Tag Archives: China

Lynn Ruth Miller meets her idealistic, optimistic, innocent 21 yo self in Beijing

In her last missive from China, comedienne Lynn Ruth Miller was in Shanghai. Then she progressed to Beijing…


There are definite pluses to being small and old in China. I have survived because of the kindness of strangers just like Blanche did in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but I did not have to sell what she did. Actually, mine is not worth selling these days, not even on eBay. Don’t tell ME it is never too late.

It is too late.

You would be amazed how confusing things are when you cannot ask directions or read the signs.

The road from Beijing airport into the city was lined with trees and it felt almost as if we were going through a forest to get to my hotel. The driver walked me into the lobby and left me there. No-one spoke English and I was thinking I might just have to unpack there and set up shop when, to my utter delight, a little angel appeared in a fuchsia hat that proclaimed: “Here to BREAK your heart”.  

A carbon copy of idealistic 21 y.o. Lynn Ruth

But she didn’t. Instead, she helped me find my room and figured out the lights and the internet. Her name was Diane and she was a carbon copy of the idealistic, optimistic innocent I was at 21, eager to learn more, do more and see more but afraid of all the unknowns in the universe. I discovered she also had challenges with relationships and food.

I had thought the only nervous, insecure wrecks were Jewish girls like me from Toledo, Ohio.

That evening, I sat and talked to this lovely human being who cares so much about life and thinks she can do so little. We talked about writing and the arts. We talked about philosophy and we talked about the ways society tries to limit us.

Then we walked to see my venue, The Bookworm.

I was struck with the way the main street looked like any street in Central London, filled with recognizable shops. I was told this was a very up market part of town and, indeed, it felt very Fifth Avenue but with a difference. Motor bikes go up on the sidewalks and weave through pedestrians and cars block the entrance to shops. I am absolutely certain there are no traffic laws whatsoever in Beijing.

Crossing the street is a challenge. Even when you have the green light, cars and motorbikes turn into the street and swerve around pedestrians. As I crossed on a green light, several cars turned into the intersection and just steered around me avoiding the ten bicycles coming the other way and motorbikes weaving through the entire mess trying to avoid severing toes and bruising hips. There is no such thing as right of way.

I did not get the sense that people feel repressed or unhappy even though we are told that they have a very repressive and controlling government that limits people’s freedom. Instead I got the same feeling I get walking the streets in London or New York of busy people living productive, secure lives.

Not all traffic – in the Soho area of Beijing

I was struck by how fashionable the women were and how beautifully they dressed. I was also taken by couples with children and the way they hover over their little ones.

Until just lately, China only permitted couples to have one child and that child was hopefully a son. From what I hear, girl babies were often aborted or drowned.

Now the law has changed and you can have two children. Furthermore, amniocentesis is banned. You cannot try to find out the sex of your unborn child.

These parents are totally devoted to their babies and the children are all dressed adorably with cute tee shirts and adorable little jackets and shoes. The place felt like a fashion show. Perhaps that’s why I saw so few dogs. You only have so much love you can give.

When we got there, I loved The Bookworm. It is one of those all-in-one places where you can go to an event, eat food, drink wine and have good conversations. Very reminiscent of Shakespeare and Company in Paris.

In the hutong area, I saw a very different side of Beijing: very Chinese, very traditional, with narrow streets, shops jammed next to one another and people crowding each other on the street. Chinese people push and shove their way to where they want to go. There is no sense of courtesy to strangers as there is in Britain and yet, face-to-face, they are unfailingly kind. I had numerous people guide me across streets and one guy hugged me afterwards as if I were his best friend. Yet, if you are in their way, watch out.

My friend Jesse Appel runs a venue in Beijing: the US-China Comedy Center. He comes from the richest community in the United States, Newton, Massachusetts, and went to Brandeis University, an exclusive Jewish university that, despite its origins, is very diverse. Only half the student body is Jewish.  

Jesse explained to me that standup comedy as an art form is very new in China, but growing. He was part of a small team that initiated Chinese standup with Des Bishop, an Irish comedian from Flushing, New York, who is famous for doing comedy in the Chinese language.

That night, I performed at The Bookworm. It was an add-on show following the Chinese Comedy that Jesse was in.

I listened to the Chinese show and was astounded and encouraged at how eager the audience was to laugh. However, after the group of 125 chuckling Asians at that show dispersed, I was left with about 30 people, most of them from Beijing with English as their second language. There were about 5 people who were from the US and UK – one from Leeds, one from Newcastle and one man from Michigan where I went to University. He was the only one who got all the jokes.  

