Friday, December 10, 2010

Starry, Starry Night – from UNICEF Christmas card artist Manuel D. Baldemor

By Nancy T. Lu

Generosity gets manifested in many wonderful ways at Christmastime. Famous artists around the world, for example, offer the reproduction rights to their paintings to the United Nations Children’s Fund. Corporate interest in buying UNICEF Christmas cards to contribute to efforts to help malnourished and impoverished children around the world has been sustained over the years despite the trend to go for digital cards because the colorful greeting cards feature designs with great appeal.

To look at the paintings of Philippine-born artist Manuel D. Baldemor is to understand readily why his works revolving around the festive Christmas theme have been selected for reproduction on UNICEF cards over the years.

Every labor of love coming out of Baldemor’s atelier in Pasig, Metro Manila, feels very much like Christmas. He fills his Philippine Christmas landscape with traditional Philippine Christmas lanterns, which hang on windows and in front of homes at this time of the year. The star-shaped decorations shine beautifully in the night. The bright and exciting colors from Baldemor’s palette spread the joy of the season.

Traditions are very close to the heart of this 63-year-old native of the famous woodcarving town of Paete in Laguna province. He portrays Filipino farmers from the countryside taking time out to go and hear the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Some show up even on the backs of water buffalos. The colorful Philippine jeepney likewise brings people to church. Vendors balancing baskets of food for the Noche Buena on their heads also find their way into his paintings.

Baldemor’s stylized depictions of Christmas celebration remind viewers that Christmas is a religious feast in predominantly Catholic Philippines. The façade of a house of worship – often Baldemor’s hometown church – is incorporated into his art composition from time to time. The Filipino family, too, gets highlighted in his well thought out art expression about Christmas. He paints townsfolk looking out of the windows of their homes.

The titles, which Baldemor gives his paintings, tell about the traditional Filipino culture, which fascinates him and which he holds dear. These include: “Pasko Sa Aming Bayan (Christmas in the Philippines),” “Season of Hope,” “Stars,” “Lantern Festival,” “Stars of Good Blessing,” “Midnight Mass” and “Filipino Family.”

The generous Baldemor has contributed at least 15 designs to UNICEF cards since 1986. Some of the original paintings are still in his personal collection.

The processing of a work of art for use on a UNICEF card takes about four years. A slide of the painting is sent to the UNICEF head office in New York for evaluation. The actual painting is never brought over there.

Greeting cards featuring Baldemor’s paintings have all been best-sellers. Such knowledge truly fills the painter’s heart with happiness.

Baldemor, in fact, created a mural titled “Pasasalamat” (Thanksgiving”) for the lobby of the UNICEF Building in Vienna, Austria. The mixed media masterpiece even required Baldemor to bring 50 kilos of lahar sand to Vienna. It was unveiled in 1998.

The friendly and outgoing Baldemor is not just a painter but also a sculptor, printmaker, and book illustrator. At the age of 12, he was already a “master carver” in Paete. Years ago, he even dabbled in ceramic tile design.

Baldemor studied fine arts at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. He went on to win painting competitions and represent his country at international exhibitions like the Salon International Art in Paris.

Baldemor’s earliest drawings were in black and white. But his paintings have exploded in all the brightest colors imaginable. And art collectors just love them.

Today Baldemor – the father of three and grandfather of five – is considered one of the most productive and most appreciated contemporary painters in the Philippines. There is hardly any Filipino artist who can match his record for the total number of one-man shows held in his professional art career – to be exact, over 100 in all.

He travels abroad often, returning to showcase the creative results of his inspiring sojourns. Many travel grants from governments have enabled him to get to know first-hand the cultures of different countries on different continents.

When Baldemor was young, he wanted to be a poet. He now writes occasionally about his travels for the mass-circulation newspaper Philippine Star.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Getting misty-eyed over Xmas lights on Policarpio Street in Mandaluyong, Metro Manila

By Nancy T. Lu

Memories of Christmas lights brightening up almost the entire Policarpio Street in Mandaluyong, Metro Manila, four years ago make me misty-eyed. My first visit there happened during my last Christmas holiday with my father.

