11 March 2012

Happy birthday, my son's mother!

(Shot in The Trossachs, Scotland, around Christmas 2002, which is almost ten years ago when we were still young and kicking.)

Today is Fanne's 37th birthday and mine is coming a month later. Time flies; we're both getting older and older. I found this photo just before I got ready to march to the land of Nod, so I decided to write something down, reminiscing the days when we were young.

In August 2002, Fanne turned down three MBA programme admissions from three University in England and applied for another one at the University of Stirling, because I had been offered a place on the programme leading to the degree of PhD in the Department of Film and Media Studies there.

Thus we went to Scotland together. While Fanne returned to Taiwan in September 2003 after finishing her MBA study, I stayed in Scotland for another four years until we were married in the Church of Holy Rude, Stirling in summer 2007. We finally came back and settled down in Taiwan.

So it is our story.

(Shot in front of Cambuskenneth Abbey, Stirling in summer 2003)

05 March 2012

Two-fingered piano playing

(Ready to play the piano for Dad?)

With the ever-increasing popularity of computers and our dependency on these machines, more and more people can touch-type, i.e. to type with all fingers and at least one of the thumbs without looking at the keyboard. Nevertheless, some would prefer two-fingered typing to touch typing and they still type proficiently.

Two-fingered typing is one thing; two-fingered piano playing is quite another, although both activities are carried out on a keyboard. Whereas we don't usually press several keys of a computer keyboard at the same time, except when using special keys to modify normal actions of other keys, such as +, most of the time we do have to produce more than two notes simultaneously on a piano.

However, two-fingered piano playing is theoretically workable. The pianist David Rubinstein composed in 1999 Piano Music for Two Fingers. There are actually five pieces: for both thumbs, both index fingers, both middle fingers, both fourth fingers and both pinkies, respectively. Audio previews are available here.

My two-year-old son's palms and fingers are probably still not big and strong enough to play the piano properly, but instead of pounding on the keyboard to produce tone clusters like most young children, he would rather press one key at a time with either of his index fingers.

Well, there is a long way for him to go in the future should he want to make more sounds on the piano in an organised way, but it appears that he is quite happy with his two fingers for the time being.

(Look, how concentrating he is!)

(Right, it's right hand's turn.)

03 March 2012

Rebirth of my 27-year-old piano

Mr Chen, the piano specialist, came to my place, restored everything and tuned the piano today, just before Ronne's second birthday next Monday.

Great birthday gift, though not brand new, isn't it?

(Looks like new, doesn't it?)

(How lovely: the Bach half-statue indicator of the automatic piano dehumidifier. When the red light is on, the dehumidifying gadget is operating.)

Ronne always asks my mum to play (by 'play' I mean 'engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose') the piano with him and sometimes would like to stay at my mum's place in order to play the piano.

Well, from today onwards, he can play properly the piano with his father at home.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

I received a Christmas card last week.

Yes, I know, certainly, undoubtedly, definitely, surely, indubitably, undeniably, obviously... (I am sure that everybody can easily think of more), Christmas and New Year holiday have long gone, but it was 'missent' to THAILAND.

Bloody hell, does the spelling of my country's name 'TAIWAN' look like 'THAILAND' at all? Hopeless, Royal Mail. Shame on you.

Well, think of the cliché 'every cloud has a silver lining' and try to look on the bright side: it's only two months late. It could have been worse.

I once received a 'MISSENT TO TANZANIA' postcard several years ago. My wife (then girlfriend) sent me a card when she was in Cambridge for a short-term language programme. The post card arrived three month after she returned to Taiwan.

Therefore, they have been improving, from three-month to two-month. God bless Royal Mail.

25 February 2012

Moving my old upright piano

(Ronne, in front of his new toy–Wei's old toy under overhaul)

In 1985 Dad took out a loan of NTD 100,000 to buy me a YAMAHA U3 upright piano when he earned just more than 10,000 a month. It did cost him an arm and a leg. Although I didn't become a musician like Leonard Bernstein or Daniel Barenboim, I teach music at National Taiwan University, which has made him a proud and gratified parent.

Sorry but I really can't bother to fork out an extravagant amount (at least NTD 200,000 nowadays) to buy another YAMAHA U3 for Ronne. Thus, I decided to move the one old in my parents' apartment to my place. I have also engaged a piano restoration specialist to start an overhaul of this 27-year-old pianoforte.

Fortunately, this black sound-producing device is still in very good condition. Only hammer butt flanges (something numbered 25 in the diagram below) need servicing. It'll take the specialist about ten days to restore all the butt flanges of the 88 keys to working order.

The black wooden case, enclosing the soundboard, strings and the keyboard, is now in my living room awaiting the butt flanges. In must more than a week's time, Ronne will be playing with this new toy.

