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I've been sick--flu, cold, allergies, whatever you want to call it, but instead of blogging I've been stuck in bed reading (and finishing) Paul Scott's The Raj Quartet for the last couple of weeks. My particular copy of The Quartet contained all four volumes in one door-stopper of a monstrosity, and my shoulders and wrists are suffering the consequences, LOL! Anyway, I'm much better now, have moved on to some lighter reading, and am ready to continue sharing my Taiwan trip, Days 5 and 6. So . . . by Day 5 I had devised a sketching routine for my bus rides. I decided to divide some of my sketchbook pages into grids of six and then whenever we stopped at the traffic lights, or just slowed down, I would draw as quickly as possible in one or more of the squares. Some of the drawings are a bit esoteric, for instance:
At other times, however, the scenery was so consistent I was able to use a full page and go for some color, such as when we were following the coast:
They're funny little drawings, I know, but they mean a lot to me--and I now have some good references for larger work later this summer.
Other than drawing, the main focus for Day 5 was the National Center for Traditional Arts, and perhaps one of my favorite places on the tour. The idea behind the winding streets and specialty shops is to give visitors a sense of "old world" Taiwan while demonstrating how the various items for sale from puppets to paintbrushes are made. I found it utterly charming and ended up buying incense (complete with history lesson and a chance to sniff a wide variety of sandalwood shavings); preserved kumquats; dried "squid" cheese (a stringy cheese snack guaranteed to have not harmed any squids); and my most extravagant purchase to date: handmade lampwork glass beads for yet more jewelry-making. (I’m going to have to open my own shop at this rate.) At lunch, served in a building that had once been an old kiln, one of our group members asked an interesting question: What have you learned about yourself so far? At first I seemed to have so many answers I couldn’t concentrate on just one, so I think I said something inane, like, “A lot!” But later that afternoon I wanted to examine the question in more depth. Here’s my reply straight and unedited from my journal: “I’ve learned that I don’t need to go on my dream-vacation to Japan. This trip is enough and even better. For years I thought I was “Japanese” in spirit. Now, after this trip, that no longer rings true. I have learned that I am more complex: for instance, in the Palace Museum I read that everything in Chinese culture and life holds meaning and symbolism. And it all has to add up and create the ultimate state of harmony. I have learned that I want that too. And that I want to use my five senses in my art and writing much, much more than I have in the past. I guess I've learned I am hungry for life. I want to keep learning."
After lunch my quest for more "art and life" came to vivid life when I got caught up in a street theater performance—letting me believe I had been transported to another world and century.
Then it was back on the bus for our next destination: our hotel and such a steep drive into the mountains we had to be calmed (i.e., distracted) by watching a spectacular movie on Taiwan's geographical wonders. Refreshments for the ride were what our guide referred to as “donkey tongue cookies.” Although I think something may have been lost in translation, they were very good, about ten inches of pastry filled with cinnamon, and I suppose they do look like donkey tongues (not that I'm any kind of expert on the subject). And then . . . we arrived at our hotel, a wonderland of a resort owned and managed by the local Aborigines. I had NO idea we would be staying here (or anywhere like it, for that matter):
My "10-minute" version of our cabin.
The dining room--great for early morning journaling and sketching.
Using our hotel as "base camp," Day 6 took us hiking into the marbled cliffs of the Taroko Gorge:
Helmets were compulsory in this section--not, in my opinion, to protect us from the falling rocks, but because of the narrow walkway along the highway where buses, cars, and scooters whizzed, I mean whizzed by. Add to that my general fatigue from reaching the halfway point of our journey, and it's a miracle I didn't fall over the edge or in front of a speeding Porsche.
Taroko Gorge also provided my first monkey sighting in the village where we had lunch, followed by cold beers in a scenic garden setting while waiting for a few of our more-adventurous explorers to return.
Beer finished, it was onto the bus and off to a marble factory where we were able to take a peek into the high-security jade jewelry vaults. These star-fire gems (there is no other way to describe them) were unlike any pieces of jade I'd ever seen before--highly lustrous in shades of green, blue, and lilac, quite expensive, and guarded by uniformed girls straight out of a James Bond film. And, boy, did they keep their eyes out for sticky fingers. Once we'd had our look-see the cases closed with a bang, bang, bang and we were quickly ushered into the next room. Very quickly.
Marble chunks perfect for home or garden!
Back on the bus we had a lovely surprise waiting for us: our bus driver had bought us all porcelain pendant necklaces while we were admiring the jade. Mine was a miniature Blue Willow plate on a deep blue cord which I wore for the remainder of the trip. (It's currently on display in my writing room as part of my "Taiwan Memories" grouping.)
Necklaces in place, we then set out for another Aborigine village, this time with a lively dance show followed by a "hot pot" cook-your-own-dinner restaurant. As was often the case, I was given my own special vegetarian items to cook, starting with this amazing lotus flower:
A small lotus bud placed in boiling soup water turned into . . . a genuine Kodak moment. (And yes, I drew it in my sketchbook too.)
Highlight of the Day: Our Luxurious Leader Hotel. We were lucky enough to stay two nights in this beautiful setting and I don't think I'll ever forget a single moment. P.S. The dialogue in the video is in Chinese, but I thought that would provide an accurate example of what it was like to be there, rarely able to understand a single word anyone said! One difference between the video and our own stay is that the the grounds are shown to be more crowded than they were for us, but otherwise it's exactly the same. I even recognize some of the staff and performers. So please turn on the sound, sit back, and enjoy. Add a Comment
Today I've been going through the photos I took in Taiwan. Altogether I took a whopping 893 (a record for me), of which I printed out 293 over the weekend. Some will go into an album, but the majority are for art reference, especially pictures of temples, monkeys, and cats. Thanks to a handy mix-up at the developers, I ended up with an extra 181 doubles! I can't wait to start painting and experimenting with color, media, and some new techniques. Before then, however, (and before I continue with my Taiwan Diary posts) I wanted to let you all know about an exciting music-and-art event here in Albuquerque. Pianist Hui-Mei Lin, sister of our super Taiwan tour leader, artist Ming Franz, will be giving a concert on Friday, May 29, with cellist Peter Seidenberg. The concert will be followed by a reception at the New Mexico Art League, where the tickets are currently on sale. Phone: (505) 293-5034.
