Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fortnight Three: Conspiracies

The Taipei Mandolin Ensemble is gearing up for the big performance on September 25th. I've finally become proficient at the mando-tremolo and every rehearsal is a blast. The music is really fun. We're playing a medley of famous pieces from around the world and I always start laughing during the Italian Funnicula Funniculi, which only solidifies their suspicions that I am a crazy person. It's just too much fun. Besides my friends at the ensemble, I also have been getting pointers on techniques from various other musicians I bump into or that see me playing in the park. Sometimes I feel like all of Taiwan is conspiring to teach me music.

A Moving Sound

I got an email response from a really amazing group called A Moving Sound. They were founded by a husband and wife; the man is from the US and plays zhongruan and the woman is Taiwanese and sings. Also in the group is another zhongruan/guitar player, an erhu and a percussionist. They practice in a community space and weren't allowed to use drums for the first half of their rehearsal because it bothered the meditation group in the next room.

I chatted with them, but it was difficult to learn much at first because they kept quizzing me on my folk music adventures. I played zhongruan for them and told them about my project. They laughed a little bit when I told them I originally played french horn because their white member also played french horn and then started zhongruan. He said that he was just drawn to the sound of Chinese music. It sounded familiar.

He married his Taiwanese wife and has been living in Taipei for 8 years. However, as I found out during the rehearsal, he doesn't speak a word of Chinese! His wife repeats everything during rehearsals in the language in which the utterance wasn't originally spoken. I admire her patience.

During rehearsal I got to see them compose songs. The erhu player brought in an idea and they jammed together figuring it out. You can watch it here on the youtube link below and enjoy their expressions as they work out a particularly tricky transition:

After the jam, I went with the happy couple to get some breakfast. Yes, it was 10PM but they were musicians and thereby necessarily nocturnal. I learned more about their pasts and how they met in New York. I also learned really interesting things about their views on the differences between the Mainland and Taiwan and Taiwan's slow move away from trying to retake the Mainland. As I learned, there are still ex-soldiers who hold pieces of paper from the Taiwanese government which give them the rights to vast areas of land in the Mainland. These men were promised these plots by the exiled Taiwanese government and were not allowed to marry or have families, but had to remain ready for the triumphant return. It wasn't until the early 90's that the Taiwanese government officially nixed the goal of the government: Retake the Mainland.

Finally, we talked about why people do folk music. They both posited that folk music from all over the world had this amazing ability to just grab you and engulf you. They had both been doing other things with their lives. She was a dancer and he was a classically trained composer, but they decided to dedicate themselves to this music. But they also suggested that folk music was not something that was created but something buoyant which you allow to float to the surface. You have to feel it rise up both from and within you.

Drunk on good music and conversation, I floated home via the MRT and was fast asleep within an hour of eating breakfast.

Secret Mission to Kuala Lumpur

On the second weekend in September I took a "visa run" to Kuala Lumpur. My visa allows me to enter Taiwan as many times as I want until 2015, but I can only stay 60 days at a time. This is to prevent me from illegally teaching English. Why a $60 roundtrip flight to Malaysia would hinder my teaching beats me, but I complied because it was easier, and most surprisingly, cheaper to fly abroad than to reapply for a different visa.

At my GRE study group, I realized to my horror that the GRE is different in Taiwan and a few other places in Asia. In most places, you can take a computer test on any weekday. You just make a reservation and go in. It's just like a more painful trip to the dentist. But because in Taiwan students had a habit of memorizing the answers to the tests and telling their friends, people who were taking the test later in the year were doing significantly better than those who took the test earlier. I really wanted to get the test over with and not take it at the end of October in a giant hall, so I opted to kill two birds with one stone and take the test in Kuala Lumpur. Now I just had to find a place to stay for my 3-day-getaway.

Methodists to the rescue! Most of my friends from church are Malaysian and one of them works at a Hilton Hotel in Taipei. Her cousin works at one in Kuala Lumpur. Before I could even ask they told me they had a plan. I was to pretend to be Pastor Andrew. They asked me if I accepted this mission and I replied solemnly, "Absolutely, I do."