Lynn Ruth performed in English at The Bookworm in Beijing

The rest of my audience were polite; they listened; they chuckled. But they were not like Jakarta or Manila. The host was a man from Orlando named Mac who was very good. The opener was his brother who informed us that he was very famous in Orlando, Florida. He was supposed to do 10 minutes but he rambled on for 30.  

The show began on Chinese time (always late) and, by the time I got on stage 45 minutes later, the audience was half asleep. But the guy from Michigan laughed; the man from Leeds chuckled and drank gin and tonics; and the rest of the audience smiled, nodded and tried to figure out what “a suppository” and “a cellar door” was.

You cannot win them all.

That said, I got a tremendous amount of praise for the show from the very audience members I thought I had confused. So maybe they did get some of it after all.

When it was time for me to go home (about 1.00am) Justin from Leeds offered to walk me to the hotel.

As we walked, chatting about life and love and the high cost of sex in China, we missed the sign for my hotel. We ended up in another hotel about half a mile from where I was staying, where no-one could speak English to help us.  Justin has been here for 6 years. He understands a bit of Chinese but, unlike Jesse who has mastered the language to the point where he has no accent, Justin communicates only in English.  

We wandered around asking people who had no idea what we were asking until one wonderful human caught on. He WALKED us to our destination. By this time, I had a raging headache from having only eaten those soggy noodles and nothing else all day. Justin, being an English Gentleman, was determined to find me something to eat. That is why I love British men. They do what their mothers taught them and their mothers got it right.

We went into a bar adjacent to the hotel but, by this time, it was almost 2.00am and no food was being served. A man from Los Angeles named Eddie saw our plight, argued with the manager about the necessity of bending rules and regulations to no avail, then disappeared to go to a convenience store to get me a bit of bread. Eddie informed me that I had very young eyes but my hearing aid didn’t quite get what he said, so I responded: “Yes, it never turned grey.”

I staggered upstairs at 2.30am, still worrying about audience reaction to my show. I wrote Eamonn in Jakarta and said that it was not like the show I did for him and, being the modest, non-assuming Brit that he is, he said: “Nothing is.”

Beijing – “Everyone has the same fears, the same wants…”

And he is right.  Each place is different and that is what is so exciting about doing an international tour.

Everyone has the same fears, the same wants and the same needs but they express them in totally different ways.

And that explains why Chinese people love that horrid tea that tastes like soaked dirt and the English love fish encased in so much batter you cannot find the cod.

There is no accounting for taste.

The next evening, I went to The Bookworm to hear Ian McEwan discuss his new book Machines Like Me. It examines what makes us human. Our outward deeds or our inner lives? He pointed out that the novel is the one place where you can get inside another person. 

When I returned to my hotel, I received two follow-up e-mails from people who had seen me at the book talk and heard that I had published books of my own.

I think it is safe to generalize that Chinese people are very anxious to enlarge their scope and increase their understanding. There is a tremendous amount of intellectual curiosity that I find very refreshing.  

Once you decide you know it all, you know nothing.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Comedian Lynn Ruth Miller walks round Shanghai and leaps out of a taxi

So far, on her Far Eastern tour, 85-year-old Jewish-American comic Lynn Ruth Miller, based in London, has blogged about her recent visits to Manila and Jakarta.

On her last day in Jakarta, she was suddenly told that her gigs in Shanghai had been cancelled because the Chinese authorities had closed down the comedy club. But her flights and her accommodation there were already booked…


I was not happy about my trip to Shanghai because I thought I had two nights performing comedy and now I was just visiting the largest city in the world to see sights I really did not care that much about.  

Promoter Andy Curtain and his sidekick Mohammed were lovely and caring about the cancellation and had not only promised to guide me through the visit but to change plans so I went on to Beijing a bit earlier.  

It took an hour to get from Shanghai Airport to the hotel, but I was immediately struck by the lack of congestion on the roads compared with Jakarta. There were lots and lots of high-rise apartment and office buildings all along the route. Everything looked clean and very modern compared to Indonesia.  

The hotel was called Xiangyang Fandian. When we arrived the woman at the front desk took an instant dislike to me. Or seemed to. But she did not speak much English, so, really, we could not communicate.

The language was a mystery, not that many people speak English and I am not a good sightseer so I was very uncomfortable in the city.

However, Shanghai is interesting. There are lots of green spaces and, although it is huge, it does not feel crowded or congested. There are a lot of military around which is unsettling, but the police do not seem to bother anyone (or could it be they just didn’t bother ME?).

Andy helped me get on the Internet. China has blocked Google and Facebook and you have to pay for VPN to access these sites.

I got some work done on the computer and had lunch at a breakfast place called Egg, founded by woman from New Jersey who is very active in the restaurant scene in Shanghai.