The New Mexico Art League Presents
"Classical in Bloom"
About the musicians: Hui-Mei Lin, pianist, a native of Taiwan, received her Bachelor’s degree from the Hartt School of Music, and Master’s degree from the Juilliard School. In 2002, she received a Doctoral of Musical Arts degree from the Graduate School of the City University of
Hui-Mei made her New York solo debut at the Weill Recital Hall at the Carnegie Hall as the winner of the Artists International Competition. She was described by the New York Times as “an excellent pianist throughout” and the Taiwan News as “a sensitive and powerful pianist.” Concert tours have taken her to Italy, Canada, and various cities in Taiwan, including two concerts at the National Concert Hall in Taipei. Her media broadcasts include solo performances at PBS, WQXR, Taiwan Television and China Broadcasting Company. As a chamber musician, Hui-Mei has performed with cellist Carter Brey, flutist Robert Stallman, soprano Berenice Bramson at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall; the New Hungarian Quartet in Taos Chamber Music Festival, New Mexico; and the Peregrine Trio throughout the North East.
Dr. Lin maintains an active performing schedule. Last season she performed with her duo piano team, “Hudson Connection” at UC Davis, Metro State University of Denver, Bard College, Sarah Lawrence College, and with Peter at Music Institute of Chicago. This season her concerts include various venues in NY area, SC, CA, and NM. She is currently the Music Director at Briarcliff Congregational Church and a faculty member of The Sacred Heart University in Connecticut.
Peter Seidenberg, cellist:“Totally enchanting, inspired performances, brimming with natural, spontaneous musicianship”, raves Gramophone Magazine about cellist Peter Seidenberg. Mr. Seidenberg has played in major halls throughout the US, Europe, and Asia. He made his solo debut with the Chicago Symphony, and has since appeared as soloist with many orchestras including Century Orchestra of Osaka, New American Chamber Orchestra, De Paul Chamber Orchestra, New York Chamber Soloists, and the Eastman-Rochester Philharmonic.
For four years he served as principal cellist with the Century Orchestra of Osaka. He was founding member of the critically acclaimed Elements Quartet which created groundbreaking commissioning projects involving over 30 composers. He has collaborated with members of the Cleveland, Tokyo, Juilliard and Emerson Quartets and has participated in the Marlboro, Aspen, Caramoor, Casals and Norfolk festivals.
His numerous recordings can be found on the Pantheon, RCA, EMF, CRI, Albany, and Lyrichord labels. He has been featured on PBS, NBC, NHK, New Zealand Public TV, Air Espania and European Broadcast Union (EBU) broadcasts.
Currently, Peter Seidenberg is the cellist for the Oracle Trio, the Queen’s Chamber Band, and the New York Chamber Soloists. He now lives in Hastings on Hudson, NY with his wife, violinist April Johnson, and two daughters, Beatrice and Olivia. It's quite an honor to have two such talented and accomplished musicians coming to our city. Something that made my trip to Taiwan particularly magical was the sound of music wherever I went. At first I thought it was my imagination, but no, soft neo-classical music was really floating onto the streets from shops, restaurants, hotels, and strategically-placed municipal speakers. (I've since learned it also emanates from the garbage trucks making their rounds!) The music didn't stop once we were inside, either. Besides music on the bus, we could listen and relax to all kinds of gentle sounds in several of our hotel rooms right at the push of a button. So with these happy memories still in mind I'm very much looking forward to Hui-Lin and Peter's concert. Piano and cello are two of my favorite instruments, and getting the chance to view some art on the same night will certainly prove inspiring. If you're already in Albuquerque, or perhaps traveling here that weekend, I hope to see you there!
The "art of the flower" as displayed in another of our
magnificent Taiwanese hotels: more on this amazing place later!
Hello, Everyone! Where do the weeks go? Despite my best intentions, it's been nearly two whole weeks since my last post. I need to catch up, so let's just start with Day 3 dawning over Taipei:
Sunny and mild, Day 3 found us traveling to the Tamsui Bay region where we explored the ancient Spanish Fort San Domingo, with its classic old Western-style architecture, garden, furnishings and views of Guan-yin Mountain. For some reason I didn't take any photos--probably because I was concentrating on the views:
Tamsui Bay--looking forward to painting this.
Going through the various rooms of the fort's living quarters, displayed to resemble the way the house appeared during the time of the last British Consulate, I came across this intriguing message on the wall: "One may ask, From which angle will the mountain look like the Goddess of Mercy most?" Hmm. I found the answer fairly soon when I turned the corner and entered an exhibition of mid-century modern Taiwanese art focusing on scenes of Tamsui. Cubism, Fauvism, 1950's "primitive," so many different techniques but all with an Asian flair I loved--a little too much as I then had to run to the gift shop to buy the exhibition catalog/book. And there went "traveling light." After the fort and a drive along the coast, we lunched (feasted) at a seafood restaurant. Being a vegetarian I was given my own special selections, but I couldn't help but be impressed with the artistry of the fish presentations--fish as food sculpture was a new one to me! Better still was the fact that I started using my chopsticks with serious proficiency. I can only thank the Goddess of Mercy for such kindness.
One of my favorite things was seeing all the family businesses in action. So many just like this.