Arriving at Policarpio Street in Mandaluyong, Metro Manila, just a few days before Christmas brought out the hidden child in me. My father, too, was overwhelmed to see an entire neighborhood in Barangay Zuniga glow with the heartwarming joy of the Christmas season.

December in the previous seven or eight years at least, I was told, had meant skyrocketing electricity bills for the community. Some belt-tightening homeowners were forced a few years ago to drop the whole idea of keeping the tradition.

I was back in Manila for the first time in December after so many years of living and working in Taipei. I had heard so much about Policarpio Street as a tourist attraction.

Fortunately that year when I first visited Policarpio Street, Anthony Suva, the barangay captain, wanted to set a good example in showing the spirit of Christmas. So he went ahead and transformed his two-story residence into the most attractive House of Santa Claus.

Right across the Suva home was a huge mansion shining with a hundred thousand lights as in the past years. Even the gate, the walls and the tall water tank tower of this residential compound were covered with tiny lights. The sparkling ornamentation was indeed a joy to behold in the night.

Some residents opted to put up animated decorations that December. The story of the first Christmas all the way to the visit of the Three Kings was told with music playing in one moving display. Santa Claus riding away on a sled pulled by reindeers was the theme of the showcase on the façade of another house.

Vendors sold hot “bibingka” (rice cakes) and “puto bumbong” (glutinous rice steamed in bamboo tube), delicacies usually associated with the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, to the delight of the “balikbayan” (homecoming) crowd.

Word about the Yuletide celebration on Policarpio Street near Boni Avenue had gone around fast. The lighting ceremony in late November officially announced the arrival of the Christmas holidays. Visitors who turned up every night contributed to the festive atmosphere in the whole community. Volunteers assisted motorists in looking for parking space. .

Christmas lights and animated displays in Metro Manila such as the showcase on Philippine history at UNI-Mart in Greenhills that year reminded me so much of my happy childhood. My father always found time at the end of the day to drive the family around during the Christmas season.

We made the rounds of a few places like Caltex on Padre Faura, Coca-Cola Bottling Plant in Otis, Pepsi-Cola and Magnolia plants (completely giving way to condominium high-rises today) on Aurora Boulevard, C.O.D. Department Store in Cubao and Ysmael Steel on Espana Extension. We did this several times every year then. We even voted on the best or favorite display each year.

My father and my mother sent us, the children, to bed and dreamland only after putting us through an exciting drive around the city in those days when road traffic in Manila had yet to deteriorate into a big nightmare at Christmastime.

The mass-circulation newspaper Philippine Star carried on the front page a few days ago this year a big photograph showing that the lights are back on the big mansion on Policarpio Street. That the Christmas spirit is alive in that neighborhood is wonderful news.

Was it Fate that brought me back to Manila for the first time in December after so many years of living and working in Taipei? Looking back, I feel more than glad that I made that trip to Manila in 2006.

I saw my beloved father again during my Lunar New Year break not long after. But the angels took him away forever the following June. So now thoughts of Christmas lights on Policarpio Street leave me misty-eyed.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Chunky Move’s “Mortal Engine” combines choreography with interactive system and laser technology, says Obarzanek

By Nancy T. Lu

Gideon Obarzanek, a would-be scientist years ago, made a sudden turnaround, becoming a dancer and then a choreographer. He now brings to Taipei for the first time the Australian dance company called Chunky Move to stage a production involving tracking systems and laser technology titled “Mortal Engine.”

Obarzanek promised a “sophisticated live performance on stage.” As he put it, “No two performances are ever quite the same because the light generated to create the performance is made from dancers’ movement. What dancers do shapes the changing figure around them.”

Many choreographers in the 20th century turned to the projection of images in dance. Obarzanek cited particularly Alwin Nikolais and his use of video and film projections to distort perceptions of human body. But the late choreographer encountered problems. Video and film materials must be prepared in advance. They ran on fixed time. Dancers must keep rehearsing to be at the right place at the right time.

