Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 7th 2013 Contents B29
July 7, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
Not all books live up to their
titles, but that s not the case for
our current Sunday Arts Section
(SAS) Book Club choice, Saving
Fish from Drowning by Chinese-
American writer Amy Tan. The
notion of saving fish from drown-
ing, Tan tells us, comes from a belief
among fishermen in Myanmar,
who claim the noble act of rescuing
sea life every time they fish. Sadly,
Tan tells us, the fishermen are never
in time to save the fish.
The absurdity of that underlying
notion that fish can be saved from
drowning is the basis of Tan s strange
novel. When you think about it,
everything is absurd in Saving Fish
from Drowning: Bibi Chan s death,
her narration of her own story and
that of the tour group that she organ-
ised---all of which takes place after
her death---the group s adventures
and misadventures in China and
Myanmar, their behaviour as
tourists... Every step of the journey
After Bibi s death, the group elects
a hopeless leader who suffers from
epilepsy---not that there is any other
possible leader. Unsurprisingly, they
The group of tribesmen, with
whom the lost tourists end up, mis-
take the 15-year-old boy in the group,
Rupert, as their long-lost White
Brother or Lord of the Nats, a throw-
back to the days when they had con-
tact with missionaries.
The Karen tribesmen s beliefs are
rooted in the fact that Rupert carries
a Stephen King novel and does card
tricks. This is indeed a novel with
one absurdity stacked on top of
There are, however, many deep
messages embedded in it. Tan seems
to be making a definite point about
Consider these questions
for your book club:
1. What is Tan trying to show
readers about tourists and tourism?
2. Do tourists behave differently
when they re on vacation than they
do when they are in their own coun-
try? If so, why?
3. Why does it matter if tourists
behave stupidly when visiting anoth-
4. Why is it important to know
as much about a country as you can
Newspaper stories surface every
day of tourists who are lost, robbed
or killed in another country. Remem-
ber the three American tourists lost
in Iraq who supposedly wandered
into Iran while they were hiking?
More recently, there was the Amer-
ican woman raped in Brazil because
she did not know how to judge the
transportation system in Rio. She
took a maxi with darkened windows
that people who live in Rio would
know not to take.
Tan s exaggerated account of Bibi
Chen s tourists drives an important
point home: countries are often
judged by the tourists who wander
through and the events that happen
to those tourists when they enter a
foreign land. People make gigantic
leaps in judgment about a country
from as little as one incident.
A B C
" . A ,
A B C .
How to save fish from drowning
The opera Dido and Aeneas, staged in April, in
addition to featuring older performers, showcased
the talent of 15 children from low-income commu-
nities trained in an ongoing programme by the
Classical Music Development Foundation.
The children were thrilled at the opportunity and
accepted the rigours of rehearsal enthusiastically, said
Annette Dopwell, one of the foundation s directors.
But almost as important was the reaction of family
"One aunt said, I m not really an opera person
but I had to come because I couldn t understand
what it was in this thing that had my niece so excited
she didn t want to be late for a rehearsal ," Dopwell
The aunt s conclusion?
" It s beautiful ," said Dopwell. "She didn t know
before coming that opera is beautiful. It was an eye-
opener for her. But it was her niece that literally led
her to come there."
This kind of ripple effect---encouraging young
talent while at the same time fostering appreciation
among their family and friends---is why the foundation
has focused on young people over the eight years of
Its latest endeavour in this direction is a competition
for classical music students enrolled at local and for-
eign institutions. The competition is open to both
vocalists and musicians. The final comes off in August
but the deadline for entry is July 15. The range of
cash prizes total US$10,000 with $5,000 going to
the top winner. All finalists will get $100.
Many talented musicians don t choose to study
music because the cost is prohibitive and the long-
term payoff doubtful, said Dopwell. The effect is
seen down the line with not only fewer musicians,
but fewer music teachers as well.
"The (music students) who are away studying that
I know of right now, you see a lot of them coming
back to do concerts," said Dopwell. "The reason for
the concerts is that they need money to continue.
There s no scholarship for them."
Dopwell hopes the concert will not only help them
but continue the process of introducing audiences
to talented performers outside calypso and soca.
"I don t think Trinidadians even know the wealth
of talent we have out there," she said.
The relative lack of attention given to classical
musicians was shown when only one newspaper car-
ried a story about rising star Jeanine De Bique despite
Dopwell s attempts to get others interested.
"It s painful to me that Trinidadians don t even
know her name," said Dopwell. "If someone had to
pick the top 100 sopranos in the world, she would
be among them. Jeanine is someone we should be
showing to our youth as an example of what comes
from hard work and discipline."
T&T is missing out on the advantages classical
music can bring, said Dopwell. Studies have shown
it improves learning among children and calms
patients with dementia. It also helps instil discipline,
said Dopwell, which in the long run can help with
the social problems the country is grappling with.
"What we are hoping for through this competition
is to highlight something that is beautiful and that
should be encouraged," she said, "and to also encour-
age the younger ones, who can look and say, Hey,
I can study music and be like Jeanine De Bique . We
want our children to aspire to greatness."
m m m ,
C m A m m :
Opera is beautiful
Amy Tan, author of Saving Fish from Drowning.
T&T soprano Jeanine DeBique.
C CA / A B .C
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