29 December 2010

A ride on Dad's back to the whistling of 'Colonel Bogey'

(Howdy, pals!)

(Yee-hah! Faster, faster!)

Love is a many-splendored thing, and so, I believe, is watching a child grow up day by day.

This notion struck me when I was listening to 'Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing', a song which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for its debut in a 1955 romantic-drama film of the same title.

I used to drum to soothe my son when he, as a three-month-old baby, could only lie on the sofa and listen to it quietly rather than respond to it exuberantly.

After we had our first gramophone at home, I don't play the frame drum for him as often as I did, but instead I play gramophone records.

As a ten-months-old one who stands firm on his feet and has already taken his first three steps, he can now ride on my back while listening to 'Colonel Bogey March', a famous tune composed in 1914 and made known to more audiences in the world through the 1957 film The Bridge on the River Kwai.

Riding on Dad's back to the whistling of this march has now become a routine pre-bed exercise. I have no idea how long it would last before my son gets bored with the song, but at the moment it's his favourite.

(The record of 'Colonel Borgey March' I have recently purchased from eBay, a very unusual version pressed by Makolit in Israel under license from Fonit Italia, performed by Nino Impallomeni, whom I could hardly find any information about, and his orchestra. As this performance is very much different to the one in the film, I will convert it to a digital format to share with my readers next year.)

24 December 2010

Glocalised postmodern 'Jingle Bells'

(A fantabulous and thought-evoking version of a festive song created by two Indians, Nupur Bhargava and Amartya Rahut)

At a symposium in Portugal in 1996, Prof Philip Tagg, when presenting a paper on otherness and its problems in the study of popular music, commented that the term postmodern
had been adopted as a defeatist intellectual strategy by the kind of colleague who seems more set on wearing trendy conceptual garb on the catwalk of cultural studies (including musicology) than in shedding light on the mediation of ideologies in the modern mass media.
And he found otherness equally tricky.

I would like to add one more equally, if not worse, awkward term on the list—globalisation, together with its upgraded version glocalisation.

Having read tonnes of publications criticising such academic conceptual terms and in an effort to make life simple, I usually joke with my students by offering them some rules on how to apply these jargons to things around them.

Judging from your life experience,
  1. In the circumstances where things, which should not be present at the same time, are sharply juxtaposed, it is postmodernism;

  2. In the circumstances where things, which originally belong to the West (actually West Europe and North America only), are relocated in the East (wherever Near East, Middle East or Far East), it is globalisation;

  3. In the circumstances where things in case 2 are not only relocated but also twisted to accommodate Eastern tastes, it is glocalisation.
Therefore, this Punjabi-style 'Jingle Bell' is a good example of postmodernism and glocalisation.

This YouTube clip has been around for more than one year. On this particular day, Christmas Eve, it is really appropriate to share it with readers of my weblog.

20 December 2010

The glory (???) of the human voice

(Madame Jenkins's LP, RCA Red Seal, LM-2597)

As requested by Hongyi, an old friend, here we have a 'hauntingly beautiful' masterpiece, an essential recording made by Florence Foster Jenkins, a would-be American soprano who made her name by showing complete absence of any sense of pitch and rhythm and thus singing ability.

Listen to 'Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen' (Hell's vengeance boils in my heart), an aria, which is better knows as The Queen of the Night Aria, from Mozart's opera Die Zauberflöte (The magic flute).

See, it is absolutely a demonstration of Madame Jenkins' s great passion for singing but complete deficiency of aptitude for engaging in this demanding activity. I particularly revere the piano accompanist Cosmé McMoon, who had exhibited great musicality, as well as tolerance, by offering such a vital instrumental background for the singing.

However, this recording is unique and, I believe, has an immensely uplifting effect. I actually came to know 'The Queen of the Night Aria' through this hauntingly beautiful version and therefore had it imprinted so deeply on my mind that for a long while the normal rendition by, for example, Kiri Te Kanawa would sound abnormal to me.

16 December 2010

The everlasting tango 'La Cumparsita'

(Listen to 'La Cumparsita', the most recognisable tango, by Orquesta Típica Francisco Canaro, 1933)

Tango, particularly the Argentine tango rather than the international standard ballroom one, has recently been very popular in Taiwan. In addition to dance, enthusiasts adore the strong rhythmic pulsation and engaging melodic lines filled with a nostalgic sentiment delivered by the bandoneón in music. They discern musical and choreographic differences between Argentine and ballroom tango; they hold the former in high esteem and deem it authentic.

However, most people may not realise that both the two metropolises on Río de la Plata Buenos Aires and Montevideo, capitals of Argentina and Uruguay respectively, contributed a lot to the development of the dance and music, although the former somehow, in the end, dominated the scene and became known to the world as 'city of tango'.

'La Cumparsita', the most recognisable tango piece, if not any less than 'Por Una Cabeza', and thus almost synonymous with tango, was actually an instrumental work written by the Uruguayan composer and journalist Gerardo Matos Rodríguez in 1917. In the 1920s, 'La Cumparsita' arrived in Paris, from which it spread to the world to become a synonym for tango.

