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Lynn Ruth Miller – performing comedy in Singapore and burlesque in London

Lynn Ruth Miller on the menu at Comedy Masala, Singapore

In her last blog here, posted yesterday, 85-year-old London-based US comic Lynn Ruth Miller was in Beijing. Now she is back in the UK after the first half of, pretty much, a world tour. She writes:


On the train from Gatwick Airport to Victoria, I looked so dead that the woman opposite gave me a bottle of red wine to pep me up.  It didn’t.

I am about to collapse. I just lost 13 hours. Let me know if you find them.

I am so jet lagged I cannot think; but this just might be an improvement

After Beijing, I flew to Singapore. It was my third time in that magic, clean and well-organized city and it amazes and saddens me that it is such a beautiful place to live… because it is run by a dictatorial government.  

I have not talked to one person there who does not love the life, the safety on the streets, the lack of homelessness, the superior health care. But it is a city that will execute you if you deal in drugs and will cane you publicly if you are naughty.  

If you litter the streets, you are publicly shamed and, if you chew gum or cross in the middle of a road, you will be arrested. No-one seems to mind that his or her vote is meaningless. They approve of these laws and believe it makes for a better quality of life for them all.   

When I look at the poverty, homelessness, squalor and anger under our so-called democratic regimes, I wonder if the Singapore people do not have it right.

In Singapore, I was hosted by a great friend, Umar Rana, the producer of Comedy Masala, and his Czechoslovakian wife Silvie. I knew his phone number and someone at Singapore Airport Immigration called him for me to get the address. Then they had the problem of trying to locate my fingerprints. Over the years, my thumb has worn smooth and it took two powerful machines to figure out that my thumb was me.

When I got through Customs and out, the hot, damp Singapore air hit me like a damp sponge after the relatively cool, invigorating air in Beijing.

(L-R) Umar Rana, comic Ben Quinlan and wife Tiffany, Lynn Ruth and Silvie Kneblova-Rana out on the town in Singapore

Umar and Silvie live in a large condo and I had a quiet room of my own so it was like a hotel but much nicer because both Ranas were anxious to keep me comfortable and well fed.

They have a cat named Tangie who had a room of her own as well.

Umar kept reminding me that his was a fully equipped home. The two of them do not drive because keeping a car in Singapore is grossly expensive and the public transportation is excellent.

I am struck by what Renaissance Men become comedy producers. Dilip in Manila deals in property development and affordable housing; Eamonn in Jakarta is into energy conservation, magazine publishing, public service and so  many more projects I cannot believe he finds time to produce the entertaining and very popular show that he does at the American Club;  Umar in Singapore is a Pakistani and has been a banker and lived and worked in many different cultures.  

He went to school in Amherst, one of America’s finest Universities, then went from America to the Far East to work. After several other locales, he moved to Singapore about twelve years ago.    

People who live and work internationally seem to have a wider, less restrictive view of what it is to be human. Differences of philosophy or behaviour interest them rather than putting them off. It has been an education to know and talk to these men.

I was in Singapore to perform for two nights at Comedy Masala.

I did not have to do an entire hour although I was headlining. I only needed to do 30 minutes. Audiences in Singapore are very diverse and very open-minded and, with performers there, I never feel the competitiveness that I do with comedians in other cultures. In Singapore, they all seem to support one another and encourage each other.

With many of the shows I do in Southeast Asia, I always feel the line-ups are mediocre or inexperienced comedians but, in Singapore, Umar runs a tight show: three comedians and a headliner and his comedians are always very good.  

The audience was very mixed: French, Italian, Australian, American and Singaporean but more local than international.

The opener was a boy named Matthew Chalmers from Glasgow and he was superb. His jokes were sharp and fast and clever. His jokes were about being Glaswegian and I felt they were not getting the laughs they deserved. It could be because what he said resonated with me but not to people who cannot imagine a place like Glasgow where Jack Daniels is the local nectar and deep-fried Mars Bars are considered health food.

The second comedian was Ben Quinlan. Truly professional. He won a very prestigious competition not long ago in Hong Kong. He looks Caucasian but is half Chinese, born and raised in Hong Kong. His forte is accents and he is wonderful imitating Thai speech and Indian speech.  

