Friday, May 27, 2011

Stumble upon colorful episodes in history on golden sands of Fulong in New Taipei City

By Nancy T. Lu
Dream citadels of yore have risen this year on the golden sands of Fulong Beach about an hour and a half by train from Taipei, depicting fascinating episodes in world history.

Just like in a Hollywood movie, the story of the 300 Spartans dating back to 449-499 B.C. is being retold at the site of the 2011 Fulong International Sand Sculpture Festival.

Historical accounts told of how King Leonidas with only 300 brave Spartan warriors tried to exploit a narrow pass to gain advantage against the attacking Persian army. The Spartans locked shields and used long spears to deter the advance of the enemies for days.

Hannibal Barca led a massive army of Carthaginians in a surprise siege of a Roman stronghold during the Second Punic War (218B.C.-201 B.C.) in one of the most impressive and detailed sandy interpretations of history. War elephants figured like destructive army tanks on the move in those days. The pachyderms are shown taking a break from war duties though. The team behind the masterpiece on the theme of battle glory included the American Brian Turnbough, Portuguese Rodrigo Ferreira as well as Canadians Frederick Dobbs, Damon Langlois and Greg Jacklin.

History seems very much at the forefront of attention in a year devoted to the celebration of the founding centennial of the Republic of China on Taiwan. But so do legends and lores of different origins.

Mesopotamian myth, circa 713 B.C. gets told on the sands this summer. Sargon II was said to have built a walled city with seven gates guarded by human-headed and winged bulls. His capital came up in Dur Sharrukin or present-day Khorsabad. His grandson, Naram-Suen, appears in a bust sculpture inviting a look up close at this year’s sand sculpture show.

Different lifestyles also inspired the creation of masterpieces this year. The sand portrayal of the native Americans along with their love of nature was contributed by German participant Joseph Bakir. The Sioux tribe of the Dakotas gets to tell a tale revolving mainly around family life in a Sioux tent called teepee.

The igloo, a home built from blocks of ice by the Eskimos in the freezing North Pole, calls attention under the scorching summer sun.
The carnivorous polar bear with its thick fur and layer of fat beneath its skin is a survivor in the freezing cold of the North Pole. Its unusual presence on a sun-bathed shore is not likely to be overlooked.

An Arctic explorer comes upon an ancient giant buried in the polar ice caps in yet another intriguing creation at the sand sculpture festival. His origin, possibly tied to an ancient civilization, emerges a puzzling mystery.
Putuo Mountain in the middle of Lotus Pacific island in Zhejiang Province in China takes the spotlight in one corner of the exhibition ground. The peak floating above the clouds is known for its caves and rock formations. Ancient temples stand out in this Buddhist haven introduced by Chinese participants in the ongoing sand sculpture festival.

A legend of the sea constantly told in Taiwan centers around Goddess Matsu as a great protector of fishermen and the people on the island. Temples in many places have been built in her honor. And so this venerated deity finds her niche in the sand sculpture showcase.

Taiwan as a butterfly kingdom due to its unique ecological environment faces the threat of ruin in the light of economic progress and development. The Taiwanese team seeks to make a statement on protecting nature on the shifting sands of Fulong.

A Japanese participant dedicates his work of art to convey the Japanese people’s deep gratitude to Taiwan for being the biggest donor in the aftermath of the big earthquake and tsunami calamities in March.

Mysterious visitors from afar, courtesy of an unidentified American artist, have likewise landed in a spaceship along Fulong’s sandy stretch this year.

Forty-one sand sculpture experts from eight countries, including the United States, Canada, Germany, Portugal, Russia, Japan, China and Taiwan, were invited to transform a sandbar in Fulong, New Taipei City, into a striking showcase of sand sculpture art.

The Fulong beach tide rises and ebbs. Just like footprints on the beach, the “Golden Fulong” world built on the shifting sands overnight will be washed away by the waves towards the end of June. Another fun-filled season of sun and sea will have to wind up and give way to change. By then, the summer visitors will have returned home with cherished glimpses of romance and adventure tucked away in their memories.

Motorists can easily drive to Fulong to view the “Golden Fulong” exhibition. The hour-and-a half train ride to Fulong is another option. One-way train ticket costs only NT$83. Entrance ticket to the sand sculpture festival is priced at NT$190.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nanquan catches up with modern dance or is it vice versa? Find out from WC Dance

By Nancy T. Lu

When young choreographer Lin Wen-chung of WC Dance drops Bach or Tchaikovsky in favor of traditional “nanquan” in his dance creation, there is reason to wonder why. In fact, Lin’s newest piece titled “Small Nanquan” leaves room for reflection.

