31 December 2009

What year-end surprises

On the last day of 2009, I received two official papers, one in the morning when I walked into my office and the other in the late afternoon just two minutes before I shut down my laptop and said 'see you next year' to my assistants and other colleagues.

The morning paper informs me that my proposal for an industry-university collaboration project has been approved and TWD 2 million (USD 62,000) will be granted by the University to recruit more full-time research assistants for my database construction project.

The afternoon paper confirms that my postdoctoral contract has been renewed, with a pay rise.

Taiwanese people believe that children always bring their own fortune so that parents will have necessary financial resources to raise them up. Although I was a bit disappointed when I came to know it was a boy, not a girl as I wished, well, I believe he will be a source of strength and confidence for me.

Adiós, 2009.

23 December 2009

A tight daily schedule for a weekday

It's been two months since Fanne and I moved to our new flat. In order to look after pregnant Fanne and the expected baby, I conduct my weekday life according to a strict daily schedule.

06.45 Leave my four-poster bed without any hesitation

07.00 Cook breakfast

07.20 Have breakfast with Fanne

07.45 Wash crockery, cutlery and pans, as well as clean the kitchen

08.00 Empty rubbish and recycling bins

08.20 March to my office with my chin up and shoulders back

08.50 Have a cup of Lipton Yellow Label

09.00 (a)Make simple facts more complicated in my office so that they become esoteric and understood by only a small number of people with compartmentalised and specialised academic knowledge; or

(b)Explain complicated matters in an effortless during lectures in an undemanding manner so that students will never learn know enough and I remain authoritative

14.00 Figure out if I have had lunch and, if not, feed myself and then keep working on the aforementioned task (a) or (b)

18.00 Return home in an anxious fashion

18.30 Have a cup of tea made from Taiwanese loose-leaf green tea which was brewed in the morning and left unattended during the day

18.45 Cooking dinner

20.00 Welcome Fanne back by giving her a tepid greeting, and then serve and dine with her

21.30 Wash crockery, cutlery and pans, as well as clean the kitchen, again

22.00 Embed myself firmly in the sofa, watching Japanese drama on TV and reading whatever printed publications at the same time

23.30 Shower myself with chilly water to remind myself of my existence

24.00 Call the day a day and enter my four-poster

This is my weekday life and life will go on.

25 November 2009

The Shamisen Club without a shamisen

(London Shamisen Club, live in Taipei 101)

Requested by London Shamisen Club, I am writing lyrics for two pieces, which the group will deliver in their upcoming gigs in Taipei.

London Shamisen Club consists of a mandola, a tablah (or darbuka, the goblet drum from Middle East and neighbouring areas, not the Indian tabla), a violin, a clarinet, percussion and sometimes other guest instruments. This group plays their original works, as well as rearranged folk music from a wide geographic range, including Greece, Argentine, Algeria, Cuba, Uyghur, Tajik, Malaysia and Turkey, with a 1950s retro-electro/dancehall flavour.

The key person of this group is the mandola player Tommo, who writes all the works and makes arrangements. Tommo has lived in London for so many years and thus, I believe, this Shamisen Club is called after the name of the city. However, I'm not sure about Shamisen, the Japanese three-string plucked instrument. Perhaps it has something to do with 'zen' or certain ancient Asian philosophy: because nobody plays shamisen in this group, it has to be named so.

Tommo would like me to give the two pieces a hint of showa kayo (昭和歌謡, 'ballads from the Shōwa period') and emphasises that showa kayo must not be confused with enka. As a purist who is obsessed about definitions and details, I have to listen to more song examples to discover the differences. I should write another entry for showa kayo later.

20 November 2009

Anti-stress kit


As we are approaching the end of 2009, many people are ready to go for Christmas celebrations and Hogmanay, while some academics are busy crafting term reports about their scholastic achievements and concocting project proposals to solicit more subsidies and secure their jobs.

I'm sure that most of my academic colleagues are really under pressure, just like myself, at the moment. In sympathy with some of my professional brethren, I would like to present an anti-stress kit, which I got from a member of the management team of NEXT, the shop where I worked as a cleaner when I studied in Stirling University, Scotland.

This kit worked very well on me when I struggled to finish my doctoral thesis, and thus I believe it will just run greatly for those who are under academic pressure. Some of my friends and colleagues in Stirling also found it useful.

As it's copyright-free, those who need it may print out as many as they wish or probably make some drink mats, and deliver them, as free samples, to their academic colleagues.

Right, let's fighting against stress.

05 November 2009

I miss my first Spanish textbook

Whenever I can't find an item, whatever if may be, and get wildly insane, my mum or Fanne usually calms me down and then assures me that one day it will turn out, especially when you pack up all the stuff for home moving.

However, although we've moved into our new home for three weeks, I still can't find out the Spanish textbook which I've mentioned to a lot of Spanish-speaking friends. It is definitely more than a language textbook; it is creative writing in practice.

I bought this textbook when I was a senior high school student at a secondhand bookstall in Taichung 16 years ago. It was printed by certain California-based publisher and seemed to be a textbook of Latin American Spanish, as I was told later that a lot of expressions in this book, such as comemos juntos y platicamos, were only used by people in Latin America, particularly in Mexico.

Nevertheless, what impressed me most was not those Latin American expressions, but the materials for conversation practice. I still remember the first four lessons in this book.

Lesson 1 is about daily greetings, such as Hola (Hello), Buenos días (Good day).

Lesson 2 teaches how to count in Spanish.

Lesson 3 gives some basic words including days of the week.

Lesson 4 starts conversations.

What a huge leap! How can you chat with others only with a few basic words and daily expressions? I'd never forget the two dialogues below for the rest of my life. They are certainly not from a textbook, but from an anthology of poems.

A: Hay un elefante en la estación.
     (There is an elephant in the station.)
B: ¡Es absolutamente ridículo!
     (That's absolutely ridiculous!)
A: Es mío.
     (It's mine.)
B: ¡Qué hombre tan raro!
     (What a strange man!)

A: Hay un gorila en la escuela.
     (There is a gorilla in the school.)
B: ¡Es absolutamente terrible!
     (That's absolutely terrible!)
A: Lo adopté.
     (I adopted him.)
B: ¡Qué hombre tan valiente!
     (What a brave man!)

This is literature, poetry, not language learning. I want this book back! Where is it?

30 October 2009

Fanne's portrait

We brought this portrait with us when moving into our new home two weeks ago.

This pencil sketch portrait was finished in 1995, when I was a second-year undergraduate student. It took me three months. I still have no idea how I did it and don't think I can do it again for the rest of my life.

Since I never took any sketch lesson, I read a lot of 'how-to' and 'for-dummies' books and practised all the necessary skills for quite a long time before I really started.

Moreover, Fanne rejected me and refused to give me a photo when I started my courtship, so I could only watch her from a distance and draught as much as possible. It was really a tough task for me.

However, it's now part of our fond memories of undergraduate days and the portrait will surely be passed down for generations.

