Friday, May 26, 2006

"I cant. I have rehearsal."

Best excuse EVER to avoid social functions and gatherings with relatives.

Have officially accepted the job today. Company meeting on Sunday (aka meet and greet and get to know your stage manager nazi) and rehearsals begin the following week. The show opens on September 23rd at KLPAC and runs for approximately 3 weeks.

Am I excited? Yes and no. Yes, because this will mark my first Asian production and Dama Orchestra is notably one of the best theatre companies around which has a reputation for producing good work; and no, because I will be missing Sarah's wedding in LA which falls on opening night (am not sure what's causing this stroke of bad luck with conflicts between very important dates in my life and work. Am thinking that designing and a full time job in management will be a good choice for the future.)

It's been 3 years since I've stage managed a full blown production. I can hear you - Jeff, Lee, Dustin - 'ah, easy-peasy.' Um. Yeah. Easy-peasy. I forgot to mention that it's a full blown musical in CHINESE. I do not read Chinese. Well, maybe I do, but very minimal. The next few months are going to be rather exciting. Come to think of it - how am I going to prompt?

Still, after 5 months of bumming around, travelling, annoying mum, and having my eyes glued to the idiot box, it is time to engage myself in the world of theatre again. And I am quite excited about working with this group of people really. Surprisingly, they made me a pretty reasonable offer. I say reasonable because we all know what pay is like in our field. So when one says it's reasonable, it is usually a good sign.

Set designers - have you come across anyone who can design a set using scale? (and ultimately have it constructed based on those plans) If you haven't, remind me to enlighten you on that subject the next time we chat.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Thursday, May 4 2006

Weather: rainy
Air: polluted
Hotel water: still stinks
No. of tombs visited: enough to last a lifetime
No. of hills/mountains hiked: too many in a week
No. of times we drove on the opposite direction with on coming traffic on the highway: 1

Qian Ling (Qian Tomb)

Today, we took an hour and a half long drive to the outskirts of Xi'an to visit Qian Ling, the burial site of Emperor Gaozong and his wife, WuZetian (the only female king in Chinese history)of the Tang Dynasty.

What can I say? It was another tomb. Okay, so maybe I should sound a little more ecstatic about it. I think the fact that we visited the tomb of the ONLY female king in the history of China is more fascinating than the actual tomb itself. We didn't really SEE the tomb. And to be frank, I found the drive thru the village more exciting than looking at twenty-five more sculpture tomb guards.

There is something about the Chinese Imperial families and their burial grounds. Do you know how much land has been put to waste? You can probably build Disneyland on each of these sites. You're going to say, "But China is so huge. They can afford the land." That is not the point. By the way, many tombs have been robbed and destroyed over the years, but the Qian Ling tomb is said to be very secure and hence, has never been visited by intruders.

The two towers used to house the guards of the tomb; this is on the opposite direction of the guard houses, going towards the tomb

There are more than a hundred human and animal sculptures that line path towards the tombs

Apparently they represent certain officials/generals of the time

There's a story that Ren told us about the missing heads from the sculptures - I cannot remember the details, but it has something to do with hiding the identities of the people they were modelled after; and I guess if your master's head is gone, so is yours

Human sculptures are meant to have heads; this 100 tonne tablet is called (are you ready?) the "Wordless Tablet" original. There are no words on it except for a few carved dragons because it's supposed to show the grandeur and mystery of the masoleum. I guess that's why no robbers found Wuzetian's tomb after all these years.

On our way out, I came across this "cave house." Was most fascinated by it. Ren says that these cave houses are better than brick houses. They're warm during the winter and cool during the summer; Sign reads: Side Tower of Eastern Nipple Peak. You can't leave China without pictures of somewhat awkward Chinese-English translation (more to come)

Princess Yong Tai's Tomb

After we were briefed and reminded of the greatness of Wuzetian, we were shuttled to Princess Yong Tai's Tomb. Now we find out that our heroic female king had Princess Yong Tai's mother beaten to death because she had talked about Wuzetian's affairs with her male prositutes (by the way, Wuzetian ended up marrying one of the Emperor's son after the Emperor died.) According to some historical facts, Princess Yong Tai died a tragic death - except no details were given. But there are stories about her being murdered by Wuzetian.

Tunnel leading to the tomb; murals

Lots of pottery, figurines, etc were found; ceiling details

Famen Temple

At around 12:45pm, we got to Famen Temple.
History (DK): The remote Famen Temple is not easy to reach, but is well worth the long journey. This shrine is one of China's first Buddhist temples, and a venerated place for Buddhist pilgrims the world over. It was built in the 2nd century AD to house a finger bone of Sakyamuni (the Historical Buddha) donated by the Indian king Ashoka, who was dispensing Buddhist relics (sarira) around Buddhist lands...