Then I walked over to the park. Evidently people dance in the park all day but sadly, by the time I got there, there was only one man doing Tai Chi. I was amused to seeing so many men bring their babies to the park. I never think of men as doing that kind of thing, but – hey! – it’s a new world and a new way of thinking about life… or so I am told.

As I did not do a show, I felt very plain. I prefer to feel shimmery and amazing. I just don’t know how you ordinary people do it.

That night I took a walk to find an Italian restaurant and, on the way, I stumbled on a gorgeous and very expensive French bistro, Saleya on Changle Road. I ate in a vine-protected porch-like area with lots of rattan furniture. It was peaceful, relaxing meal: there was no piped-in music!!! The place was relatively empty but, over in corner, were two men with their very small elaborately coiffed  poodles. Evidently dogs are fine in restaurants in China. And there is a gay scene in Shanghai.

Andy recommended a tour of the Jewish section of Shanghai that his friend Dvir Bar-Gal offers and I signed up for it.

I am aware of the migration of Jews to China when Hitler began his purge of the Jews and I know they lived in abject poverty crammed together like sardines in unheated, inadequate shelters with one toilet for many and often no toilet at all, but this tour really brought it all to life. It was a long tour, 4 hours, but not tiring. What I noticed most was the smell. There is a close gamey odour to the streets, particularly in the poor area where the Jewish ghetto was.  

The people on the tour were aged 50 or more and one 73-year-old woman from Toronto, Katherine, befriended me which was nice. It was not a very friendly crowd other than Katherine and I am certain Dvir was a bit offended by my smart remarks. He asked us all what the motivator to the success of all Jews was and I said: “A Jewish Mother”. Silence.

It turns out that business is the foundation of all Jewish enterprise. Who knew?

When the tour was over, Katherine suggested I join Adrian, Shirley and her for dinner at M on the Bund a very fancy 7th floor restaurant.  

The Bund is an area of modern skyscrapers along the western riverfront in the city and is filled with flowers and lots and lots of people. The dinner was really wonderful because of the conversation. It turned out that Adrian is a psychiatrist and Shirley collects exotic perfume bottles. Katherine is an investment guru. Katherine talked about how she had had four husbands and someone accused her of serial monogamy. I had only two husbands and no real childhood hardship. My biggest conflict was which cashmere sweater to wear with which skirt (and I always picked the wrong one, according to my mother).

After the meal, the three of them put me in a cab and this was the only really horrid experience I had while there.  

The cab driver (like most of them) could not speak English.  

He agreed to take me home for 60 yuan and I gave him my hotel key envelope with the address on it. But, when we got to the hotel, he wanted 80 yuan. I didn’t want to argue, but wanted the address ticket I had shown him because that was how I could show people who cannot speak English where I am staying. I simply couldn’t make myself understood, so he just grabbed the money and sped away AS I got out of the moving car.

I am convinced that I handled it badly, however.

He really did not know what I was asking him. I could have asked a passer-by to translate but you always think of these sensible solutions after the fact don’t you?

I finished off my computer stuff after that fiasco and went to bed, setting the alarm for 8:30am. Sadly my clock was having the same problem as my circadian rhythm and I overslept until 9:25am. But I managed to pack and get dressed in 10 minutes, found the driver Andy had scheduled, and off I went to the airport.

Next stop Beijing.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Comedian Lynn Ruth Miller in Jakarta on lovely audiences and anti-Semitism

Lynn Ruth went on stage unusually “terrified” in Jakarta

In the last few months, London-based American comic Lynn Ruth Miller (who recently turned 85) has been gigging in Prague, Dublin, Berlin, Paris, Edinburgh, San Francisco and Manila. Coming up are gigs in Shanghai, Beijing, Singapore, Hong Kong, Hanoi, Bangkok and, she says, “possibly somewhere in Cambodia”.

But last weekend, betwixt Manila and Shanghai, she writes…


I was in Jakarta, Indonesia. It was hot and wet. A characteristic I gave up when I hit sixty. I arrived at 11.00am their time and the first thing that struck me was how really lovely the airport was. It was amazing how easy it was to navigate compared to Manila, which was a nightmare.

Indonesians like old ladies and I was swept through Immigration so easily I thought I missed a window and someone would make me turn around and start all over again.  

David, the pastor for youth I met while waiting for the plane, was there at baggage collection to help me with my bag and used his phone to contact Eamonn Sadler, who books comedy at The American Club in Jakarta.  

I had had approximately two hours sleep on the plane and was not at my best as I staggered out of Immigration and tried to find Eamonn. But there he was towering above everyone else in that airport looking down at the top of my head.  

I just about reached his kneecap and I knew he was thinking: ”I hired a comedian, not a pygmy.”  

