Tag Archives: Saigon

Lynn Ruth in Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Bangkok… and on Israel

Lynn Ruth now has a taste for the Far East

Lynn Ruth Miller, the irrepressible 85-year-old American comic and occasional burlesque stripper based in London, has been off on her professional travels again.

Here is an edited version of her whistle-stop diary of the trip.


SINGAPORE

This is the first time I have flown directly to Singapore from London. It is a very long flight: about 17 hours. I could have paid twice as much and gotten there two hours earlier but I am Jewish.

I do not waste money.

I have been thinking about why comedians travel as far as we all do to stand in front of a lot of strangers for as little as ten minutes or as long as an hour talking about ourselves. For me, living alone as I do, it is worth the travel and the personal inconvenience to have those few moments when I am in the spotlight making a lot of people love me – because, in that moment, they do.

But it is more than that.  

We are, after all, social animals and interaction feeds our souls. As I get older (and I sure hope I keep doing it) I realize that the impetus to keep doing this is far more than those moments on stage. It is that amazing connection with different people from different backgrounds and the jolt of surprise when I realize how similar our values are and how alike our mutual vision of what makes the good life.

This is the third time I have been to Singapore.

This time, Naomi from Jakarta alerted the Jewish population of Singapore (which is far larger than I thought) to come to the show, so the place was packed. When I do comedy here, the audiences want to laugh and want to support us. They make us all feel like stars.

After the shows in Singapore, we all stay to have a drink and get to know one another as people. This is in contrast to the London experience, where the headliner usually comes in just before it is time to do his set and the rest of the comedians leave the show when they are done performing.  

Lynn Ruth has found she has many fans in the Far East

Here in Singapore, you realize you are all working together to create a good experience for the audience and it reduces that sense of competition that I always get in London. No one person is better than another because each performance presents a unique viewpoint.

And that is what makes stand up comedy so satisfying. The audience gets a glimpse of another perspective on the life we are all trying to live.

HO CHI MINH CITY (formerly Saigon)

Compared to Singapore, which is spacious. modern and richly beautiful, the streets in Ho Chi Minh City are narrow and the buildings retain the flavor of  the pre-war city. It has preserved some of its original character and yet it is filled with bright lights and glittering signs that give it a Las Vegas feel.

I featured for Jojo Smith who is an established comedian who has been doing this kind of thing for about 25 years or more. It is always an honor for me to be on the bill with women who have broken down barriers I still have yet to smash.  

We both did very well but the interesting thing was that I thought the evening was a huge success and I do not think Jojo agreed. The audience was smaller than she expected and the ambience of the room was not what she had hoped. I have decided that my expectations must be very low because I thought it was a gem of an evening.

Jojo and I were on the same plane to Hanoi the next morning.

HANOI

When we got here, Dan Dockery picked us up and, like the reliable rock that he is, he got us back to the very lavish Intercontinental Hotel that sponsors his events.

Jojo was not feeling well so she went up to her room which was the size of a three storey mansion and I toddled over to one of the several cafes each one fit to serve tea to Queen Elizabeth.  

When I returned to my room – so spacious I am amazed I managed to find the bed without a divining rod – I napped until show time. Poor Jojo had digestive problems and, like the understudies in West End shows, she gave me my big moment. She stayed in bed and I headlined.  

“Every joke worked. I was walking on air when I left the stage”

I did fifty minutes of comedy and every joke worked. I was walking on air when I left the stage then, after I drank the bottle of wine one of the audience members bought for me, I was floating on a cloud so high my feet didn’t touch the ground.

I think that is what keeps me in this business. The thrill of a successful gig has not worn off for me. It is never just another night.  

I vaguely remember the night I lost my virginity on plastic sheets in a grim motel in Indiana and I have to say that supposedly cosmic moment did not compare to standing on stage in Hanoi talking dirty to a bunch of expats in a hot little room overlooking the river.

It was my kind of magic.