The last comedian before me was Adrian Saw, a magician who works in finance during the day. I thought he was really good, though doing magic in a dimly-lit room where people cannot see you clearly is a huge challenge.

I did straight stand-up instead of my hour-long show which is a combination of stories and jokes and it seemed to go over OK but, as it often is with Asian audiences, they were not very loud in their approval or their laughter. So, although I got many compliments and much praise, I am not certain of the impact.   

However, one couple was getting every joke. They were originally from Melbourne but had spent the last several years in New Guinea and this was their last night in Singapore before moving to France.

Lynn Ruth also performed on Ladies Night at the 360 Bar…

You often find that expats in Asia are people with excellent high-paying jobs whose companies move them from one country to another so they become very international in their perspective and in their outlook on what life is about. There is a realism to them that I find very refreshing and often they are able to separate themselves from the culture they are in and see it clearly.  

The people I have met are uniformly liberal even though they work for companies that are certainly more to the right on the political spectrum. These people observe cultures rather than participate in them because, no matter how long they live in one place, they are still outsiders.

Singapore is really lovely at night, with tall modern buildings and a sense of constant activity. Something is always happening.

Silvie says it is a very expensive city but it takes good care of its residents with housing, medical and education benefits. It does not have a homeless problem and its residents are very proud of its cleanliness and its safety. You can walk down any street in Singapore at any hour of the day or night and feel safe.

I arrived back at Gatwick Airport at 3:45pm, having lost 13 hours of daylight and was hit with a 42F degree chill.  

Sultry Lynn Ruth in her “sexy silk pyjamas”

The minute I got to the train station, someone helped me on with my case before I even asked. Another person helped organize my case so it didn’t obstruct the other passengers. Someone carried my case down Victoria Station’s steps to the tube. Someone else helped me get that case on the train. To make me feel even more wanted and loved, the bus driver waited for me to round the corner to get on the bus. I was so thrilled I forgot to shiver.

British people help one another because it is the right thing to do.  

It felt very good to be home, back in London. Tomorrow, I am off to perform in a burlesque show.

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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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The Miller in Manila: comic Lynn Ruth discovers the benefits of now being 85

On her last appearance in this blog, London-based American stand-up storytelling comic and late-blooming burlesque dancer Lynn Ruth Miller was telling tales of her six – count ‘em, six – 85th birthday parties in London and Brighton and was on her way to Cannes. 

Now she is in the Far East.


It started in the tube train going to London Airport. I wondered how on earth I was going to get my heavy, heavy case up stairs and escalators when I got to Terminal 3.

But a lovely man said he too was getting off at my terminal and WITHOUT MY ASKING dragged the case up escalators, down escalators through swinging doors right to my check-in desk. Then he hugged me and hurried off to his job. He is the one who replaces the floor tiles in the terminal when disgusting clods like me tramp on them and dislodge them.  

I make my living telling naughty jokes that emasculate men and I am properly ashamed. This man represents Britain at its Best even though he was a Bulgarian immigrant who could barely speak English and sends his whole paycheck home to his starving mother and over-privileged cat.

I flew Philippine Airlines and it felt like I was going first class instead of steerage. Their planes are immaculate and roomy. 

I had been told everyone has a helluva time in Immigration at Manila Airport, but Filipinos love little old ladies. At least the ones in Immigration do. Despite the fact that I couldn’t remember the day I was leaving and forgot the name of the hotel I was in, I was whooshed through the line and literally given my bag as it sailed around the carousel by two eager young men who were afraid I would fall apart and my bones would scatter all over their luggage.   

Two policemen called me “Darling” and showed me the reception area at the airport. That was when magic happened.  

The warm reception for Lynn Ruth at Manila Airport

Dilip Budhrani was there with his wife Saira, and his two children Mika (8 going on 21) and Vedant (11 going on 40). Both children hugged me and handed me a spectacular bouquet of flowers. I felt like Cinderella before midnight.  

I was taken to The Picasso Boutique Hotel in Salcedo Village in Makati City. The walls are filled with Picassos from his cubist period. I went up to my room expecting a ROOM.