After lunch: the wild and crazy Yehliu rocks, a coastal phenomenon unique to Taiwan. The rocks are truly unbelievable, shaped like chess pieces, dogs, mushrooms; whatever you can imagine there's a rock to match. Climbing up and down the walkways got a tad slippery for me (especially with my uncanny ability to trip whenever possible) so midway along the tour I stopped to rest with one of my fellow travelers, a lovely woman and new friend from the UK. While we were happily chatting in the shade about how difficult it is to get Americans to call a bathrobe a "dressing gown," we noticed people taking our photo, not once, but several times, only then to be asked if the photographers could be in the photos with us. It turned out that tourists from mainland China had never seen an American--or English--traveler in person before. They were thrilled, and I have no idea how many family albums we'll be appearing in over the next few months.
Yehliu mushroom rocks--incredible!
Straight out of Alice in Wonderland.
Day 3 ended and Day 4 began in the port city of Keelung:
From our hotel room window!
Night view from the hotel restaurant.
Early morning stroll along the docks.
The sidewalk was narrow . . . but I was on a mission . . .
. . . to buy these. Delicious.
And then we were off to gold mining country, waterfall viewing,
and a terrifying bus trip while standing (I had to keep my eyes closed) into the romantic and exceptionally steep village of Jiufen. Once we arrived we still had to go further uphill, climbing, climbing, and climbing to the very top of the village accompanied by the pervasive scent of what's known as “stinky tofu," a local delicacy and a taste I'm embarrassed to say I never tried. I’m a bit disappointed at myself for being such a coward, but it was just too . . . stinky.
The streets of Jiufen filled with happy strangers.
No clue what they're selling here, but it looks like something fun!
"No, it's your turn to buy the stinky tofu!"
Unbelievably, it was lunchtime again (the meals never stopped appearing). This time in a delightful open-air wooden tea room with the usual abundance of delicious offerings. Good thing we were forced to walk down to the bottom of the village to catch our bus. Calories, calories!
Before leaving the village we were given an hour or so to sightsee on our own, so my first choice was to visit a natural stone store I remembered passing on the way up and where I was able to buy beads for jewelry making. I came away with jade, aventurine, and citrine (so, so pretty), and at a bargain, too. (BTW, in case there's any doubt, let me just remind everyone that shopping IS sightseeing. It's very educational to learn how shopkeepers in foreign parts write up receipts, display their goods, etc. etc. I highly recommend it.) After shop-seeing and some more much-needed walking, we then learned how to shove our way onto the shuttle bus. Being a Sunday, the place was crowded to capacity, so we had to be aggressive if we wanted get down to our tour bus waiting at the bottom of the mountain. So all together now: Shove, shove, shove! I felt terrible. Sort of. Safely back on our home bus again, shins and elbows intact, we again followed the coastline, this time to the tune of soul-soothing classical music, before we stopped at this architectural wonder of a museum:
Inside the museum I was able to learn more about the Aboriginal people of Taiwan, and the history of the Chinese settlers. My favorite moment was sitting inside a replica of an Aboriginal thatched hut to watch a movie (the big screen TV was something of an anachronism, especially as I was sitting on a log) about their daily lives, arts and crafts, and hunting methods.
After the museum: another spectacular hotel doubling as a spa (complete with deep stone-tiled spa tub and hot spring water right in our room) and known as "A Spring Full of Indulgence and Comfort." Taiwanese pajamas were provided for our comfort, that is if you were the size of a small teddy bear, but the cute free flip-flops fit like a dream--I'm still wearing them as I'm writing this post!
Tea for two.
Highlight of the Day: Shove, shove, shove! Nah, just kidding. Fortunately, we never had to be so ruthless again. Instead, I found the majority of the trip to be extremely calm and restful, a mood I'm celebrating with my new Pinterest board: I Love Taiwan! I'd love for you to take a look when you've got a free minute or two. In the meantime, stay tuned for my next post, Days 5 and 6.
<!--[if gte mso 9]>Normal0falsefalsefalseEN-USX-NONEX-NONEMicrosoftInternetExplorer4<![endif]-->Today I start my "Taiwan Diary" posts, outlining as best I can our 12 days of non-stop fun. Day 1 of the trip, a full travel day, might not sound like a thrill-a-minute, but I actually enjoyed it. Starting here at home in Albuquerque: up at 5.00 AM to shower, breakfast, and get to the airport (thankfully just a 20 minute drive away) in time for my flight to San Francisco where I would catch the plane to Taipei.
From Albuquerque to San Francisco I got the surprise of my life: several crates of puppies were packed behind me in the cargo area—aarf, aarf, aarf for the next two hours! At first I thought it was the guy sitting next to me--I was terrified he was making barking noises and I would have to call security. When I realized he couldn't possibly be barking in three different languages (i.e., chihuahua, poodle, and mutt), I finally arrived in San Francisco: collecting luggage, checking in to EVA Airlines, and meeting up with the rest of the tour group. After a several hour wait, we then boarded our plane for a long (14 hours?) trip made bearable by movies, a much better system than the days when I used to fly back and forth to New Zealand.
I watched The Theory of Everything (the recent film about Stephen Hawking); Someone to Love (Scandinavian tear-jerker about a selfish rock star who has to raise his grandson when the child's drug addict mother--the mean superstar's daughter--overdoses. It might have been a bit heavy for in-flight entertainment, but I felt I got to see a side of Scandinavian life I would otherwise have missed); and Gemma Bovary, a rather strange and dark French comedy (I think it was a comedy) about a woman whose life mimicked that of Madame Bovary. Which anyone familiar with the story would know is not very comedic!
By the time we arrived in Taipei it was a couple of hours before midnight, but we had yet to get through immigration, a seemingly endless line of night-arriving travelers. Once that was over, we were next into a shuttle van and off to the City Suites Hotel, a clean and comfortable stay perfect for when you have absolutely no idea where you are, what time of night or day it really is, and just need to crawl into bed.
