Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Malaysian director Yasmin Ahmad has something to say about interracial love & politics

By Nancy T. Lu
"When I made ‘Talentime,’” recalled visiting Malaysian director Yasmin Ahmad, “I did not particularly intend the movie to be symbolical. But there it is: the Indians in Malaysia, who represent only about 10 percent of the total population, are without a voice just like the Indian boy Mahesh in my film.”

"Talentime” is a touching semi-autobiographical love story. The romance between Melur, a girl of Malay-British parentage, and Mahesh, an Indian lad who is challenged in hearing and speech, is pure and innocent. But it does not have parental approval. Differences in race, social class and culture are the possible reasons.

The film calls attention to interracial rivalry in the Southeast Asian country of Malaysia. In one scene, a resentful Chinese boy tells his Malay classmate that he as a bumiputra or ethnic Malay does not have to work hard for he belongs to the race with special privilege.

The director observed: “The Malays, the biggest majority, are very greedy. They want 100 percent of the political power. The Chinese are very greedy, too. They seek to have 100 percent control of the economy.”

"Talentime,” which was shot in Ipoh, is the Malaysian filmmaker’s sixth and latest movie. “Chinese Eyes,” a 2004 production, was shown at an earlier film festival in Taipei.

Yasmin Ahmad’s feature films may not be mainstream cinema in Malaysia but having emerged as award-winning motion pictures at international film festivals, they enjoy an international following. She now has her fans in Taiwan. According to her, some people in Malaysia have seen “Talentime” for as many as eight times.

Of her cast, the director relies on her limited pool of talents. When looking around for actors and actresses for her film, she regards charisma as a major criterion. In fact, she is prepared to rewrite her script for such a discovery. Often enough, the acting of the character types in her movie contributes to truly hilarious situations, which save the film from becoming a total tearjerker.

If Yasmin Ahmad, the Malaysian director of “Talentime,” could not stop crying herself when she was writing the script about her “stupid past,” she certainly succeeded in making viewers of her film cry buckets during the first screening of her movie at the 2009Taipei Film Festival.

"Talentime” will be screened one more time at 7:30 p.m. on July 3 during the Taipei Film Festival at the Zhongshan Hall in Taipei.
Not long after her return to Malaysia, Ahmad suffered a stroke and died three days later.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Despedida, TIWC style, full of fond remembrance of good times

By Nancy T. Lu
"Despedida" (Spanish word for “farewell”) for the departing heads of different official and de facto diplomatic missions in Taipei as well as their spouses on a nice Thursday evening brought back fond remembrance of happy times.

Picture-taking, gift-giving, and review of the scrapbook of photographs from outings overwhelmed the honored guests at the sumptuous dinner hosted by the Taipei International Women’s Club led by Connie Pong, the president, at the Taipei Garden Hotel in Ximending on June 25.

The ladies with gentlemen whose distinguished careers have been in the diplomatic service for their husbands had contributed diversity to the club during their stay in Taiwan. But they were leaving.

For Sao Tome and Principe Ambassador Ladislau d’Almeida and Eva d’Almeida, pleasant memories to bring back home would definitely include blazing a trail to the heartland of Puyuma culture in Taitung, Eastern Taiwan, not too long ago. This was a very special invitation to watch the Puyuma braves being welcomed back from their big hunting trip and survival test. Drinking the sweet rice wine while joining the ceremonial dancing seemed only yesterday’s experience. Swaziland Ambassador Njabuliso B. Gwebu as well as Nauru Ambassador Ludwig Dowong Keke and Ann Keke joined the bonding with the indigenous people on this occasion, too.

For Bela Istvan Laszlo, representative of the Hungarian Trade Office, and wife Julia Laszlo, recollections would include checking out the award-winning beef noodle places in Taipei. Unforgettable was one particular eatery in Ximending, where customers would place orders and then sit down together at a big table.

During his Taiwan posting, Laszlo managed to successfully pick up a few Sichuan recipes to cook at home such as “gongbao” chicken, wonton soups, and, of course, beef noodles.

The Laszlos will soon be back in Budapest to spend more time as doting grandparents to their grandchildren (the second one will arrive soon) and, perhaps, to welcome the peripatetic TIWC members to the land of origin of the goulash or gulyas and the country which Franz Liszt and Bela Bartok helped bring to great prominence on the world music map.

When the special cake, a gift from the Grand Formosa Regent of Taipei, was brought out, Laszlo did the cutting for the day happened to be his birthday. The Hungarian diplomat pointed to the TIWC’s founding year, 1951, and announced that he was born the same year.

Panama Ambassador Julio Mock Cardenas and wife Andrea Chong de Mock would always cherish memories of the warmth of friendship of the people in Taiwan. At the end of a meaningful almost five-year tour of duty, the diplomat and his family must move on. Mock would be going back to the practice of his original profession as a semi-retired engineer.