The Sunday before I left I met with my conspiring compadres after church. They gave me a black shirt and a white collar. I couldn't stop laughing. What was going on? How were they pushing me to do this on the church stoop? How could they know that I would absolutely love the chance to do this? They told me that I would have to fly as myself since it is a really serious crime to pretend to be someone else at the airport, but I should change on the train to the hotel into my priest outfit and check in as Mr. Andrew Charles. WHAAT!?!?!?

Apparently the Methodist church and the Hilton have some sort of deal, I still don't understand what it is exactly but clergy stay for cheap. So this 5-star suite was going to cost me only $50 for the weekend instead of the $500 it normally would have. They explained that I needed to be careful because both cousins could lose their jobs for this. My laughter subsided slightly. Could I go to gaol for this? Don't they kill people for possession of marijuana in Malaysia? What would they do for this? Public caning? They told me to relax that it wasn't that big of a deal, it's just that they got caught last time so the cousins would definitely get fired if something went awry a second time. I relaxed comforted by their track record: 0 for 1.

The sign at the airport was in Malay, English, Japanese, Arabic and Chinese. Three for six ain't bad!

Dutifully I changed into my costume on the train. I checked into the hotel and coolly handed over my passport. They didn't ask why there was a "Terwilliger" tacked on to the end of that Andrew Charles and greeted me as "Pastor Charles." I spent my first day locked up in my ridiculous room, equipped with a jacuzzi bathtub and king-sized bed, studying for my impending exam.

The morning of the test, I sneaked downstairs sans-priest-collar and hailed a cab. The cabdriver didn't speak English. I thought, no problem, I wrote down the Malay. Problem: he doesn't read Malay. What??? Luckily I had audited Syntax of an Unfamiliar Language which focused on Malay. This meant that I had a basic idea of how to sound out the words (and the syntactical structure of sentences, but that wasn't going to help me here). I retroflexed my tongue and tried pronouncing the name, "Jalan Sultan Ismail" and he figured it out. I heard a Cantonese song on the radio. I used Mandarin and asked if he could understand me. He beamed, "Hai!" Yes, he answered in Cantonese. "Can you speak Mandarin?" I asked. He shook his head no. We then had a very strange conversation where he asked questions very slowly in Cantonese/Mandarin until I figured it out. I then replied in Mandarin which he understood no problem. He also flexed his linguistic muscles by stating things like, "USA, A-Okay!" I was happy to hear that.

I arrived at the Sheraton Hotel which is where the GRE test is administered in Kuala Lumpur. It's in a really cool area called the Golden Triangle. It features those famous skyscrapers, the Petronas Twin Towers, and all kinds of malls and food stalls. At the test site I met 5 ethnically Chinese Malaysians eagerly waiting, proper identification and registration number at the ready, parents whispering words of encouragement in their ears. I arrived barely on time, breathing heavily, alone, completely disoriented, and unaware that I had been assigned a registration number. Nonetheless, I managed to calm down and find my computer, after being strip searched for electronics and other cheating devices. The strip searcher grimaced at my dampness, but I'd like to see her sprint up 7 flights of stairs in tropical heat and not break a sweat!

I took my 3 hour test. I was allowed one bathroom break, during which I discovered that sometimes students are so fried during the GRE test that they need a reminder on toilet basics. When I was done, the computer said, "Test Complete: Would you like to view your scores?" In my mind it said, "Game Over: Insert coin to continue."
I viewed my scores and skipped down the stairs. I was in such a good mood that I decided to hijack a piano in the fancy "Entry Plaza."

I took the monorail home which was a much better way to travel. I got to see the people and Kuala Lumpur is an amazing array of every kind of Eurasian. I saw native Malays, ethnic Chinese, Japanese businessmen, Middle Eastern business men, Indian families, and sweating, pink-faced European tourists. I grabbed some Indian food on the street, which I hadn't dared try before my test (for fear of bathroom issues), and cruised through the shopping centers on the way back to the hotel. I stopped in a McDonalds and changed into my priest costume before reentering the hotel, just to be safe. A girl behind the reception counter greeted me with a coy, "Good afternoon Pastor Charles," and a wink. I realized that she must be The Cousin. I solemnly bowed back to her the way I'd seen men do here. They dip they heads down and touch a hand to their breast. She giggled, but discreetly.

