26 December 2008

At last, full-time job obtained by year end 2008

(Masthead of Taiwan Daily News, first issue, 6 May 1898)

At last, the project proposal I submitted is formally approved by the National Science Council, Taiwan – that is to say, I've just been offered a one year fixed term contract job.

The project intends to construct a database of articles and all the contents about music, including people, events, venues and objects, in Taiwan Daily News (臺灣日日新報 Taiwan ririxin bao), the longest continuously published newspaper from 1989 to 1944, almost the whole period of the Japanese rule over Taiwan. The database will provide valuable sources for studies on music history and any other musical subjects during the Japanese colonial period.

I will be working as a postdoctoral fellow at National Taiwan University in 2009, while teaching Musical Cultures Around the Globe there and another university, hosting radio programmes, composing for commercial films and so on to earn some more pocket money. Above all, with the materials collected and gleaned from Taiwan Daily News by project team members, I will also be able to examine the musical life of Taiwanese locals in the colonial era and carry out my own research.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Fanne is very much delighted to learn that I have eventually found a full-time job and one year's salary plus year-end bonus is guaranteed. Although Christmas is not a public holiday in Taiwan, and due to the economic downturn, it hardly feels Christmasy at all in Taipei, we just take this as one of the best Christmas gifts we've ever received.

06 December 2008

Flamenco and popcorns with hot fruit tea

flamencoI have been lecturing on Music Cultures Around the Globe since the spring semester 2008 at National Taiwan University and recently been involved in organising the Friday Noon Concert Series of the College of Liberal Art.With some financial support granted by the Center for General Education, I can invite guest speakers to the course several times each semester, which helps me to maintain close contact with some excellent artists and performers in Taipei. Therefore, as an extension of the course Music Cultures Around the Globe, those musicians are also invited to the Friday concerts.

Yesterday we had a wonderful time with four artists from the Centro Flamenco Taiwan. Students and staff of the university gathered at the spacious entrance hall of the College of Liberal Art to be enthralled by the astonishing power of flamenco.

It was probably the best of the series this semester, I dare say. May even took the day off and managed to come to the performance, and after the show we went to the cinema, starting our weekend half a day earlier than others.

What I want to write down here is nothing about the film itself, which is too bland, though not to the extent of a flop, to be mentioned, but rather the bizarre combination of snack and drink we had – popcorns, half-sweet-half-salt, with hot fruit tea.

I suppose people usually have popcorns with carbonated soft drinks. Nevertheless, we don't need extra CO2.

Despite the lackluster film and the odd food combination, we had a great early start of the weekend.

23 November 2008

European symphony vs. Andalusian muwashshah


(Excerpt from 'Lamma Bada Yatathanna/ Symphony No. 40'. This 50-second clip is only intended as demonstration, not meant to infringe copyright.)

A couple of weeks ago I found Mozart In Egypt, a 1997 Virgin Classics album, created by the French musician Hughes De Courson, fusing Mozart's classical work and Arabic tradition in Egypt into an interesting auditory compound.

The album gained a mixed reception.

Contributing to Customer Review on amazon.com, a doctoral student in composition from Oxford University argues that Mozart In Egypt is just an exquisite example of the omnipresent postmodern phenomenon, that is, 'blurred realities and imposed mixtures of different cultural aesthetics'.

In this reviewer's opinion, De Courson's intention to marry Western functional tonality and diatonic harmonies with Arabic extemporaneous ornamentation and linear flows based on the maqam system represents 'mass-produced and degraded trivialisations of true artistic and cultural statements'.

Contrastingly, on the same Customer Review page, a linguistics professor from Université Paris Panthéon Sorbonne acclaims the album as 'sound-senstional' and commented that Mozart's music is successfully blended with Egyptian music. Traditional Arab instruments offer those from the western classical tradition a new depth, and through the voice of the Orient 'Mozart's music is regenerated and ressuscitated out of its classic texture and harmony.'

I don't really want to comment on, or review, what I have heard. After all, an experimental or fusion album of this kind tends to elicit criticism, in which deprecators condemn the oversimplification and dumbing down of two musical cultures, as well as invites praise, in which advocates applaud for the merge of two different worlds and new aural experience it generates.

What captivates me in this album is the third track, which neatly brings together Mozart's 'Symphony No. 40' and 'When She Begins To Sway' (لما بدا يتثنى Lamma bada yatathanna), an old famous Arab song from Moorish Spain.

Listen to the audio excerpt above and pay close attention to how a European symphony turns into an Andalusian Muwashshah. It's entertaining.

13 November 2008

'Man On The Flying Trapeze' vs. 'On The Swing'

(It Happened One Night, 1934)

Following the previous post on 'Build Up A Home', here comes another case: Li Jinhui's 'On The Swing' (鞦韆架上 Qiuqianjia shang) and the nineteenth-century popular song 'The Man On The Flying Trapeze'.

'The Man On The Flying Trapeze', also known as 'The Daring Young Man On The Flying Trapeze', is a song about a real figure, the French acrobat and flying trapeze performer Jules Léotard. It was composed by Gaston Lyle, with lyrics by the English music hall singer George Leybourne.

For some historical accounts of this song, please visit The Word on the Street from National Library of Scotland, by which an original copy of the broadsheet is collected. Click the picture on the right to read lyrics, or rather the story of Jules Léotard.

Now listen to the Chinese 'On The Trapeze' by Ying Yin (英茵), a singer-actress from the 1930s, and follow the lyrics if by any chance you read Chinese. I believe 'On The Swing' was obviously adapted from 'The Man On The Flying Trapeze'.



你先別管誰麻煩後兒愛梳 (not sure about this line)


他飄在天堂X樂洋洋 (one character unintelligible)

08 November 2008

'Build A Little Home' with Chinese lyrics

(Eddie Cantor, Roman Scandals, 1933)

Build A Little Home
Lyrics: Al Dubin
Music: Harry Warren

We'll always have a roof above us as long as there's a sky.
And if we have someone to love us, we're sure of getting by.
We don't need a lot of log and stone.
Build a home on happiness alone.

With a million little stars, we can decorate the ceiling
With an optimistic feeling when we build a little home.
Ev'ry single little dream is a shingle or a rafter.
We can paint the house with laughter when we build a little home.
It's not a palace nor a poor house, but the rent is absolutely free.
This is my house, but it's your house if you'll come and live with me.
With a carpet on the floor made of buttercups and clover,
All our troubles will be over when we build a little home.

*     *     *

Due to the word or page limit for the thesis, or the time limit for the presentation of the thesis, PhD students sometimes may have to edit out several sections, or even chapters, to observe the size restriction, or leave unsolved issues in abeyance in order to submit in time. However, sometimes they may wish they had discovered something and wrote it down in the theses.

I have been misled by old Shanghai songbooks and magazines for umpteen years to believe that the old Shanghai song 'A Little Family' (小小家庭 Xiaoxiao jiating) is an original tune composed by Li Jinhui (黎錦暉), the so-called progenitor of Chinese pop music in modern times.

Thanks to Davide, who showed me some recordings and their paper labels, I learnt that the lovely tune was actually adapted from an American song 'Build A Little Home' written by Harry Warren for the musical comedy Roman Scandals in 1933.

There are actually more cases in which American songs were claimed to be written by Li Jinhui, either mistakenly or intentionally, for example, Stephen Foster's 'Oh! Susanna' to be 'Don't Cry, Susan' (蘇三不要哭 Susan buyao ku) and Sammy Fain's 'By A Waterfall' to be 'Narcissus Girl' (水仙花小姐 Shuixianhua guniang).

