Come see me at the Fringe!

It’s official. I am appearing at 16.15, 6 – 16 August at Opium Bar on the Cowgate.

Excited to share the stories of people and place from three countries I have lived in and loved.

You can see a link to some of the show here, published by the Glasgow Review of Books.

Look forward to seeing you there.

small version final poster

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Changing Yangon – Pegu Club

Copyright Catriona Knapman

Children Play at the Pegu Club, Yangon, 2013: Copyright Catriona Knapman

“The Pegu Club seemed to be full of men on their way up or down…”

Quote from R.Kipling, From Sea to Sea

Once the exclusive club for British Expats during the Burmese Colonial period, now creaking floorboards, smashed windows, broken stairways the building are all that remain to show something of what it used to be … bridge games, ballroom dances, swirling stairwells, cocktails at four. It is waiting for a developer with a passion for restoring the past; however all the new apartment towers in the city suggest that they are not what most developers are dreaming for the new Yangon. There used to be a ‘no traditional dress’ rule which excluded the Burmese from entering the club, today Burmese children play together in the overgrown gardens … as we have all heard, times are changing in Yangon.

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Burma/Myanmar is one of the countries featured in my Edinburgh Fringe Show ‘Out On The World’. 16.15 at Opium Bar on the Cowgate 6 – 16 August 2016.

Come along if you are in Edinburgh.

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Information for travellers:

Visit the Pegu Club on Zagawar Street, off Pyay Road, near the Taw Win Centre, Yangon, Burma.
Entrance is free.

Follow Lucky Dip Life of Facebook.

 

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A Lesson in Communication in Kayah State, Burma

I walk through the town, watching people, watching me. Loikaw, Kayah State, is still one of the places in Burma that it is not clear whether foreigners can go. We checked the restrictions many times before I came to visit my friend. Yet even at the airport, I expect the soldiers and immigration officials to shake their head, send me back to Yangon.

The people are shy, they say nothing, but they are curious. They let me walk the streets, without saying a word about my obvious difference.

I walk around town, looking for breakfast.

“What is there to eat?” I ask. Food is one of the topics I know in Burmese.

The woman shakes her head, bows down, steps away.

I repeat. She shakes her head faster. Turns up her lip, becomes defensive.

‘I am speaking Burmese’ I tell her and she stares again at my strange face, as if my lips could never say words, that she will understand.

I try again, another place. I struggle through, repeat the order four times, until finally they show me the options, in a dark kitchen, a heavily smoking fire, tea pots boiling, condensed milk tins open on a granite counter, the boy grinning at plain white bread, toasting on open flames. I point.

Girl Kayah

Later in the day, the same words, take me into a long conversation with a woman market stall holder, who invites me to sit at her stall, to drink her tea, to eat salad, to present myself to the other stall holders, who all are amazed that I can say words in their language. They ask me all the questions, they dreamed of asking other foreigners. Like where do I come from? What work a I doing here? Where are my family?

As I walk away from the stall, I think, learning a language is no guarantee to connection. I must just accept words as they come, reach out into the open as I can.

It is more than words that join us.

I think, if others close doors, it is too easy to be defensive. I can choose to stay open. So, when we pass  each other, if someone wants to join with me, I can be welcome.

Story: Monk on the Hill

There is a monk on a hill, building a new road to a monastery, that few visit, cutting through stone like crumbling cake, talking of revolutions, insurgencies, unspoken things. Stone mouths, crack open on the new road.

People go up and down, by different routes, study travelling away, coming back,
uncovering what has never been said.

monk

I walk back down, by the long road, the monks shows me the way, pointing with his long wooden stick, warning of monkeys in the trees, dogs in the bushes.

Stepping over the railway line, that my friend helped to build as a child, seeing the sun hit the rails, going to join her now, years later, where she is the one quietly travelling.

 

 

 

Story: Full Moon Day of Tazaungmone

On the night before full moon in November, the pagodas of Myanmar stay open all night to welcome visitors. People lie on rough blankets on the marble pagoda floor and set up small camps beside golden Buddhas and under golden awnings. People stop pray, pour water and light candles in honour of the symbol of the day of the week they were born.