I wandered over to the Chinatown and other tourist-filled areas. It was fun to just walk around and do some people watching. But I was interrupted by several old men who approached me and half-whispered, "Enjoy pretty lady? Beautiful young girl?" Aaah! Where's Salander when you need her? The later it got, the more frequent the offers for prostitutes became. I decided that meant it was time to go home, ALONE obviously. I thought vaguely of attempting an experiment to see if wearing a priest collar affected the frequency of offers, but decided that the GRE had drained me of any further academic curiosity for the day.

Mixed-Race Babies

Tree arranged for me to meet with a pipa student, Chen Ying-Chun at TaiNan Conservatory, the best music school in Taiwan. She was really interested in my style of playing zhongruan which uses pipa-influenced finger picking and, as she pointed out, cello arm positioning on my left arm. She also explained that the mandocello was influencing me and making me tilt my zhongruan more to the left than I really should. I thanked her for her instruction and she invited me to go to her campus sometime. Awesome, I thought!

Later Tree called me and asked if I had checked out a note written on Facebook by my new pipa friend. I found it and stared flabbergasted at the screen. She had written about the day with me, but she had included some interesting details.

He has a pair of green eyes, too cute. My first time I have been so close to eyes the color of jade. I may have hurt him with the intensity of my gaze.

The note was followed by 25 comments from her friends ranging from comments about me resembling Lord of the Rings characters to "I wanna meet him!" to the following: 快生混血寶寶.........哈哈哈(也太快了). You'll produce a mixed-blood baby soon. . . Hahaha(too soon?) . I decided to respond with a short message in Chinese about how I thought they were soooo funny. I got a curt and shocked reply, "You can understand Chinese characters?" I didn't think this would come as a surprise since she had bragged that my Chinese was "extremely good" in the note. I made a mental note (not the Facebook kind) to be careful should I venture to TaiNan.

Elementary, My Dear Watson

The next day I headed back to TaiZhong to perform at Tree's old elementary school. He was still good friends with his 3rd grade teacher and after meeting her and the infectious enthusiasm she brings to everyone she encounters, it wasn't hard to understand why. I brought out my trusty mandocello and Tree played the bamboo flute. While he introduced his instrument, I waited backstage at the school with the other performers. There were 3 violinists and 2 hulusi players. The hulusi players were siblings and took lessons from Tree's dizi teacher. They are really funny and love to ask me about the differences between Americans and Taiwanese. When I was laughing at a joke, the boy suddenly shrieked, "FISSSSHTAIL!!!!!" I ducked assuming that a bucket of fish parts was heading for my head. They laughed and then I laughed. And then they both pointed in unison at my face and yelled, "FISSSHTAIL!!!!" again. What? They asked if all Americans have fish tales like mine. Unaware that I had a fishtail until that point I was at a loss to comment on a majority of Americans. The elder sister noticed my confusion and explained that when I smile, my eyes crinkle and it looks like a fishtail. I told her that we call this crow's feet. I suddenly felt very old.

Finally it was my turn to go on stage. I played Take Me Home, Country Roads with Tree and then Snowy Woods a piece I wrote and adapted to a dizi solo accompanied by me on the piano. I finished alone by playing them Old Susannah and Old McDonald. The teachers guffawed when I explained that the American mandocellos, just like Americans are not as good looking as their Italian counterparts. The children nodded stoically, accepting this new factoid. I also explained that the reason that American mandocellos have round backs and not round backs like the Italians is that the Americans need room for their bellies.


On Old McDonald I had the children rolling around on the Gymnatorium floor. I introduced each animal in Chinese first and then EXTREMELY loudly barked, honked, oinked, and elephant called before quite seriously and sweetly singing in my most velvet-smooth voice, "E-I-E-I-O." Fortunately the children enjoyed my schizophrenic performance much more than my cross-cultural jokes.

Next, Tree's old teacher's class played a Taiwanese pop song on recorders, violin, and piano. We finished with Imagine. The kids had learned the song before and it was surprisingly moving to hear 400 children singing along with you, "Imagine all the people, living life in peace..."