The next morning, Dan’s driver took me to the airport and he was telling me how life has changed since the war. He said the entire place has been rebuilt and now there are more motor bikes than there are people on the roads and also a huge gap between rich and poor. Hanoi though – even more than Ho Chi Minh City – has retained its rustic flavor while always sparkling with colorful lights.

In Bangkok, “Everyone loves funny old ladies.”

BANGKOK

Chris Wegoda runs Comedy Club Bangkok, the most successful English-speaking comedy club in Bangkok. I headlined there.   

Chris, who is unbelievably reliable, sent a man named Sheldon – a swimmer, former surfer and LA guy – to pick me up and off we went to the show. 

The show was fast-paced and the audience anxious to laugh. I did my set and I did well.

Then we all went down to the bar to drink and Liam and Kordelia, whom I had met at the airport, said I must come to Mojacar Playa to do a show. I said I would.

They said: “Everyone there loves funny old ladies.”

I said: “I hope so.”

The next morning, my darling buddy Jonathan Samson sent a Thai guy to fetch me to his club in another neighborhood of the city. Jonathan does comedy in a youth hostel and keeps the prices low, which I support.

After our show that night, Jonathan bought a pan, a hot plate and a lot of ingredients for me to make my signature dish: blintzes (Jewish crepes.) Six members of the audience stayed after to help with the mixing, the beating and the frying and, by God, we made blintzes so authentic that Moses descended for a taste.

The next day I met Matthew Wharf for lunch. He is originally from Melbourne and runs a club in Bangkok but, this time around, he could not fit me into his line-up. He took me and a wonderful American man he called Wine for lunch. It turned out the man was from New Jersey and his name is Wayne. We talked shop for a couple of hours because ‘Wine’ wants to do stand up and I have the sense he is going to be great at it.  

Lynn Ruth heard about Tel Aviv at Bangkok’s Comedy Den

Then I played a club on the outskirts of the city called Comedy Den Pakkret. The line up was excellent.  

Tristan, one of the comedians there, had married an Israeli. He was telling me how modern and exciting Tel Aviv has become. He also talked a great deal about how biased the foreign press is against Israel, partly because of Netanyahu‘s belligerent policies and partly because so much of the press is anti-Zionist.  

It was a revealing discussion because, even though I personally do not like Israel’s practices toward the people in Gaza, I had never realized that there are so many extenuating circumstances.  

The one observation I made to justify what goes on there is that, after the Holocaust, the Jewish people never want to be in a situation where they are not the majority.  One can hardly blame them for that.

The next day, I met Aidan Killian and Trevor Lock for lunch. Aidan has managed to put on large shows once a month in Bangkok that feature major names like Shazia Mirza. Trevor has lived in Bangkok for several years doing comedy throughout Southeast Asia. He only returns to Britain for short periods of time to do shows in Edinburgh and London.  

It was an interesting lunch because again we talked shop.

It turns out that Bangkok has a very small audience base so it is almost impossible to earn a living doing comedy there. And yet we all agreed stand up comedy is the last place left where you can say what you really think without fear of being banned… though I have to say that is not as true as it once was.  

I still hold to the theory that any topic works if you can make it funny. The idea is to make people laugh.

Isn’t it?

Home to London now, to freeze and get ready for trips to Harrogate and Amsterdam.  

It is a good life.

… LYNN RUTH’s TRIPS CONTINUE HERE

Online, there is a clip of Lynn Ruth on Britain’s Got Talent in 2014.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Travel

The government suggested they could turn the whole country into a Walt Disney theme park – the whole country

Schoolchildren - not yet Mouseketeers - in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in 1989

Children (not Mouseketeers) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 1989

This is a true story.

In 1989, I was in Cambodia and Vietnam.

Eleven years after that – today fourteen years ago – in the year 2000 – I had lunch in London with a chum who had recently worked for the Walt Disney company, dealing with licensing for Walt Disney in South East Asia. He told me that, in Cambodia, a government official had suggested they could turn the whole country into a Walt Disney theme park – the whole country.

After some consideration, the idea was not proceeded with, possibly because of the thought of land mines. Mickey Mouse having his legs blown off is probably not an attractive PR image.

