Sunday, April 24, 2016

Strategy and Luck: A Game of Banqi in Tainan

As I approached a group of men surrounding a small table yesterday in Tainan, Taiwan, I wondered if I was seeing yet another outdoor game of xiangqi, otherwise known as Chinese chess. But the xiangqi board was rotated from its usual position by 90 degrees, only half the board was covered with xiangqi pieces, and some of the pieces were upside down. So instead of a photo of an outdoor game of xiangqi, here is a photo of an outdoor game of banqi:

men playing and watching a game of banqi outside in Tainan, Taiwan

As indicated in an unsourced but detailed Wikipedia entry, multiple versions of banqi, which also goes by several other names, exist, yet all, unlike xiangqi, involve a significant element of chance. A how-to-play guide on a blog by Woody Thrower, whose most recent post on the same blog is "Ubuntu 12.04 initramfs dependency nonsense", provides a brief look at the game and so does a fast-paced how-to-play video using alternative pieces by Joseph Larson, whose most recent post is "3D Printing with Ninjaflex". To my great joy, after finding these two guides and the two other posts, I finished watching the tail end of the video and discovered Thrower and Larson are indeed friends.

Presumably the men I saw in Tainan were playing the Taiwanese version of the game. Or perhaps like Thrower and Larson, they selected rules so the "balance of luck and strategy" better matched their tastes. Whatever rules they use, I wonder if they would agree with Larson that:
The combination of luck and strategy means that nobody really loses. If you lose you go 'eh, it was just bad luck'. But if you win you get to go 'aha, isn't my strategy incredible".

Friday, April 22, 2016

Guarding in Red in Tainan

Today's guardian lion, courtesy of the Anping Kaitai Matsu Temple in Tainan, Taiwan:

guardian lion with red ribbon bows at the Anping Kaitai Matsu Temple in Tainan, Taiwan

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Road Construction Fun in Shangqiu

Shangqiu, a prefecture-level city in Henan, China, recently came to my attention, and I was inspired to write a related post. I won't finish the post today, so for now I will share a photo I took in November 2010 of some boys who were playing in the middle of a road construction site in the walled Shangqiu Ancient City.

five boys standing in the middle of a road construction site in Shangqiu, China

More on the construction theme later. And then a bit about some more recent destruction in the historic area.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Fire, Blood, and Prayer at Taipei's Chang Qing Temple

Despite having "over 210 years of history", the Chang Qing Temple (長慶廟) isn't one of Taipei's most famous temples, but like many small temples in Taiwan it has plenty of spirit nonetheless. As I walked nearby last night some loud sounds compelled me to take a closer look. I believe I caught the end of a special ceremony where statues of gods are taken out of the temple and later returned, often with a great amount of fanfare. Although I didn't witness any massive parades like I recently saw for similar events in Jieyang, last night's ceremony stood out for the bloody wounds a tattooed man inflicted upon himself and the intense music.

Some photos below capture the man who was at the center of the ceremony's conclusion. He received a warm round of applause for his dedicated efforts.

ceremony at the Chang Qing Temple (長慶廟) in Taipei

ceremony at the Chang Qing Temple (長慶廟) in Taipei

man holding a flail and another lighting a fire for a ceremony at the Chang Qing Temple (長慶廟) in Taipei

man holding swords and standing between several fires for a ceremony at the Chang Qing Temple (長慶廟) in Taipei

man next to a fire in a ceremony at the Chang Qing Temple (長慶廟) in Taipei

man with a bleeding back in a ceremony at the Chang Qing Temple (長慶廟) in Taipei

man sticking a sword into ashes for a ceremony at the Chang Qing Temple (長慶廟) in Taipei

ceremony at the Chang Qing Temple (長慶廟) in Taipei

Top-front of the Chang Qing Temple (長慶廟) in Taipei

Friday, April 15, 2016

Smelling Kinmen

When I posted "Watching Kinmen" I hadn't planned to start a series based on the five traditional human senses. But after "Touching Kinmen", "Tasting Kinmen", and "Hearing Kinmen" happened, a "Smelling Kinmen" post seemed in order to bring things to a close. I looked through my photos from Kinmen several times, and this may be the best I can do:

horse eating some greenery near some flowers in Kinmen

The horse may have been more focused on eating than smelling but, hey, flowers.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Hearing Kinmen

Beishan Broadcasting Wall (北山播音牆) in Kinmen

Only a few miles across the water from mainland China, the Beishan Broadcasting Wall (北山播音牆) in non-communist-controlled Kinmen County:
. . . stands on a cliff right by the sea. The concrete wall boasts 48 speakers, each with a reported range of 25km, that used to crank out propaganda like 'Our steamed buns are bigger than your pillows!' to the communists. These days, the speakers prefer the more mellow numbers of the late Teresa Tang, Taiwan’s best-loved songbird.
Unfortunately, they didn't turn on the three-stories of speakers to broadcast Teresa Teng's message and songs at a non-deafening volume during my visit to the wall.