At first my roommate (who turned out to be the best roommate anyone could ever ask for!!) and I couldn't get the lights to work until we figured out we had to place our room key card in the light switch. And then we couldn’t figure out how to turn them off--I think we slept with the lights on. Until dawn, at least, when I got up and unplugged all the lamps without telling her so that she thought there were no lights at all. Not my smartest moment.
What I do think was a pretty smart move, though, was my idea to throw away my entire airplane outfit! Yep, this had been my plan all along. For traveling I wore my very worst yard clothes and during the rest of the trip I managed to throw out 1 pair of jeans, 4 tops, 2 cardigan sweaters, a pair of shoes, and ALL of my underwear and socks. Talk about traveling light. My "Throw and Go" system was the best travel brainstorm I’ve ever had: months ago I started collecting things that would normally go in the rag bag or trash and decided to wear them one last time on the trip. I will never travel any other way again. "Throw and Go" not only solved the laundry problem, it left plenty of room in my suitcase for shopping.
Day 2 found me getting up at 5.00 AM again—I felt completely rested and ready to see the sights. This pattern seemed to follow me the rest of the trip—I didn’t want to miss a thing!
The day turned out to be cold and overcast, making me grateful to have brought a raincoat with a removable liner and hood. Coming from Albuquerque, I found the light drizzle something of a novelty, providing a mysterious dreamlike atmosphere that only added to my sense of adventure. Our tour guide also informed us that water brings good luck, a statement that proved itself just about every day.
After breakfast (with some of the best coffee I've ever had in my life--another great thing that continued throughout the entire trip) and waiting for everyone to gather for the bus, I took a few minutes to sketch the back view from the hotel lobby where a small canal or stream was flowing past:
My chosen medium was watercolor pencils, and everything was going fine until I went to fill my water brush with water and it broke in two. For anyone not familiar with a water brush, it's a brush that holds water in the tubular barrel and is (usually) great for travel. Except for when it breaks, which had never happened to me before. During the flight it must have developed some kind of airlock from the pressure, finally snapping in two. At first I was totally devastated; my whole "art plan" depended on my water brush. I consoled myself with the fact that we were going to an art supply store in the afternoon where I could buy a new one and I could always add the water at any time, but I wanted to paint now.
Painting woes aside, it was time to get on the bus, and our first tour stop of the day was the residence, now a museum, of Chang Dai-Chien, Taiwan’s most famous splash ink artist.
The entrance to the neighborhood housing the residence.
The Master's carp pond.
The Master's inner courtyard.
The back of the residence. Bonsai trees, rushing water, mountains, and white butterflies.
The Master's pickle jars!
The residence was definitely well worth the visit, an experience made even more interesting when our guide explained that the reason for all the water (ponds, waterfalls, river) was not only for the visual beauty, but for the sound. Chinese art strives to use, and be inspired by, all the senses, something I want to keep in mind for future artwork.
From the Master's House our next stop was the National Palace Museum—one of the largest collections of Chinese antiquities in the world.
I have no idea who these people are or how they got in my photo.
Before we started exploring the museum though, it was time for lunch. With chopsticks. Here is the sad story of me and chopsticks: despite having watched 3 Youtube videos prior to my departure on the correct usage of these darn little sticks, and practicing at home with knitting needles, I still made a big mess. Everyone else at my table seemed to be genius chopstick users. The thought occurred to me that I was going to have to solve the problem soon or I might soon be banned from the table. I couldn't eat with my fingers forever!
From the museum steps. (And an exciting view of the backs of people's heads. Sorry!)
Once I was finished throwing my food around the room we were given several free hours on our own to wander and absorb the magnificence of the actual museum. Again I noted in some of the displays that same theme of Chinese art using all the senses, particularly those that help to find the "chi" of whatever subject is being portrayed. For instance, if the artist was painting an animal, that chi might be found in the way the little creature lifted its paw or angled its head--an excellent starting point for any work of art.
Although the museum was far too big to cover in a single afternoon, I managed to see more floors and exhibitions then I thought I would, but it was tiring work. To recover I decided to get another cup of wonderful Taiwanese coffee and go outside for some more sketching. Another piece of advice I recalled from The Tao of Sketching was to cultivate "visual memory," so I tried to reproduce a Ming vase I saw in one of the exhibitions. I don't think I captured its "chi" exactly, but it makes a nice memory all the same.
My sketch and coffee finished, the chilly weather drove me back inside and surprise, surprise, into the museum gift store. I had wanted some cat art and sure enough, there it were two prints just waiting for me:
Lots of chi here, don't you think?
I'll be framing these soon for my office.
At last it was time to go to the art supply store, an old-world traditional shop up a steep flight of stairs and next to a street vendor making and selling delicious-smelling steamed pork buns (and that's from a vegetarian!). While the others in our group ordered authentic carved name seals (I opted out because I wasn't sure I really had a need for one) I started searching in vain for my water brush. Not only were they nonexistent, no one had a clue what I was talking about (neither in English nor with the help of Chinese translation.)
Which leads me to this important travel tip: keep the various parts of your brush separated while flying. Better still, take at least two brushes—this was one case where “traveling light” was too light.
However, all was not lost. I ended up purchasing something much, much better: a little Chinese watercolor brush I will treasure forever. The only downside of this brush was having to use a bottle of drinking water for dipping and cleaning it, and then having to constantly remind myself not to drink my paint water . . .
Such a sweet little brush. Excellent quality. I love it.
Last stop of the day was dinner and bed, all at the spectacular Grand Hotel where we turned into royalty. Sheer heaven. What a way to travel.
I reveled in the abundance of soaps, shampoos and lotions all smelling better than Chanel No. 5. Chinese artistry celebrates the senses for sure.