29 October 2009

The Lonely Accordion

I received a request, probably an order, from May to learn a new song, 'The Lonely Accordion' (Gudu de shoufeng qin 孤獨的手風琴), the screen song of the latest film Prince of Tears (Lei wangzi 淚王子), so that I can sing it in a KTV (ie, a karaoke box, which consists of multiple rooms containing karaoke equipment to be rented for time periods).

It's a story which took place in a 'military-dependent village' (juanchun 眷村) of the air force in Taiwan during the White Terror era, the years when martial law and one-party dictatorship were imposed by the Nationalist government and numerous political dissidents and innocent suspects were imprisoned, tortured and eliminated.

The film is going to be screened tomorrow (30 October) in Taiwan, but the original sound track has already been released. May sent me a link to YouTube, the MV of the screen song, by the veteran Hong Kong singer Goerge Lam (林子祥).

The song is origianlly a famous Russian song 'The Lonely Accordion' (Одинокая бродит гармонь), composed by Boris Mokrousov in 1947, with lyrics by Mikhail Isakovsky. It's about a young accordionist walking alone at night in search of someone, against a backdrop of apple blossoms and a chill blowing in from the fields.

In the film the army pilot, who was imprisoned for suspected espionage, plays the accordion, and thus this melancholic Russian tune is especially chosen and adapted into a Mandarin song. It is the original Russian song that May asks me to sing.

Well, I found the Russian lyrics last night and will study it over the weekend. Next time when I visit a KTV, I shall sing in Russian while other singing the adapted Mandarin version.

Снова замерло всё до рассвета,
Дверь не скрипнет, не вспыхнет огонь.
Только слышно, на улице где-то
Одинокая бродит гармонь.

То пойдёт на поля, за ворота,
То обратно вернётся опять,
Словно ищет в потёмках кого-то
И не может никак отыскать.

Веет с поля ночная прохлада,
С яблонь цвет облетает густой...
Ты признайся - кого тебе надо,
Ты скажи, гармонист молодой.

Может, радость твоя недалёка,
Да не знает, её ли ты ждёшь...
Что ж ты бродишь всю ночь одиноко,
Что ж ты девушкам спать не даёшь!

30 September 2009

Electric Soran

Carla, a former assistant in the Taiwanese music history database project, is going to get married in November. Since I have been reading books and papers on dance music and started trying to produce some, I decided to make a short piece as an extra wedding congratulatory token for her.

This is my second attempt at making dance music. Adapted phrases from Felix Mendelssohn's 'Wedding March' and samples taken from two Taiwanese oldies are integrated into this track.

While to Western ears extracts from Taiwanese songs are unfamiliar and thus carry no significance, most Taiwanese listeners will recognise their association with a wedding.

The Taiwanese song is actually adapted from Soran bushi (ソーラン節), originally a kind of Japanese folk song of the herring fishermen in Hokkaido, the northernmost of the four main islands of Japan. Soran bushi is particular sung while transferring the herring from large drift nets into scoop nets.

While bushi simply means the song melody, soran is a vocable sung out repeatedly by the crowd in unison at the beginning and in the mid of the song to keep them in tune and in rhythm. Listen to a recorded Japanese version:

As soran sounds very much similar to the Taiwanese given name Solan (素蘭), when the Japanese song 'Soran bushi' was covered in Taiwanese to become a popular song in 1960s Taiwan, the original string of non-lexical vocables 'soran, soran, soran, soran...' was adapted into 'Miss Solan is going to get married'. Listen to the adapted Taiwanese version:

24 September 2009

It's 'he', not 'she'.


We have just had our third prenatal ultrasound examination. The foetus is growing well and Fanne is in good health. The baby is due in next early March.

Fanne has just bought a new flat and the home decorating project is almost finished. We'll move into the new flat in early October. So, in less than half a year's time, a new-born child will join the new home.

Sounds fabulous, isn't it? However, I'm not in the mood. What disillusionment! We were told today during the examination, it is he, not she. I thought I was going to have a daughter.

I think it'll take me at least a couple of months to recover from this.

18 September 2009

Falling asleep in the office

(Sound sleep, taken in Stirling, 2002)

I fell asleep in the office in the late afternoon yesterday while listening to some Shanghai oldies and preparing a playlist for next week's radio programme.

When I studied at Stirling University, I made my name cooking for colleagues and people from the local community, as well as falling asleep at midnight wherever I was. Whereas it's always a pleasure for a foodie to prepare a feast, it is absolutely a shame when someone drops off in a bustling jam-packed pub, a cheerful party organised by Greek students, or just an ordinary late night out on the town.

I used to be a part-time cleaner in the Thistles Shopping Centre in Stirling. I usually got up at 6.00 so that I had plenty of time to cook full breakfast and make sandwiches for lunch before I started the daily cleaning work at 7.00. Therefore, I had to go to bed at 12.00 midnight to get enough sleep. As my body's biological clock just functioned perfectly well, I always nodded off, and sometimes even got sound sleep, at midnight wherever I was.

I still remember that Pedro would always let me remain asleep and then woke me up at the end of the day, or probably the start of the next day.

I don't know whether I was just too tired or the circadian rhythm was reset by the heavy breakbeats and synthesizer-generated loops in the dance music I have been exploring recently. Anyway, as nobody noticed that I put my head down, it was not as bad as the case in the Greek party.

16 September 2009

Unsophisticated four-poster for my new flat

It has been my dream for so long; I've always wanted to have a four-poster. And now, I'm so excited to see the dream come true.

Fanne and I bought a flat last month and have been recently busy looking for suitable furniture and domestic appliances. Although I just let Fanne decide the style of the home's interior and choose whatever items she fancies, I insist that there must be a four-poster in the main bedroom.

However, it seemed that all four-posters available in Taipei were oversized and ritzy, and none of them would fit in our bedroom. Considering the size of the bedroom, to my utmost disappointment, I had no alternative but to give up this long-held dream.

Somehow, with a bit of luck, I discovered an unsophisticated, 5-foot wide one yesterday when Fanne and I visited Scanteak for a chest of drawers and wardrobes.

Wow, from the abyss of disillusionment to the top of the world, I'm looking forward to seeing our new home with a four-poster. This really reminds me of a song in one entry I posted last year.

I don't need something posh, just fulfil my wish.

(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.

14 September 2009

My first attempt at making dance music

I still do not know how to appreciate electronic dance music (EDM). The only thing I can do is nodding my head and shaking my body to the beat of head-bangking music and I suppose probably the best way for me to understand it is producing an imitative piece.

There are tons of electronic genres, such as techno, house, trance, electro, breakbeat, industrial and jungle, among which I will never be able to differentiate one from another unless I spend more than seven days in a row torturing my ears and aural nerves.

Well, it doesn't matter. One day I will.

I've been playing with some software and loops and managed to make a short piece, with samples taken from a track 'Mualif' in Alim and Fargana Qasimov: Spiritual Music of Azerbaijan, an album of Azerbaijani classical music and some newly composed works.