Obarzanek himself experienced similar frustration in the projection of images. This was until he stepped into new ground involving collaboration with German computer engineer Frieder Weiss.

Weiss was an expert in creating quality control system for production line components. He developed a series of cameras which looked at components on production lines to track down defects and abnormalities.

In his spare time, Weiss experimented with the technology from Bosch Engineering by applying it on his partner who was a dancer. In short, what was intended for industrial use became tracking technology for artistic pursuit, said Obarzanek.

After meeting Weiss at a conference in Europe, Obarzanek invited him to work with him in 2005. They showed each other their works and then discussed the possibility of a collaboration.

A solo titled “Glow” became their first project together. This choreographic essay showed a change in the perception of the body, explained Obarzanek. A combination of movement, speed and images distorted the perception of the human body, which shifted to cause it to sometimes even acquire animal qualities. Such change affected the choreography.

The successful work, however, could only go into very specific exhibition spaces with spectators sitting around and looking down at the performers on the floor, according to Obarzanek.

In 2007, Obarzanek convinced interactive system designer Frieder Weiss to develop more tracking systems for a larger work, which could go into the more conventional theaters. As a result, the relationship between the video and the dancers in what was to become “Mortal Engine” got more complicated.

Obarzanek elaborated: “Video began taking dimension from dancers. Video used behavioral mathematical algorithms to acquire life (sometimes disturbing as seen in the black patches) of its own.”

At this point, Obarzanek also thought of exploring new space – particularly the void above the audience in a theater. Laser and sound artist Robin Fox through his works in Melbourne got the choreographer’s attention.

“And so Robin Fox took the contours of the dancers and then gave the information to the laser, shifting the movement in the choreography from the stage into space with the audience drawn into the work itself,” recalled Obarzanek.

“People felt the live-ness of the performance for they were put in a unique point in time and place,” stressed Obarzanek. “This was not just a live show.”

Obarzanek also brought music composer Ben Frost into the production.

“We imagined what we could do individually and we discovered in the studio what we never imagined,” Obarzanek said of the team behind “Mortal Engine.”

He added: “Collectively we were able to work out what we individually could not have.”

Choices had to be made along the way. There were no big clashes or conflicts among the involved artists. Obarzanek, however, claimed that he was the director.

Obarzanek was the guest speaker at the Boomerang Lunch hosted by the Australian Commerce and Industry Office in Taipei on November 3. In attendance were choreographers, dancers and representatives of the many prominent dance companies in Taiwan.

Chunky Move will present “Mortal Engine” at the National Theater in Taipei at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on November 6 as well as at 2:30 p.m. on November 7.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

World of wonder at Taipei Flora Expo sparks excitement ahead of opening on November 6

By Nancy T. Lu
The Taipei Flora Expo has yet to open on November 6. But already, the Pavilion of Dreams is fanning a lot of excitement. .

The Pavilion of Dreams at the Xinsheng Park has the theme of “Hope, Dream, New Horizon.” There are three sections: Five Senses Beyond Space and Time, Interactive Digital Video Center and Panoramic Interactive Theater. A tour of the pavilion is likely to require at least one hour.

Enter the first hall to watch in awe the programmed metamorphosis of a giant flower overhead to six different music soundtracks and constantly changing lighting.

The Interactive Digital Video Center invites a visitor to step into a circle of light in front of a picture and to move to animate the image. A bee, for example, suddenly flutters into view to look for pollen on a flower. Or, petal after petal drops from a beautiful bloom. There is also a long wall on which the silhouette of each new arrival is thrown. But this human shape while moving forward quickly changes into an animated and almost human insect.

The Panoramic Interactive Theater gathers a group at the center for a sweeping look at nature starting with the lotus lagoon. The magical journey through water and land takes off rapidly with everyone blinking their eyes in disbelief and with their spirit literally soaring. Whether from underwater or on a mountain top, Mother Nature takes everyone's breath away. Then comes once more the interactive part. Hands are encouraged to reach out and touch trees to animate images.

Queues at the Pavilion of Dreams are expected to be very long. Groups of 70 visitors will be allowed to enter every 14 minutes after Flora Expo officially opens. The site can ideally accommodate a maximum of 280 persons. But more are likely to be crammed into the space.

