Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Amazon Kindle

I bought an Amazon Kindle (6 inch display , global wireless) and paid USD$26.97 for international priority shipping via UPS. According to the shipping and delivery condition on Amazon, I should get my kindle within 2-4 business days. It was the 3rd day after my purchase, I got one missed call alert on my cellular phone showing that the time of the call was 17:30. I didn't pay attention to it as I didn't recognize the number and the next day I got a call from the same number at the same time. I picked it up this time, it was UPS calling for a copy of my ID, a signed declaration that declared that the kindle I bought would not be used for other purposes but private use and an authorization that designated UPS to pick up the kindle on my behalf. I was skeptical about the request, what's it all about? Was the National Communications Commission (NCC) in Taiwan worried that the built-in global wireless feature in kindle might cause some kinds of national communication crisis when falling into the wrong hands? I faxed the documents to UPS but it was too late to send the documents to NCC after 17:00. It was Friday night and I ended up having to wait for another 5 days to get my kindle.

What I don't understand is that the UPS is designated for kindle shipping internationally by Amazon, since I was not the first one who purchased kindle in Taiwan UPS must have known the rules in Taiwan but the documents required by the Customs weren't mentioned while purchasing. Moreover, UPS called the consignee to prepare documents after 17:00 which made it impossible to send the documents to NCC for reviewing on the same day, so exactly how did they expect to deliver a kindle to a consignee in Taiwan within 2-4 business days?

The firmware of my kindle is version 2.3 which can now display PDF natively, however, I can't change the font size in PDF format nor can I enable text to read feature. The unchangable font size is a big problem as a PDF file in a 6 inch display is too small to read. I tried to convert the file via Amazon kindle personal documents service system that converts documents to kindle compatible files without extra charge. I sent a PDF to my kindle account: hanjie@kindle.com, and right away I got the file in my kindle with a notice telling me that I have been charged USD$1.98 for a wireless delivery, and the delivered file still in PDF format! It turns out that the free wireless delivery only applies in the USA, since PDF files are a native format in kindle, the system will not convert a PDF to AZW which is the Amazon Kindle ebook format. There is a way to make sure the file you sent is converted and send back to your email without extra charge: type "Convert" in the subject of the e-mail when you submit your personal document to username@free.kindle.com.

I've learned the hard way, if you ever want to order a kindle in Taiwan, make sure you have all documents prepared before UPS calls you.

Useful Links:

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Mysterious and mighty street dancers

The national Ba Jia Jiang and Guan Jiang Shou competition has been held in Ci Feng Gong (39, Zhong Shan Rd, Pingtung City, a 5 minutes walking distance from the Pingtung train station) for 6 years in a row. I didn't know the difference between Ba Jia Jiang and Guan Jiang Shou so I used to ignore the term " Guan Jiang Shou" and unified the two as Ba Jia Jiang, unitl now.

Ba Jia Jiang 八家將
You can see these dancers in almost every temple ceremony in Taiwan. There are at least 5 theories for the origination of these dancers. Despite the diversity of origination theories, many people are convinced that these dancers are subordinates of Wu Fu Da Di (the five deities of plague whose job is to evict plagues from the living); leading the way for their master on an inspection tour. The number of the group varies from 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 16 up to 32. Traditionally, there are eight of them doing their special dance in folk activities, usually involving some deities' birthday.

Generals Gan, Liu, Fan and Xie, the main characters in this eight-person group, whose responsitilities are executing arrests and punishments. General Gan's makeup has an octupus-shaped eye and general Liu has red and black dual-colors painted on his face. Gan and Liu are responsible for executing punishments. General Fan, dresses in black with his face painted in black and eyes in white; general Xie, on the contrary, dresses in white with a black bat symbol painted on his white face, and has a long tongue sticking out. Arrestting is their job. The other 4 characters are seasonal deities, spring, summer, autumn, and winter having dragon, bird, tiger and turtle symbols painted on their faces respectively. Their responsibilities in the group are investigation and inquiry.

A team of 13 is a better number to organize such a performance. It starts when the deity gives a direct order to a subordinate and then this order is passed on to general Fan and Xie by a messenger. General Fan and Xie arrest and hand over the criminals to general Gan and Liu for punishment. After that, 4 seasonal deities start their investigation then a clerk files the record and a guard puts the criminals in custody. Once the team has their makeup done, they are not allowed to eat meat, and should project an air of dignity. Moreover, when the performance has started, it is forbidden to cut through the group, especially for women.

Nowadays, it is difficult to distinguish each individual from their costume, makeup, and dancing. The meaning of this unique religious ritual has been distorted and varies from group to group.

Guan Jiang Shou 官將首
Literally, Guan Jiang Shou means chief of senior officers. There are 4 major theories about the origination of the characters in Guan Jiang Shou and they all end up to one legend: Guan Jiang Shou are subordinates of Ksitigarbha (Di Cang Wang), the god of hell, they were 2 demons subdued by Ksitigarbha and have become his guards. The 2 generals can see through good and evil qualities in people, general Zeng (增) has the power of giving extra lifespan to good people and general Sun (損) can take away lifespan of bad guys. They are the chief of senior officers leading the way and casting away any obstacles for their master on an inspection tour.

To make the dance better looking, general Zeng was duplicated and a team of 3 is the most common composition of Guan Jian Shou. The signatures of Guan Jiang Shou are long, sharp, protruding teeth, thick and long eyebrows and extravagant capes. The facial paintings are red and green basis, white lines creating a fire pattern with their forehead, nose and chin gilded. There are 2 styles you can find: 2 general Zeng are painted red (sometime, one of them is painted blue) standing on the 2 sides of the group holding handcuffs and tablets of fire and general Sun is painted green standing in the middle holding a trident and a flag of order. The second version is that general Zeng is painted green standing in the middle of the group holding a trident and a flag of order while the duplicated general Zeng is painted red standing on the right side of the group holding a tablet of fire and handcuffs and general Sun (painted red) on the left holding a tiger tablet and handcuffs.

The Guan Jiang Shou dance is more of a marshall type style compare to Ba Jia Jiang, which is softer. A signature difference can be found in the facial expressions of the dancers with the Guan Jiang Shou making fierce and angry poses.





Monday, November 02, 2009

Tainan Holland Days

The Tainan Holland day has become one of the annual routine activities held in Tainan. I participated in the event last year, it was eye opening to see how traditional Holland wooden shoes were made from a piece of wood by master Martin Dijkman and those tasty Holland snacks were a delightful treat. This year, I looked forward to participating in the festival with high expectation, however, it gave me a déja vu when I walked into the tree house. The setting of the venue was almost the same as last year: a tent for Mr. Martin to make shoes and next to it was a souvenir shop; food stalls on the other side of the game area and the sjoelen game at the back against the building. Despite the fact that the event of this year was in association with the Siraya National Scenic Area Administration, it seemed to me they were just there to give away pamphlets, I couldn't see any interactions and the reason why Siraya was included in the Holland day puzzled me until I read the letter from Menno Goedhart, the representative of The Netherlands, "The Siraya tribe had many interactions with the Dutch in the 17th century. In fact the Siraya were the first Taiwanese meeting the Dutch." Even though special puppet shows, photo sessions for everyone in traditional Dutch clothes and Miffy, etc. were staged on the other side of expanded tree house this year, call me greedy, but I was expecting something more from the festival.

