June 19th, 2008 fay
1pm Sunday. Tommy and I set off well prepared for the community bookbinding event – we’ve got newly printed programme notes for the booklets, lovely brown paper for the cover, and spools of yellow, red and orange thread to bind them all together. But we are not really prepared for the welcome we get when we turn left up an Edinburgh side street and find ourselves in Hong Kong.
Home from home for the Chinese community, aged one month (in the sunny corner) to 83 years
Cathay Court community lounge is full of friends and members of the Chinese Elderly Centre. Women (and some men) of all ages are chatting, laughing and eating. There is a murmur of Cantonese. A table is spread with food in colours and textures you probably won’t find in any Chinese restaurant in Scotland: bright green cakes, sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves, soft snow-white dumplings dusted in coconut and filled with crunchy peanut sauce. “Have some of everything,” says Fooklan Szeto loading our plates and pouring cups of green tea.
This is a community event organised by Kimho Ip with the help of funding from China Now in Scotland. But, like almost every other part of Dialogues of Wind and Bamboo, the practical function of bookbinding soon becomes a creative, sociable, intercultural get together.
Plates and tables cleared, Tommy briefly demonstrates a simplified Chinese bookbinding technique. He has hardly finished before hands reach out for needles, thread and paper and – without discussion – teams organise themselves into tasks. Folding, stamping, sewing. Folding, stamping, sewing and singing!
The Chinese harp in the corner comes to life as Mei-Chi Law begins to play. Jet-lagged but smiling Mei-Chi explains she has just arrived from Hong Kong for Saturday’s performance. “I feel fine, the sun is shining,” she says.
In just over two hours we have 228 beautifully bound booklets, more than enough for the audience in the Temperate Palm House. “Two, two eight is very simple in Chinese,” says Linda coaxing me to say it. I just about master it when we reach 230 which is not so easy to say. That’s it. We have run out of thread, all 90 metres of it.
We leave with a box full of programmes and a plate of sponge cakes. Kimho comes with us to the front door. “Now we are back in Edinburgh,” he says.