Highlight of the Day: Rubber stamps! Starting at the National Palace Museum I discovered that most tourist sites and even some hotels provide rubber stamps and ink pads to commemorate your visit with a mini work of art. It was so much fun collecting the various images throughout the country and I think they really enhanced my journal/sketchbook. The one I added to my museum sketch (and after I was able to use my paint brush) was one I found several days later at a Buddhist monastery. I have no idea what it says, or if I have the characters facing the right direction, but I'm glad I found it.
And what a trip it was. Here's a photo of me in the Taroko Gorge area, about halfway through our 12-day journey. I chose this one out of all my 893 pics because I thought it summed up my day-by-day existence pretty well: happy as a clam and having the time of my life whilst overcoming my reluctance to stand too close to the edge. (P.S. I did get right up close by the end of the day. In fact, I don't think I'll ever be afraid of heights again.) As you can see, we had to wear helmets in this particular section, but to be perfectly honest I should have been required to keep mine on my head until I got home. My head was always in the clouds (giving our wonderful tour guide a constant source of worry with the repeated refrain of: "Valerie, watch OUT!"). And that's because:
Taiwan was . . . incredible; one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited. I am so grateful to artist Ming Franz for giving us this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel with her to her home country in such a personal and insightful way. Any expectations I may have held in advance were far exceeded; both from a cultural and a tourist point of view. My sole job every day was to have my luggage ready for collection in the morning, get on the bus, and be prepared for adventure. The perfect way to travel!
Our magic flying bus.
Because the trip meant I had to miss participating in this year's April A-Z blogging challenge, I thought I would make up for lost time by writing several posts about the trip over the next couple of weeks. Don't worry--they won't be long or too exhaustive. As much as I would love to share every single second with you, I also realize how easily travel stories can become a big snooze, so I'll keep everything down to the highlights.
Something I wanted to mention before my next post though, is to remind everyone that my primary reasons for taking the trip (besides having lots of fun, traveling with Ming, and meeting new friends) were to, a) learn more about Asian and Chinese art, which I certainly did, and b) to sketch with a free heart and without my Inner Critic (I think I threw her off at the Gorge somewhere). In order to achieve the right state of mind for these goals, one book that really helped me ahead of time was The Tao of Sketching by Qui Lei Lei. I found his timetable/chart for sketching invaluable, e.g. "2-3 minutes, just use pen or pencil and go for quick lines," as well as his sage advice, "Never give up," (draw or paint in whatever circumstances you find yourself, which for me was drawing on the bus with all its bumps, sudden turns, and spilled water galore) and, "Capture what 'punctures your heart.' ”
Taiwan punctured my heart. But more of that in my next post: Travel Days 1 and 2. Right now I'm going to eat a yummy preserved kumquat, one of the treats I brought home from this amazing place, The National Center for Traditional Arts. Oh, how I wish I was still there!
Tip of the Day: Besides drawing, I also did a little bit of writing in the form of listing 12 items to remember every day. It was a good system as it saved me from the pressure of “having to journal” when I was too tired to do anything but smile. Best of all, the ensuing 144 are right at my fingertips, easy to transcribe into another form, e.g. this blog, without having to search through pages and pages of rambling observations and inner musings.
Earlier this year, Cartoon Network partnered with the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation for a public transportation advertising campaign called Cartoon Express. The campaign features a passenger train wrapped entirely, inside and out, in Cartoon Network character decals.
During its inaugural journey, the passengers, which included children from underprivileged backgrounds, received train announcements from the voice of Adventure Time’s Jake the Dog, played a CN-specific bingo game and mailed Cartoon Express postcards to loved ones via an on-board mailbox.
The Cartoon Express runs between the Taiwanese capitol of Taipei to the southern city of Kaohsiung and it is estimated that it will serve several hundred thousand passengers during the run of the campaign.
Maggie Steele, the storybook heroine who vaults over the moon, has been attracting thousands of visitors from around the world. So many visitors, in fact, that she’s using a time zone map to keep track of them all.* People are … Continue reading →
Rhythm & Hues recently had a booth at a job fair at Taichung’s National Chung Hsing University, where it was recruiting special effects engineers, 3D animation artists and other creative personnel. Starting salaries for new graduates at the Taiwan studio are roughly in the range of $250-per-week, according to the China Post.
Pacy and her family are off to Taiwan for the summer. Pacy and her sisters are NOT looking forward to it. When they get there, it's hard. Everything is new and overwhelming. They don't speak the language and can't read signs. At home, they were the only Asian family and could feel out of place. In Taiwan they look like everyone else, but still don't fit. Through it all, Pacy learns more about straddling two cultures and gains appreciation for what her parents must have gone through when they moved to the US.
I'm a big fan of all of Grace Lin's works and this is a great addition to her largely autobiographical Pacy series. The tone is light and often funny and the sprinkled in simple line drawings add a lot to the text.
But this book proves that Lin and I should be friends because she goes to Taiwan AND SHE EATS ALL THE DUMPLINGS. Pacy looooooooooooooooooooooooves dumplings and orders them at almost every meal. By doing this, she eats a lot of different kinds of dumplings. I got SO HUNGRY reading this book. Good thing Mala Tang has several dumpling options for me to choose from.
But really, I mean, last time I went to China, Dan and I had the following conversation:
Dan: What do you want to do while we're in Shanghai? Me: EAT ALL THE DUMPLINGS. Dan: Ha ha. Seriously though, what do you want to see while we're there? Me: Seriously. I want to see places that serve dumplings.
I ate so many dumplings on that trip. Here's a picture of me eating xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) in Shanghai. That steamer used to be full. I did NOT share with Dan. In the book, Lin's relatives tell her that if you can eat soup dumplings without spilling, you're a true Chinese. I'm not about to claim that I'm Chinese, but I don't spill my dumplings.
So, as Pacy is obviously a girl after my own heart, of course I love her. (Now I want more dumplings...)
Book Provided by... my local library
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One of my many favorite food scenes in Dumpling Days by Grace Lin (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012):
"Careful when you eat these," Auntie Jin said. "They're special."