I actually love the idea of separating the event into 2 weekends: the Holland bike tour (Oct.17-18) and Garden party (Oct. 24-25). The route for bike tour connected the major Dutch historical sites and Taiwanese temples in and around Tainan City, a great way for a mixed cultural feast (go to iTainan for the routes on google map). However, the information for such event wasn't announced to the public until Oct. 15th at 13:52:17, first posted on Tainan city Government website, and the information regarding the possibility of bike rental was absent. There was no propaganda about the event elsewhere even though the official website was built before Oct. 15th.

Tainan and Holland not only shared common histories at some points but also their city features: the canal systems. It seems a great place to hold the Tainan Holland day along 2 sides of the canal where visitors can circumnavigate the venue which can dilute the crowd. Most of the canal sections have space that is big enough to accommondate all activities that represent Holland such as the Queen's Birthday section for all kinds of orange accessories; a section for master Martin wooden shoes making; the Cheese Market, Alkmaar, where men making trade in a traditional way; traditional food sections; A windmill surounded by tulips; Jazz festival; Maastricht Carnival and a cruise on the canal for those who are looking for a different perspective of the event, etc. A full Holland experience can be had if they choose to expand in the future, the canal area would be a great place.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Temple parade in Tainan

I guess most weekends have something like this in Tainan but today was much bigger! Today actually is Halloween in North America (Oct. 31st), the day for spirits to run around; here in Tainan, 12 hours ahead, we have a temple parade all the Gods come out and go down the street. A nice coincidence having spirits moving around the world.



Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Black card photography Part I

Sunrise and sunset are the two most favorable themes for photographers because of its rapidly changing hues and great color saturation. But they are also one of the difficult themes to master in photography. The difficulty lies on how to get a balanced exposure in a great dynamic range of luminance between the lightest (the sun) and darkest (the foreground) areas of the image. Often times you either get a silhouette against the golden hue horizon or a clear shot of the foreground but an overexposed background. Thanks to modern technologies, there are many ways to overcome the exposure dilemma in a high contrast environment such as the High Dynamic Range Imaging (HDRI), active D-lighting built in cameras, multiple exposure on the same image, gradient Graduated Neutral Density (GND) filters application and black card photography, etc. Each technique has its pros and cons but that's not the focus of this entry.


















Silhouette with correct background exposure (left) V.S a clear foregroung but an overexposed backgroung (right)

It is said that the black card photography is a unique photography developed in Taiwan. Basically, black card photography uses a black card (could be anything that is dark with a characteristic of not refecting lights) to shelter the brighter area of an image allowing the darker area a longer exposure and the result is a balanced exposure. Compare to gradient graduated ND filter application and HDRI, black card photography can handle a greater dynamic range of luminance and it can be done without computer software post-editing which usually disqualifies a great photo from a photo contest. To get a balanced exposure in a high dynamic range of luminance environment with black card photography the first step is to set the metering mode to spot and measure the exposure at bright and dark areas of the scene respectively. Lets use this photo as an example:



The exposure for the sky was measured 3 secs and 13 secs for the ground with F stop 8 (it was the smallest aperture I got on sony F717) in the spot metering mode. So I set the shuttle speed to 13 secs, F stop at 8, and focus to manual as the black card may change the focal point. The camera was mounted on a tripod, self-timer was on to minimize a blurry image from shaking the camera while pressing the shutter. Then I put a black card close to the lens and adjusted the position through viewfinder as the image below:


Once the shutter was opened, I kept shaking the black card up and down a bit to prevent the formation of a black card sheltered line like in the image below. Ten seconds later, I removed the card from the lens and let the whole image be exposed for another 3 secs until the shutter closed.


By doing so, the sky was exposed for 3 secs and the ground for 13 secs and as a result, a balanced image exposure was captured.

Here are some photos that were taken by black card photography



















Tips:
  1. Set F stop to 16-22 to get a greater depth of field (DOF)
  2. Use Manual mode and set the shutter speed to "Bulb" rather than exact time. The reason to do that is because when you have a longer exposure it is easy to make a mistake by counting too quickly or too slowly. By using "Bulb" mode, you control the shutter that avoids under/over exposure after removing the black card.
  3. Curve the black card to match the geography when the horizon is not a simple line.
  4. Use an ND filter to earn a longer exposure time if it is too short (especially for a sunrise image)


=========================================================

Thank you so much for correcting my mistake and sharing great tips in the comment section, Craig.

GND filter is indeed an easier way to deal a high dynamic range luminance environment and the result usually satisfying. However, lets take the most commonly seen GND8 filter in photo stores (ND=8) for example, the difference between the darkest part to the transparent part is 3 F-stops but that's not enough to handle the contrast between the bright and the dark areas in many sunrise/sunset scenes. Of course, apply multiple GND filters can solve the problem but it might also worsen the image quality as most of the GND filters are made of plastic. Moreover, given the property of graduated decreasing darkness of a GND filter, it is easy to get an uneven exposure in the bright area on the scene (darker on the top) if the bright area has a similar exposure value (EV). ( Example: notice a grafuated darkness from top to bottom on the image that applied a Gradual Grey2 (ND8))

Even though HDR has been accepted in many reputable photo contests, it seems to me most photo contests in Taiwan still have some issues about it. HDR is the easiest way to create a well balanced exposure image in a high contrast environment. The Photomatix Pro has a high reputation in making a HDR image, download the trial version here if you are interested. Stuck in Customs has stunning HDR photos and HDR tutorial.

It is highly recommended to set focus to manual when using a black card. The concern is not because the focal point might change during the exposure; depends on compositions, sometimes the black card covers 2/3 of the lens which can be a problem when the focus is set to auto. Thank to Craig's reminder, positioning the focal point at 1/3 of the scene in front gives you the rear 2/3 scene in an acceptable focal range, it's a great tip for manual focusing. If you are interested in how to set your focal point to get a greatest DOF, try to understand the concept of hyperfocal distance and Mountain Storm Fine Arts provides a great tool to calculate a hyperfocal distance. If you have a Windows Mobile phone, you can download WinMoDof, which is a useful free application that calculates the DOF and hyperfocal distance.

