Thursday, July 31, 2008

Back in the good ol' US of A

Hey I've been back for a few weeks ago and things are good and kickin for me in the teeming nation of nations.  Its been marvelous connecting with friends and family, and I've also been able to take advantage of the plentiful musical oppurtinities, of both playing music with the good ol' boys and attending a kick ass folk festival called "floydfest" in VA.  I  was able to go to a wonderful art park with my grandmother in Philadelphia, hang out with my cousin David who is a rare books dealer and snagged lots of poetry from him, and see Les Miserables at America's oldest theater, the Wall Street Theater.  Next week my Brother Josh and I are headed to New England for Brooklyn, Saranac New York for another folk festival, then to Montreal for a few days, and finally Cape Cod with my family and family from Boston.  I have been busy as a bee trying to see and do as much as I can, as well as get some R and R for Summer break.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

end of the school year travel

I finished the spring semester last week at my English school, and I had a week between when I went back to America for the summer and the end of the semester. So I decided to take this oppurtinity to explore a little more of the island, and Yutsen signed on with me as my local guide, translator, and loving companion. We set off from Taipei on Tuesday to Puli in the high central mountains, then down to the south-west industrial coastal city Kaohsuing.

Puli and Sun Moon Lake

Puli is a small city located in the heart of Taiwan’s central mountain region. The main tourist attraction of Puli is a large brewery of traditional Chinese liquor, which was closed when we tried to go soon after our arrival Tuesday afternoon. So we passed the evening getting to know the small city which offered a host of vegetarian restaraunts because of its close proximity to several Buddhist temples in the area. Puli is also a 30 minute drive from Sun Moon Lake, a top tourist destination in Tiawan. It is a government protected alpine lake surrounded by a beautiful mountain range. Traditionally Sun Moon lake was inhabited by a small tribe of the aboriginal peoples of Taiwan. Their tale is typical of indigenous people: when Han Chinese arrived the natives were decimated by disease and exploitation. Yutsen related that there is an important myth concerning their inhabitation of the Sun Moon Lake area. A group of hunters from a village in the south followed a white deer to the lake and the chief subsequently decided to move the tribe to the area for its hospitality of resources. Now the tribe is basically confined to a protected village on the lake, and they still perform their traditional ceremonies on a sacred island in the middle of the lake, “Lalo island”. We did a long hike around the lake, on and off comftorable lakeside paths dotted with viewing pavilions and benches that allow a nice view of the lake and the sourrounding mountain range which includes a peak reaching 2,000 meteres. Then we climbed one mountain side by stairs which led upp to a huge Taoist temple. The stairway leading up to the temple is enclosed by a fence which hangs small blessing lanterns on which dangle personal blessing to be auspiciously blown into the world. The stairs number 365, so you attach the blessing to the fence next to the stair of your birthdate, since each of the stairs contains a day of the year and also the famous people born on that day is inscribed on the stair. When I saw the steps, each one engraved with a date and Chinese characters, I asked Yutsen if they were Buddhist scripture sutras, and she replied, “No this is Ernest Hemingway’s birthday”. The temple is a grand and elaborate structure complete with golden shrines to the traditional gods in the Taoist pantheon, beautiful frescoes with paintings from traditional Chinese myths. I marveled at a giant sword labeled the “Serendipity sword of dragons blood” accompanied by a Chinglish (poorly directly translated Chinese) account of how when a legendary God-general was welding the sword a fire from heaven cut a dragon that was flying overhead in half and its blue blood fell on the sword, giving it supernatural powers. I also recieved a blessed bracelet in which I had to tell the Gods my name and address in order that they knew who to bless. On our hike back to the main town of the resort, the daily afternoon rains set in, and we made our way back to Puli.