Afterwards we met one class of 25 kids. They all had questions for us and we basically told them that they should all play instruments! Then they all wanted us to sign their stuff and the teacher thought this was adorable and so I signed 25 notebooks, folders, and pencil cases. Then they found out I had a Chinese name and the process repeated. Then things got really weird when one of the kids pulled out a hair from my head and a hair from Tree's head and ran away. When we were leaving the school he showed us a tissue he had put our hairs in. I really hope that kid doesn't become a stalker.

Later Tree and I found out that our performance of "Intercultural Exchange" had been documented in the GuoYu RiBao, a newspaper made for kids and foreigners that has all of the pronunciations written out phonetically next to the characters. Unfortunately I can't find a copy, but the picture apparently was quite similar to the one above. My compensation for not getting to see my picture in the newspaper came in the form of the letters the kids wrote to us. It was so sweet to read what they thought of us, what they had learned, and their new aspirations to learn music and become things from opera singers to rock stars.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Second Fortnight!

The Death of the Gehu

On my third Monday, I visited the Taipei Chinese Community Orchestra. It was 50% senior citizens and 50% college-aged students. The former were bored and using the orchestra to fill up free time. The latter, including my friend from the Taipei Mandolin Ensemble, were pressured into playing with the group because either their former teachers or grandparents were playing and needed the youngsters to fill out their ranks. I introduced myself to the players and they welcomed me with applause for some reason. I hadn’t brought my zhongruan, but they found an old one lying around the rehearsal room and told me I could join in. Woot! I was playing with my first, full-sized Chinese orchestra! The only problem was that the scores switched between WuXian Pu, five-line score (the one that Westerners use) and Jian Pu, the Chinese score that uses numbers to represent each pitch. I’d never played zhongruan with Western score so it took awhile for my brain to switch over.

There were tons of erhus and it seemed that they were the problem section. The conductor frequently stopped us to make the erhus go over difficult passages.

Behind me sat both cellos and gehus. Gehus are a dying instrument. In modern Chinese orchestras they have been replaced with the Western cello. All of the Chinese traditional instruments were modified in the early 1900s so that they could play Western music. For example, zhongruans and pipas were both given many more frets in order to be able to play chromatic scales. Somehow though, the gehu did not have as much success being transformed into a Western-music compatible instrument. The issue lies primarily with too many wolfs and pythons. The wolfs are pitches that, for various reasons that I don't understand dealing with physics, just sound nasty on the instrument. The gehu, according to the lady behind me, has 3 or 4. Yikes! The cello only has one. The other practical issue is that you have to kill a lot of pythons to make a gehu. A gehu is really big and like its baby cousin, the erhu, it uses snake skin to resonate. There are artificial alternatives, but they have not caught on and almost every erhu player in the world uses real python skin, which is a problem when going through airports, because python products are on a banned list for international transport.

The very chatty gehu player behind me, who also was extremely aggressive about giving me pieces of chocolate during rehearsal, told me that her gehu was 50 years old and that “Today no one makes them.” I’m not sure that’s accurate, but I do believe that makers are few and fare between. She also mentioned that the skin becomes loose frequently and has to be tightened or even replaced.

The pieces they played included traditional Mainland pieces, Taiwanese folk tunes, and some relatively modern popular songs. I was amazed at myself when I saw their repertoire. I knew every piece. Holy crap, I thought, I’m starting to get a grasp of this thing!

After being force-fed more Dove chocolates, I left the rehearsal in a glow and crossed the street to the Ximen Pedestrian Area, where my favorite street food is. I treated myself to spicy roast corn and a fried chicken steak with Chinese broccoli.

The Day of Pleasant Surprises

The next Saturday I awoke to what I thought was several people kicking me from underneath my bed. After 5 groggy seconds, I realized it was a small earthquake. Wow, my first tremor! The next 20 seconds of shaking would have been fun if I hadn't been afraid that the building was going to collapse. Do people ever get used to these things?

That day I got my first package. I received a slip in my mailbox and spent 2 hours trying to find the right post office to go pick it up from. Eventually I got to the right area with four new facebook friends. It takes me forever to get anywhere when I'm asking for directions because I have to tell my life story to everyone I ask. Even when I order coffee, the questions are usually, "Ni yao he shenme?" What do you want to drink? "Rede, bingde?" Hot or cold? "Ni lai Taiwan dushu ma?" Did you come to Taiwan to study? "Neiyong, daizou?" For here or to go? So after four long conversations and email exchanges, I entered the building.

