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July 17, 2012 / windlessly

Taiwan Travels: Day 17 (Jiufen and ‘Spirited Away’)

I love the sound of 5 ocarinas playing simultaneously in the same room haha. Lol we just came back after visiting the ocarina shop after walking around the Jiufen street shops, and the library where we hang out for wi-fi has now become the newest place to practice ocarina. Taiwan has the most amazing feel when you go street-shopping… I swear it’s a combination of culture, history, and just bombardment of the five senses as you go walking.

Merchandise almost spilling out into the streets…

Our elementary school where we’re staying is somewhere near the top of the mountain, but it’s directly linked to both the houses and long line of shops that stretch and wind all the way down this path. It seemed a lot quicker going down the steps than it did going up them two nights ago after we went to the water park… But anyways, we just browsed through all the eye candy. Actually, I take that back. The thing I noticed most was not the sight of the shops and products and plethora of edibles, but the SMELL.

It’s so distinct and in your face that you could probably find your way around just by following your nose. Everything is outside, so there are corners where the sewage just reeks and you imagine rotting food and stray animals and stinky tofu. On the other hand, you pass through long stretches of aroma heaven. The taro and sweet potato balls that I mentioned earlier are my favorite- just stand in the vicinity of the shop and inhale deeply, and you can almost savor the smells. There is such a diversity of products that every step brings a new scent and feeling… from the flowery pastry shops to the succulent meats, the pungent sweetness of almond milk and other teas, the steamy goodness of noodle and soup shops, sharply contrasted with seafood and roasted peanut brittle, citrus fruits, and sweet bean and taro. And just about everything in between.

The cool thing to think about as you go through the winding passage of shops though, is that each one is uniquely crafted. Jiufen would be a ghost town without the beautiful view and the tourist attractions… the only native people here who own the shops have probably passed it down from generation to generation, making each shop authentic and homely in a way. It’s the reason why the small glutinous rice ball shop can survive next to the more famous, name brand line when they’re practically facing each other on the same street.

Kevin getting some sweet glutinous rice ball… it was good!

There was also a lot of interesting, creative stuff out there. One store was selling small chocolate boxes that could be personalized to either spell out letters and characters, or have predetermined messages. We took the two funniest and put them together. And then there was the random car that was pulling through the already too narrow streets… going at 5 mph and causing everyone to shift to the sides but whatever…

 

Glass sculptures and glow in the dark key/phone chains:

 

More Totoro!

We had a good look around, but we spent the most time in the ocarina shop. Apparently one the woman there knows our teacher, and the other guy was just a boss ocarina player- he invited us in and demonstrated playing on all the ocarinas. And he was GOOD. I guess that just makes him a better salesperson… people are attracted to the sweet piercing melody of the ocarina and are attracted into the shop. We all ended up buying ocarinas, anyway =P.

I got a real kick out of visiting the ocarina shop… being a wind instrumentalist, I’m so intrigued by the simplicity of the ocarina. It’s even more elegant than the recorder or even the flute, in my opinion. The concept remains the same… forcing air against a wedge (much like a whistle) and altering the pitch by opening or covering a number of holes. The clay is easily molded, hardened and then painted, which translates into attractive souvenirs/instruments. Hearing the guy play all these different melodies, and with such a beautiful tone… it’s hard to not be attracted into the shop. After all, I think its such a romantic and attractive idea to own an ocarina- you just imagine yourself bringing it with you anywhere and serenading people with your graceful tunes. I thought carrying around a flute was convenient size-wise, but an ocarina can easily fit into your pocket. If you’re good enough, even the range limitation won’t faze you. But that’s it exactly, you have to be good enough to play it. People walk into the shop and smile at how effortlessly the guy shows off his ocarina playing, and are persuaded into buying one because they imagine themselves doing the same thing. But hey, who can blame us for being tourists? xD

Anyways, it’s the idea of being ABLE to play an ocarina that is really romanticized (I automatically think of Zelda whenever I hear one being played)… any SKILL that you learn takes up no space at all, yet is even more rewarding). This happens a lot- I mean, everyone falls in love with the guy who can play piano because as long as there is a piano in the setting, he can generate beautiful and enthralling music. Singers are even luckier… give them an opportunity to sing and they often captivate you on the spot. That being said, I love meeting people at AID and anywhere in general because they always have these skills that impress me, that I would have no idea they had at all. People who can do back-flips, break-dance, handstand, rap, play an instrument, etc. Sometime in the future, I hope to be “that” guy who can whip out an ocarina and flawlessly perform the Totoro theme. Soo nostalgic about that movie! =D

We reached the end of the streets and spotted a 7-Eleven at once. Any 7-Eleven in Taiwan is fun to browse, after all. They have Coke and Sprite but all the other drinks are a plethora of teas and juices and sports drinks.

We came back, ate dinner together and then proceeded to our “bonding time.” The guys lost the Literature (card game) match today, unfortunately =[.

Movie of the night? Spirited Away! Soo gooood =]

 Miyazaki is so genius it boggles my mind… I remember being terrified of Spirited Away the first time I saw it, slightly intrigued the second time, and completely fascinated the third. Now I’m just in love. It’s such an captivating world and plot, and those who aren’t used to Miyazaki’s style don’t quite get it the first time around. There’s no super bad guy to hate in his movies, and many things are often left up to interpretation in his beautiful animations. Human morals and themes dealing with  childhood, love, the environment, technology, pacifism, and nature are common. Imagination reigns freely in all of his movies. The best way to describe his movies… a simple plot in a creative but strange world. You never get bored because you always find new subtleties, hinted themes, and motifs that are unique to Miyazaki. Things can be incredibly weird or outrageously cute in his movies.

And the coolest part of all?? Jiufen was part of the inspiration that led Miyazaki to create the world seen in Spirited Away- yeah, the very place I’m staying at! Apparently he visited this town in the mountains sometime before the movie’s release in 2001 and fell in love. Can’t blame him, after seeing all of it with my own eyes. And thank goodness for Jiufen for inspiring the movie!

Annama Cañete did a fabulous job in showing how uncanny the similarities are between the movie and the actual town here! Check out her blog here! =D

Mind blown? My thoughts exactly. Makes me appreciate the scenery around here just that much more!

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