In the original track of 'Mualif', the singer urges a captain to devote his ship to God and follow the path of the Muslim saint Hizir, one of whose virtues is aiding lost travellers, to a safe haven.

Inspired by the song text, I created a track. I hope real dance music fans will call this 'dance music'.

13 September 2009

How Turkish is Mozart's Rondo Alla Turca?

(Image from the National Library of Turkey)

How would we associate a song or, just a passage of melody, with a nation, geographic or cultural area? It certainly has much to do with our listening experience.

Our upbringing, daily lives and the context in which we encounter a new sound, can decide how music is imprinted in our minds and thus form a commonsensical notion of musical identity, which we simply take for granted. Most people are very much influenced by external factors, such as the media, peer groups or their social affiliation.

For example, the frequent use of a resounding gong as a cue of the appearance of a Chinese kung fu master in Hollywood films has made, at least to many Western ears, the tone of the instrument an unquestionable musical image of China.

Another historical example is Mozart’s piano piece ‘Turkish March’—the third movement, Alla Turca, of Piano Sonata in A major, K. 331. It may not sound Turkish to us today at all, but concertgoers or socialites at Mozart’s time would accept the idea because they were told so.

I read long ago in the textbook of music history that ‘Turkish March’ imitates the Turkish instruments used in the military march music of the Janissaries. The music was once very popular with the Viennese during the 17th and 18th centuries and many composers in all parts of Europe wrote alla turca passages or pieces.

Listen to the famous 'Yine de Şahlanıyor Aman' (There the horse rears again) delivered by a march band and chorus, and see if you can associate the style to Mozart's alla turca. I suppose that what Mozart presents is the general impression of sound and rhythm created by Turkish percussion and reed instruments.

09 September 2009

Splendid performance of cappella singing and beatboxing

(Unbelievable, what you are to hear in this video clip is pure human vocals, with no instruments nor sound effects.)

While a cappella singing is a style of vocal music without instrumental accompaniment, beatboxing refers to a kind of vocal technique with which one, through a series of noises or popping sounds made with the mouth, lips and tongue, produces drum beats and rhythm and imitates sounds of musical instruments and effects of turntablism.

There have been some artists, such as Bobby McFerrin and Swingle Singers, who are famous for their highly acclaimed a cappella singing with instrumental emulation. However, it is the Voca People that really makes me flabbergasted and speechless. This group tell me how beatboxing can be integrated into a cappella singing and how versatile human voices can be.

PS Thank Esther for introducing this group to us by sharing this video on facebook.

07 September 2009

Paddling a punt in Cambridge

After a short stay in Stirling, I travelled to Cambridge on 10th August and then spent 4 days there. One afternoon, Yung-Yao, his family and I went punting on the river Cam.

Apart from academic achievements and historical buildings, punting is definitely one of the several images people would associate with Cambridge. A punt, a flat-bottomed boat with no keel, is steered with a long pole by a punter who stands on the platform at the back and pushes the pole against the river bed to move the boat.

As Yung-Yao is a former member of Darwin College, we could hire a punt from the college for a small fee and didn't have to queue up at the dock with other tourists. Thanks to Yung-Yao's arrangement and hard physical work, we had a wonderful trip on the river.

However, while perhaps most people would comment that nothing could be more pleasant than punting on the river Cam on a lovely sunny day, I would say, instead of pushing the pole against the river bed and then pulling it all the way back out of water over and over again, I prefer paddling.

What could be more absurd than canoeing in Cambridge? But that's just something I enjoy.

05 September 2009

For Mark—Principal Wei's recipe for Kung Pao chicken

Kung Pao chicken(Well, I suppose it wouldn't take more than 2 seconds for the readers of this blog to find out an image of Kung Pao chicken through Google, so I would rather upload a picture of empty plates.)

During my short visit to Britain this summer, I spent my last night, 16th August, in Stirling with old university colleagues at Mark's place. I was so delighted to cook for them at the reunion, as I usually did for colleagues, friends and people of the local community when I studied at Stirling University. Mark, Steve, Matt, Nicki and I had a very good evening.

For the sake of Mark, a foodie who has piles of cookbooks in his kitchen and cooks almost all the dishes mentioned in those books, and who, I believe, has all spices and herbs in the world in his cupboard, I would like to offer my own recipe for Kung Pao chicken (宮保雞丁), one of the dishes I prepared that night.

Kung Pao chicken is a classic Chinese dish originating from Sichuan, China. It is believed that the dish was created by, and therefore named after, Ding Baozhen (丁寶楨), a late Qing Dynasty official in Sichuan, who, after his term as governor, was commissioned as an assistant to the royal tutors to the crown prince and called Ding Kung Pao (丁宮保) thereafter.

As the recipe below is absolutely mine, it may differ from that in any Chinese cookbook and the measurements only act as a rough guide.

  • Chicken breasts: 350g, cut into bite-sized cubes and marinated with ingredients give below, and mixed with cornstarch before cooking
  • Cornstarch: 2 tablespoons
  • Dried red chillies: 10, cut into 2-cm pieces, seeds removed and soaked until soft
  • Cashew nuts: 2 tablespoons, rinsed, water drained off
  • Garlic: 3 cloves, minced
  • Ginger: 3 thin slices, shredded
  • Cooking oil
  • Salt: 1/3 tablespoon
  • Shaoxing wine or any kind of Chinese cooking wine, or whisky as a substitute: 1/2 tablespoon
  • Shaoxing wine, or a substitute: 1/2 tablespoon
  • Vinegar: 3/4 tablespoon
  • Soy sauce: 2 tablespoons
  • Honey: 1 1/2tablespoons
  • Water: 1 tablespoon
  1. Pour some cooking oil into the wok and stir-fry the chicken cubes until half cooked, and then put them on a plate.
  2. Pour again some oil into the wok, put in the garlic and ginger to fry for a few seconds, then the softened dried red chillies, and then the half cooked chicken cubes to stir-fry together.
  3. When nearly cooked, put in the prepared sauce and cashew peanuts, and fry for 30 seconds.
  4. Turn off heat. There should not be a lot of gravy but just enough for the chicken to be coated with. That's it.
  5. Enjoy the food with friends and then write a blog entry with a picture.

PS Hey Mark, have you tried Braised Lionhead and are you going to do Kung Pao chicken? You should upload some pictures in the future on the facebook!

04 September 2009


I decided, in the second year at university, not to play any instrument on stage, but rather only to talk or sing in public. Then I started learning throat singing, Chinese opera and, after moving to Scotland, joined the university choir, the church choir, the city choir and an operatic society.

After I came back in Taiwan, as I didn't join any choir or musical group, I stopped singing on stage, and nowadays focus on speaking in public – delivering lectures at universities and hosting concerts or live performances.

I have now moved a step further. It's still a matter of talking, with some more work of organising and scheduling. I am now the manager of SUPERGOTÁN, a quartet of a piano, an erhu (Chinese two-stringed bowed instrument), a guitar and a cello playing Argentina tango music with a new blend of timbres.

