Sunday, September 04, 2005

Sunday, Sunday . . .

The four of us at the end of the day.






The Pao An temple.


Maxine and Steven

Peter and Maxine in the bookstore.

Practicing for the tea ceremony.

The temple of Confucius.

Maxine in the kitchen in the old house.

A sign posted in the men's room.

A Chinese bed (for the rich)!

Looking through the front door of the house to the courtyard and the house altar.

The house of the god of the ground.

The entrance to the house, inside the gate and fence.



The gate house entrance.



One of the desk people at the hotel who has been a godsend to us, going far out of her way to help with many things, managed to get the airline to bring my bag to the hotel. So I have, for the last two days, not been wearing the clothes in which I came here. Peter said he was all used to them. but I was tired of washing them every night. ( All of you know how I can't eat without saving some for later on the front of my shirt . . .) When you come to Taipei go the the Friends Hotel on Hoo-Ping West Rd.; the people are great and the rooms are big w/computer connections and adapters for your 3-prong plugs. Our bil for two nights in a room with a sitting area, office area, and king-sized bed, including breakfast (which was both tasty and ample) was $140. Oh, and that included some laundry we sent out in the morning and got back the same day in the evening. Such much!

Thanks to a new friend, Lin Wen Sheen (aka Maxine), the young woman who retreived us from the airport after our very long flight, and her boyfriend Stephen, Peter and I had a wonderful Sunday. We started by walking across the courtyard to the Fine Arts Museum, which was huge and had really interesting sculpture outside.

Maxine showed us many charming and interesting things we would not have known to seek out ourselves. We took a bus ride to a marvelous old Chinese house built by some Fujiian immigrants in 1783. Using materials from Fuji, they built the house as part of a community of houses all built at the same time. It had a gate house, with an impressive door and a sedan chair, used for travel by the upper class (and Maxine added that every bride was carried to the ceremony in a sedan chair). Maxine and Peter are standing by the chair in the photo. The house follows the traditional design of mainland China in having a three-sided courtyard. Traditional houses were built using fengshui: the entrance faces southwest and it has a crescent-shaped pool of water in front for cooling, raising fish, and as a supply of water for the garden or in case of fire. Our guidebook says that until recently many such houses remained in Taiwan, but now it is difficult to find one accessible and in good condition, and this one is a gem. The Lin Antai (Lin is Maxine's surname but she says it's not her family home!) Homestead is the oldest residential buildling in Taipei. The original house was built elsewhere and moved to the present location in 1978 by dismantling it piece by piece, numbering the pieces, and putting it back together like a jigsaw puzzle. I made some pictures which I will include.

However, this dismantling and reconstruction became even more difficult: the taking down occurred in 1978 but the putting back together in Pinchain Park did not happen until 1984. The building is now right under the landing path for Sungshan airport and planes come in so low it’s a wonder they don’t knock off the chimney. Peter loved this detail, needless to say.

The Confucius temple, compared to Taiwan’s ornate Buddhist and Taoist temples, is quite modest. It has no statues or dieties and is really lively only on 28 September, Confucius’ birthday and also teachers’ day, when an interesting festival is held at dawn. (Do not look here for a report on that, needless to say.) While we were there we saw some young women practicing for a tea ceremony which was to be held in the afternoon, and in another area was a chamber music concert.

The Pao-an temple is very near the Confucius temple. And is Taipei’s oldest temple. Like any good Taoist temple, the interior is a riot of colors and deities. Being the Victorian harlot that I am, I fell dead in love with it (and William, you will too). Particularly wonderful are the dragons on the corners of the wonderfully decorated roofs; I have about 20 shots of this but will only trouble you with one.

Somewhere in here we had a beef noodle lunch (beef noodle dish is something Taipei is famous for. It is really good but it is very large wontons filled with beef (or pork or chicken or vegetables) in broth with scallions and seasoning. Sort of like wonton soup on steriods. Very tasty. With the lunch I drank white gourd juice which was really delicious. Peter had cold green tea. Actually, we were served the opposite and traded after tasting them; he liked my tea better and I liked his gourd juice better than my tea. It had been sweetened. Almost everything here is sweet.

The Lungshan (dragon mountain) temple was the happenin’ place to be on Sunday. We could not walk without negotiating around the hordes who had come to light incense and ask for favors/forgiveness/help in passing exams/you name it. It was built in 1738 in the Mengchia district to honor the goddess of mercy, Kuanyin; in 1815 an earthquake leveled Mengchia, along with the temple. However, the Kuanyin statue survived and a new temple was built around it. The temple was wrecked again by a typhoon in 1867, but rebuilt. Then in 1945 the U. S. bombed it during a raid against Japanese troops who had occupied Taiwan. The temple was again rebuilt (!) and remains today one of the most popular in the city. The colors are brilliant, the people are packed chockablock, and the air is heavy with smoke from burning incense and ghost money. Piles of prepared food, unprepared food, fruit, vegetables, flowers were everywhere, and when I asked Maxine what happened to the stuff after the prayers were over (thinking it was no doubt donated to some charitable enterprise, she told me the people took it home and ate it. Talk about eating your cake and having it too! My camera stopped working here so we have no pics to show. The temple was full of gods—they had a god of business, of having babies, of good fortune, of good health, of many other things I can't remember now. Something for everyone's needs. I figure they are sort of like the saints for the Catholics.

