27 May 2008

站筊 - A standing divinity cup: a miracle

First of all, I guess I need to explain what this thing is. It does not have a proper English name. I tried to google it but can only find "bamboo rope", which is quite incorrect. "Bamboo Rope" means something else and it refers to the object described in an ancient Chinese text. I also found another one "divinity cups" that seem quite correct for the meaning of using it. So let's call this object "divinity cups".

In Chinese tradition of praying, "divinity cups" are very important. They are used as a means to communicate with gods and goddesses. If you have a certain question, usually a yes or no question, you can pray to the gods and ask them to give you the answer by using this object. They consist of two pieces with the same shape. Using it is very simple and all you do is throw them on the floor. If one piece has the flat side facing up while the other one's flat side faces down, then this is considered a yes answer. If the flat side of both pieces all faces down, then this is a no answer. If the flat side of both pieces all faces up, then we call this answer "a smile" which means your question is not clear, or the gods consider the question inappropriate. If this happens, you need to ask the question again or reformulate your question.

The procedure of using "divinity cups" is debatable. Most people, especially those who work in the temple, say that for yes answer you must get three yes in a row, meaning throwing them three times consecutively all with yes answers. If you get a no answer for the first throw, then the answer is no for sure. As for the smile for the first throw, you must repeat your question again or ask in another way. However, there are also some who think only getting one yes would suffice. For me, I go for three yes since it is never that easy to get a yes answer from throwing this object. Getting three yes in a row could really mean the answer should be correct.

But in my case, what we have talked about is not applicable because I got a standing one! Scientifically speaking, the possibility of getting a standing one when you throw them on the floor is almost close to zero. The endings of the piece are sharp angels. It is not possible to put it in a standing position, let alone throwing it. But I got this, as the picture shows, a week ago.

This has meanings! We learned from the elderly that if such condition happens, the god must want to indicate something. So I went to the great Mat-Zu Temple in Tainan (台南大天后宮). I asked Mat-Zu (The goddess of the sea and the queen of the heaven, 媽祖) if this standing divinity cup means anything. I used another way to ask for answers, that is, to ask for a poem from the goddess. After drawing for more than 20 poems, I finally got the one. It was a great one saying something amazing and great will soon happen to me, my future will be prosperous, and I will have what I wish come true. I am very happy!

Indeed, as the elderly says and the staff at the temple as well, a standing divinity cup is a miracle and a good sign. This way of saying corresponds to the poem I received from Mat-Zu. I believe in it and I am so happy that such miracle really happened to me!

A Chinese bulbul nest at my garden!

Couple weeks ago, I found a well built bird nest at my garden. It has a shape of a bowl, a perfect shape indeed, with some feather decorated around the nest. I totally have no idea when it was built, and it seems like it was done within a night. The location of the nest is interesting because it is on a very small tree which is only a bit higher than me. Though the nest is covered by branches and leaves, I can see what's inside the nest very easily.

I was wondering what made this nest. The birds were never here after they built the nest, and this really confused me. About two weeks ago, I finally got to see my guests. I was curious so I googled online and found out they are Chinese bulbuls (白頭翁). I guess they weren't here before because they haven't decided if this is the place to stay.

After spending couple days observing this couple, I finally decided to see what is happening there in the nest. Being curious, I crept towards the nest and had a peek. There were four small eggs in crimson and white colours. Amazing! Since then, I noticed the bird was always in the nest.

About five days ago, I found the bird was not in the nest. So I did the same thing again, and this time I was so thrilled to see four newly hatched tiny chicks.
Their eyes were still closed and they looked totally naked! in fact I was quite frightened by their look.

It is amazing to see how quick they grow. Only four days, they look so different.

I guess my action around the tree irritated the parents. They just came back to feed their chicks and was not happy to see me taking pictures of their babies. Though both of them had food in their beak, they were still making sound, more like a yell, trying to threaten me away. All right, all right, I'll go away!
It is very touching seeing the parents feeding their chicks.

Now I am expecting the time when the chicks have their feather fully grown and ready for their flight. I guess I will be very sad when they fly away. This small family has become a part of my family, and we are all so used to their noisy singing in the morning.

