This is a departure for me of sorts, as I usually cover international music. The trip to Taiwan promised a great deal of culture and concerts, but Hurricane Soulik blew that second element away. Still, there is so much that is fascinating about Taiwan's culture that I knew I would come back with something of interest, so I just kept my camcorder rolling, and here is the result, and some written comments about it.
One of the things that of course makes Taiwan unique is that as my colleague Lucia points out in the video, it is over 90 percent Han Chinese. Yet even the hordes of tourists who come over from the Mainland these days will tell you that Taiwanese are somehow different. Yes, much of the culture is directly traceable to the mainland, but one must factor in the influence of the European powers who traded (and exploited) this island for hundreds of years, the 50 years of extremely influential Japanese occupation, and the history of a nationalist military dictatorship, which morphed fairly smoothly into democracy. Then a generation of hard work also created a highly successful capitalism that is peculiarly Taiwanese. And let us not forget that it is an island, and islands tend to create particular cultures in and of themselves. There are aboriginal tribes, and also a significant population of Hakka Chinese that arrived hundreds of years ago, to farm the lush, mountainous south, to be factored into the mix.
I start my video with Taipei 101, which is a kind of symbol for the hard-won business success of Taiwan (it is currently a hub of the tech industry). Its Green elements and its pagoda-like design, also point to a sensitivity towards nature and Asian art, respectively. And a word about the puppet theater: I mention that glove puppetry has been voted the most representative art form of Taiwanese culture, but the performance I show here is very traditional. Today, there are complete televised soap operas acted out with puppets, and even teenagers have their favorite characters, and get all caught up with the stories. These characters have modern dress, and modern concerns. So while what I caught and present here is wonderful, it is only part of the story.
I'm sure I don't need to tell anyone about why food is a cultural marker. (I am a confessed foodie.) Legend has it that When Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan, he brought all the best cooks with him. This may or may not be true, but what is certainly true is that a very specific and sophisticated Taiwanese cuisine has developed based on the ingredients so readily found here, with an emphasis on tropical fruits, fish, poultry and seafood. The textures are delicate, the flavorings subtle, with little in the way of spicy heat. Of course the fare at the Night Market was far brasher, and the experience of wandering around in this high energy place, filled with one fascinating offering after another was totally exciting, and sheer fun.
I closed my video with an off-the -cuff interview with two delightful young people who were selling pineapple cakes at Taipei 101. They seemed quite perfect.
NOTE: I have since learned that the mystery food in the Night Market, the small vegetable wrapped in green leaves is called a "betel nut." The vendor stuffs the fruit with special herbal ingredients and wraps it up with a betel nut leaf. It has a stimulant effect, so people who need to stay awake use it. Priestley, our colleague from the Solomon Islands mentioned that in his homeland, it is commonly used as well. He noticed that our bus driver used it too, instead of coffee. Priestley thought perhaps it was another link between Taiwan's aboriginal population and the Solomon Islands.
If you like the music that you heard in this "travelogue" you can see a rehearsal and interview with the band Sizhukong here:
It is part of a six part musical journey I documented years ago using at the time, a Flip camera; all of it is on my site at Inter-muse.com.