In 1997, eighty years after its birth, it was made Himno Cultural Y Popular ('cultural and popular anthem') of Uruguay by law.

The audio clip here is from a gramophone record I have recently won from eBay, recorded in 1933 by Francisco Canaro with his Orquesta Típica (a tango orchestra consisting of a string, a bandoneón and a rhythmic sections), who in 1925 arrived in Paris where tango was the new fashion and met the composer there.

25 November 2010

'The Sabre Dance': a close harmony pop trio version

(Listen to the vocal 'Sabre Dance'!)

'The Sabre Dance' is actually a movement in the final act of Gayane, a ballet in 4 acts with music written in 1942 by the Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian, in which male dancers display perform a war dance with sabres in their hands.

I suppose most people would be able to recognise this piece by the chromatic and gliding notes in the melody, as well as the stirring rhythmic pulsation, even though they cannot really name it.

This orchestral work later become a popular concert piece in its own right. However, no until recently, after discovering a 78s record from eBay, have I realised that there are actually a series of adaptations by various pop singers and rockers.

I finally won the bid for that record—a vocal version of 'The Sabre Dance' by The Andrews Sisters, a renowned close harmony trio active from the swing up to the 1960s, to the accompaniment of three harmonicas by The Harmonica Gentlemen.

(The Andrews Sisters, image from their official website)

Having been bidding for 78s records on eBay since September, I not only found some software for the hardware, my HMV 101 and 103, but also lead myself to a world of the sounds which have long faded into oblivion.

20 November 2010

Laluna Park: a Hebrew waltz

('Abale Bo Laluna Park', by Israel Yitzhaki, 1950s)

I've definitely fallen for gramophone records and will keep searching for more—either something I have already known but just want to hear in the warm pure analogue format, or something people have forgotten long before and not available on CDs or over the internet.

Last night, just one minute before shut down my laptop, that is two minutes before I crawled into my four-poster, I discovered a rare, rare, rare record on the eBay: Israel Yitzhaki's 'Abale Bo Laluna Park' (אבאל'ה בוא ללונה פארק Daddy come to the amusement park), a Hebrew waltz song.

I cannot remember how I came to know this waltz, but this is a example I usually give in class when introducing popular music of Israel in the modern times. 'Abale Bo Laluna Park' is really a cute piece, both musically and lyrically, about a child's request for a carousel ride in the amusement park.

For those who are interested in what the song is actually about, please refer to the transliterated lyrics and translation, quoted from hebrewsong.com.

Im tikach otti la’luna park
If you take me to Luna Park

Tir'eh eich ani e’yeh yeld tov
You’ll see what a good boy I’ll be

Mehayom letova estaneh
As of today I will change for the better

Ve’ehdal lehagid lo rotzeh
And stop saying 'I don’t want to'

Abbaleh bo la’luna park
Daddy, lets go to Luna Park

Nirkav al hasus halavan
We’ll ride on the white horse

Abbaleh bo la’luna park
Daddy, lets go to Luna Park

Tihyeh gam atta chevreman
Come on be a sport

Abbaleh bo la’luna park
Daddy, lets go to Luna Park

Sham nechmad, aliz ve’niflah
It nice there, cheerful and wonderful

Abba’e bo la’luna park
Daddy, lets go to Luna Park

Nit’nad’ned al hanad’nedah
We’ll sway on the swing

Nissa nistovev bagal’gal ha’anak
We’ll circle riding the Ferris wheel

Yihye ko yaffe’ shneinu nitzhak
It will be so beautiful, we’ll both be laughing

Lema’la lematta, yamina u’smol
Up and down, right and left

Al tifchad, ani lo epol
Don’t worry, I won’t fall down

Abbaleh bo la’luna park
Daddy, lets go to Luna Park

Nirkav al hasus halavan
We’ll ride on the white horse

Abbaleh bo la’luna park
Daddy, lets go to Luna Park

Tihyeh gam atta chevreman
Come on be a sport

18 November 2010

A celebratory Hebrew song for a Taiwanese funeral

('Hava Nagila', Hebrew song performed by Israeli singer Rika Zaraï, ca 1966)

'Hava Nagila' (Let us rejoice, lieterally), almost a standard dance number for Jewish weddings, as well as Bar and Bat Mitzvoth, is a Hebrew song, of which the tune was actually adapted from a niggun (a wordless humming tune) of a Hassidic branch of Judaism in Ukraine with the text written in 1918 by Abraham Zevi Idelsohn, the father of Jewish musicology.

It was originally written for a concert in celebration of British victory over the Turks in Palestine in WWI, together with the Balfour Declaration, which stated the British government's stance in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. By setting simple Hebrew lyrics to the Ukrainian Hassidic tune, Idelsohn wrote 'Hava Nagila' as a cheerful concluding song for the concert organised by himself.