Beware of ANYONE selling you ANYTHING. Also, they can be very persistent. This lady stalked Wang Wei for at least five minutes.

Souvenir stands. Most of the souvenir stands sell the same thing. When bargaining, don't feel afraid to walk away and check out other stalls. You will most likely find the same thing you were bargaining for, and sometimes you might even get a better deal!

Those lantern-shaped red balloons are everywhere in China; Main hall

Prayers and wishes being made

Interior of the main prayer hall

Wang Wei bought ice cream. Bad news. Apparently, we were supposed to be at the temple dining hall for lunch just as we started stuffing our mouths. Not wanting to be late, there we were, all 4 of us, walking into the TEMPLE DINING HALL with ice cream in our hands AND mouths, waiting to be fed lunch. First class idiots.

4-sided gold statue; room where the "finger bone" is being kept

From the Famen Temple Museum

When a freeway means 'free way'

We left Famen Temple around 4 and headed back to the city. It started raining cats and dogs the minute we got into our van. Nice. We can take a nap all the way back, enjoying the pitter patter of the raindrops on the windows. Hah. After 45 minutes, the driver slowed down and pulled over. We were lost. The rain was so heavy that he couldn't see the signs clearly. So, what do you do when you're going the wrong way? You turn around. And that was what we did. LITERALLY. WE TURNED AROUND ON THE FREEWAY. And we drove for a mile going the opposite direction of on coming traffic. Lanna and I were the only ones who panicked.

We got back to smelly-water hotel at 6pm. After half an hour (no shower necessary) we took a cab to Xi'an Fan Guan (a well known restaurant in Xi'an recommended by Lanna's boss) for dinner. It wasn't just a dinner. It was a feast.

When dishes become a fashion statement

The name of this dish is "Fashionable cold meat"...honestly; and it was liver they served I think, or tongue? I don't remember

Dates (really really sweet); veg; one of the tastiest lamb I've had

Fish in the shape of crysanthemums; mini meat sandwiches (Nonya's much better!); some stir fry meat and veg dish

We also had persimmon cakes for dessert, plum juice and rice. And all for RMB198 (about USD25.)

Needless to say, there is a reason why they put that weighing machine outside our room.

Friday, May 19, 2006

To bathe or not to bathe

This trip has taught me something about myself. I'm going to be conceited for once and say that I think of myself as a seasoned traveller. If not seasoned, at least somewhat experienced and an easy going one as well. Accommodation is rarely a priority when planning trips - 5 star hotels and resorts are great, but I've also had great times at B&Bs, inns, youth hostels, etc.

Hence, when yours truly arrived at our hotel in Xi'an, I obviously thought nothing more about the following than the fact that Ren was trying to get us a good deal at a 3 star hotel and here we were!

-the non-English speaking staff
-the non-existing English translations of any signs/notices whatsoever
-the key card that would not open your room door, but instead served only to turn on the power in your room (to get into your room, you had to get one of the staff stationed on that floor to open it. I will never understand the logic of this)
-the worn out carpets and slightly stained walls
-the tub-less bathroom with dim lights and half a roll of toilet paper that was left in there

There was also a weighing machine, a big one I might add, that sat outside our room door. WHY? We tried to avoid looking at it everytime we left and came back to our room, but there it was, staring at our guilty faces every night after we've come back from our eating escapades. The good thing about it is that it is not quite accurate. Everyone weighed 3kg lesser than we normally did. There is justice after all.

Great. As long as there's a clean bathroom, I can stay anywhere! It is now time for a shower. I turn on the tap, and in about 10 seconds, the bathroom was filled with a horrible, indescribable stench. Surely there must be a sewerage or drainage problem going on. After a minute of standing in there, not knowing what to do, I decided to just hold my breath and took the quickest shower in all my life. It was Lanna's turn next. She went in, showered, came out and said nothing as well. Then I noticed a sign that was posted outside the bathroom door. It was in Chinese of course. I understood enough to know that it was a notice about the water. Fabulous.

The next day, over breakfast, Ren told us that the area we were staying in is close to the hot springs so the water comes directly from there. That stench was the smell of sulphur and other minerals in the water. Well, at least we know it's not going to kill us.

Lanna and I survived the first 2 days. But on the 3rd day, when the jewellery she wore turned colour after a shower, we decided to buy bottled water to wash our faces and brush our teeth. We also resorted to using wet wipes to dry clean ourselves one night because we just couldn't bear taking a second shower. I remember passing a group of people outside the hotel elevator one morning - lets just say that Channel No. 5 and Eternity would be considered a necessity in this situation. Of course, who are we to complain? We must have smelled just as bad. It took me 3 days and 6 washes to get the stench out of my hair after I left Xi'an. Fun, eh?