It's not necessary to set shutter speed to Bulb (the pics in the article weren't set to Bulb as Sony F717 has no such feature, you can download the pics for EXIF info). The reason that I highly recommended to set shutter speed to Bulb in black card photographing even when the exposure is under 30 secs is to minimize the effect of counting error. The error is inevitable and it gets bigger with a longer exposure time. Back to my example, the proper exposure for the sky and mountains were 3 and 13 seconds respectively. If the shutter speed was set for 13 seconds and I started to shake the black card while counting to 10 but I counted it too fast, so I removed the black card at 8 seconds which gave the sky a 5 seconds to expose, as a result, an overexposed sky would be captured; if I counted the time too slow, lets say the exact time I counted to 10 was 12 seconds that left the sky only 1 second to get exposure, an underexposed sky would be captured. When I set the shutter speed to Bulb, despite the counting error, I would get the whole image either overexposed or underexposed a bit rather than a partial over/under exposed image. With a Raw format, it's easy to compensate a 3EV over/under exposed image in the camera. Of course, if you are using a GND filter as mentioned by Craig, a proper metering will negate the need for counting.

Often times I got this question: should I expose the whole image first then cover the bright area with a black card when it got a proper exposure time or the other way around as I introduced in this article? The problem is if you let the whole image expose first then cover the black card it's difficult to place the card at a proper position. I meant to write a complete guide to black card photography but I only got a DSLR a few months ago and I simply didn't have the time to take photos for a such big topic. This article is the basic concept and practice of black card photography and all photos were taken by sony F717 which limited applications of a black card. How to use a black card in complex light sources environment and photographing fireworks with a black card will be the part II coming soon.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A non-scientific publication for the very first time

Last year, I got an email from Oxford University Press asking for permission to use one of my Dalat photos, Copyright permission request, and here is the result! I wonder if I can find a print in Taiwan?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Changhua

I've never thought about going to Changhua for a day trip as the only scenery there that I can recall is the giant buddha in Bagua Shan. As I screened my photos trying to select some of them that fit my 2010 calendar theme: of human constructions, I couldn't find enough photos that I liked. Then I saw a photo of the Fan-Shaped Wheelhouse in Changhua, which is the only wheelhouse for trains that is still operating in Taiwan, so I made a day trip to Changhua and discovered that the city has more than a wheelhouse and a giant buddha to offer. Take a look at the tourist map made by Changhua City Gorvernment for more information.

The Fan-Shaped wheelhouse is connected to the Changhua train station, however its entrance is loacated about 700 meters north of station (No. 1, Changmei rd, Sec. 1; opening hours 08:00-12:00, 13:00-17:00; Mon-Sun, Tel: 886-47-244537; free entrance). One must exchange ID and fill out the visitors log at the left side of the entrance before entering. A free group tour can be arranged by calling in advance. The wheelhouse is where technicians fix and maintain the electronic and steamed train engines. A bridge of rotatable rail aligns train engines that need maintenance to a radial rails network, each rail leads to a garage and the 12 garages are arranged in a fan-shaped and that's how it got the name. Since 1998, the number 12 garage accomodates the oldest steamed train engine, CK101, in Taiwan that was built in 1907 and had stopped traveling in 1979 while the railway system was gradually electrified. There is another steam train engine, CK124, also parked in the fan-shaped garage attracting steam train afficionados nationalwide here for their pilgrimage.

Buried in my fading memories, Bagua Shan Scenic Area to me was just a temple with a big Buddha in front of its courtyard. I arrived in Changhua on a Saturday night and was not ready to settle down in a hotel so I drove around and found that the Bagua Shan Scenic Area was even more beautiful than I remembered. A restaurant (Gua Shan Yue Yuan, 卦山月圓) on top of the hill serves BBQ meals for 2-6 persons and various dishes in a garden with a view of the city lights as a background, making it a great place to have dinner.

The highlight of the Bagua Shan Scenic Area is the landmark of Changhua city which is a giant Buddha statue. Inside the statue are displays of stories from buddhism. A wooden platform provides the best 180 degree panoramic view of Changhua City. The giant buddha, probably is the biggest in Taiwan, overlooking the city also has a 9 dragons fountain in the center of its plaza and miles of trekking paths along the surrounding hill. It seems to be a good idea to go later in the day to get a sunset picture and enjoy the night view with a BBQ dinner at the restaurant.

I did some research online before the trip and found a hand made noodle house in FuXing township, Changhua County. It's a traditional san-ho-yuan (三合院) style building with a big square in the center of the complex where they can hang the freshly made noodle in the sun before packing. It would be a great cultural experience to see the traditional way of making noodles and a great theme for photography, however, the day I visited Changhua was raining so I gave up this site and went to my next destination. Here is some information about this place if you are interested: address: No.9, Lane 129, Fuxing Rd., Fuxing Township, Changhua County; Tel: 04-778-3133; Geotage: Lat:24.047111, Lon:120.426167, the best time of visit: 10:00-13:00.

First Tainan, Second Lugang and Mengjia the third (一府 二鹿 三艋舺) is a Taiwanese adage that tells a chronological development of Taiwan from south to north during the Ching dynasty. Lugang was the second largest city in Taiwan, as a result the high density of historical sites in Lugang is one of the reasons that attracts tourists flooding in and why the name Lugang overshadows Changhua. In fact, many people don't know Lugang is actually one of the many townships of Changhua, well I admitted that I was one of them before. The historical sites in Lugang are free access to the public and are all located in walking distance. The Tienhou temple (Matsu temple) is the center of tourists attraction, most people take it as a start point to other sites such as old market street, half-side well and 9 turns lane, etc. Walking in these renovated historical sites with the crowds was a journey back in time that offers a glance of those opulent old days in Lugang, but I couldn't stand the crowds and the only place that I was comfortable with was the Longshan temple. Without a flood of tourists, the wooden temple still keeps its dignity and serves the locals as an spiritual asylum. Exploring every corner of the temple at a leisurable pace, feeling its age from the fading gilding roof, it was a peaceful visit. For more information, visit Lugang township official website or Ugo's Taiwanese Secrets Lugan entry.

Lugang not only has a bunch of historical sites but also has 3 museums located in Changhua Seafront industrial park (free entrance), about 7 km away from the Tienhou temple. Show Chwan Health and Medical Science Museum, exihibits modern medical instruments and a series of anatomical diagrams of human body (No.6, Lugong Rd., Lugang Township; opening hours: 08:00-17:00, Mon-Sun; Tel: 886-4-7813888 ext. 71190) whereas the BRAND'S Health Museum has a skywalk that allows visitors a glance of the BRAND'S production line (No.18, Lugong Rd., Lugang Township; opening hours: 09:00-17:00, Tue-Sat; Tel: 886-4-7810077, a reservation is needed).