Instead I was in a three room suite that is bigger than my entire Stamford Hill flat. It had an electric range, a refrigerator, the usual tea kettle and with teas and coffees and a sunken bathtub.

I felt like I should have had my hair and nails done and got a complete overhaul before entering the place. 

Naturally I had no idea how to turn on the recessed lights, open the refrigerator or find the closet, but 8 year old Mika knew. Then all of us went out for dinner at a Spanish restaurant down the street. Guess what was waiting for me when I came back after an amazing dinner at Terry’s? ANOTHER birthday cake.

I was beginning to think I could never live up to what these people expect of me. I am far too ordinary.

However I was wrong. 

I went to the Relik Bar and performed my show This Is Your Future to THE most appreciative audience ever.  

The guy in the front table was David Charlton from Sunderland who owns a chain of beauty salons. He took one look at me and insisted I go to one of his salons to get made over before the show tomorrow night – in Manila, not Sunderland. 

Sunderland is very North in England, which explains why he understood the underlying filth in my performance. No-one else in the place knew what dogging was… and he probably invented it. He has a glamorous Filipino partner who was conservatively dressed, which must puzzle him. Girls up north in England go out on the town with a fur wrap and band-aids over their bits.

“Response got me all revved up…”

The next day I did my inspirational talk Optimistic Living at The Union Jack Tavern. To my shock, the place was filled and I told my silly stories about giving it a go, no matter how bleak the prospects. They evidently loved it. They told me this was because it gave them hope that, even though they had messed up their lives, they had another chance to make things right. Their response got me all revved up to do Ageing is Amazing. Sadly I had forgotten to bring my costume for this event.

But Dilip’s wife Saira managed to get together an acceptable costume, a feather boa and some disposable diapers. Her PR friend had loads and loads of wigs. I rehearsed the songs over and over and OVER and remembered it all and sung without a mistake. I got a standing ovation for that one. Afterwards, guess what they brought up on stage?

ANOTHER birthday cake.

A word about Manila…  

It has unbelievable traffic and buildings with offices open all night. These are the call centers. More than 1 million Filipinos now work at call centers and in related outsourcing businesses, mostly serving American companies. Corporations such as Citibank, Safeway, Chevron and Aetna as well as smaller companies ranging from a Georgia medical collection agency to a New York spa operator that outsources its customer appointments. People in these centers earn as much as $700 a month (£535.50) which is double the salary of a Manila bank teller.  

Flying high – “Filipinos are uncommonly polite and caring.”

Filipinos are uncommonly polite and caring.

You never enter a door that someone doesn’t open for you (at least I didn’t) and, when I was out in a sudden rainstorm, a lovely man walked me under his umbrella to an intersection where he was turning and a young woman going the opposite direction then turned around and took me to the hotel.    

When I did the inspirational talk, a lovely woman gave me a truly exquisite scarf beautifully wrapped to welcome me to Manila. I walked by a deli just to check it out and, when I returned to grab a coffee and a scone, that doorman remembered me and welcomed me. I came back the next day for an omelette and again he greeted me as if I were his best friend.  

This kind of thing does not happen in America.

If you get caught in a rainstorm there, it is your problem and, if you walk by a store without going in and SPENDING LOTS OF MONEY, they hate you.

Such is the culture from which I sprouted. 

Donald Trump is no surprise.  

Next stop, Jakarta in Indonesia.  

… CONTINUED HERE

 

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In New Orleans, a 76-year-old mixture of James Brown, Ray Charles and Elvis

Samantha, in this shot, clearly not in New Orleans…

My chum from Lancashire, Samantha Hulme, is currently in New Orleans.

She has been staying with a friend who lives there.

She met him on a previous visit.

She sent me a video of him singing in his living room.

In a second message to me, she wrote:


I love it here.

I love to travel

When I found New Orleans and knew I wanted to make a life here.

Whenever I travel I don’t want to be a stereotypical tourist. I want to be safe, but I want to see the real country, the culture, the real people. I was lucky enough to get the offer of accommodation from Mr James Winfield – stage name The Sleeping Giant.