This is what I've learnt about myself. As much as I think I can bear staying just anywhere, I can be wrong. It's more like - as long as I can get a clean shower at the end of the day, I can care less if I was in a village hut or a hotel room. Oh, and no sewage smelling water. Please.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

When I die, I want... entire terracottta army guarding my tomb, just like Emperor Qin Shi Huang. Not. Why would you start planning your own burial at age 13?

Maybe I'll just throw in a couple of Malaysian chefs.

Wednesday, May 3rd 2006

Terracotta Army

You can't leave China without having visiting the Terracotta Army, now enlisted as a world heritage site. First discovered by peasants in 1974, the site consists of 3 pits and an exhibition hall. There is approximately 8,000 terracotta warriors and horses to be found. Excavations are still ongoing and much time, money and research are being put into developing new technologies to unearth these pottery figures.

Terracotta is literally “baked earth” which is kiln fired at relatively low temperatures. After firing each figure in the Terracotta Army was coated with a lacquer finish to improve durability. Various colors were also applied in order to create a more realistic appearance of the figures and their clothing and equipment. Some excavated materials still retain traces of this coloring; however their exposure to air quickly causes the finish to chip or flake off. (Wikipedia)

Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi; Main building

Diagrams of the emperor's chariots

Army in Pit 1
The main pit - consists of over 6,000 warriors, in battle formation

The expression on each of these 6,000 (or 8,000 in total) warriors are different from one another. You will not find two that are alike.

The photo on the right shows a section of the army that's being restored. I like to call it the "mix and match" section

Pit 2 and Pit 3

Kneeling Archer and a General

This kneeling archer is an example of the intricacies of the hand crafted figures. Check out the sole of his shoes. You can even see strands of hair being crafted onto each figure's head. From the details of each individual hair style, clothing, footwear, body shape, you will be able to determine the rank/position of the warrriors. (it is said that Generals have portruded bellies so the figures of Generals will most likely have bigger bellies)

Pictures of the terracotta army when they were first discovered

Qin Shi Huangdi's Tomb
The Terracotta Army is just one part, the defending army, of a complex necropolis. A mile west of the pits, a large hill, yet to be fully excavated, is believed to be the burial mound of emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, a tyrant preoccupied with death and the legacy he woud leave behind. He spared no expense, enlisting 700,000 people over 36 years in the tomb's consruction. Historical sources portray a miniature plan of his empire: a floor cut by rivers of mercury beneath a ceiling studded with pearls to represent the night sky. The complex is also said to contain 48 tombs for concubines who were buried alive with the emperor, a date also reserved for workers, to prevent the location and design of the tomb from becoming known.
(DK guide)

Cultural performances; information on the underground palace, etc.

Are you beginning to follow the trend? Notice the orange/yellow stuff at the very back of the photo? that was where we started the hike from; and when we got to the very top, I was disappointed to see that apart from the view of Xi'an (I swear I have seen the view of Xi'an from every mountain/hill there is here) there were only more info boards, snack stands and a dress-like-an-emperor/empress photo shack. Also, food and drinks cost twice as much up here than they do at the bottom. I guess someone's got to pay for that hike.

Anyone for pig's ears?

After that lovely hike, it was time for lunch. But first, we stopped at this outlet meant for tourists. I guess our tour guide gets a small commission for every tourist she brings in there, whether or not they bought anything. It was like walking into Costco, except the food products here are um...pretty exciting.

Pigs ears

Huaqing Hot Springs

After lunch, we popped by at the Huaqing Hot Springs. Remember Yang Kwei Fei or Yang Guefei as some spell it? Our beloved concubine whose plump figure became the classic figure of all Tang women? Well, the Huaqing Hot Springs is the love nest of Yang Guefei and Emperor Xuanzong. Don't laugh - but we actually came here to see the bathing pools of Yang Guefei. Of course those weren't the only highlights. Huaqing Hot Springs is surrounded by wonderful landscapes. Also, many visitors come here to enjoy a bath in the hot springs.

Yang Guefei sculpture

Yang Guefei's bathing pool

A bigger one for when the Emperor joins in the fun

This one's for officials of higher ranks; the little holes you see on the right were supposedly used for massaging one's feet

The Huaqing Hot Springs is located at the foot of Lishan Mountain (the name means "black horse" because its shape resembles one). So after 45 minutes of walking on flat land, we did what was expected of us again. Climb.

Lishan Mountain

We took a 5 minute cable car ride to the path where we would start hiking this mountain.
I will be honest and say that I did not reach the top. After half an hour of hiking, Ren and I decided that we have seen enough Xi'an views for the day, and that it would smarter to reserve our energy for tomorrow. So off went Wang Wei and Lanna.