Exposure to Tsai Hsiao-yueh’s acclaimed recorded singing of the most refined ancient Chinese music called “nanquan” made a big impact on choreographer Lin Wen-chung back in 2008.

“Tsai Hsiao-yueh really takes me to a different realm,” recalled the fascinated Lin. The new experience moved the excited Lin to set out to learn and study “nanquan.” He approached the Hantang Yuefu ensemble as well as Wang Xin Xin in his journey of discovery about “nanquan.”.

Lin wanted very much an encounter with the aging national treasure Tsai Hsiao-yueh herself. But to his chagrin, he heard about her flight to a Southeast Asian country allegedly to seek refuge after her son’s debt collectors started harassing her.

In choreographing “Small Nanquan,” Lin hoped to take his young dancers with him through a very interesting learning process involving “nanquan” music and drama gesture.

“There is something to be said about learning from the old and traditional,” he pointed out. “It can be fun.”

“Nanquan” and modern dance moves crisscross and clash in “Small Nanquan.” The pacing and the rhythm can vary, even turning playful in bridging difference in time and space. The company dancers who sing along during rehearsals end up simply catching their breath. “Nanquan” musicians, however, will provide live music during the actual performances.

Modern dance encourages completely outward expression of emotions. “Nanquan” singing and drama dwell on deep feelings but with quiet restraint, leaving ample room for reflection.

The dancers of WC Dance led by Lin himself have been absorbing the whole “nanquan” experience, feeling enriched along the way.

The public is invited to find out for themselves the relevance of “nanquan” in modern everyday life.

“Small Nanquan” will be presented at the Experimental Theater in Taipei at 7:30 p.m. on May 20 and 21 as well as at 2:30 p.m. on May 21 and 22.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Aroma of tea and sniff of history down Wistaria’s way in the heart of Taipei

By Nancy T. Lu

Walk down Wistaria Tea House’s Memory Lane. Do it either through the 30th anniversary exhibition “Remembering the Old Friends: Beautiful Flowers Blossom Once Again” or through the entirely new documentary “The Story of Wistaria Tea House.”

The men and women who have helped fill with their experiences the pages of the Wistaria’s colorful history spanning the last three decades and possibly longer are returning and gathering to relive nostalgic moments.

But there are also those who are just beginning to discover this cultural hub in Taipei and they are fascinated with the episodic accounts of artists, writers and intellectuals, generally unreluctant to reminisce their early pursuits of their creative ideals or dreams of freedom and democracy in surroundings filled often with the soothing aroma of brewed tea.

Chow Yu, the central figure in building and maintaining with the encouragement of friends this haunt of generations of intellectuals and idealists, remains very much around, writing beautiful calligraphy about tea culture and following up such exercise with teachings on the ancient “way of tea.”

Habitues of Wistaria, in fact, associate him with the special tea house, declared and recognized since 1997 as Taipei’s heritage building. His persona is in the fine tea poured and served at the place with a comfortable ambiance. This extends to the calligraphy on the wall, on the menu, and on the souvenir items on sale.

At one point the Wistaria Tea House was nearly closed down permanently for demolition. In fact, it was boarded up overnight, throwing out into the street the protesting artists and social critics. The campaign to protect it went into high gear. The official declaration of the property as historical and worthy of preservation for posterity in 1997 saved it in the nick of time.

Repair followed. This witness of constant political drama and upheaval over time found new life. In 2003 the Wistaria Cultural Association took over the running of the tea house.

The labyrinthine Wistaria Tea House on Xinsheng South Road in Taipei was the residence assigned to Chow De-wei, the father of Chow Yu, when he served as customs chief under the Finance Ministry in the 1950s.

Chow Yu, the youngest of five children in the family, grew up surrounded by scholars of western liberalism as well as emerging intellectuals from the National Taiwan University, all lured by the older Chow to this meeting venue for stimulating discussions and debates.

After the structure was damaged by typhoon in the 1960s, it underwent repair, acquiring a western-style fa├žade. Not long after, the Chow family bought the property. The interior gave way to changes to accommodate activities like art shows and discussions.

In the 1970s, Chow Yu’s parents joined his siblings in the United States, entrusting the management of the Wistaria Tea House to him. And so an old house with flowering vines gained in popularity as hangout of a generation of then would-be artists and writers. It also became a seedbed of activism.