In terms of melodic structure, the song can be divided into three sections, the text set to which can roughly translate as
Let's rejoice and be happy!
Let's sing and be happy!
Awake, brothers, with a happy heart!
Indeed, it is a cheery, jaunty song.

This song has recently been quoted in Seven Days In Heaven, a Taiwanese film presenting the seven days of the Taoist mourning ritual in succession before the funeral after a father's decease and its impacts on his children.

I wonder whether the two collaborating directors of this film, Yu-Lin Wang and Essay Liu, have no knowledge of the celebratory idea behind 'Hava Nagila' but simply take it as a sonic background in the film, or their intention is to employ 'Hava Nagila' right away in the title sequence to deliver the message that a funeral may be a celebration of life as well.

14 November 2010

Listen to Bach's haunting and astonishing organ music

(Father and son listening to organ music on HMV 103)

J S Bach's 'Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (BWV 565)' is regarded as one of the most famous works in the organ repertoire; it's magnificent.

Listen to Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (BWV 565), played by the Italian organist Fernando Germani at Westminster Cathedral in 1948, and see if there is any unusual acoustic effect, different from that from modern digital recordings, that may redefine any listening experience.

Just as the initial distinctive four-note 'short-short-short-long' motif of Beethoven's 'Symphony No. 5 in C minor (Op 67)' usually come to mind when thinking of Western classical symphonic works, so would the astounding single-voice flourish at the very start of this 'Toccata and Fugue in D Minor' resound in people's head when talking about organ music.

However, I suppose this keyboard piece is more associated with scenes in horror films, in which it is frequently quoted, than the image of a dedicated maestro in the church organ loft.

As mentioned in the previous post, Ronne sometimes listens to music played on my gramophones so I just want to let him feel how haunting, as well as astonishing, this piece can be when delivered from the antique machine.

08 November 2010

A must for the family, or for myself?

(My new toy—HMV 103 table top, ca. 1925)

According to the built-in New Oxford American Dictionary provided by the Apple operation system Mac OS X 10.4, a toy can be
1) an object for a child to play with, typically a model or miniature replica of something, or
2) an object, especially a gadget or machine, regarded as providing amusement for an adult.
In a recent case of myself, definition 2) applies.

After buying myself an HMV 101 portable in early September, I was induced by Davide Lin to believe that a table top gramophone is also a must for every family (this sounds like words in advertising!), apart from a portable one. As a result, I bid again on eBay and won another 'toy'—an HMV 103 table top.

After my son Ronne was born, both my wife and I reserve Sundays for the family and, except for housework, we don't work, so we can he can play with us (or actually he can play us!). However, now I also reserve Sundays as gramophone days and Ronne has to sit beside me watching the funny black stuff turning round and round, and listening to the sound delivered from the magic wooden box.

In this society, where at the one end people would expend millions seeking hi-end Hi-Fi stereo system, and at the other people would listen to poor-quality downloaded illegal audio files, it may be a good idea to take my son back to the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, when advanced digital recording and playback technology were not available, but humanity and musicality were most important when making sound productions.

18 October 2010

New portrait for Principal Wei's Weblog

(Image created by Davide Lin)

Much the same as the way in which people can create a sonic bricolage by copying, cutting, splicing and overlapping audio files with sound editing software, nowadays people can also manipulate visual images with graphics editing programmes.

This morning when Davide and I talked about the previous post, 'Straighten warped 78s record', on my weblog, he somehow proposed that I should change the age-old portrait, the one with two broccoli spotlights projecting respectively from the two bottom corners, on the website and immediately created a new portrait for me.

I found out later that this portrait was a photoshopped work from a historical portrait of General Phil Sheridan, who, I suppose, never matters to Taiwanese people and is just a figure from Google images when Davide searched for images of 'general' over the internet.

Anyhow, I really appreciate Davide's hard work, although the work of photoshopping might cost him, someone who has a degree in graphic design, only a few minutes. I therefore add this portrait, in addition to the broccoli one, onto my weblog.

17 October 2010

Straighten warped 78s record after recovering from fever

I was struck down with flu in summer 2005 and haven't caught any flu or cold ever since, until three weeks ago this year. I had a fever of 39.5 °C for more than ten days and only recover from it last weekend. According to my doctor, my strong immunity system finally collapsed after a five-year free-from-flu holiday; it's about the time to spend some time in sickbay.

After having a hard, heated time, I was so eager to heat a 78s record.

I bought a 78s record of Cole Porter's 'I Get A Kick Out Of You', delivered by Henry Hall and the BBC Dance Orchestra, and it arrived at my door three weeks ago, just before the flu knocked my out. It was somehow curved and couldn't play smoothly, but I was so debilitated that I couldn't be bothered to mend it.

This morning, I spent half an hour heating the record by waving a running hair dryer around it with a heavy mug in the centre. Fortunately, the warped record was straighten and could play perfectly after all the effort.