It's a pity that I didn't find this out before the thesis was submitted, otherwise I could have added in my thesis one more section about how songwriters in 1930s Shanghai set Chinese lyrics to foreign tunes and claimed those pieces their own works in published songbooks.

Anyway, listen to a clip from 'A Little Family' in Chinese by a girl member, Zhang Jing (張靜), from Li Jinhui's dance-and-song troupe. It sounds cute. Readers who read Chinese may want to follow the lyrics below.


29 October 2008

The mysterious mi between black and white keys

I gave a lecture on music of the Arab world yesterday, during which I pointed up one of the most important its musical characteristics to my students — the neutral third, i.e., the musical interval between a minor third and a major third. It's roughly a quarter tone flat from 12 equal temperament major thirds.

As the above explanation sounds like technobabble, for the benefit of those students who have no knowledge of Western music theory, I usually describe the neutral third as
the interval, or simply distance, between do and the mysterious tone which is located between the black mi and the white mi.
I also prepare on the PowerPoint slide a wee diagram of the piano keyboard and three sound clips so that students can 'see' and 'hear' clearly what I refer to.


This clip plays do-re-mi-fa-sol with mi on the white key.

This clip plays do-re-mi-fa-sol with mi on the black key.

This clip plays do-re-mi-fa-sol with mi, something between black and white keys that can't be produced on the Western piano.

The interval between do on the white key and this mysterious mi is the so-called neutral third. In music of the Arab world, one can also hear another similar tone between the black si and the white si, and thus the scale below.


This clip plays do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si-do with the mysterious mi and si.

So, dear readers, do you recognise the sound characteristic of the neutral third?

13 October 2008

Happy anniversary, Francesca and David

Fanne and I had already left Scotland when Francesca and David were married in the Church of the Holy Rude in October last year. We were thus unable to attend the wedding and certainly missed her shining moment.

Although nowadays people can google a person whom they have lost touch with for a while through millions of web pages to find out the person's updates or whereabouts, unfortunately there appears to be no online wedding album of, nor weblog by, nor feature story on Francesca and David. I gathered no information about the couple's wedding in the cyber world.

I didn't contact her through email, either. Since the IT personnel of the University of Stirling had probably not only cut red tape but also eradicated it completely, they worked in such an efficient way that my campus email account was terminated immediately after the graduation, probably no later than one hour. Never been warned to back up all the mails and data stored in the university server by the graduation day, I lost all the mails Francesca sent me and therefore her email address.

Nevertheless, I might have been halfhearted and just didn't keep my mind on it, otherwise I could have retrieved Francesca's contact details through our mutual friends in Stirling. Luckily, I saw her on MSN Messenger a week or so ago and are now in contact. Fanne and I missed their big day, but we're in time to convey our hearty congratulatory message and post off a belated gift.

Since Francesca has been studying Chinese, in the end she will be able to decipher what these four-character idiomatic phrases mean, as well as the analogies therein.
For other readers of Principal Wei's Weblog, below is the paraphrased English translation.
String sound on the zithers in harmony;
reeds voice towards jade bars* with euphony.
Nuptial bliss outlast hundreds of years;
steadfast couple amass silver in hairs.
*As I cannot find any Western equivalent of the ancient Chinese musical instrument qing (磬 or 罄 interchangeably), a series of chime stones or jade bars with definite pitches suspended from above to be struck, I simply use jade bars. Perhaps jade chimes would look more elegant, but I love the word bar.

11 October 2008

Guards and students KO'd by heat

Currently in different countries as they are, it can be assured that, if meeting together after reading my previous post, Prof Ricardo Canzio, Dr Inez Templeton and Miss Margaret Hendry would first shake their heads, probably at the same frequency, and then offer their comment in unison
Wei (or Chih-Wei as Canzio usually addresses), don't exaggerate!
Well, I didn't. It was true. It's baking, piping, scorching and whatever-ing hot yesterday. It was so hot that four honour guards and three girl students fainted at the three-hour long ceremony (Read this news article from The China Post for more details).

Although it was reported that they might not have got heatstroke, I do believe it was the heat that floored them. I didn't exaggerate.

10 October 2008

Double-Ten in tropical ambience

Today is the national day of the Republic of China, the so-called Double-Ten Day, commemorating the uprising in Wuchang on 10 October 1911, which led to the collapse of the corrupted Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China.

As this Chinese Republic nowadays has only its sovereignty over Taiwan, the Pescadores (澎湖 Penghu), Kinmen (金門) and Matsu (馬祖), and the People's Republic of China has long been recognised by most countries in the world as the sole legitimate government of China, the double-ten celebration is no longer passionately observed by everyone across Taiwan, although we still have a day off today and official commemoration, fireworks and a range of events will be hold.

According to the Chinese lunisolar calendar, the autumnal equinox has already gone on 22 September and we've just passed the solar term hanlu (寒露, literally 'cold dew') on 8 October. It seems to be the time of year when falling leaves drift by the window and brisk winds knock on the door.

However, there isn't any cold dew. I can hardly feel any touch of autumn in the air, but instead the warm and relaxed tropical ambience. With its heat and brightness, the sun is still caressing the land, but, I'm afraid, not in a gentle way. It's 30 °C in Taipei at 2.00 p.m. While Inez is enjoying her favourite time of year in Berlin, most people in Taiwan are still having their dog days here.

Looking forward to the arrival of bleak winter and lukewarm about the national day of Republic of China as I am, I'm glad most tropical Homo sapiens in Taiwan will surely enjoy pyrotechnic displays on the warm land in the balmy zephyr at this double-ten night.

26 September 2008

Tango at lunch break

('Romance de Barrio' by Aníbal Troilo and his orchestra, singer: Floreal Ruiz)

I do not tango just as I do not dance at all. However, I listen to and sing tangos.

May and I attended Tango fever - Tango Argentina!!, a lunch concert organised by Taishin Bank Foundation for Arts and Culture (台新銀行文化藝術基金會), at Taishin Tower (台新金控大樓), the headquarters of Taishin Holdings (台新金控) in Taipei. The concert today was one of the regular Good Afternoon Music series.

The iTango Orchestra began with 'Por Una Cabeza' and finished up with 'La Cumparsita', probably the two essential pieces for any popular tango concert. The rest on the programme were:
  • four tangos: 'Derecho Viejo', 'Vida Mía', 'Danza Maligna', 'Libertango'
  • two milongas: 'La Luciérnaga', 'Corralera'
  • one vals: 'Romance de Barrio'
  • one tango canción, I guess, which I've never heard before: 'Claudinette'
Although it was a 'tango' concert, my favourite one today was 'Romance De Barrio', because it was the only vals they presented today. Somehow I believe I may have developed a liking for tango waltz although there are not many pieces of vlas in the whole tango repertoire.

The concert was a great success. All the seats were taken and if the floor hadn't been carpeted, some tango aficionados would have swayed around at the hall.

Perhaps one day I will ask Fanne to take tango lessons with me, because one day she would get bored with accompanying me on piano, and likewise I might be fed up with singing to her accompaniment all the time.

18 September 2008

Pornographic songs become national security intelligence

The state-run China Record Shanghai Co (中國唱片上海公司) has recently released Shanghai Oldies, 1931-1949 (上海老歌, 1931-1949), an extravagant set of 20 CDs.

