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Posts Tagged ‘culture’

“Can you sing?”

Last time the read-a-thon rolled around, I was powering through The Return of the King, but as I read this conversation between Denethor and Pippin, I had to stop and ponder for a few minutes.

‘What would you do in my service?’
‘I thought, sir, that you would tell me my duties.’
‘I will, when I learn what you are fit for,’ said Denethor. ‘But that I shall learn soonest, maybe, if I keep you beside me. The esquire of my chamber has begged leave to go to the out-garrison, so you shall take his place for a while. You shall wait on me, bear errands, and talk to me, if war and council leave me any leisure. Can you sing?
‘Yes,’ said Pippin. ‘Well, yes, well enough for my own people. But we have no songs fit for great halls and evil times, lord. We seldom sing of anything more terrible than wind or rain. And most of my songs are about things that make us laugh; or about food and drink, of course.’
‘And why should such songs be unfit for my halls, or for such hours as these? We who have lived long under the Shadow may surely listen to echoes from a land untroubled by it? Then we may feel that our vigil was not fruitless, though it may have been thankless.’

I perhaps didn’t think about it as much as I should have, and in July I was surprised by my Chinese teacher pulling a movie-Denethor!  We had no warning, but were told to sing a folk song for our classmates.  I foolishly chose “Little Sadie,” a gruesome and kind of hard to sing ballad, which was awkward to explain after I finished.  I feel I could defend it now, but off-the-cuff and in Chinese?  It was tough.

We don’t really have bards, troubadours, or song-of-greeting traditions any more, but I’m bringing it back for a day.  Here’s the challenge: represent yourself, your country, or your people (whoever they may be) with one song.  You don’t need to sing it yourself, but I’d still like to hear the tune, so provide a link or video and tiny explanation in the comments or on your own blog, and I will choose the winner after 3 hours.  That means time is up at 0700 UTC.

For prizes, see this post, but know that there will be a book for first place, and postcards for 2nd and 3rd.  It’s international, my friends!  Now, can you sing?

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Prizes!

The cover of The Analects, giving you a sense of the artist's style.

I worried that the challenge post was becoming too long, so here are the prize choices.

I’m living in Taiwan right now, which I think influenced me quite a bit in coming up with this challenge!  Because of that, I am offering some Chinese books: comic book versions of classics.  Oh yes.  They’re by the excellent Taiwanese artist 蔡志忠, and I can offer you one of the following: 論說孫子兵法聊齋志異.  If you are consumed by a desire to have a different story, I’ll see if I can find it for you, but these are the ones I know I can get in my bookstore, and the first two are quite funny, for all that they’re philosophical texts.  Let me repeat: these books will be written in traditional Chinese characters, but the art is very cute and fun.

If you can find no use for something like this, you can choose a book from the read-a-thon’s prize pool.  Second and third place will get a postcard from Taiwan, with Chinese writing if they want it.  Please contact me via the “email me!” link in the sidebar.  Thanks for playing!

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Life news round-up

Last Friday I was walking home from the bus stop when I saw three boys practicing weapons in my neighborhood park.  When I asked what they were doing, the boy with the rattling spear said it was for a temple fair in Luzhou.  Tragically, as it was the end of the night, my brain and my Chinese were shot and I couldn’t really formulate any good questions before he lost patience or interest and turned away.  I do have some video of a temple’s fighting group somewhere; I’ll have to find it!

I’m going to Malaysia on Friday, basically right after I take the foreign service test (and bomb, presumably).  It’ll be a lovely distraction, since I also had a big ol’ final today for Chinese.

Speaking of Chinese, I have been having a grand time with my language exchange buddy, who I feel really gets the short end of the stick.  His English is already so good that he focuses more on me.  Last time, he brought a comic book version of The Art of War (which rocked!) and this collection of Chinese ghost stories which I have in mind as a gift for a certain middle school bff.

My other personal time one-on-one is a lawyer who just wants to discuss news, which is fine by me!  He’s quite articulate and challenging; I really only work hard to keep up, not to help his English.  Last Sunday we talked about Taiwan and China, and what he thinks could happen if China were provoked.  It was a little bit chilling.  We almost got into their one child policy, but I told him to hold off until our next meeting; I want to take info about the gender imbalances in India and China.  Contrast their policy differences that have done nothing to fix this problem and such.

The last piece of news relates to a wonderful hash I attended that same Sunday.  The weather has been rainy and gray this past week and half or so, but that day it was perfect for a mountain run.  The cloudy sky kept the temperature comfortably low but never let fall any significant rain, and the hares led us through some crazy trails including a piss-scented valley, an illegal canyon (man-made), and about 3 hours of 87° uphill slopes.  I exaggerate, but only a little.  For me, though, the best part was my Chinese fluency that day.  It recovered fully from the incident with the weapons boys and–my favorite part about the Taiwanese hashers–got few criticisms and even fewer compliments.  As it should be!

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Intolerance

It’s finally happened: I’ve run into the problem of intolerance here in Taiwan.  Yesterday was my first day volunteering at the central library, and that’s when it took place.

You guys, I am an uptight and judgmental bitch, it seems.

