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?