(I don't like the official English title Pop Songs between 1930 and 1940s in Shanghai, because it looks clumsy and awkward. I wonder whose idea it is to have this awful title, as awful as the company's official English title China Record Shanghai Co.)

With May and her colleague's kindly help, I got a set and had it shipped from Beijing two weeks ago.

So what are Shanghai oldies?

Beginning in the early 1930s, Western musicians and Chinese songwriters and singers from different cultures and varied backgrounds came together to create the kind of music style that was later to be known as Shanghai popular song.

The first popular song 'Drizzle' (毛毛雨 Maomaoyu), written by Li Jinhui (黎錦暉) in 1927, was just a tune based on simple folk style melodies with four verses of words in vulgar expression of love and accompanied by a band using Western instruments.

However, in the ensuing two decades, diverse musical and lyrical elements were integrated into Shanghai popular songs and made them sophisticated in respects of elaborated lines and more materials in melodies, well-structured verses and exquisite words in lyrics, and enriched sounds and varied rhythms in instrumentation.

The close cooperation among those different groups of people and the vast and brilliant production they left behind suggest the beginnings of Chinese popular music in modern times. The elegant lyrics and charming melodies still today elicit gasps of admiration and praise.

Regrettably, after the advent of the Chinese Communist regime, those songs were gradually banned and inexorably denounced as decadent, pornographic music.

Then they suddenly became something to do with national security in 2008. The CDs I bought were returned to May's colleague because they didn't pass security check – they were deemed to be national security intelligence. Fortunately, another colleague is coming back to Taiwan by the end of September and will bring them back.

I suppose because the songs are so decadent and pornographic that they must not be revealed outside the country.

07 September 2008

Supporting another live performance

It's almost the end of summer and the harvest moon is about to greet us in one week's time, although the scorching summer sun is still charring Taipei Basin. Following the star-chasing and film-besotted experience in the summer, I went to a concert last Sunday to support one of my favourite Mandarin singer, this time with my mum.

Certainly it was not a rock show nor a pop gig, but rather a oldie concert. To celebrate her seventieth birthday, Meidai (美黛) presented an evening of no-frills performance and Mandarin pop nostalgia.

Septuagenarian as she was, auntie Meidai crooned and trilled almost uninterruptedly for two hours, taking only a two-song break to change when the only guest Jinpeng (金澎, find his short biography here, only in Chinese) reinterpretted two of Meidai's signature pieces.

Meidai launched her recording career in 1963 with the release of Unforgettable (意難忘 Yinanwang). It was the hit 'Unforgettable' in the album made her name among Taiwanese people. This album sold remarkably over one 1,000,000 copies in Taiwan when the island had a population of only 7,000,000.

Before Meidai's 'Unforgettable', apart from Chinese immigrants who moved to Taiwan after 1949, very few local Taiwanese showed interest in Mandarin songs. It was 'Unforgettable' that brought together the two audiences.

'Unforgettable' was originally a Japanese song, 'Tokyo Serenade' (東京セレナーデ), released in 1950 by Yamaguchi Yoshiko (山口淑子, better known as Li Xianglan 李香蘭 among Chinese people). Listen to the original Japanese version below and see which you prefer.

(historical recording from this blog)

03 September 2008

First-time fan

I don't think I've ever been a serious admirer of any celebrity or a zealous supporter of any film, fiction or so. However, for some unknown reason, this summer I became a fan.

On 12th August, thanks to Davide, I had the opportunity of attending the 10th-death-anniversary concert in memory of the late lyricist Yap Chun-Lin (葉俊麟), who reportedly wrote thousands of Taiwanese pop songs.

For the first time in my life, I dashed to the backstage to ask for autographs after the concert, just like a teen groupie. Most of the performers at the concert were not sexy young idols, but rather senior signers who had been active a couple of decades ago. Despite their elderliness and my maturity, I talked to them like a teenager standing in front of superstars, timidly, tremblingly and stutteringly.

Encouraged by Davide, together with Lucy, a research assistant who shares the office with me at NTU, I finally got photographs of Ki Lo-Ha (紀露霞), Chhoa Yit-Hong (蔡一紅) and Koeh Kim-Hoat (郭金發).

I thought this would be the first and only celebrity worship experience, because although I have a soft spot for Japanese nymphs such as Morning Musume (môningu musum モーニング娘) and AKB48, as well as Taiwanese babes from a TV show on Channel [V] Taiwan, Blackies (wo ai heisehui 我愛黑澀會), I'm not so obsessed as to snap up all their albums, follow all their concert tours or engage in all sorts of events.

Quite the contrary, in some way, it seems to be the beginning.

Next to chasing stars for autographs, I switched to supporting the domestic smash Cape No. 7, again, like a young groupie, by visiting its official website everyday, taking part in Internet forums and reading personal blogs of the leading actors and actress.

As there will be no commercial release of the original sound track and limited not-for-sale CDs are only given away with tickets booked online, those who want to listen again to screen songs, voice-over monologues and music have to scramble to place orders on the exclusive booking agent's website during a specific period of time before the advance tickets and complementary CDs sell out.

I wouldn't be bothered to pay so much attention to a film a week ago. Even though I have watched The Godfather Trilogy and Casablanca for countless times, I've never bought, except for DVDs, any posters and collectible items, study painstakingly the plots and fun stuff such as trivia, goofs and quotes, or set associated wallpaper images and screensavers on my laptop.

However, I bided my time over the whole of Monday afternoon until at 5.00 pm sharp, the moment the online sale for this particular date started on books.com.tw (博客來). I secured a set of two tickets and CDs—tickets for Fanne and myself to watch the film again, one CD for May in return for her kind invitation and the other for myself to be my first cinema collectible.

The complementary CD may be open to offers on popular auction sites, or perhaps it is so popular that a record company will be interested in a commercial release, but these possibilities simply cannot compete with the great pleasure I found in supporting a film like a real fan.

29 August 2008

Cape No. 7

Following the promotion announcement, May invited me to the cinema. Cape No. 7, having premiered at the opening night of the Taipei Film Festival on 20th June, is now showing in cinemas.

Although perhaps it is a saccharine melodrama featuring some stereotypical characters from a rural town, interspersed with voice-over scenes delivering another parallel but loose-fitting romance, I'm touched. At several points, I was on the verge of tears. But I was reluctant to show my feelings and thus tears were sucked back.

Cape No. 7 is a domestic feature film I highly recommend.

(Spoiler! Avoid reading the part below if you are concerned that the early revelation of the plot would spoil the enjoyment of the dramatic tension or suspense or whatever elements which undergird the whole film. Sorry, I don't know the HTML to hide them.)

A pickup band is formed under the willpower of the town council chair, who insists that permission would not be granted to hold a Japanese superstar's beach concert unless a local group is cast as the opening act. Assigned as the coordinator of the concert, a Japanese model watches closely to make sure the faltering band will be working.

On his repatriation voyage back to Japan after the war, a Japanese secondary school teacher wrote seven letters to the girl student whom he promised to take to Japan but abandoned. These letters were not sent until he died.

What connects this two stories is the lead singer of the band, who works as a temporary postman in the town. As the Japanese teacher's daughter sends these letters to an old address, Cape No. 7, which is no longer in use, they can be delivered nowhere and are thus meant to be returned.

However, this angst, rage-ridden lead singer actually piles up all the post he should have delivered at his attic. Reading and realising the significance of these letter (after a one-night-stand with the lead singer, as it were), the Japanese model urges him to deliver them at any rate.