I'm so glad the trick works; I've never thought that a 78s record could be fixed in this way. Now I can enjoy 'I Get A Kick Out Of You', originally written for the Broadway musical Anything Goes and the film of the same name.

(Image from IMP Awards)

Here comes what it sings:

I get no kick from Champagne
Mere alchohol doesn't thrill me at all
So tell me why should it be true
That I get a kick out of you

Some get a kick from cocain
I'm sure that if i took even one sniff
That would bore me terrificly too
Yet I get a kick out of you

I get a kick every time I see
You standing there before me
I get a kick though its clear to me
You obviously don't adore me

I get no kick in a plane
Flying too high with some guy in the sky
Is my idea of nothing to do
Yet I get a kick out of you

25 September 2010

Here comes Bollywood!

(Paper label of one of the Bollywood records I bought, with the song title Dil me chupa ke)

I'm so glad that the two 78s records I bought from eBay arrived today, just before the weekend and very much earlier than I expected. The seller, based in India, stated on his eBay page that international delivery would usually take 20 days, but the records came in 10 days.

They are definitely going to be the focus of the micro-soundscape in the Chen family this weekend.

The four songs on the two records I received today are from Aan (आन, pride), a Hindi musical film which features an acclaimed soundtrack of ten songs. Among these four my favourite is 'Dil me chupa ke' (roughly translated as 'Hidden in my heart') sung by the famous playback singer Mohammed Rafi.

Listen to it; it's absolutely fantabulous. It really made my day.

(DVD available on WebMall India)

For those who are interested in what the song is actually about, please refer to the transliterated lyrics and translation, quoted as in Desi Film & Music - Bollywood Songs Lyrics.

Dil Mein Chupake Pyar ka Toofan le Chale
Keeping it secret in my heart, I am carrying the storms of my love

Hum aaj appni mauth ka samaan le chale
today I am carrying the ingredients/power of my death

Mauth ka samaan le chale
Carrying the tools/ingredients of my death

Dil mein Chupake Pyar ka Toofan Le Chale
Hidden in my heart, I am carrying the storms of love

Ha Ha Ha AAA
Mit ta hein kaun dekhiye ulfat ki raah mein
Let's see who gets destroyed in the pathways to love/friendship

Ulfat ki raah mein
in the pathways of love

Mit ta hei kaun dekhiye ulfat ki raah mein
Woh le Chale hein aan to ham jaan le chale
he is taking the oath so I am taking the life/soul

Maut ka Saman le chale
carring the power of death

Dil Mein...
in my heart

Ha Ha Ha AAA
Manzil pe hoga Fasla Kismat ke Khel ka
At the destination there may be distances for the games of destiny

Kismat ke Khel ka
for the games played by destiny

Manzil pe hoga Fasla kismat ke khel ka
Kare jo dil ka khoon wo
He who kills the heart

Meheman le Chale
am Taking that visitor along

Maut ka saman le chale
carrying the tool of my death

Dil Mein...
in my heart

18 September 2010

Our first-ever HMV gramophone at home

Just as a Chinese saying goes, 'Even the cleverest housewife cannot cook a meal without rice (巧婦難為無米之炊),' so I deem that a well preserved and properly serviced vintage gramophone cannot demonstrate its magic capacity of sound reproduction without a 78s record.

Although having long ago finished a doctoral thesis on popular music in 1930s and 1940s Shanghai and still conducting researches on music in the first half of the twentieth centry, I've never thought of having a gramophone at home until about three weeks ago.

Somehow, I was convinced that there should be a gramophone at home. Thus, I place a bid on eBay and won an HMV 101 portable immdiately after returning from the holiday in Britain. The machine arrived in great condition last Friday.

However, I couldn't operate it in the first place. The turntable did 'turn', but no music would come out as I had no records to play. Fortunately, two 78s records I bought from, again, eBay arrived yestday after a long wait.

This morning, while playing a record with my son in my arms stunned by the marvelous talking machine, the image of this most recognised dog in the world surfaced on my mind.

(Image taken from Wikimedia Commons)

Whereas in the painting, on which the HMV logo was based, the dog Nipper was listening to 'his master's voice' coming out through the horn of a wind-up gramophone, at Principle Wei's home, the father and son were watching the magic machine delivering the Hebrew folk song 'Hava Nagila'.

(The vintage Decca 78s produced in the 1940s—the first record purchased in my life and the first one played on this machine at my home)

12 September 2010

We're on VOGUE cover

Fanne was out of town on business for four days and therefore I played single fahter again. She returned home yesterday.

To make up for the family time we had lost when Fanne was away, we went to a department store on Sunday afternoon.

By chance VOGUE was, in association with some makeup brands, holding an event, in which customers who spent more than certain amount of money were offered a professional photo shoot for free.

As Fanne splurged a lot to replenish the empty drawers of her dressing table with tonnes of cleansers, lotions and cream, we were eligible for such a photography service.

