Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Giant Gulliver installation piece in plaza turns into human anatomy classroom

By Nancy T. Lu

Bring your children to a class in human anatomy. Enter the giant body of Lemuel Gulliver.

The Paper Windmill Theater has recreated the surgeon and sea captain who turns into a giant in Lilliput in Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” in the square between the National Theater and National Concert Hall in Taipei for public exploration. Admission ticket costs NT$50. Proceeds will go to the victims of the August 8 floods.

The giant measures 62 meters in length, 20 meters in width, 7 meters in height and 12 tons in weight. A foot of the giant serves as point of entry.

Inside, the guides who are colorfully dressed to look like human organs wait to point out the parts of the body. Visitors, therefore, get to meet Prince Happy Heart, Princess Lungs, Tooth Fairy, Grandpa Brain, Big Brother Bone and Muscle Man, among others.

Foot bones like the cuneiform, the metatarsal and the distal phalanx can be spotted right away inside the constantly-pumped giant balloon installation masterpiece.

The 15-minute exploration takes a curious visitor through the large intestine containing suggestions of human bowel, into the winding small intestine and then into the stomach filled with colorful enzymes. All kinds of food intake are recreated here. A paper cup with a straw from a fastfood outlet is a reminder of an unhealthy drink preference.

Lungs, which are amazing machines that function to fill the body with oxygen needs, have colorful bronchial tubes and alveoli. Pancreas, spleen and kidneys are conveniently pointed out to visitors, too.

The anatomical tour continues upward through the esophagus to the mouth and from there to the brain. Gulliver’s mouth opens to the sky and an exit nearby leads to an open-air viewing deck.

Gulliver, the largest installation art for human exploration to be ever created in Taiwan, was finished in April this year. After touring Taichung, Tainan County and Pingtung County, it is finally in Taipei. It will be open for visits until January 3.

Requests for guided group tours are entertained. Each group must be composed of at least 20 persons. Call tel. (02)3393-9825.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Flowers in full bloom in Taipei spread message of beauty and love

By Nancy T. Lu
Let the flowers of every imaginable color at the “Fantasy Garden” at the Daan Forest Park in Taipei take your breath away.

Take a leisurely stroll in the heart of the city. Find a seat on a park bench when your feet get weary. But let your eyes continue to roam and feast on the colors and shapes before you.

Whether clustering, growing like buttons, shooting up in sprays, drooping shyly or growing like a cabbage patch, they are a sight to behold.

The 2010 Taipei International Flora Exposition is still many months away. But already, Taipei blooms to warm the hearts of residents and visitors alike. Clusters of seldom seen flowers have been planted overnight to excite the young and the old alike.

Reach out and touch them. A surprising feel of the petals waits at every turn.

The cute mascot of the Taipei International Flora Expo beckons in different colors at the open-air auditorium area. Pedal-pushing frogs and fluttering butterflies get into an act not to be missed on a beautiful day at the landscaped park. This is a sneak preview and a dramatic prelude to the expo coming up in November near the Taipei Fine Arts Museum.

Stop for a souvenir picture. And why not? The once-a-year flower show at the Daan Forest Park conveys a heartwarming message of beauty and love.

And if you are trained in horticulture or are simply blessed with a green thumb, you can even try to buy and bring home flowering plants of your fancy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Welly Yang to present "Christmas Eve on Broadway" at his homecoming concerts

By Nancy T. Lu
Welly Yang – gifted actor, singer, writer and producer of Taiwanese parentage – always looks forward to Christmas as a time to head back to Taiwan for his special and heartwarming tryst with fans who are lovers of Broadway music. Yang found fame by singing the role of Thuy in "Miss Saigon" on Broadway in 1993.

“Christmas Eve on Broadway” at the National Concert Hall in Taipei at 7:30 p.m. on December 25 and 26 will see Yang in the musical company of Cady Huffman, music arranger and director David O, the Taipei Municipal Dun Hua Elementary School Music Class, and Taiwan JustMusic.

“Christmas in Taiwan tends to be fun time unlike in America, where the religious aspect tends to be more familiar,” said Yang in Taipei. “This explains why I have decided on a Broadway theme for this year’s program.”

Yang promised to let the concert hall ring out with laughter. Humor will be a key element in his entertainment program this Christmas. He will adlib when he sings about the “latte girl at Starbucks,” adding amusing Taiwanese lyrics here and there.

The father-to-be is excited about singing with “46 very cute children” from the Taipei Municipal Dun Hua Elementary School. Dina Morishita, his singing wife, was originally supposed to make the Taipei trip, too. Pregnancy has kept her from traveling though. The baby will be due in February next year.

Huffman was a winner of the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress for her work in Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” on Broadway. She gave a glimpse of her performing talent by singing “When You Got It, Flaunt It” during a sneak preview of the show at the rehearsal room at the National Concert Hall in Taipei on Wednesday. Earlier, she revealed that she has been trying to learn two Taiwanese songs for the two concerts.

The very tall Huffman made her film debut in “Hero” which starred Dustin Hoffman, Geena Davis and Andy Garcia. She will appear with Ben Affleck in “The Company Men” next year.