I'd had dumplings lots of times. How special could these be? But as I took a bite, I almost stopped in amazement.
"There's soup in these dumplings!" I said.
All the adults at the table laughed.
"I told you they were special!" Auntie Jin said. "They are called xiaolongbao. They have soup inside of them. They're good, aren't they?"
I took another bite. The hot soup filled my mouth, and the mixture of soup and meat and dumpling skin seemed to melt into a warm, rich flavor. They were good. Very, very good. I began to realize why Uncle Flower said Taiwan had the best dumplings in the world.
They were so good that I didn't even notice that I had soup dribbling down my chin. I quickly wiped it away.
"They say if you can eat these dumplings without making a mess, you are a 'real Chinese' person," Uncle Flower said.
The inevitable has happened: CG provocateur David OReilly has partnered with Taiwan’s Next Media Animation, whose mocap news recaps are at least as truthful as anything you’ll see in the mainstream media. The resulting short, Children’s Medium Used for Dissemination of Truth, is exactly what you’d expect of a collaboration between these two non sequitur aficionados in that it’s totally unexpected.
By Daniel Byman and Charles King
Three years ago this month, Russia and Georgia fought a brief and brutal war over an obscure slice of mountainous land called South Ossetia that had declared its independence from Georgia. Flouting international law, Russia stepped in to defend South Ossetia and later formally recognized the secessionists as a legitimate [...]
Lin, Grace. 2011. Dumpling Days. New York: Little Brown.
(Advance Reader Copy supplied by publisher - artwork not final)
(a booktalk) In Dumpling Days, Pacy Lin, her parents and two sisters (one older, one younger) are going to Taiwan for Pacy's grandmother's 60th birthday - for 28 days! Twenty-eight days?! What is Pacy supposed to do for 28 days without her friends in a country where she may look like everyone else, but inside, she's definitely not. At least there will be dumplings!
Pacy Lin is Grace Lin's semi-autobiographical character from her previous books, The Year of the Dog and the Year of the Rat. In Dumpling Days, Grace Lin has made a departure from her earlier books. Breaking out of "The Year of the" formula, with its limited page numbers, Dumpling Days is a longer book (approximately 265 pages), that offers Lin a chance to explore many facets of Chinese art, food, and culture, as well as offer deeper glimpses into the lives of Pacy's sisters, Lissy and Ki-Ki, and even their parents,
Mom and Dad had told us about how they had moved to the United States, but I hadn't thought about their not understanding TV commercials, not being able to order food, being ignored because you didn't speak the language - all the things I found hard here in Taiwan. Maybe when Mom ad Dad were first in America, everything was just as strange and confusing to them as Taiwan was to me now. It was surprising to think about.
A beautifully concise thought channeled through the voice of a young girl, easily undertood and profoundly important. In addition to offering cultural perspective, through the family's travels and activities, the reader learns much about the Chinese/Taiwanese culture.
All my life, my parents told me "If anyone asks, you're Taiwanese. Not Chinese. It's different." As a child I would dutifully comply, even though I didn't completely understand the distinction. In high school, one of my friends would tell me that I was Chinese American, like her. And when I disagreed, we would argue about it, no doubt just spouting our parents' political beliefs.
Well, I now understand the difference (especially after having lived in Taiwan for over a year after college), and yes, there is a difference. And yes, some of it is politically-based. To a certain extent, it comes down to whether or not you believe that Taiwan is an independent country, not a renegade province belonging to China. I believe that Taiwan is (and should be recognized as such) its own nation. Taiwan is a democracy. It has its own political system, its own president, its own economy, industry, and foods and culture. It's a tropical island country. Are many aspects of the culture similar to Chinese culture? Of course, but there are also so many differences: the food (oyster pancakes! Smelly tofu! Bubble tea! Bah-zang!), the language (although Mandarin is now the official dialect in Taiwan, the Taiwanese dialect is very different), and especially the way the people there think (as you can expect, someone growing up in a democracy that encourages freedom of speech and though will be much different from one growing up in a Communist country with censorship. Also, Taiwan had been occupied in the past by both the Dutch and the Japanese, and there are influences from both in the Taiwanese culture today). Taiwan has been separate from the mainland for over 200 years. And all of this was especially apparent to me when I visited China two years ago and realized the extent of the differences.
Anyway, I don't want to go on and on. I simply wanted to share this marvelous video. To my delight and surprise (they hadn't told me they were doing this), my younger brother, parents, and aunt and uncle are all featured! Can you guess which ones they are?
Much of what's written in English about children's book cover design naturally focuses on Western images. But what about children's books produced on the far half of the globe? I've been wondering if the style was quite different. It seems that most of what we see from the Far East now is manga and anime, and except for a few books that have drifted across the Pacific now and again, we don't seem to see much of what kids over there are reading.
Allow me to introduce two twenty-somethings, Amie and Nikolai. Amie grew up in Jhunan, Taiwan; Nikolai in Illinois, USA. They now both live in Boston. I asked them to come up with five favorite books they remember from childhood, so that we may have a little fun comparing and contrasting the cover art and design. Below are their choices.
First, from Amie, we have this picture book. She tells me it's about Mr. Crocodile having a day off:
I like how his passengers are wearing clothes and carrying books; they're adorable. I like how his long body spans the entire cover. By comparison, here's Nikolai's first choice, one of his very first books. The classic story of Corduroy, the little bear no one would buy.
Also adorable. I had no idea what to expect with this experiment, whether the covers would have significant design differences or not. But the more I look at these books, I see more similarities than differences. Note the way both images above face to the right, as if inviting the child to open the book, in anticipation of the story (which is common in picture books, I know). Note the jaunty typefaces. I love the way the crocodile seems to be about to swim right off the page, ready for adventure. (He looks like Lyle, doesn't he? Gosh, those teeth!) On the other hand, Corduroy is standing on a soft, comfy cushion. He's enclosed by the red background--very safe and cozy.