SUPERGOTÁN made a successful debut live performance at the Witch House, a sort of small coffee-shop-restaurant near National Taiwan University. Last night, the house was filled to capacity and surprisingly some officials from the Commercial and Culture Office of Argentina in Taiwan were among the audience.

Unfortunately, we were not equipped with proper video or audio recording devices. I can only provide two pieces from our demo CD which we recorded in June.


(La cumparsita)

For those who would like to know more about our repertoire, below is the programme we had last night.

1st set
  • Danzarín — Tango, instrumental (Julián Plaza)
  • Volver — Cancíon (Carlos Gardel - Alfredo Lepera)
  • Organito de la tarde — Tango (Cátulo Castillo - José González Castillo)
  • El pollo Ricardo — Tango, instrumental (Luis Fernandez)
  • Sur — Tango (Aníbal Troilo - Homero Manzione)
  • Milonga de mis amores — Milonga (Pedro Laurenz - José María Contursi)
  • Romance de barrio — Vals (Aníbal Troilo - Homero Manzi)
  • La clavada — Tango, instrumental (Ernesto Zambonini)
2nd set
  • Don Agustín bardi — Tango, instrumental (Horacio Salgán)
  • Niebla del Riachuelo — Tango (Juan Carlos Cobián - Enrique Cadícamo)
  • GALLO Gallo ciego — Tango (Agustín Bardi)
  • Soledad — Cancíon (Carlos Gardel- Alfredo Lepera)
  • Adiós Nonino (Astor Piazzolla - Eladia Blázquez)
  • Flor de lino — Vals (Héctor Stamponi - Homero Expósto)
  • La puñalada — Milonga (Pintín Castellanos - Celedonio Flores)
  • La cumparsita — Tango (Gerardo Matos Rodríguez)

29 August 2009

Bullshit corner in Stirling

I like traditional pubs or bars where no music is played. Maybe nowadays people just fancy something that would split their ears, but head-banging music is definitely not my cup of tea. I don't wish to shout at each other against the ever bombarding loud music to make the conversation audible.

Moreover, people in the traditional pub are more friendly. Barmen or barmaids always remember your name and favourite drink; sometimes before you actually order, a pint is ready for you.

Port Customs Bar used to be my local when I studied in Stirling. During my short visit in Stirling, I managed to spend a Saturday afternoon to have several pints of my favourite Balhaven and to catch up with old friends there.

Everything looks pretty much the same as before, except a few interesting plates added. I discovered the BULLSHIT CORNER when Sandy, a Scottish gentleman who took me to the wonderful world of Glenmorangie four years ago, told me that I was allowed to bullshit at the BULLSHIT CORNER.

Fanne has just bought a flat and we are hoping to move in in early October. It may be a good idea to have such a plate on one corner of the kitchen island.

28 August 2009

The falling green man in Stirling

I've been back in Taiwan for two weeks. Although there is certainly so much to say about the short visit to Britain, I'm just too busy, as well as too lazy, to write down everything again on my blog. How can I manage to copy to this blog everything I have recorded in my handwritten diary? Tough.

Anyway, there are still some interesting stories worthy of writing down. The first would be a pedestrian crossing signal in Stirling. Before getting to the point, I shall begin with the walking green man in Taiwan.

Like those in many cities in the world, a set of pedestrian crossing signals in Taiwan consists of two panels, showing a standing red man and a walking green man respectively.

However, instead of being a still depiction, the green walking man on the signal panel in Taiwan does walk. It is animated. The device was designed by a team led by Ms Lin Liyu (林麗玉), the then Dep Commissioner of Taipei City Dept of Transportation, in 1999.

Moreover, when the green man starts walking, the top panel becomes a countdown timer displaying the seconds remaining until the next 'stop' signal comes on. In the last 10 seconds, the green man even speeds up to remind the pedestrians to do the same.

(Note how the green man speeds up in the last 10 seconds.)

In Stirling, as in other places in Britain, a lot of crossings are equipped with ordinary 'red man/green man' signals, but the one in front of Stirling Railway Station is absolutely hilarious. The illuminated green symbol is in some way tilted and looks as if the green man is about to slip and fall over.

I believe the falling green man has been there since I went to Stirling for my doctoral study in 2002. It was there when I left for Taiwan in summer 2007 and it is still there today. It really brings to my mind the little falling man in the yellow 'slippery floor' warning sign.

25 July 2009

Wei to visit Cambridge and Stirling

Having left Britain for more than two years, I am about to visit this country again. I miss so much the pubs, cold weather, unexpected heavy rains, fierce gales, bloody crows squawking at 4.00 o'clock in summer, depressing darkness at 16.00 in winter and, above all, the friends who have supported me in all aspects of life in this distant land.

I will land in London on the 5th of August then take the train to Stirling on the 6th. After packing up my stuff left in the former landlady's attic and singing with the Choir of the Church of the Holy Rude in a Sunday service, I will travel down to Cambridge to visit Yung-Yao, the best man. I shall return to Taipei on the 15th.

Unfortunately, and surprisingly as well, Fanne is not going, because she is pregnant and advised not to take long-haul flights during the first three months of pregnancy. Yes, I am a prospective father now. Although I am on myself this time, I believe in the near future I will take my child to the distant land where once I have worked so hard.

24 July 2009

The three minds unattainable

While I have been pondering over the question raised in the previous post all the night, on facebook Connie has already made a comment on it. She contends:
there is no such experience which is identical to another in my life so far.
Upon reading her remark, a passage from Section XVIII in the Buddhist text Diamond Sutra (originally वज्रच्छेदिकाप्रज्ञापारमितासूत्र Vajracchedikā-prajñāpāramitā-sūtra in Sanskrit, and known as 金剛經 Jingang jing in Chinese) came to my mind:
[Buddha said] it is impossible to retain past mind, impossible to hold on to present mind, and impossible to grasp future mind.
Based on what I studied more than one decades ago, these few words suggests that the mind is in all places and present at all times, yet it is in no places and is present at no time. The mind is formless and therefore no one can locate the mind from the past, present or future. Everything, including our experience of suffering and happiness, is nothing but the projection of our mind.

There is no such experience which is identical to another in our life, because we can never stay in the past, present or future. What an aphorism from Connie!

23 July 2009

Does everyone chase something of a life time?

Yesterday many people in Asia saw the longest total solar eclipse of the century. Many scientists, amateur stargazers, as well as those who just wanted to catch up on the fashion, travelled far to India, China or Japan to join people their see the eclipse, which lasted over six minutes at its maximum point.

As only a partial eclipse was visible in Taipei, I did not see the 'total solar eclipse of a lifetime', as some witnesses described. However, the phrase 'of a lifetime' poses a question to me: Is it really necessary to chase something of a lifetime? Is there anything that does not occur more than once in my life?

I shall think about it tonight.