“I Dreamed a Dream” from “Les Miserables,” “Con Te Partiro” (originally sung by Andrea Bocelli), “She” from “Notting Hill,” “Music of the Night” from “Phantom of the Opera,” “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” from “Evita,” “Your Song” from “Moulin Rouge,” “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” from “Guys and Dolls,” “Joy to the World” and “O Holy Night” will be among the songs in the program with composer and musician David O as music director.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Women’s club members wear holiday season smiles at Xmas celebration with Mexican theme

By Nancy T. Lu
Poinsettia red matching the shade of the potted flowers on the tables turned out to be the cheerful color to wear to the big and exciting year-end happening of the Taipei International Women’s Club. This seemed very much in keeping with the joy of the season.

Christmas cheer was in the air on December 8 when the club members led by Connie Pong, TIWC president, as well as their friends showed up at the Grand Formosa Regent’s Ballroom for a celebration with a Mexican theme.

Everyone at this party got busy and excited exchanging words about plans for the coming holidays. The year-end period has usually been a time for the expatriate community to fly back to their homelands for warm family reunions. This year is not going to be different. But first they must gather with friends in Taipei for a bit of party fun.

Lito Gonzales, the Argentine trumpeter and a familiar face in the Taipei Latin entertainment scene, dressed up as Santa Claus for the occasion. He played a Christmas tune described as most identified with a traditional Mexican Christmas for his upbeat opening number.

He later joined harmonica player Ching Yung in performing “Ali Mountain High” for Jasmine Elise Huggins, charge d’affaires of St. Kitts and Nevis, and Mayumi Hu, TIWC 2nd vice president and the multi-lingual program emcee of the day, to sing in Mandarin. The latter revealed that Huggins practiced the Chinese song in her Chinese class for a month, even memorizing the lyrics by heart.

A Christmas party would not be complete without dancing. Ballroom dancers Cassia Huang and Harrison Lee swept into the stage limelight to do a sultry cha cha number. This was followed by a jive performance. Afterwards, Huang called on everyone to rise to their feet for instant cha cha lessons. Tips included specific hand gestures for the men and the women.

The party buffet, which introduced a bit of the mestizo mixture of pre-Hispanic and Spanish cooking in Mexico, featured interesting dishes, marked out with tiny Mexican flags. Mexican-style seafood “ceviche,” “taquitos,” spicy “camarones a la tequila,” as well as turkey and beef with variations of the Mexican sauce specialty called “mole” truly essential during such a festive event invited tasting.

Martin Munoz Ledo, head of the Mexican Trade Services Documentation and Cultural Office, arranged to project colorful video films to highlight Mexico as a land extremely rich in cultural heritage. The singing and the dancing of the traditionally costumed men and women helped transport viewers to the faraway country where people live mostly on the high central plateau.

The TIWC event culminated with the breaking of the traditional Mexican “pinata,” originally made of clay but nowadays of papier-mache. The Mexican woman behind this particular traditional target for hitting created a star with seven points. These points represented the seven capital sins, which must be smashed by the crowd in largely Catholic Mexico, explained Cecilia Munoz.

The TIWC members demonstrated different amusing styles of taking aim at the slightly lowered “pinata.” Some were too feminine and fragile to strike with a destructive impact. But others went for it like they were hitting powerfully with a baseball bat.

Swaziland Ambassador Njabuliso B. Gwebu, attired in auspicious Chinese red for the TIWC Christmas event, gave it a try. So did Maria Rybicki, the former TIWC president who was revisiting Taiwan after a long absence.

Rybicki, now based near Geneva in Switzerland not too far from her native Poland, is still painting for her hobby. She, in fact, donated a nice Chinese brushwork as raffle prize and it was won by Mayumi Hu. Another lucky winner of a raffle prize was Honduras Ambassador Marlene Villela de Talbott.

After taking so many strikes, the “piñata” broke and out came the “lucky candies.” This entertaining Mexican merrymaking tradition resembled the hitting of the loaded “palayok” or clay pot during fiestas in the Philippines.

Friendships found through membership in the TIWC have always been cherished. The December meeting saw the club members bidding farewell to good friends from the diplomatic corps Gambia Ambassador Mawdo C. Juwara and his wife, Mariame Kande. Heartwarming memories which the Gambian diplomat would soon bring back with him would include an unforgettable journey to the heartland of Puyuma culture in Taitung one New Year’s Eve, linking arms and dancing with the indigenous people during a ceremonial ritual and later visiting the Puyuma men’s house where adolescents on their way to full manhood traditionally undergo tribal education.

The well-attended TIWC December party had an impressive guest list. The embassies and the trade offices sent representatives. Gambian Ambassador Mawdo C. Juwara and wife Mariame Kande, Abdullah Mohd Salleh of the Malaysian Friendship and Trade Center and wife Zawiah Ahmad as well as Rihanata Sawadogo of Burkina Faso sat with Connie Pong, TIWC president.
Christiane Bonneville from France, Mariann Hergovitz from Hungary, Lale Lorena Eroktem from Turkey, and Carol Ann Fraser from Canada shared another table. Ellen Jino from the Solomon Islands, Isaura Novelo from Belize, Ann Keke from Nauru, and Grace Valbuena from the Dominican Republic also made it to the celebration.

Terence Swampillai, general manager of Malaysian Airilines, joined his wife, Audrey Swampillai, at the event. Alice Liou, president of the Kaohsiung International Women’s Club, likewise attended the party.

