On the Couch with Edmund Capon

Edmund Capon

Recently we had the opportunity to sit down and have a cuppa with Edmund Capon, former Director of the Art Gallery of NSW (1978-2011) and a specialist in Chinese Art. Edmund will be leading the Journey of Buddhism on the Silk Road in 2014, with a second departure just added due to popular demand! Book now before the last few spots are filled.

What are you most looking forward to on the Silk Road trip you are leading for World Expeditions?
Going to Buddhist caves at Kumtara (which I have tried to visit but never have) and making a return to amazing Dunhuang (even if it is now an absolute tourist destination)

What is the most ‘off the beaten path’ country that you have travelled through?
Probably Ethiopia but Mongolia the most captivating – there’s Genghis Khan everything – matches , cigarettes, beer, condoms – as well as a bloody great statue of him on a horse out in the middle of nowhere some 50km from Ulaanbaatar made of stainless steel that is about 40m high!

What was Ethiopia like?
Hard to believe that we all lived on the same planet.  And why anybody could possibly believe that the custom of the women of the Mursi tribe placing great pottery plates into their lips is anything but absolutely hideous is beyond me – particularly when they take them out so the lower lip hangs like a nasty bit of loose and vacant flesh.

What is the most surprising thing you have seen during your travels to China?
In 1972, in the midst of the Cultural Revolution I was taken to a hospital in Jinan in Shandong province to see operations performed under acupuncture anaesthesia – just what you need after breakfast.  There I was talking to a wide-awake woman whilst the surgeon was literally sawing a large chunk of her skull off with what looked like a hacksaw…..then I was invited to peer into her head and take a nice glimpse of a brain tumour.  Later the surgeon explained to me that this whole procedure only works if the poor patient happened to believe in the rhetoric and infinite wisdom of Chairman Mao!

How did you develop your love for adventure travel?
It all came about because of just having to get to Dunhuang and anywhere along the Silk Roads.

You've been to a few art museums in your travels, what is your favourite one?
Too hard to pick one – sorry! But I could happily live in the Rietberg Museum in Zurich which has one the great collections of Chinese Buddhist sculptures.

What up and coming Australian artists are you following?
Tom Nicholson…..others like Bill Henson, Callum Morton, Shaun Gladwell are hardly up and coming…they’ve all come.

What are you reading at the moment?
Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End – Britain’s answer to Proust;  Jonathan Fendy’s Modern China which is a thorough and enlightening narrative of China from circa 1850 to the present; and Michel de Montaigne’s Essays are a constant companion. It’s important to always have three books on the go.

What's your #1 travel tip?
Turpan Landscape

Edmund Capon, on the couch

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