Some people say that it is a good sign to have birds building a nest and producing offspring at your house. I stick to this idea, and I really think this small family will bring us good luck.

16 May 2008

Where are the theatre audiences in Taiwan now?: on the cancellation of Isabella's room

The director of the Taipei Arts International Association (TAIA) regretted to announce the cancellation of the performance Isabella’s room in Taipei. Isabella’s room is created and directed by Jan Lauwers who established Needcompany in Brussels Belgium in 1986. The main reason for the cancellation is on the fire of the theatre in Seoul Korea, which forced that theatre to cancel the performance and withdrew from cohosting this production. Though TAIA decided to put on this production in Taipei by themselves, they still could not overcome the financial burden arising from putting on an international production. Indeed, it is never an easy task to fly international theatre groups to Taiwan for just couple days performances without having sufficient financial support from business corporations or the government. Besides that, ticket sales is always a huge concern for those who aim to promote good art to the people in Taiwan. In this case, due to the unsatisfactory ticket sales of this performance, TAIA finally decided to quit it.

"Where are the audience?", the director of TAIA told the news journalist. I have the same question in my mind as well. It seems they only show up when the performance is done by someone important, someone they know very well, someone who has been frequently talked about. It is never about the performance itself but always on the name of the group, the name of the director/choreographer, and the name they should know. Take Cloud Gate as an example, as I have observed, their performances seem always successful because the tickets are hard to get. Whenever you attend their performances in Taiwan, it is always full house. As for open air performances, it is basically not possible to get a place to stand or sit if you are there only 30 mins beforehand.

This is a good sign indeed because it says the people in Taiwan do have a sense for arts, and Cloud Gate really does a good job to promote modern dance to these people. Their dance is beautiful and is full of symbolic meanings which aim to examine and reevaluate contemporary social fashions and modern life. It lifts up the artistic taste of Taiwanese. However, if the people here do have that sense for arts and theatre, why only certain groups with big names can attract the audience. This should be the question we should all bear in mind.

Take Le Theatre du Soleil as another example. Their production Les Ephemeres attracted many theatre goers when it was performed in Taiwan. Its performance was very successful. However, as I was there, I noticed the whole performance (6 hours long in total) was presented only three times among 6 days schedule. (The National Theatre of Taipei broke it into two parts and separated them for three days performance, which is common for presenting this production.) Since Ariane Mnouchkine intentionally designed a small auditorium, the total amount of audiences for this production in Taiwan should not be big. Furthermore, when I attended the performance, I found most of the audience were either theatre participants or students. Of course, there must be some people who do not fall into these two categories, but it will not be hard to guess the social and cultural background of these people. They came because they knew the group. What is funny during the intermission is because of the huge white tent used for the performance, most passer-by asked the staff what that thing is for and what this group is about. Some of them even guessed this occasion to be a circus and said they know that name. I guess it is because Le Theatre du Soleil recalled their memory of the great circus Le Cirque du Soleil.

This misunderstanding raises interesting questions. Do Taiwanese go to the theatre for arts, for entertainment, or just for the name? Do the people in Taiwan really have a taste for arts? In fact, before the Les Ephemeres was presented, it was hugely reported on TV, even the news channels. But still, we saw people talking nonsense right outside of the tent. They don't care if this is arts, all they care about is if this is what they have known. If they don't know it and it belongs to the field of the arts, they would just walk away. If it is about arts and it is what they have heard of, then they will talk about it and maybe join the activity. Because that is something they already know, so they must participate in it so as to be in the same level as the others. This reaction reveals the cultural competence that happens all the time. This symbolic competence guarantees a person's right for the better, and it offers symbolic power to the person which puts him/her in the right level in which he/she expects to be. All the information they gather and learn of is from the media, education and interpersonal communication. The formation of their mentality is attached to their family, social, cultural, and economic background. These two factors deeply influence their actions towards arts. This is why they have difficulties participating in cultural activities when these activities are unknown to them. When the government and the media take arts as secondary and never really develop a healthy policy to promote arts, no wander performances cannot attract enough audiences. This explains why promoting arts in Taiwan is such a mission impossible.

