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.