Get ready, therefore, to explore the Taipei Flora Expo. A world of wonder and charm waits to take everyone to an unprecedented high.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ling Jiou Mountain takes this Taipei visitor up the winding road to spirituality and tranquility

By Nancy T. Lu
Ling Jiou Mountain on a heavily mist-covered day seems a shy lady veiled in mystery. Occasionally, the fog fades away to reveal but only very briefly the beautiful curve of the wave-washed coastline way down below.

Undeniable is the power of this quiet retreat so filled with spirituality to draw in a visitor seeking relief from all worldly cares and pains. The drive through the hairpin curves of the mountain road before arriving at the entrance to the sacred setting lifts the spirit. The fresh air is invigorating and the embrace of Mother Nature is so comforting.

At the heart of this peaceful place for meditation on Ling Jiou Mountain is a Myanmar-born holy man whose road to a better understanding of life and death is through an ascetic life of fasting and meditation.

He looked at death up close, undergoing fasting, meditation and wrestling with the demons all alone in an abandoned pagoda of a neglected cemetery for a long period. As an ascetic seeking enlightenment, he chose also a cave in Fulong for his abode. He emerged as the inspired founder of the Museum of World Religions and promoter of interfaith dialogues in a war-torn world.

Not every outsider gets to personally meet the Venerable Dharma Hsin Tao. Each one who approaches the Wusheng Monastery, however, begins at least to try to learn from him with the help of his followers the path to tranquility.

Empty the mind, he says during a meditation. But the spiritual teaching is not something to be mastered overnight. The long journey to learn and find the truth begins at the very quiet Ling Jiou Mountain. Practice moves a sincere person closer to his goal.

Speechless mountains hold secrets. The Ling Jiou Mountain – a peak with the silhouette of a protective eagle watching over it – is not an exception. Long before the arrival of the Venerable Dharma Hsin Tao, local fishermen reported sightings of a mysterious flame burning at the summit.

After lighting a scented votive candle for a mother suffering in pain faraway back home, this visitor looks forward to another opportunity to experience Ling Jiou Mountain, including being soothed by the drone of the religious community at prayer before the Buddha, living in austere but fairly comfortable quarters, going completely vegetarian at mealtime, strolling alone along the Path of the 500 Arhats, participating in a “tai chi” exercise and joining a meditation with the Venerable Dharma Hsin Tao providing inspiring leadership even if only his taped voice is used.

The monastery’s shuttle bus brings a first-timer back to the Fulong train station to board the train to Taipei at the appointed time. After an hour, the Ling Jiou Mountain is just a beautiful memory to be cherished until the next visit to the haven created by a modern-day visionary.

All the pictures posted here were taken by Nancy T. Lu.

Ancient Greek art exhibit at National Palace Museum highlights beauty of human body

By Nancy T. Lu
Banners showing the famous marble statue of an ancient Greek discus thrower fly and flap in the wind nowadays in several parts of Taipei, announcing the opening of “The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece” exhibition at the National Palace Museum.

This masterpiece, which was a copy made upon the order of Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd Century AD after a lost Greek original dating back to 450–400 BC, graced the poster of the Olympic Games in London in 1948. The arrival of the art treasure depicting an outstanding Greek athlete in the nude, which has required insurance coverage as high as NT$500 million, calls attention to the fact that the British capital is preparing to host once more the Olympic Games in 2012.

“The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece” opened on October 15 at the National Palace Museum in Taipei and will run until February 7 next year. This is only the second time that the British Museum in London has lent treasures from its collections to the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Negotiations for the present project started two-and-a half years ago.

Ian Jenkins, the curator from the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum, explained that many of the 136 items in the collection on loan from London museum with a history of 200 years were not found in Greece but came rather from Italy. The replica of Myron’s “Discus Thrower” was traced to Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli, Lazio, Italy.

Jenkins said that Greek athletes in ancient times competed in the nude. They, in fact, participated in the Olympic Games not only to show their exceptional talents but also to display their beautiful naked bodies.

