Sunday, January 25, 2009

An Evening IN the Orchestra, or The Art of the Triangle

As the title suggested, I finally had the birth - and hopefully death - of my music career.

A couple of months ago, I tagged along with my Taiwan Family to a practice session for the Taichung City Youth Orchestra that they lead. There was a casual suggestion: "Hey, why don't you jump in with the percussionist. It'll be fun."

When it was discovered I have no natural aptitude for playing jazz lines on a ride cymbal, I was relocated to Triangle. Over the next few Saturdays, I learned that you can, indeed, play the Triangle incorrectly. I sweat at the thought of my solo every time it was ushered in by the 20 woodwind students sitting in front of me - most half my age.

We're not even going to discuss the Tambourine.

I did enjoy the bass drum, though. And stumbled along, attempting to recall everything I learned about reading sheet music in my 5th grade piano class, and apply it to these amelodic lines.

At some point around Christmas, I was asked, "So, what do you think? Are you having fun?"
"Yeah, it's great," I replied, without much thought.
"How do you feel about your parts?"
"Well, I mean, I'm getting there, I guess. Why?"
"Good. The performance is next month."
"...the wha?"

Friday night was the culmination of all my hard work, and insufficient practice. In front of nearly a thousand people - in one of the most prestigious music halls in Taichung - I became a professional musician.

I say professional musician not because I was paid. I certainly wasn't. That takes a much different set of qualifications. I say professional because I was told that professionals make a lot of mistakes, but they just know how to hide it and keep going like they meant to play what they did.


Where does my promise of Pirates come in? [One reader guessed it] As our closing piece, we played the "Melodic Highlights" of the Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End soundtrack. It was nearly fantastic.
We also covered a few Disney tunes you would expect from a Youth Orchestra, and a couple classics.

One such classic provided a special treat. Flown in from the night before, an Orange County, California based Ballerina performed a Waltz to the Blue Danube.

This Ballerina choreographed the entire pieces (or at least the parts she danced) by herself this week...

This was because the decision to include her in the Evening's performance was so last minute she didn't even make it into the Program. (The host joked with the audience that they met on their mutual flight from LA to Taiwan)

This wasn't true, but...

...This Ballerina also happens to be my little sister.

For the next week and a half, she'll be staying with me to celebrate Chinese New Year. I will be enjoying her company as we tour the city and the island; making her try only the best foods I can find...
[Squid on a Stick in my Mouth]

...constantly teasing her, kicking the bottom of her feet as she walks and any other number of activities that I consider my God-Given First Born Birthrights. Gotta make up for lost time, ya know?

This all will surely keep me occupied, and I might neglect the blog a bit. But I'll be back soon enough. Also, in typical Taiwanese fashion, I've told her (rather than asked her, and with as little forewarning as possible) she'll be guest posting a recap of her time. Look forward to that next week.

Tonight is the Lunar ("Chinese") New Year, so this place is a hubbub of activity. I'm looking forward to a good meal, and will probably come back from this week with more stories and plenty of pictures. But for now, Happy New Year!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

An Evening with the Orchestra

Clear skies above, I spent the evening enjoying another performance by the Taichung City Symphony Orchestra. Tonight, however, was special.

Conducting this evening, Tan Dun flew in from Mainland China to lead the Orchestra in two scores he has written.

The first was a real treat. Though it's been years since I've seen it, one of my all-time favorite movies is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Tan Dun is the composer of that entire score. The performance this evening began with excerpts from the movie score, while scene-appropriate clips played on the screen behind the orchestra. It was beautiful to listen to this movie come to life.

The entire score is highlighted by the presence of an Er-hu (two-string Chinese Violin). To much delight, the score was accompanied by an Er-hu soloist who captured the organics of the film and brought them to our out-door stage here in Taichung.

Concerto and Solo by the Er-hu stands this piece apart from a typical Hollywood Movie Score. By no means will you find Hans Zimmer gravitating towards this Traditional Chinese Instrument.

Tan Dun, however, revels in it. The remaining hour of the performance brought us to his piece entitled Maps. Pioneering the relationship of Traditional Orchestra, Technology and Alternative Sounds, Tan Dun blended recorded video of indiginous Chinese music with the live symphony.

Solo vocalists and traditional instruments - and unconventional ones, such as rock-percussion - flooded the screen while Tan Dun conducted his symphonic construction in and out and over the clips. Lacing the piece together, a German Cello Player carried the weight with authority and an eccentricity. The resulting sound could only be defined as foreign to Western Ears. Across the entire Orchestra, music was created in the most unconventional ways: strings were slapped rather than bowed; air was forced through french horn by hand rather than breath; rimshot-cadence; swirling symbols; a quick, harmonic shoot, completely in unison. Though at times chaotic and barely-tonal, the performance left all in awe.