T. P. Seetharam, director general of the India-Taipei Association, along with his wife Deepa Seetharam would be flying back to New Delhi to pave way for the arrival of a successor from among five or six waiting in line to be appointed

“The men have no place in women’s clubs elsewhere,” remarked Seetharam. “But the TIWC is different.”

While serving his diplomatic tenure in Taiwan, Seetharam – who hails from Kerala in south India – even invited to Taipei a cultural troupe to introduce the Kathakali, the classical dance drama of Kerala, to the Taiwan public. The traditional Indian performers in elaborate costumes complete with masks even staged “Butterfly Lovers,” adopting the Kathakali form of mime and dance to tell the love story of Chinese folk origin.

Ambassador Ramon Antero Diaz Pereira and Gloria Stella Flores de Diaz would always remember and cherish the “sweet moments” spent with TIWC members. The Paraguay diplomat’s wife always lent a gracious and beautiful presence to the TIWC activities and events. Donning her national dress and with flowers tucked in her hair, she was a standout at the successful fashion show which the incredible Connie Pong organized not very long ago.

Mayumi Hu, who wore the green and yellow colors of the Brazilian soccer team last time, proved quite a revelation as the smooth-talking lady program emcee with Carlson Huang of Radio Taiwan International as her partner. The TIWC’s second vice-president was also the person who put together the scrapbook of photographs projected on the big screen during the “despedida” dinner.

Pictures said a lot about the participation in the TIWC’s activities. Smiles were all over the faces of the participants of the fun trips to Malaysia and India. Bali and Jakarta in Indonesia are the TIWC’s next travel destinations. The visit to Peck Hee Lim’s orchard in Hsinchu was covered. So was the encounter with the Taiwanese glove puppet theater experts.

Gerhard Pfeiffer of the Austrian Tourism Office and wife Beate Pfeiffer were among the honored guests but they did not make it. They are being reassigned to Beijing.

Lena Ou, wife of Foreign Minister Francisco H.L. Ou, understood very well the emotions of the ladies preparing to pack up and return to their homelands with their husbands. She knew what it was like to be continent-hopping and living in different faraway countries. As a very supportive wife, she accompanied her husband throughout his postings in five countries, including Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Spain for a total of 26 years before his appointment to the top post at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the beginning, she did not speak a word of Spanish. She is today very much at home in the language.

Those who also joined the dinner organized by the Taipei International Women’s Club (TIWC) included: Swaziland Ambassador Njabuliso B. Gwebu; Nauru Ambassador Ludwig Dowong Keke and wife Ann Keke; St. Kitts and Nevis Charge d’Affaires Jasmine Elise Huggins; Isaura Novelo, wife of Belize Charge d’Affaires Efrain Novelo; Raphael Gamzou, representative of Israel Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei; Stanley Loh, representative of Singapore Trade Office in Taipei, and wife Kim Loh; as well as Carlos Alfredo Barcia, director of administration of Argentina Trade and Cultural Office, and wife Beatriz de Barcia.

Connie Pong, the incumbent TIWC president, worked very hard to ensure that there were no hitches during the memorable dinner event. She even rushed the printing of the name cards of the club’s officers. Mexa Chiu, her husband, showed once more his full support of his wife’s commitment to serve the TIWC members.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Crossover sensation Il Divo to sing on Sept. 24 at Fulfillment Amphitheatre in Taichung

By Nancy T. Lu
Il Divo, Sony Music’s hottest crossover artist group, will make their Taiwan debut at the Fulfillment Amphitheatre in Taichung on September 24, announced Taichung Mayor Jason Hu in Taipei on June 24.

“An Evening with Il Divo” will open at 8 p.m. for the convenience of the public from out of town like Taipei. Crossover music fans may need to .take the Taiwan High-Speed Rail to Taichung to catch Il Divo in concert.

Il Divo’s confirmed first visit has come after three years of negotiation with help from the Management of New Arts and Sony Music Taiwan.

American tenor David Miller, French vocalist Sebastien Izambard, Swiss tenor Urs Buehler and Spanish baritone Carlos Marin make up Il Divo, a sensation on the eve of the final game of the 2006 World Cup and performer of the theme song of the sport event with incredible global following. .

Mayor Hu, shown with promoter Niu Hsiao-hua of Management of New Arts in picture, felt very proud about signing up Il Divo this time, following the great success of previous big Taichung concerts featuring Italian tenors Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli. Actually eyed for Taichung next is a concert by a big celebrity female artist like Celine Dion.

Il Divo’s program of songs has yet to be announced. The songs will be selected from the group’s four recording albums. “The Promise,” the latest recoding released only last year, features songs like “The Power of Love (La Fuerza Mayor),” “La Promessa,” “Enamorado,” “The Winner Takes It All,” “She” and “Amazing Grace.” Mayor Hu said he would like very much to hear the four singers vocalize a Taiwan song.