It was an act of kindness stereotypical of this city. In his own words, he never wants another woman again. He was just genuinely trying to help me.

I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to learn so much about music with a man who was recording records in the 1960s before I was even born. I have had the true New Orleans experience.

I couldn’t have done it better. I have laughed so much I cried with laughter on various occasions – the man’s absolute bluntness, his wry sense of humour, alongside his total inability to understand what I am saying in my northern accent most of the time, will be an experience which will keep me laughing for the next year.

It was like s mixture of living with James Brown, Ray Charles and Elvis – His voice has characteristics off all of them at times.

I am a physical & movement therapist and I can’t believe the stark difference in how we age in the UK compared to here.

James is 76 yrs old.

He works full-time as a panel beater and sprays cars. He sings a few nights a week and he goes out there blazing in all his stereotypical New Orleans fancy suits, bright shoes and I have never known a man with so many hats. He appears to have boundless energy.

I know no-one in the UK like this even a decade younger than him. 

Then I look at quite a few of the great musicians and singers here in New Orleans living into their 90s and I can see why.

I love New Orleans.

The video clip I sent you before of James singing in his house was a wonderful spontaneous moment of seeing my new friend jamming with his grandson and what I really saw was his huge love of music that afternoon. When the man talks he sounds like his singing.

But I don’t think it fair to show him only singing to a piece of bread in the afternoon.

So here is a video of him singing at a club as well.

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Kate Copstick on Kenyan problems in a country changing fast for good or bad

Copstick at Mama Biashara’s shop in London

Comedy critic and journalist Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya, working with her charity Mama Biashara.

The charity, among other things, aims to help people out of poverty by giving them start-up money (and advice) to create their own small, self-sustaining businesses. 

But changes in Kenya are currently causing major problems for Mama Biashara and the people it helps, as these latest extracts from Copstick’s diaries show.

The extracts have been edited by me for length. The uncut originals are on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


Hawkers at Mwariro Market, in Kariokor, Nairobi

MONDAY 

David arrives and we go off to Kariokor to get bag shells and beads so that the Mary Faith girls can start making the Happy Bags to sell in the Mama Biashara charity shop in London.

En route David helpfully points out buildings that have been demolished in the new wave of destruction. We also pass endless stretches of roadside where there used to be little kiosks and small Mama Biashara level businesses. Now there is nothing. I have absolutely no idea in what way this could be seen as an improvement. 

Kariokor is baking under the sun. David drops me at the British High Commission for my meeting with Geraint Double-Barrelled (not his real name). 

We sit in the High Commission’s garden and talk about: 

  1. the ‘Fast Track’ grant he had suggested I apply for but the application form for which absolutely defeated me with its demands for a log matrix and committees for every step of the way. Geraint is hugely sympathetic. He says that the guys who put these forms together have more or less lost the ability to speak ‘human being’. By the time we have gone through a few things, he has me convinced to try again, wade through the ghastly jargon and go for it for The Phoenix Project.
  2. my idea to bring a group of the Mama Biashara suppliers – the real artisans – over to the UK and do a sort of cultural/Mama Biashara business showcase is not feasible, he says. Apparently not with something so small. Although if we can find a sponsor… 
  3.  the ongoing problem of the sexual assaults being carried out by members of the British Army in Kenya on the young women of Nanyuki. We were alerted to this about a year ago. I could find no-one who would speak to me. This is nowhere near Geraint’s remit but he listened sympathetically and says he will flag it up to the Deputy High Commissioner. He is a genuinely decent bloke. 

We go back into town. Doris wants to eat at the Pork Place and, over delicious chunks of pork and a bottle of beer, I discover why she is feeling so ‘overwhelmed’. 

It is not only in Nairobi town that the City Councils have turned on the small businesses. Out in Kenol, where Doris lives, the bulldozers are sent in at night to destroy small kiosks and roadside stalls. She was awoken by the screaming and crying of the business people as they saw their livelihoods wiped out. 

She has been fielding calls from hysterical Mama Biashara people from Rongai where the same thing is happening. Anything and anyone not doing business inside private property is bulldozed, arrested and/or has their goods confiscated. Hundreds of small businesses have been ground into the dust in just a couple of days. Many are businesses that Mama Biashara started. 

