Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Revival Begins ...

I saw this piece in the NY Times, and I was absolutely stunned by the beauty and the sense of what might be.

"Music Bridges the Political Divide Between China and Taiwan"

When a Taiwan music ensemble performed its reconstruction of Chinese imperial court music last year in Beijing, it marked not just a cultural milestone, but a political one.

The concert provided a rare opportunity to hear ancient sounds salvaged from a nearly vanished musical tradition. The 3,000-year-old genre known as yayue, or “elegant music,” faded with the collapse of dynastic rule in 1911, and nearly succumbed to the later Maoist assault on “feudalistic” elements of China’s past. [e.g. the Cultural Revolution].

But it was also a chance for people from both sides of the long-divided Taiwan Strait to compare notes on which parts of their joint Chinese heritage have been preserved, or not.

“The audience response was quite strong. Many were hearing this music for the first time,” said Xie Jiaxing, director of the China Conservatory in Beijing, which had invited the Yayue Ensemble of Nanhua University to perform in the capital.

“For political reasons, we haven’t done enough to research yayue,” Mr. Xie said. “Taiwan’s Nanhua University has done a really good job in this respect. Afterwards, our students wrote to the school saying how happy they were to discover such a great treasure in ancient Chinese culture, even though they don’t really understand it.”
I am suffused with joy and pride and a deeply emotional sense of possibility ... despite the horrific harm and damage that it suffered on the Mainland in the 20th century, maybe Chinese culture can make a comeback. Taiwan is a treasury of Traditional Chinese Culture, and now it has a chance to share it with the Mainland.

We have cultural elements that have been preserved and are continuing to be lived all over the Sinic world -- Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, other Overseas Communities in SE Asia. 希望可以讓他傳回中國.

Chen Huei-ying, director-general of the cultural and education affairs department of the Mainland Affairs Council, the Taiwan government body in charge of policies toward China, sees benefits. “Cultural exchanges are helpful to peaceful development of cross-strait relations,” he said. “They increase understanding and appreciation for each other and especially feelings people on each side have for one another.”

They are also allowing mainland Chinese visitors to see how their culture evolved on Taiwan, shielded from the Communist campaigns against many traditional practices.

Some folk customs — such as the worship of Mazu, the sea goddess — thrive here in ways they no longer do on the mainland. Chinese temples are seeking help from their Taiwanese counterparts on how to revive Mazu festivals.
These kinds of folk practices and traditional customs, which were discarded or forgotten on the Mainland -- now there's a way they can start to be explored, and maybe become relevant to people's lives again. Because there is meaning there, in the past and in traditions that have been passed down for generations -- an inheritance which we have not only the responsibility, but also the wonderful privilege to explore.

URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/21/arts/21iht-music.html

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

May Day!

This morning, I read the story "May Day" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Strangeness abounds, in these worlds of Fitzgerald, waking from a dream of life into reality.

This evening, I went to the 五月天 Mayday concert in San Jose. It was awesome! They are a rockin' band, with lots of high-energy songs, but they also play ballads that are very soulful. (In fact the ballads are some of my favorite pieces). The band sings in both Mandarin and Taiwanese, which is kinda neat to listen to.

After a quick dinner -- during which our level of excitement rapidly escalated -- we ran several blocks to the venue. Saw a couple rows of Stanfolks there too.  ^  ^ In addition to great music, there were the requisite glow sticks. (I learned after attending the Sun Yanzi concert in Beijing that these are key). Oh yeah, and thousands of screaming, cheering, shrieking Asian fans.

Not to make too much of it (I know it was just a backdrop for the music), but the back-story was kind of fun: the concert theme of DNA was broadcast through several high-quality movie scenes, which were actually rather cinematic. Nice camera work and graphics. The plot was a bit strange, revolving around a group of individuals [the band] stuck in the daily grind of life, with a wish for the opportunity to become "who they are". They think of cloning themselves to start anew, but since they can't do this, they decide to clone a whole new world, instead. Striking a musical theme, they undertake a mission to acquire John Lennon's DNA and start things over.

DNA is vital here, but it isn't determinative. "Who are you?" -- the question kept arising, and the clips initially suggest that nucleotides are important. But as they continued to play, and the band's adventures take wild turns (including car chase), the question is resolved by the final message that "You are what you do!"

The other major theme of the evening (homage to Lennon?) is L。O。V。E ! (This comes into full force after child-Lennon and other historical figures as children run through the grass.) I like the energetic and earnest quality of "love" explored by Mayday. It isn't sappy, and definitely didn't feel as saccharine or over-produced as some Chinese pop is. It's just very ... quirky and delightful. It encompasses friendship and caring as much as relationship-type love. Maybe this is because they're a band, so there's an element of camaraderie and friendship inherent in their conception of what love means.

There are the one-on-one moments though, especially with pieces like 最重要的小事, 天使 and 志明與春嬌, where guy and the person-of-his-affection are separated. Sweet and very sad ...

I was talking to Yunli about this later, and it seems part of Mayday's appeal lies in the fact that they are kinda weird, rather than neatly polished like some Chinese pop stars today. Some of the Mayday band members are positively child-like too, like 阿信 -- it's pretty endearing.

The stadium actually wasn't full O_o probably in contrast to LA where they likely played for a full (full full) house. It was a Sunday night, and they actually changed the concert date from February to April, which might have reduced attendance -- the original tickets we bought were for February. But the excitement was still palpable, and I can hardly believe they were right there ... just yards from the crowd, lol.

One more item to note: I felt proud that a band from Taiwan could produce music like this, with a unique sound and particular artistic quality. It was also neat that 華人 from all around the Bay Area wanted to come and hear them.

Picasa Web Album to come.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Touched an iPad

I touched an iPad today. My roommate and I went to the Apple store in downtown Palo Alto around 9:30 this evening, and we fiddled around with the "revolutionary" new product.

Read different web pages (TED Talks, NY Times), tested apps like iTunes, Numbers (the Apple version of Excel), YouTube, Photo Gallery, etc. 

The iBooks application was quite interesting: it simulated many aspects of a book quite well, like flipping pages, searching through chapters, even showing you how much of the chapter is left. But the two things I wish it could do better: (1) There should be an easy way to highlight and keep text that you want. The current method is a bit involved; you have to double click, then drag a node to highlight text. Maybe you could just hold a button with your left hand, and then any text you highlight or circle would become highlighted. And (2) you should be able to write notes on the page, on top of the text.

Left: Roommate watching a TED talk. Right: Me reading the NY Times. As always. =P

Another neat thing: I could also hand-write Chinese characters! Woohoo! It was kind of awesome. There's something very tactile, something that gives one a sense of pleasure in writing the characters themselves, instead of simply typing the pinyin and selecting the matching symbol. That directness is very satisfying, like pen to paper -- perhaps even closer, because it is one's own finger. I do wish Apple would hurry up and provide support for 正體/繁體 traditional characters, though.