12 July 2009

Can't be bothered to maintain another blog

It's almost the end of the academic year 2008; 2009 is coming on the 1st of August. I was reorganising all sorts of article files in my computer, which happens regularly, more or less twice a semester. I suppose it is human nature to categorise things into groups, either for preservation and easy reference or due to obsession with order.

The re-sorting process usually takes a couple of hours, even a whole afternoon because sometimes it is difficult and thus time-consuming to decide to which folder an article should be assigned. However, another reason for the slow process is that from time to time I would be distracted by some entertaining or inspiring items, which I just can't ignore but have to read again.

I found an interesting item about blogging, which I collected last October from a BBC blog site. The author argues that although 'Twitter, Flickr and Facebook make blogs look so 2004', what we are seeing now is 'the development of a mixed economy, where blogging has many forms, professional, amateur, micro and mega.'

I don't mind if, as he points out, 'our attention span is now so short that we can't read more than the 140 characters in a Tweet or the one line status update you see on Facebook', but I would definitely be drained of physical as well as mental resources if, in response to friends' kind invitations, I joined all the social networking websites, added all the third-party applications, played all the mini-games and updated my personal profiles and whereabouts.

I've joined MySpace, then Facebook, then Windows Live Spaces and then Wretch (a Taiwanese community website), and turned down invitations to Twitter and Plurk.

I feel uncomfortable to sign up for a networking site, a community or a blog site but dismiss it later. As a result, what I would do now is creating an entry or simply giving a line beneath the title banner, for example:
I don't use Windows Live Space. Visit my blog at Blogger.
Just can't be bothered to maintain another blog. Interested to know more about me? Check out Principal Wei's Weblog.
I am sure there will be more online social network services featuring more unprecedented applications, but I don't think I would follow the trend.

23 June 2009

It's good to be recognised

awardMy parents used to tell me when I was a child that modesty is a virtue and we should not show excessive pride and self-satisfaction in our achievements.

However, I, as a little boy, just didn't understand, if modesty is a virtue, why people displayed their award certificates, banners or medals in their offices and drawing rooms and even had 'winner of certain stuff' printed on their business card.

I suppose, although modesty is a virtue, it is quite appropriate to let others know that our efforts has met with success. It is also important to remind others that we are formally recognised for something we have achieved and reliable in the field of a particular profession so that they may seek help from us when necessary.

I have taught at National Taiwan University for three terms since Spring 2008. Adjunct assistant professor as I am, I spend a lot of time in course planning, updating course content and offering students instructive guidance. Sometimes Fanne even complains that I spend far more time with students than with her.

However, hard work pays off. The course I offered in Autumn 2008, 'Musical Cultures Around the Globe', is selected as 'distinguished general education course, autumn 2008'. I received an award certificate from the university president yesterday and then gave a presentation on my course design and teaching approaches.

I've never received any award in public since I left primary school, nor have I ever dreamed that I would received an award after I become a 'teacher'. Although mum would probably say that I should be modest about this, I just want to say that modesty is a virtue but it's good to be recognised.

22 June 2009

Por una cabeza—original by Carlos Gardel

(Carlos Gardel singing 'Por una cabeza' in Tango Bar)

Here comes the original version recorded by Carlos Gardel in 1935 for his last film Tango Bar. Read the words below (English translation quoted from Planet Tango) while listening to the historical recordings and you'll have a better idea what this song is about.

Por una cabeza de un noble potrillo
que justo en la raya afloja al llegar
y que al regresar parece decir:
no olvidés, hermano,
vos sabés, no hay que jugar...

Por una cabeza, metejón de un día,
de aquella coqueta y risueña mujer
que al jurar sonriendo,
el amor que está mintiendo
quema en una hoguera todo mi querer.

Por una cabeza
todas las locuras
su boca que besa
borra la tristeza,
calma la amargura.

Por una cabeza
si ella me olvida
qué importa perderme,
mil veces la vida
para qué vivir...

Cuántos desengaños, por una cabeza,
yo jugué mil veces no vuelvo a insistir
pero si un mirar me hiere al pasar,
su boca de fuego, otra vez, quiero besar.

Basta de carreras, se acabo la timba,
un final reñido yo no vuelvo a ver,
pero si algún pingo llega a ser fija el domingo,
yo me juego entero, qué le voy a hacer.

Losing by a head of a noble horse
who slackens just down the stretch
and when it comes back it seems to say:
don't forget brother,
You know, you shouldn't bet.

Losing by a head, instant violent love
of that flirtatious and cheerful woman
who, swearing with a smile
a love she's lying about,
burns in a blaze all my love.

Losing by a head
there was all that madness;
her mouth in a kiss
wipes out the sadness,
it soothes the bitterness.

Losing by a head
if she forgets me,
no matter to lose
my life a thousand times;
what to live for?

Many deceptions, loosing by a head...
I swore a thousand times not to insist again
but if a look sways me on passing by
her lips of fire, I want to kiss once more.

Enough of race tracks, no more gambling,
a photo-finish I'm not watching again,
but if a pony looks like a sure thing on Sunday,
I'll bet everything again, what can I do?

21 June 2009

Por una cabeza—the song version

(My first attempt to sing Carlos Gardel's all-time classic 'Por una cabeza' with two students from the Graduate Institute of Musicology, NTU, Madan on the piano and Jingting playing the harmonica.)

'Por una cabeza' and 'La cumparsita' are probably the two most famous and recognisable tango pieces of all time. While the latter was just a song written by the Uruguayan musician Gerardo Matos Rodríguez in 1917, the former was originally a song recorded for the 1935 film Tango Bar with its music by Carlos Gardel and lyrics by Alfredo Le Pera.

Most people came to know 'La cumparsita' through numerous small ensemble or larger orchestral rearrangements on various occasions and 'Por una cabeza' particularly from film scenes such as those from Scent of a Woman and True Lies. Wherever we encounter these two pieces, they are usually, if not always, rendered by instruments and seldom performed with their original lyrics.

I have found the original historical score, with lyrics, of 'Por una cabeza' on the fantastic TodoTango for about ten years since the site launched, but never had the opportunity to sing it to some instrumental accompaniment. Last week I presented the song at the welcome reception of the Graduate Institute of Musicology, NTU.

It was my first-ever attempt to show the original song version of this all-time classic. I found it so difficult to interpret the song in the way Carlos Gardel did, singing behind the beat, to allow an expressive quickening or slacking without altering the overall pace. This style can also be heard in many recordings of famous crooners such as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole, who mastered the art of the rubato to phrase a melodic line while telling a lyrical story.

I don't think I've got the talent to sing like Nat King Cole. However, we should try more times in the future and see how we can hold the voice and instruments together in the way we hear in Gardel's historical recordings. After all, a lot of tango pieces are actually songs which should be crooned out rather than just played on the instruments.

08 June 2009

I was wrong and Haägen-Dazs is never Scandinavian

rum raisinSince I met Häagen-Dazs, the ice cream, more than 20 years ago, I have held a firm belief, without conscious reasoning and supportive evidence, that it is imported from Denmark. Not until yesterday did I learn that it has actually no connection with any Scandinavian country, nor is the brand name of any Scandinavian origin.