But he is British so he just nodded politely (at least I think he did. I couldn’t see that far up), asked me if I was all right (at least I think he did; my hearing aids were in my bag), took my case and I toddled after him taking fourteen steps to his one.  

As soon as we walked outside I was smacked in the face with hot, wet air.  

Lynn Ruth performed her show Not Dead Yet!

Even Manila is cool compared to Jakarta. But, indoors, the air conditioning is very efficient and for some reason you don’t feel that blast of cold air when you are inside.

The ride from Jakarta Airport took about two and a half hours. Obviously no-one in the place uses his or her feet and everyone has large, cumbersome, air-conditioned automobiles with which they enjoy trying to get as close to one another without actually denting a fender. Bicycles and motorbikes weave in and out between the cars making everyone hate them.  

The traffic department decided to build brick barriers in the middle of the street so no-one can make a right turn. So you have to do a U-turn at intersections if you can. But the roads are like parking lots and nothing moves.

When we pulled up to the entrance of the Liberta hotel, Eamonn stopped the car and I got out thinking we had arrived at our destination. But this was only for a routine inspection. There was a wave of terrorist attacks in Surabaya (Indonesia’s second largest city) last May and there is heightened security in Jakarta because of that and because they hosted the Asian Games. 

Foreigners are often targets, which is why most expats have a night watchman to guard their property and all public buildings conduct routine inspections on every car that enters their premises.  

By the time I got to my hotel room, I was in a coma of fatigue. I crawled into bed and slept until 7.00pm, when we drove to The American Club.

Since The American Club is part of the American Embassy complex in Jakarta, the security is even more intense there.

The thing I liked about the show, which had about seven acts, was that Eamonn established immediately that comedy is meant to be fun, not politically correct and everyone on the bill deserved to be listened to without interruption.

Even so, I was terrified that I would say something that offended someone or would go on for hours without that laugh all of us in this profession lap up like manna from heaven. Or that the local audience would not get the jokes. But they did. They laughed and they clapped and they all joined in the song that ended my set.

Another country; another cake. Lynn Ruth & Eamonn Sadler

At the end of my performance, Eamonn came on stage with… yes… ANOTHER BIRTHDAY CAKE and flowers. This birthday celebration of mine seems to go on and on and on.  If I keep getting all those cakes, I will probably explode before I am 86 or won’t fit into the coffin.

After the show, Naomi and Eric welcomed me on behalf of Jakarta’s Jewish community.

It turns out that there are about 20 Jewish families in Jakarta in this predominately Muslim country. It is estimated that there are about another 20,000 descendants of Jews who have assimilated and are part of greater Indonesia.

Indonesians must carry an identity card that states their religion and, since Judaism is not one of the seven they recognize, most Jews say they are Christian.  

Those who practice Judaism keep a very low profile. It is not easy to be Jewish in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country and it is even harder this year, as anti-Semitic sentiment has grown since Donald Trump moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a holy place to both Jews and Muslims as well as Christians. Every time there is a Palestinian/Israeli conflict, anti-Semitism flares up in Indonesia.

When I realized how dangerous it is to be Jewish in so many countries, I began to understand why the synagogues in Stamford Hill, London, where I now live, are so hidden that I have lived there for two years and only now have begun to discover where they are located. All of them are set far back from the street,  heavily gated and even more heavily guarded.  

In 2013, The Times of Israel reported that Indonesia’s last synagogue – the Beith Shalom synagogue in Surabaya, Java – had been destroyed to its foundations by unknown persons.

I personally have never encountered overt anti-Semitism and so I have never taken it very seriously but, when I met these lovely people in Jakarta who dare not openly practice their faith, I realized how deeply imbedded hatred of the Jews actually is, not just in Indonesia but worldwide.

The next afternoon, Joe and Rheysa took me to Jakarta’s version of an Italian restaurant: Mama Rosy’s.

It turned out that Rheysa once worked for L’Oreal and now she puts on a great deal of make up to look like she has no make up on at all. She explained the procedure for the ‘Natural Look’ that begins with ironing her hair and continues with darkeners and lighteners, blushers and intensifiers to make her look like the natural beauty she is in the first place.  

It occurred to me that I should follow her advice but iron my face instead of my hair. However, I gave up that idea before we got to our coffee. I have not so much as ironed a napkin in sixty years.

After lunch, we drove through the city and I was struck by how crowded the streets are, how dense the concentration of people and how little actual green space. The houses seem to be packed tightly next to one another and the streets are narrow, lined with tiny shops and street food vendors. It was a very different feel from Manila with its very tall streamlined buildings and wide highways. It reminded me a lot of Bangkok.

Jakarta – partly houses packed tightly together – partly not.

