Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Museum...

3/6/12 Tuesday, or w3 as they say in Taiwan

Don and I have designated Tuesdays as “Day Trip” day. Last week we went to the Salt Museum (though we turned back and went on Wednesday due to weather).  Today we went to the Kaohsiung Museum of Shadow Puppets.

We looked it up online, and it looked like it would make a nice day trip. We were especially interested in it because Sarah had done a lesson on shadow puppets with her art class at the charter school. They talked about Chinese art, and then they made puppets.  They worked their completed projects on a screen in the classroom.

Sarah's art class working their shadow puppets.
After reading about the museum online, we mapped out our route. The museum was marked on our bi-lingual road map. It seemed clear as to where it was. We felt confident that we knew what we were doing as we headed down the national freeway for our little outing. However, this turned into one of those days where we were at quite a disadvantage to not know Mandarin.

First off, our Nissan car talks to us in Mandarin. This is normally not a problem because the only time we’ve heard the lovely woman’s voice is when we get into the car and she greets us with, “Ni hoa.” She continues with some other pleasantry or instructions, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be anything we actually need to understand. It hadn't dawned on us that it could become important to know what she is saying.

We had 40 miles to drive to the museum. Within the first 10 minutes, the lovely woman began to speak to us. We ignored her. Then she continued every several minutes or so to give us some kind of instructions. Don checked the dash warning lights. No problem. We listened to the engine for any rattles. No problem. She came on so often, we started trying to find a pattern in when she began to speak. Was she telling us that a car was passing us? No. Did going over bumps trigger her voice? No. Was Don speeding? No.  Nothing went wrong with the car. Don didn’t get a speeding ticket. We didn’t adjust anything. But she did keep talking to us without our knowing what she was saying.  It's still a mystery.

Once we got used to the Nissan lady talking to us, all went well until we made the second turn off the freeway into the Gangshan District of Kaohsiung or as we say, Goushung. The museum was not anywhere to be found in the area marked on the map. We tried several ways to make sense of it, but we were not seeing anything that looked like an area where a museum would be, no less the museum itself.

We decided when in doubt, go to McDonald’s. You can always find a McDonald’s and their managers are required to “know a little English.” We immediately found the Golden Arches and decided to eat before we asked about directions. We parked the car in front of the restaurant, ordered and went to the second floor to eat our lunch. While Don and I were eating and having conversation, we heard what sounded like some kind of announcement over the restaurant speaker. The only thing we could make out was, “Shi shi.” Don said, “Well, that must have been ‘Thank you for eating at McDonald’s.’” I said it seemed like an awfully long announcement to just say “Thank you.” Oh well, we continued with our conversation. A few minutes later, the manger came to our table and communicated to us that we needed to move our car. Ahha. That announcement was probably for the person blocking the delivery truck, which us!   What did we know?

When Don went to move the car, I asked the manager about how to get to the museum by showing him my map.  A bi-lingual map eliminates a lot of problems (the day in Goushung with Debb and Jaci taught me something!). The manager got himself a paper and pen, so I expected him to draw directions for me. But he suddenly had another idea. He went to one of his employees, explained to him where we wanted to go and told him to get on his scooter and escort us to the museum!

When we arrived at our destination, not more than a mile from the McDonald’s, the young man pointed and waved as we pulled into a parking spot. We no sooner had gotten out of the car when he came around the block, again. “Sorry, sorry. No park here!” Oh, boy! He pointed around a corner to a parking lot. We thanked him, nodded to him, “Shi shi-ed” many times and waved good-bye to him the second time. We were going to be lucky to get out of this little day trip without a parking ticket!

We now were at the right place to go to the Puppet Museum, however, there was a complex of buildings surrounding a very nice plaza area. One building was clearly marked the Performing Arts Building. We needed to decide which of the other two was the puppet museum.  We chose to go into the bigger of the other two buildings. It turned out to be the County Library! Obviously, we would finally get to where we wanted to go if we went in the one remaining building.

We did so.  Yeah! We had made it…before the sun went down and without any parking tickets! Truly, our lack of language skills proved to be a problem today!

However, it was worth the convoluted path we had taken. The Shadow Puppet Museum was very nice.  It was simply decorated with displays.  Some of which explained the history of shadow puppetry in China/ Taiwan.   Others described their construction, purpose and staging.

Shadow puppets are small figures made out of paper.  In the old days they were made from leather. They are jointed in the arms and legs and head by knotted strings. They are attached to two sticks and manipulated behind a screen.  In the past this was a white fabric. There is a light source behind the screen to project the figure as a shadow to the other side.  

This is a very old art, so the light began as candles and progressed with time to be electric light bulbs. Shadow puppetry was especially popular for entertaining the emperors of the dynasties in old China, but later it was used almost exclusively in temple rituals.  

The puppet masters would travel from place to place and set up their stage on the back of carts. They would hang curtains and the screen across the front. All their puppets would be hung on strings behind the screen along with all the other supplies, including the light source.

Hanging puppets and supplies behind the screen.

The screen and curtains mounted on old carts for traveling shadow puppet shows.
There was a display in the museum that showed step by step the method of making a shadow puppet. There were display cases of very old puppets.

These puppets were made of leather.
At one point, a museum guide visited with us, and she talked Don into doing an interactive display. He stood in front of a computer menu projected on a wall. It took a picture of his face. When he chose to “continue” on the menu, his face was digitized into a shadow puppet on the screen, which happened to be Chinese woman! As he moved in front of the screen, the figure moved accordingly, just like a Wii!  

Look closely and you can see that is Don's face in the puppet!
Even though we had a little trouble getting to the Kaohsiung Museum of Shadow Puppet Art, we had a very fun day! It would have been a great place for Sarah to bring her class on a field trip!

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