Tickets to “An Evening with Il Divo” cost from NT$600 to NT$4,800.

Although the Fulfillment Amphitheatre has a total seating capacity of 7,000, only 5,900 tickets will be sold.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Yearly food festival in Taipei seeks to return giant grouper to Taiwan’s dining table

By Nancy T. Lu
Taiwan’s giant grouper looked like a king enthroned on waves of ice at the event held at the Ambassador Hotel in Taipei to drum up interest in the Taiwan Culinary Exhibition from August 20 to 23 at the Taipei World Trade Center’s Hall 1.

A 25-year-old giant grouper from Pingtung, even bigger in size than the fish frozen on ice, was dramatically carried by four men into the ballroom of the five-star hotel in Taipei as climax of the afternoon’s program. The fresh fish known to be rich in protein and amino acids weighed 180 Chinese pounds or catties.

“For many years, the giant grouper raised in Taiwan has been exported for the delectation of seafood lovers abroad,” pointed out Tsai Chin-chuan, the active organizer and promoter of the long-running food festival, now on its 20th year. “We have decided to encourage the bringing back of this wonderful fish to Taiwan’s dining table. Thus, we have invited our talented chefs to show their creativity in their preparation and presentation of this fish.”

The four-day Taiwan Culinary Exhibition this year will highlight some 50 creative recipes tapping the giant grouper and bringing out its best-known qualities. At least 25 dishes will be showcased at any given time. The recipes and special menus will also be served at the respective restaurants where the participating chefs work over a period of time.

Chefs from Landis Taipei Hotel, Ambassador Hotel and Hai Pa Wang Restaurant have been among those who have developed menus revolving around the giant grouper.

The 2009 Taiwan Culinary Exhibition will feature a myriad of activities for the senses, starting with the gathering of eight top teams from Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, the United States and China for culinary competition.

Twelve of Taiwan’s top international hotels and restaurants will whet the visitors’ appetites with their dishes at the Fine Dining Exhibit.

The Suzhou cuisine will take a special spotlight at the food show. The food show in Taipei will likewise make room for “LOHAS Back-to-Basics Banquet: The New Frontier of Living Healthy in Style.”

Culinary diversity in Taiwan’s highlands will be in focus, too. Five-star chefs will be doing cooking demonstrations. The Food Court will have a lot to offer by way of snacks to taste and gifts to buy and bring home.

Monday, June 22, 2009

"Art Taipei 2009" on August 28 to September 1 to feature 78 local and foreign art galleries

By Nancy T. Lu

Art trade is not quite going down the hill despite months of talk about the global economic downturn. “Art Taipei 2009,” a project of the Art Galleries Association of the Republic of China, will unfold at the Taipei World Trade Center from August 28 to September 1 this year.

The major art trade event will see the participation of 78 art galleries, including 37 international representatives and 29 first-timers. Multi-media artists from Taiwan, Japan, China and Korea, among other countries, will spice up the art show, giving it a new face. Japan this year will have a significant representation at the event, said the organizers.

Eness from Australia, which has a pool of multimedia designers and digital artists working in the interactive domain, will be featured in keeping with the theme of “Art and Environment.” Science and technology will come into play here. At the press conference to launch "Art Taipei 2009," Shih Jui-jen, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei and active curator of “Art Taipei 2009,” presented an interesting video clip of “The Lightscraper.”

Shih remarked: “This year will see a clash of the natural environment with man-made environment. Also graffiti art will be pulled into the realm of legitimate art.”

"Art Taipei 2009" will have areas devoted to “Art Galleries,” “2009 Art Project,” “Made in Taiwan – Young Artist Discovery,” ”Art Now – Southeast Asia,” “Ela Asia (Electronic Art),” and “International Art Media.”

Photo taken during the press conference at the Huashan Art District shows (from left): Shih Jui-jen, director of Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei; Yeh Ming-shui of Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA); Minister Huang Pi-twan of the Council for Cultural Affairs; Hsiao Yao of Capital Art; and Wang Szu-yung of the Art Galleries Association of R.O.C.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Broadcaster says Australian composer Grainger believed in flagellation to stimulate creativity

By Nancy T. Lu
Give Damien Beaumont, a visiting authority on Australian music from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), a chance to talk about “The ABC of Classical to Modern Music in Australia” in Taiwan, and he is bound to introduce lengthily a colorful composer like Sir Percy (George Percy Aldridge) Grainger.

Beaumont’s listeners are quite likely to be familiar with this particularly gifted Australian musician’s “Danny Boy.” Over the years, many a singer around the world has struggled with the notes to deliver the beautiful song said to be of Irish folk origin.

