Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Around the World in 212 Days with Ken Feit

Ken Feit performance poster courtesy of Jef Lambdin

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My October series honoring the 72nd birthday of the late, great "itinerant fool" Ken Feit included a post on his incredible travel journals, reproduced in the form of three PDFs. At the time I mentioned that I was still missing the holy grail letter, the one about his most ambitious trip, a seven-month, around-the-world journey that took him and San Francisco street juggler Ray Jason from the U.S. to England, Scotland, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Russia, Japan (via the trans-Siberian Express), Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Burma, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia (including Bali), China, Australia, New Zealand, and French Polynesia. Phew!

And now thanks to Barbara Leigh of the Milwaukee Public Theatre, we have that 22-page document and, with a bit of serendipity, a "new" poster (above; click to enlarge) of Ken unearthed by my old buddy, North Carolina mime performer and movement historian Jef Lambdin. Yahoo!

What was amazing about Ken's adventures was his total openness and his genius for quickly getting to know some of the most fascinating people — many of them performing artists — wherever he went. I travel a lot, and do my best to go beyond the artificiality of the pre-fabricated tourist experience, but I definitely feel like a gringo in Bermuda shorts and a Hawaiian shirt compared to Ken.

In Java, performances last for nine hours, in Bali for four hours, and the audience generally falls asleep or steps out at times. The trick is to know when to wake up, generally around 2:00 AM when the clowns come on the scene; the performance ends at sunrise.

These are travel journals, not just performing arts research, but within its pages you will find adventures encompassing the Edinburgh Fringe; Russian circus; Japanese bunya, noh, and bunraku; Filipino tribal storytellers; Balinese dance and masks; Chinese opera and circus. And stories galore. One of my favorites was told to Ken by an octogenarian lumber merchant who was on Ken's official tour of China (only way to go in those days). He had lived in Shanghai from 1936 to 1941 before immigrating to the United States:

Once he was dining with a Chinese doctor when there was a knock at the door. There stood a man with a bandaged head and a bandaged object in his hand. Unwinding his head gauze revealed that his ear was missing; he was holding it in his hand. The doctor upon examining the ear sent him away telling him that the ear was too old and withered to sew back on. The man bowed politely and left. An hour later there was another knock. There stood the same man holding a fresh ear in his hand.

Ken's comment: "Thereafter I wore a hat in China."

Ken passed on another story to me from this same elderly Chinese gentleman, one that doesn't appear in this letter, but which I still remember: Here he was, returning to his native country after nearly four decades away. When they reached Shanghai, he decided to go see if the building housing his old office was still there. He did, and it was, so he went upstairs. Lo and behold, there was the same office door, and it still had his name on it.

You can't make this stuff up. Read and enjoy!

Click here for all the Ken Feit posts.

1 comment:

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