That night I had arranged to go to Naomi and Eric’s home for dinner to meet their three children and have dinner. When I got into Eric’s car, I entered a totally different world. He and Naomi have lived in Jakarta for 17 years.

His home is modern and spacious and they have seven servants, as do most of the well-to-do in Jakarta. They have drivers for the children, plus cooks, cleaners and gardeners. They are a part of an ex-pat community that does so well in this part of the world. Both are originally from the United States and after they married lived in Singapore for a while and loved it.

In fact, Naomi still works in Singapore several days a week and both of them do a great deal of travel. That is why they need so much domestic help.  

Yet they are trying to keep up the Jewish traditions we all learned growing up. I too observed those holidays and, of course, loved the special foods: the challah, the gefilte fish, the bagels and the chicken soup. Those things are as much part of being Jewish as observing the Sabbath.

China is next!!!! Not the dinnerware; the country.

But I got a message this morning from Andy Curtain who runs the Kung Fu Comedy Cub in Shanghai that the government had closed down the club.  

In China, there are all kinds of intricacies with licensing and permits that are only occasionally enforced. So it seems I am going to Shanghai with nothing much to do but explore the city…

… CONTINUED HERE

Lynn Ruth with the Jakarta show folk

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Comedian Louise Reay is being sued over a Fringe show about free speech

Louise Reay, has come up against a brick wall, not in China

Last year, comic Louise Reay previewed her then-upcoming Edinburgh Fringe comedy show Hard Mode at critic Kate Copstick’s increasingly prestigious London charity emporium Mama Biashara.

It was the first time I knew Louise had separated from her husband.

Beyond that fact and a lot of rather arty Chinese references, I discovered no details of why they had separated. That is relevant to what follows.

The  blurb for Hard Mode read:


“Based on a dialogue with Ai Weiwei and featuring a team of masked police, this provocative show explores censorship”

Imagine how you’d act if you were always being watched? Imagine if you couldn’t speak freely? Imagine if the Chinese government bought the BBC?

An immersive comedy show where the audience experiences life in an authoritarian regime. Yay!

Based on a dialogue with Ai Weiwei and featuring a team of masked police, this provocative show explores censorship and surveillance.

Hard Mode is the latest show from multi award-winning comedian and journalist, Louise Reay.

‘Reay can legitimately claim to be unique’ (Independent)

‘Truly fantastic, utterly out there’ (Al Murray)

**** (Skinny)


“I am being sued. It’s really happening”

Last night, I got an email from Louise. She is currently in Australia, performing at the Adelaide Fringe. Her email read:

Dear John – I am being sued. It’s really happening. 

She is being sued by her estranged husband because he objected to what he claims was in her Hard Mode show.

I can only assume her estranged husband has not heard of The Streisand Effect.

Louise has started a GoFundMe crowdfunding page. It reads:


Hi! I am Louise Beamont, my stage name is Louise Reay.

I hope you’ll forgive me – but I need to ask you something.

You see, I am being sued over one of my stand-up shows.

Not just by anyone. By my husband (now separated of course).

He has a lot more money than me and he says that I accused him of abusing me in my show. And so he’s suing me, which in my opinion is simply an attempt to silence me.

As standup comedians, I believe it’s the very definition of our job to talk about our lives and social issues.

So this has become a free speech issue – and free speech means everything to me. As a Chinese speaker, I’ve spent many years in China and experienced the social impact when people do not have this freedom. I’ve also spent many years making documentaries for the BBC with vulnerable people whose voices are rarely heard.

And, I cannot begin to tell you how difficult an experience it has been to have my Edinburgh show censored.

I think therefore it’s really important for me to defend myself in this case.

And I’m afraid I need your help please because. I need to pay lawyers you see.

Here’s a bit more detail ….

I am a stand up comedian and documentary-maker, with a particular interest in speaking out for oppressed people.  On Tuesday 30 January 2018, I was served with defamation, privacy and data protection proceedings by my husband from whom I am separated. I cannot tell you how oppressive that feels.

The claim is in relation to a comedy show that I performed last year. a few times last year. It was a 50 minute show about censorship and authoritarianism, asking the audience to imagine that the BBC had come into the control of the Chinese government.

During that show, I referred to my husband a couple of times – perhaps 2 minutes’ worth of reference in a 50 minute show. The main gist of those references was to tell the audience how sad I was that my marriage had broken down recently. He has complained about 2 performances of my show in London, and my shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

He is seeking £30,000 damages, his legal costs (which I can only assume will be massive) and an injunction stopping me from publishing statements about him. This is despite the fact that I gave him an undertaking (a sort of legal promise – without admitting liability of course) not to mention him in any further performances of the show, as soon as his lawyers complained. Indeed, all further performances of the show at the Edinburgh Fringe were without reference to him.

