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.