But it is interesting that basic capitalist ideas – even then, in 2000 – were spreading across South East Asian countries.

In his South East Asian Disney hat, my chum also wanted to hire the Rex Hotel in Saigon, Vietnam, one morning for a presentation. Unfortunately, the Rex Hotel was owned by Saigon Tourism, which owned large chunks of real estate all over Vietnam and was probably second only to the government in political and economic power. This inevitably meant bureaucracy.

Saigon, as I saw it from the roof of the Rex Hotel in 1989

Saigon, as I saw it from the roof of the Rex Hotel back in 1989

So, when my chum phoned to ask the cost of renting the Rex, he was called in to a meeting with the boss of Saigon Tourism. My chum arrived with his translator and was shown into a boardroom with a vast rectangular conference table where, inevitably, they were kept waiting for ages. Eventually, the bossman came in with twelve advisors, heads of departments and top executives. My chum and his small translator sat on one side of the table; the bossman and his twelve executives with briefcases and bundles of papers sat on the other side.

Remember this was not even to book the Rex. it was only to ask how much it would cost if my chum did want to book it.

Eventually, after tea and all sorts of interminable preambles, the boss of Saigon Tourism said he thought it would be a good idea if Disney opened a theme park in Vietnam. My chum explained it was not his section of Disney which was involved in the theme park side of the business: he only dealt with consumer goods licensing. He said he would pass on the suggestion but said he knew Disney took about ten years – literally ten years – to evaluate theme park possibilities. The parks were very big, very complicated to build and to run and very expensive, so decisions could only be taken carefully. But he would certainly pass on the suggestion.

“We could have a smaller theme park,” the Vietnamese tourist boss suggested.

A children’s playground in Saigon in 1989

A typical children’s playground in Saigon, Vietnam, in 1989

My chum explained again that it wasn’t really his area, but he knew Disney only really thought in terms of big theme parks. However, he said, he would pass on the idea and he knew it would be considered very seriously by the top Disney theme park people.

The Vietnamese tourist boss replied: “You could just give us the rides rather than build a theme park round them.”

My chum again explained it wasn’t really his area of decision but he would pass on the suggestion.

“You could just sell us the technology for the rides and we could build them ourselves,” the Vietnamese tourist boss persisted.

My chum went through all his polite rigmarole again.

“You could just give us one ride,” the Vietnamese tourist boss suggested. “Just one ride. I have been to Disneyland. The ride we would want would be the Earthquake Ride where you go in and it simulates the feeling of an earthquake.”

American B-52 bomb craters in central Cambodia, 1989

B-52 bomb craters seen from plane in central Cambodia, 1989

My chum was a bit taken aback, but did all the polite rigmarole again about how he would pass it on but pointed out that one reason why Disney included the Earthquake Ride in their Californian operation was that California was in an earthquake zone – there was the San Andreas Fault – and, in a sense, it was educational for the children who went there whereas, in Vietnam, there were no earthquakes and no history of earthquakes, as in California, so it wasn’t quite the same.

Immediately, the Vietnamese tourist boss suggested: “We could use the sensations to simulate the effects of carpet-bombing by B-52 bombers.”

My chum never did find out the cost of renting the Rex Hotel for an afternoon.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cambodia, Vietnam

UK comedian Matt Roper has ended up in a wheelchair in a hospital in Saigon

Matt Roper in hospital yesterday in Saigon (Photograph by nurse Than Thiet Sang)

Matt Roper in hospital yesterday in Saigon (Photograph by nurse Than Thiet Sang)

Oh the joys of modern communication via the internet.

The last I heard from British comedian Matt Roper was just over a month ago when I blogged that he had diarrhoea in India after a rather too enthusiastic encounter with a local drink called Fenny.

Imagine my surprise then, yesterday, when I received an e-mail from Saigon… and the cyber conversation that ensued.

MATT: I am hospitalized in Saigon. God giveth but he doesn’t piss about when he takes it away again… But I thank him for Cuban trained nurses and free wi-fi! Hope you are well!