Defamation and privacy cases like this can be very expensive to defend. At present, I do not have the funds to defend this case. Therefore, I’d be very grateful for any assistance with costs. I have struggled greatly to pay all of my costs to date but and cannot afford to pay a barrister to prepare my defence.

I am confident I can defend the claim. However, these sorts of cases are fraught with uncertainty. It will depend on what the judge finds the words mean and possibly on whose testimony the judge prefers.

I am therefore seeking to raise an initial fund of at least £10,000. I might need to raise more as the case goes on.

If I am successful in defending this case, I hope to secure the recovery of some of my legal expenses from him (around 70% is typical I’m told). If I am able to recover some of my legal expenses, I will reimburse all those who have contributed to my defence fund in proportion to what each party has contributed.

Funds raised in this crowdfunder shall be used solely for my legal expenses. If I lose the case and damages and costs are awarded to my husband, I shall be personally liable for those. I’m told that, if this happens, it could be in the hundreds of thousands of pounds, and I will be bankrupt.

In any responses to this message can I please ask that you don’t post any negative comments about my husband. I’m not trying to embarrass him with this plea. I’m desperate. I need help. It’s about free speech … just like my show was.

Thank you very much for reading.


The link to the GoFundMe crowdfunding page is HERE

MORE ON THIS STORY HERE

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My nine days in North Korea in 2012

Changgwang Street, Pyongyang, in 1986


I first visited North Korea in 1986, when the Great Leader Kim Il-sung was still alive. He died in 1994.

I went again in April 2012, shortly after his son and successor the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il died (December 2011).

His son Kim Jong-un had succeeded him and was, at that time, being referred to as the Supreme Leader.

Below are the blogs I wrote in April 2012. I wrote them on paper while in North Korea and kept them in my inside jacket pocket at all times and only posted them once I was back in the UK. I am not that mad.


A North Korean stage production in April 2012


12th April – George Orwell’s pyramid looms over the capital city Pyongyang

13th April – A land of nuclear bombs and satellite launches, but no electricity

14th April – Walter Mitty truth in an anarchic, pedestrian totalitarian state

15th April – North Koreans are not the the mindless brainwashed zombies of US propaganda

16th April – The Leaders’ spectacles

17th April – A beacon of hope for the down-trodden masses of the wide world

18th April – Phallic monuments, war lies, famine and an interview with MI5

19th April – “Confess your crimes against the people of North Korea or you will not be allowed to leave the country tomorrow”

20th April – Return from North Korea to China, land of individual freedom & Keanu Reeves

21st April – My undying admiration for their supreme leader Kim Jung-un

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Kate Copstick’s insight into everyday life in Kenya, including the Chinese effect

Copstick (in blue) at Mama Biashara project

Copstick (in blue) at Mama Biashara project

Comedy reviewer Kate Copstick is in Kenya.

That is where her Mama Biashara charity is based and does its work.

Below is an edited (by me) insight into life in Kenya at the moment, culled from Copstick’s current diaries.

The sort of stuff that never gets reported in ’the West’.

Copstick’s full diaries are on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


SUNDAY

Doris gets into Nairobi at about 3.00 am. At my insistence, she gets a taxi home to Kenol. Unfortunately her problems do not stop there. She tells me later “there has been an unfortunate occurrence” in Kenol.

Night shift policemen in Kenya are to be feared.

They clock on, take their big guns, do one circuit of their beat and then go to the pub. Where they drink until morning. At about 5.00am, they come out, pick up their guns and do one more circuit (at which point they are dangerous), clock off and go home. Just as Doris was getting home, a drunk policeman shot two completely innocent men on a pikipiki (motorbike taxi).

By the time she woke up later that day, Kenol was a war zone. A thousand pikipiki boys from all over the region descended and attacked the police station demanding the drunk cop be arrested. The police did not seem to think he had done anything wrong.

And so, to deter the pikipiki boys who were barricading themselves in for a fight, the police shot and killed several of them and started throwing tear gas about the place.

Doris, her kids and all of her neighbours fled the area.

MONDAY

I meet up with Joanne – cousin of my late friend Janet – who is working with all manner of needy groups, especially one I met the last time I was here –  mothers of disabled children.

Mental and physical disabilities are not well catered for here. The twelve year old daughter of the group leader was raped and impregnated, giving birth just before my last visit. The four year old a few door along (also mentally challenged) was also raped. By a neighbour. The police did nothing so the women got together and marched him to the police station. Where the police refused to arrest him. So they took him to another police station and refused to leave until they did arrest him.