The nude champion athlete in ancient Greece, however, strikes an image of modesty in the face of victory and accomplishment. One marble statue of a young man in the collection shows him looking down and not up in his moment of glory. He does not pump his fist in the air, observed Jenkins.

There were no female athletes in the ancient Olympic Games. They held their separate competitions in honor of the goddess Hera elsewhere though, according to Jenkins.

Opportunities to depict the female nude were few in ancient Greece. The naked female was associated more with cults and rituals little understood today, he noted. In fact, Brancusi, Modigliani and Giacometti were known admirers of a particular cult-related piece in the ongoing exhibition for showing a very sophisticated way in which the human body can be given abstract form.

“Artists in ancient Greece suggested the female body beneath drapery,” pointed out Jenkins. “Breasts and thighs of the female body were subtly suggested by folds and fall of drapery.”

A Greek artist in the early 4th century BC notoriously created a nude of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. A 1st or 2nd century AD version of this Greek original is now drawing admiring gazes from visitors at the National Palace Museum. The powerfully attractive marble representation of the goddess, as described by Jenkins, has her “stepping out of her bath, surprised by a voyeur.”

Jenkins spoke of the humanism of ancient Greek art, citing the portrayals of gods in human form – beautiful, perfect, and with personalities like human beings except for their immortality. Ruling over the gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus was Father Zeus, represented naturally in the collection on view by a bronze statue originating from Hungary and dating from the 1st-2nd century AD and made after the sculpture by Pheidias for the altar at Olympia.

Greek mythology sings of heroes and their stories. Herakles, perhaps the greatest of all heroes, and his 12 labors are painted on preserved ancient pottery. As half-god and half-mortal, he must fight his way into the pantheon of the gods. In one pottery painting on display, he bravely survives a struggle with a dangerous boar and even brings the animal back alive to taunt the enemy who puts him through this test shown hiding in a storage jar. Herakles is also depicted as being driven by Athena, the goddess who is his patron, in her chariot to meet his father Zeus on Mount Olympus at the end of his labors.

One section of the exhibition focuses on birth, marriage and death. In short, this is about the rite of passage from cradle to grave. Jenkins noted that marriage was to a girl what war was to a boy in ancient Greece. A woman found her place as wife and mother. A man experienced fulfillment through public engagement such as in politics and war. To die young in a battle was the most beautiful fulfillment for a man, explained Jenkins.

Episodes about atrocities of war as seen in Greek mythology are captured on artifacts. One depiction has the Greek warrior son of Achilles using the body of the grandson of aging King Priam of Troy to beat him to death.

A sphinx on exhibit calls to mind the easy riddle which Oedipus answered correctly. But he figured out too late the riddle of his life, fulfilling the prophecy of killing his father and marrying his mother.

Scenes of sexual intercourse were common in Greek art. The exhibition has a painted pottery item showing a sex worker – a slave as indicated by hair cut short – lowering herself on her partner during a Greek drinking party with sex orgy called symposium in those days.

Older men engaged in institutional mentoring of young boys can be viewed in the collection. Jenkins cited the 300 Spartans as 150 pairs of lovers as further indication of the practice of homosexuality in ancient Greece. Fidelity to the partner was upheld with honor, said Jenkins.

Female sexuality was addressed in Greek art as seen in the drinking cup of pottery shaped like a breast. Wine like a mother’s milk was drunk from a vessel resembling the female breast.

Fertility found totems of hope for growth. A woman appears to be watering her crop of phalluses grown in her garden on ancient pottery.

Terracotta human characters highlight great diversity, sometimes bringing smiles to viewers. Faces are just as interesting. The helmet is a different story. The wearer hides his individuality and goes into a battle as a killing machine, said Jenkins.

Sokrates, essence of an intellectual, was a beautiful mind in a most unattractive body. He challenged all who came into his world of confidence. He ended up executed.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dancers’ bodies speak out and articulate Hakka culture in Taipei Dance Circle’s “Body Sound”

By Nancy T. Lu
Creativity finds expression with bullish energy as choreographer and dancer Liou Shaw-lu leads the dancers of the Taipei Dance Circle in figuratively spinning yarn for a new dance tapestry called “Body Sound.”

