I want to tell you a little story. For the past few years I have hosted flame effects classes here in SF and several other cities including New York and now as far as Taiwan. One of the most amazing things that I have seen after these classes is the reinterpretation of the things that I showed and the practices that I have promoted. It is often the case that the following year after these classes that I see my students on the playa with flame effects that they have made. Sometimes there effects cross into areas that I had never even thought of and I can’t help but to be impressed at their use of the practices and principles that I taught and the new and exiting directions that their pieces have taken.
Here at Burning Man we have had these kinds of moments as well with such things as the regionals, Burners Without Borders and now Black Rock Solar. Well I would like to tell you about one more that I have just stumbled across. I was invited to go to Taiwan to a place called the Dream Community through the Flaming Lotus Girls to help them incorporate flame effects into some parade floats that they were crating. As I prepared to go I assumed that this “Dream Community” was perhaps a warehouse or collective with a few artists like other communities I have visited before. When I arrived I met a gentleman named Gordon Tsai.
Apparently Gordon traveled to Seattle to the Fremont artists community 8 years ago as well as Burning Man 4 years ago and reinterpreted the concept of “radical participation” to fit his own dream. When I arrived I found a community that covered over 6 square city blocks including workshop’s residential apartment blocks, a café, small factories a theater, offices etc. There are over 400 residential units on site with an average cost of $250,000 US and an average of 4 tenants per unit. The requirements of the sale or lease of these requires that the families must participate in the arts in such ways as helping to craft parade floats or learning Samba or Brazilian dance. Gordon has told me that the units are selling like hot cakes even though they are over the average cost of similar units in the area. Gordon also predicts the entire community will be paid off in full within 2 years. The income from these properties is used to fund a number of great programs; among them are some that really stuck out for me.
The community serves over 100 aboriginal communities with drumming programs where drum teachers are sent with drums four weeks prior to local festivals to teach the local school kids drumming. The community also provides recording sessions and publication of traditional singers and performers, traditional dance programs. Artists have also created a program where puppeteers are sent to communities to interpret aboriginal stories and help to build the puppets and produce the shows both in their communities as well as Taiwan as a whole.
The community funds over 50 parades per year supplying floats, dances, drummers, fireworks etc. These parades are a great place for residents of the community to join in and get hands on with other artists. There is a large theater on site that hosts presentations of arts from around the world, and while I was there I met a crew from India who were presenting Indian dance the story telling and larger puppet productions.
Another great program is an artist internship program that brings over 100 artists from around the world to Taiwan to present, create and share their work. This program pays for their flights, provides food and lodging as well as a weekly stipend.
All of these programs and more are done with the goal of bringing ritual and spirit to the island as well as trying to create a new value to residents of the Dream Community as well as the outlying areas.
I am sure there are more fabulous programs but in two weeks I was only able to scratch the surface of this place. I look forward to more collaboration with this great community in the future.
Here are a few select excerpts from my Taiwan-Reports from the field:
10 hours and one dateline into my 13-hour flight must admit I am getting a little stir crazy. But hey they do have toothbrushes pre-pasted in the bathroom so at least my teeth are fresh. I wonderer who will pick me up at the airport?
Well someone did show up and they were easy to spot in tie-dye…
As we drove to where I will be spending the next two weeks the mix of heavy industry and lush tropical woodlands enthralled me. Junkyards seem to back right up to the jungle. As we entered town from the freeway mopeds in what seemed like a dance of death surrounded us. My driver JJ seemed to care little for their proximity or staying in one lane for that matter.
I meet with Gordon the director of the Dream Community this afternoon and looked at the truck that they want to mount flame effects to and the job looks fairly strait forward. I am thinking about two smaller accumulators for the rear and a big one for on top of the cab. I asked about welding and other technical help and I was told that I would have access to two metal fabrication factories and their personnel. We went on a field trip to check them out and they are perfect. While I was there I spotted some solenoid valves on the
floor and I asked about their availability here in Taiwan and was told it would be no problem to order these here on the island. The availability of these parts was of some worry to me as was the pipe sizes and LP
fittings but from what I am seeing now these are non-issues.
If you imagine that you are building your Burning Man project and you need lots of parts but the only place to shop was Chinatown, then you would have a picture of my day today. I started of at the B&Q store. It was like home depot but without a lot of plumbing stuff unfortunately…
I got a few parts but I definitely needed more. I had a friend here, JJ drive me around to the hardware district of Taipei and we found a little hole in the wall shop and though the guy in that shop did not have the parts in stock he did understand what I needed. As I made conversions on my calculator from PSI to BAR’s and BAR’s to KGF/cm2 as well as feet to meters. He sent a guy out on a moped to pick up the parts I needed and as I sat there LP regulators, solenoid valves, propane hose with fitting made to order were delivered one by one. I cannot believe this guys understanding of what I needed!
That dude rocked. By the end of the day I had all I needed except the LP cylinders. I am planning on picking them up in the AM and then I will go to the factory where I was told I would be free to use all of the tools and have help if I need it.
As we drove back to the dream community I was again shocked by the driving here. I am a danger kind of guy but I was white knuckled the whole way back. First of all the lane lines apparently are only a whispered suggestion of where you should drive. If you have a half-inch of clearance from the throngs of mopeds you are cool and if any part of your vehicle is in front of another vehicle you can cut them off at any speed!
This is a great place and I am having a blast.