Of course, the film finishes with a happy ending: the opening performance by the local band is a big success and the letters are finally delivered to the now-grannie girl.

26 August 2008

Making fire with business cards
  —to get promoted

It's absolutely beyond belief, paranormal and supernatural.

May and I managed to deliver the paper gift yesterday after successfully making a wee camp fire with all of her business cards in the wallet. It was an omen, but we couldn't tell if by clairvoynce.

May was told this morning that she is going to be promoted. She will have new cards printed with her new title and occupation, so for sure old cards are no longer needed.

Perhaps having difficulties in finding a temple with a burner was not a sign, but rather, burning business cards was a mojo. It may conclude that
Facing career stagnation?
Make a fire with your business cards and get promoted.

25 August 2008

Making fire with business cards

ahsesMy best friend May and I used to do crazy things together when we were undergrads more than a decade ago. For example, we would walk on the elevated road and then the bridge for motor vehicles to cross a river at 2.00 in the morning.

Today, an unexpected short religious ritual held during the lunch break reminded me of mad old days. May bought a 'paper gift' and we managed to deliver it by reducing it to ashes, i.e., burning it.

In Chinese folk beliefs, the dead, whether ascending to Heaven or suffering in Hell, still need daily necessities, luxury items, all sorts of consumer goods and, above all, money. While on few occasions people would immolate real stuff (yes, they even burn apple notebooks or flat TVs), most of the time paper crafts are used instead. Thus, it is popular to burn a paper model car, miniature paper house, paper TV or so for a deceased family member, as well as 'paper money' (precisely 'joss paper', not real banknotes), in the funeral and other subsequent remembrance rituals.

However, because of growing environmental and global-warming concerns, people are discouraged from burning such paper items nowadays. It is not uncommon to see a burner outside a temple sealed and made redundant. It is particularly true in Taipei.

Normally, a paper item would be made of bamboo splints and tissue paper, but what May bought is made of quality cardboard and coated paper by SKEA, a studio which makes literally any stuff with paper (visit the website and check out their fab produtcs), as long as you provide a photo.

As May and I couldn't find a temple with a burner, after the second attempt in Cihui Tang (慈惠堂), we followed a trail from the back of this temple into a hill, Tiger Mountain, neighbouring Elephant Mountain where Fanne and I heard cicadas singing.

Without a burner, which would provide enough heat to burn down the tough cardboard, we built a super tiny fire with May's business cards as 'fuel'. It took a while because the cardboard was so heavy-duty, industrial-strength. At one point I doubted whether this paper gift was meant to burn or made to last. Fortunately, it turned into ashes before all of May's cards were used up.

(See, while the gift has burnt to ashes, a corner of her business card bearing her name is still there.)

On the one hand, I believe, SKEA should be proud of their well-crafted products, but on the other, they should also worry about those who can't find a proper burner.

20 August 2008

Ok, I need a card

I wonder why I would need a card bearing my name, occupation and contact information when I'm just nobody at the moment in this academic world. However, it's probably a good idea to have a calling card or visiting card or business card, whatever it is called.

A team member of a music database project which I'm currently conducting, Davide, who is a gramophone record collector and specialist, has a degree in graphic design. While designing a business card for another team member, Carla, who also works part-time as a Japanese translator and private music tutor, Davide kindly offered to do one for me, because both he and Carla suggested I should have my own card as well.

I told Davide that simplicity was the first requirement, and the second was the inclusion of a broccoli on the card instead of the title, position and university emblem. I don't think those are important to me, as a part-time faculty member, at present.

If, as a courtesy to others who give me their cards, handing out a card is essential, now I have one at hand with relevant contact details. If, in order to help people to remember me, the title and logo are meant to impress others, I have a broccoli in the upper-right corner and am ready all the time to tell them about the broccoli quadrilogy and my doctoral study in Scotland, or to ask them to visit my weblog and listen to my composition Broccoli's Sorrow. If people are interested in my research, or simply my personality, and would like to keep in contact with me, they will, otherwise the card doesn't mean anything to them.

Hope the new business card with the immortal, ubiquitous broccoli in the corner will bring me more luck and strength in the coming new semester.

17 August 2008

Pianissimo Pêche Menthol One

(What would you think it is should I haven't told you it's a carton of ciggies?)

I stopped smoking on Chinese New Year when the last cigarette was burnt out, because I couldn't be bothered to buy more in the wee small hours of the morning. I was tired of have any more puff and just stopped. However, as I have said stop for now ≠ quit for good. I started again last Monday because I received from May a carton of my favourite Pianissimo Pêche Menthol One.

Acclaimed as a successful 'D-spec' (less-smoke-smell) product, the 1-miligram-tar and menthol Pianissimo Pêche Menthol One was originally developed for the Japanese domestic market, with an odour-reducing technology, by Japan Tobcco Inc., the third largest international manufacturer of tobacco products in the world. It was first launched in July 2005 in the test market, Miyagi (宮城) and Yamagata (山形) prefectures, and then introduced nationwide in October 2005.

I came to know Pianissimo Pêche Menthol One through a Japanese rock band Alice Nine (アリス九號). It's the favourite brand of the band's bassist Saga (沙我). I'm not particularly interested in Japanese 'Visual Kei' (ヴィジュアル系) groups, but somehow I discovered Alice Nine by chance.

Alice Nine
(Saga, the extreme right, image from Alice Nine's Chinese official website)

Pianissimo Pêche Menthol One is not available in Taiwan, although other products of Japan Tobacco such as Mild Seven, Salem and Camel, have been on sale for ages here. Hence, I have to ask people to ship in for me.

Receiving my request through the international text sent to her mobile, Fanne bought me a carton of 200 cigarettes last year in the duty-free shop in Hong Kong Airport last summer. This summer I was given another carton, the special summer edition.

Apart from the pretty exterior carton, the packs inside come in three different designs featuring various items such as sunflowers, a straw hat, a glass of cocktail, sun chaises and fireworks. They really look like perfume cartons.

Thanks, May. They are so cute!

front (front view of packs)

back (back view of packs)

PS Smoking kills.

15 August 2008

Tibetan milk tea

It appears that, to most of my friends and family, I have a peculiar taste in drink. Therefore, whatever product I fall in love with is doomed to be discontinued.

More than a decade ago when I was still an undergrad, the long-established food manufacturer I-Mei (義美) launched a new product, Tibetan Milk Tea. Trying it in the campus shop, I was immediately captured by its strong ultra-rich creamy taste and would sacrifice a tin of Taiwan beer in return for a carton of Tibetan milk tea.

However, neither Fanne nor other university classmates shared the same view with me. Whatever taste preferences they had, 'yuck!' was the same response after they politely accept my invitation.

Unfortunately, to me, but probably fortunately to I-Mei's long-term profitability, this marvellous drink was soon abandoned and no similar product has been introduced in the Taiwanese market ever since.

tib milk teaLast year, the courageous T. Grand International, the manufacturer of the well known Assam Milk Tea (阿薩姆奶茶), was brave enough to reintroduce Tibetan Milk Tea, together with the brand new Prague Milk Tea, to Taiwanese consumers. Somehow, I just couldn't find it in any convenience store, supermarket or corner shop.

Over the past seven months or so, I have been looking for the revived milk tea, but to no avail. I even doubted whether any distributors would ever help to promote this product should I-Mei's flop was still remembered. Finally, last week I found it in Pxmart (全聯福利中心), 'the nation's biggest hard discounter', as Taipei Times commented.

