Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Happy Birthday Old Dude! (a Bill and Ted quote?)

Ma Zu (spelling?) is one of the most popular gods worshiped in Taiwan, if not the most. Her birthday was this past Saturday and Taiwan celebrated as her followers passed her image from South to North on a week long journey. Behind my apartment is a temple dedicated to Ma Zu. The performances and rituals I saw Saturday night were raw and unrefined but inundated with enthusiasm. The dances got out of sync, at times the dancers themselves wore faces lost in confusion, music would lose time and become choppy at moments, but damn were these people into it.

All the performers were men, albeit Ma Zu is female. The only Women I saw carried the food offerings on plates or sang on a small stage, sometimes in underwear, that was drowned out by percussion heavy Chinese "temple" music. An interesting note of observation from my eyes. A lot of male participants and on lookers chewed beetle nut which looks similar to a green Acorn and is chewed for a particular sensation and makes your teeth a blood red color for an affect of fresh fist fight or an attempt at imitating an Andrew W.K. record cover. Some of the dancers seemed to be heavily tattooed, a stereotype of working class, gangster class, or maybe masculinity that carries the label "Tai Ke". Still a fairly vague term that escapes an exact definition for me, but don't worry I am working on that. The first dance group I saw starting getting really excited when they noticed I had tattoos and began showing off their friends Chuckie portrait (the horror movie series) on his left calf and Chuckie's bride on his right. Other participants were inviting and welcomed me to watch. A few would inform me of what I was watching and when I didn't understand my friend Wei Wei would translate. One participant asked me my opinion about how good the performance was and then told me I should go down to southern Taiwan next year because the celebration is bigger there.

I think the most perplexing aspect of all this was the musical dual. There was a huge bass drum on wheels that was larger than a grown man. Attached to the sides were two smaller drums each played by a college aged looking male whom pumped a pulse into the percussion heavy Chinese music. Behind this drum wagon followed various cymbal players. In stark contrast and competition with this was a stage performance of some kind of live music that filled in the gaps when the drum wagon lulled. They were losing the contest. The band had a drummer and various other unknown instruments with. I could not make out their sound because like I said, the stage was losing the competition. The singers were women who took turns singing songs. For some reason, one performed in her underwear or bikini. Which it was I'm not too sure. I was confused why she had this on. On the other hand, it could be obvious. Sex appeal is an m.o.

Overall, it was a display of something very Taiwanese. The dancers who were costumed as the 8 protectors of Ma Zu were pretty cool and dressed a little terrifying as they performed their dance that symbolized scouting for ghosts or people who may want to harm Ma. At least, I think that's what I was watching.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Milk It

Every Monday I ask people how their weekend was. My co-workers, my students, anyone who looks for a conversation. It's shooting the shit and inconsequential but its necessary to social existence. I know this, so does everybody else. The question is often taken for granted and ignores the fact that someone may one day blow your mind all over the office wall with their retelling of their shenanigans.

This Monday for example, I asked my manager "What did you do this weekend"? He casually with, "I milked a rat".
......Milk a rat? is that possible? How the fuck do you milk a rat?
I of course asked him two questions. First, "are you serious" to which he said, "yes". The inquiring child inside me of course followed up with the ultimate "How"?

To make his story short, I will sum it up with this. Capture a rat who recently birthed vermin somewhere in your house, restrain with a vet cone (one your dog/cat wore when you took his balls) and then proceed to milk it.

ME: "Why"?
MGR: "I had never milked a rat before and I always wanted to try"

That's a weekend in a life.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Been a Long Time Comin'

Taiwan hangs in the balance of it's distance from China. The farther away Taipei can place itself from Beijing the closer it gets to international recognition as a sovereign state. A confrontation over their opposing interests is not a desired option for Taiwan but neither is reunification. The later has Taiwanese and some westerners asking questions about some of the current administrations perplexing decisions.

The most recent piece of legislation is the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, or CECA, with China. It would allow the free flow of services, capital, and goods across the strait that separates these two neighbors in a time of economic crisis. Ultimately, the CECA would make Taiwan rely more heavily on China for commerce and trade. In other words, more economically dependent. In the modern age, economic dependence is the new imperialism. If independence is a main objective for Taiwanese politics then increased economic dependence on the country that refers to you as a "rogue province of separatists and rebels that needs to be liberated from feudal traditions" might be a, how to say it?, bad Idea. I don't know how India and the Philippines did it, but I seem to recall the U.S. into their economic relationship with England in their quest for independence, right? (really, is this right?). Then again, that did result in a war.
In the 21st century China hasn't changed their view on Taiwan too much. One comrade on the mainland referred to the CECA as "a start toward full cross-straits economic integration and a necessary condition for marching forward toward final unification." (Washington post, Beijing 2/23/2009) You have to love the rhetoric, or imperial edicts if you prefer, of Chinese propaganda.

Too many Taiwanese youth are apathetic to this issue. They don't see it as a problem because they don't believe Taiwan has a chance of returning to China with a grand reunification ceremony. Nor do they think China is that different from Taiwan in terms of freedom. Man, is that one thing they couldn't be more wrong about? Some adults here are also interested in discussing the possibility of reunification with the mainland for economic purposes. "Screw human rights, we can sell it". It's amazing what some people are willing to sacrifice for a quick buck, or just the prospect of a quick buck. I would guess, yes guess, reality would be a fast metamorphosis to regret. There is no definite relationship between joining China and making more money, Hong Kong is a good case in point. The fact that some of my students have expressed the above opinions is disheartening. Taiwan just gotta stay Taiwan.