“The Australian-born composer Sir Percy, in his time a pianist, was a very interesting character indeed,” Beaumont told the guests at a lunch hosted by the Australian Commerce and Industry Office in Taipei last week. “He is chiefly remembered for his innovations, having created ‘free music’ and invented the ‘free music machine’ or a forerunner of the electric synthesizer.”

No traditional form of notation can describe in detail Sir Percy’s “free music,” said Beaumont. The innovative Australian composer, who was born in Victoria in 1882, anticipated many forms of 20th century music. He was dealing with “beat-less music” and talking about “chance music” ahead of John Cage by 40 years, according to Beaumont.

He was a “pop star” long before Britney Spears, getting married at the Hollywood Super Bowl before 20,000 people and with a 126-musician orchestra playing and an “a cappella” choir singing his composition dedicated to his bride “To a Nordic Princess.”

Beaumont revealed that the composer had a mother who for some reason wouldn’t let him go to school. He did though but only for three months. He was “a vegetarian who didn’t like vegetables.” And to top it all, he was “a sado-masochist who loved whipping himself.” He had this theory about flagellation stimulating creativity.

History always reserves a place of honor for whoever is first on the scene. Beaumont’s talk actually began with an introduction of Isaac Nathan, the very first western composer in Australia and the acknowledged father of Australian music.

Born in England in 1792, Nathan moved to Australia in1841, becoming the leader of the Sydney musical life. He became music adviser to both the Jewish Synagogue and the Roman Catholic St. Mary’s Cathedral. He was playing Mozart only abut 50 years after the Austrian composer’s death.

Nathan was the first to conduct research on the indigenous music of Australia. Not particularly outstanding as a composer, he wrote “not very exciting” works with “very traditional sound.” He is best remembered for his “Hebrew Melodies,” which reportedly became of interest to famous composers like Mendelssohn, Mussorgsky and Schuman. Sir Charles Mackerras, the famous conductor, is Nathan’s “great, great, great grandson.”

Beaumont, who is making his second Taipei visit, did not have much time to dwell in detail on the talented Australian contemporary composers. Of the so-called “New Kids on the Block,” he cited briefly Liza Lim, enfant terrible Anthony Pateras, Matthew Hindson (who loves to excite), and Damian Barbeler, among others.

Beaumont sang as a professional baritone for 15 years, performing in productions like Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” and Donizetti’s “Don Paquale,” before joining Australian Broadcasting Corporation and getting involved in the far-reaching music education program.

While growing up in the Australian countryside, Beaumont used to sing out lustily “The Lonely Goatherd,” filling the mountains with the powerful sound of his music. His singing family when he was young had the reputation in the community of the “Australian Von Trapp Family.”

As popular host of ABC Classic FM in Australia, Beaumont has been invited to speak about Opera Australia on Philharmonic Radio Taipei FM99.7 and Hsinchu FM90.7 at 9 p.m. on June 22 to 26. The special radio program will be broadcast in connection with Opera Australia’s staging of Bizet’s “Carmen” in collaboration with the National Symphony Orchestra and the Taipei Philharmonic Chorus at the National Theater in Taipei on July 9 to 12.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

4 fascinating stories about Taiwan to be told in 34 languages on National Geographic Channel

By Nancy T. Lu
Four new exciting documentaries – “Typhoon Hunters,” “River Quest,” “Hip Hop Nation” and “Tomb Raptors” – will tell amazing Taiwan stories to the world when they air on the National Geographic Channel.

When a typhoon strikes and everyone else is safely waiting out the destructive force of the storm at home, a team sets out, taking big risks by flying into the eye of the typhoon to gather important meteorological information. Such mission, which inevitably entails getting caught in big air turbulence, is very dangerous. Chasing no less than 31 typhoons (including six for this particular documentary) with fastened seatbelt and in a badly shaking aircraft makes a pilot truly experienced in dealing with the unknown. This is the story of “Typhoon Hunters.”

Nature explorer Ah-da appears undaunted by the odds of conquering Taiwan’s great altitude and overcoming risks such as negotiating a treacherous boulder-strewn rushing stream. In a beautifully documented story set against Taiwan’s awesome mountain scenery, the bonding between a man and his pet dog, Lively, stands out to warm hearts. This is what “River Quest” is all about.

Hip hop, Taiwan style, travels from Taichung to Los Angeles in “Hip Hop Nation.” A group of dancers from Taiwan allows a crew to follow them around and document their raw experience. At the end of the day, these men and women grasp the importance of attitude. (See video.)

“Tomb Raptors” is about the migratory birds called the grey-faced buzzards. The avian visitors show up without fail in Taiwan during the tomb-sweeping period, taking a usual route and then leaving the island not long after. The raptors fly in not one by one but in big flocks with leaders, attracting many international birdwatchers to Taiwan shore. .A local bird lover rescues a wounded bird, attaches a sensor to it and then sets it free to be able to scientifically monitor its migratory pattern and behavior.