I’ve had some experience working in libraries.  I volunteered a bit at my old library in the US and I worked off debt in my high school’s library and I worked for three years in college at the science and engineering library.  I know my way around bookstacks, and I know how to shelve.  The Taipei Municipal Library’s children’s English library is ridiculous and I can’t abide it.

On the bright side, being in the children's library means I never have to stand on a stool...

They just put things on their shelf, but not in any particular order.  It works for really small sections, but some categories take more than one shelf, and that’s when it goes all to hell.  I assume it was to make everything quicker, but it absolutely increases search time, and for me at least, wildly lengthens my shelving time.  This is a very dorky problem and I don’t expect people to understand, but I wanted to vent so I don’t say something out of place to the sweet and neverendingly giggly librarian.

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I went to see a movie with a friend from work today, and it was the most unique movie-going experience I’ve ever had.  Jenny found a budget theater called the Dynasty, and it was amazingly close to my house.  We met up after work and found a little place to have dinner that I’m definitely going back to, and showed up a few minutes late to the show.

Sucker Punch was the first movie, and let me tell you, that movie is not improved by missing the first few minutes.  Honestly, it’s probably only improved by not watching, but we had paid our 100元 and were set on having a good time.  I’m not sure how dark the palette of the film was in its original release, but it was probably not as dark and muffled as the print we saw.  However, something about the utter sleaziness of the movie and the squalor of the theater combined to make a perfect experience for my first legal double feature.

Because this theater doesn’t “clean out” between screenings (Jenny and I couldn’t think of the best way to translate this because neither of us has enough experience with sketchy second-run theaters), we finished Sucker Punch, horrified and in dire need of cheering up and just scooted into better seats to await the next movie.  It turned out to be an animated animal movie that put me in mind of Shark Tale: a lot of names and not a lot else.  It was formulaic but still funny, and much needed after the bizarre yet intriguing mess that was the first movie.

I want to try this theater again: it’s so convenient and atmospheric!  Perhaps too atmospheric, though: now I feel all itchy.  I hope it’s just the heat…

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Very superstitious

The other evening, I had an intermediate conversation class with a few students and I chose to focus on superstitions.  This topic is always full of fascinating new items and I love boggling the students’ minds with things like the angel on the shoulder and salt in the devil’s eyes.  It’s pretty selfish, though; I get more out of it!

For example:

We recently celebrated Dragon Boat Festival, which actually has nothing (spiritually) to do with dragons and boats.  One tradition or superstition Oscar told me about is bathing between 11am and 1pm on the day, which washes away bad luck.  Additionally, if you save the water, it won’t get mildewy and gross.  She said she’s been testing it for a few years now, but she couldn’t tell me if the water had a purpose.

A brand new student told me that a friend told her that cutting your fingernails at night is asking for trouble, rather like stepping on a crack, I think.  She also said she had heard that seeing a 2-headed snake means death is coming, which makes since, since you’re probably overdosing.

The guy in the class told us about hanging dead cats in trees.  As far as I can tell, it’s a way to get the cat leveled up for its next life (since they have nine).  He said doesn’t happen as much any more, since people take them to shrines to be dealt with now, along with dogs that would have previously been thrown in the river.  I have never seen that kind of shrine, though, so I’m wondering if he chose the wrong word…

Oscar gave us one final one: on Chinese New Year’s Day, you mustn’t call everyone down to breakfast, but rather let them come down as they will.  This preserves prosperity and fortune, I think.

The problem with my data-gathering: it was really hard to differentiate between traditions and superstitions.  This class was only intermediate, and some were lower intermediate at that.  However, it’s always a good time, especially when you finish off talking about the differences between ghosts and demons!

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A strange education

On Tuesdays, I am scheduled to teach a 2-hour advanced class with 7 registered students. However, every week I have fewer and fewer people, and I had only one woman to teach tonight. Fortunately, she was fine to just chat for most of the session and based on the material we covered in the book, I was able to get answers to some questions that have plagued me since I arrived.

In a recent post, I asked my sister for some answers about Buddhist ceremonies and services, but she didn’t have much information.  I asked Gan and she wasn’t entirely sure how to explain what I witnessed at the gym.  Her first guess was a funeral, but I saw no portraits.  Her second suggestion was a birthday celebration for the Buddha, or some specific incarnation’s celebration, but when I told her about the banner, she downgraded the likeliness.

These questions led to her describing the scheduled observances of traditional Taiwanese religion.  Now, coming from a Western religion that has a history of weekly, daily, and hourly observances in public groups, I am deeply confused by other religions that don’t have these kinds of frequent and formulaic ceremonies.  The only thing I’d seen in my time in Taiwan was tables of offerings and the burning of ritual money on seemingly random days (and the occasional parade, which is easier to understand).  After nearly a year and a half, I now know that these take place on the first and fifteenth of each lunar month!  The gods worshipped on these days can be any or all of the wide selection of gods, ancestors, and deities, including Buddha.  However, the following days (the 2nd and 16th) are for businesses to honor the god of fortune, 財神爺. I am so happy to have answers.

As for the title of the post, among our topics of discussion were American geography and the (un-)importance of state capitals, Taiwanese politics and history, two-party systems, and Taipei’s progress in the last ten years.  We also touched on language and language education, especially in Taiwan.  Gan called languages other than Mandarin 鄉土語, which is something I’d like to address later.  A strange education indeed!

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