Here to show Nepal is safe: YeohHollywood A-lister Michelle Yeoh was recently in Nepal as a goodwill ambassador for the UNDP.
Hollywood A-lister Michelle Yeoh was recently in Nepal as a goodwill ambassador for the UNDP. Yeoh, from the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-fame—who in 2008 was voted the ‘Greatest Action Heroine of All Time’—spent three days in the country visiting different reconstruction sites. In this interview with the Post’s John Narayan Parajuli, former Bond-girl Yeoh talks about her visit and her love for Nepal. Excerpts:
Thank you for agreeing to chat with us. This is your second visit to Nepal since the earthquake—what made you visit again?
Yes. I’m here as a goodwill ambassador for the UNDP. But it was always in my plans, in my heart, to come back and look at the ongoing post-earthquake relief work—the work that has been done.
How do you gauge the progress since your last visit?
My first visit was back in May last year, straight after the second earthquake. So the devastation at that time, as you all can imagine, was pretty horrific. I think last year was one of Nepal’s worst years in recent memory. On top of two major earthquakes, you also had to deal with the blockade which devastated your country even more. Let’s hope that the worst has passed and now we can begin to look to a much better future and rebuilding and reconstructing and also rebuilding a sustainable livelihood.
So, that’s why I’m here this time with UNDP. They have been working on projects—for example, we were in Sindhupalchowk, where we built a dairy collection centre. The resilience, and the tenacity of the Nepali people, is really humbling. I believe—as anyone in this kind of situation would feel—that it’s very frustrating; I hope that the rebuilding process will pick up pace. Because you want to go back to a home. You want to be able to continue, and pick up and just get to work and do things like the past didn’t happen. But it is a slow process. We do what we can to urge the government to be quicker on the budgeting, be quicker on releasing funds in the right way. They have promised to build homes in two years and the heritage sites in five years. This is for the economy, the well-being of Nepali people and for tourism and for visitors to come back. Because that is also a very major part of your income. Nepal is a beautiful country and on top of that Nepali people are the most amazing, friendly and warm-hearted people that you’ll ever meet. So that’s a great combination.
The next time I come back, apart from catching up more on the UNDP’s projects, I would also like to go for hiking and trekking. Because you know, look at your mountains, look at your hills. It is truly spectacular. There’s so much to do here.
How do you think goodwill ambassadors like you can affect change in the countries like Nepal with the advocacy you do ?
Well, I think, as a goodwill ambassador, our role right now is to raise awareness for the 17 sustainable development goals which the leaders of the world decided upon and have endorsed; and we want to eradicate poverty, unemployment, inequality and climate change by 2030. So it is our job, our duty, to go out there and you know pass the messages and make people aware because if you are not aware then you will not participate and you will not contribute so we have. So, this is what as a goodwill ambassador, I’m also trying to do my part.
Do you think celebrities like you do enough to raise awareness, to contribute to social causes?
I think we do as much as we can. I think there’s still much more to be done. I think we are so privileged and in such a good position to be able to help to raise awareness. I think it is simply because of the nature of the work that we do—we come into your homes through TV so, you know, to you we are friends: this constant guest in your house and you hear us and we tell you magical stories. So you feel very warm towards us and I think in that way we can, as friends, tell you what are the things that we know and share with you and hope that it will empower you.
You’ve interacted with the local film makers here. What do you make of the local film scene here?
I’m so happy because there are so many young filmmakers here. They are the ones who are going to rebuild the future and I think all they need to hear is that you have to push the envelope, and you have to be brave. You cannot just simply conform. And in our kind of work, in this art form, it’s always about pushing the envelope. We want to give the audience what they want—what they want is a really good story. They want to feel the emotions, they want to laugh, they want to cry—and we can tell them that and we can push them in ways that they experience it all differently and not to just conform to old traditions.
You been here twice now, and you plan to come again?
Do you plan to shoot your movies here if you have a say in the process?
Well, you do have a spectacular landscape and I’m sure there are many stories to tell, so it’s really interesting meeting the young directors, and script writers—so hopefully, I will be able to get to work with them. Because we are very similar, you know, in the way we think, in the spiritual sense. And also in the way we look; so there could be a story there.
You said tourism is very important for the revival of the economy after earthquake. In your position as a celebrity, as a Hollywood star, are you in a position to help?
I think the fact that I’m here is to show that the country is safe—that Nepal is safe to visit. It’s a great show of confidence and I definitely want to come back. I have a group of friends who like to go trekking. So we are going to plan to come back here and trek.