The new “Taiwan to the World” series done by different production teams, sometimes involving foreign professionals, can be said to be a continuation of the collaboration between the National Geographic Channel and the Government Information Office in Taiwan.

“The ‘Taiwan to the World’ program has enhanced the mission of the National Geographic Society,” said Jeffrey Daniels, senior vice president for development and production of the National Geographic Channels International.

The series of four new documentaries, starting with "Typhoon Hunters," will have a premiere telecast at 9 p.m. on Sunday, June 21, on the National Geographic Channel. Viewers in 165 countries will eventually be able to watch them in 34 languages.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Taipei Chinese Orchestra celebrates success of "Whirling Dance" recording

By Nancy T. Lu

Chung Yiu-kwong, composer and director of the Taipei Chinese Orchestra, has a very good reason to feel upbeat and, in fact, high in the year of the 30th anniversary of his orchestra.

Music critic David Hurwitz recently wrote of the orchestra’s first internationally released CD, "Whirling Dance,” on ClassicsToday.com: “The music is so pretty and flutist Sharon Bezaly’s playing so alluring that you’d have to be pretty miserable not to love it --- and the engineering is so stunning no matter how many channels you decide to employ in listening. I would very much like to hear some major works featuring the Taipei Chinese Orchestra as well. Chung Yiu-kwong has the group playing with fine ensemble qualities, and the orchestra’s timbers are familiar enough to be immediately assimilable, but different enough to be intriguing.”
"I read the review several times before the meaning of the words finally sank in,” Chung, composer of “Whirling Dance,” confessed.

The recording project undertaken with Sweden-based BIS took one year to realize. Pearl Lin (shown in picture with Chung) of Sunrise Records, ever eager to promote Taiwan’s musicians, initiated this recording venture and found herself overjoyed by the outcome. Her company paid for the travel expenses of two recording technicians as well as the costs of bringing in 600 kilograms of equipment.

"Whirling Dance” has been released by BIS in more than 20 countries. The market is expected to grow to cover eventually more than 40 countries.

Because of the success of “Whirling Dance,” the TCO has been asked to prepare for a second release with Bezaly two years from now. In December, however, two more TCO recording projects will be undertaken for BIS. Saxophone artist Claude Delangle will be featured in the first one and star trombone player Charles Lindberg will take the spotlight in the second one.

Aside from the music of Chung, the “Whirling Dance” CD also features Ma Shui-long’s “Bamboo Flute Concerto” (rearranged for piccolo).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Red Cliff battle in “Romance of Three Kingdoms” inspires fascinating art and literature now on exhibit

By Nancy T. Lu
Legendary figures, emerging all at once during a fascinating period in Chinese history and participating in the crucial Battle of the Red Cliff in 208 A.D., paved the way for the establishment of the Three Kingdoms of Wu, Shu and Wei. But eventually China went through reunification as an empire.

Existing accounts have not always been faithful to the history of what exactly happened. But the Battle of the Red Cliff, a dramatic turning point, inspired art and literature starting in the Song Dynasty.

From the Ming Dynasty to the present, the legendary tales of war and strategy involving heroes Cao Cao, Liu Bei and Sun Quan have contributed to the scenarios of operas, movies, television drama series, and even comic books, firing the imagination of generations. Handscroll with painting and calligraphy like Wu Yuanzhi’s “Chibitu (Red Cliff)”(see picture above) in the Jin Dynasty calls particular attention to the rendering of the waves.

"A Thousand, Thousand Churning Waves: The Legendary Red Cliff Heritage” amazes as an exhibition showing how much of the artifacts related to this particular period in Chinese history can be found in the permanent collections of the National Palace Museum.

Chinese tourists, who turn up in groups nowadays at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, tend to linger long in front of the Ming Dynasty imprint of Luo Quanzhong’s illustrated “Sanguozhi tongsuyanyi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms).” Novelist Luo dexterously combined fact and fiction in his much-read literature (refer to picture above).

Screen of red lacquer incised with Red Cliff landscape, likewise on view at the museum, dates back to the 18th century during the Qing Dynasty reign of Qianlong. Brush holder of bamboo features carved Red Cliff scene, circa 17th or 18th century.

Even Westerners, especially moviegoers, have been introduced to the Battle of the Red Cliff through John Woo’s “Red Cliff 1 & 2.”

The National Guoguang Opera Company will present stories from “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms” at the National Palace Museum on June 13 to help the public relive the drama of the era. Huang Chun-hsiung will do the storytelling in Taiwanese with glove puppets on June 20.