So, we're on VOGUE cover (well, actually 'against' VOGUE wall).

03 September 2010

Another tough academic year head

Time flies; it's September 2010, only two weeks away from the new semester. My schedule was so tight during summer break that I just cannot believe I have already had a two-month summer break.

I received an award for the course I offered in Autumn 2009, 'Musical Cultures Around the Globe', the same thing I had received in 2008—'distinguished general education course'.

I was also, probably because of the award, requested to offer the same course in the whole July in certain summer college, organised by my University in collaboration with other twelve universities in North Taiwan. Thus, apart from those from my University, there were some more external students to look after.

All hard work paid off. I received the best score in a course evaluation among all the courses offered at the end of the summer college, and was invited to deliver a speech on teaching skills and course planning to other teachers in a symposium in November.

Immediately after the summer course, I flew back with Fanne and Ronne to Britain for in early August Ronne's christening, and thereafter travelled to Korea in late August to present a paper in a conference for East Asian musics.

After all these summer tasks were completed, I was notified yesterday that the long-promised TWD 2 million grant was finally confirmed (what a bloody long procedure and thus a bloody long wait) and is coming in mid September. The long waiting times once made me so nervous and insecure that at one point I thought the grant had been nullified, when misreading an announcement of certain grant results and not able to spot the project title on the list.

Right, more money is coming and so is more pressure. Since it's an industry-academia collaboration project, we have to work closely with IT engineers and programmers of our industry partner, and at the same time I will be teaching two courses. Moreover, as the grant is for the employment of more research assistants (not funding towards my own salary!), I will be busy producing a lot of contract renewal paperwork near the year end.

Hjckrrh, I don't think I'm ready for all of these.

29 August 2010

How can you read all the texts on screen?

I hadn't had any opportunity to watch news channels or browse news sites over the Internet when I had been in Korea for a conference, from the 24th to 27th of August, so it was particularly touching when I saw this familiar layout of an image on a news channel this afternoon.

There are six news channels over the cable TV network in Taiwan, broadcasting 24 hours a day, 7 days week. As every channel would try its best to offer the general public all sorts of information as much as possible, apart from the news image or clip and the main caption or headline for it, there may also be up to three news tickers running at the same time, together with other information such as date, time and weather forecast on screen.

Sometimes I really wonder if all the audience members have a brilliant command of speed reading or can simply comprehend more than one message thread simultaneously.

Look at this screenshot I took this afternoon, if it was a running video clip rather than a still shot, how many block of texts would you be able to read at once?

I have no idea how a news channel look in Korea, but having left Taiwan for only four days, I really miss those Taiwanes text-overloading news channels.

18 August 2010

Same places, one more member

(Mum and Dad with the wee one, southbound platform, Pitlochry Railway Station, August 2010 )

(The newlyweds, southbound platform, Pitlochry Railway Station, June 2007)

Three years after my wedding, I returned to Stirling with my wife and son, and had him baptised in Church of the Holy Rude.

A couple of days before the baptism, we managed to visit again Pitlochry, the town where we spent our honeymoon, and took several photos at the same spots where we had taken some during the honeymoon.

Do Mum and Dad look any different?

(Mum and Dad with the wee one, Moulin Inn, Pitlochry, August 2010 )

(The newlyweds, Moulin Inn, Pitlochry, June 2007)

17 August 2010

On Polaroid: feast at the end of the semester

I should have posted this Polaroid photo earlier. Although compared with a digital photo, its resolution is definitely much lower, I just love its aged texture.

Since I started my full-time postdoctoral job in 2009, I have been inviting members in my database construction team to a feast at the end of every semester, and sometimes sort of fellowship dinner during the semester as well, in return for their hard work and to encourage teamwork cohesion. Most of the time, research assistants who share the same office with us would also join us.

After Ronne was born in early March, I have to go home on time every weekday to cook dinner and share child care responsibilities with Fanne, and spare the weekend for families, so no dinner event was held during the spring semester 2010.

However, I managed to gather my team members and some colleagues to have a good feed at a Cantonese restaurant on the 29th of July, about a week before I flew to Britain.

Pei-Hsiu, an alumna of our graduate institute, offered one of her last three Polaroid instant films, which have been discontinued, to capture the image of these well pleased folks. A nice shot, isn't it?

04 August 2010

Three-year-old wedding cake ready to be served again

(Lovely small two-layered wedding cake, Church of the Holy Rude, 23 June 2007)

It's about the halfway point of the summer vacation and I've just finished a one-month intensive summer course on musical cultures around the globe. After working industriously on my own project and the summer course for a whole month, I am ready to take a vacation to Britain.

When Fanne and I were married in the Church of the Holy Rude, we were told that the top layer of the wedding cake had to be saved for the christening. Margaret, my former landlady, kindly kept it in her deep freezer for us and now it is going to be re-iced and decorated by Tricia, the lady who made it for us three years ago.