The evening's end met Tan Dun and accompaniment with a Standing Ovation. This was certainly the best concert I have seen here in Taichung to date. Completely unique, and likely a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Here is a quick video from the performance. Just something I decided to snag at the very end.

Tan Dun - Maps from Chase on Vimeo.

I have some more Orchestra-related news... but I think I will wait until later. Want a hint? This post included ninjas, the next will see pirates.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Good Sounds

I mentioned a post or two ago that I was immersed in a music-saturated culture back home.

Well, this is the extent of the pop/rock/indie scene here in Taiwan.
Consider this the best of the best (that I've seen so far):

Crowd Lu (盧廣仲) with his debut album: 100 Ways of Life (100種生活)

I wish I heard more music like this. It's more than tolerable, I think I actually enjoy this video. Plus its great Mandarin practice. I think I recognized a word or two...

Deserts Chang (張懸): Recently won "Best New Mandarin Artist" at the 7th Chinese Music Media Awards in Hong Kong.

This song is a great case-study on Chin-glish. Note the mixture between Mandarin and oddly structured English lines.

Children Sucker 表兒 : 朋友啊!Take It Easy!

Yea, I couldn't resist posting these guys.

I will note that there is one pop-punk song that is played -everywhere- but I can't find it anywhere. And, naturally, I don't know the name to look it up.
If I find it, I will pass it along.

But for now, I leave you with the infamous:

Wu Bai.

That's right. Literally translated, "500" takes the claim as Taiwan's first Rock Star. Still coming on strong, his newest album is laced with space-odyssey-themed Political Statements - the kind of album you'd expect from a true rockstar.

Think of him as a pioneer. Like the Steve Tyler of Taiwan Rock'n'Roll.

And since this post is about music and videos, let me leave you with something you totally weren't ready for. That's right... he's baa-ack.


I found the Taiwan Music Videos at the Fools Mountain Blog, where there is not only additional videos, but more in-depth explanations of the ones I listed.

I found "The Evolution of Dance 2" on the homepage of Taiwan's Youtube site

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Taiwan Politics - The Off-Broadway Production

Taiwan is a Nation of Celebration. So-much-so that they have a day to celebrate the Law.

Yes, Law Day.

"How do you celebrate Law Day?" one might ask.
Well that's easy, you stage a skit in front of your peers that mocks your career and professional status, and then everyone laughs.

Background: Former President Chen was jailed in December on suspicion of Money Laundering.
He rejected the claims and cried "Political Persecution!" He is from the Green Party who seeks independence from China. Currently in power is President Ma, in the Blue party, who favors political cross-strait hand holding. Political opinions and stances are stark here in Taiwan, and rivals the tension between the Red and Blue back home.

These acts mimic Chen Shui-bian when Chen was detained last year.

The entire room -- full of judges, attorneys, prosecutors and lawyers, probably several hundreds of them -- brought into laughters.

I found the quote and the video here

I really don't have much commentary for this. I'm just not used to seeing Prosecutors parody - let alone discuss at any length - an on-going investigation. Nor am I used to seeing Lawyers admit to their poor acting skills or childhood dreams of Broadway.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Adventures in the Back of the Bus

This is where I recount the adventures of riding in the Taichung City Transit System to School.

Rule #1: Always know where you are in relation to the next nearest Bus Stop.

This morning I rounded the corner to my bus stop and saw the one thing every bus-rider dreads: my bus pulled away from the stop without me.

Acting quickly, I darted towards the next stop en route. Stalled by a red light. Did I jaywalk? Absolutely. Passing the McDonald's, I slid over the hood of a white compact as it blindly pulled out of the drive-thru (okay, it didn't happen quite like that, but you have to admit the imagery is much more intense that way). I made it the three block run just in time to turn and signal the driver over to me.

Recently, I discovered a new stop closer to my classroom. If I can make it out of class, down the stairs and across the street to this stop within 5 minutes of class ending, I can make it on the first bus to pass. However, if it takes me 8 minutes to get to the stop, two buses will have passed, and I'll need to wait 15-20 minutes before boarding.

After today's ride, however, I may start waiting for the later bus. Apparently, the five minutes it takes me to get to the stop is also the 5 minutes it takes every high schooler in Taichung to show up in hoards at every bus stop along my route home. There were twelve just at my stop. I counted.

