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Redeafination Goes Overseas: ASEAN Festival of Disabled Artists in Myanmar 2014

Redeafination was honoured to be invited to perform at the ASEAN Festival of Disabled Artists in Myanmar from Dec 1 to 7 2014. A total of 13 members (11 performers and 2 liaison officers) were sent to Myanmar, with partial sponsorship for 6 members by the Nippon Foundation. These 6 members attended the full festival including the Opening Ceremony in Naypyidaw from Dec 1 to 7, and the remaining 7 members joined the second stretch of the festival in Yangon.

This reflection is written by Redeafination’s manager, Benedict Ho, with contributions from the other 12 members.


My first memory of Yangon was the sweltering heat that hit us like a wave of molten lava, hotter than the humid Singapore we had left just three hours ago. One part of me was horrified – My Goodness, if this climate is described as “winter”, then what must summer be? Another part was automatically running through the mixture of clothes I had packed, and mentally discarding the longer and thicker clothes.

The journey to our accommodation was a preview of what we would see over the next few days in Yangon. Some locals wearing longyi (a single piece of cylindrical cloth) deftly navigated around the traffic, some with baskets on their heads. There was the occasional sign or poster with circles (which turned out to be the Burmese script). Now and then, a maroon stream ejected from a passing car, with its windows wound down (we discovered this was the spit after chewing betel nuts).

Our first adventure in Yangon was probably something that many Singaporeans can relate to – looking for food near our accommodation. Having had our hopes dashed by a closed Japanese restaurant, we finally settled for a fusion restaurant. There was just one small problem. It was across a 6-lane road, with no traffic lights or zebra crossings in sight, even after walking for 10 minutes. In the end, we ran across screaming and flailing arms, in stark contrast to a middle-aged woman carrying a basket on her head that we saw minutes later. We never did learn to cross the road in such a similar calm manner. Maybe we will, the next time (or maybe we won’t).

groupbatroadJust before crossing the road.

 Our second adventure was to stuff the 7 of us into a single taxi to meet the other 6 members, who had just reached Yangon after a long bus journey from Naypyidaw. Over the next few days, we would learn the fine art of negotiating a taxi fare before cramming different combinations into the front seat, back seat, and the boot area. Disclaimer: We do not advocate a similar approach here in Singapore.

RDFintaxiContortionists in action – cramming 7 people in 1 taxi.

We were looking forward to meeting our fellow disabled performing arts group – particularly when we heard from the other 6 members about them, and how they had come together for a spontaneous dance before leaving Naypyidaw. Indeed, over the next few days, we got to know other disabled performing arts groups, including DTP (Dulaang Tahimik Ng Pilipinas Inc), a fellow Deaf Dance group from the Philippines, and TBG from Laos.

We managed to do a bit of sightseeing at some of Yangon’s famous spots, such as the grand Shwedagon Pagoda, and the Bogyoke Market, before performing at night at the Myoma Parade Ground. And yes, we broke out in the occasional spontaneous dance, which probably entertained hundreds of tourists at Bogyoke Market.

redeafatpagodaRedeafination at Shwedagon Pagoda.

 The most memorable part of the trip was no doubt the night of the Closing Ceremony of the Festival. This was especially when we had DTP dancers joining us for one part of our performance – just a reflection of how close we had grown over the past few days. Watching the performance, I think nobody could tell that they had only learnt the steps that very morning, and practised at the hotel lobby. It was really very touching to see their enthusiasm to be part of our performance. Thank you DTP – we really hope to perform together with you one day!

screencapdtprdf

Redeafination and DTP at the closing ceremony of the ASEAN Festival of Disabled Artists.

It was then that it sank in – the Festival was coming to an end. We would no longer be able to interact in real life with our fellow artistes, or the enthusiastic volunteers from all walks of Myanmar society. Safe to say, many of us were pensive and only too happy to spend some time together at the rooftop of our hotel over drinks and snacks, with some of the key volunteers. That night is probably the most vivid memory I have – sitting under a clear sky twinkling with stars, gazing at the vast horizon of Yangon, broken by a golden yellow gleaming Shwedagon Pagoda.

pagodaatnight

The beautiful Shwedagon Pagoda at night. 

We finally left Yangon with a heavy heart. Somehow, Myanmar had sneaked into our hearts, and stolen part of it. How do we even begin to express this in words – which seem a pale substitute to convey what we felt?

Even now, we still remember the warmth and hospitality shown by the Organising Committee and volunteers in Myanmar. It is such an indescribable feeling seeing how they did their best to communicate with us in English, and to welcome us to their country. All the little gestures were particularly appreciated after a long day of sightseeing and performing.

milivolunteers

Redeafination with some of the volunteers at the Myoma Parade Ground.

 It was really inspiring to see how they did their best to make the best of the situation, and not compromise on meeting the needs of performers with disabilities. Case in point – there was a mat on the stage, which would make it challenging for our dancers to execute certain steps. Even now, I still can’t really believe what they did – they took the mat off after the item before ours, AND put the mat back on after. And it’s not an itsy-bitsy bathroom mat either – it was easily the size of a living room in an HDB 5-room flat. Perhaps a more jaw-dropping example would be how a core committee of less than 10 organised a multiple-day festival involving over 150 performers from 9 countries, and graced by VIPs such as the Prime Minister of the Yangon regional government.

Putting that aside, we were simply bowled over by the gutsy bravado displayed by our fellow Deaf Dancers from the Philippines. They generously shared their experiences establishing a crew, being a Deaf choreographer and developing showcase items that they could use for their various performances. Every single time, we walked away, with our heads exploding with ideas on how we could improve and attain greater heights as a Deaf Dance club in Singapore. Perhaps one of the most reassuring and important things is that we are not alone. We are not alone in showing the world that Deaf can Dance, and stand their own compared to Hearing Dancers.

Something closer to home is how this trip was the first overseas trip representing Redeafination for some of us, including myself. As cliché as it sounds, we got to understand one another better, and grow closer as a family. Fussing over members afflicted by headaches, nausea, or diarrhoea, and piling them with various medicines, doing multiple head-counts, and ensuring that all 13 of us were there in one place, we took everything in our stride, and supported one another towards a common goal.

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Redeafination back in Singapore after the Festival.

I think each and every one of us has taken away something personal from this trip – something that we won’t forget so easily, perhaps something that would inspire us to keep on trying despite the odds, or something as simple as a new friendship or connection, to appreciate the amount of work that goes into a successful item, a new-found appreciation of what it means to be a person with disability and participating in performing arts.

Myanmar 2014. Definitely a memorable chapter in Redeafination’s history.

We’ve put together a video, which captures some of our memories from this trip. Click to watch! :)

4 Comments

  1. Saw Thet Aung says:

    On behalf of MILI, I wanted to take a moment to say how huch I appreciated the great performance you performed at over AFDA.
    Your great performance and idea got us all energized about the road ahead, and is just the kind of innovative thinking we needed to push our organization to the next level.

    • redeafination says:

      Dear Saw,

      Thank YOU for all the support, company and patience with us during the festival! We’ve been inspired by our conversations with you, especially the last night. Let’s work towards our respective goals, and we look forward to seeing MILI’s initiatives over the next few years.

      On behalf of RDF (especially Jason), we send our love to you and all at MILI :)

      – Benedict @ Redeafination

  2. Theint Theint Phooe says:

    I don’t know how to appreciate your amazing excellent creation.
    Thank to all for your helping hands on our festival.
    Now I am missing all of you seeing your amazing memorable video.I want to meet you all if we have chance.May you all possess a wonderful new year.

    • redeafination says:

      Dear Theint Theint Phooe,

      We’re glad you enjoyed our video and blog entry :) We’re honoured to have been part of your festival, and thank you for all the help during the festival itself!

      Definitely, look forward to meeting once again, and wishing you and everyone else at MILI a great 2015 :)

      – Benedict @ Redeafination

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