I have been yearning day and night for this perished milk tea for so many years, and thus was absolutely blissed out upon seeing it with its charming package featuring the spectacle Potala Palace. Sadly, however, having a sip, it was my turn to say 'yuck'.

To my disappointment, this is not Tibetan and is definitely going to be discontinued.

PS I don't think I have any interest in trying Prague Milk Tea. Give me a break.

14 August 2008

Giving up military for music

Requested by Chin-Shuan Cultural & Educational Foundation (勤宣文教基金會) to write an introductory article for the programme of a forthcoming concert it is organising, I spent some time studying the background information about bands and musicians. I then came to know that all the three members of the Costa Rican music group Editus were conservatoire-trained and had once been affiliated with the National Symphonic Orchestra of Costa Rica.

In order to seek more details of Costa Rica’s Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional, I visited its website and consulted online references such as Britannica or CIA Word Factbook. I was so surprised when discovering that Costa Rica had constitutionally abolished its army in 1949 and part of the military budget was then re-allocated to support the orchestra.

Utmost awesomeness.

07 August 2008

Irish Cream for the Seventh Night

irish creamcard
It was the 'Seventh Night' (七夕 qixi, the Chinese version of St. Valentine's Day) again, the day when the cowherd boy and the weaver girl are reunited once every year.

Whereas earlier this year on the real St. Valentine's Day, Fanne found on her dressing table a pack of Italian Slitti Gran Cacao 73%, two days ago on the Chinese version she discovered a bottle of Carolans Irish Cream and a card.

I used to be a bit reserved but now appear to have a penchant for making arrangements for special occasions. Marrying a woman who had been waiting for me four years in the historic Church of the Holy Rude, where James VI was crowned King of Scotland, obviously has certain impacts on me.

Last week, upon seeing a drinking scene in a film on TV, Fanne was reminded of the days when we stayed in a flat in Murray Place, Stirling. Although most of the time we preferred having a pint of ale or a wee dram of Scotch in the local, sometimes we would pick up a bottle of Baileys from the off-licence downstairs and enjoy ourselves in the flat against the high-pitched, nasal sounds of Shanghai oldies.

She had been fancying a shot of Baileys. I just knew it, and was thus determined to prepare a seventh-night surprise for her

Somehow, Baileys, the commercial Irish whiskey and cream based liqueur, sold out, if now everywhere in Taipei, at least in the street where I live. I had no alternative but switched to an unfamiliar brand, Carolans.

It's indeed 'A Many Splendid Thing' to see her gazing at the bottle of Irish Cream and the card featuring a broccoli, the token of our troth. (The two brussels sprouts just happened to be there. I couldn't find a card that had only broccoli.)

I truly hope that in the near future we can go back to Scotland and take a shot of Baileys while having a bowl of crunchy and sweet broccoli.

19 July 2008

Regarding reader's submission

As requested, Yung-Yao contributed a post to my weblog after his trip to my sister Li-Wen's e-Tea House. He mailed me this 'essay' on 15th July, but as it took us a few days to proofread and copyedit the manuscript, it only went online yesterday.

Yung-Yao and I enjoy debating on any paradoxical, controversial issues all the time, which we believe helpful to establish stronger logic skills, enhance critical thinking and prevent Alzheimer's. However, sometimes we may make a mountain out of a mole hill and overplay our academic parts. The previous blog post may serve as a good example.

Rather than preparing on my own a post about his recalled 'pearl tea' experience with the photos he sent me, I suggested that he draft something in the fashion a correspondent contributes reports to a newspaper from a remote location, and I post it in my capacity as the owner/editor of the weblog.

It obviously worked quite well. We had much fun in reading and revising the manuscript as if we had been working on a non-peer-reviewed but intensive-editing-required essay.

Maybe I should urge some of my loyal readers, particular those whose mother tongue is not English, to contribute their views towards my life or short pieces about their own. As an academic experienced in marking students' reports/essays, as Yung-Yao describes, I shall do my best to offer them comments on language and writing style in return.

18 July 2008

Reader's submission:
A discovery trip to e-Tea House, New York
by Dr Yung-Yao Lin

(Yung-Yao and Li-Wen at e-Tea House)

Readers of Principal Wei's Weblog may or may not know that Wei has a sister, who lives in New York, USA. After finishing her high school and college, she worked in a bank for two years. One might think that it is a good job for a girl, stable and good paid. Being the only sister of Wei, Li-Wen, however, has a greater dream – opening and branding a new teahouse in downtown Manhattan. Since I was staying in New York for a couple of weeks, I decided to visit her teahouse. Not until then did I realise that she started having this dream while she was studying in the college. During that time, she took a part-time job to work in a teahouse and support her expenses.

Within the years of her part-time employment in a teahouse, Li-Wen developed a business plan and would like to make it come true. She thought of the name of her teahouse, designed the interior decoration and even registered a domain name in order to advertise her teahouse on the Internet. Eventually, she gained support from her aunt and uncle to make sufficient start-up fund. She then quit her job and found a good location near the influential Wall Street.

On July 4th, I went to Li-Wen’s teahouse with my university classmate, Ho-Yi, who is working as an architect in New York. The address is 29 John Street, not far from the Fulton subway station. As Wei didn't disclose the secret of my visit, Li-Wen was very surprised to see me. The last time we met was on Principal and Fanne's wedding in Scotland about a year ago. I was the best man and she was bridesmaid. Li-Wen greeted us excitedly and introduced us all products of her teahouse. I ordered my all-time favourite: Pearl Milk Tea. I forgot what Ho-Yi ordered though.

After leaving Taiwan for so many years, my hope for drinking authentic Pearl Milk Tea in London China Town has gradually died down. I concluded that any characteristic food or drink once leaves its motherland will never be the same. I have to say, however, I might be wrong. After sipping Li-Wen's Pearl Milk tea, my taste buds were able to recall my memory of happiness. Nicely blended milk and tea, ice-cold, combined with 'pearls', which are dark and partly transparent jelly-like tapioca balls. Having these chewy 'pearls' in the mouth is a wonderfully pleasant sensation that goes so well with milk tea. Li-Wen offered us some rice crackers, not home made, yet very nice, too. We happily chatted and joked. She also told us bits and bobs about her less-than-two-month-old teahouse.

When was last time talking and joking happily with my friends and each of us had a cup of Pearl Milk Tea? Towards finishing my drink, I tasted a hint of nostalgia.

At this point, I believe many readers will have agreed with me – the brother and sister of the Chens are the same type. They are not afraid of making dreams because they share the same revolutionary elements in their blood. To congratulate them for having made big steps, I sincerely wish them all the best on their own paths.

(Ho-Yi, classmate from Botany NTU, Class of 98, and, in her own words, a single girl seeking romance.)

Editor's note: Dr Yung-Yao Lin is currently a postdoctoral fellow in a research institute in Cambridge, UK. He is a long-term and passionate reader of Principal Wei's Weblog. He has appeared several times in many articles on Wei's blog. Since he has not a bolg of his own, he has decided to become a freelancer and contribute to Principal Wei's Weblog whenever appropriate.

05 July 2008

Cicadas revisited

We went hiking at Elephant Mountain again and managed to record this lo-fi video clip in the rain. How wonderful it was to meet these cicadas two weeks later, although they were probably not those which we had encountered. The latter may have well breathed their last as adult cicadas have a rather short life span.