I visited the Taiwan Glass Gallery which is sponsored by the Taiwan mirror Glass Enterprise Ltd. It's a 2 level building, the ground level is the office, gift shops, tourists rest area and half of the building is deserted space. A fortified glass staircase next to the office leads to a tunnel that connects to the exihibion hall on the second level. The floor of the tunnel was made by merging 3 pieces of 8mm thick fortified glass together that can support 1000 kg in weight, the images of galaxies were embedded into the arch ceiling glass along with different pattern glasses in different lighting on the right, the dreamy glass tunnel certainly elevated my expectation of the gallery that was dampen by the look of the ground level. On the other side of the tunnel, a bright broad exhibition hall unfolded, I couldn't stop taking photos of those delicate creations and had a great time wandering in a maze that was made of mirror. A high tech eletronic curtain was able to transform a transparent glass into a ground glass, I would like to build a house with this kind of glass. I kept runing back and forth at the two ends of a tube that consists of 3 mirrors, sticking my head in the end of the tube, triangle shape in one end and round shape in the other, to create my unique kaleidoscope patterns. The only part I gave up on trying to see was the golden tunnel because of the huge queue. (Address: No. 30, Lugong S. 4th rd., Lugang Township; Geotag: lat: 120.3954, lon: 24.0687; Opening hour: 08:00-18:00, Mon-Sun; Tel: 886-4-7811299 ext. 266; a reservation is needed for a group size over 20)

On my way back to Tainan, I stopped by the Wanggong fishing port for a sunset picture. There were a bus load of photographers taking position for the view already when I arrived at the port. I took my time circumnavigating the area, from food stalls to the octangle lighthouse tower that was colored black and white stripes. Wooden platforms were built along the coastline reaching out to the sea for tourists watching the sunset. The blue bridge connects 2 sides of the port as a guardian watching over the peace of the port. I waited patiently for the bridge to light up but it didn't. It was 15 mins to 19:00, photographers were all boarding a bus so I asked one of them and realized the lights of the bridge would only be turned on for special occasions such as new year. With disappointment, I packed my gadgets and ended my day trip in Changhua.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Confucious Culture Festival

The confucious temple in Tainan (ref. 1) is the oldest one in Taiwan and a ceremony is held every year on confucious' birthday at dawn (around 5:00AM), the 28th of September, not only in Tainan but also almost all confusious temples in Taiwan. I wanted to write an article about the ceremony in English as I couldn't find such information in Tainan official websites so I did some research and found a website (Taiwan Confucian Temple, ref. 2) that is made by the Council for Cultural Affairs which has already posted the most detailed information of Confucious, the history and building style of Tainan Confucious temple and the cultural ceremony. Using that information as a backbone, together with the information from Taichung Confucious temple (ref. 3), Taiwanschoolnet (ref. 4) and Wikipedia (Ref. 5); the ShiDian Ceremony (釋奠典禮, literally “display-presentation” ceremony in Chinese) is summarized as follows:

(1) The Ceremony Begins

(2) First Drum Roll
Light up candles and incenses, musicians, dancers, and ceremonial attendants standing by. The musicians beat the Jing drum placed in transverse on the west of the Yi Gate. The first beat on the drum ring one time, followed by repeated beating in the center of the drum with both sticks, one heavier than the other and from slow to fast and from weak to strong, before slowing down and eventually becoming still followed by a heavy beat in the center. Another musician makes a heavy beat of the bell hung on the east of the Yi Gate as the end of the session.

(3) Second Drum Roll
Assistant Sacrifice Officers standing by. The whole session is conducted following the step given above, only the first beating on the drum ring and the bell sounds are performed twice.

(4) Third Drum Roll
All presentation Officers standing by. Following the step given above, the first beating on the drum ring and the bell sounds are done three times.

At dawn, the solemn drum beating is accompanied by the remaining bell sound, making one show respect.

(5) Musicians and dancers take positions
The musicians follow the lead of a guide who holds a "Hui" (Banner of light red silk) with the rhythm of drum (5-step-and-1-pause pace) going up to the platform from the east and west stairs and take their positions.

Yi dancers enter into the plaza in pairs from the east and west corridors by following the lead of a guide who holds a "Chien" (Tasseled Staff, a banner with tassels of silken cord hung at vary-ing levels), with the rhythm of drum (5-step-and-1-pause pace) to the stage in front of the Da-Cheng Hall.

(6) Ceremonial Attendants Take Their Designated Positions
The musicians, Yi dancers and the inner and outer shift officials come in 4 teams on the east and 4 on the west, totaling 8 teams. Centered by the Confucius tablet, the formation comes in symmetrical levels.

(7) The Ceremonial Supervisor Takes His Designated Position
Led by the guides, the formation stands to the southeast of Dan Chi (丹墀, red stone stage) and face southwest. The supervisor oversees the ceremony and corrects errors if any.

(8) The Assistant Sacrifice Officers Take Their Designated Position
The second consecration officers enter into the plaza from east and west and are led by the servers. Standing in the south side of the Ta Cheng Plaza, they face the hall.

(9) The Collateral Presentation Officers Take Their Designated Positions
8 officials are assigned to the east and west levels, east and west virtuous, the virtuous and Confucians in the east and west rooms. In the order of Confucians, the virtuous, intellectuals and levels, the officials enter into the plaza from both sides in symmetrical order to wash the hands and then take position by the accompanying officer, facing the Ta Cheng Hall.

Their job is to present the sacrificial feast to the other respectful spirits that are worshiped in the Confucious temple.

(10) The Principal Presentation Officer Takes His Designated Position
The principal consecration officer is led by the guide to wash the hands first before proceeding to the front of the accompanying consecration officer, facing the Ta Cheng Hall. The entrance is conducted in the symmetrical manner and the last one that enters is the principal consecration officer, in opposite position to the Confucius tablet, suggesting the interaction between people and God.

(11) Opening the Gates
Together with the Yi Gate and the Ling Hsing Gates outside the Yi Gate, there are 5 each in front of the Ta Cheng Hall and they are closed most of the time and open only for the ceremonial ritual. The door-opening server opens it before opening the Ling Hsing gates.

(12) Burying the Sacrificial Remnants
A pig, a cow, and a goat was sacrificed before the ceremony. As of the dipping of cow hair in blood in the ceremony, the hair stands for life and blood for killing. Both are kept in a tray that is held by the server. Coming down from the Ta Cheng Hall, the servers pass by the plaza, the Yi Gate, leave the Ling Hsing Gate and arrive the west side of the gate to dig a hole and bury the hair dipped with blood; a ritual of purification and nourishment of the earth. Burial in the west as the westside indicates the elements of gold that has characteristic of chill and killing. Vegetable is used today in stead of cow hair. The ceremony is only to remind us of the legacy as burial of the hair dipped with blood indicates conservation of morals and mercy.

(13) Welcoming the Spirit
The musicians beat the drums and the bells as the beginning of the ceremony. The 3 drumbeats are accompanied by the harmonious melody. The banner crew raises the banners and the Chu players beat the instrument 3 times. Accompanied by the drum and bell beating, they leave the left and right doors of the Yi Gate and the Ling Hsing Gate in 2 lines in a symmetrical manner from the east and the west doors. Four ceremonial attendants carrying 2 lanterns and 2 burners, leading, followed by 6 ceremonial attendants holding 2 axes, 2 Halberd ("Yueh", similar to the “fu” halberd, but slightly larger), one fan and an Umbrella. Eventually they make 3 bows outward before returning back to the Ta Cheng Hall from the central door.

(14) First Ceremony of the Three Bows
The reverence offered by the welcome procession when returning back to the Ta Cheng Hall from the central door used to be kneeling in the past, today, bows are offered instead.

(15) Presenting the Sacrificial Feast
Accompanied by the harmonious melody, the ceremony servers opens the lids of all ritual objects and move those without a lid before returning to their standing positions.

(16) Offering Incense
As an independent session, this is a part of the welcome ritual. In the past, the harmonious melody was adopted and the principal consecration officer and the accompanying one used to offer incense to all gods and the 3 bows. Since, 2003, the peaceful melody was adopted instead for the preliminary offering, making the session the core of the entire ceremony.

(17) Initial Principal Presentation
The musicians beat the drums and the bells 3 times before playing the peaceful melody. The banner servers raise the banners and the bamboo holders raise the bamboo. After beating the 3 wood instrument 3 times and the bell, the Yi dance begins along with the music. At this time, the principal consecration officer follows the guide to the Confucius tablet in the Ta Cheng Hall for the preliminary offering. The offering includes ceremonial money bill that is made of silk in white color and bearing no characters), liquor and the 3 bows. (Initial Yi dance animation in flash format)

(18) Initial Collateral Presentation
The accompanying consecration officer follows the guide to the east and west virtuous, east and west scholars and the east and west rooms for the preliminary offering in the same procedure as above.

(19) Chanting the Blessing
The principal consecration officer stands in front of the incense table and the accompanying consecration officers in front of the tablets, the lector reads the congratulatory and finally offers the 3 bows.

(20) Second Ceremony of Three Bows

(21) Second Principal Presentation
The accompanying consecration officers proceed with the secondary offering in the same procedure as above. ( Secon Yi dance animation in flash format)

(22) Second Collateral Presentation
Together with the Yi dance and the music (peaceful view melody), the principal consecration officer follows the guide back to the tablets for the offering of liquor and the 3 bows.

(23) Final Principal Presentation
The accompanying consecration officers proceed with the final offering in the same procedure as above.(Final Yi dance animation in flash format)

(24) Final Collateral Presentation
This is a ritual is conducted with the peaceful melody, not available in the sessions held in other counties and cities.

(25) All bow 3 times

(26) Officers offering incense
With the harmonious melody, the banner crew raises the banners and the bamboo crew raises the bamboo. All drums and bells sound up. The officers, offspring of Confucius follow the guide to the tablet of Confucius from the east to offer the incense and the 3 bows

(27) The Drink of Good Fortune and Receipt of Sacrificial Meat
The principal consecration officer follows the guide to the incense table in the Ta Cheng Hall and takes the cup (fortune liquor) and the fortune meat and finally the 3 bows before returning back to his position. Chinese believe the drink and sacrificial meat that offered to the spirits are blessed, sharing the offers gives the blessing to participants.

(28) Removing the Remnants of the Sacrificial Feast
Together with the harmonious melody, all officials return the lids to the objects on the table and reset the ones without a lid.

(28) Escorting the Spirit
With music and drum beating, the session is conducted just as in the welcome the god, with the harmonious melody, the procession leaves the Yi Gate and the center one of the Ling Hsing Gates.

(29) Sending the silk spirit-Money and Prayer Inscription
The wood instrument holder keeps the instrument and the cloth holder keeps the cloth when leaving the Ta Cheng Hall, the Yi Gate, and the Ling Hsing Gate to the incinerator to burn the congratulatory cloth.

(30) Observing the Incineration
At this time, the harmonious melody is played together with drum beating. The principal consecration officer follows the guide through the Yi Gate, the Ling Hsing Gate to the incinerator to complete the ceremony and the session of farewell to the god.

(31) Resuming Positions
The principal consecration officer follows the guide back to his position and the procession, the wood instrument holder, the cloth holder come back from the Yi Gate, the Ling Hsing Gate on the side.

(32) Closing the Gates
The servers close the Yi Gate and the Ling Hsing Gate.

(33) Withdrawing Positions
The principal consecration officer, the accompanying consecration officer, the accompanying officers retreat from the Ta Cheng Hall following the guide and the servers, the musicians and the Yi dancers retreat accordingly.

(34) The Ceremony Concludes

Ba Yi Dance 八佾舞
Yi (佾) means row/column, and Ba Yi means 8 rows in 8 coulmns (8 dancers in 8 rows, 64 dancers in total). The dance is performed in 8, 6, 4, and 2 rows in accordance with rank in the empire, from emperor (8) to literati (2). Though Confucius wasn't an emperor, and Ba Yi dance is performed exclusively in the ceremonies pertaining to the emperor, there were precedents of the Ba Yi dance performed in select occasions in the Tang and Song dynasties. Recognizing the great merits that Confucius had achieved in education and politics, the emperor ordered that Ba Yi dance to be performed in the First ceremony rite for celebrating the birthday of Confucius. As the stage for the Ba Yi dance has to be big enough to accommodate 64 Yi dancers as well as Confucious was not a emperor, the Liu Yi dance (6 dancers in 6 rows) are commonly performed.

The dance is performed to show the highest respects in the rites of the ceremony for celebrating the birth of the Sage Confucius. The ceremony is divided into 3 main chapters and performed at the initial, second and final principal presentation, respectively. Each chapter contains 8 phrases and each phrase is composed of 4 words that creates 32 routines in each chapter. Yi dancers perform these routines (32X3, 96 in total) in pair with rhythms of music. The dancers stand in rows on the stage with the left hand holding the Yue, and the right hand holding the Di. The tip of the 3-foot long Di is a beautifully painted dragon head. The Yue is 2 feet long, and originally it was a pipe (the musical instrument made from bamboo). Both Di and Yue serve as ornaments to the dance. 3 robin’s tail feathers are attached to the end of Di. According to the Chinese ancient customs, the feather of the robin's tail is the most beautiful. Therefore, it's taken for showing the highest respects to Confucius.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Heart of Love River

The Heart of Love River in Kaohsiung is located in Sanmin Parent/Child Park (intersection of Bo-Ai 1st rd and Tongmeng 1st rd; take the red line MRT to Hou-Yi (R12) or Ao-Zi-Di(R13) stations). Two artifical lakes were built at each side of Bo-Ai 1st Rd: the west lake was designed as a return point for love river cruise boats to maneuver which extended the voyage from 4.6km to 6km; the east lake was a bio-ecofriendly lake. The 3 section of bridges design that connects the two lakes including a skywalk that crosses the bustling Bo-Ai 1st rd makes the heart of love river a lovely place to take a break from a boat cruise and walk around. You can also rent a bicycle here with credit/membership card and ride along the love river and the Hanshin Department store and Kaohsiung Arena nearby.

Love river cruise sechedule on weekend: (boats depart every 30 mins)
True love pier to Hear of love river: 09:00-15:00
Heart of love river to True love pier: 10:00-16:00
Price:NT$50 for adults; NT$25 for elders over than 65
Love River penetrates the industrial city, Kaohsiung. In recent years, the revitalization of the Love River has turned the river banks and its adjacent land from urban run-down area to popular recreation and tourist attractions. The project “Heart of Love River” is the key element of this important environmental revolution. Its importance is three-fold: bringing the river cruise to the geometric center of the city and allow the cruises to make 360 degree turn; improving the flood detention capacity of the river; and marking the entering image of northern Kaohsiung.

By creating three bridges plus two lakes, this project defines cruise and pedestrian circulation, and various activities by multiple layers of sectional divisions. The boundaries of fields such as grass, water, and paving are implied by floating bridges and extending decks. The bridges form a fashionable urban catwalk, hovering the busy artery. Perforated metal cladding filters light from within, and renders the whole field a blurry and mysterious aura.
By Arch Daily

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

San Francisco

"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco", I was skeptical about this quote. From above, as my plane was landing I glanced over the city through the window, it was like watching a 10 times fast-forwarded movie: the mist from the sunny Pacific Ocean becoming a thick condensed fog pouring into the city. Apparently, the elevating high heat air of the California mainland sucks in the cold ocean air in the summer, as a result San Francisco's characteristic fog that can cover the western half of the city all day and create an unique climate: summer is actually colder than the winter.

After a roadtrip to New York and Montreal, my baggage was full of crap, so I took a small bag and checked my luggage in the Airport Travel Agency which is the only place one can store baggage in San Francisco Airport because of the security regulations (all baggage is x-rayed prior to storage). The Airport Travel Agency (opening hours: 7:00-23:00; contact: 650.877.0422 or CF.Airport@gmail.com), is located on the Departures/Ticketing Level of the International Terminal, near the entrance to Gates G91-G102.

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is the subway system that serves of the Bay Area, it has a direct connection to San Francisco airport. A single ride from the airport to Powell station which is the center of downtown San Francisco is $8.25. However, moving around the city of San Francisco, BART is not a good choice as it only has 4 stations in the area. San Francisco Municiple Railway (Muni), on the other hand, has 54 bus lines, 17 trolley bus lines, 7 light rail lines (known as the Muni Metro), 3 cable car lines, and a heritage streetcar line known as the F Market & Wharves that covers the whole city and county of San Francisco (system maps). Fares are $2 for adults and $0.75 for seniors over 65, youth aged 5-17 and disabled persons, except for the cable car lines which require a $5.00 one-way fare. I bought a 3 days Muni pass for $18 at a tourist information counter in the airport (not all tourist information counters sell the pass though, you can buy it at the tourist information center of Powell station as well) that gave me unlimited rides on all lines of the Muni system from 12:00 of the date being scratched off to mid-night of the third day by showing the pass to drivers.

I wasn't expecting to see so many Asian looking people in SF, it was like being in an Asian country but there was something peculiar about it: how people speak fluent English without accents. It's confusing to see the "Whites" were more like tourists here and the oxymoron term "minority-majority" (a term used to describe a U.S. state or other jurisdiction whose racial composition is less than 50% white. 'White' in this context almost always includes "Non-Hispanics and Whites", excerpted from wikipedia) discribes it all. It is very interesting to study the history and the demographics of SF: Spanish street/town names such as Sausalito were legacies that could be dated back to the land was claimed by Spain since the early 16th centry and became part of Mexico upon the independence from Spain in 1812. Russian hill and Russian river were named after the trace of Russian's settlement; being one of the first ports to dock when sailing east from Asia created a gaint Asian community and the oldest and one the the largest Chinatowns in North America. The California Gold Rush drew people from all over the world, Italian, Germans, etc. set foot on this land and brought in exotic flavors to the city; to live in a life that Havey Milk promised to homosexual, SF has the highest percentage of gay and lesbian individuals of any of the 50 largest U.S cities; and for some reason (some say it's because SF is a liberal city with more programs to help the homeless and destitute than most cities and the steady wheather) SF is believed to have the highest number of homeless inhabitants per capita of any major U.S. city... all in all, it gives you a glance at San Francisco.

I don't know how to categorize those who ask for money from anybody who walks by, only for beers. They seemed to be everywhere (they could be found in NYC and Montreal as well, but not as many as in SF) and an encounter with one of them was inevitable especially when walking around the city in the afternoon. I didn't find them intimidating or annoying though, actually I liked the way they made their requests bluntly, at least they wouldn't pretend to be sick or disable to earn my sympathy. I saw a man with a board written "Why lie, I need money for beer" and a quite creative guy had "Smile, if you masturbate and want to give me money"(Photo from onVertigo), the bottom line is they wouldn't harass even if you didn't give them a cent. How long does it take for them to collect enough money to buy a can of beer? Is life easier and happier this way? I wonder.

I took a bus to the west tip of the city where the Cliff House is located and had breakfast in the bistro. Go and visit their website and don't skip the intro as you can see the change of the place chronologically since 1863. Each window is a painting that changes views from time to time: sometimes rays from the sky unveiled the 3 reefs from the mist and one minute later swirling fog covers it all, leaving a mysterious blank in the frame. Photos of celebrities who have dined here were hung on the wall telling me that it wouldn't be cheap to have a breakfast here. The food was great and it was a good way to start the journey.

I then took a bus to the Legion of Honor which is a fine art museum in SF collecting mainly European art. A big fountain in front and one of Auguste Rodin's famous sculptures "The Thinker" was meditating alone in the forecourt of the empty plaza, a good way to create an atmosphere that matches the thinker. Simplicity was the feeling I got from the museum and I didn't just mean the plaza itself but also its collections. Nevertherless, Legion of Honor was a great connecting point to take a trekk down to the Golden Gate Bridge. I took the EL Camino del Mar through the Lincoln Park Golf Course then took a bus #29 at the intersection of the 25th Ave. and the EL Camino del Mar to the Golden Gate Bridge (bus #29 takes two routes, ask the driver to make sure you get on the one that goes to Golden Gate Bridge).

The view on the way was stupendous, greenish grass on the ground of the golf course with dark green pine trees as foreground; different blue hues from the ocean and the sky together with white mist hightlight the color red of the bridge. I waited for both piers to clear up, but it got worse. By the time I arrived the terminal of the bridge it was all covered in the fog so I moved to my next destination: the Palace of Fine Arts. It was built for Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915. Colonnades surrounding a rotunda with figures of Greek myths sculptured on the frieze, it looked like a miniature renovated forum in Rome. Images reflected in the water of the lagoon, it's not only a great location for photographing but also a lovely picknick spot. The adjecent exploratorium is now a experimental, hands-on museum of science.

I jumped on a bus wandering the city and was attracted by the colors of the Haight. Graffiti, long hair hippie looking guys, stores that sell pipes, it was the famous hippie street in 60's and it still is the focus point for hippies if you ask me. I went to the Red Victorian for a cup of coffee, the truth was I wanted to pee so badly, but the only rest room was locked from inside for at least a half hour! I was cursing whoever had stayed inside while lining up with other customers, and somehow a girl realized the door was unlocked, but no one saw anyone get out! I wonder if they added something in my coffee? Did I get high in the Haight?