The National Palace Museum will be reaching out to the young by bringing in the Musou Band composed of cheongsam-wearing female performers. They appear, gracefully coaxing notes out of Chinese musical instruments with seductive flair (see video below) and conjuring visions of scenes from "Red Cliff," the historical epic movie starring Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Chang Chen.
Eight lectures have been lined up. Related online games are being introduced on the website of the museum as part of its educational efforts. At least three schools in the museum's neighborhood are using teaching materials designed to enable the students learn more about history. Guided tours at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. will start on July 1.

The exhibit "A Thousand, Thousand Churning Waves: The Legendary Red Cliff Heritage" at the National Palace Musem will run until August this year.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Taiwan’s finest violinists plan to honor beloved teacher Sylvia Shu-te Lee on her 80th birthday

By Nancy T. Lu
Just about every successful violinist from Taiwan cites Sylvia Shu-te Lee as personal violin mentor in their biodata. The names read like a Who’s Who list: Lin Cho-liang, Hu Nai-yuan, Su Hsien-da, Chien Ming-yen and so on. They are all coming home and gathering to fete her on her 80th birthday this September.

The violinists have readily agreed to juggle their hectic schedules around to join the celebration. Some of the finest violinists taught by Lee will perform for her. Lin Cho-liang will even teach three students in a master class after the first of two concerts.

Artists like New York-based Lin Cho-liang and Hu Nai-yuan have international careers to keep up but they never fail to get in touch with their earliest violin teacher whenever they come back for concert engagements.

On his last visit, Lin, in fact, quickly drew up the concert repertoire for Lee’s former and present students to play in her honor at two planned concerts first in her hometown in Pingtung County on September 12 and then at the National Concert Hall in Taipei on September 13. Piazzolla, Vivaldi and Sarasate are some of the composers to be interpreted to warm the heart of the “godmother” to Taiwan’s violinists. The program featuring three or four generations of violinists will be capped by the “Happy Birthday Song.”

Lee revealed: “Four months were all it took for me to decide whether a child showed promise or not. A child’s feeling for tone and his musicality were what decided whether a child should keep on studying violin. Unlike technique, which could be learned, musicality was a gift.”

“She did not teach me how to fiddle,” said Chen Chin-hung. “She pointed out my failings and I was left to figure out for myself how to improve. Her teaching method put emphasis on a child’s independence. She was strict but she made me cry in front of her only once. I cried many times after dashing out of the room used for my violin lessons.”

Lee picked her students. She recalled yesterday: “I would teach two hours in the morning at the National Taiwan Normal University. And then I was off to Hsinchu to give violin lessons to Lin Cho-liang. And then I was off to Taichung. I could sleep anywhere. But in the morning I was in Tainan. Sometimes I went to Kaohsiung first. I slept in Pingtung and then proceeded to Tainan. And the next morning I headed for Taipei, arriving at 5:30 in the morning. I was ready to go to class at 9 a.m.”

In those days, most of Lee’s students were boys. Cheng Chun-teng described his experience with Lee: “The student before me would come out of the room crying. And so I dreaded my encounter with my violin teacher. She stressed on the precision of the musical notes. She pushed me to my limit. I had to find my way myself. But she would end up patting me on my head.”

Lee’s students have truly fond memories of the summer camps in Guanziling or elsewhere with her. Although she never married, she became like a mother to all her violin students. She even took them dining in a fine eatery in those days.

Lee even toured the Philippines and the United States with her students. She made sure that they had prepared well before their departure. She also got them ready to join competitions. The intense rivalry for top honor just dissipated after the contests. The boys went back to their old camaraderie.

Pingtung County Magistrate Tsao Chi-hung has good reason to be exceptionally proud of Sylvia Shu-te Lee for her great contribution to the music education of Taiwan’s finest violinists. In fact, he is giving his full support to the concert in Pingtung County to honor the hometown favorite octogenarian on her birthday.

Concert tickets cost from NT$400 to NT$2000. Call tel. (02)2771-5676 in Taipei and tel. (08)765-5852 in Pingtung.

Black-and-white file picture provided by Ars Formosa Company shows Hu Nai-yuan playing solo. The other file photo captures the smiling Lin Cho-liang with mentor Sylvia Shu-te Lee. Photo in full color taken by Nancy T. Lu shows Lee wih four students representing different generations.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Taiwan-style high-end dining designed for tourists looking for fine entertainment

By Nancy T. Lu
High-end tourists in Taipei are now able to enjoy “Taiwan Sumptuous Dinner” complete with colorful aboriginal entertainment at the Sheraton Taipei Hotel.

The palatable feast features flavors from different ethnic and regional cultures and virtually takes guests around the island. Donggang pressed fish roe, Taipei Shihlin sausage, as well as Taitung corn-fed and yellow-skinned chicken arrive at the table as appetizers.

Braised shark’s fin soup so often associated with luxurious banquets does not disappoint in taste. Steamed rice, which gets served in Alishan style in a bamboo container, is topped with dried tiny shrimps from Keelung. This part of the culinary treat becomes a brief encounter with Tsou culture.