Putting a tree trunk into good use

While we were resting at one of the view points, we noticed ant-size people hanging on wires gliding from one point of the mountain to another. Pretty scary if you asked me. On our way down, crazy Wang Wei decided to give it a shot. I think it was the look of the mechanism that scared me more than anything else. It looked as if it could snap in half at any given moment. But Wang Wei went and got a kick out of it.


Tang Paradise

My second favourite place throughout the trip.

If I ever had a choice as to which dynasty I'd like to live in, it would be the Tang Dynasty. Aside from the architectural splendours (simplicity is always better. The vibrant colours of the architectural structures in the other dynasties are brilliant and amazing to look at, but it would honestly drive me up the wall having to live in a colour wheel my whole life), the Tang Dynasty was considered the peak of Chinese civilization, rich in creativity of sorts - arts, literature, commerce - which stemmed from contacts with India, Japan, the Middle East, etc. AND, the one and only female king in China ruled during this era.

Ren told us we were going to Furong Park to see a cultural show at 7pm after we left Lishan Mountain. Little did I know that this Park is not just any ordinary park. It is the Tang Dynasty Reconstruction Project which only opened in April 2005. It's not even listed on the DK Guide - SHAME!

So here are excerpts from its brochure:
Tang Dynasty Reconstruction Project is one of the largest tourist programs in the northwest of China. It covers an area of 1,000 mu (about 165 acres) and is established with an investment of 1.3 billion Yuan.
...Tang Paradise is the first theme park fully demonstrating the charm and grandeur of the royal garden in Tang Dynasty.
...attractions include Elegant Lady Area, Imperial Banquet Hall, Tang Paradise Hotel, Phoenix Theatre, Tang Marketplace, Floating-drink at Qujiang Lake...
...Tang Paradise boasts many new records - the largest show on water screen in the world, the first theme park of five senses, biggest outdoor fragrance project in the world and the biggest reproduction of the Tang royal garden complex in China

Tip: If you don't get the hint yet, this is a MUST SEE attraction in Xi'an. Reserve at least half the day; also get tickets for the cultural show - it's pretty cool. There are also shuttles and camel cart rides if you're too tired to walk the grounds of the park.

Royal Garden Gate, Imperial Banquet Hall, Silver Bridge Waterfall

Royal Garden Gate - the entrance to the park; the glass screens depict women walking in circles, hoping to be picked by the Emperor as concubines; Imperial Banquet Hall; Silver Bridge Waterfall

Tang Marketplace
This is a microcosm of East Market and West Market of Chang'an in the Tang Dynasty that presents the bustling commercial activities between Chinese and foreign traders. People can observe and experience the social life in the style of the Tang Dynasty here.

What better way to experience the streets of Tang Dynasty? There are lots of arts and crafts stores, candy stalls, and also a staging area for performances.

Views of the marketplace; the two men are both selling handmade candy (as Ren says, "Just see, don't eat") - the first one is making figurines out of colourful dough (it was weird to see a tellytubby one) and the second is using a caramel like liquid to make animal shaped candies; guess your weight game

Ziyun Ruyi Tower and The Phoenix Theatre

Ziyun Ruyi Tower houses sculptures, murals and paintings reflecting the prosperous time in the Zhanguan period. There is a showroom on the top floor where you can have tea while watching singing and dancing performances of the Tang Dynasty.

The Phoenix Theatre was where we watched the cultural show. Apparently, entertainment was very popular in this dynasty. There were many large scale productions and theatres built during this era and rumour has it that one of the kings even performed in an opera himself.

Ziyun Ruyi Tower (1 & 2); that's a world map created on the grounds of the Tower - this particular section reads "Malaysia"; The Phoenix Theatre

Cultural show "Dream Back to the Great Tang Dynasty"

Yes, I did. I took three photos during the show. In normal circumstances I would've said that I'm a bad theatre audience. In fact, I shouldn't even be allowed to be in the profession. But like I said, rules simply do not apply in China (at times). I was probably the only one who did not use a flash.

It was like having a strobe light in the audience. People next to me, in front of me, behind me, above, below, whatever, were using flash photography. And then I remembered not hearing any announcements on photography, so either they forgot or they just didn't realize they could make one.

I would like to add that this show is most impressive. The set, lighting and costumes are first rate. It would be interesting to know the budget of this hour long production. There wasn't a live orchestra but the sound system was acceptable. I hate to say this, but even if this production cost under half a million, then it has definitely put M! The Opera to shame in terms of production design.

ps: the theatre loos are 3 1/2 stars by my standards, which is considered good

Imperial Banquet Hall

We headed out at around 8:30pm. I have never, ever, experienced a mad dash out of any place like I did here. Am still not sure what the rush was all about. All I remembered was being crushed and squashed at the exit gates.

Off to dinner and back to the smelly water at the hotel.