all over the place to colour it in…”

“Like water colours?” I asked.

Paul continued doggedly:

“There was another game where penguins came down a ski slope and you had to keep trying to hit them.”

“This is all free?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “Obviously, it was quite crowded with all the Japanese film crew in there with the two of us and she’s standing there shouting at us and commentating over the top of it.”

“And these games are in the pub the whole time?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” said Paul.

“So it’s all up and running.” I said.

Paul did not react.

He and Mr Methane are true professionals. Here they are on the previous episode of Sekai no Hate Made Itteq!

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Beijing – Waltzing in the headlights of a fast-coming future in the new Tokyo

The future is bright and dazzling in Beijing - the new Tokyo.

I am sitting in my hotel room on the 13th (top) floor of a 4-star hotel in Beijing.

I was in Beijing in 1984, 1985 and 1986.

My memory of Beijing in 1984 is of almost everyone wearing green or blue Mao suits – a uniformity of dull colours. The next year, some lighter pastel colours were creeping in and I stumbled on a fashion shoot by the lake in Beihai Park where the glamorous model was wearing a mini skirt.

Back then, I remember a rather dusty, occasionally misty city with Dickensian factory chimneys, streets swamped with tsunamis of bicycles and building sites each with hundreds of workers instead of machines. This was not – and is not – a country with a labour shortage.

Today, on the 45-60 minute drive to the city centre from the giant fuck-off-and-die airport (built for the 2008 Olympics), we passed through a new city with giant, often very well-designed buildings and loads of cars on busy four and five lane carriageways.

Then we hit Tiananmen Square with its new monument to distract and disguise where the demonstrators were in 1989. It now also has an apparently permanent visible police presence plus parked police cars and vans.

Once past Tiananmen Square, we hit the more crowded, narrow streets with jumbled shops and narrow, greyish, busy alleyways I remembered.

The TV in my hotel seems to cater mostly for Chinese, not English-speaking, businessmen – a not insignificant point. And the BBC World news channel is reporting that Sony has announced a whacking $6 billion loss.

The Japanese are on their way out.

The Chinese are on their way up.

More surprisingly, the BBC still has a TV reporter inside North Korea. Why has this man not been thrown out of the country? He is still telling and showing the truth about what life is like there. He was invited in to show the glorious start to the celebrations of the 100th birthday of the Great Leader Kim Il-sung – and to report on the ‘fact’ that the North Koreans’ upcoming rocket launch is to put a satellite into space, not to test an ICBM capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Fat chance. He is making it clear North Korea is a fantasy land of literally incredible facades.

The North Koreans have said their rocket will be launched “by 16th April”. As the late Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday is on the 15th April, guessing which day it will actually be launched does not seem like, err, rocket science.

Back on the TV in Beijing, BBC World is reporting that someone called (as far as I can figure phonetically) Nee-lu-yang, disabled and on crutches after being beaten up by the police, has been sentenced to three years imprisonment – and her husband to two years – for “provoking trouble” by campaigning against the eviction of people from their homes to make way for new building developments by the Chinese authorities.

In China, rapid modernisation comes at a price which would be unacceptably high in the UK.

I took a walk out tonight and, over the course of an hour, I passed nine people walking their pet dogs. In the mid 1980s, a friend of mine went into Canton free market a meat-eater and came out a vegetarian: “It was the live dogs and cats and owls that did it,” she told me. “All in small cages, ready for eating. It was the owls that really got to me, with their big eyes staring out at me.”

Now dogs are kept by some as pets. The sign of an increasingly moneyed society and probably the sign of an increasingly something else society which I can’t put my finger on.

People were still doing that deep, throaty Chinese spitting in the street back in 1984.

Things have advanced at an amazing rate.

And yet… And yet…

There is still that protester disabled and on crutches after being beaten up by the police, sentenced to three years imprisonment for “provoking trouble”.

Some might argue that 2012 in China is more like Nineteen Eighty-Four than it was in 1984. But with a glittering veneer.

On my walk tonight, in a darkened open space about 20 feet from one of Beijing’s busy ring roads, I heard the faint sound of traditional Chinese music and saw about thirty people of various ages dancing in slow motion. Some were waltzing; some appeared to be practising slow-motion line-dancing.

Perhaps this is a new 2012 version of tai-chi.

In 1968, Country Joe and The Fish recorded a song called Waltzing in the Moonlight. In Beijing, they are waltzing in the headlights of a fast-coming future.

China is the new Japan… with Japan, like Atlantis, cut down to size by the Gods with a national catastrophe.

It only took water to overwhelm Atlantis.

Japan, a more advanced civilisation, had visited on it by the Gods the triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. Japan has stumbled if not yet been humbled..

The road signs in Beijing – and many local shop signs – are in both Chinese and English. The government is preparing for and has already entered an international future.

And yet… And yet…

The girl in this 4-star hotel’s Business Centre not only does not speak English, she does not know how to print off text from the computer she supervises onto the printer sitting beside it.

And the BBC World channel reports that the wife of prominent Chinese politician Bo Xilai has been arrested on suspicion of killing a British businessman last year. No motive is given; the businessman seems to have been a friend of the anti-corruption Mr Bo and his wife; and the Chinese leadership is changing this year.

Now, presumably, Mr Bo has been knocked out of the running.

Don’t mess with the Chinese.

*****

Here is the sound of Country Joe and The Fish Waltzing in the Moonlight

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Filed under China, Japan, North Korea, Politics