Thursday, April 28, 2005

An Evening of the Stockpot

【 prose / English 】

It was an evening of the stockpot with assorted tastes. There were intermixed tongues in the play, mixture of reality and dreams, clashes between different senses, belonging to separate periods, of religions, colorful fireworks in the sky, diversified people on the ground, and languages broadcasted from amplifiers respectively. On the MRT tram, with a mind not placid, the thoughts were already blended with Milan Kundera. What a stockpot of all-flavor mingling…

There were so many spectators in front of the stage. I walked from Inn-soann-a MRT station (圓山捷運站)to Po-an-keng(保安宮)with the couple I met on the tram. It was about the act 3 or 4 when we arrived. The spot in where our writing group appointed to gather was so crowded that I looked around but couldn’t find the teacher and other pals.

What even more was, on the stage, we couldn’t find the language which we were familiar with.

The tongue in pak-koan-hi(北管戲)sounded like Latin or Sanskrit, pretty hard to understand, in the spectators’ ears. The captions projected on the screens on both sides of the stage helped a lot. It is a kind of vernacular composed by Holo and queer-tone Mandarin. Though it’s said queer, actually in it those retroflexions and labio-dental fricatives, which are incompatible with Holo, all have disappeared. In the vernacular, Holo vocabulary mingles with the molted Mandarin pronunciation. Almost no one understood it besides the actresses (actors) on the stage. The pak-koan-hi belongs to the people in front of the stage with its identity of a traditional opera. However there’s a lukewarm sense in this relationship for the dialogue and singing in a rare vernacular.

In my mind, a tricky idea rised when I saw a couple of Westerners. The spectators were not some big potatos but common people found in any secluded corners of the town. The genuine local play is supposed to be very close to the local people. I thought the foreign friends might not know we had the same linguistic obstacle when viewing the opera. The obstacle can also be projected to the ceremonies in the churches of the middle ages. Actresses (actors), spectators and the theatrical tongue are metaphors of priests, laymen and Latin language respectively. That’s a symbol to relieve the linguistic hindering. Also with that tacit comprehension, we would be able to meet and sympathize each other in the inner room behind the stage and the altar.

The plot of the play was written according to some dubious anecdotes of Tng Empire (唐帝國/Tang Empire). Hoan Li-hoa (樊梨花) and Sih Teng-san (薛丁山) commanded the imperial troops to fight against the enemies. Two weird-looking shamans set up an invulnerable battle array called Kim-kong Tai-tin (金剛大陣). Sih Teng-san had no idea but went to Khun-lun (崑崙) to request the master to help. “Khun-lun ti toh-ui? (Where’s Khun-lun?)” The man sat next to me asked an elder behind him. For sure it was not a serious geographical question. The question itself just meant to knock on the heads of imagologists behind the opera script. Khun-lun could be anywhere. Khun-lun is the place in where masters and magical apparatuses are.

If the ancient pak-koan-hi did not settle down and revive in Lan-iong Opera Troupe (蘭陽劇團), it was impossible for it to show again in the origin-forgetting Taipei. The gaudy costumes nowadays did not even belong to its once glorious days. It has seen better days in which there was no amplifier, but those were also the days you can hear pak-koan-hi everywhere. Now it is sung and read out of the amplifiers, but few can hear instead. The power of amplifiers can be that high to make the spectators all deaf. But when it comes to go against the politics and trends, its sound is so faint that it could be likened to ants walking on the gong. There are fewer and fewer pak-koan-hi musicians, the music has been recorded and locked in the tapes and CDs. I wonder if there are people who listen to it after the cultural festival ends up. Also these are the merely several days the ancient music and tongue have chances to cooperate and compete with the modern stage lighting, audio equipments, and dry ice spraying.

The stage was set in the square, surrounded by wing-rooms, in front of the temple. A pedestrian path was between the temple and the square. The spacial circumstances caused heavy sound effects when the fireworks began to crack, and music to be performed before the temple. All the sounds resonated like waves clashing each other among the audience shockingly.

I turned around and then saw a batch of modern fireworks rush up into the murky sky with colors of red, yellow, orange and green. After that, a lot of soaring crackers were kindled; scurrying up and emitting shrill screams. The music of the worshiping ceremony sounded. All came to the climax when the act 9 started. People couldn’t help but had to cover their ears. It was also when I decided to leave.

Out of the square people were found gathering in a circle in front of the temple. Joss papers were on fire in 3 stacks respectively. A shaman was exercising the worshiping manners before the incense burner with the ceremonial music performing. Tall puppets representing Chhit-ia (七爺 / name of a godling) and Peh-ia (八爺 / name of a godling) stood by. The sounds of the opera had much diminished here. I felt a sort of peaceful and respectful atmosphere. Actually it was inappropriate to say peaceful for it was noisy actually. I was pretty surprised that that was the first time I didn’t feel uneasy being among the ceremony of the traditional religion. The attitude I’d taken had severed me from the land. Although I still could not join the worship, at least I already was able to perceive the maternal embrace of the land and the linkage with the ancestors and people. There were affections of dependability and peace I had not known. It seemed that I could see the feeling stretched all the way along Tai-liong Street (大龍街) and Khou-lun Street (庫倫街) to the MRT station.

The messages broadcasted in the MRT station were done in 4 languages in turn. The first was Taiwanese-style Mandarin of which the tone has become mellow. The second was Holo spoken by an announcer who forgot to relax her tongue. Then here came the twittering and softly-sounded Hakka which aroused the images of trees of flowers on Chhau-soann (草山). Among the languages, English, the last one, was the only one that had not rooted in this land. The English announcements sounded like abruptly and ended up the message stiffly.

I then sat in the tram again and opened Immortality of Milan Kundera to the last chapter. The title was “celebrating”. Though it was late to celebrate the moment worthy to toast at the very beginning. Well, so what? The immortality could lasts unrestrainedly ever. We could always be able to abolish the fear of the immortal one in time. It just as that we could never be able to undo the disappointment and perplexity of losing something.

So my friend, maybe you would be kind enough to allow me to bestow an odd and curt footnote to this prose: what an evening of the stockpot with assorted favors on the both austronesian and Han-cultural island state at all times.


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