We had a light rain shower on our way up the hill and thus the video looks dark and dingy. In addition, as I'm not a cameraman from the National Geographic or the Discovery Channel, apart from the insect buzz and the soft pitter-patter of the rain, there is certainly no cicada in the video.

Luckily the shower stopped before sunset, so we could watch, with a scattering of lights gleaming through the haze, the sun sinking down behind the ridge.


23 June 2008

First wedding anniversary


Time flies at twice the speed of my life; suddenly it's our first wedding anniversary. Whereas two days ago on the summer solstice, which by chance fell on a Saturday this year, we went for a hike and surprisingly retrieved the long-lost cicada song, what are we supposed to do on this supposedly special occasion, which unluckily comes about on the first working day of the week?

I gave Fanne a card, a coffee spoon made of Slitti's extra-bitter chocolate, with which she can stir sugar and milk in her coffee while it dissolves, and some Arabica coffee beans coated with Slitti's pure, extra-dark chocolate. She invited me a meal at an Italian-style restaurant, Pasta West East.

So it was our paper anniversary.

(close look at Slitti's chocolate spoon and coffee beans coated with chocolate, images from Lucullian Delights, the author of which obviously happens to share with me the same taste in cioccolato)

22 June 2008

Cicadas alive and singing

(image from this blog. Visit to see more.)

I just cannot remember the last time I heard cicadas singing in urban areas in Taiwan. In Keelung, the harbour town where I was born and brought up, cicadas used to strike up their reverberating chorus, celebrating the arrival of summer. In Taichung, the sun-drenched city where I spent three years in senior high school, their thunderous songs helped me stay awake in numerous soporific classes when days became longer. However, in Taipei, the capital where I live now, they seem to disappear in summer.

I once thought cicadas were all killed and extinct in Taipei. But fortunately, they are actually all alive and singing, though not in the city centre.

Fanne and I went hiking at Elephant Mountain (象山 Xiangshan, not a mountain indeed, just a 183-metre-high hill) yesterday afternoon. Surprisingly, virtually just a stone's throw away from Taiepi 101, the so-far-tallest building in the world, we heard an exciting hubbub of cicada singing, the nostalgic noise which once resounded countless summer days and nights in my childhood and adolescent years.

It was absolutely stunning. These tiny critters, with their amazing acoustic talents, worked together to form a sound backdrop which would require hundreds of buzz saws and Egyptian mizmars operating simultaneously to produce in a studio.

Ear-piercing as cicada song was, in the hill we went on basking in the unforgettable sound of summer.

Hence, it turns out that in Taipei, the capital where I live now, cicadas are still chorusing in the hills in summertime, looking towards the city centre.

16 June 2008

BBQ and the qilaut frame drum

water bamboo
water bamboo drum
(images courtesy of Maolun)

I went to a BBQ gathering organised by Botany NTU, Class of 1998. Although I am actually a member of the class of 1997, and thus was once their 'male senior schoolmate' (學長 xuezhang), a Taiwanese expression which may sound awkward and verbose in English, I am quite acquainted to some of them and would sometimes join the gang.

At one point, after roasting some succulent water bamboo stems (茭白筍 jiaobai sun, not really bamboo but a species of wild rice) for a while, in response to a conjuring sound suddenly pounding in my head, I started beating a paper plate with a water bamboo stem like an Inuit from Far North striking a frame drum.

Apart from my far-fetched association of food and a plate with an instrument, what is really worth noting is that different from the Uzbek doira, which is played with both hands almost on every bit of the drum, the Inuit qilaut is only beaten from the back by one stick on its frame instead of the skin.

Have a look at this picture to see how an Inuit drum dancer plays her instrument and you'll probably appreciate the whole scenario.

Inuit drum
(image from Nick Russill's album of Greenland Faces)

It appears that teaching World Music has already had certain impact on my life.

10 June 2008

Sa Dingding: Overstated or false publicity?

The winning artists of BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music 2008 have been announced at a ceremony in London on the 10th of April. The winner of the Aisa/Pacific category was Sa Dingding (薩頂頂), a female artist of Chinese nationality, born in Inner Mongolia to a Mongolian mother and a Chinese father. It was her major label international debut album Alive, release by Universal Music in 2007, that won her the trophy.

I definitely have no doubt of her musicality, vocal techniques, creativity, image and so on, nor do I have the slightest interest in discussions about the controversy over her appropriation of Tibetan music or over issues such as 'ethnicity', 'authenticity' or whatever pedantic criticism that might be raised when dealing with 'world music'. Quite the other way around, I just wallow in the rich fabric of sounds of her impressive voice and all the electric tones.

However, firstly, I don't think the obviously ancient Sanskrit lyrics were written by herself, and secondly, I am sceptical about her knowledge of Sanskrit and wonder how and to what level she has studied Sanskrit.

On the BBC website, it goes:
Her recordings make full use of impressive linguistic abilities, featuring lyrics she has written in Mandarin, Sanskrit, Tibetan and the near-extinct Lagu language, as well as an imaginary self-created language which she says is generated from the emotions evoked by the music. (emphasis mine)
The lyrics of 'Alive (Mantra)', one song from the winning album, are said to be the Sanskrit Vajrasattva Mantra (follow the link for more details of this mantra). It is the chanting in this track that raises my suspicion.

Upon hearing this piece one day over the Internet, I was aware that what she intoned was actually the transliterated version of Vajrasattva Mantra in Tibetan, but not the original Sanskrit text. Even worse is her mispronunciation of some Tibetan words, which is a result of reading the modified Tibetan version through the transliteration of Tibetan into Chinese characters.

Vajrasattva Mantra is well known among many Chinese-speaking Buddhists, who practice Tibetan Buddhism but don't actually read Tibetan texts. Therefore, a text composed of Chinese characters roughly corresponding Tibetan pronunciation has long been prepared and there are a range of CDs of either pure recitation or melodised chanting against new-age-style back ground music available for them. It is not difficult to tell that Sa Dingding's Vajrasattva Mantra is Tibetan, and indeed mispronounced, rather than Sanskrit when comparing her recitation with the Sanskrit text and the Tibetan transliteration (follow the links and scroll down).

Moreover, I noticed later that 'Alive (Mantra)' is not the only case in the album. 'Tuo Luo Ni', another piece based on the Sanskrit Karandamudra Dharani Sutra (again follow the link and scroll down), is actually the Chinese-transliterated text as well.

I am absolutely not against her adaptation of the Chinese-transliterated in her musical work. The point is that if it is the Tibetan mantra, then it is Tibetan, not Sanskrit; if it is Chinese transliteration, then it is not the so claimed Sanskrit. It is simply wrong, particularly when introducing something from a distant culture into the global mass market, to mislead the audience.

If she had studied Sanskrit, as she claims or as reported in the media, she would have sung the mantra in proper Sanskrit. She probably not dare to explain in the liner notes or when interviewed that the sounds of Sanskrit mantra or sutra are all Chinese, but I suppose that certain department or production team from Universal Music should have made some research before launching the album.

It's a pity. I enjoyed the music per se but I despise overstatement or false publicity, and besides, I feel sorry for the person who was misled to prepare those words on the BBC website.

05 June 2008

Long time no see, Katoh-san

In the virtual world on the Internet we not only encounter new challenges but also retrieve old memories. Pretty much like a small piece of paper which may lead a genealogist to unfold more about a particular historic figure's life accounts, an entry on a weblog, on a search engine results page or on a list of whatever stuff from the Internet may direct us through umpteen web sites to locate a person who was once quite active in our life but whom somehow we lost contact with.