Next we have this somewhat Babar-esque little pachyderm on the cover of a wordless picture book from Taiwan. Amie says this "is my favorite elephant! She really tries hard to make her body look funny, sometimes looks like the moon, sometimes looks like a tree."
I like the bright colors, and the way the sky frames the little elephant. But I kind of wish the frame around the artwork had been left off. If the artist had omitted it, it would have allowed the elephant room to swing right off the edge of the book, like the croc above. The puffy, outlined title typeface is cool.
Compare that cover to Nikolai's Dandelion by Don Freeman, the lion who wishes to upgrade his appearance for a fancy party. Another Don Freeman cover, with similarities to Corduroy.
Both have animals for main characters. The elephant morphs, and the lion is anthropomorphic. Both are books about changing oneself--okay, maybe that's a stretch.
I wonder if children's book design and the stories one grows up with can influence the way a person sees the world. From Amie, we have this story of a young girl searching for presents on her birthday. "Her mom leaves little traces everywhere in the house, like a treasure hunt," Amie explains.
I can't get enough of this cover. Love the playful typeface and the way the girl is partly outside the frame, as if she's sneaking past her parents (Amie, is that what appealed to you, hmm?). Contrast, color, pattern, all very appealing. It's interesting that we don't see anyone's face straight on; in fact, the mother's back is turned to us--because she's hiding something?
Nikolai listed a very silly book, one he asked for nearly every night when he was three: Roger Bradford's Benjamin Dilley's Thirsty Camel, a cumulative story about a flooded basement and the fantastical beast who drinks it up. It's a tale about a boy's runaway imagination. Did it affect the way Nikolai turned out? Probably not; he says he just liked the illustrations. Honestly, I do, too. There's something about the way the camel's hump and head slope down toward little Benjamin so that our eyes are drawn to him. Very nice.
Now, from Nikolai and the west we have the wonderful Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel.
Contrast Lobel's easy reader tales of friendship between two amphibians with this book about two friends and jealousy from Taiwan:
These covers say more about what's to come than first meets the eye. Frog and Toad are facing the same direction (into the book again), riding together on their little amphibian-sized tandem bike as if all is right with the world, whereas the two children' on the Taiwanese book face each other, facing off, with the gift--and some white space--in between them. Well done, in both instances. Surely, the jealousy book was produced later than Lobel's; the more modern nature of the cover suggests as much. This is the only book that I felt had a uniquely Asian style--and maybe this shows my ignorance more than anything. But the cloud pattern on the gift, and the way it appears to be made of cut paper suggests an Asian aesthetic, to me. Like origami. The white square behind the two children and the sharply contrasting thick, black border remind me of calligraphy. And the entire design seems, well, designed. Deliberate. Artsy. Yet despite the Asian feel, the hair color on the two children makes me think this may be an import from the west, perhaps Europe?
And finally, my favorites. Both of our guests listed the same book. How's that for a small world? Comments anyone? Corrections? Clarification? --CB
me, Jimmy Liao, and Locus Editor-in-Chief Levin Liao (no relation)
Well, I got back from my family reunion vacation to Taiwan last week, and although it was not as relaxing as I hoped it would be, I enjoyed my time there. One of the highlights of my trip, was on my last full day there where I had the opportunity to meet author/illustrator Jimmy Liao (Sound of Colors)for the first time (I wrote about the acquisition of this book here).
I had arranged the meeting with Levin Liao, the Editor-in-chief of Locus Publishing, Jimmy's main Taiwan publisher. I had met Levin when he and his colleagues were in the states a few years ago on business, and since I was going to be in Taipei for a few days at the end of our Taiwan tour, I jumped at the chance to meet with the both of them. My parents were eager to meet Jimmy as well, and so I arranged for them to come along, which was a good thing because they helped serve as the translators between my rusty Mandarin and Jimmy and Levin's halting English.
We were having coffee at Joyce Cafe, and when my parents and I walked in, I saw Jimmy already seated at a table--although I had never met him, I recognized him from his author photos. He was an adorable man, and when I walked towards him he jumped to his feet to greet us, all smiles. I felt awkward at first, and it was frustrating not to be able to communicate fluently and say everything I wanted to say, but it was still a lovely time. We talked about children's publishing in Taiwan, and I commented that when I went to a bookstore a few days before, I was surprised that there were so many American picture books there, in English, not translated. I saw very few picture books of what seemed to be original Taiwanese books. Jimmy and Levin confirmed that this was in fact the case, and that most of the children's books (picture books, at least) in Taiwan were supposed to teach children English. I guess this also explained why, when I went to the Jimmy Liao section in the store (yes, he has a whole section! About three shelves-full) I found so many copies of out edition shelved there!
I was surprised because our edition is different and very much abridged (80 pages to their 128 pages), and if you could choose between the original book in you native language and a shorter book in English, wouldn't you choose the original?
Jimmy also said that most Taiwanese kids liked more cartoony art, and as Japanese manga. He said even his own daughter (who is now 10) was not a fan of his art. As a side note, very few of Jimmy's books are actually children's books--most of them, including Sound of Colors, were created for the adult audience.
The state of children's books in Taiwan shouldn't have been surprising to me. When I was a senior in college, I wrote my senior honors thesis comparing English-language picture books with Chinese-language books, and one of the main thing I discovered is that most of the Chinese-language books seemed intent on teaching something. For example, there was a whole picture book about automatic/electric doors (elevators, stores, etc.) and why you should be careful around them!
I'm glad that they have our books available over there--including a few of Grace's books!