All the ladies who used to sell in the huge traffic jams for which Rongai is famous have been arrested and beaten up or lost their stock when running away. 

Then Purity called from Limuru to say that it is happening there too. All Mama Biashara’s second hand book businesses have been demolished; there is now not a single small business to be seen. It is like a ghost town, says Purity. 

All of this on the orders of Kiambu Governor Waitoto in Limuru (who actually started out as a hawker himself) and Governor Mike Sonko in Nairobi. It is an absolute disaster. And utterly overwhelming. 

The same is, according to Vicky, happening in Mombasa and along the coast. It is as if the rich in Kenya have declared out-and-out war on the poor. There is no option for people at these levels. No social security, no benefits of any kind at all. Once the business is wiped out as comprehensively as is happening now, they have, literally, nothing. So desperate men turn to crime, women turn to prostitution and a lot of people just die. It may well be that this is the plan. 

In terms of what Mama Biashara does, we can no longer set up these tiny seed businesses that have grown so well over the years. No-one, it seems, can do any kind of anything on public land. 

TUESDAY

The Mama Biashara peeps I had told about the meeting with Mr Double-Barrelled are disappointed that I am not off buying their tickets to London but, I reassure them, I am not giving up. 

Land Securities – our longtime benefactors and landlords in London – might just be interested in sponsoring a sort of cultural thingy – to tour their many shopping malls maybe. We shall see.

They have been extraordinarily good to us.

We meet up with Doris and Purity and discuss the awfulness of the social cleansing pogrom the cities and towns are perpetrating.

The Powers That Be have the following reasons for these Clearances…

The President is obsessed with his ‘legacy’ (standing at 221 billion debt to the Chinese at the mo) of infrastructure. Roads are being built, forced through, widened and, in many cases, yes, massively improved all over the cities. 

But this has only a negative effect on the poorest of people. You can die by the side of a beautifully constructed superhighway going somewhere you will never see. 

There is a huge black economy here in Kenya and the hawkers are part of it. Pretty much all the starter Mama Biashara businesses are.

In Nairobi – and here I sympathise with the Powers That Be – you could walk along, say, River Road, and hawkers are elbow to elbow. 

But there are also shops there, frequently selling the same stuff as the hawkers, except paying massive rents and taxes and whatnot. So it seems fair that you cannot hawk outside a shop selling the same as you, or block its entrance. 

But, in true Mama Biashara fashion, Purity is already finding a way through the destruction for our ladies. FYI Purity got her starter grant about seven years ago and her businesses are doing really well, have expanded, moved and, wherever she is, she is our eyes and ears on the ground and she is SO helpful to the women. 

Most roadside shops are built on a concrete platform with a wee bit that pokes out the front. If our people are there, they are safe. So Purity has been going around asking shopkeepers – and frequently being asked by them because bodies on the stoop are good security – if our people can do their business on the stoop (no sniggering at the back, you know what I mean). 

This is our way forward. Our ladies who work inside buildings doing food etc are all OK and another way we are going forward is simply to make our stuff that is so popular (like the samosas) and the clients have to send a bike to the village to collect.

Nairobi – It is changing fast, but is it always for the better?

WEDNESDAY

The road building is evident everywhere. Massive structures have gone up in Kenol where, at some point, there will be a flyover. Miles of roadside are now just rubble, waiting for a road extension.

If they had any sense they would bang on an emissions tax and every lorry and matatu that belches out thick – bordering on solid – black gunk would either pay up, clean up, or get off the road. Revenue, ecology and easing traffic… But, of course, the lorries and matatus are owned by Big People so nothing bad happens to them. 

Suswa has become HUGE since last I was there. And all the way along the road across the Rift Valley there are huge new developments. Mainly Chinese, once you get close enough to read the writing. Or Somali. But the landscape is no longer flat. Suswa now has a big hotel, a hot springs spa thing and a tourist centre where you can go and watch the Parliament of Monkeys.

… CONTINUED HERE


Mama Biashara is totally financed from sales in its London charity shop and by individual donations. You can donate here.

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