JOHN: You are hospitalised? Seriously? With what? Are you insured? Are you OK? If there is a ceiling fan, you can live the start of Apocalypse Now! – “Saigon… Shit, I’m still in Saigon…” Are you OK? (Given that you are in hospital) Actually, yes, Cuban levels of healthcare will be a bonus point.

MATT: Cubans train some of the finest doctors and nurses in the world. Latin America is very, very lucky to have them. Some of the staff here trained in Cuba, Vietnam being communist and all, the two countries have a strong relationship. They’re amazing with me.

JOHN: So how are you?

Matt is in the Franco-Vietnamese Hospital in Saigon

Matt is in the Franco-Vietnamese Hospital – officially in Ho Chi Minh City – but it is still called Saigon by almost everyone

MATT: I’m fine but for my right leg. Deep vein thrombosis. Specialist reckons it can be healed back to normal 100%. But then she also thinks footballer Wayne Rooney is the British prime minister. I’m in a fucking wheelchair and on a drip. But strangely enjoying being waited on and given the opportunity to rest as much as I want. Franco-Vietnamese Hospital, Ho Chi Minh City. Fully covered for travel insurance. Thank fuck.

JOHN: How/why are you in Saigon? Your trip was to India.

MATT: I don’t fucking know. Why does the sun rise in the morning and then set again in the evening? Life leads me John and not the other way around.

JOHN: Deep vein thrombosis? Jesus. That’s the thing you’re supposed to get from long-distance flights, isn’t it? Keep a diary of your stay. It could be an Edinburgh Fringe comedy show.

MATT: That remains to be seen.

JOHN: Have you been elsewhere in SE Asia? Laos is interesting.

MATT: I spent a week or so in Bangkok. From there I came here. First time in Vietnam for me. When a new nurse comes to deal with me they ask if I live here in Saigon. When I say “Just a holiday” they sort of throw their heads back and laugh. What luck I have! What sort of a man gets deep vein thrombosis from a 90 minute flight? I ask you.

JOHN: What are your impressions of Saigon?

MATT: The ceiling in my room. The pisspot by my bed. The steady wheels of the commode, gliding gently across the polished floor of the ward. Seriously, the night before I was in the hospital, I was in the rooftop bar of the Caravelle Hotel sipping coffee, looking out over the rooftops of the city, my heart filled with joy. Isn’t there an Arabic proverb? One minute your hand is in your pocket, the next it’s up your arse… ?

Saigon in 1989, from the roof of the Rex Hotel

Saigon as it was in 1989, from the roof of the Rex Hotel

JOHN: I was in Saigon in 1989. I remember having drinks atop the Rex Hotel.

MATT: During the Vietnam War (it’s called the American War here) the Caravelle Hotel was the base for all the foreign journalists. That hotel was bombed, they managed to hit one of the rooms, but they reckon if they’d have targeted the bar instead they would’ve taken out every last one of the hacks.

JOHN: How did the hospitalisation happen?

MATT: I thought I’d torn my calf muscle. After three days I couldn’t walk, so I ended up coming in for a check-up. They gave me an ultra-sound scan and it turned out to be thrombosis. A public statement to the fact that I am suffering and I continue to suffer. Even Lewis Schaffer couldn’t lay claim to this.

JOHN: I wouldn’t be so sure.

MATT: I have only just let go of the notion that actually they’re going to amputate my leg. The things that have crossed this restless mind… If they did amputate it, would they show it to me afterwards? Would I want to see it? I doubt it. But, on the other hand, my chances of getting a series with the BBC would increase tenfold.

JOHN: I will blog about this tomorrow. Do you have a picture of yourself in a wheelchair or similar?

MATT: You’re a sick man, Fleming.

Modern-day Saigon, fortunately with Cuban-trained nurses

Modern-day Saigon, fortunately with Cuban-trained nurses

JOHN: Seriously. Send me a photo. When are you out?

MATT: When I’m allowed out. I don’t know. I think maybe a week or so more. I still can’t walk proper, so…

JOHN: Are you going elsewhere? Or coming straight back to the UK?