Connie Pong, the untiring club president, welcomed them all in her characteristic style of hospitality with a big smile and open arms.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Quo vadis after 30 accomplished years, piano duo Rolf-Peter Wille and Lina Yeh?

By Nancy T. Lu

Thirty years of professional career life tied to each other like inseparable Siamese twins add up to quite a remarkable feat for Taiwan’s best-known piano duo Rolf-Peter Wille and Lina Yeh.

Playing simultaneously on separate grand pianos whether placed back to back, next to each other or in every imaginable way still requires communication of some sort. Is it a glance, a gesture, or just body language? When the chosen composition calls for running fingers on four hands on just one keyboard, finding comfortable elbow room sometimes does pose a very big challenge. Losing control of the pedal especially when playing on a single piano is very annoying, even likely to bring about the height of stress in a pianist. In the worst scenario, performing as a piano duo in the long run allegedly triggers a murderous if not suicidal streak in some pianists.

But Rolf-Peter Wille and Lina Yeh – big hands as against smaller ones – have graciously emerged from years of performing as an enduring piano duo on different continents to tell a beautiful success story. Their scrapbook of memories eloquently says it all.

Years ago, they stopped pedestrians on busy Zhongxiao East Road in Taipei with their open-air piano playing. A shower of rose petals capped the event. Not very long after, they also performed together next to tall and sacred trees high up on Jade Mountain.

“No matter how hard we separately practiced our solo pieces for our concerts,” candidly pointed out Lina Yeh, “our listeners always only remembered the piano duets in our programs.”

As an uncommon piano duo (most pairs consist of siblings) from the West and the East, Wille and Yeh blazed a music trail on different continents, receiving very heartwarming response from their listeners. The well-traveled pianists got all kinds of invitations, participating for the first time one cold winter years ago in an international piano duo festival in Russia. Through the initiative of the German Cultural Center, they were featured as special guests at a concert at a park in Manila, entertaining a crowd with score sheets flying all over the place. The Taiwan government saw them as ideal ambassadors of goodwill through their music in the absence of official diplomatic relations, once sending them touring five faraway countries in South America.

As perhaps suggested by Wille when he was asked directly if he would live life similarly all over again, he and his wife have made choices in a haphazard way just like in a Milan Kundera existential novel. One episode has led to the next one, a chapter has paved the way for another new one. Their life story has gone on this way, eventually coming full circle.

After first meeting in Austria and truly getting to know each other during their student days in Hanover, Germany, the two pianists came to Taiwan. The young and curious Wille wanted to explore a new world. Although Yeh was eyeing a move to New York for further music education and experience, she followed him.

Opportunities in music pedagogy in Taiwan at that time sealed their fate. The pair conveniently filled a void and they have not turned back from the calling since then. Wille, in fact, was to positively write years later in “Pianist: Wake Up and Dream!” (Volume I): “Confucian societies pamper their teachers and make sure that they feel extremely important and busy.”

Wille wrote “Pianist: Wake Up and Dream!” (Volumes I & II) in English and Lina Yeh did the Chinese translation primarily for piano students or would-be musicians. Recreated encounters with music students in Taiwan even included an episode with ex-President Chen Shui-bian’s daughter-in-law Huang Jui-ching, according to Yeh. Huang, however, was not identified by name in the book.

Wille’s fascination with Taiwan, Formosa more recently, has not faded after all these years. During his last six-month sabbatical, he accidentally discovered that Robinson Crusoe, the fictional character created by Daniel Defoe, visited Formosa while on his way to China. Such interesting travel adventure detail, which Wille came across in “The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe,” led him to do further research on the Internet.

Where did Defoe encounter the information about Formosa? Wille went to work with his search engine, downloading his findings along the way for useful reference in his own book. The preposterous tales of George Psalmanazar, the Frenchman posing as a “native of Formosa,” absolutely baffled him. The great liar’s wild stretch of the imagination led him to even invent the Formosan alphabet. But in those days, Psalmanazar probably deceived a lot of gullible readers with his bluff.

The observant Wille himself enjoys writing though usually with a satirical streak, having published several books and through them made known a colorful life outside of piano playing and teaching. He also fills his blog with rib-tickling snippets. Yeh’s smooth Chinese translation of his writings showing humor and wit has revealed the spice of his life to Taiwanese readers, often too lazy to wade through the original English text. His readers remember to this day his obsession with urinals. But friends who are invited to the couple’s home on Dunhua South Road in Taipei nowadays are likely to notice that he has moved his unusual collection of conversation pieces completely out of sight.

The Taipei apartment with three grand pianos taking up so much space is indeed crowded even without outsiders popping up. Here and there visitors come upon travel souvenirs, giving away the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the German occupant with a serious (or just shy) mien.

Wille’s drawings from earlier published books can be spotted around, too. In his book, “Taipei Salad,” he naughtily depicted the city residents as roaches or plain survivors in an artificial environment. He likewise sketched a Chinese panda scaling Godzilla-style with a conquering spirit to the top of Taipei’s tallest building long before the Taipei 101 was built.

Embarking on creative activities has seemed to come about naturally. Wille and his supportive wife Yeh would readily admit to the ease in experimenting and initiating something artistically different and unforgettable in Taiwan like “piano theater” through all these years.