I purchased a ticket online for Beach Blanket Babylon, a musical extravaganza that is now celebrating its 35th anniversary. Casts wearing grandiose wigs/costumes on their heads are the signature of the show, a model wearing the theme costume of this year in the SFO airport was a successful propaganda. A seat at the side/center Boxes where the best seats for the show are reserved, to get a ticket there one must call 415-421-4222 for availability. I got a seat at the rear balcony ($37), as it was an unnumbered seat I went to the theatre (678 Beach Blanket Babylon Boulevard) around 17:00 to pick up my ticket and the staff told me that the queue usually starts at 18:00 even though the show wouldn't start until 20:00. I had an entree calamari for dinner in a bistro nearby, by the time I went back to the theatre, around 19:00, there was a big line ahead, luckily I was ushered to a seat that still had a panorama view of the stage (well, the theatre wasn't that big). Ushers took orders and sent them to your seat before the show started. The story was about snow white was looking for her true love, and she traveled the world looking for a perfect man to be her prince... Well, I know it sounds boring but the way they did it was a combination of immitation, exaggeration, sarcasm, grandiose costumes and powerful vocals. I enjoyed it very much and the laughing through out the show was proof of its popularity. The only thing I didn't understand was how could they wear the whole city on their head and why the show was restricted for adults only?

The whole San Francisco City was built in between hills as a result some of the streets were so steep and driving there tests brakes and gas pedals. To reduce the slope of Lombard St on Russian Hill between Hyde and Leavenworth streets section, 8 switchbacks were introcuded making the section of the street the crookedest street in the world. The landscape was added by the property owners later on and this street has become one of the must "drive" streets in SF for tourists. Cars lined up on Hyde waiting to drive down the hill; cameras, videos sticking out from the sky or door windows of cars, these people were fully equipted and I couldn't help laughing inside as it reminded me the parody by Bill Cosby: "They built a street up there called Lombard Street that goes straight down, and they're not satisfied with you killing yourself that way—they put grooves and curves and everything in it, and they put flowers there where they've buried the people that have killed themselves."

My original plan was to take public transportation to Guerneville on the Russian River for a horseback overnight riding tour (organized by Armstrong Woods Pack Station) in the Armstrong Redwoods State National Reserve. I had the schedule made using the Public Transit Trip Planner on 511.org, however, with the waiting experiences for buses (expecially the cable cars) to arrive I wasn't brave enough to do it because I had to catch my flight back to Taiwan the next day.

An introduction of its official website: Grace Cathedral is a house of prayer for all people, without exception. It has no breath taking interior design as in the Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal, nor vivid sculptures that create the atmosphere of reverence, but there is something about the Grace Cathedral that makes it a place that resonates with some parts of anyone's heart. Another great feature is that their Sunday service is streamed online. An AIDS Interfaith Chapel at the right as a memorial to the nearly 20,000 San Franciscans and many others who have died of AIDS, as a place of meditation, healing and remembrance for caregivers and those who are still fighting against the disease; the indoor and ourdoor labyrinths are symbolic diagram of the pilgrim's journey and a walking meditation; stained glass windows not only tell stories of Christianity but also leave spaces for science (Einstein window, E=MC2) and galaxy (the gift window) etc; a fresco on the wall of the right entrance records the founding of United Nations in 1945 in San Francisco (notice the Republic of China flag on the 3rd from left)..., all the highlights of the Grace Gathedral make it one of a kind.

I couldn't shake the wonderful Armstrong Woods itinerary that I gave up out of my head so I booked a tour to Muir wood National Monument and Sausalito ($48, duration 3.5-4 hours) via my hotel. A bus picked me up at my hotel at 13:30, after about a 40mins ride with the driver picking up the other tourists from different hotels all over the SF city, I ended up at the Fisherman's Wharf and the driver told us to pay our trip at a booth that is located in the first floor of the Franciscan Crab Restaurant. Apparently, travel agencies that provide similar services all set office at Pier 43 1/2, Fisherman's Wharf. I didn't know if they were all affiliated to each other or not, but it seemed the journey all departed from Fisherman's Wharf. You can google it and find lots of agencies that have this service (usually twice a day, departing time from 09:00-09:15 in the morning and 14:00-14:15 in the afternoon). My advice is don't use the free hotel pick up unless you need it, which may save you 30 mins for other sightseeing, and book the trip in advance.

On the way, our driver introduced the history of the Muir Wood National Monument which can be found in the official website. We got an hour in the forest, despite the fact that the accessibility of the main trekk was easy, I could only take a glance on these colossal natural monuments in the first 1/3 of the trekk before heading back to the bus. Surrounded by these giant cypress, bathed in the rarely seen warm sunshine, I felt safe and peaceful.

Sausalito is situated near the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, it is interesting to see how the bridge seperates a foggy and sunny sky in San Francisco and the adjacent Sausalito respectively. Standing in the sun at the port of Sausalito watching the tumultuous mist cascading from the hill on the back, Sausalito looked like a promised land of Sun.

We had the choice of returning by ferry from Sausalito but the time was too early to see San Francisco city lights from the ferry so I took the bus back and used the time to tour Pier 39. I don't care if people say it's a tourist trap, it's a great area full of interesting shops including a Buba Gump Shrimp restaurant. Just on the side you can see many sea lions resting on floating decks relaxing without worry as its a protected area.

After a wonderful steak experience in Montreal (prepared by chef Andre), it was a dilemma to decide on either going back to the hotel and eating a steak at Mortons or trying the famous red lobster. I decided to go to Joe's Crab Shack for dinner, it was fun, great music, very nice staff. It was a little expensive but a very enjoyable dinner environment and a great treat to end the journey.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Montreal

My first stop in Monteal was Saint Joseph's Oratory, one of the National Historic sites of Canada. It all started with André Bessette who built a small chapel (now known as the Chapel of Brother André) on the side of a mountain near Notre Dame College. After a few enlargements, Saint Joseph's Oratory had become a complex that consists of a Crypt Church and Votive Chapel on the 1st level, the Exhibition on Brother André with a big terrace on the 2nd level, and the basilica on the 3rd level (take a 360 virtual tour to get to know each part and their relative locations). As the name indicated, the Oratory is delicated to Saint Joseph, Jesus's father, a patron saint of workers, which is relatively rare to see when many others are delicated to Notre Dame, the Holy Mother. The basilica that stands today was completed in 1967 and its dome is the third-largest in the world of its kind after the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro and Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. From a small chapel to nowaday the largest church in Canada, it was the healing power of Brother André that poured many pilgrims (handicapped, blind, ill, etc) in to his basilica. In the Votive Chapel, there is a wall covered with thousands of crutches from those who came to the basilica and were healed. Pope John Paul II deemed the miracles to be authentic and beatified Brother André in 1982.

