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Monday, 30 April 2012

Villa Bebek is a Mood
































Thursday, 19 April 2012

TRAVEL DIARIES: Taiwan



Taipei 101, for a while the world’s tallest building, designed by local architects in the popular Taiwanese Godzilla Gothique style.
See video “My Taipei”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsDXNprSz_g

TAIWAN
I have always wanted to go to Taiwan to see the famed Palace Museum and the legendary Formosan aborigines.
The Palace Museum holds all the treasures from Beijing’s Forbidden City that Mao Tse Tung didn’t want.
The Southern tribes of Taiwan (the former Formosa) are supposed to be the common ancestors of all the peoples of South East Asia and the Pacific, which I’ve always thought a rather extraordinary claim.
My trip started from Denpasar’s chaotic Ngurah Rai airport on wondrous China Airlines Premium Economy Class — at $700 return for a six hour trip, it’s the last business class bargain in the sky. The cabin attendants wear sheer stockings in opalescent hues, with tap dancing shoes and 1930s manners to match. The cabin interiors are designed in a style I call “Godzilla Gothique” — a Star Trek-inspired quasi-industrial style that the staunchly non-communist Taiwanese seem to like.
Taipei airport is a surprise too: one expects a meat market atmosphere with lots of loud people in funky fashions following flags but instead I find a very civil calm and friendly atmosphere.
Surprise number two is Taipei city itself which for a city of nearly 20 million people is remarkably green and well laid out (a legacy of the Japanese colonial era).
I stay at the Shangri-la which has a Horizon Club lounge to die for: the chiong-sam clad hostesses have Chinese opera make-up and exquisite manners modeled on Madam Chiang Kai Shek. The swimming pool on the roof has lime green upholstered deck chairs in semi-private ‘booths’ that overlook all of Taipei and the surrounding mountains.
My first outing is to the Shung Ye Musuem of Formosan Aborigines which is modern and brilliantly designed with extraordinary collections of tribal artifacts, images and videos.
It’s spooky to see motifs and costumes normally associated with Halmahera, Nias, Kalimantan and Central Sulawesi in Indonesia on display here.
Listening to the songs from the different tribes one hears echoes of the Pacific Islands and Papua. Reading literature from the museum I spot key phrases such as “Malayo-Polynesian” and other suggestions of ancient links between the peoples of East Indonesia and the proto-Austronesians who had moved onto Formosa Island from the Chinese mainland as early as 50,000 years ago.
I see photos taken by Japanese anthropologists in the 1930s and spot tribes that look like Maoris, and Ibans, and Dayaks — the full spectrum of ancient Malay and Polynesian faces.

This image of the Yami Aboriginal tribe’s boat launching ritual (1930s photograph) in the Shung Ye Museum, Taipei.
I am determined to go back to do more paleo-anthropological research despite the huge amount of protocol that surrounds the drying of fish in the tribal areas in the island’s South, and their proximity to nuclear waste dumps.
The tribal peoples in ancient pockets of Indonesia by comparison are not fussy: One can frolic around their died fish racks with gay abandon, which brings me to surprise number three.

Pottery from China’s Bronze Age showing decorative motifs that influenced Ancient Malay culture.
Taipei is the gay capitol of the South China Sea! The leather bars are packed with ‘Muscle Mary Chinese’ from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and the mainland, where fondling is still frowned upon. I heard that this year the streets of Hong Kong are lined with posters that read “FONDLE IN FORMOSA 2012”. The Taiwan Department of Tourism’s China-wide campaign was such a success that they had to import jumbo-loads of Australian surf-life-savers to keep them entertained.
But I digress.

Elegance with bird life was a keynote in Qing Dynasty court life as exhibited in this figurine.
On Day three I got to visit the Palace Museum which has a forecourt modeled on the Forbidden City’s white marble front steps.
In a scene out of “My Private Ipoh” hundreds of ‘mainlanders’ (Cina Bukit” is the Indonesian expression) are posing on the steps in the most theatrical way. It seems that a pilgrimage to Taipei Palace Museum is the ultimate anti-communist gesture and a symbol of devotion to everything that is classically Chinese.
The museum’s chairman, Danny Lam, founder of Quadra computers, is a lover of all things Qing and beautiful and has recently commissioned celebrated Italian museum architect Renzo Piano to build a much-needed museum extension.
The tea-rooms on the museum’s roof, designed by local star designer Ray Chen, are realized in the popular Batman Baroque style. Dim Sum and noodles and perfect Oolong tea are served in a soothing garden atmosphere.

The statue of President Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the first president of Taiwan,
is a must see for all visitors to the museum.

An enthusiastic mainlander photographer straddles the balustrade on the processional stairs in front of the Palace Museum, Taipei.
(See videos “Mainlanders”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsO4q_mK-pc  and
“My Taiwan”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsDXNprSz_g)
Inside the museum ushers walk around with placards saying “Sssshhh” (mainlanders are prone to volume surges) and “No photos”, which is a bore, BECAUSE THERE ARE SO MANY TREASURES!
•              •              •
Basically, Taiwan is a complete surprise, and proof that one shouldn’t judge a country by its parliament, or by its budget tourists.
Unless it’s Australia.
•              •              •

“Dances with Wooves”: the diarist dancing with the Royal Dance Academy of Bhutan dancers at Dzong Paro.
Young monks in the royal chapel at the Dzong Punakha, Bhutan.
. (See video “Bhutan is a Mood”:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKQqzOguCiY).
After  Taiwan I went to Bhutan for the Paro Festival, staying at the heavenly Uma Paro hotel next to the fortress Dzong Paro, the site for the festival (see photos above)
I also visited the exquisite 16th century fortress Dzong Punakha, the venue for the recent royal wedding, which is a pleasant 5 hour drive from Paro.
By September there will be a new Uma hotel in Punakha (joining the existing Aman hotel) and direct Druk Air flights from Singapore.
•              •              •

Mediterranean–Menteng beauty Magali Hamel and Pierre Poretti (right) at a Bali wedding.
I arrived back in Bali just in time for a spate of incredible temple festivals and weddings which — traditionally triggered by the tenth full moon.
Quite a few of Sanur’s temples have their anniversary odalan festival on the auspicious full moon day and many have spooky trance rituals attached.
Brando-esque trance dancer from the Baris Cina troupe during a post trance dance performance trance-in at Pura Dalem Mertasari,  Sanur, Bali on the tenth full moon, 6th April 2012.
(See video “Baris Cina”: http://youtu.be/C0xr1lbhy8c)
The spookiest of these is the Baris Cina (Chinese Warriors) trance-dance at Pura Mertasari, a coastal temple at the Southern tip of Sanur Beach. Despite appearances, Bali is still full of weird and wonderful ceremonies but there was not one tourist there that night. The trancees did ‘kris dancers’ and spoke a sort of Chinese gibberish as they thrashed around, in a nice not a nasty way, on the white sand floor in front of the coral stone shrines.
I was reminded of ancient Chinese-Indonesian connections and those proto-Austronesians from Formosa heading south in their bark canoes. Did they know what they were starting?

Dreamy Bihari labourer on my project site in Cochin, Kerala, India.