Needless to say, I didn't bother finding a seat. Neither did about half of the hoard who entered the bus in front of me. Two bus stops later and I was surrounded by green and blue suits and the stuffy smell of teenagers who are not sure if they're supposed to start wearing deodorant yet. It felt like the courtroom scene in the trial of former-President: cramped, loud, hardly to be taken serious. Green and Blue on every side of me, but no one dared make eye-contact with the other. There were, however, a few points and snickers and forced English words tossed my direction. One bumped me as the bus lurched forward: "Uh, Sorry," his friends giggled behind him. I replied in Chinese. It's funny, but that often causes them to lose interest. I didn't mind.

A few stops down the road, a couple kids in green left the sardine can. You couldn't tell the difference. A buddhist monk approached the bus door. Quietly, though, he turned away clutching his prayer beads. No room for him here. This was to his benefit: I felt as though I was the one who needed the prayer beads.

The Driver slammed his breaks about 12 times in the course of the trip -- about 9 more than normal. I'm sure it was on purpose. Accelerating was brutal. It seemed every red light was an opportunity to fling light-weight high school students towards the back of the bus.

I will say there was a bit of frustration in me when a clearing in the wall of students formed to reveal 4 empty seats. Sure they were all next to that stranger on the bus you don't want to sit next to, but at least the Monk could have had a squat. I moved to the back in hopes others would follow. They didn't.

Making my way back to the front wasn't all that easy either. Though I did enjoy every student saying goodbye to me...

All this aside, the highlight of my bus-filled day was about an hour later when I was passing a bus stop on foot. A little Taiwanese girl - no more than 3 - stood at the stop, holding her grandpa's hand. I glanced behind me and saw the bus approaching. Panic-stricken, she waved her free hand wildly; her brow furrled with worry, "STOP!! STOP! STOP!! SSSTOOPPP!" She cried (yes, in English), as the bus snapped on it's right turn signal. Her Taiwanese grandfather smiled inside himself.

I couldn't help but laugh sympathetically as I passed the little one.

The mishaps and adventures of the Taichung Transit System pays no mind to age, race, language, or political affiliation. It seems even she knows what it is to watch a bus pull away and leave you behind.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Reasons I Miss the States - Music Culture

[Indulge me, for a moment, in a couple shameless plugs for a couple friends back home...]

A couple of my friends back home launched some exciting, long-coming projects today.

Josh Auer
just released his Dear You EP on iTunes. You can hear his song tonight on One Tree Hill (yeah, he's that big of a deal.)

In the past, Josh has been involved with some of my favorite musical acts (Namely, Jesse McCartney...)

Two years ago, this month, he, his wife Amanda, and I started up a concert venue back in California. theVault lived to be a ripe old age of 1 and a half.

Through theVault, Josh was able to meet and produce some stellar acts from the OC scene.
(Thanks to him, you can now find Sun From Shadow and Taylor Warren on iTunes)

theVault was definitely some of the most fun I've had with some of the coolest dudes ever.

[Shameless Plug #1: Buy Josh's new EP here: ]

Running theVault with Josh and Amanda gave me the chance to meet some awesome people.

One of those is a good dude named Nick Greenwood. Over an Islands Burger one day, Nick shared with me his dream to create a support system for bands on the road. He called it the RYFO Network. Nick's a man with big dreams: after 5 years of dreaming, they're taking form.

Today, he launched his RYFO Network. The team he is building is already prepared to offer touring musicians more than they've ever had: free beds, and warm meals; trips to a chiropractor, and trips to a crisis counselor; extra hands, and anything else a band might need but normally doesn't receive while on the road. Nonprofits have aligned themselves with RYFO's vision and are sponsoring tours. It's clear his vision is contagious.

[Shameless Plug #2: Check out and tell your friends about it, while you're at it.]

My time in Taiwan has been excellent, but this was the dynamic, music-saturated culture I was intricately involved with back home in California. And it's one more reason I miss my life in the States.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

You Know You're Taiwanese When...

Alex (whom I have quoted before) just posted a great list entitled:
You Know You're Taiwanese When...

Here are the first three:
1. You look like you are 18 regardless of your age.
2. You like to eat chicken feet.
3. You suck on fish heads and fish fins.

Another fun perspective inside Taiwanese Culture.
Similar to my Cultural Observations Column (here and here)
...just 3+ years more of depth and understanding.

Friday, January 9, 2009

"New Year's Resolution - Spend Time More Wisely"

Singer/Songwriter (/Author) David Crowder recently posted this video on his blog with only one line above it...

new year's resolution - spend time more wisely.

