Thursday, March 03, 2005

Working Out With Tracy And Budaixi

I worked out this morning with Tracy York. And it’s true what they say about her- she’s not exceedingly spunky at all. She’s cheerful, but just the right kind of cheerful. She reminds us that certain exercises are going to make us look great in "a strapless dress in summer." So look out, girls, my shoulders are going to have so much definition come June!

I must admit to having never worked out to video instruction before (not that I’ve been overcome previously with any burning desires), but given that we recently purchased a workout bench, I wanted to find something that would demonstrate the proper techniques for a variety of different upper and lower body exercises. And Tracy comes through. In roughly an hour she walks you through a dozen exercises, demonstrating the correct posture, brightly extolling their benefits and gently coaxing you on. I felt I had let her down whenever she'd say, "Just two more," and I had already put my weights down. Next time, Tracy, I'm with you all the way. Best of all, she teaches some simple stretches to do between each exercise, something I’m guilty of all but abandoning in my day to day workouts. After I was done I had a King Size thing of Peanut M & M’s. No shit. They’d been sitting in the freezer for over a week and I just felt like, well, “This will be my lunch today.”

The January 15-21st issue of the Economist has a special survey of Taiwan, which is especially interesting given the EU’s recent push to lift the 15-year old arms embargo on China and the tensions that’s creating with the U.S. The U.S. fears that any such decision to lift the embargo would give China access to the kind of high technology battlefield wares it currently can’t provide for itself but Europe can. This all makes the administration and many in Congress (Republicans and Democrats alike) wary, especially given China’s huge arms build-up over the last decade and their frequent saber rattling whenever Taiwan makes mention or even hints of asserting its independence from China. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to protect Taiwan, so if anything were to go down (the current President, Chen Shui-bian, would love to establish this independence before his term is up in 2008, but I can’t imagine he’ll really do anything in earnest) we’d probably be dragged into a fight, something that would be disastrous for not just for those involved, but for the world.

But what I really wanted to mention was that in this Economist survey about Taiwan there was this great article that reminded me of “Taiwan’s deep fascination with a televised form of puppet theatre,” called budaixi.

Budaixi, as the art form is known, is an omnipresent feature of Taiwan’s cultural and political life. The island’s biggest budaixi production company, PiLi International Multimedia, says it has an annual turnover of $35m. A million people a week rent the latest PiLi shows on DVD. Dudaixi puppets feature the wooden expressions and jerky movements of early TV animations, but the characters, costumes and plots draw on ancient Chinese sources, with a heavy dose of martial arts and special effects. The target audience is grownups as well as children.

Hou Hsiao-hsien, a brilliant Taiwanese director, made a stunning (it’s definitely his masterpiece, and many consider him one the world’s greatest living directors- he’s definitely one of my favorites) film in 1993 about one of Taiwan’s greatest budaixi puppeteers, Li Tien-Lu. The Puppetmaster, through interviews with Li (a fourth generation puppeteer who died in 1998 and was considered by many in Taiwan to be their greatest puppeteer and a national treasure) and recreations of his life, poetically examines early 20th-century Taiwan through the prism of Li’s life. So you get to see a lot of amazing budaixi performances as well as listen to Li reminisce not only about the scene we just saw but about his profession and his life. It’s available on DVD, as are a number of Hou’s films, and definitely worth your time and patience.

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