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.