The following two minute video offers additional information about the structure's capabilities, perspective on its size, and a translation of Teng's message:

Another video offers a purer form of Teng's message and singing without anyone speaking over it:

On the side, I have yet to see a steamed bun the size of a pillow.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Magical Proposal in Taipei

Yesterday afternoon while working on a project outside at the Xinyi Shoppping District in Taipei, Taiwan, I saw a magician perform for a young couple.

magician doing a magic trick for a young man while his girlfriend watches and person video records

I had seen the magician in the same plaza earlier when he appeared to be waiting for someone or something. I considered why the magician chose this particular couple and why two people were capturing it all on video. The videographers were at times clearly interested in making sure the female stayed in the scene even when the magician was focused on her partner.

After several magic tricks, the magician covered the young woman's eyes with an eye mask for the next trick. I figured it was time for me to move on. But then I saw a person rolling out a red carpet, and I began to wonder if there was something more taking place than I had at first assumed. Immediately after that I saw somebody holding flowers. Oh . . .

young woman wearing a blindfold next to a magician while a red carpet is rolled out and a woman carries a bouquet of flowers.

Flower petals were spread on the carpet. If this was just a trick, it was really going over the top.

woman spreads petals on a red carpet

While these preparations quietly occurred, the magician kept the woman occupied.

magician speaks to a young woman wearing an eye mask

With the young man holding a bouquet of roses while briefly biting his lower lip and others holding "Would you marry me" signs behind him, it was clear a bit more than a magic act was about to occur.

young man standing at the end of a red carpet with people behind him holding up the signs "Would", "You", "Marry", "Me"

Soon all was ready for the reveal, and the young woman was told to take off the mask. At first, she had an ordinary smile.

young woman taking off an eye mask

And then it grew.

woman smiling

But she appeared unsure and began to search for something. Soon, she had what she needed — a pair of glasses.

woman putting on eyeglasses.

I don't know what was going through the young woman's mind, but she was reserved in her expressions. She may have been wondering if this could somehow be part of a magic act. But then her boyfriend began a long speech.

young man holding roses and professing his love

If she had any doubts, they melted away.

young woman covering her mouth with her hands

still covering the lower part of her face

man professing his love to a woman in Taipei

As I watched, I realized online videos of public marriage proposals gone awry have left their mark on me. No worries here though. What followed went well.

man proposing to a woman in Taipei

putting on the engagement ring

newly engaged couple kissing

Soon the newly engaged couple walked off to sit on a nearby bench together, and the efficient cleanup began.

man folding up the red carpet

They even picked up the flower petals, so Taiwan.

woman picking up flower petals

Later, the couple took advantage of having a photographer around and posed for some photos. The young woman looked far more relaxed. For me, this was the moment where I erased any question whether the young woman's "yes" might have only been a polite face-saving public reaction.

newly engaged couple embracing each other as they pose for photos

Best wishes to the newly engaged couple. Even for me, the luck involved in witnessing their special moment seemed like a bit of magic. Perhaps I should have expected it. About half an hour earlier I had noticed a statue overlooking the same plaza.

The small statue of a mythical god is titled "Cupido".

statue of Cupid with a bow and arrow hiding behind a column

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Tasting Kinmen

Woman making fresh oyster fritters (蚵嗲) at E Dia Zhi Jia (蚵嗲之家) in Kinmen
Making fresh oyster fritters (蚵嗲) at E Dia Zhi Jia (蚵嗲之家) in Kinmen

finished fresh oyster fritters (蚵嗲) at E Dia Zhi Jia (蚵嗲之家)
Nearly-finished oyster fritters

Customers in a slow-moving line at the popular snack stall

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Ad Takes On the Idea of "Leftover Women" in China

"Finally, an ad that celebrates single, independent Chinese women." ~ Leta Hong Fincher

In many different regions of China before I have seen marriage markets and have listened to women tell personal stories which are similar to those in the ad Fincher referenced. But I had not before seen a similar response to the use of the term "leftover women". Watch the video (on YouTube):

Two Mythical Qilins on Display in Kinmen

I have been unexpectedly occupied since praising Yeh's Fermented Eggs. So for today, I will keep it simple and share four photos of artistic creations on display at the Historical Folk Museum in Kinmen.

The qilin (麒麟) sculptures made during the time of the Xuande Emperor, who ruled from 1425 to 1435, were two of my favorites at the museum.

qilin sculpture at the Historical Folk Museum in Kinmen
Sculpture of a qilin ridden by a "golden boy": 七寶銅麒麟 - 金童

qilin sculpture at the Historical Folk Museum in Kinmen
Sculpture of a qilin ridden by a fairy: 七寶銅麒麟 - 仙女

Another set of sculptures at the museum, these made recently by children, provided an unexpected variation on the imaginary creature theme.

small sculpture of creatures made by a child on display at the Historical Folk Museum in Kinmen

small sculpture of creatures made by a child on display at the Historical Folk Museum in Kinmen

Perhaps in 600 years they too will be displayed as examples of ancient art.