Recently, my thoughts have resonated with his. I'm coming to realize not everything I enjoy doing is particularly productive. My schedule is filling up here -- more and more every day. So, in order to survive and carry this expatted-year out well, I've got to make some changes.

I'm slow to make decisions, though, and generally want to try it out before I buy.

That said, I've got to take a break. So if we were once Facebook friends, and now you don't know why, I've deleted my profile for awhile (I'm sure I'll be back eventually). And if I used to comment on your blog more than I do now, it's because I've taken a step back on that as well.

Don't worry, it's not permanent. Just keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I adjust to the next period of my time here in Taiwan.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Adventures in the Back of the Bus

This is where I recount the adventures of riding in the Taichung City Transit System to get to school.

So yesterday, as I was walking to the bus stop after class, I saw not one but two buses pass by me. I waited a half hour for the third. When it finally did come, it came with a twin. Apparently, half-empty buses now travel in twos. I'm tempted to leave out the part where the caravaning-pair caught up to a third bus and played Leap Frog til my stop.

Today, however. I found myself, once again, at the back of the bus. It was a slightly later bus, since I broke my wake-up rule and used the snooze button (one too many times...). At least I think it was a later bus, it very well could have been the bus I would have boarded, had I arrived at 8, as usual.

I was enjoying a rather triumphant musical moment with Chris Martin and the boys (thank you iPod), when I opened my eyes, I looked down and out my window at a car who was splitting the lanes of traffic to race by us in the opposite direction.

The bus rocked.

I glanced towards the driver to catch his reaction.


And we made it through the intersection with a honk.

Just another reason I choose not to drive in Taiwan.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Fisherman's Ferry - A Day in Kaohsiung

I completely forgot I had this picture:

Last weekend, we traveled to Kaohsiung for the day. We took a Ferry to the Beach Peninsula. But we didn't take the luxury pedestrian cruiser. No, we hopped in the illegal fishing boat that slides from one side of the port to the other. The rates are cheaper, and the trip is quicker. I couldn't help but snap this photo (right before my camera died, unfortunately.)
And yes. That is dead fish hung to dry behind my head.

The beach was a nice change from the city. There was little wake, however, and the riptide made the shore near impossible for swimming. So we didn't try. The boardwalk market was more of the same: Chicken feet and Squid on a Stick [Click For Photo].

The Squid was delicious. The feet, I skipped. Again.

A Medicine Man's Mountainside and other Meditations

My Taiwanese Family has a cousin who is a Chinese Medicine Doctor.
Though his English is slow-coming, I've enjoyed lengthy conversations each time he comes round to visit. We talk of his trade, and how he doesn't like to work a lot. He likes to enjoy life. When he discovered I had studied various Martial Arts, he told me his line of work teaches him to see Chi. This excited me to no end, and he's promised our next conversation will be in the aspects and application of Chi. When I told him I also enjoy writing, I thought briefly of this blog. Now, when he sees me, he asks if I'm working on my book yet.

One of our first conversations, he spoke of his slow-paced life. His cadence and tone authenticated his words. He said "While I was in School for Medicine, they taught us of Da-rwin. I do not like Da-rwin. He said 'The stonger man wins,' that 'society is getting better,' but I look around, and I don't see that." I understood. The Medicine Doctor continued, "I like Ye-su. He taught be kind to the poor man. Give to the poor man." To me, these were strong, unsolicited words for a Taiwanese Buddhist. I told him if I were ever to write my book, I want it to be filled with conversations like this.

In a global culture that says "More = a better life" he consciously pursues simplification. Successful in his career, the Doctor purchased the side of a mountain to make as his Retirement Home. Nearly untouched now, he plans to spend the next ten years preparing the grounds of his future home.

Today, the family and I met him at his mountain side for a picnic. Resolved to enjoy our excursion, we decided to ignore the fog and drizzle and make the most of what we had. The doctor brought out a hatchet and saw and within a couple minutes, we had a fire blazing from the dried brush and fallen bamboo we could uncover from the foilage.

It was a great way to spend the afternoon. A fair chance to open my lungs outside the Taichung smog, and touch nature again. There was a peace in our landing. I could see what attracted him to the mountain-life. It brought back the best of memories from my years as a Scout. I couldn't help but wonder if that's how it's supposed to be. Less city and smog. Less of "More". Living off the land, and relying on one's resources for sustainability.

I didn't come to a conclusion. Regardless, it was a welcomed break from the concrete-familiarity.

Steeping Tea

Road Side Landing: Perfect for a Picnic

Lunch by the fire