But at the same time, I'm sad that there aren't more that originate from Taiwan. As has been my experience growing up in the States without many Asian-American characters in the books I was reading, I would think that at least for a child growing up in an Asian country that would not be the case. At least they're seeing Asian role models on television and in movies, and of course in at least some books, but how strange to think that many of the Asian characters in the picture books they were reading were from the States.
On a somewhat related note, as I commented on my personal blog, many Taiwanese (and other Asians) consider it more beautiful to have whiter/paler skin. My aunt who lives in Taiwan, upon seeing me, commented that I was paler this time than I was when I lived there nine years ago, and therefore prettier (and, of course, why wasn't I married?!). I think many of you who have traveled to Asia can attest that there are many skin-whitener products over there. Ironic that while some cultures try to have whiter skin, so many people here try for darker skin by artificial tanners and tanning salons. I guess people will always try to be something they're not.
Now, when reviewing a work of historical fiction, it's always nice to know something about the time period. If you're reviewing a novelization of someone's life, you should know something about that person besides what Wikipedia and Biography Resource Center (my favorite biography database) can give you.
This is an exhaustive look at a complicated woman. Catherine was Queen of France, and mother to 3 kings of France. She held most of the power during the religious civil wars, was a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth (Elizabeth's "Frog" was Catherine's youngest son) and history has placed the blame for the Saint Bartholomew's Day massacre squarely at Catherine's feet.
Frieda has tried to free Catherine of this blame-- she paints a picture of a surgical assassination gone horribly wrong but... the fact that she wasn't guilty of massacre, just ordering the political killings of a dozen men? I'm not entirely sure that makes her better.
Frieda writes a compelling story about a place and time period I know little about. She explains context extremely well and her story is well researched and well told-- for my research, I really only needed the first few chapters, but I was so intrigued by Frieda's portrait that I had to continue reading.
There are 3 inserts of color photographs and paintings that serve as great visual aids and I really appreciated the "Cast of Characters" at the beginning of the book--it's hard to keep all those Henri's straight, plus the ever-changing Duke of Guise...
If you like biography, France, powerful women, religious history, or Renaissance history, I recommend this book.
Another powerful woman who is often a controversial figure is Madame Chiang Kai Shek.
I think Li really wanted this to be a sympathetic view of Madame Chiang Kai- Shek, but after a certain point, the material just wouldn't let her. I learned a lot about Taiwan, as well as the craziness that was the first 50 years of the twentieth century in China. (1911 brought the overthrow the the Qing Dynasty and the new Republic, which never fully gained control of all of China-- much was ruled by warlords, then the Communists were making noises so there was that war, then the Japanese were invading, so there was that war, then back to the Communists...)
After reading this book, I finally understood why Communism succeeded in China and why many saw it as a much better alternative to Chiang's government. But oh, she played the American government and people like a fiddle to get support for a losing cause for years. The KMT (Guomingdang) only lasted as long as it did because of US support...
A revealing and fascinating look at the birth of Communist China, China/Taiwanese political tensions, and the woman who stood in the middle of it all.
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Last Saturday, September 15, hundred of thousands of people rallied around the world to support Taiwan's bid for UN membership. I participated in the peace rally in NYC across from the UN (although I wasn't able to stay for the march).
There were a lot of people there despite the early hour and threatening rain. Everyone was festive and friendly, excited. The speakers energized the crowd--it was hard to judge how many people were there, but I'd guess 500-1,000, some of them having traveled from far and wide, some caravaning together on buses, to be there. There was even a performance of John Lennon's Imagine. I wore my "Dai wan lang" (Taiwanese) T-shirt, waved green flags, and chanted "UN for Taiwan! UN for Taiwan!"I'm not an overly political person (although I of course do have certain strong beliefs), but I do think that Taiwan is rightfully an independent, sovereign country--it's a democracy, has it's own president and political system, and is so separate from China in almost every way. Unfortunately, the UN rejected the membership bid. I don't know when/if Taiwan will ever win their bid, but I know they will keep trying, and I applaud everyone's efforts.
You can read more about the rally and the politics behind it here and here.
Peiling is dreading the Christmas break. She hates hearing all of the other kids talk about Christmas, when her family does not celebrate the holiday. She always wanted to celebrate Christmas, but was afraid that her stodgy dad would say "no". With a little pushing from her Uncle Samson, Peiling approaches her parents who to her surprise say "yes" to Christmas this year.
Peiling has the perfect Christmas in mind...one that she imagines would be happening over at Laura Hamilton's house. It has Christmas cookies, carols, a perfect tree and a turkey for dinner. When Peiling's mother invites Peiling's teacher Mrs. Rosenweig for dinner, Peiling is suddenly embarrassed by her family. The mahjong and karaoke are bad enough, but when she realizes that mother has added Chinese elements to all of the dishes, she is put over the edge. It's hard enough being the only Chinese girl in her class...why does it have to be so hard at home too?
Pauline Chen has written a quintessential culture clash story with Christmas as a catalyst. Readers get to see well-meaning Mrs. Rosenweis use Peiling as an example of multiculturalism, as well as the everyday under the radar racism that kids face. We get a real sense of Peiling's family and culture effortlessly, and the story is sweet and readers can easily relate to Peiling's sense of embarrassment, no matter what culture their families are from.
One More Story is an online library of the best of children's classic and contemporary literature. Through a simple point and click process, children can choose a book, see the illustrations and have the book read to them whenever they want.
They've just created a blog which is a great place to learn more, add suggested titles and discover different ways to use the site, whether you're a parent, teacher, or librarian.
Kane/Miller is pleased to have a growing list of titles available at One More Story:
Tibili Written by Marie Léonard Illustrated by Andée Prigent
From England This is the Tree Written by Miriam Moss Illustrated by Adrienne Kennaway
Even though all of our titles come from countries other than the U.S. it is a very special day when we can highlight our books that speak about or take place in a land that is somehow different than the ones we're used to seeing in a children's book.
Here are just a few of our books that take place in unique places in our world: