Tourism boost for town with links to Or­well

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Katha, Myan­mar

In the 1990s, Nyo Ko Naing no­ticed that the hand­ful of for­eign tourists who made it to his re­mote home­town were car­ry­ing their own maps and looked like they were search­ing for some­thing. Some­one, it turns out, by the name of Ge­orge Or­well.

Katha was Eric Blair’s last post­ing in the Im­pe­rial Po­lice be­fore he sailed back to Eng­land in 1927, adopted the nom de plume Or­well and launched a writ­ing ca­reer that would pro­duce pow­er­ful nov­els and com­men­tary.

Seven years after leav­ing the sleepy town on the Ir­rawaddy River, he im­mor­tal­ized it as the set­ting of his first novel, the ve­he­mently anti-colo­nial Burmese Days, though he called it not Katha but “Kyauk­tada”.

The Bri­tish Club, where

We’re col­lect­ing ma­te­ri­als for the mu­seum right now, such as photos, data and other her­itage of Katha.” Nyo Ko Naing, founder of the Katha Her­itage Trust

much of the novel’s schem­ing, fight­ing, drink­ing and sweat­ing takes place, still stands, as do other sites men­tioned in­clud­ing a tennis court, a pagoda and a prison.

A house be­lieved to have been Or­well’s home in Katha re­mains in use.

Nyo Ko Naing, a graphic de­signer and car­toon­ist, didn’t know much about Burmese Days at first, but soon grasped how im­por­tant it was to the fu­ture of the town.

He has since be­come the town’s preser­va­tion­ist, in-house his­to­rian, am­a­teur Or­well scholar and lit­er­ary tour guide, keen to mar­ket Katha as a tourist des­ti­na­tion.

He’s help­ing to ren­o­vate the 19th-cen­tury house of the former Bri­tish com­mis­sioner for use as a mu­seum that is ex­pected to open next year.

“It is not easy to get at­ten­tion from the world,” the 45-year-old said in a re­cent in­ter­view. “So it’s like Katha won the lot­tery.”

Or­well-re­lated tourism has grown in Myan­mar, also known as Burma, since a half­cen­tury of mil­i­tary rule ended in 2011, though num­bers re­main small. Nyo Ko Naing es­ti­mates that Katha sees 300 to 400 such vis­i­tors per month.

In 2012, he founded the Katha Her­itage Trust and mounted a cam­paign through the me­dia to save the com­mis­sioner’s house from a lo­cal busi­ness­man who wanted to turn the prop­erty into a skat­ing rink.

The first floor is now full of archival photos, in­clud­ing one of Or­well as a young po­lice­man, and sev­eral por­traits of the writer painted re­cently by lo­cal artists.

“We’re col­lect­ing ma­te­ri­als for the mu­seum right now, such as photos, data and other her­itage of Katha. And we’re also ren­o­vat­ing that house by main­tain­ing its own orig­i­nal style. That’s why it takes time,” he said.

“Now we have spent 4 mil­lion ky­ats ($3,000) and some tourists have do­nated,” he added. “We will ren­o­vate more when­ever we get money.”

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