Getting Sun Yueh to narrate a story to keep the children in the concert audience interested was not enough. Adapting and changing the story of “Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf” into the tale of “Little Red Hat and the Big Black Piano” proved fun but also a lot of work. Wille even transformed the grand piano into the wolf-like villain with a menacing toothy smile.

Brain-picking for new and fresh ideas with an eye on the target audience has kept this duo busy. New-fangled notions about the dialogue between two pianos, comparable to a game of pingpong sometimes, must constantly be found.

The pair recognized early on the Taiwan audience’s preference for technical virtuosity at a concert. Franz Schubert’s poignant music most suitable for airing in an intimate atmosphere tends to be less appreciated even though the composer is considered the most prolific in writing for four hands and for two pianos.

As pianist, Franz Liszt found his place among the greatest, if not as the greatest. His piano compositions are in a category of their own, influencing even other big name composers after him. Universal Music has just released “Rolf-Peter Wille and Lina Yeh: 30 Years of Piano Duo,” consisting of CD and DVD recordings of Liszt compositions, on the occasion of the 30-year milestone of Wille and Yeh as piano pair.

Wille wrote in the introduction that few of Liszt’s two-piano pieces – with piano solo works outshining them – are known. Majority are “brilliantly crafted” arrangements, he noted. Wille’s own arrangements of Liszt’s music were included. Again, “piano theater” came in handy at the concert devoted to Liszt’s “Mephisto Waltz” for two pianos and Concert Paraphrase on “Dies Irae” (Totentanz) for three pianos. An actor (mime) got incorporated into the unusual music performance to dramatize the death theme. The Grim Reaper and the dancing skeleton sent cues to get all three concert pianists into the theatrical act.

But for the special concert with a formal format in celebration of their 30th anniversary as piano duo on December 12 at the National Concert Hall in Taipei, the repertoire will include Bach, Brahms, Rachmaninoff and Poulenc. Rolf-Peter Wille’s “Danse des Pagodes” will require a prepared piano though. Screws, rubber bands and even wood will be inserted or added as learned once directly from minimalist composer John Cage. The interesting piece with a tune familiar to the Taiwanese public will sound like an exotic Indonesian gamelan melody.

To both Rolf-Peter Wille and Lina Yeh after 30 accomplished years as piano duo, the question now is: Quo vadis (Where are you going) ?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Van Gogh collection arrives for major exhibition at National Museum of History in Taipei

By Nancy T. Lu

Vincent Van Gogh, an artist whose fame is of mythical proportion, will invite animated discussion with the arrival in Taipei of a fabulous collection, requiring an insurance coverage of NT$25 billion.

“The National Museum of History closed down for at least two months to prepare for this major exhibition,” revealed Huang Yung-chuan, the museum’s director, on Saturday when Van Gogh’s “Country Road in Provence By Night” was unveiled in the presence of the press and media in Taipei.

“Tests on the security system, fire prevention drills, room temperature checks, as well as going over the lighting and the sound systems had to be carefully carried out to reinforce the reputation of our museum as one with world-class features and provisions,” Huang added.

“The Flaming Soul – Van Gogh,” the much-awaited exhibition highlighting nearly a hundred works by the master of impressionist art, will open at the National Museum of History on Nanhai Road in Taipei on December 11. The collection showing Van Gogh trying to master art techniques will be on view until March 28 next year.

The Kroller-Mueller Museum in Holland has lent 20 oil paintings (said to represent about a quarter of its entire collection of Van Gogh oil masterpieces), 18 sketches done with charcoal pencil and 59 watercolors or works in pastel while the Pola Museum of Art in Japan has loaned a painting done just one month before Van Gogh’s death titled “Flower Vase with Thistle” (1890).

Evert Van Straaten, the visiting director of the Kroller-Mueller Museum, said on Saturday: “We don’t lend out such a big exhibition very often for we have obligations to the visitors at our museum. We do it only in winter. The drawings, in particular, are very fragile and sensitive to light.”

The Dutch museum renowned for its Van Gogh collection published a catalogue and decided to lend the exhibition to only two other cities: Brescia in Italy and Taipei in Taiwan, said Van Straaten. Regarding the choice of Taipei, he said: “We have known how much the people in Taiwan love Van Gogh.”

"Self-Portrait”(1887),“Country Road in Provence By Night” (1890) and “Cypresses With Two Figures” (1889) are some of Van Gogh’s major works in the exhibition. “Angelus” (after Jean Francois Millet) and “The Good Samaritan” (after Eugene Delacroix) are also in the show.

Van Straaten described “Country Road in Provence By Night” as “an icon for the cosmic vision of Van Gogh.” He elaborated: “This painting shows his idea about nature and man as part of the universe. People feel this when they see the painting and that is part of the magic of this painting.”

Eighteen years after the death of Van Gogh in 1890, Helen Kroller-Mueller went around buying his paintings in 1908. She, however, did not succeed in getting hold of works which were the direct legacy of Van Gogh. All the paintings Van Gogh had at the time of his death went to the wife of his brother Theo. The artist’s idea was to keep as many of the paintings within the family.

Kroller-Mueller traveled extensively to find the works Van Gogh gave to his artist friends or exchanged with them. With Van Gogh’s star rising, these artists were prepared to sell them.