I was very sad to hear about this performance been cancelled. Tough I have not yet seen Isabella’s room, I believe it is a very interesting production. If the government has had a healthy policy for the arts and urged the educational system to place the arts as one of the priorities, arts in Taiwan would have been more lively and progressing. We all deserve the right for appreciating arts, and arts can help construct a more civilized and harmonious society. Everyone is a potential theatre audience; they just haven't realized that yet!

14 May 2008

Let's pray for those who suffered from the earthquake and the cyclone

It is always sad to know people suffering from natural disasters. The earthquake in Szechuan and the cyclone in Myanmar have taken away hundreds of thousands of precious lives. According to the news last night, Myanmar has so far lost almost 68,000 lives. As for the earthquake, the number of fatalities is still increasing reaching 12,000.

I am a Buddhist, a sincere one who reads Buddhist sutras everyday. My Buddhist study taught me to respect monks and nuns. Not long ago, I was in shock seeing the Chinese police violently suppressed the Tibetan monks. Though the Chinese government said that there were only few casualties and the monks were safe and unharmed, some of the monks told the foreign journalists that the police actually attacked monks and killed them. Then, few months ago, the Saffron Revolution in Myanmar led to the disappearance of thousands of monks and nuns. It is not difficult to guess where these monks and nuns are now. We can never trust a word from the brutal military regime of Myanmar. I am referring to these two incidents because Buddha taught us to treasure lives, especially those who devote themselves to the teaching of Buddha. Moreover, according to Buddhist scriptures, humiliating and killing monks or nuns are serious crimes, which will bring terrible consequences.

We always say that in this modern world nemesis will not come after your death because there are just too many evil actions. Now it will come soon after the evil is practiced. Though I hate to think in such a negative way, I kind of think what happen now seems to reaffirm that statement. Both Myanmar and China pay the price for what they have done to the monks and nuns. In fact, I think this thought is contradictory to the teaching of Buddha. He taught us to love and treasure lives. Then why such sad disasters happen, not to those who practice evil but to the innocent people?!

I cannot figure out any possible answers. I guess if I could, I would be one of the Bodhisattvas. All I know is to pray and try to help those who are suffering now. I believe the existence of these divine beings, and if we pray sincerely, they will help those people. For the dead, Bodhisattvas will lead them to the pure land, and for the others, Bodhisattvas will give them courage and strong will to restart their new life. "Om Mani Padme Hum"!

13 May 2008

The Secret - Thinking for the Positive and Be Sure of It

I have just read The Secret, edited by Rhonda Byrne. I found this book very encouraging, and reading it reinforces my belief in the inner power. I always believe in the power of thought and feelings. This belief derives from my contemplation on "I think, therefore I am" proposed by Rene Descartes. What The Secret elaborated is highly similar to Descartes' "Thinking Thing". Descartes believed that if a person wonders whether or not he/she exists in the world, this doubt is his/her thinking, which reaffirms his/her existence in the world.

As a thinking thing, we human beings are born with the ambition and power to manipulate material objects around us. Our intention is to conquer the nature. However, being a thinking thing also leads us to wonder if this ambition can be succeeded. Hence, we set up limits for ourselves, which are perfect for us to explain our failure in trying to achieve what we desire for. Because we are unsure whether or not God exists and we constantly encounter failure, we slowly conform ourselves to the rules set up by the church. Limits, rules, whatever forms they represent, are not bad because they help constrain us from doing something immoral and evil, but we have to admit it is them that stop us thinking and lead us to live a life that is the copy of others and full of negative perspectives. When we don't think anymore, we become nonexistent beings.

Through the positive conversations and statements, The Secret showed us what we human beings truly can do. This book told us we have the power for change. Our life is controlled by ourselves, and we all deserve a better and happier life. All we need do is to set up a goal and think about it. Never think about anything negative or destructive. Hold this happy feeling and deliver it to the universe. Slowly, we will have what we want come true. I guess the reason we can achieve our goal is because we are facing our life with a healthy and positive attitude. With this attitude we will not lose ourselves. Also, this attitude gives hope that pushes us to achieve our goal.

There is nothing magic and mythical in this book though what it talked about sounds like that. It is in fact about how we should use our mind and thought to make our life easier and happier. I like what it said, never worry about how this achievement would come, only concentrate on what you want and think that you have had it. It does give a wonderful feeling when you have that thought.