For years, Liou has been exploring the three-in-one principle of “breath, body and heart” in dance creation. He has been taken particularly by choreography evolving side by side with the sounds flowing naturally through the body’s network of arteries and veins.

“Body Sound” is a polished and refined outcome of years of working on such technique. Physical motions release body sounds throughout the dance. The chakras, which are “force centers” or whorls of energy in the human body, get moved around. As the dance progresses from segment to segment, chakras can be traced to the crown, brow, throat, heart, and solar plexus, among other points in the dancer, in “Body Sound.”

Minimalism and expressionism have guided the development of this modern dance by the Taipei Dance Circle. Liou puts aside for now the use of baby oil, his highly successful and rather unique dance trademark for many years.

The props and costumes in at least two parts of “Body Sound” invoke rustic images. Liou, in effect, tells the story of his life in “Body Sound.” From his peasant family background comes the traditional farmer’s raincoat of straw. He wears it in a solo dance.

Jhudong in Hsinchu County is Liou’s hometown and the area as suggested by the “Jhu” word (meaning bamboo) in the name is where bamboo groves thrive. He gets his dancers to dress up like traditional scarecrows or straw men in the fields, pounding their way around with bamboo poles.

Raw and primitive moves in “Body Sound” strongly call to mind Taiwan’s aboriginal people. The choreographer summons his dancers to break into an aboriginal high in “Body Sound.”

Anthropological researchers have put forward a theory that the island of Formosa was at the center of the Austronesian culture thousands of years ago. Majority of the Taiwanese population up until the Dutch colonial period belonged to the Pingpu tribe, explained Liou. But their descendants today are often in denial of such origin.

Hakka culture was closely tied to that of the Pingpu tribe because generations of Hakka men married women from the Pingpu tribe, according to Liou.

The modern dance choreography constantly highlights Liou’s fascination with his Hakka roots. Two dancers at one stage struggle to snatch a bamboo pole from each other. The unyielding Hakka spirit is symbolically brought out this way.

The stylized moves and the rhythmic paces of the performers show Liou’s love of traditional Hakka song-and-dance culture. Even the dancers’ rhythmic number counting in one segment is in Hakka dialect. Very seldom is taped music used in this choreographed dance. The natural lusty shouts and calls coming from the male and female dancers generally replace taped music during the performance.

The dancers with well-rounded dance training work in groups of six, four, three or only two. Their constantly changing formations and moves even occasionally call to mind classical ballet. Four dancers even seem to duplicate the pas de quatre from “Swan Lake.”

Emotions in “Body Sound” go the range: excited, happy, euphoric, quiet, angry and tense. Variety spices up the performance. Always, a tale of grace and harmony becomes the ultimate objective.

Liou, 62, is making his refreshing and heartwarming comeback on the dance stage after a temporary setback due to brain surgery earlier this year. He returns to even playfully incorporate a balancing ball from the therapy clinic into a solo dance act.

Liou and his six performers are gearing to participate in Taipei’s upcoming flower celebration. The body and the mind of each dancer are coming together to enable dance poetry to bud and blossom.

“Body Sound,” the Taipei Dance Circle’s newest dance production, will be staged at the Taipei County Art & Culture Center’s Hall for Performing Arts at 62 Zhuang Jing Road in Banciao City on October 16. The group will also bring “Body Sound” to the Keelung Municipal Cultural Center on October 30 and the Shu Qi Lin Culture Hall in Jhudong, Hsinchu County, on November 20. All performances will start at 7:30 p.m. Call tel. (02)2893-0061 for ticket information.

All photographs posted here were taken by Lee Ming-hsun.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Metro Manila screening of “Cape No. 7” triggers recollections of Hengchun Peninsula tour

By Nancy T. Lu

Young Filipino moviegoers’ complaint about the limited screenings of “Cape No. 7” at the just-concluded Taiwan Film Festival at the Shangri-La Plaza Mall’s Shang Cineplex in Mandaluyong, Metro Manila, this year triggered recollections of how the success of the Wei Te-sheng movie two years ago fanned tourism in southern Taiwan.