Only one of the bought paintings in the museum has an original Dutch frame. Van Gogh never framed his works. Kroller-Mueller ordered the reconstruction of the simple frame from an architect in 1910 or nearly a hundred years ago, according to Van Straaten.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Saxophone artist Delangle to play wide dynamic range at concert with Taipei Chinese Orchestra

By Nancy T. Lu

The Taipei Chinese Orchestra is undertaking a second recording project with the Sweden-based BIS, collaborating with the renowned saxophone artist Claude Delangle at a concert to be taped at the Zhongshan Hall in Taipei on December 5. This is following the recording success of Chung Yiu-kwong’s “Whirling Dance.”

“Sunshine on Taxkorgan for Soprano Saxophone and Chinese Orchestra” arranged by Chen Gang and orchestrated by Chung Yiu-kwong originally had violin music. Delangle has had to listen closely to the original music as well as the erhu transcription. He, too, must find the saxophone technique to replace the bowing of the string instrument.

“Imitating the original string instrument must be done in a personal way so as not to end up with a caricature,” he noted. “The crescendo and the vibrato must turn out as natural as possible on the saxophone.”

The concert repertoire with Shao En as conductor will feature a diversity of style, from traditional to contemporary. Chung Yiu-kwong’s two original selections, “Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Chinese Orchestra No.1” and “Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Chinese Orchestra No.2” have struck him as in between traditional and contemporary Chinese music, in fact, less like Chinese music and closer to his style. Delangle previously played the first piece with the Taipei orchestra at the National Center for Performing Arts in Beijing in October this year.

Managing music in different ways, using old tools, has been Delangle’s preoccupation for some time now. With the saxophone, changing the mouth piece can turn it into a different instrument, he explained. He has certainly welcomed opportunities to play a wider dynamic range.

Also in the program is Tian Lei-lei’s “Open Secret Concerto for Saxophone and Chinese Orchestra.” This piece was commissioned by the French Culture Ministry this year.

Of the saxophone choices, the soprano saxophone goes well with the Chinese orchestra, said to have a lighter sound. Delangle pointed out that the alto saxophone has the most classical image. The tenor saxophone is associated with jazz.

The 52-year-old Delangle recalled his father wanting him to study violin. But as he put it, “I wanted to blow. I like life.”

And so he began playing the saxophone when he was nine. When he was 15, he learned that his grandfather played the soprano saxophone in his youth.

Delangle has been one of the most recorded saxophone players. He has done 15 recordings with BIS in the last 10 years.

He owns many saxophones. His collection just grows for he buys a musical instrument when he likes its sound. He has brought two to Taipei this time.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Fascinating showcase highlights Chinese intangible cultural heritage

By Nancy T. Lu

“Root and Spirit: Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage Exhibition” at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Taipei calls for an eye-opening visit.

But not many people are aware of the rare possibility of seeing such an amazing and colorful array of traditional arts and crafts from China all under one Taipei roof until December 6.

Of the over 200 items from China on display, the elaborate costume worn by legendary Chinese opera artist Mei Lan-fang in his portrayal of the exalted imperial concubine, Yang Kuei-fei, in the Chinese opera titled “The Romance of the Imperial Concubine” back in 1925 to 1926 stands out. Next to it are the age-old Chinese musical instruments on which Chinese opera musician Mei Yu-tian, the uncle of Mei Lan-fang, played more than a century ago.

An enormous ancient handloom originating from Nanjing for brocade weaving dominates the display hall on the ground floor. The exhibited collection also includes an ornately carved bridal sedan in which young girls from Jiangnan or an entire area south of the Yangtze River rode on their wedding days in the late Qing Dynasty.

Early Qing Dynasty Tibetan tanka referring to handmade tassels, fringes, and cords can also be found on view. There is also a bronze human figure with all the acupuncture points marked out. This is said to have been modeled after the original one created by acupuncture scholar Wang Wei-yi in the 11th century.

Traditional shadow puppet theater from Chaozhou, Fujian Province, comes alive in one room in the basement exhibition area. More than 10 arts and crafts are demonstrated daily here, too. The making of classic New Year prints. paper-cutting, Tibetan tanka tying, Miao tribe’s silver ornament hammering, bamboo carving, sugar syrup sculpture shaping, ancient string musical instrument playing, creating of inksticks used in Chinese calligraphy as well as embroidery by ethnic minorities vie for attention in crowded space. Purchases can be made on the spot.

The UNESCO puts great importance on the preservation of intangible cultural heritage. “Root and Spirit” is a major cross-strait project along this line. The Chinese Cultural Association and the Shen Chun-chi Foundation have collaborated closely to make the exhibition of “Root and Spirit” in Taipei and Taichung possible.

The exhibition of the creativity of traditional Chinese artisans and craftsmen will move to the Taiwan Architecture, Design and Art Center (the former TTL Taichung Distillery), better known as the TADA Center, at 362 Fuxing Road in Taichung City from December 11 to 20. Admission is free.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Traditional temple woodcarver Hong Yao-hui showing his exquisite works at Taipei gallery

By Nancy T.:Lu

Traditional woodcarvers are not born overnight. They must undergo long years of training and hard work usually as a protégé of a master of the traditional woodcarving craft to perfect their skill and earn recognition for their superb craftsmanship.