After Puli and Sun Moon Lake, we took the bus to Kaohsuing. We warrived at 4 Pm and Thursday and were picked up by Grance and her friend “Huntz:. Huntz is a very kind and generous piano salesman who was eager to show Yutsen and I around Kaohsuing in his Toyota. Grace said that being a tour guide for out of towners is Huntz hobby, and when her German boyriend came to visit he showed him around too. Kaohsuing is an industrial city in the south of Taiwan which has a large harbour so it is a main shipping center for Taiwans manufacturing base. It is a city of 1.5 million people and is quite a modern motropelis loaded with shopping malls and equipped with a subway siystem, although most of the innvations are reletavily recent. However, like all of Tiawan, it is steeped in traditional Chinese culture, and seems to have even more Buddhist monks, temples and vegetarian restaraunts than Taipei. After picking us up from the train station, we were shuttled to monkey mountain. A mountain on the old city’s edge, Monkey mountain is home to Tiawan’s only native extant monkey populations. There hikers enjoy a view of the city accompanied by hundreds of fraindly monkeys who hang out on the path eager for food and attention. After chilling with our mammal cousins, we went to a kung fu training house bnuilt by the Japanese during Japan;s occupation of Taiwan before and during World War 2. This was a traditional Kung Fu gym complete with a shrine to martial arts and some ancient fighting gear. For dinner we went to a delicious vegetarian restaurant in the company of monks eating pizza. Then, for the ladies, we went to a huge designer brand shopping mall, “the largest in southeast Asia” my Taiwanese hosts informed me, beamingly. And finally we ended up on a mountain with a night view overlooking Kaohsuing.

In line with Huntz boundless hospitality, he provided a room for us in his apartment. We awoke the next morning and had a delivious vegetarian breakfast at hunt’s friends’ moms’ veggie breakfast bar. Then we went to the “love River”, Kaohsuings river attraction for a stroll in the mornings sun and blue sky. Next we went to a giant temple complex where there were Chinese Taoist and Buddhist tamples as far as the eye could see. There was a giant confucious temple and pavilion of the gods on the banks of a large lake. In the temple was a 30 feet statue of a god from an ancient Taoist myth, along with some Pagoda’s and statuesque scenes of Bodhissatva’s and Buddhas hanging out with tigers and dragons that form tunnels. A sign informed us that you must enter through the Dragons mouth and exit through the tigers mouth, for it is bad luck to get eaten by a tiger but good luck to get eaten by a dragon.

After eating a delicious Thai dinner, Yutsen and I were bulleted back to Taipei in a High speed train.

Cloudgate Dance Performance

On the Saturday night before I came back to Taipei, Yutsen and I went to see the “cloud gate” dance performance. Cloudgate is a Taiwanese dance group which has gained international renown for an innovative fusion of modern dance and traditional Chinese arts. The composer of last nights show is an acclaimed genius of modern dance but died at the age of 36 of lymph cancer. His works have achieved great acclaim the world over, and he was the choreographer at the Berlin opera and trained in Germany, the hub of modern dance in the last century. The show was a free performance of the “four seasons”, and Chang Kei Shek memorial hall, a sprawling complex honoring the former dictator and housing the national theater, was packed full of people in the open air mall in typical asian fashion. The show was exceedingly modern in that it was an erratic blend of traditional dance interspersed with writhing and twitching movements that appeared as involuntary movements that people make during times of high stress and intense pressure. For example, the opening dance was a group of high strung dancers in their underwear tossing themselves about in frenetically scratching their body as if they were mad with poison ivy. The naxt moment they would be arm in rm in a traditional waltz., and then again throwing themselves on the floor or pulling their hair out as if they were undergoing a nervous breakdown or were buckling under intense pressure. Other scenes would be the involuntary movements of couples breaking up – mimicking sighing, shouting helplessly. This was all set to passionate latin or german lounge music, or motzarts most moving cannons. One must be reminded that this was performed for an audience of about 30,000 Taiwanese families and couples, not quite getting some of the post-modern manias, but beaming with pride that this was an homegrown institution.