Thursday, September 8, 2011

Arts & Crafts, Taiwan Style

Last Friday was (weirdly enough) both my old roommate's birthday and my new roommate's birthday. Crazy coincidence, right? So, to celebrate, Stephanie decided to hop on a few buses and a subway and come visit me in Luodong for the weekend! Since this was her first time in Yilan County, I took it as an excuse to explore a few close by places I've been meaning to check out, namely the National Center for Traditional Arts (NCTA) just outside of Luodong and the waterfalls in Jioaxi.

Stephanie arrived early Saturday afternoon and, after a quick lunch of shui-jiao (dumpling soup), we decided to experiment with the Luodong bus system, which has a stop right in front of my apartment building. Well, we managed to catch the bus (surprisingly, it was even the right bus) but we ran into some problems when none of us could explain to the bus driver which stop we wanted to get off at. We tried to say "The Center for Traditional Arts" in English (which, being that particular line's last stop, was written in both Chinese and English on the front of the bus) and explaining in broken Chinese that we wanted to go to the last stop but it was all to no avail.
My friend Mr. Butterfly, I think he was the only one on the
bus more confused than we were
Eventually, the bus driver just gave up and decided that, since we were foreigners, we must be going to the Luodong train station stop. We had another interesting conversation with the bus driver in our broken Chinese when we got to the train station and he tried to force us off the bus. This time we were slightly more successful: he still had no idea where we wanted to go but at least we managed to get across that we did not want to go here. Sometimes, you've got to appreciate the little victories. After that, he decided to just leave us alone until we got to wherever it was we were headed.
Success! The entryway to the Center
According to the website for the NCTA (
"Due to the rapid changes of our current society, traditional arts are dying out 
because there are no people learning these skills. Therefore... the aim of this center
is to make sure that traditional arts can be passed on to future generations."

The decline in traditional arts isn't just a problem in Taiwan. It's been noted before that traditional crafts and culture seem to be some of the greatest casualties of globalization. All over the world, traditional handicrafts have shown a tendency to decline or disappear altogether as a result of industrialization and modernization. It seems that this problem is endemic to the times, so it's always interesting to see how different areas are addressing the issue. Many countries have done the same as Taiwan: they've worked to turn tradition and culture into a marketable (and therefore valuable) commodity. In other words, they've created tourist traps in order to preserve culture. Okay, I'm getting a little too philosophical here. Sorry for the tangent. The point is, I don't know if this is a good thing or not but at least they're trying. And, in this case anyhow, it was a very cool tourist trap.

Here are some of the neat things to see and do at NCTA:
Guanghsiao Shrine: A wealthy Yilan family built it as a private temple
in 1921, it was relocated to NCTA a few years ago
Folk Art Boulevard, where you can buy lots of neat handmade stuff!

For serious calligraphers only
Scholar Huang's Residence: It was once a famous guy's home,
now it's a museum that's half dedicated to accounting and half about food
Giant weapons: they're sort of like traditional art (the art of war)
To round out the evening, we went to a vegetarian buffet in Yilan city and then I went to my first Taiwanese movie. It was You Are the Apple of My Eye (那些年,我們一起追的女孩), a totally ridiculous but endearing romantic comedy about 5 guys who all like the same girl. It was also about high school, college, and growing up in that nostalgic way that everybody loves but pretends to hate.
All in all, it was a very good day.

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