Having not dined out for quite a while, Fanne and I invited Dad to Korean BBQ at the food court in Shin Kong Mitsukoshi (新光三越), Xinyi New Life Square (信義新天地) near Taipei 101. As it almost hit 33 °C yesterday, I proposed to have some ice cream for pudding on our way back home to finish this hot day. We then walked to the next building in the complex and gave ourselves a treat at Häagen-Dazs.

When I was busy shovelling down the classic rum raisin, Dad posed a question to us: 'Where is Häagen-Dazs from?' Because my belief of Häagen-Dazs's Danish origin was just a preconception, I could not offer my father a definite answer.

After consulting its Official Site, I realised that Häagen-Dazs is a brand of ice cream created by a Polish couple, Reuben and Rose Mattus, in The Bronx, New York in 1961, and the brand name is simply formed of two made-up words which give a Scandinavian impression.

These two invented words really piqued my curiosity and therefore I dieceded to look for some theory for product naming.

In a long forgotten textbook on advertising management, which I haven't read since I received MBA in 1999, I found 'foreign branding', an advertising/marketing strategy in which foreign or foreign-sounding names are given to a product or service to influence consumer perceptions and attitudes by evoking connotations of foreignness and its implied cachet or superiority.

That's it. It reminds me of Elvis Castillo's classic 'She'. Things may not be what they may seem inside their shells. Häagen-Dazs is not derived from any Scandinavian word, I was simply beguiled by the Polish couple who created the brand, as well as, of course, the product's super-premium quality.

01 June 2009

Those days of mixed tapes

mixed tape
I don't usually 'quote' photos or videos from friends' websites, but after reading Inez's latest post, I just cannot help 'copying and pasting' these images of a fancy USB-flash-drive-cassette on my weblog.

In 'The Mixed Tape Grows Up', Inez mentions an amusing conversation about mixed tape, in which several music lovers shared memories of mixed tapes and the efforts involved in putting a proper tape together. Although selecting songs for a CD compilation or an iTunes playlist is no easy task, she believes
when it comes to the blood, sweat, and tears involved in using music to pour out your soul to the object of your affections, the digital versions pale in comparison.
Likewise, although I have two iPods, which Fanne bought for me in 2005 and 2008, and today I use iTunes playlists and other digital audio editors, I do cherish those good old days when I used a dual-deck tape recorder, or simply connected two tape recorders, to make a mixed tape.

There wasn't a record player at home when I was a child and therefore I never had fun with stacks of LPs and 45s. However, when CDs and a CD stereo system were still a luxury in the early 1990s, I usually went to a classmate's place to make my own mixed tapes. It did take me a lot of time to plan, to make the most of a cassette tape, to jot down on a piece of paper possibilities in terms of tracks and to note tape counters.

So, the creative USB-flash-drive-cassette really drags me back to scenes of bygone days.

30 May 2009

My most hated sounds at a concert

After attending several students' graduation recitals, I realise that I am much pricklier and tetchier than I think I am. I just don't understand why some members in the audience are so obsessed about making extra sounds at a concert where keeping silent during the performance is good etiquette.

Below are what drove me crazy at the concerts.
  • Crumpling plastic bags (I don't think anyone in the auditorium who rubs a plastic bag means to make a good contrapuntal part for the programme on stage. Even though this is the case, I don't think the performer or the audience would appreciate it.)

  • Opening and closing handbags with velcro or hook-fastener straps repeatedly (Can you have whatever you need from your handbags before the programme starts?)

  • Humming tunes (Well, it is crystal clear that you are an expert and have essential knowledge of the programme despite its esotericism, but you don't have to recite the tune. The audience are able to hear it from the stage.)

  • Coughing incessantly (No offence, but I suppose anyone who is suffering from virus infection in which the mucous membrane of the nose and throat becomes inflamed when kindly refrain from attending a concert should sneezing, coughing or other similar symptoms appear.)

  • Shutter clicking (I've noticed it's a posh ritzy digital single-lens reflex camera, and therefore you don't have to draw our attention by making those cursed sounds over and over.)

  • Snoring (I don't care at all whether the programme is so tedious or droning that you can do nothing but snatch forty winks, but don't make those irritating snorting sounds.)
I propose, if producing uninvited sounds while watching the performance is very much desired, then go to an Ibiza rave party instead of coming to a Western classical concert.

25 May 2009

From shutter sounds to attitudes towards music listening

Photography and audio/video recording are usually prohibited at a concert in order to protect the intellectual property rights, but sometimes using a camera without flash may be allowed in stage events. Obvious, it is because the flash may cause disturbance to the performers. However, in my opinion, the bloody vexing shutter sounds should be forbidden as well; it causes annoyance, too.

I was invited to a student's composition concert yesterday (aye, another graduation concert). I was very much peeved by the incessant blasted shutter click sound and almost believed at one point that it was some sort of aural effect intentionally made for the concert.

Before the introduction of digital cameras, considering the cost of films and photo developing, an amateur or layperson would release the shutter with great caution.

In contrast, due to the increasing availability of digital cameras and improving storage capacity of memory cards, one may take as many shots as desired without worrying about film usage. If the image is not good enough or is taken by mistake, simply delete it and you lose nothing.

I suppose this may explain why the guy with a digital single-lens reflex camera kept pressing the shutter button with no interruption at my student's composition concert. I find a similar attitude toward music listening.

Before the arrival of the various digital formats of sound and duplication devices, people would play and listen to an album over and over, even though the record or cassette was purchased by mistake. People showed more respect to music because recordings were not as ubiquitous as they are nowadays.

On the contrary, as it is so easy to obtain a copy of an audio file from a friend or download one from the Internet, people just can't be bothered to listen to a piece once more if they are not caught by that musical work at first sight. They download it, then remove it from the playlist and finally delete it permanently.

24 May 2009

Flowers received at a concert

It is quite usual, and might just be as normal as blowing a kiss to someone you adore, to present a bouquet to your favourite musician, singer or artist at the end of a concert. It is also common to see a star tossing back to members of the audience the flowers which have just been presented on stage.

However, it would be unusual to be handed a bunch of flowers from the musician or artist after a concert. It happened to me last night.

I was invited to a trombone recital, one of those many graduation recitals I have mentioned in the previous post. At the end of the concert, the student gave an informal address in acknowledgement of support and guidance she had received during her study and went through with a list of persons and names to whom she owed gratitude. Surprisingly, I was also on the list because, in her words, I had brought her 'other musics' from the world in addition to the Western classical tradition.

The student presented me with a bunch of flowers in the aisle in front of the stage after the concert on my way out of the hall. Fanne arranged them in a vase.

23 May 2009

Season of graduation recitals

(Some invitations I received to students' graduation recitals)

It's been two years since I started teaching part-time at the National Taipei University of Education (NTUE). The course I conduct there is exclusively for students from the Department of Music, whereas what I offer at the National Taiwan University (NTU) is part of the undergraduate general education programme and therefore open to all students.