Joanne tells me about the group of albino children she is working with. They live in fear as there is a roaring trade in albino body parts in Tanzania. Strong magic, apparently. So I say I will meet up with this group and we arrange a meet for Wednesday down in Kibera.

Joanne and I part and I head to Junction to meet Doris.

Doris’ journey back from Mombasa had been horrendous. Apart from the child attacked by the hyena there was also a white man having a heart attack to keep interest up in Doris’ stationary traffic jam.

There are roadworks going on to do with the train line and ‘improving’ the last stretch of the Mombasa Highway and the job has been given (who would have guessed?) to the Chinese.

They are not great on:

  1. the materials they use which, of course, they bring from China (lest there be any hint of aiding the local economy) and which are marginally less than Fit for Purpose
  2. making sure the roads are finished properly so that when the rains come and huge trucks drive along them they don’t just fall apart.

Plus the workers would appear to be following that best-loved of Confucius’ sayings: When your government has their government in its pocket, there is no need to get a wriggle on with the job. And so the roadworks are taking forever and what road is worked seems to fall apart at the drop of a ten ton truck and a bit of rain.

According to Doris, Mombasa is the most horribly racist place imaginable.

In the nineteenth century, the Omani Arabs from Zanzibar took Mombasa from the Portuguese and, even when the whites (that’ll be us, Brits) rolled in and took over declaring all land not under cultivation to be ‘Crown Land’, the people were still under the sovereignty of the Sultan of Zanzibar.

Mombasa and a 10 mile wide Coastal strip was leased by the Brits from the Sultan. But the people were still his people.

This is the basis of the argument made by the Mombasa Republicans who say Mombasa was never part of Kenya and should be allowed to cecede immediately.

Nowadays, the city and coastal strip still has a huge Arab population. They are the rich and the middle classes and they treat the indigenous people like shit. Doris says if you are black instead of brown you are nothing – a sub-species of humanity.

Among the wider African population, skin lightening is the single biggest ‘thing’ in the cosmetic industry here. Doris says she could feel the looks and the attitude eating away at her self-esteem.

Then she tells me about the Mijikenda widows.

The Mijikenda are an indigenous tribe. The main one.

According to Doris (and she went to this village to see for herself), when the women are widowed, they are ceremonially walked to a village outside the city area where they live for the rest of their lives, forbidden to leave.

On a Friday (and Doris was there on a Friday) the local chief brings a charabanc of businessmen to the village and they have sex with the women, believing that they are ‘clean’, and pay them with a sack of rice and a five litre container of cooking oil.

“It is a cultural thing” says Doris, shrugging.

TUESDAY

I have a very worrying conversation with Mwangi – who designs and makes fabulous jewellery.

I am ordering a collar and ask for it in turquoise (which always sells well). “Not possible,” I am told.

Mwangi shows me the last ornate collar he made in turquoise… The colour is rubbing off the beads even before it has been sold. The same with the burnished gold beads. This is because the government of Kenya have opened up the bead market to China, which is flooding the market with their shit beads.

The Czech beads which everyone had been working with for decades are priced out of the market. One of Nairobi’s best and longest standing bead shops has already gone out of business rather than buy the Chinese rubbish and real artists like Mwangi are finding it almost impossible to get the good beads they need. The real beads have the colour all the way through. The Chinese ones are either black or white and are just sprayed with the colour – which does not last long.

This move could devastate one of Kenya’s oldest and most famous traditions.

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Louise Reay’s Chinese language comedy and a man bangs a nail into his penis

Louise Reay Chinese

The Thoughts of Louise Reay – 喜剧演员和电视制片人

I missed a preview of Louise Reay’s show It’s Only Words a few weeks ago. Not that I would have understood it. Her show is billed as “the first ever stand-up show where the audience will literally have no idea what the person on stage is talking about.”

This is because her show is performed totally in Chinese for audiences who speak no Chinese.

“So,” I told her when we met, “you studied Chinese at university. That was very sensible of you, given they’re the rising world power.”

“It may sound sensible now,” she told me, “but it wasn’t at the time. I did it on a whim. My parents are hippyish and we were like a host family for foreign students. When I was like 16, a lot of my siblings had moved out so there were spare bedrooms and we filled them with foreign students.”

“How many siblings have you?” I asked.

“I’m one of four, but I have three step-siblings, so my parents have seven between them and, when each one left, we put like two foreign students in their bedroom until there was just me and my little brother left of the original siblings. We would have these big dinners with like 2 Chinese, 1 Swiss and 3 Mexicans. At one point, we had 4 Brazilians living with us who we couldn’t get rid of. They just kept inviting more people to live with them.

