Wednesday, May 03, 2017

tainan: in one post

We stayed four days, which isn’t very long, and spent most of it rehearsing and performing, so we didn’t see very much.

But Tainan is quite lovely. It’s Taiwan’s oldest city and it doesn’t appear touristy – a local tells us that it was only in recent years that there have been more things for tourists to do – but reminds me of Japan in its prettiness and the way the light strikes it.

Its also not city-ish. Our hotel with its attached mall is the only high-rise for acres around. Most developments are low. When we get there, the air is a shade cooler than that in Singapore.

Oh and everyone gets around on scooters. Including kids (sitting at the adult's feet) and pets.

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Highlights.

PERFORMANCES

We played thrice: at the Xinying Cultural Centre (to a paying audience), at a private dinner (hosted by our Taiwanese sponsor who happens to own a company manufacturing iPhone cases) and at a museum (to members of the public).

(These performances were what the loaned violin was for)

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* Xinying Cultural Centre

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* (Impressive) wheelchair-friendly slots at Xinying

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* A giant briefcase art installation at Xinying

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* Rehearsing at the Chimei Museum, standing around and trying to prop up our scores as we have no stands

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* Chimei Museum, which is as echo-y as the average toilet

The audience is very enthusiastic, more than those in Singapore.

I learn that while there is no lack of fantastic soloists in Tainan, there are few string ensemble groups and even fewer which play unique arrangements.

So what we bring over is very refreshing, especially when we perform the Singapore-arranged versions of Taiwanese hits like Gan Lan Shu (Olive Tree) and Ku Sha (Sands of Sorrow).

MUMMY RETREAT

My room-mate is Kathleen, a violinist and fellow mum who is going away from her children for the first time since they were born.

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* Kathleen savouring the feeling of being alone. We two enjoyed a dinner of beef soup and rice

In some ways, we both felt like we were being released from prison.

She kept going shopping on her own, reveling in being able to walk around without toddlers hanging around her knees, while I took every opportunity to have fun.

In the hotel, we both marveled at how easy it was to keep the room and toilet neat and clean. We completely understood each other’s ecstasy.

KARAOKE

I’ve only sung karaoke twice in Singapore, but how can I not sing karaoke in Taiwan?

I pop over with three boys on our last night, two Taiwanese and one Singaporean.

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* Christoven, me, our incredible Taiwanese "tour guide" and friend Hsu Ko

It’s a blast. The auntie screams her way through Mariah and Whitney (I didn’t pick those songs, the boys sabo-ed me).

It’s dirt cheap, with food throw in to the package, fabulous individual microphones for each of us, disco lights and an attached bathroom.

OYSTER MURDER

We head out to an out-of-the-way pier with walls of oyster shells and sit down at dirty knee-high tables.

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The best meal I had in Tainan was a tub of oysters freshly pried from the seawater.

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Encrusted with barnacles and algae and whatnot, the oysters are laid – flat side facing up – on a hot grill. The seawater inside is boiled, the oyster dies, and we know its time when the shell pops open with a hiss, like what you hear when water over-boils. We slurp.

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* Hsu Ko demonstrating how its done

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No sauce, no nothing. Just pure freshly-killed oyster in briny boiling hot seawater which explodes in the mouth and slides down the throat. It is amazing.

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* Small but so fresh and packed with flavour

Cost? We paid a fixed fee, a pittance, for the entire excursion which included a trip out to sea, and we could have kept on asking for more oysters only I didn’t think it’d be good to eat more than 20.

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* Someone's dog at the oyster fest. People there seem to love toy dogs, plenty of them around

NIGHT MARKET

This is Taiwan’s delight, the night markets. Packed shoulder-to-shoulder, we jostle with the locals (who head there for late-night suppers or to buy cheap stuff) and stuff ourselves with mostly fried food.

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* Eric (in blue) and wife playing a kind of pinball

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* Big fat squid

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* Nok the Thai boy trying out smelly beancurd

Not my thing, fried food, so one visit is sufficient.

FOOD

Food in Tainan is curiously sweet. So the batter from the fried stuff would be sweet-ish.

I learn that sugar was a treasured commodity in the past and it was considered a privilege and honour to be able to eat it. That has persisted, and sweetness now laces most of the food.

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* Sorbet-ish ice cream with peanut and coriander wrapped in popiah skin. It sounds wrong but it works right

INSTRUMENTS SHOWCASE

Funny I just blogged about trying out good violins, because in Tainan we were treated to a rare show-and-tell of the Chimei Museum’s string instrument collection.

Who knew this museum in this corner of Taiwan has one of the most impressive and valuable collections of old instruments in the world?

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* Eye-catching. A gutted-out double bass's second life as a shelf

It was paid for by a self-made Taiwanese billionaire, who grew up poor but along the way fell in love with the sound of the violin and taught himself to play. When the money came rolling in from his plastics manufacturing businesses, he started acquiring instruments.

The collection is apparently the world’s most comprehensive in breadth and depth (in 2012, nearly 1,200 instruments by 904 makers and 603 bows by 300 makers) and plenty of classical music big shots borrow them. These are instruments worth millions and are centuries old.

(I hear the collector's wife, however, thinks he is purchasing over-priced planks of wood)

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* Curator Dai-Ting Chung

Funny thing is, after the curator lovingly went through the entire row of violins all lined up in front of him, nobody dared to go up and play because it’d be like a performance and would be too freaking stressful. I mean, even our decorated soloist was reluctant.

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* Say Ming finally relents

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* Shue Churn taking a video of Juan

It was only later when the formal session had been disbanded that people went up to touch.

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(No, I didn’t. I didn’t think I was worthy. And I had nightmares I’d do something stupid like drop it.)

BONDING

That's the best part isn't it? Just having fun with old and new friends.

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* Kenneth, Zeng Ying, Ye Zhi, Nok

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* Out on the streets enjoying the stellar tea of Tainan

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