The movie tells of a frustrated singer in a band returning to his sleepy hometown after failing to find career success in Taipei. Aga becomes one of the local recruits of Tomoko, a Japanese model putting together a front act for the concert of a Japanese pop star. Thrown into the story is a mysterious mail package with an address difficult to pinpoint. The love story involving a local girl and a Japanese young man who was forced to leave the island with the retreating forces after Japan’s defeat during World War II comes full circle in the end.

The Hengchun Peninsula for all its natural charm and beauty never before saw anything similar to the influx of tourists two years ago. Tourism truly picked up after the film “Cape No. 7” starring Van Fan (Aga) and Chie Tanaka (Tomoko) hit the movie theater screens in Taiwan in 2008. A reason other than the “Spring Scream” rock music festival at the beautiful Kenting National Park woke up the usually sleepy area in southern Taiwan.

Wave after wave of tourists arrived to soak up the “Cape No. 7” experience. Ever since director Wei Te-sheng’s first full-length motion picture opened in movie theaters throughout Taiwan, the tourist influx was unbelievable, prompting the different sectors of the tourism industry to get their act together to welcome the avalanche of visitors.

The Taiwan Tour Bus even arranged to take people to the movie’s different shooting location sites. The West City Gate, Aga’s home, Uncle Mao’s house, Grandma Tomoko’s residence, Chateau Beach Resort, Paisha beach, Sanhai Fishing Harbor, Wanlitong beach, Fu An Temple, and Checheng Taihsing Temple were among the stops in the whole day itinerary. The sightseeing trip from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. cost NT$1,314 (US$1 = NT$33) per person then.
Half-day options with the Taiwan Tour Bus covered either the morning itinerary or the afternoon route of the whole day trip. Morning sightseeing from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. for a total of five hours, including lunch at the Chateau Beach Resort, was priced at NT$999 while the afternoon schedule requiring four-and-a half hours from 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. cost NT$450.

The “Cape No. 7” tours were offered daily for a limited period only. Call the Pingtung Travel Agency at tel. (08)888-2900 or tel. (08)889-1464 to check on the possibility of going on such a tour today if you plan to travel to southern Taiwan. Visit websites or for more information on other tours around Taiwan. Taiwan Tour Bus service information is given in Chinese, English, Japanese and Korean languages through tel. 0800-011765.

Communities where the location shooting took place put up signs, maps and posters to help outsiders with “Cape No. 7” on their lips find the sites of the different precise scenes in the movie.

Aga’s home and Uncle Mao’s house emerged the visitors’ must-see addresses. In fact, the homestay place used as the rock band singer character’s home in the film began collecting an entrance fee of NT$50 from those seeking to have a first-hand look of Aga’s bedroom.

Finding some of the film’s extras then was not all that difficult. The low-budget movie, which became the talk of Filipino moviegoers in the last week of September this year, relied on amateurs very often. Visitors in the Hengchun Peninsula were warned though at that time: Beware of imposters trying to bask in reflected glory in a place put suddenly in the limelight. Even the local dog out on the street wanted to get into the picture when Chie Tanaka, the leading lady, appeared on a beach to face the media frenzy.

Towns got used to the overnight fame though. Entrepreneurial brains worked to cash in on the “Cape No. 7” fever by packaging whatever they were trying to sell with the movie and its characters for inspiration. The food and beverage department of the Howard Plaza Hotel in Kenting, for example, came up with a very special bread carrying Aga’s name.

Other Taiwan movies featured during the recent Taiwan Film Festival in Metro Manila included Chi Y. Lee’s “Chocolate Rap,” Tseng Wen-chen’s “Fishing Luck,” Chu Yu-ping’s “Kung-Fu Dunk,” Yang Ya-che’s “Orzboyz,” Tong Chan-yu’s “Our Island Our Dreams” and Cheng Yu-chieh’s “Yang Yang.” All screenings were packed. “Cape No. 7” was also presented last year during the film festival made possible by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the Philippines.