MATT: I really don’t know. I have either to stay put in Vietnam as they need to monitor my blood regularly or get back to Bangkok overland until it’s safe for me to fly again. Still, there’s stacks of material. Stacks of the stuff.

JOHN: It is an Edinburgh Fringe show. Trust me.

MATT: Nurse Than Thiet Sang must be credited for taking the attached photos of me. She was on a mission checking blood pressure before she was stopped to take these. If you really want a wheelchair shot you will have to wait until the male nurse who wheels me out for a strictly forbidden cigarette is on shift (later today).

JOHN: Too late. I will survive. I hope you do too.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Health, Vietnam

The Welsh language is just plain silly and is a clear sign of national insecurity

So, tell me, what is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

For the last couple of days, I have been staying on Cardigan Bay in West Wales.

When you walk in the streets and go into shops in Cardigan – or Aberteifi as it is now pointlessly half-re-named – people are sometimes speaking Welsh not English to each other. It was not until I worked in Ireland that I started to think the propagation of the Welsh language is ridiculously pointless.

If a language is dead, let it die. If it is still alive, it will survive without heavy-handed insistence that it must be used.

What is very relevant to this blog is the fact I am Scottish not English. Remember that my mother’s grandmother did not speak English until, in her late teens I think, she came down from the hills. The image of my grandmother coming down from the hills is one a friend of mine finds peculiarly funny but, anyway, my mother’s grandmother originally spoke Scots Gaelic as her native tongue, not English.

I once spent some time in the Outer Hebrides where I admired and was fascinated by how, in shops, people would speak to each other in sentences that meandered almost randomly between English and Gaelic words and phrases. They used whichever words and phrases came more naturally and fitted better. Sometimes the words were Gaelic, sometimes English; all within the same sentence.

I once had an interview for a job with Grampian Television in Aberdeen which basically transmitted to the Highlands while Scottish Television transmitted to the Lowlands. The conversation came round to starting a number of Gaelic-language programmes transmitted on Grampian (part of ITV) and on BBC Scotland. I said I thought it was silly because such a relatively small percentage of Scottish television viewers – by then almost entirely in the Western Isles with a small smattering in the Highlands – actually spoke Gaelic as their natural tongue.

The Grampian TV executive interviewing me was highly miffed.

“Ah! But you’re English!” he said to me.

“I was born in Campbeltown and partly brought up in Aberdeen,” I told him. “Where were you born?”

“London,” he said.

I did not get the job.

Later, I did a lot of freelance work over many years for HTV in Cardiff – or Caerdydd as it is now pointlessly half-re-named. It’s a bit like re-naming Saigon as Ho Chi Minh City when most of the inhabitants continue to call it Saigon.

As far as I remember, when I started working in South Wales, almost all the local signs were in English. I mean the road signs and the general retail shop signs.

At some point, almost imperceptibly, dual language signs started appearing, usually with the Welsh version first.

At around this time, or maybe a little later, there was an extended period where my full-time freelance work alternated between working for HTV in Cardiff and Tara TV in Dublin.

In Dublin, I could see old, rotting, rusting and ignored street signs in Irish Gaelic. All the current signs were in English. This was the period when the ‘Celtic Tiger‘ was on the rise and the Irish Republic had re-discovered its self-confidence.

It is very relevant that I was once sitting in an edit suite at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, directing a trailer for an RTE television programme which included an interview in which someone said a couple of sentences in Irish Gaelic.

“What did he say?” I asked the Irish videotape editor sitting with me.

“No idea,” he told me.

We had three other Irish people come into the suite. None of them knew what the Gaelic words meant. They had all had to ‘learn’ Gaelic at school but, just like British schoolkids who do five years of French at school, they could not speak and could barely understand the language because it was bugger-all use to them in everyday life.

It was at this time – alternating my time sometimes one week here/ one week there/ one week here/ one week there between Cardiff and Dublin – that I began to think the Welsh language was just plain silly.

It was silly because it was a mostly dead language being revived and imposed by a clique on a predominantly non-Welsh-speaking population.

