Notes from Edinburgh

Posted on August 9, 2011


My English friends keep pointing out British celebrities here at the Edinburgh Fringe that I didn’t know were celebrities:

“Hey, look behind you.  That’s Ruby Wax!” 
“Who’s Ruby Wax?” 
“Are you serious?  She’s been on the telly for years.” 
“Sorry, but I’m not familiar with British television celebrities.” 
“But she’s an American!” 
“But she’s only on TV in the UK, right?” 
“She’s gone now!  Couldn’t you just pretend to get excited?  Hey, look, that’s Richard Herring!”
“Who’s Richard Herring?”

I’ve enjoyed their frustration so much that I’ve extended my ignorance to American celebrities as well:

“Hey, Paul, I just saw John Malkovich and Julian Sands.”
“I told you I don’t know any British TV stars.”
“John Malkovich is an American!”
“But he’s on British TV, right?”
“He’s a major movie star!”
“Then why is he doing British TV?”

Michael Winslow, the voice comedian from the Police Academy movies, shares the same venue as our show.  I thought about going to see him when I saw his ad in a Fringe magazine touting him as the “Man of 1000 Voices”, but later in the week I saw posters proclaiming him to be the “Man of 10,000 Voices”.  I just find it incredibly hard to believe that he learned another 9,000 voices in the short time he has been here. 

And who is in charge of verifying whether he can really do 10,000 voices?  A high number like 10,000 stretches believability, but if he thought audiences would be attracted above all by quantity,  I would have recommended he choose an idiosyncratic number like the “Man of 5,758 Voices”, a number so random that you automatically assume it must be true.

The Man of 5,758 Voices?

The women in Edinburgh seem especially attractive but you shouldn’t trust my judgment on who is and who isn’t good-looking because after living in China for seven years as a 6’2″ man in a country full of 5’1″ women, I now find almost every tall woman incredibly attractive.  And if you give her a hair color other than black, then I’m automatically convinced she’s a model. 

“That woman is so beautiful!  Wow!  She must be 5’10”, and she has red hair!  She must be a model or something!”
“I doubt it.”
“If she’s a model, why would she be driving this bus?”


I visited Edinburgh a decade ago, and it seemed like a major city, but after living seven years in Shanghai, a city of 20-25 million people, a city like Edinburgh of only 500,000 seems tiny.  Every day here I’m thrilled to bump into someone I know because I know a couple hundred people in Shanghai but I never bump into anyone ever.  My excitement whenever I bump into someone probably makes me sound like I’m picking up on her/him: “Can you believe we bumped into each other again?  We meet in line at a show last night south of the city center and now we’re in the east end and bump into each again.  Wow!  What are the chances?”  Apparently, the chances are pretty good because nobody but me seems impressed. 

Our play is featured at the Underbelly venue on the University of Edinburgh campus.  The campus has a computer room for Underbelly performers who come and go throughout the day, oftentimes in full costume and make-up.  Every morning I smile when I scan the rows of computers and find princesses, fairies, a Frank Sinatra impersonator, soldiers, and 50’s go-go dancers checking their emails.

We perform in this building at Underbelly.

All pictures taken by my friend Natasha.

Posted in: Columns