All photographs shown here were taken by Nancy T. Lu during an unforgettable tour of Hengchun Peninsula in southern Taiwan two years ago.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Francoise Zylberberg of Librairie Le Pigeonnier lives on in the hearts of Taiwan's Francophones

By Nancy T. Lu

What will the Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE) be like without Francoise Zylberberg? And what will the Librairie Le Pigeonnier du Quercy or even the French reading festival called “Lire en Fete” in Taipei be like without Zyl?

Poor health in recent years – a subject she was most discreet about – did not keep her – a former mentor to countless French language students in Taiwan – from getting fully involved even if she had to do it by remote control over long periods.

Back in 1969, Zyl was put in charge of the French language classes at Jussieu for the “boat people” escaping the anti-Chinese persecution in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. The free language courses, which applied the latest pedagogical methods in affiliation with the Paris University 7, had proven a success with thousands of immigrants benefitting from the French 、language education program.

Years later, having picked up a little Cantonese, Zyl was appointed to teach French language beginners at the Hong Kong University. This assignment almost got cancelled by the French cultural attaché who did not seem impressed by her success at Jussieu. And so Zyl arrived in Taipei instead in 1979 with Jacques Picoux, her colleague at Jussieu. They developed together the French language education program at the National Taiwan University, even producing the extremely successful television program called “Salut les Copains” with Maria Chiu, a former Taiwanese teacher at Paris University 7, four times a week.

Zyl and her colleague at NTU were paid by the National Taiwan University for their work on the TV program. Corresponding teaching manuals were developed. Exercises and tests were sent in for correction. French students were recruited to correct them.

The first French cultural attached sent to Taipei in 1980 gave the TV series full support and encouragement, paving the way for successors at the post to promote and realize a strong French cultural presence in Taiwan.

The French language television program aroused enormous interest in France. As a result, Zyl began to develop a series of postcards to nurture such enthusiasm. This went on for a while and eventually gave birth to Librairie Le Pigeonnier du Quercy. She reproduced old maps of Taiwan into a calendar at one time. She likewise established links with French institutions like the Louvre, bringing in souvenir shop items and reinforcing the image of her homeland as a leader in the appreciation of art and culture.

The French bookstore managed by Zyl did not just import French titles but also went into publication. Cartoonist Golo was invited to visit Taipei and create the illustrated bilingual book filled with his observations “Made in Taiwan.” Zyl even took Golo to the Tamkang University to meet the students in the French language department.

The “Lire en Fete” – an annual festival promoting French reading – got launched at Le Pigeonnier complete with French cheese and wine. The project kept growing. French language authors even lent their distinguished presence to the event. Francophones living, studying and working in Taipei, were encouraged to gather on weekends at the bookstore. Zyl would sometimes bring out her antique music box and crank out notes to capture French ambience on the spot.

France became the main country featured at the Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE) with Zyl’s major involvement at least twice over the years. At the last TIBE, she coordinated the display of the reproductions of original manuscripts of French writers, philosophers and even a composer.

Zyl ran the only French bookshop, a very chic one, near the Itung Park in Taipei, serving the local academe and catering to needs in French pedagogy. She imported a whole range of titles on French art and culture.

French publishing houses turned to her for assistance in connecting with Taiwanese counterparts. She related very easily to people in Taiwan for she spoke fluent Chinese. At the last major book fair in Paris shortly before her return to Taipei in late July, Zyl received a special award from the French government.

One of her last projects was to oversee the opening of Taiwanese fashion designer Sophie Hong’s fashion boutique at the Palais Royal in Paris. Zyl, always dressed in the clothes of Sophie Hong, did not just promote the art of France but also talent from Taiwan. She went a long way in promoting French-Taiwanese relations.

Zyl paid a high price for being a heavy smoker over the years. Her constant physical absence in Taipei in the last two years was evident. Till the end, she was a workaholic. She finally closed the last chapter of her meaningful life, shocking many and leaving them to mourn the great loss. She will be deeply missed.