One week, I returned to Cardiff from Dublin to find that the local Tesco store had changed all its signs to dual-language Welsh and English signs. Someone (Welsh) told me in near-disbelief that all the signs at the Tesco store in Abergavenny, where she lived, had also been changed.

“I swear to God, no-one bloody speaks Welsh in Abergavenny!” she told me.

By the time I stopped working at HTV, Lloyds Bank was calling itself Banc Lloyds (it has since re-re-branded itself simply as Lloyds TSB) and other shops and businesses were doing the same: making up their own names in Welsh. Mostly, I suspect, they were English companies trying to be politically correct and liberal, much like that English executive at Grampian TV trying to be so ‘right-on’.

Shortly before Tesco started changing its signs to dual-language Welsh & English, I had been on holiday to Cambodia and, in Phnom Penh, there was a street of hovels and shacks which were all English language ‘schools’. At that time, no-one had any money and there was a very real possibility that the homicidally extreme Khmer Rouge might regain power in the next month or two. But, as in almost all other parts of the world, people wanted to learn English because it was and is the ‘international’ language. If you are an outward-looking country with outward-looking thoughts, you learn English.

My understanding is that, after most of Ireland gained independence from Britain in the early 1920s (let us not get into any pedantic details of dates in Ireland: it will all end in many tears and much wailing), the republicans who ran the country wanted to encourage self-confidence and national pride.

So they called the new country Eire instead of Ireland, painted the red pillar boxes green, changed a few of the royal crests on stone buildings to harps and tried to get everyone to speak Gaelic. The country rotted in inward-looking isolation for decades, admittedly not helped by the fact successive UK governments had every reason to dislike American-born Eamon de Valera and his blindly Brit-hating chums.

But, by the time I worked in Dublin in the mid and late 1990s, the Irish Republic had regained its self-confidence and, although civil servants had to know Gaelic, the English language had taken over all everyday usage except in the extreme west of the country. The few Irish language signs in Dublin were faded and/or rusting.

Irish, like Scots Gaelic, was then and is now effectively a dead language naturally spoken by few people. Though long may they speak Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland. I have nothing against the natural rise and fall of any – indeed, all – languages.

But I am told by Welsh friends that, except in the West and sparsely-populated central highlands of Wales, the Welsh language had pretty-much died out by the late 19th century.

It was re-imposed rather than re-grew in Wales in the late 20th century.

My memory is that extreme Welsh nationalists got publicity in English newspapers by setting off some minor explosions and burning down occasional second homes owned by ordinary English people in Wales.

Then some second-rate people who could not get jobs in media, politics and the local civil service had the bright idea of looking to what their USP was – they could speak Welsh – and they pushed for Welsh-language TV programmes, an entire Welsh TV channel and the use of the Welsh language in the local civil service because, that way, they would have a positive advantage in getting jobs.

The Welsh language was, to an extent, partially revived not by natural growth and usage but by xenophobia and the self-interest of a small clique.

Yes, that’s a very personal view of what happened, but not necessarily totally untrue.

English politicians, frightened of alienating the Welsh, went along with it for electoral gain and you now have a country where people have a TV channel –  S4C – which most of them don’t understand and dual-language signs only half of which most understand – the English language half.

While the rest of the world was moving towards internationally-understood English, a group of self-serving xenophobes in Wales (where English was already established) were pushing for the renewed use of a mostly-dead language known only by some in Wales and nowhere else except some obscure area of Patagonia.

Looking inwards in an increasingly international world is not a good idea. An insistence on trying to spread the Welsh language more widely in Wales is not a sign of national identity. It is a sign of national insecurity.

Right or wrong, that’s my viewpoint. Like I said at the start, What is the point of having a blog if you can’t write bigoted pieces based on truth, half-truths and misunderstandings?

Oh – Abergavenny has now been pointlessly half-re-named Y Fenni.

Really! Give me a break, chaps or – as Google Translate claims that would be said in Welsh – yn rhoi i mi egwyl, chaps.

What sort of sensible language doesn’t have a word for “chaps”?

Dim sense.

18 Comments

Filed under History, Politics, Wales