Premium pork knuckles are braised with rock sugar, contributing to appreciation of Chinese culinary art. Hakka-style pickled vegetables and bamboo shoots get introduced along with the pork knuckle into a steamed bun.

Fleshy garoupa is steamed with wintermelon from Nantou. A typical Tainan recipe is the shrimp and squid roll. Grapefruit and tapioca in mango juice lend a sweet note to the savory meal with very beautiful presentation.

Throughout dinner, indigenous singing and dancing unfold as colorful entertainment, occasionally with audience participation. Guests also have the option of dressing up as chieftain or princess for souvenir picture-taking. Indigenous crafts like doing beadwork and weaving are demonstrated. A souvenir mirror map pinpointing scenic and historical sites around Taiwan is given as gift to every guest.

The “Taiwan Sumptuous Dinner” experience costs NT$3,800 plus 10 percent service charge per person. The catering department of the Sheraton Taipei Hotel is prepared to arrange such a happening for a group of at least 30 persons. Make reservations by calling tel. (02)2321-5858 ext. 8116/8117.

The photographs here were all taken by Nancy T. Lu.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Meet Moriarty band from Paris in Taipei County

Moriarty, a band composed of 4 brothers who play acoustic instruments and a diva, is making a Taipei stopover during their world tour.

Their music has been described as “inspired by American and Irish folk, but also blues from the south of United States and even by country music.” Their sound blends “a voice drunk on honey, a double bass, suitcase drums, acoustic and electric guitars and a harmonica.”

The young musicians got together in Paris to create their act at the turn of the century. Since then, they have been making music “for the joy of spontaneous story-telling, of spilling out lines that ease into the rehearsal room and then form into characters, adventures and nostalgia.”

Moriarty will perform at the Multi-function Meeting Hall on the third floor of the Administration Building of Taipei County in Banciao at 7:30 p.m. on June 5. Three lucky members of the audience will be picked through a raffle draw to enjoy a late night snack with the members of the band after the show. In addition, three “Moriartyland” DVDs will be given away.

Tickets to the concert cost from NT$400 to NT$1,200. Find out through http://www.ticket.com.tw/ or call Sunrise Music at tel. (02)2511-8595.
Photo of Moriarty has been provided by Sunrise Music.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Guess what happened to male aboriginal dancer

Blogger decided to try out the video function of her camera for the first time on Wednesday night. When the colorfully dressed aboriginal dancers appeared on the stage for their first number during the launching of "Taiwan Sumptuous Dinner" in Basement 2 of the Sheraton Taipei Hotel, she rushed forward to shoot a footage.

Then something hapened. Blogger blinked, not sure about what was taking place. When she played back her camera, she realized that the male dancer on the left at the back had briefly lost his bearing, falling off the stage but jumping back in seconds. He was very professional.

Was it a case of opening night jitters? Did he have a glass too many of the rice wine? Blogger never found out for sure. But the last laugh should be on this blogger, who did not even know that her camera was still running when she put down her hands, wasting footage on the carpeted floor of the five-star hotel.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Lu Shao-chia accepts appointment as next music director of National Symphony Orchestra

By Nancy T. Lu

The Germany-based Lu Shao-chia, who has been pursuing a successful conducting career primarily in Europe for years, has been appointed the new music director of Philharmonia Taiwan, the National Symphony Orchestra of Taiwan, R.O.C., effective August next year, announced the NSO yesterday.

Lu formally signed a five-year contract with the NSO yesterday. He will be the music director designate of the orchestra from August 2009 to June 2010. During this period, he will bring the orchestra to Hong Kong.

Lu said yesterday that the excellent terms of the job offer made it irresistible to accept. His appointment will entail his spending 12 weeks each year with the NSO. He will be responsible for drawing up the orchestra’s concert programs and will take charge of inviting guest musicians, including guest conductors, to collaborate with the orchestra.

For years, Lu constantly received overtures, seeking his return to his homeland to guide the growth and development of a local orchestra. The NSO found a rival for Lu’s professional service in the Taipei Symphony Orchestra. The Taipei orchestra was where Lu first started out as a protégé of conductor Chen Chiu-sen.

Lu, Taiwan’s pride, was winner of the Concours Internationale Jeunesse Chef d’Orchestre in Besancon, France, in 1988. He also topped the Concorso Internazionale per Direttori d’Orchestra Antonio Pedrotti in Trento, Italy, in 1991. He went on to cap his series of triumphs with the top award at the Kirill Kondrashin Young Conductors Competition in Amsterdam in 1994.

“My happy guest conducting days would soon come to an end,” Lu remarked. “But after three years of freelancing, I have decided that it is time to face a new challenge. I believe in moving forward, not looking back.”

