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, 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, 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.