Fifty-year-old Hong Yao-hui – mentor to the younger generation of woodcarving artisans in Taiwan – has been at his art and craft for 30 years. The Department of Cultural Affairs under the Taipei City Government has singled him out for unprecedented recognition and honor through the “Taipei Traditional Art Skill Teacher Award.” In this connection, he – who teaches cultural monument restoration at the National Taiwan University of the Arts in Banciao – is holding a one-man show in the basement exhibition area of the Taipei Municipal Social Education Hall until December 9.

On display are 33 ornate carvings of exquisite workmanship, including 12 on loan from collectors, seven old works as well as 14 new pieces created for this particular exhibition. Camphor wood is commonly used by Hong in his works.

The intangible cultural heritage Hong has tried to preserve includes concentration on traditional woodcarving subjects and themes of long history. Auspicious messages are often conveyed in his traditional carvings, too.

“Flooding of Jinshan Monastery,” “Eight Immortals,” “Magpie Brings Wealth,” and “Carp Dives for Fame and Glory” are examples of Hong’s labor of love now on public view. A not-so-big piece takes four months to finish.

Structural features of traditional Chinese architecture like the lion, the kylin or Chinese unicorn, the leopard, the sea-tortoise, and the flying phoenix all fall under Hong’s expertise. He works on flowers and birds or classic figures for his decorative pieces.

Hong was born to a very poor family in Beimen Xiang, Tainan County. Upon graduating from junior high school, he felt obliged to eke out a living. His father influenced him to find work with Su Hai-ping. The master craftsman in temple building from Quanzhou, Fujian province, was an artisan in traditional Chinese woodwork and carving in demand in those days when houses of worship were being constructed in Taiwan.

After only one month of working as Su’s protégé, Hong ran away due to the hardships of life. .His father, however, made him go back. He stayed for three years and four months as a trainee. Every morning, he got up at 5 o’clock, went to the market, prepared three meals, cleaned up the surroundings and spent four to five hours learning woodcarving. Only at midnight did he go to bed.

Hong only had 15 days off every year. As beginner in the first six months, he earned only NT$50 per half month. After six months, his pay was increased to NT$100 every half month. The amount went up to NT$300 after a year and NT$500 after a year and a half. After two years and six months until completion of the training, he received NT$1,000. During the Lunar New Year, the red envelop he got contained NT$500, then NT$1,500 and finally, NT$2,000. All told, he earned just enough to buy him passage home.

Hong got scolded for his initially poor-quality carving and his mistakes. .But he learned to be patient and to show respect towards his mentor. He became like a member of the Su family, even helping look after a cancer-stricken son of his teacher.

While still a trainee in 1979, Hong participated in the construction of the Puji Temple on Huayin Street in Taipei. This meant living and working at the site. He had to daily prepare three meals and collect 30 pails of water for the day’s use. He unrolled a straw mat to make his bed on the floor at night. There was no toilet and he had to bathe in cold water. The building of the temple began on the ground floor, moving up gradually until reaching the third floor. Everything had to be brought up manually. He at one point even had to sleep under the open sky, getting wet on rainy nights.

During Hong’s training period, his teacher Su also undertook work like the ceiling carving in the rear hall of the Dong Long Temple in Beimen, Tainan County, in 1977. Carvings at the Dragon and Tiger Doors of this place of worship were also done then. Wu Fu Qian Sui Temple in Qigu Xiang, Tainan County, was a big project in 1978.

The major reconstruction of the Zu Shi Temple in Sanxia starting in 1986 saw the recruitment of master craftsmen of different schools to carry out the job. Lee Mei-shu was behind the ambitious project. Su Hai-ping moved to Sanxia. Hong, his protégé, followed him there. Over a 15-year period from 1986 to 2001, Hong labored over many admirable intricate woodcarving details of the Zu Shi Temple. Lee Mei-shu’s death saw the disbanding of the original artisans and craftsmen he hired.

For those interested in seeing the beautiful woodcarvings of Hong Yao-hui, tthe Taipei Municipal Social Education Hall is located at 25 Bade Road, Sec. 3, Taipei.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

“Fuerzabruta” promises semblance of techno party and mind-blowing entertainment

“Fuerzabruta” (translated Brute Force) by the group who did “De La Guarda” (featuring performers flying around and sometimes taking with them the spectators) and made it the talk of New York promises a mind-blowing experience. Spectators need only look up to get excited viewing wet women in a pool overhead. Transparent plastic sheet holds up the water.

Get ready, therefore, for what has been described in Time Out New York as “half techno party, half avant-garde mood piece.” The production with no permanent stage and fixed seating arrangement all originated from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The production created and directed by Diqui James will be “an interactive environmental thrill ride without narrative, characters or message.”

Energy-packed performances – 60 in all – are kicking off on Decemer 15 inside a tent at the Taipei Xinyi District A10 Parking Area right next to Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Department Store’s A8 Building and will run until January 24 next year. Taipei is the first stop in the Asian tour of “Fuerzabruta.”

The show opened in London in 2002 for a two-year run. Performances were packed nightly. It arrived in New York in October 2007, once more creating a sensation. Celebrities like Madonna, Beyonce, Cameron Diaz, Leonardo di Caprio and Harrison Ford went out of their way to watch it.