The great joy in Taiwan’s arts circle over the announcement was reason for Lu, long considered an excellent candidate to lead a local orchestra, to feel intimidated by the pressure to deliver, he said. But the news pleasantly capped his “years of happy collaboration with the NSO,” he said.

Lu is in Taipei to conduct the NSO in two concerts. “Miraculously Poetic Music” at the National Concert Hall in Taipei on June 7 will feature a program to include Debussy’s “Jeux poeme dansee,” Bloch’s “Schelomo: Hebraic Rhapsody,” Mahler’s “Adagio from Symphony No. 10” and Bartok’s “The Miraculous Mandarin Suite, Op. 19.” Gautier Capucon will be the cello soloist.

“Pastorale” on June 11 will highlight a repertoire consisting of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 6 in F Major – ‘Pastorale,’ Op. 68” and Brahms’ “Piano Quartet in G minor, Op. 25, arranged by A. Schonberg.”

Tempting Thai cooking tastes of innovation

By Nancy T. Lu

Bringing chef Tammasak Chootong from the Banyan Tree Group to The Sherwood Taipei for a gourmet celebration means introducing the exquisite culinary innovation in the fascinating Thai kitchen. An ongoing buffet at The Sherwood Taipei’s B-One says it all.

The partnership involving two members of the Leading Hotels of the World makes possible an enticing first step through the palate into an exotic setting associated with the Banyan Tree.

The Banyan Tree as a successful brand name stands today for romance, tranquility and rejuvenation. The group with the 52-year-old Ho Kwon Ping or K.P. Ho as founder boasts today no less than 34 luxury hotels and resorts as well as 64 spas worldwide. The first Banyan Tree property opened in Phuket, Thailand, in 1995.

“My Thai cooking is traditional,” stressed the Thai chef, who originally trained in western cuisine in Germany and is now responsible for creating menus for the Saffron Restaurants of the Banyan Tree Group. “But my technique is part of my innovation. And my presentation is innovative, too.”

Asked how much of the ingredients did he have to bring in from Thailand, he replied: “Eighty percent I would say. But many of the ingredients of the Thai recipes can be sourced locally.”

Geographical factors tend to define dishes in Thailand. The coastline, the central plains, and the dry uplands in the east not to mention the mountains in the west and north have different specialties. The Banyan Tree Thai Gourmet Festival opening on June 1 and running until June 28 features a fairly general coverage of the Thai culinary map. The buffet highlights an interplay of flavors from sour to salty, from sweet to powerfully hot.

A pleasant preview of the Banyan Tree Thai Gourmet Festival at The Sherwood Taipei kicked off with a serving of Som Tum Satay Gai or Spicy Green Papaya Salad, Grilled Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce. As demonstrated by the chef, grated papaya and carrot had to be pounded and crushed with a wooden pestle. Lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, and chopped chillies spiced up the typical Thai salad.

Lemon grass, often used in fish cookery and curry dishes, went into the preparation of a drink to go with the Thai meal. Ginger flavored the drink, too.

Yum Makhue Phao Nhue Poo or Grilled Eggplant Salad, Mud Crab Meat, and Roasted Chilli Dressing came next. The smoking of the eggplant could not be rushed to get it right, according to the chef. Thus, the dish took a little more time to prepare.

Tom Yum Goong or Hot and Sour Prawn Soup with Thai Herbs was appetizing. The traditional recipe required lemon grass stalks, fish sauce, galanga root, kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, chillies, cut coriander leaves and spring onions, among others. A requested serving of white rice enhanced its appreciation.

The time came for the tasting of Khao Soi Salmon or Steamed Salmon Wrapped in Fresh Rice Noodle Sheet and Yellow Curry Sauce. The flavor was very mild compared to the previous dish. Drops of chilli sauce were introduced perhaps to prevent it from tasting too bland. The western style of food presentation was quite attractive.

The sweet and yummy finale was Khaow Niew Mamhuang or Mango Sticky Rice with Coconut Milk. The crispy, the sticky and the soft all came together on the dessert plate. Forms and shapes were creatively combined to visually delight the diner approaching the end of a memorable lunch.

Watermelon, pandan leaf, lemon grass and turmeric are taking turns in lending aroma to Hom Mali Thai rice during the food festival. Guests are free to add red, green or yellow curry to the steamed rice.

Noodles lovers have four choices: rice noodles, egg noodles, Chinese vermicelli and noodles cut from fresh rice sheet. Ingredients to add to the noodles include: shrimps, fish balls, beef balls, pork wonton, mushrooms, tomatoes and so forth.

Buffet costs NT$800 per person for lunch and NT$950 per cover for dinner. There is a 10 percent service charge. Call tel. (02)2718-1188 ext. 3006 to make reservations.

Khao Soi Salmon calls for wrapping a fish slice with fresh rice noodle sheet and then steaming it for 10 minutes.