A short two-block walk will take one to the Snake Alley, of which Peter has written, I fear to excess. I did not watch the snake stuff and did not read what he wrote. Narsty, narsty. A subway station is across the street from the temple, as well.

My favorite part of the day was our visit to the Little Red Theater where we saw the Shuimo Kun Opera Troupe perform two Chinese operas. Chinese opera is defined in my guildebook as including “acrobatics, martial arts, poetic arias and stylized dance, usually performed on a bare stage, with the actors taking on stylised roles. This is an understatement of magnificent porportions. The titles of our operas were Lotus, or Bankrupt Blue Blood Sings Beggar Song, and Eye Piercing, or Lady Pierces Her Own Eyes for the Sake of her Lover. (These are taken directly from the program, honestly.) The title of the two works together is inexplicably The Embroidered Bedding. It is taken from The Story of Lady Lee, Bai Xingjian’s chuan qu (tale of the marvelous) in the Tang dynasty; it tells the story of Li Yaxian, a famous courtesan who, to stimulate her lover, Zheng Yanhe, pierces her own eyes to urge him to obtain an official rank in the imperial examination (get a job, you bum!). You can see how this plot ranks up there with the best of the Italians and Frenchies in every way. The program says “both scenes are filled with affecting quqing (melody and moods)” but this is a good example of how one should not believe everything she reads.

The operas were mercifully brief (eat your heart out, Wagner!), so I enjoyed them. (The singing was shrill and unmelodic, not unlike the CD you gave me of Yoyo Ma and a Chinese lady on Silk Road, Barbara.) In this kind of opera a person comes out and tells you the story of the play before it starts. Of course, you have probably already read it in your program, which is good because the storyteller speaks in Chinese, don’t you know. Then the actors come out laden with so much makeup one wonders how they can walk or see, and begin to do what you’ve just been told they would, at great length. Makes a silent movie look subtle. The when it’s over the previewer comes out for a postview, one presumes, but one cannot testify because that part isn’t in the program and one doesn’t know Chinese yet. Or not enough Chinese, in any case.

Another interesting part was the instruments the orchestra used to provide the music, and their music. Peter alerted me that I should go check out the orchestra because “their music looked funny, not like music.” Another stupendous understatement. Their music did not look like anything but a bunch of random marks on paper. No notes, no bars, no clefs, nada. The music for different instruments differed one from the other, but all were completely inscrutable (those Chinese!). (This may have some bearing on why the music sounds the way it does. I need to look into this but think I’m onto something big here.) And the instruments themselves were even stranger. The woodwind section, for example, was one guy playing a circle of bamboo pieces of different lengths wired together and having holes in the bottom of each at the same distance from the bottom of the pipes, where they were parallel. It was played through a brass mouthpiece somehow joined to the whole thing and supplying air to all the pipes. How that man got his hands around that thing and on the right holes is beyond me. And it sounded, alternately, like a piccolo, a clarinet, and a saxophone. Did you ever?

The playhouse itself was fascinating, painted bright red. Downstairs was a shop with many attractive tchochkies for sale; I bought a red t-shirt that looks good enough to wear over a skirt. I think. Upstairs, where the show is, the setup is like in Vegas, where everyone is seated at a long table and can order drinks (unlike Vegas, all made of tea) and snacks. You get the tea and snacks before the play starts and everyone feels free to eat and chat throughout the performance, which helped us understand what was happening on stage. I know we already knew the plot, but lots of subtle stuff was going on that we would have otherwise missed. For example, our hero in the first play is wearing low shoes (sneakers, actually) which means he is poor. In the second he is wearing high heels (platforms from Manolo Blahnik or I miss my guess) because his honey is supporting him and he is living a life of ease. In the first play she is a beautiful courtesan on whom he has spent his entire fortune so he can monopolize her time. She is dressed in gorgeous silk clothes, bedight with jewels, and rides in a sedan chair. In the second she is also wearing gorgeous silk clothes and many many jewels but she has on a belt, or sash of heavy cord, which means she is a working girl (housework, not her former career). You can see how a viewer needs to be on her metaphorical toes, as it were, to keep up. They all wear gorgeous silk clothes, the only difference being his have beautiful silk patches in the first act and are sans patch in the second, and the part about the shoes and the belt. Italian opera hasn’t a patch on these guys, trust me on this . . .

After the opera Peter managed to drag us into a book store. Now think about this: how many books in English would you expect to find in a Chinese bookstore? Precious few, no doubt, and because of that we were able to get him out in only half an hour. By this time Maxine’s friend Steven had arrived and we had some snacks and a beer and then headed out for snake alley. I will elide that adventure, and say we finished the evening at a bar near one of the larger universities having gin and tonic and another snack. The whole day was a rousing success, which we owe to Maxine’s and Steven’s generosity and kindness. I hope we can see them again soon when we are in Taipei for my orientation to Taiwan.

2 Comments:

At 3:01 AM, Blogger Martha Hilton said...

Pat,

GREAT BLOG entries. I had lunch with Deborah Wilkins and she gave me this information. Congrats on this amazing opportunity. I will enjoy following your adventure. Keep having fun!

Martha Hilton

 
At 7:45 AM, Blogger Patricia Golemon said...

Hi, Martha! Glad you had lunch with Deb and found the blog. Did you ever hear from Don Vincent? I will email him if you didn't. I'm wondering if he's changed jobs . . .

You can email me at the UHD address, even here in Taiwan.
xx
P

 

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