Katoh Masahiro (加藤昌弘), a colleague from Stirling Media Research Institute, whom I called Katoh-san (Mr Katoh in Japanese), found my article about old Shanghi pop on the online database of the Cambridge University Press. The serendipitous finding, with the help of Google's unrivalled searching capacity, showed him the way to my weblog.

It's amazing. Katoh-san not only left a comment on my blog but also wrote a post dedicated to me on his.

Prost! To the Internet and to Google.

18 May 2008

Doira frame drum

(I don't think I'm ready to present a demo, so forget about this silly still image and click the small viewer below for a video clip of a virtuosic performance led by a Uzbek doira artist Abbos Kosimov.)

While reading avidly more literature on Central Asian music and listening to all the recordings available in the NTU Library, apart from dreaming of flying to Samarkand, I am also thinking about obtaining one or two pieces of musical instruments.

Although what I really want is a dutar (long-necked two-stringed lute), considering not only the presumably high price of the instrument itself but also the ridiculously exorbitant shipping fees which would be charged by sellers on eBay, Yahoo Shopping or whatever online auction site, I turn to something lighter, smaller and easier to deliver and, above all, affordable, such as a doira (uzbek frame drum with metal jangles attached to the wooden rim ) or a timur komuz (Kyrgyz Jew's harp).

Very luckily, yesterday I found the doira at Silk Road Bazaar, a special outdoor event of Taipei Traditional Arts Festival. Without hesitation, just like a young boy captivated by a fancy toy, I called Fanne, who was trying to get some chilled bottled water at a convenience store nearby, to come and pay for me.

It's quite a good deal in Taipei to pay NTD 650 (roughly just over USD 21) for a medium-sized hand-made doira, made of genuine wooden rim and calfskin, in comparison to whatever amount for a similar item plus USD 60 for postage. And above all, I've got a new instrument to practice and play with.

doira setDoira set
(Doira, four different sizes, images from the website of Abbos Kosimov)

11 May 2008

NTD 200: not enough to fly to Central Asia

(Three madrasahs, medieval Moslem clergy academies, at Registan Square, Samarkand, image from Wikipedia)

Musical cultures in Central Asia was just a topic in the course I offered at two universities, but after delivering the lectures I found myself so profoundly in love with both classical and folk music in this region that I just kept listening to all the recordings over and over again and reading even more books about the region's history and recent developments.

What captivates me is the coexistence of the court-derived classical repertoire featuring maqam-based music in the Persianate Muslim realm and the folk tradition of epic-singing and instrumental narratives in the Turko-Mongol nomadic realm. I have been absorbed by the raspy, guttural voices depicting the foregone heroic world in the steppes, as well as by the luxuriant ornamentation and emotional tension along the gradually ascending melodic lines in classical instrumental pieces or Sufi-inspired art songs.

The more I read and listen, the more eager I am to fly to Central Asia, either to Almaty, the biggest city in Kazakhstan, or to Tashkent, Sarmarkand or Bukhara, three important ancient cities in Uzbekistan. However, Fanne commented that she would not stop me from building my Kazakh or Uzbek castle in the air.

Last weekend, shocked at seeing me top up only NTD 100 (roughly just over USD 3) to my Easycard because I didn't have any more banknotes in my wallet, she offered to 'donate' 1,000 to ease my financial problems. I politely turned her down but finally accepted 200.

According to World Bank, Uzbekistan's GNI per capita PPP (gross national income taken into consideration purchasing power of currencies and real price levels between countries) in 2006 is USD 2,190 and Kazakhstan's USD 8,700, both far below Taiwan's USD 30, 084. It seems that staying in Central Asia wouldn't cost a lot, but undoubtedly it requires much much more than NTD 200 to fly there.

I'll keep laying bricks and blocks on my Central Asian castle.

05 May 2008

Celebrate not May Day but marriage

(Honeymoon last year in Pitlochry, Scotland)

While some friends in Europe celebrate May Day, either as the mark of the real end of winter or as a traditional holiday rooted in pre-Christian pagan cultures, on the 1st of May, we observe Labour Day or International Workers' Day on the same day in Taiwan.

Strictly speaking, we don't really 'celebrate' through gatherings or engaging ourselves in lively and noisy festivities, but rather just have a day off. Moreover, only labours, including managers and high-level employees who are salary earners but excluding teachers, doctors, civil servants and those who are obviously not considered 'workers', get a paid day off. As there has not been any noticeable labour protest or organised campaign recently, labours in Taiwan, at least in my view, don't really feel up to doing anything on this occasion.

It wouldn't have been surprising at all if I had ignored the 1st of May this year, because firstly I teach at the moment as a part-time assistant professor at two universities and thus 'day off' or 'day on' doesn't really mean anything to me, and secondly teachers are not even entitled to a day off on this day. However, strangely, my wife Fanne, a mid-level product/marketing manager, a salary-earning worker, didn't realise she was about to have a day off until the end of the day on the 30th April.

In Taiwan, some employees would receive small cash rewards paid along with their monthly salary, gifts or vouchers, depending on what industry they work in, but others nothing at all. As usual, this year Fanne received some nutrition supplements, a case of long life milk and some food, all her company's products. Apart from this, but as usual as well, she was offered 10% pay rise.

If my memory serves me, I think she is given at least 10% pay rise per year. Well, I have no comment as long as she is not against contributing economically more to our marriage. But I do feel proud that I went to Scotland with a fiancée who would wait and came back in Taiwan with a wife who would support.

Pedro asked if we celebrated May Day, and I replied we didn't. But indeed, we celebrate our marriage.

24 April 2008

Wireless internet browsing killed Sibelius

I don't think I'm IT savvy all the time, but most of the time I know how to negotiate, on the slippery surface of my Apple laptop, a curved path to redemption when ensnared in any system or application trouble.

Based on my experience, once you start improving something or an upgrade process on your computer, you have to be prepared for much more than improvements and upgrades.

My old PowerBook Titanium has been with me since summer 2002 and throughout the course of PhD study. My doctoral thesis was completed on this laptop. With strong camaraderie and my wholehearted appreciation, particularly after it recovered from the champagne incident, I keep working on it, in tandem with the new MacBook Pro, using it when giving lectures.

(Sadly, I have no alternative but to submit myself to the omnipresent PowerPoint. Nowadays those who don't use it when giving presentations seem to be powerless and, even worse, pointless.)

Two weeks ago, I bought a new battery and added a piece of 512M SDRAM for the old laptop, because I wanted to instal Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac, a birthday gift from May, one of my best friends and a channel manager in MSN Taiwan. There came a string of unexpected hard work.

Firstly, there must have been a manufacturing defect in the battery because it couldn't be charged to its full capacity only two weeks later after purchase. Then, after taking it back to the seller for inspection, I found, mysteriously, something went wrong on the new MacBook Pro: The MacOS X MIDI system failed so much so that Sibelius could play any score properly. Well, why did this happen at this particular moment? Why didn't the system conk out three weeks ago? Why wouldn't it go kaput next month?

There seemed to be a program-incompatiblity issue, I guess, triggered by the enigmatic power of the battery. Therefore, while waiting for the battery seller's report, I started a long journey
erase the hard drive
instal one application
run Sibelius to see how it works with the MIDI system
instal a second application
run Sibelius to see how it works with the MIDI system
instal a third application
run Sibelius to see how it works with the MIDI system (I have no idea how many applications there are installed on the MacBook Pro)
... till the dawn
Finally, I found the bane...