A lady with unevenly drawn on eyebrows behind the counter marked courtesy took one look at me and barked, "Third floor" in Chinese. I went up the stairs to the third floor and showed the clerk my slip. She laughed and said, "No, you want the third floor." I asked, "Isn't this the third floor?" She thought hard for a moment and then giggled. "Well, yes, BUT you want the third floor." Huh? I was missing something. I asked if she spoke English. She repeated in English the exact same thing she'd been saying in Chinese. What am I missing? I asked her if she could give me directions to the third floor. She told me to go outside and I would see it. Okay. . . what? I went outside and asked a man in a little shed-like building next to the post office if he knew where I should go. He said, "Yes, of course. Go to the third floor!" What! I asked him how I could do that. He told me not to be stupid. I looked around. I was outside on the side walk. How was I supposed to magically ascend to this third floor they all spoke of? Just then I realized that there were English-only signs EVERYWHERE saying "Third Floor This Way." and "International Package Pickup Is On the Third Floor. Please Tread Lightly On the Elevator!" I didn't see the signs because I was only reading the Chinese. DOI! There was no door except an elevator. I walked inside, read the sign pictured here, and pushed 3. 15 minutes later I was home with my care package: a lone GRE prep book fell out of the box. Thanks, Mom. I groaned and began reading about triangles.

That afternoon I ate lunch in my favorite cafe. They have amazing pie! I walked in and there was only one seat open but it was at an occupied table. I hesitated and the waitress/owner say my dilemma. She went up to the young woman at the table and asked in Chinese if I could join her. She replied with, "Uhh. . . sorry I don't speak Chinese." It turns out she was born in Chicago and came to Taiwan to teach English. Her parents are Taiwanese but she doesn't speak her mother's mother tongue. Over coffee and key-lime pie, we swapped funny stories about misunderstanding things in Taipei. I told her about how waiters and waitresses often run away from me in restaurants to find a friend with better English. She told me about how people just can't believe that she doesn't speak Chinese. Ahh, racism.

That night at the National Concert Hall I attended the best concert I've been to in Taiwan. It was the state-sponsored Chinese Orchestra. Not only did they play amazingly well, they brought on soloists that gave me goosebumps. There were erhu and dizi solos. The finale involved a new composition with narrators and a full choir. It was epic! I sneaked these photos before a watchful usher swooped down on me. People shouted encore afterwards but they hadn't prepared anything so they played the classic, "Good Flowers, Round Moon." I was so proud that I knew it!

After the concert, which was only half empty (or I guess I should try to be optimistic and say full) I stepped out into a free outdoor jazz concert. Chang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall Plaza was packed! After enjoying "Fly Me to the Moon" I walked to the MRT station. On my way I noticed out of the corner of my eye that someone was following me. I slowed down to force the would-be thief to pass me, but when I turned back I saw that I was still being followed. I held my hands close to my pockets and hurried toward the station. The culprit got closer and I noticed he had grey hair. This old guy is gonna pick my pocket? I decided to pretend to tie my shoe. When I stood up again I was greeted with, "Hello! Where are you from?! Sprechen sie Deutsch?" But it wasn't an old man. In the dark, and probably because I am colorblind, I thought this young guy's green hair was grey. He was wearing shoes that didn't match and a heavy green chain instead of a belt. But I noticed that he also was carrying a dizi case. I told him in English that I didn't speak German. Not wanting to continue the type of racism Kristine had faced in the cafe today, I asked this Asian in English if that was a bamboo flute case. He didn't understand. I asked in Chinese, "Can you speak Chinese? Is that a dizi case?" I had so many questions. Why did he ask me in English when he doesn't speak English? Why can he speak German? Did he buy those mismatched shoes that way or did he have to buy two pairs or does he just collect spares?