In the past, it was popular to have a three-layered wedding cake: the bottom layer served in the reception, the second distributed to the guests and the top saved for the christening. However, as nowadays the wedding is not necessarily associated with the first child's christening, although multi-layered wedding cakes are still in vogue, the top layer may be saved for the couple's first anniversary, or simply eaten up after the ceremony.

I am so glad that we follow the tradition. The top layer will be served after the baptism.

I also feel so privileged that we could be married in the church where Jame VI, the last King of Scots, had been crowned and that my son is going to be baptised in the same church.

23 July 2010

Sinister expression on Ronne's face

There must have been something wrong with the camera, or probably with the light, room temperature, relative humidity, air pressure, et cetera, et cetera. How could my son, who is four and a half months old, look into the lens with such a sinister expression on his face.

Compared with the one below, this is definitely wicked!

I was told by relatives and friends with children that babies may show their first hints of smile, as a reaction to another person rather than reflex from gas, as early as five weeks, but it becomes more regular by twelve weeks. By six months, most babies would smile at people they know best.

I wonder when a baby starts giving a grudging expression to show disapproval or reluctance, out of will rather than physical needs such as hunger or discomfort.

17 July 2010

'Nobel Laureate only' parking space

This is not news, but is new to me.

The sign seems to have been there since late 2007, shortly before I was hired as an adjunct assistant professor at National Taiwan University. However, I only came to know this yesterday through a non-NTU student who is in the course I am running for the summer college.

As there is only one among the academic staff at National Taiwan University, Prof Yuan Tseh Lee, who has ever won a Nobel Prize, this location is absolutely reserved for Professor Lee.

Such a reserved parking space once aroused criticism. Some considered it a waste of space because Prof Lee (a part-time distinguished research chair rather than a full-time fellow) only came to the campus occasionally and there were more who badly needed it.

Well, I don't think it is something entirely nonsensical as there is a similar policy at UC Berkely. Nevertheless, I suppose the parking authority there is obviously much less verbose than that at NTU.

(image from National Public Radio News)

11 July 2010

Chanting a Tibetan blessing at a wedding

I was invited to chant a Tibetan blessing yesterday at the wedding of Wawa, the former assistant at the Graduate Institute of Musicology, NTU whom I have known at least since 2002 I guess. I was assigned a special task at the wedding—chanting a Tibetan blessing for the couple during their procession into the banquet hall.

I believe there are tonnes of musical pieces to which a bride and her bridegroom may walk down the isle, such as a pop like Elvis Presley's 'I Can't Help Falling in Love' or a serious classic like Marc-Antoine Charpentier's 'Prélude du Te Deum' or a liché like Richard Wagner's 'Wedding March'. However, Wawa and her husband requested a Tibetan blessing chanted in the Gyuto-monk-style overtone singing.

I had no idea if the bride's and groom's families and the guests were shocked when the couple walked into the wedding banquet to this unconventional 'song'.

The blessing I 'sang' was actually composed by two parts, the former the Padmasambhava mantra and the latter a prayer Tibetan people would recite at the New Year's Eve. I put the two together to wish the guests good health and peace of mind and the newlyweds prosperity and fullness.

For those who would like to know how the blessing sounds, listen to it.

I would be more than happy to do something similar for whoever needs this as long as the guests are not against it.

29 June 2010

The angelic smile on my son's face

(Although not shot professionally with even lighting, the smile is still a smile.)

What can be more rewarding than seeing the angelic smile on my son's face after a long exhausting day full of reading, marking, commenting and the so-called academic critical thinking?

Before my son was born, producing more journal papers and finding a secured academic job is the centre of my life, but now affording my son a carefree childhood, both spiritually and materially, has become another centre.

Just like an ellipse, there are now two foci in my life and thus a delicate balance between professionalism and family has to be maintained so that the ellipse can be kept regularly oval rather than transformed into an egg.

While seeking the balance, I find I have to work more efficiently in, and only in, the daytime on weekdays and reserve the evenings and the weekend for my son. This definitely applies to any working parent and not something extraordinary. However, I do enjoy the lifestyle changes of parenthood.

Above all, this is simply part of life and a must of life.

17 June 2010

Lost tradition of the telecast dragon boat race

(Image from China Times Magazine)

Yesterday was the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar—Dragon Boat Festival, or Duanwu Festival 端午節 known in most Chinese-speaking societies.

When I was a boy and when there were only three state-controlled terrestrial TV channels (TTV, CTV and CTS), on Dragon Festival my family and I usually watched the live telecast of dragon boat races. We would switch channels all the times in order to avoid adverts and try to watch as much as possible the live singing show staged just on the bank of the river where a boat race was held, which was usually organised by the TV channel that telecast the race.

However, it seems that few people would watch this sort of live broadcast dragon boat race and singing performance because I saw no programme, even a recorded broadcast, of any dragon boat races yesterday on any of the channels (either cable or wireless services ) available nowadays in Taiwan.