“It sounds terrible to say it today but, at that time, it always felt like the Chinese ones were the most alien. I was like 16 and going clubbing all the time and we had one Chinese girl who came to stay with us and she just read the Bible all the time. It felt weird.

“So I chose to study Chinese on a whim. I thought: Chinese people seem the weirdest to me. That will be the most fun. I can go to university in Beijing. It was as simple as that. It sounds so bad now, but I was only 17. About a year later, the Chinese economy took off and everyone said to me: What a wise decision you made. It was a complete whim.

Louise Reay, fitting in with Chinese culture

Louise always tries to fit in with Chinese culture

“I was at university in Beijing for a year and later I went back to work there for another year. in business. All my colleagues were Chinese women and all my clients were middle-aged Chinese men and that’s why I came home. It was like just really weird?”

“When did you come back?” I asked.

“Quite a long time ago – like 2010 or 2011.”

“The first three times I went to Beijing,” I told her, “were 1984, 1985 and 1986.”

“Oh!” said Louise. “You’re so lucky! Deng Xiaoping! Cool! I went to Beijing again last December. There’s a cool TV series coming out on BBC this summer – The School That Turned Chinese – about a school in Surrey which gets Chinese teachers for a month and I was out there getting the Chinese teachers.”

“Your day job in TV is what?” I asked.

“Assistant producer. Freelance. I just fell into it about five years ago because I speak Chinese. I do all kinds of projects. I did a big economics series for BBC2 that came out in December. I do really random stuff. I’m an assistant producer, so I just run round after the middle-aged man. I came home from Beijing to avoid hanging out with middle-aged Chinese men and all I do now is run around after middle-aged British men. Apparently that’s my destiny. My first ever job in TV was in Zambia filming a documentary about middle-aged Chinese men who were entrepreneurs in the Copper Belt.”

Louise in London’s Soho last week

Louise could not escape China in London’s Soho last week

“So,” I said, “you do live stand-up comedy AND these serious BBC2/BBC4 documentaries…”

“Yes,” said Louise. “I first did stand-up when I was 16. I stopped at 18 after a weird gig in Eastbourne. They had a racist joke competition led by the compere. Then a man in the audience said: If I hammer a nail into my penis, can I get free entry to this club night for the rest of the year? And they said: Yeah! Sure! and they ran around and got a stool and a hammer and a nail and he hammered it in.”

“We are talking here about hammering it into skin,” I checked, “not into the more solid bits?”

“I didn’t look,” said Louise. “But, an hour later, he stood up and said: If I hammer a second nail into my penis, can I get free drinks for the rest of the year? and the audience went Yeeaaaaahhhh!!!! and basically, like, at the end of the night, he was doing a wee into a basin and I went to wash my hands next to him and he turned to me and said: Oh, I really like your set. And wee was coming out of the different holes in his dick. So I thought: I can never do comedy again and I didn’t do stand-up for about six years after that.”

“I have to say,” I told Louise, “I would book him as an act… What have you just been working on recently?”

Louise in China, blending in with the locals

“Dude, we WILL be able to understand what you want…

“It’s really random. There’s like a Harvard professor and he has a TV company in the UK so we were doing like a history of capitalism thing?”

“Why,” I asked, “are you doing this Brighton Fringe and Edinburgh Fringe show It’s Only Words in Chinese?”

“I’ve always been interested in communication. I made a documentary about a Chinese woman called Apple who lived in Croydon. She could not speak any English and she did not go outside except for once a week to go to the Chinese supermarket. She was so isolated because she didn’t speak the language. And I thought: Dude, if you go to an English language shop and try to buy something, we WILL be able to understand what you want.

“People have a real mental barrier about languages and the way we communicate. But just one look can mean so much. We communicate all the time. Look at my hands. I can’t stop them moving. There’s so much more than language going on. That’s what my show’s all about.”

“So,” I asked, “people sitting in the audience will able to understand what’s going on?”

“Yes. That’s the thing. It will prove that you can. There was a very spurious 1960s experiment which proved that only 7% of communication was verbal. So my whole show is an experiment in the 93%. If I did it in French, it wouldn’t work, because most people maybe understand enough.

“A really weird thing is that, depending on where you live, your face ages differently, because you use different muscles in your face depending on what language you’re speaking.

Louise Reay, cleaning a great wall

Louise Reay, a woman with experience, cleans a great wall

“I know a Western man who has lived in China for the past 40 years and he looks like a Chinese person now, because the muscles that he’s used from speaking Chinese every day… Like Chinese is very much in the front of your face, whereas European languages are much more throaty? The whole face changes, because you have some muscles that are not used and other muscles that are used a lot more. It’s like really nuts that you can age your face differently depending on what language you’re speaking each day. It’s mental.”

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