15 minutes later I was digesting food from the night market along with my new friend's life story. His name is Boshu, which means cypress tree, so his English name is Tree. Perhaps this helps to explain his hair color. He went abroad for high school because he hated the memorize and regurgitate teaching style in Taiwan. So, when he was 15, he went to Germany without knowing a word of German. 6 years later he is fluent. So he hasn't had much chance to play bamboo flute in ensembles, but he is incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to Chinese music and has mastered most of the bamboo flute solos. He told me he lives in Taizhong but came to Taipei for a composition lesson. We immediately took out our mp3 players and played each other our compositions. Tree and I decided to meet the following Monday at 6am to play in Great Peace Forest Park and see if we could improv together.

Andrew Terwilliger: Jazz Trivia Master?

On Sunday I went to the second day of the free jazz concert. We all sat on the ground in the plaza between the National Concert Hall and the National Theater. Between jazz ensembles they asked trivia questions to stall while they set up the next group. The first question was "Who sings What a Wonderful World and what instrument is he most famous for playing?" I shot up my hand and a microphone surfed its way through the crowd to me. I hoped saying Louis Armstrong in English was good enough because I sure as hell didn't know his name in Chinese. It was and I won a free CD. Sweet! Then they played a music clip and asked if we knew what the pieces were called. The first one was Route 66. After 2 minutes of noone responding, I put my hand up again and won a free T-shirt. The second listening test was Caravan. What a coincidence. I wouldn't have known that one if I hadn't played it in middle school jazz band. Another awkward pause. I put my hand up for a third time and got another CD. The same thing happened when I knew Benny Goodman's main instrument was clarinet. They stopped the trivia after that. I hope it wasn't my fault. . .


By the second half of August, I was no longer twiddling my thumbs in cafes or taking long walks around the city. My schedule was packed! I had meetings with professors and music students and rehearsals to attend all the time. My one free day was Monday, but now I had to get up at 5 in the morning to make it to the park to see Tree. We found a quiet spot between various groups of senior citizens doing yoga and taiqi. The music we made was really cool. It took me about 3 seconds before I realized that Tree seriously outclassed me musically, but since this was his first time attempting to improvise he felt self-conscious and was apologetically playing amazing music. But soon we both became more confident and amazed at our own abilities to read each others' minds. Soon a large mob of elderly Taiwanese had gathered around us to watch the cross cultural exchange. They applauded loudly every time we took a break.

At 10, I accompanied Tree to his composition lesson. There I met Tree's classmate and composition/recorder major at Tainan Conservatory, Nadine. The teacher's name is Algy; he is ethnically Chinese but from the Philippines. He is a really amazing person and extremely talented. I played him some things I had written on the piano and he gave me some helpful feedback and some good ideas for what to fix. Tree told me that he had composed the music to a Taiwanese movie called When Love Comes Along And I just found out that he has been nominated for a Golden Horse Award, the Chinese language equivalent to an Oscar, for the score. Wow!

Next, Tree's friend Nadine joined us for lunch, which was followed by more chilling with music in the afternoon. I recorded Tree playing flute solos so I could become more familiar with the traditional solos. I made Nadine pretend to play my zhongruan for this picture since she is a musician, but she had left her recorder at home. I think she really sold it. Behind Tree you can see his flute case where he has a bamboo flute in every key!

Eventually we headed out for adventures through the night markets and KTV (karaoke).
There Tree belted out some Taiwanese folk songs and I countered with that KTV's entire English catalogue. There were only 5 English songs: True Colors, Take Me Home Country Roads, I Believe I Can Fly, Alicia Keys' Fallin', and Bad Romance.

New Composers

I went to a really amazing concert which featured the music of two new composers on the rise. The music was sooooooooo cool! The first half was all music written by a lady composer who went to the Berklee School of Music in Boston. It was spectacular. She didn't shy away from modern pop froufrou but there was also some sort of respect for traditional sound that could be heard. There were yangqin, Chinese hammered dulcimer, piano, drumset, a string quartet, bass and accordion. My favorite was a piece called 1949. It was epic and sweeping and seemed like a more like a movie score than anything else.

The second half was equally as impressive. The ensemble consisted of 6 erhus, a daruan, zhongruan, liuqin, 2 cellos, bass, 2 dizi, 2 sheng (Chinese mouth organ) and tympani. The sound was perfectly represented by the conductor's attire. He wore a Western penguin suite with a traditional blue Chinese shirt underneath. The music was traditional for the most part but would sometimes riff into 1950s rock territory. It sounds bizarre, but somehow it all melted together into a wistful and sentimental sound.