Apart from course intensity, teaching strategies and students' academic backgrounds, what makes the courses at the two respective universities distinct from each other is the extracurricular activities for lecturers and professors, that is, attending students' concerts.

As my students at NTUE are all 'music students', who usually have to give graduation recitals or composition concerts to fulfil the degree requirements, from time to time I am invited to these events, particularly in the buildup to the graduation season. I will have attended five concerts in May and some more in June.

Fortunately, I am not among any examination committee, since I believe refereeing a graduation recital would be twice more mind-consuming than marking an essay. I am solely a member of the audience.

Scanning through the invitation they handed to me, I am overwhelmed to see those publicity photos on some cards (How much have they spent?) and realise it would be wrong to assume that only superstar musicians need fancy posters and publicity stuff.

20 April 2009

Listen to musics from the Silk Road

(Listen to a Macedonia folk song 'The Evil Grandpa' (Лош дедо, Losh dedo) performed by Aashti)

Because of my own interest as well as the necessity of collecting materials for my lectures on Musical Cultures Around the Globe, I have been studying musics of Central Asia, Middle East and the Balkans for the past two years. Recently I have collaborated with some groups such as Shantaal, Aashti and London Shamisen Club to promote in Taiwan musics from those distant lands.

While the musicians of the said groups deliver 'exotic' songs and pieces with instruments unfamiliar to Taiwanese ears, I offer the audiences some guiding comments on musical works, instruments and cultural histories. Last Thursday I was invited to host a live performance by Aashti at the Tsing Hua University.

Aashti is a group composed of six members, including three Taiwanese, two Macedonians and a Frenchman, who met at the Silk Road concert series organised by Taipei Chinese Orchestra in 2008. These individuls soon found common ground on the penchant for musics from the ancient Silk Road and decided to form a ensemble.

It might be curious how musics from the Silk Road are connected with Taiwanese, Macedonian and French musicians. In fact, the Silk Road is not a distinct highway but an extensive network of trade routes connecting East, South and Western Asia with the Mediterranean world, which also covers part of North Africa and Europe.

Therefore, the French flautist who masters the kaval, the singer and the tambura player from Macedonia, and three Taiwanese who play respectively the Uyghur satar, the tablah and the Persian Zarb are certainly representatives of the musical Silk Road.

As opposed to Western classical music, of which the repertoire has been well studied and for which listening guidance is available virtually everywhere, musics (either folk or classical) from the Silk Road are still new to the Taiwanese audience, perhaps as well as to those in the 'West'. I hope with our efforts people in Taiwan may come to know more about the musical cultures from this ancient network of trade routes.

09 March 2009

Two cartoons: Ensemble and Orchestra

(L'ensemble Instruemntal Paul Poulignot, Jean-Jacques Sempé, image from delcampe)

About 12 years ago, when I was still a postgraduate student at NTU, I was once intrigued by a picture titled L'ensemble instruemntal Paul Poulignot by the French cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé. Despite the small number of musicians and incorrect instrumental combination, I believe this picture to be a representation of an 'orchestra' which has just delivered Maurice Ravel's famous one-movement orchestral piece Boléro.

In this work, the snare drum has to tapped out the unchanging rigid ostinato (as illustrated below), while maintaining the rhythmic pattern and creating a steady crescendo, throughout the whole piece for about fifteen minutes. Therefore, at the end of the performance a special compliment from the conductor and a thundering ovation from the audience are usually given to the percussionist who plays it.

bolero ostinato
(The snare drum ostinato in Boléro )

I saw a framed poster of this picture at a bookshop but couldn't afford it. Fanne bought it in secret and made it my 23rd birthday gift in 1998.

Several years later, I was fascinated by another picture titled Orchestra, painted by another French cartoonist Jean-Jacques Loup (by coincidence, another Jean-Jacques). In this one, it is neither the percussionist nor any other member in the orchestra that is featured, but rather, a locksmith working on the grand piano while the orchestra, the choir and the organist are waiting on stage.

(Orchestra, Jean-Jacques, image from zooscape)

While I can find a touch of Boléro in Sempé's cartoon, I have no idea what is to be played on stage in Loup's picture. All I want is a poster but somehow this picture is only available in jigsaw, and a not-for-sale free poster only comes within every pack of jigsaw purchased. I have been hesitating whether I should spend 50 USD for a 2,000-piece jigsaw puzzle just for the complimentary poster.

I gave in last weekend. I'll just frame Loup's Orchestra and hang it beside Sempé's L'ensemble Instruemntal for the time being, and think about how to deal with the jigsaw in the far future.

26 February 2009

The coincidence within a coincidence

I don't think it would be unusual at all to receive invitations to two different functions which are to be held on the same day, but it would probably be if there are three. It happens to me.

I've just got three wedding invitations from
  1. A neighbour from Keelung, the harbour town where I was born and raised, and lived until 1997;
  2. Ellen, one of the best friends I've ever made with during my doctoral study at the University of Stirling;
  3. Monica, a former colleague of May at CommonWealth Magazine, whom I came to know and befriend through MSN, and who is going to marry May's brother.
All of the three weddings will take place on the 14th of March.

My mum will take care of the one in Keelung and thus what really bothers me is to decide whether to go to Ellen's or to attend Monica's.

However, I suppose I will be able to look after both at the same time, because the two brides-to-be, Ellen and Monica, will be married in the same venue, Grande Luxe Banquet, though at two different halls. I may have to circulate back and forth between the two receptions.

It wouldn't be unusual to receive invitations to two weddings which are to be held on the same day, but it definitely is if the two will take place in the same venue. What a coincidence within a coincidence, isn't it?

21 February 2009

'Say Forever'

(From left, Sophia, May, me and Justin, image courtesy of May)

I once host a programme about the musics in the Far East on Subcity Radio in Scotland in 2006. Apart from a wide range of 'traditional' genres, I also played some pops, mostly J-pop, K-pop and Mandopop, and sometimes popular music from Thailand and Vietnam. Whenever I needed advice on J-pop and Mandopop, May was always the person I would speak to.

It was through May that I came to know some interesting pieces. 'True Colors' (yes, Cyndi Lauper's classic) covered by Hajime Chitose (元 ちとせ) in her EP A Thousand Nights And A Thousand Days (千の夜と千の昼 Sen no yoru to sen no hiru) is and example and one of my favourites.

Hailing from Amami Oshima (奄美大島), Hajime sings in a style with distinctive falsetto effects characteristic of that region, which can be easily observed in her interpretation of 'True Colors'. Click through and listen to this unique covered version by Hajime Chitose.

In return for May's contribution to my programme, I recommended to her good vocal works I encountered over the Internet from time to time as well. I especially remember a Mandarin piece called 'Say Forever' by the then GoGo & MeMe (哥哥妹妹), a pair of brother and sister now renamed JS (Justin+Sophia).