Performances in Taipei will start at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, at 7:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, as well as at 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Sundays.

Tickets cost NT$1,900 on ordinary days, NT$2,300 on holidays and NT$3,000 on special holidays. Go to http://www.artsticket.com.tw or http://fb.ishow.gmg.tw for online ticket purchase.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Handel’s “Messiah” to air in Taipei and Taichung as NTSO's special tribute to master composer

By Nancy T. Lu
Get ready for the power, lyricism and profundity of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” as the year devoted to the commemoration of the German-born composer’s 250th death anniversary approaches a finale.

Chen Zuo-huang, the artistic director of the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing and of the Incheon Philharmonic Orchestra in South Korea, has been invited to conduct the National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra (NTSO) and the New Era Chorale during the third series of the “Tribute to the Masters.”.

The two performances of the oratorio will take place at the Zuo.Yue Hall in Taipei at 2:30 p.m. on November 29 and at the Chung Hsing Hall in Taichung at 7:30 p.m. on November 30.

Soprano Lin Ching-ju, mezzo-soprano Chen Pei-chi, tenor Teng Chi-long and bass Liau Chong-boon will be the featured soloists.

Handel, who was not a religious composer in the accepted sense, wrote “Messiah” in just 24 days, pointed out Chen. This was a few years after his recovery from a stroke. The musical creation went on to become an outstanding example of devotional art.

Of Handel’s most well-loved baroque composition, Chen Zuo-huang (shown with NTSO director Liu Suan-yung in photo) admitted to the flexibility of the formation of the orchestra and the chorus. But “the least controversial version” has been picked this time. Chen’s intention is “to stay faithful to Handel’s music.”

As conductor, Chen has been a great admirer of Seiji Ozawa. He, a classmate of composer Tan Dun, first met the maestro when he visited China in 1978. The following year, Ozawa brought the Boston Symphony to China. Chen became one of the first Chinese musicians to receive a scholarship for further music education abroad in the post-Cultural Revolution period in Chinese history. Chen was personally invited by Ozawa to Tanglewood for his music training.

Chen recalled learning from Ozawa that there should be no room for mistake during a rehearsal. In short, all mistakes should be corrected during the rehearsal stage of the concert preparation.

Admission to the Taipei concert will be free. Call tel. (04)23391141 ext. 153. The Zuo Yue Hall is located on the second floor of the Center of the Central Personnel Administration at 30 Xinsheng South Road, Sec. 3, Taipei.

Tickets to the Taichung concert cost from NT$300 to NT$1,000.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Vienna State Opera Chorus to collaborate with National Taiwan Symphony in New Year project

By Nancy T. Lu

The Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor or the Vienna State Opera Chorus will return to Taiwan for three 2010 New Year concerts, featuring highlights from Johann Strauss II’s “Die Fledermaus.” The chorus performed at the opening of the 2009 World Games in Kaohsiung earlier this year.

Soprano Keti Tavardi, mezzo-soprano Adrineh Simonian, baritone Zoltan Nagy and tenor Peter Svensson will sing the lead roles from the operetta. Tiziano Duca will be the conductor.

The National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra will collaborate with the Vienna State Opera Chorus to bring to Taiwan for the first time the beautiful Vienna Neujahrkonzert tradition with a history of 162 years. The orchestra based in central Taiwan was founded in 1945.

Polka and waltz music will help transport local listeners to Vienna with its old world charm. “Blue Danube” and “Radetzky March” as program encores promise to work the listeners up and get them in a waltzing and polka dancing mood during the first days of the year 2010.

The first of three New Year concerts will take place on January 2 at the Chung Hsing Hall in Taichung. The program will then be presented on January 3 at the Chih Te Hall in Kaohsiung and on January 5 at the National Concert Hall in Taipei.

The professional chorus from Vienna boasts 92 of the finest singers from around the world. Ho Meng-chieh is the only Taiwanese singer in the chorus from the world music capital. Twenty-four singers will come for the New Year project.

Whether appearing as a full-size chorus or in smaller groups, the Vienna State Opera Chorus is engaged almost 255 days in a year. The professional chorus must be ready to support and back any of the 55 opera productions in the repertoire of the Vienna State Opera. This means singing in the different original languages of the operas. Johann Strauss wrote in German, Georges Bizet in French, Igor Stravinsky in Russian, Antonin Dvorak in Czech and so forth. They must also be prepared to dance as called for by the operas.

The stages in Taichung, Kaohsiung and Taipei will be decorated with fresh flowers at every performance. Members of the audience will be encouraged to bring home one flower each at the end of every concert.

Volkswagon will be the sole sponsor of the Kaohsiung and Taipei performances being promoted by the Management of New Arts.

National Palace Museum in Taipei participating in Beijing cultural, creative industry expo

The National Palace Museum will be participating in the 4th China Beijing International Cultural and Creative Industry Expo (ICCIE) at the Beijing International Exhibition Center from November 26 to 29. This will be the second year in a row that it will be present upon the invitation of the Taipei Department of Cultural Affairs.

Seventy-three exhibitors in all from Taiwan will be gathered in the themed pavilion called "Fine works of Taipei Cultural and Creative Industry" and their products will occupy a total showcase area of 4,000 square meters.