I like the fact that everyone can find a shrine that is delicated to a Patron Saint/gardian of workers, the afflicted, etc to pray to in the Votive Chapel, otherwise God would be too busy to listen and to answer to every prayer. This Oratory used to be packed with pilgrims who were sick searching for a miracle recovery and now is packed with tourists who come for its magnificence. Despite the fact that the wooden stairs, from the parking area to the Crypt Church for pilgrims to kneel and pray, were preserved, it's rare to see one kneeling down and praying. On my way out, I saw a man kneeling on the wooden stairs, step by step, he prayed sincerely. A young man dressed nicely, healthy and handsome looking, had a great profile, drove an expensive car... it seemed he had it all and I wondered under what circumstances a man like him would pray in such devotion. It seems people in desperation no mater what they believe in, they all end up doing one thing: physically torturing themselves. I am not a religious person and not trying to blasphemy, but I don't know if such acts are specifically required by Christianity, Buddhism, Lamaism or any religions to make the prayers heard or it's just a consolation, a final resort the pilgrims try because they can't know for sure if God really hears them.

Notre Dame Basilica is by far the most beautiful church I've ever seen. From outside, the Gothic exterior of the basilica is average so I wasn't sure that I wanted to pay CAD$5 to get in at first but I did. My stereotype on most basilicas is that they are usually dark, colorless, white marble columns, majestic but stern and the only color inside seems coming from the stained glass windows. I was blown away by the colors and details of the Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal. The stunning wood carving pulpit, gilded columns and the altar, all bathed in lights that sifted through stained glass windows from the ceiling and the side; dim fluorescent lights and warm candle lights flatters the hues of cobalt blue, green, red, and gold of the sanctuary. The cobalt blue ceiling and countless gilded stars create an illusion of a stary night sky at the moment when the sun has just set and the shining gold hues faded away leaving the blue blending into the dark. The heavenly glow sapphire blue in the background of the altar, where sculptures for the Eucharistic theme can be found is the highlight of the sanctuary that you'll have to see for yourself to believe how much detail there is.

In the back 0f the basilica, the Chapel of Notre-Dame du Sacré-Coeur gives a totally different atmosphere. If the basilica is an illusion of early stary night fall, the chapel will be the break of dawn. Brighter, but no stained glass windows that I could find, the natural light comes from the vaulted ceiling and the 2 levels crafted linden wood reflects the light on sculptures and vivifys them that makes the chapel look more like a modern gallery. The Notre-Dame Basilica de Montréal has more to offer, a wedding, concert (Pavarotti had a concert there in 1980) and sound and light show, visit their website for more info. I didn't have enough time to stay longer for its sound and light show. Instead, I went to Just for Laughs Comedy Festival at the St Denis theatre on St Denis Street with the St Denis family.

I enjoy the Just for Laughs TV show, yes we got them in Taiwan too, they always put the green monster crying " mommy, it's over!" at the end of the show and I feel the same way, it's too short and I want some more! But after watching the same seriers over and over again on TV, I just want to pick up the phone and call the producer to file a complain: it's supposed to be Just for Laughs not Just for Yawns, can't you guys come up with some other ideas? and then call the cable company threaten them that I am going to cut the cable if they are going to play the same show for the next 3 months. I was hoping to see them making some kind of jokes some where in Montréal when I found out the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival was held in Rue St-Denis on July 3-26. Rue St-Denis was closed for the event, bright color painted stilt walkers, musical performances, men made up as devils were wandering in the streets at night, etc, it was more like a carnival to me. I went for a comedy gala that was hosted by Lewis Black with the St-Denis family. I didn't get the jokes sometimes because of language barriers and cultural differences, and I was truely sorry for that I kept bothering my friend with the question "who is that guy they are making fun of?" It seemed to me that sarcasm was the only way the comedians could do to make people laugh in the gala. I don't know since when sarcasm has become a form of humor and has been practiced worldwide. I guess it's just like the funny clips they made in the streets, watching people embarrassing themselves is funny; I wonder would the term Schadenfreude and Sarcasm be catagorized into those happy words or they've already in that category?

Parking in downtown Montréal was a nightmare! The street parking with coin operated meters were money suckers, it's a design to evict cars from the city and to increase revenue of the government exponentially as the ticket for an expired parking could be outrageous. It's difficult for me to estimate exactly how long I would stay and tour around an area, given the fact that I could only pay my parking at the exact block where my car was parked, so I fed the machine as much as possible before leaving and kept watching my time anxiously. A friend of mine gave me his parking spot on Rue de Bullion where parking is free for those who live there. I parked my rental car there overnight anxiously because of the notorious car vandalism stories in downtown Montréal. The next morning I went to my car, from far away it looked still intact, a good sign, but soon I saw ticket on my windshield, a CAD$42 ticket for parking there after 9:00AM on Saturday! I was only about 30 mins late and I had a New Jersey plate on my car, come on gave me a break! I wish I had found this great article regarding parking in downtown Montreal on trip advisor earlier.

I went to the Biodome but it was full of kids lining up to get inside, so I gave up and walked toward my car then I realized that I'd just paid CAD$ 10 for parking and it's good until midnight, it would be a great change to experience the metro system in Montréal. I bought a one day pass from a ticket booth, CAD$ 9, a single ride $2.75. Unlike the one day pass in NYC, the man gave me a paper that had the month and date of purchase scraped off. By showing the ticket to the staff in booths , they would open the gate for you to get in or out. The metro system in Montréal is a modern, artistic underground city, shopping malls built just above the railway, you can buy almost anything you want without stepping out of stations. I can see how people move in this underground city in a harsh long winter.

Situated between the St Lawrence river and the downtown skycrapers Old Montréal is a lovely historic tourist attraction, a picturesque area where artists are inspired to create their artworks. Restaurants, gift shops are often seen in the painting as background, it's mesmerizing by looking at the painting and the street: are those people in the street the creation come to live or they are walking into the painting.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Dome of light

The dome of light is the world's largest one-piece stained glass artwork, 30 meters in diameter with a coverage about 2180 meters square, that is located in the underground station--Formosa Boulevard Station of Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit system. The masterpiece was a creation of the Italian Narcissus Quagliata in cooperation with Derix Glass Studios in Germany (Jurgen Gerbig even joked about it at a media conference: "Germans have ideas, Italian know how, and Taiwanese have some money). Its 4,500 glass panels present 4 themes: water, earth, light and fire each of these represent birth, growth, glory, destruction and rebirth respectively.

ThemeStarMeaning
Water
Women and Birth
MoonFire of Hope
Birth of wisdom
Dream
Magic
Earth
Men and Growth
EarthLove
Humble
Flying time
Light
Creation and Glory
SunDance of godess and oracle
Meditation
Fire
Destruction and rebirth
CollapsarScream
Conscience
Grief
Pheonix



Saturday, August 22, 2009

Change of plans

I was all ready to spend the day taking pictures and coming back to write about the Chisi Festival when I found out that all performances at the Confucious temple were cancelled; performances at other venues were also cancelled on Aug. 22 (Sat) - 24 (Mon) because of typhoon Morakot. Instead, a charity bazaar was held at the Confucious temple area to raise funds for Morakot typhoon victims.

All the works and handcrafts were made by inmates at jails all over Taiwan and donated for the typhoon relief. Here are some pictures from that generous effort. God Bless Taiwan.