Therefore it is not profitable for a TV channel to produce a live broadcast of a dragon boat race along with a live singing show and we shall see no more telecast dragon boat races on TV.

13 June 2010

Capturing a transient smile

As I said, when you have a baby and happen to maintain a blog, the blog will become an online album for the photos you would take for your child.

Fanne took this photo by chance on Sunday afternoon. It is so cute that I just can't help but upload it immediately to share with the readers of Principle Wei's weblog.

Although professional photographers know that they have to produce dozens of images to get a picture that satisfies them, for us amateurs, seizing the moment 'by chance' is good enough.

How is Ronne in comparison with my Mahakala face?

12 June 2010

My Mahakala face with a taqiyah

(Graduate Wei-Qian, Professor Tsai, Jing-Ting with seven candles and myself with a Uyghur dap)

Jing-Ting bought two taqiyahs, short rounded caps worn by male Muslims, and gave me one as a present, for no reason. But I guess it has something to do with our successful collaboration and mutual-benefit 'boss-employee' relationship.

We've been working together so well that my course, 'Musical Cultures Around the Globe', is awarded again as 'distinguished general education course, autumn 2009' and he is also awarded again as 'distinguished teaching assistant, autumn 2009'.

The Graduate Institute of Musicology where I work as a postdoctoral fellow had a graduation celebration for our master students last Friday. Jing-Tin and I put on the caps for this special occasion. As we have been studying Arabic classical music and the culture, we consider this a kind of culture exhibition rather than merely culture appropriation.

The photo was taken on this special day.

As one of our graduates, Wei-Qian, has just finished her dissertation on Chinese revolution opera under Professor Tsai's supervision. Jing-Ting and I asked the maestro and disciple to take a photo with some dramatic postures as those Beijing opera performers would do. While Wei-Qian was too shy to show off, Professor Tsai did demonstrate an energetic facial expression.

To complement Professor Tsai's demonstration, I offered my Mahakala expression.

07 June 2010

Beef tomato with pork stew

(Not very clear as tomatoes have literally melted away, but still worth posting here as a picture 'sometimes' speaks a thousand words)

Aside from conducting research, delivering lectures and housekeeping, I suppose, in my case, cooking has now been included in the job description for Postdoctoral Fellow & Adjunct Assistant Professor as well.

There are certainly nothing commoner than research and lecturing in academia. However, as a person who believes that everything has its place in a divinely designed way (designed by myself, which should not be questioned), from time to time I have to spruce up the office to make everything shipshape and Bristol fashion. It's for my own good.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned to students and assistants working in the same office that beef tomatoes are perfect complement for Chinese-style pork stew, though it's unusual to see tomatoes cooked with pork in Chinese cuisine. No sooner had I put a full stop at the end of the sentence, they asked for a piece of hard evidence—a piping hot, ready-to-eat dish.

Therefore, I spent six hours on Sunday evening cooking a pot of pork stew to demonstrate how well beef tomatoes go with pork and their palates were persuaded today.

Here is a list of the important ingredients, in addition to pork, I used to cook this dish:
  • Veggies: diced beef tomato and diced carrot
  • Herbs and spices: ginger, spring onion, fresh basil, chilli
  • Sauce: Soya sauce, Chinese cooking wine, Chinese black rice vinegar and brown sugar, and of course water
Well, no measurements are given here because I've never tried to measure them up. However, I believe foodies can always discover the quantity of ingredients.

Assistants and students are requesting more, and therefore cooking is now part of my job.

31 May 2010

Drumming to soothe my son

With the help of Google, we can find out millions of web pages offering theories behind why a baby cries and practical guides to calm and soothe a crying baby. However, I have my own musical approaches.

If my son keeps crying even after his physical needs are totally met, I would try the following two:

a) Playing Arabo-Andalusian classical music CDs for him, just as I played for prenatal education and during labour and delivery.

b) Singing Mongolian khoomei or chanting Tibetan mantras for him, again as I did during pregnancy, labour and delivery.

These two usually suffice.

Nevertheless, in order not to bore him , recently I have developed a new approach: playing the Uzbek frame drum doira. It works very well. Once the travelling pressure wave set up by the pulsation of the vibrating drum membrane reaches him, he stops crying and then gazes into my swaying hands and the doira.

Rather than the complicated Uzbek classical rhythms,I usually play for my son some Arabic rhythmic patterns, which can be easily heard nowadays because of the growing popularity of the so-called belly dance. Among the various drumming patterns, he seems to prefer the maqsum.

How does he look?

27 May 2010

Course package uploaded to Course Database of General Education

The package of course materials I made earlier this year has passed the evaluation procedure and is finally uploaded to the website of Course Database of General Education, Taiwan.

The PowerPoint sides, audio-visual clips, handouts, reading lists and other necessary materials of the course are now available for university lecturers to download. The whole package is also accessible to the general public and thus those who would like to learn at home may use these on-line materials.