It's the software update of AirPort, Apple Computer's implementation of the 802.11a/b/g/n wireless protocols. With the updated software, when accessing the Internet through the wireless network, the two-way signal transmission between the router and the laptop would interfere with the operation of the built-in MIDI device.

Surely, there are no regrets in life. If I had known the cause, I could just have shut down the wireless device when running Sibelius rather than conducted the stupid series of instal-uninstal-instal-uninstallation, which have taken me a couple of days.

04 April 2008

Flying penguins on April Fool's Day

I don't think April Fool's Day would be an official holiday in any country but it's indeed celebrated in many by making practical jokes on colleagues, friends, family members or, on a larger scale, all the people in the country.

However, it appears to me that although we see petty jests in Taiwan, Taiwanese people are far less enthusiastic about April Fool's Day pranks than Westerners. Having spent nearly five years in Britain, I found that British institutions, particularly big companies, are quite willing to blow their money on April Fool's advertisements.

For example, each year BMW produces an April Fool's Day advert in the broadsheet press, such as The Times and The Telegraph, to provide their customers, of course as well as the broad readership of these newspapers, with good laughter. The car manufacture proudly takes this as a tradition primarily aimed at BMW drivers as a once-a-year opportunity for them to drop their guard and have a laugh at themselves. Visit BMW Education website in the UK to see some April Fool's ads.

Although I've moved back in Taipei last summer, I'm still watching and reading about what the Briton's are doing. What really captivates me this year is a spoof footage of flying penguins produced by BBC as part of its new natural history series and as a promo for its website for streamed video clip content iPlayer (unfortunately, due to rights agreements, iPlayer is only available in the UK).

It's a classic! As commented in The Telegraph, it is accomplished work of this kind that guarantees the BBC its unique status.

A comment on YouTube even makes me laugh for another five minutes
It is REAL guys! They are already HERE!!! I can see them flying through my windows right now, I meant my Microsoft Windows :P
I have to say that this is really British. I will see nothing in Taiwan comparable to BMW's annual April Fool's Day broadsheet adverts, never ever to mention BBC's footage.

The idiom '... and pigs might fly' expresses that there is no chance at all of something happening. I suggest that BBC produce another spoof of flying pigs next year, and probably a new usage of this idiom will be introduced.

30 March 2008

Central Asian Pop

(Be patient, wait until the third contestant starts playing the traditional instrument to accompany his freestyle and see how fancy SuperStar KZ is)

Either looking for a change or jumping on the bandwagon after the blue camp won their parliament election, Taiwanese people elected Ma Ying-jeou, of KMT, the new president. Although disappointed by the result (I'm definitely not a fundamentalist green supporter but I'm still on the green side), the sentiments of letdown didn't really last long as I had been immersing myself in Central Asian pop music.

By Central Asia I mean the five new independent countries of the former Soviet Union, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistna, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, while considering broadly the cultures, histories and languages in this roughly defined region, UNESCO expands it further to include Mongolia, Tuva, Xinjiang (a Chinese province), Tibet, Afghanistan, Pakistan and part of Iran.

I have been preparing a lecture on music from Central Asia to be delivered to students at NTU, a subject not covered in the course World Music I offered at NTUE last semester and thus requiring meticulous work from scratch. Rather than dealing only with 'traditional', 'folk' or 'classical' genres, I'm very much keen on integrating into the course recent development of the music industry, particularly the so-called 'pop' in this region.

Therefore, I've spent much time poring over books, journals and trade magazines as well as searching for audio-vidual products over the Internet. Because compared with Algerian raï, Nigerian jùjú, Bollywood dance or Persian pop, popular music in these five post-Soviet republics is much less known to audiences in the international market, in addition to Amazon, iTunes Store, Play.com and some other mainstream online music shops, I had to 'google' in order to discover special distributers.

In the course of the music quest, I found a marvellous compilation album and an interesting fact, both of which had been there for a while but I didn't realise until recently. There is actually a very active pop market in Central Asia.

Inner Asian Pop

Following its successful Colors Magazine, the renowned clothing brand Benetton launched an audio CD series Colors Music with a view to introducing to a wider audience musics from unexplored corners around the globe. The latest in this series, Inner Asian Pop, is a compilation of pop songs from the above mentioned five post-Soviet republics. Visit Colors Music to know more about this album and this online shop to listen to sound samples.

I ordered this album without any hesitation and then on YouTube bumped into a video clip of the audition for SuperStar KZ, the Kazakh version of Pop Idol. This show has so far broadcast fourth seasons. Obviously, the fact is that, beyond our sight, the grassland in the heart of Asia has long been percolate with excitement of the Idol-style talent contest.

Generally speaking, 'traditional' music from Central Asian is characterised by its blending of the Persianate-Islamic classical tradition and the Turko-Mongol nomadic folklore. Although in Central Asian pop we sometimes hear instrumentation, rhythmic pulsation and singing styles resembling Anglo-American popular music, there is still images of maqamat (Middle Eastern melodic patterns) and reverberation of epic singing from steppes.

While Ma's campaign successfully turn Taiwan's presidency from green to blue, I hope these new aural and visual experiences will divert students from the mainstream pop, be it Anglo-American, Japanese, Korea or so, to pop of this unexplored region.

28 February 2008

A pork steak for a classical Chinese text

(image from My Food My Love)

Fanne's younger sister Cindy will soon relocate to Singapore and be reunited with her husband there. Blissful as she is, there is certainly a pile of paperwork awaiting her, part of which is an English translated and notarised copy of their marriage certificate.

Before she can proceed to the Department of Notarisation at Taiwan Taipei District Court, I have to decipher a passage of literary Chinese on the original certificate and translated it into intelligible English.

In Britain, a couple usually have their wedding solemnised by a minister of religion or civil registrar and then, with all legal requirements fulfilled, a marriage certificate will be issued by a local registrar's office accordingly.

However, in Taiwan, a couple produced at the ceremony their own certificate, which usually bears the personal seals of the newlyweds, officiators and witnesses, together with those of the 'presenters' who present to the guests biographical accounts of the bride and the groom. Bringing this self-issued certificate, the couple register their marriage with their district household registration office (for example, click here).

Although a couple may design their own certificate, using fancy calligraphic fonts, adding traditional auspicious symbols, or even decorating it with gilding, most of the time people just buy a mass-produced template at a bookshop or somewhere which sells office stationary and fill it out with adequate details, such as names, birth details, the marriage date and so on.

Obviously Cindy's mother-in-law never anticipated that an English translated copy would be required in the future, so she bought one extravagantly embellished with a passage of literary Chinese. It's so interesting to see this text (there isn't any on mine!) that I feel it's worthwhile to quote all the lines.

For readers who don't read Chinese, please skip to the English translation to see how 'fancy' Cindy's marriage certificate is. For those who by any chance read it, please don't be impressed by the absence of punctuation, as it is always the case in classical Chinese writings.

Be joined the two clans at this hall by marriage troth.
Be bound the love match evermore thro’ charmed kismet.
The knot tied begets in the bloom of youth a harmonious home.
The comin’ years promise with timeless lineage thriving prosperity.
Truly the lifelong commitment inscribes this blessed folio.
Fairly the terms of endearment records the wedding chart.
I was awarded with a succulent fried pork steak for dinner at Junyue Pork Steak (Junyue paigu 君悅排骨) at the end of the day.