Out of Taipei

I finally left the sanctuary of Taipei and headed to Tree's hometown of Taizhong. I took the Gaotie, or High Speed Rail, to Taizhong. It's this really cool train that zooms across the west side of Taiwan from Taipei in the north to Gaoxiong in the south. Instead of a 3 hour bus ride, it took just 45 minutes. The best thing about riding the Gaotie though is that the stations seem like they are really fancy airports from the future. They are minimalist metal and glass structures and brand new. Also, the signs at the exit declare, "Kiss and Ride," which of course is where you either pick up your loved ones or park and kiss your loved one goodbye. Many foreigners have tried to explain that in English this sounds like a prostitute pick up area, but the Taiwanese have refused to adjust the sign. The stations are all slightly outside of the city to promote development on the city outskirts. This didn't work very well though because everyone immediately walks from the Kiss and Ride area to the free bus to the city. Sadly there is not much kissing or riding in outside the Gaotie station. . .

Tree's mom picked me up in her car. (While there was riding, alas, there was no kissing.) She dropped me off at the Confucius Institute where she works. There I saw a group of senior citizens practicing Nanguan music. Nanguan music is similar to silk and bamboo music except that the instruments are not the standard ones used in the Mainland.
But there is something that resembles the pipa, suona (Chinese oboe), erhu, shao, and something called sikuai four sticks which was four pieces of wood that are held in the hands to create cool rhythms. All the players were relatively new to their instruments, picking them up after they retired, but they played well together and asked me to join them for rehearsal. I played my zhongruan along with them. The parts were divided into plucked, bowed and blown. Tree joined in with the wind players. At the back of the book I found a Chinese pop song "The Moon Represents My Heart" as well as Eidelweiss and You Are My Sunshine. They said they didn't know how the English ones were supposed to sound, so I took out my mandocello and played and sang them for them. After two times through, they were playing along with me. It was soooo much fun!

At lunch, which was both vegetarian and Chinese medicinal, I talked to Tree's mother for a long time about the importance of teaching Confucionist thought to young children and how it can serve as a foundation for their character. She told me that she thinks religions all boil down to one word: forgiveness.

After lunch Tree and I headed to a really cool music store. The clerk was chill and let me try out an erhu that cost about the same as my Watson Fellowship. I also perused music scores and bought some new pieces as well as some Japanese piano scores. I really want to figure out what it is that makes those pieces sound so distinct.

Later we did what everyone does when they come to Taizhong: eat! Taizhong is known for its night market's delicious foods. I had sweet 'n' salty sweet potato fries, bread cakes filled with molten vanilla, red bean, and chocolate, egg cakes, stinky tofu, pizza crepes, and roasted corn. I also sampled a rosemary milk tea because a crazy or perhaps awesome, I haven't decided yet, lady threw a rosemary branch at me. Tree saw what was about to happen and decided to let me handle it on my own. Thanks, Tree.

She decided that she would teach me Chinese. She threw the branch back in my face and repeated slowly in Chinese, "ROOOOOOSEMARRRRRY." I repeated back and she was delighted. Then she sloooowly said, "PLEEEEEASE ENJOOOOOOOOOY OUR ROOOOOOOSE MARRRRY MIIIIIILK TEEEEEEEA!!!" I repeated back, mimicking her slow and extremely loud speech. She looked dangerously happy. It seemed like something was about to burst but I wasn't sure what. I turned around and saw Tree contorted in a fit of laughter. I realized the thing that was about to burst was his bladder.


The next day I rode the Gaotie back to Taipei for a guqin concert. I was very eager to see how it compared to the one I saw by the master in Beijing. Unfortunately I was late because Tree is always late and makes every around him late too. I bitterly thought to myself as I waited outside, Thanks for making me late, Tree. But, this turned out to be an amazing bit of good luck because I waited outside next to a guqin maker and the show's producer and got both of their contact information. The producer told me that the guqin maker doesn't usually talk to people at concerts and that I was very, very lucky! Thanks for making me late, Tree!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Now Blogging!

After a long silence, I'll be back! Two new, rather long posts are on their way!