(Image from International Piano Supply)

19 February 2012

Mandarin cover of Jeanette MacDonald's 'San Francisco'

(Martha Su, or Su Mada 蘇馬大 in Chinese, image cited from Deng Xiaoyu)

(Listen to the Mandarin version of 'San Francisco' interpreted by Martha Su, on Regal (China) 41487B. Yes, it's in Mandarin Chinese. Can you identify any word?)

To usher in the new semester, I was reorganising all the files and folders on my MacBook Pro this afternoon. I found this long-lost 'San Francisco', a song adapted from the theme of the 1936 Academy Award winning San Francisco, set in San Francisco before and after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. (Thanks to Edwin W Chen's information about the film.)

This song, now one of the two official city songs of San Francisco, was originally sung by the leading actress Jeanette MacDonal in the film, for six times at six scenes respectively.

I don't know much about Martha Su, the Chinese singer who covered 'San Francisco'. The Mandarin 'San Francisco' is one of the only two songs known so far she had ever recorded.

Martha's scat improvisation in this song is fascinating and unprecedented, as well as unparalleled in the 1930s and 1940s Mandarin pop scene. I can't think of any other singer from the same period that could improvise with wordless vocables or nonsense syllables to create the equivalent of an instrumental solo like Martha.

Make a comparison between Martha's recording and one of Jeanette's performances in the film embedded below.

Hand dragon lantern

(Ronne and the dragon)

Time flies; the nearly 5-week winter break has come to the end. Spring semester 2012 starts on 20 February.

Surely there are a lot to be noted down during the long vacation, but the only thing I am able to write about on the day before the new semester kicks off would be Ronne and his dragon lantern.

This year the lantern festival, which is generally regarded as the last day of the Chinese New Year and after which all lunar new year celebrations conclude, fell on 6 February. Although we didn't visit any lantern fair, lantern parade, garden party or something like that, we celebrated the festival at home.

A friend of Fanne gave us a DIY lantern set. We (of course 'we' on this occasion is a singular which denotes 'I') managed to assemble the cardboard dragon lantern and we (now this is a plural pronoun which indeed means the whole family) had a good time in the evening.

As we failed to take proper, sharp images in the dark with our old digital camera, probably manufactured before you bought yours, what are uploaded here were taken during the day.

23 January 2012

I'm Popeye The Sailor Man

(Listen to 'I'm Popeye the Sailor Man' by Billy Costello, the original voice of Popeye in animated cartoons)

Another recently purchased record for Chinese New Year!

Like many cartoons, such as Snoopy and Dennis the Menace, Popeye is a character originally created for a comic strip which is later adapted into an animated cartoon.

I can't remember if I've read any Popeye newspaper comic strips or individual comic books in my childhood, but I am sure I'v watched tonnes of Popeye animated cartoons on TV.

On TV Popeye always turned many hopeless situations around after gulping some spinach from a tin, which boosted his muscles and physical strength immediately. Therefore Popeye was taken as a healthy eating role model by parents to encourage vegetable-phobic (is there such a word?) children to eat more spinach.

I actually came to know this record through a radio programmed in an old newspaper circulated in Taiwan back in 1936. This record was once played over the air in Taiwan.

I was so amazed how producers at the then Taipei Radio Station (台北放送局, call sign JFAK) would collect and introduce music from the West, not only 'classical' works but also other popular tunes, to the audience in Taiwan. I then discover this record on eBay, bid and won.

22 January 2012

Another DIY new year couplet for the year of the dragon

Although I am definitely not good at Chinese calligraphy at all, again I write my own new year couplet (春聯 chunlian) with a Chinese writing brush, rather than buying a commercially mass-printed one.

As usual, my DIY couplet must have something to do with music and the academia and thus this year I compose a pair of lines which may be translated roughly as

"Joyfully play music and spread [it] throughout the globe (喜奏笙歌傳四宇);
Graciously welcome guests and converse over the history (高迎雅客論春秋)."

I have to admit that the handwriting gets even worse than the one I did last year. It looks indeed like homework or something at secondary school level.

However, I can't blame myself, as I do it only once a year. Thus, happy new year, the year of dragon. Have a happy and prosperous year.

01 January 2012

New Year's Day before the New Year's Day of the Year of the Dragon

(Click to enlarge and see how I have changed over the past few years, from 1st January 2007 to 2012)

The Chinese New Year of the Dragon falls on the 23rd of January in 2012. Before running towards a whole series of traditional rituals, I am obliged to herald the Gregorian New Year with thousands of revellers on streets.

For the sixth time in a row since the year end 2006, I went to the Taipei 101 fireworks show again last night, with my wife of course and, as I had spoken last year, my son, who is old enough now to join us.

While I am busy marking students' essays, striving to finish the manuscript of a paper which is scheduled to be published by the end of January, blah, blah, blah, I insist on maintaining the ritual of counting down to New Year at the same spot and then taking a photo thereafter.

I am so glad that Blogger is still in business and I am able to upload a set of comparative photos this year.