Eight business enterprises in Taiwan, including Rich Jade, Chullery Art and Jewllery, Golden Life, Chin Ho Li Co., Long-Kuang Digital Culture Co., Ltd., Jetprint, SiPALS, and Vivoteck will be displaying product designs inspired by the treasures of the National Palace Museum.

The Taipei Fine Arts Museum and Taipei's Museum of Contemporary Art will also be joining the Beijing cultural, creative industry expo.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Nantou County Travel Diary: Blazing a beautiful and fragrant flower trail high above the clouds

By Nancy T. Lu

Travel in Nantou County with an itinerary designed to appeal to flower lovers can begin with an exciting escape to the highlands literally above the clouds and straight into the heartland of perfumed lily cultivation at 2,044 meters above sea level.

Bo Wang New Village in Cingjing is home to an ethnic Bai Yi group from Yunnan, China, and the 30 households accounting for a population of about 200 spend a good part of the year, notably from June to November, growing over 10 exceedingly fragrant lily varieties for the markets in the lowlands.

Holland, France and Chile are the seasonal suppliers of the bulbs needed by the nurseries and green houses up in Bo Wang. Visitors have to negotiate steep slopes overlooking ever-changing mountain silhouettes playing a game of hide-and-seek behind clouds to get to the rows and rows of cultivated lilies. Unsightly water pipes bring the needed water supply in flower cultivation to private plots but they also spoil the Cingjing landscape.

Don’t expect to see blooming flowers. No local horticulturist who knows what he is doing wants to become the laughing stock of his neighbors. The lily plants must be cut before the buds start opening up in preparation for daily dispatch on a long journey to flower markets as far as Taipei. Occasionally, however, lilies on a plot protected by transparent plastic cover are allowed to bloom freely to satisfy the curious tourists seeking a first-hand visual feast in the area thriving on horticulture. .

When in Cingjing,Renai Xiang, make sure to drop by Mama Lu’s restaurant (tel. 049-2803876)for lunch. The quaint new building replacing an old and original structure elsewhere stands out even from a distance to visitors arriving by car or bus. The elderly woman from the Bai Yi tribe settled down here with her veteran husband, who followed Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist forces to Taiwan after fighting an unsuccessful guerrilla war in Yunnan in southwest China. She runs the dining establishment with help from her trained children.

Lu Wen-yin, one of her sons, thought of selling coffee to tide over the months when he didn’t have cut flowers to sell. A good friend suggested that his family should try try opening a restaurant with Bai Yi cooking as the specialty of the house.

Crispy deep-fried bamboo worms – yes, insect larvae – are a most popular dish at Mama Lu’s place. The larvae are imported still inside the bamboo cylinders from Burma and Thailand. Once the hesitation to taste the gourmet food is overcome, clamor for it comes after each helping. The insect larvae snack is believed to be high in protein and fiber and low in fat.
Mama Lu’s inviting menu highlights the spicy, the sour and the salty as natural flavors of the cuisine. Of the dishes, the minced meat with five-six spices added contributes to a hearty meal. Fresh cabbage arrives at the table on a separate plate for use in holding or taking a spoonful of the minced meat.

Deep-fried fish stomach is another must-try dish. The chicken soup requires tangkuei or ligusticum roots in it. Tangkuei leaves flavor the egg omelet in the special ethnic cuisine.

Fresh cuttings of big and fragrant lilies from the Lu family’s mountain slope plot decorate the restaurant’s interior. Even the paintings on the walls are of the big lilies. After all Cingjing produces 63 million stems of lilies in a year, accounting for 90 percent of Taiwan’s total output and earning for the place recognition as the hometown for growing lilies. . .

In Bo Wang New Village, where stands still the original restaurant of Mama Lu Lu Mama to the local residents), there is a small museum of sorts filled with old black-and-white photographs taken in the post-1949 period. The pictures fanning nostalgia for yhe past even document Chiang Kai-shek’s visit to the area. Displayed with pride in this space also are the many fragrant lily varieties cultivated in Cingjing.

Every Sunday until December 13, the Renai Xiang Farmers Association offers to bring visitors to Cingjing, Renai Xiang to experience a trail of floral sight and scent in the highlands of Nantou County Everyone gets to prepare a potted lily bulb to take home to look after according to simple instructions.

After a lunch of Bai Yi cooking, the group will proceed to a Saiteke weaving center to learn to be a weaver. Before the end of the day, the entourage will drop by the Puli Flower Center to have a look at the exhibition with the rose as main theme of the arts and crafts on display.

On the second floor of the Puli Flower Center is the enormous Puli Banquet Restaurant, which can accommodate 1,000 guests. The menus served here revolve around the seasonallocal produce. Jiao bai shun, a kind of bamboo shoot known locally also as "beauty's leg," is the theme of this season's banquet. The main ingredient, Puli's pride, is boiled, steamed, cooked, stir-fried or simmered in a soup. But if you are blazing a flower trail, then recipes featuring flowers such as roses can be tasted.

For inquiries about the day-long flower appreciation activity in Nantou County, call tel. 049-2920480 ext. 14 and 10. You can also try to contact Mr. Gao through cellphone 0975120340. or Ms. Hsu through cellphone 0963471250.