The construction team of the database has again commissioned me to make a video course for this package. How encouraging it is. I shall be very busy this summer.

18 May 2010

Singing karaoke continuously for seven hours

I went to Holiday KTV with three research assistants yesterday morning at seven o'clock, and we stayed there until two o'clock in the afternoon. No joking. We had been singing for seven hours.

It's absolutely great value for money; it cost only NTD 341 (roughly just more than USD 10.00) each person.

A 'KTV' is a type of karaoke establishment which consists of several individual rooms equipped with karaoke machines and audio-visual systems to be rented out for time periods.

Whereas in the West, speaking from my own experience in Britain, people who enjoy singing in public usually use karaoke equipment at restaurants, pubs or other similar venues, in some Asian countries, such as Taiwan, China and Japan, apart from such places, people may go to KTV to sing in a cosier, private atmosphere.

Right, but what does KTV have to do with karaoke? I've done some research and drawn an inference.
Karaoke=kara ( 空 ‘empty’) + ōkesutora (オーケストラ ‘orchestra’)

MTV = Music TeleVision
(originally referring to music video but later on the term for establishments with rooms to hire for watching videos)

KTV = Karaoke TeleVision = Karaoke + MTV
I think this is how the term KTV came into being.

Just like 'google', originally a noun but now a verb, 'K' becomes a verb in Taiwan and 'to K songs' simply means to go singing in a KTV. Thus, we had been K-ing songs yesterday for seven hours from morning to afternoon—what a luxury start of a day.

14 May 2010

¡Feliz Compleaños! Jing-Ting

My teaching, as well as research, assistant, Jing-Ting was born 24 years ago today.

Therefore, I am writing to wish him a very happy birthday and hope everything goes well with him in the coming 365 days until the 25th anniversary of his birth, on which I shall wish him another wish.

The picture was taken on the last day of 2009, when we had a New Year's Eve party in the Graduate Institute of Musicology, for which the dress code was 'creatively ugly' (You can see in the photo below how 'ugly' I was).

It's really a pleasure to have such an assistant, from whom I've also learnt a lot.

Sometimes I even find my own reflection in him—perseverance with what should be properly explored and learnt, fastidiousness about accuracy and detail, and the belief that everything has its place in a divinely designed way (actually our own way) which could not be questioned.

Although sometimes perseverance and fastidiousness are both just another form of stubbornness, with such determination we keep the standard and quality.

Anyhow, as he is learning to sing a flamenco alegrías, with great 'perseverance', on his 24th birthday I send him my best wishes, Feliz Compleaños!

(How are my Japanese wooden slippers?)

11 May 2010

Three days' single-parent

(Behaving good with Dad a home)

Yesterday was mother's day and Fanne's own first mother's day. We celebrated it by working overtime at home while Ronne was having a siesta—Fanne prepared the budget and strategic plans for the next five years for her business, whereas I worked on a paper which I should have submitted a century ago.

We also shared a cup of coffee, but she gobbled down a custard before she remembered to spare a bite for me. There was nothing else for this special day. However, she received something as a special gift from me: three days out of town on business while I look after the baby.

I don't think it is a tough task to take care of a child on oneself for just three days, as there are so many single-parents who have to rely on themselves for several years.

I have to feed Ronne once in the morning before we take a taxi to the baby school. He then stays at school all day while I preach to students. We taxi home in the early evening. The first thing back home is to bathe him and feed him. Then I cook dinner for myself while Ronne has a nap. After bedtime feeding is done before eleven o'clock, I can call it a day.

Hence, if a single-parent can care for one or more children without the assistance of the other biological parent in the home, then I can't find any reason for which I can't look after the baby when Fanne's is out of town for three days.

(After a cosy bath)

06 May 2010

Is my son a weirdo or is it just the magic power of Arabic music?

(Sound, sound sleep)

My son Ronne turns two months old today and he has managed to sleep through the night for several days. He goes to bed at 22.00 and wakes up at 06.00 next day, which means a full night of uninterrupted sleep for Fanne and me.

According to National Sleep Foundation:
For newborns, sleep during the early months occurs around the clock and the sleep-wake cycle interacts with the need to be fed, changed and nurtured.
By six months of age, nighttime feedings are usually not necessary and many infants sleep through the night; 70-80 percent will do so by nine months of age.
Hence, I believe Ronne is a bit ahead of the timetable, which is a bit weird.

As the saying goes, 'like father, like son'; I am a weirdo, so is Ronne. However, I somehow believe it may have something to do with the Arabic music I have been playing throughout Fanne's pregnancy, labour and delivery, and since Ronne's birth.

Perhaps there is certain mysterious power in Arabo-Andalusian classical music, which imbues peace and tranquility from all around our home.

Nevertheless, it is really unusual that a two-month-old baby sleeps through the night without the need to be fed before the dawn.

(Father and son, both asleep, just like how the father would fall asleep anytime, anywhere)