'Say Forever' is a soliloquy of a forlorn person who sings on a snowy street while thinking of her past love, imagining he is touched by the voice and she is hugged tightly in his arms. In her view, being alone would not make her lonely, but missing him would make her lonesome.

Perhaps because of the snow in lyrics, it became a ritual for us to listen to 'Say Forever' at Christmas, although we first heard this song in March 2006, obviously long before the festive season.

There are still ten months until Christmas, but I upload it to my new iPod Classic, which Fanne bought for me on a business trip to Australia when Australian Dollar hit five-year low, and play it repeatedly.

I was invited to a party hosted by MSN Taiwan to celebrate its tenth anniversary in Taiwan. What a pleasure it was to meet JS there in person. However, except 'Say Forever', I've never heard any other work of JS. I will check out more of their new works and attend their gig in April.

14 February 2009

Article published in Apple Daily

Chang Loo
(Apple Daily, 10 February 2009)

Urged by Allen, Fanne's brother-in-law, I submitted to Apple Daily (蘋果日報 Pingguo ribao) an article about Chang Loo (張露), a legendary Chinese singer who launched her singing career after making her recording debut for EMI (China) in 1941 and had been active in Hong Kong from 1952 when she resettled there until the mid 1970s. Chang passed away on the Chinese New Year's Day.

Chang Loo sang in a few languages, including Mandarin, English and Japanese, and had been capturing the fascination of the Chinese audience with her vivacious and versatile numbers for decades. She also covered many Japanese and English hits throughout her singing career in Hong Kong, among which was the classic 'Give Me A Kiss' (給我一個吻 Gei wo yige wen), adapted from Georgia Gibbs & The Yale Brothers' 1953 hit 'Seven Lonely Days'.

Had it not been for Allen, I wouldn't have written such an item for a newspaper. I suppose it would be vital for me to produce more academic papers rather than contribute articles to the press, since nowadays main measures of research performance are academic publications and citations, no matter whether the measurement is accurate and fair.

However, with respect to financial rewards and self-promotion, it might be worthwhile to spend a couple of hours in draughting a short article and have it published in a newspaper which circulates throughout the whole country.

Apple Daily, a national paper in the broadsheet format printed in Taiwan but owned by the Hong Kong-based Next Media Limited which publishes Apple Daily in Hong Kong, is usually perceived as a tabloid. Even though Apple Daily tends to be dominated by striking headlines, sensational stories and photographs, it gives commentaries on current issues and useful consumer information as well. It has the largest circulation, over 500,000 copies per day, among all newspapers in Taiwan.

It may not be as exciting as it was in 2005 when my first-ever research paper was published in Popular Music, a peer-reviewed academic journal dedicated to research on popular music, but it feels good.

For readers who do not read Chinese, please just listen to Chang Loo's 'Give Me A Kiss', and if you are interested, click through for the original English version of 'Seven Lonely Days' and make a comparison of the singing styles and instrumental arrangements.

30 January 2009

Two terms after I started the course

I suppose it is of utmost importance that a teacher/lecturer/professor offers students constructive comments when marking their papers. Just as, when I was an undergraduate, I always hoped to receive from professors remarks on merits and shortcomings of my writings as well as instructions on how to improve them, so would my students, I believe, expect from me more practical comments on their term papers apart from the two-digit marks.

I have been reading and grading students coursework, 40 ten-page papers in total, during the Chinese New Year, which is still within the mourning period for Grandpa. Partly because of the aforementioned belief and partly because of the problem of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), I felt compelled to offer at least 200 characters (actually twice the amount most of the time, i.e. half an A4 page) for each paper in a well-written manner. Thus, I worked even on the eve, first day and second day of the new year and finished the task on the third day of the new year.

Plagiarism is always the problem. It is nowadays all too convenient to google, copy and paste, without further assessing the validity, credibility and authority of online information. While some of the students would rephrase what they found to avoid the unpardonable crime of 'copy-and-paste', others simply assume that a lecture or professor is too busy to surf through the Internet and thus so oblivious to what has been posted in the cyber world.

I wonder whose responsibility it should be to teach those undergraduates how to rephrase, to quote and to include all required information in footnotes or endnotes as well as in the bibliography. Should I, a part-time assistant professor and post-doctoral fellow, reserve ten minutes at the end of every lecture to introduce academic writing–Lesson One: Plagiarism Is A Crime?

Nevertheless, I am really delighted to see those who have made the most of my office hours complete their coursework and turn in good papers. I am particularly happy to know how much a student from the medical school, who started playing the Western classical violin since the age of 3, has learnt a lot through coursework as to how the violin, its music styles, fingering techniques and holding positions vary in different musical cultures around the globe.

(Holing positions of the violin in South Indian, top, and Morocco, bottom, demonstrated by Tiffanywan, photos reproduced from coursework)

Two terms after I started the course at National Taiwan University, I am glad to see some of my students truly come to know how to appreciate various musical cultures around the globe.

29 January 2009

In memory of my late grandpa

I had been waiting for winter since last Christmas. As in Taipei it didn't fall below 10 °C until 10 January 2009, I suppose winter only came after the Gregorian New Year. I was happy to be greeted by the chilly wind blowing down streets and the wintry blast howling over the campus.

However, if only winter hadn't arrived.

My grandpa fell asleep at night on 12 January and didn't wake up, which probably had to do with the sudden drop in temperature. Grandpa passed away peacefully in bed at the age of 91 just before the Chinese New Year. For the first time in my whole life, I made a complaint about the low temp. If only winter hadn't arrived this year, he would live longer to see Wei II or Fanne II next year or the year after.

Grandpa was cremated on 21 January after a memorial service attended by more than 70 family members. He has seen his family grow and prosper, and his children and grandchildren achieve in many aspects of life, and thus in Taiwanese terms, he should be pleased to breathe his last without regrets.

Contemplating his image in the photo during Chinese New Year, I think of Grandpa profoundly.

It was taken on my late great grandmother's ninetieth birthday in 1988, when I was only 13. Forty family members in total were present here, excluding those from my granduncle's, and from left to right at the centre of the front row were my late grannie, great grannie and grandpa.

01 January 2009

Three new-year images in a row

(Click to enlarge and compare: left to right, a newly-employed postdoctoral fellow, a fresh Doctor of Philosophy and an anguished student)

Well recognised as the nation's most expected New Year's Eve highlight, the 188-second fireworks display launched from the Taipei 101 Tower heralded the arrival of a new year last night for the fifth time in a row.

The Tourism Bureau, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Chunghwa Telecom together won the bid for the right to stage the pyrotechnic show this year. In order to romote tourism and raise Taiwan's international profile, along with the show were TAIWAN, embedded in four green, red, blue and yellow hearts, illuminated on each side of the building respectively, with the notion of 'embracing Taiwan with great love'.

While the idae of TAIWAN and ♥ is slightly similar to last year's design, how about me? What do you think I have been doing? I hope Taipei 101 will keep alive this tradition and accordingly I will keep taking the new year photo and line up all the photos year by year.