Some of writer Li Ao’s letters to Chow Yu during his five years spent as political detainee are now on display at the Wistaria Tea House. Sophie Lin, Chow Yu’s wife, has painstakingly sorted out Wistaria Tea House’s memorabilia and organized the ongoing exhibition to celebrate this Taipei landmark’s 30th anniversary milestone. She also brought out works created by artists like Yu Peng before they found fame. In 2009, Chow Yu invited his artist friends like Yu Peng, Cheng Tsai-tung and Chen Lai-hsing to return and present their new works in an exhibition.

Chow named the place Wistaria Tea House in 1981 and moved then to promote the “way of tea” based on ancient Taoist philosophy and on beliefs of modern Chinese literati.

Liu Sheng, director of the Wistaria Tea House documentary lasting about 50 minutes in length, admitted during the recent premiere showing at SPOT Taipei that the task of making the introductory film over a period of just a few months was daunting. There was so much to be said. The storytelling, he was told at the outset, must stand on the three legs of liberalism, leftist thinking and traditional Chinese art of tea with its age-old principles.

Wistaria Tea House holds different meanings for the men and women who have been lured to its embrace in their youth before treading the road to success and prominence. They have mostly struck up special friendships with Chow Yu. They now return, rediscovering it as a haven for the healing of the spirit in the jungle of city life.

Some artists with long years of association with Chow Yu candidly revealed that he gave them NT$3,000 out of his pocket when they were strapped for cash. Choreographer Lin Li-chen of Legend Lin Dance Theater recalled in the documentary film how Chow volunteered in 1978 to be the producer of her first dance production, “Don’t Forget Your Umbrella.” On seeing how the then pregnant Lin had to commute by bus on days of rehearsals, he urged her to take his offer of NT$3,000 as taxi fare. Lin was deeply touched by the gesture.

The calm atmosphere at the Wistaria Tea House attracts a clientele interested in simple but tasty dining and relaxing tea drinking. Music from Chinese instruments like the erhu lends itself to the serenity of the setting.

Years ago, imported classical western music played in the premises. Nowadays the more traditional Chinese airs have taken over. The Wistaria Tea House has produced a 30th anniversary souvenir music CD in collaboration with composer Zhou Chenglong.

Wang Xin Xin regularly fills the Wistaria Tea House with her exquisite nanquan performance for the appreciation of the traditional art lovers. Her ensemble of musicians rehearses upstairs every Monday and Thursday

The fragrance of tea at the Wistaria is spreading. Tea connoisseur Chow Yu has been taking the ancient art of tea beyond the boundaries of Taipei and Taiwan to win and warm the hearts of faraway friends, enticing them to sip the ceremonial culture of the old Chinese literati.

The Wistaria Tea House is located at No. 1, Lane 16, Xinsheng South Road, Sec. 3, Taipei.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Taiwan design creativity lights up the showcase at Eslite in run up to 2011 IDA Congress Taipei

By Nancy T. Lu

Taiwan’s selected outstanding product designs speak out to consumers through little scenarios at the O.H.L. (Office, Home, Life) space in basement 2 of Eslite Bookstore Dunnan in the run up to the 2011 International Design Alliance (IDA) Congress Taipei to focus on “Design at the Edges” this October. The Taiwan Design Center as IDA member will host the congress. It is organizing all related activities.

A coffee cup with a saucer (see photo on top) which can be set in circular motion has mirrors built in to reflect changing images. Characters on a spinning plate, for example, easily become passengers on the coaches of a train on the unique cup. Another cup design has a merry-go-round theme. The price per set: NT$2080.

Even imperfections like cracks on a wall can be turned around with aesthetically rewarding result. New stick-ons now available make it easy to introduce tree leaves and birds to beautify the otherwise annoying fissures on the wall. The price:NT$180.

A cute and practical gift suggestion takes the shape of an elephant earring holder named Little. Despite the smallness of the item as underscored by its given name, the bigness of the good wishes that the giver sends with the gift gets conveyed through the animal shape of choice. The price: NT$600.

Tea Shirt, which is about a play of words, is a shirt-shaped holder of tea leaves. The clip on one end can be used to attach a sweet message to a beloved. The price: NT$450.

Wake up in the morning to the melodious chirping of the birds. The bird alarm clock is designed even for decorative hanging in the bedroom. It also gives the time and date either in Japanese or in English on demand.

A designer in southern Taiwan says “Welcome to Tainan” with a tourism-oriented product series highlighting landmarks like Anping Old Fort, Eternal Golden Fort, Chihkan Tower, Former Tainan Meeting Hall, Museum of Meteorology, National Museum of Taiwanese Literature, Tainan Confucius Temple, and Old Tainan District Court. Open a paper cup and find what looks like a protective sachet. Go deeper and come upon a small bottle filled with auspicious objects to put in the sachet. The cup also has seedlings to grow as indoor plants.