Shwe Dagon Pagoda is a giant Buddhist temple built in the 6th century. In its golden tower, alongside diamonds and jewels are eight hairs from the head of the Lord Gautama Buddha. It is located in the centre of Yangon, at the top of long steeps flights of stairs. The central courtyard makes a wide circle, decorated with lines of shrines, fountains and candles on the inside. On the outside there are small houses with Buddha statutes in different forms shapes and sizes, with lanterns, fairy lights, marble and glistening golden walls.

Tazaungmone is the festival to make new robes for the Buddha statutes in the pagoda. Groups work on looms to weave new cloth in a bright golden yellow. Crowds cheer on as the competition to be the first group to finish gains momentum. The crowd watch on via video transmission into the central room of the Pagoda.

Weaving

Everyone smiles, stops, stares as I pass.

” Minglabar” they all say.

“Minglabar” I say back and they are delighted with my one word of Burmese, laughing and pointing

“Minglabar!” We communicate by signs, pointing to their children, or sweet smelling jasmine flowers. One little boy jumps in front of the camera, grins as I take a picture, then rushes forward to shake my hand piping:

“Nice to meet you.”

Nice to Meet You

Others are keen to practice English and they stop me to discuss religion, politics, my home country, my job and pop music. One monk and his friends ask about my taste in music.

“Do you like Justin Bieber? Do you like Katy Perry? Do you like nightclub? “

“Do you like Justin Bieber?” I ask

“No” the monk laughs back, “I am a monk, I cannot listen Justin Bieber!”

Others consider more philosophical questions. A young boy asks about the meaning of life.

“We have one life and it ends.” He announces. “So what will we do then?”his eyes wide and round, his mouth wide in a smile.

Prayer

As night goes on, more people prepare to sleep, it feels like Christmas and New Year all in one night. When the sun starts to come through the clouds it casts warm light onto the golden tower, people hand out sweet rolls and red juice, monks lay out their wooden bowls to collect donations. Some sitting humbly, other walking among the crowds, others moving in groups, descending on the generous and the tourists in groups of ten or twenty like children trick or treating at Halloween. Some seem delighted with their gifts. One young boy monk struggles to carrying his collection of gifts, his bowl and hands overflowing with bits of cake, some money, fruit, piles of noodles.

Dawn

As day hits the pagoda the temple loses some of its magic. People disperse into the city and everyday movement returns to the towers and statutes of the Pagoda. The full moon gives way to the sun and the monks move to eat a donated breakfast in another part of town, before getting on buses back to their monasteries, their bags of goodies tucked like a children’s presents under their robes.

Pagoda Morning

Story: Walking and Talking with Monks

“We are walking and talking,”he says abruptly from the crowd. A short monk, dressed in a dark red robe and carrying a wooden collection bowl. Thick tufts of grey hair grow directly from his ears.

“We are walking and talking, ” he repeats.

“OK.” I say.

So we begin to walk and talk, circling the giant golden pagoda tower, our bare feet moving over the morning marble floor. We move through crowds of people who watch us, some greeting the monk.

“My students,” he says.

He talks about UK politics, wonders about Tony Blair’s career after politics. He discusses the role of the USA in South Asian politics.

“Someone told me a story of a Scotsman who got a fly in his whiskey. He picked out the fly and continued to drink. They say the Scots are very miser,” he laughs, “is this true?” Quickly, he looks right.

“Chinese tourists” he says with a wink, rushing forward with his alms bowl for donations. The Chinese tourists give generously. He smiles at me, shutting the lid on his bowl.

He talks about his life in a monastery north of Yangon, and the bus he will take to return there later on in the day. We continue to walk around the pagoda tower.

“We find teashop, go for tea” he suggests.

A young monk is offers noodles by one of the grand entrances to the pagoda. The monk rushes forward again.

“Noodles, good with tea” he grins accepting a large spoonful of noodles into the bottom of his bowl.

We start to walk down stairs to look for the teashop. At the exit, people offer drinks to people for the festival day.

“Cold drink” he says, “very nice cold drink.” He takes a cup, swallowing it quickly.

“Teashop not this exit, back up.” he says, so we take an elevator back up to the pagoda, now hot and bright with day. We circle again looking for the teashop.

“What time is it?”

“I have a clock that talks” he says. “A talking clock.” He presses the talking clock, which says in American:

“It is eight o two o’clock.”

We circle the pagoda a few more times.

We do not find the teashop, it is already day. The monk starts walking towards the exit. “Eight o’clock. Free lunch near Phay Road in one hour for monk. Monk not eat afternoon.” He smiles, beckoning me to follow.