Traditional crescent stones for communication with Taoist deities are, in fact, small erasers to readily put in a pocket. The so-called “buei” while offering a glimpse of culture in Taiwan becomes functional in the product design.

The ongoing exhibition is intended to cater particularly to the office crowd. The collection of product designs created by Taiwanese talents goes on view like art gallery displays. Consumers who fancy the original product ideas need only go to the gallery counter at the entrance to buy the items.

The 2011 IDA Congress Taipei will take place at the Taipei International Convention Center on October 24 to 26. The Taipei World Design Expo, the Young Designers Workshop and Design Tours will be the parallel events. The Taipei World Trade Center in the Xinyi District as well as in Nankang and the Songshan Tobacco Creative Design Park will be the venues.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Taipei Chinese Orchestra announces with Sunrise Records the release of 2nd CD under BIS label

By Nancy T. Lu
“Harmonious Breath,” the Taipei Chinese Orchestra’s second of four crossover collaborations earmarked for recording release under the BIS label, is now available in the market.

Chung Yiu-kwong (shown in right photo with designer Sophie Hong) as director of the orchestra keeps up the drive to go international and make far-reaching impact through the TCO’s new recording release featuring French saxophone player of renown Claude Delangle as soloist and Tianjin-born Shao En (shown below wearing new Sophie Hong outfit) as conductor.

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

Composer Chung Yiu-kwong treats the saxophone like a modern guanzi. Delangle seeks to have the saxophone pay tribute to a distant cousin, the guanzi. In fact, he studied the traditional phrasing of the instrument with Li Guoying, a master, during his working trip to Beijing in October last year.

Managing music in different ways, using old tools, has been Delangle’s preoccupation for some time now. With the saxophone, changing the mouth piece can turn it into a different instrument, according to Delangle.

The CD repertoire which was performed and taped at a concert at the Zhongshan Hall in Taipei with Shao En as conductor last December ranges in style from traditional to contemporary. Chung Yiu-kwong’s two original selections, “Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Chinese Orchestra No.1” and “Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Chinese Orchestra No.2” can be described as less like Chinese music. Delangle previously played the first piece with the Taipei orchestra at the National Center for Performing Arts in Beijing in October last year.

Also in the CD is Tian Lei-lei’s “Open Secret Concerto for Saxophone and Chinese Orchestra.” This piece was commissioned by the French Culture Ministry last year. Tian told Delangle that “the saxophone is the only Western wind instrument which with ease produces the glissandi that are almost indispensable in Chinese music.”

Another traditional piece in the recording is Peng Xiuwen’s arrangement of “River of Sorrow for Soprano Saxophone and Chinese Orchestra.”

Two more TCO CD albums to be launched in due time will highlight trombone artist Christian Lindberg and percussionist Evelyn Glennie respectively.

The amazing Pearl Lin (seen below with Chung Yiu-kwong) of Sunrise Records resurfaces after a year of complete absence due to health reason to celebrate another fruition of her years of hard work.

Lin, “superwoman” to those who know her, has spent years giving recording breaks to many of Taiwan’s very own musicians, including composers and performing artists. She dares to tread on new grounds, courageously financing projects with uncertain market acceptance. Because of her great love for Taiwan, she keeps coming up with new ways to help give exposure to local musicians, thereby finding her niche in promoting Taiwan’s talents for world appreciation.

Lin as the prime mover behind Sunrise Records deserves credit for bringing about TCO’s link-up with the Sweden-based BIS.

Not a few decision-makers behind international record labels are Lin’s business partners and even friends. Sunrise Records markets Telearc, Harmonia Mundi and Putumayo recordings, among others, in Taiwan.

With the growing interest in world music as a modern-day phenomenon, Lin sees no reason why the Taipei Chinese Orchestra with gifted and prolific composer Chung at the helm should continue to stay away from the international spotlight and remain contented with a limited local audience.

Sunrise Records is right now even keeping on the front burner negotiations for producing under another international music label a DVD complete with video for the TCO.

The TCO with Chung as baton-wielder will embark on a five-city European tour early next year. New looks for the orchestra members will shortly be introduced to lend freshness and style to the TCO. No less than top Taiwan designer Sophie Hong is to dress up the musicians in innovative Chinese attires.

Meanwhile exciting new programming to spring on TCO’s many fans will stay a priority of the orchestra. Creating new and changing music genres for the Chinese orchestra, in Chung’s thinking, will go a long way towards literally helping the TCO get noticed and go global.