As I was typing my post about the Day 4, Gordon my host came and asked me if I wanted to go to the mountains to see the aboriginal communities. Well I thought I have a few hours before the parts I need arrive…why not. Well 5 hours of driving into the jungles of the south with a van full of other Dream Community members I found myself at a grade school for the local kids. Some how I failed to notice the whole back of the van was filled with costumes and big puppets. It turns out we were here to parade with the locals. I was asked, “weer is you cossstume Dabead?” I noticed that Gordon had a s—t eating grin on his face and I knew I had been set up. But this was not my first dog and pony show so without hesitation I pulled off my shirt wraped some bright and frilly cloth around my waist and had Nina paint a disturbing smiley face on my chest and the game was on!
So there I was parading through the streets with 60 or 70 aboriginal kids. The sight of the crazy foreigner dancing his crazy hippie dance had folks pointing and rolling in laughter. I got to admit I was having a great time! Luckily I had a stack if FLG stickers that I handed out and I can say for sure that these villagers will be representing the FLG’s for years to come. Of course there were fireworks and members of the Dream community were spinning fire poi. I do not think that anyone had seen this either as jaws dropped and the timed fled in giggles as we passed. After we were treated toa great full moon night in the bamboo covered mountains and a big feast of wild boar that had been slaughtered in honor of Gordon and us. It turns out that Gordon has a guy here from Brazil who has 100 drums and he is sent to the aboriginal villages for a week before festivals to teach the kids samba drum rhythms and he also supplies the fireworks and other support. We hung out in the village drinking beer and eating some great food till late at night and as we drove home I knew this had been one of the best days of my life.
It was Sunday so I went to temple!
As all my friends know I deal with danger and scary things every day but today I was really scared. And why you may ask… because I had to take the bus all the way to Taipei by myself. I wanted to go to a big festival at a Buddhist temple but no one was free to go with me. The streets here follow no particular grid pattern. All of the signs are in Chinese of course and I would have to find my way back some how on my own as well. Again I know a bus ride does not sound like a big deal but I was really not sure I would make it back. Even if I spent the night in the bushes somewhere there was no way to be sure I would make it back the next day. Well…hell with it. I was not going to be a baby and be held back from something that I really wanted to do by this irrational fear so I went for it! I made it there and found the temple just fine. Apparently this temple has just undergone some extensive rebuilding and it was totally intense. There were hundreds of folks praying at many different stations of this temple complex each station had a shrine to a different deity as well as many areas fro offerings. Outside there were displays of fire walking and of course plenty of firecrackers. There was a large stage set up next to the temple and as night fell I was treated to Chinese opera. It was a great production. I was really off the tourist’s path here and I did not see another European face all day. The locals were definitely checking me out and more than once I found myself the subject of photographers. At one point a woman came up to me to show me the picture she had taken of my ponytail! Well we chatted for a while, as she knew some English. This was great as she was able to translate the story of the opera for me. The big challenge of the night was to not only find the right bus back but to recognize where to get off. Well I am happy to repot I did not have to sleep in the bushes! I made it home by midnight and had a great sleep.
Day 9 AKA my 44th…
My new friends here planed a trip to the hot springs for my birthday. We went to Kulung and rounded up a dozen other artists working there and drove along the coast and up into the mountains to a large spa-hot spring complex. It was really nice with several soaking pools of different temperatures, a cold plunge and a lot of space to relax. Apparently drinking in the hot spring is not an issue and we had a bunch of beers to enjoy as we soaked. At one point the inevitable birthday cake was brought out and happy birthday was sung in both Chinese and English. Well of course I had to teach them the DPW birthday song and they greatly enjoyed this rendition. I pity the next birthday person here… As I sat soaking in the pool I reflected on my 44th year and how this trip was the fulfillment of one of the many dreams that I have had over the years. I remember a time many years ago when I sat with Pouneh, Tamara and Sun Cat in the craft loft of the Cell Space and we conceived of the concept of the Flaming Lotus Girls. We laughed as we predicted that one day our fire art would allow us to travel the world as “Fire Artists”. This dream seemed so unlikely and far off at that time but here I am now halfway around the world living the dream while the lotus Girls have displayed there art in dozens of venues and festivals from SF to Australia. Man it feels good when your dream come true!
I can only imagine what of my many dreams will come true in the coming 44 years…
This journey has been a great exercise for me in letting go of myself and any feeling of control of my time here. For days my hosts have been talking about sending me to the hill to stay with the aboriginal population here. I went for lunch and was told that I would be traveling at 12:45 on a train by myself 3 hours south and someone would meet me there for my “adventure”. Well of course there was no time to decipher where I was going, whom I would be staying with or what I would be doing. Well to top it off I was told that the folks I would be staying with spoke only the smallest bit of English. Many times here I have felt powerless over my own destiny and like a small baby who knows nothing and can speak nothing this trip was a test of my ability top speak with my heart and hands. Like a baby I would be given what I was to eat, shown where and when to sleep and dragged around to where ever the wind blew.
I arrived at the end of the rail line and was meet by my new host Ily and after a short drive I found my self at a village Christian church. We meet about a dozen other aboriginal folks there and I deciphered that this was a singing group. We sat down and they started to practice. It was really good and as the pastor spoke a little English I found out that we were all going to a large hotel nearby to perform a concert of indigenous music for a group of regional officers and other big wigs who were donating 3 million NT$ to build a new church in the village. Well we arrived at the hotel and were shown to a large room filled with vary important regional officers and I was sticking out big time… I sat at the table with the aboriginal singing group all in there traditional costumes and all of the other folks were dressed as you might imagine officers of there stature dressed. Good thing I chose to where all black?…
The singing group performed and a bunch of bottles of 120 proof liquor of some kind started to flow. Well as you might imagine this loosened both myself and the room full of businessmen up and next thing I knew I was being dragged to the stage to sing karaoke. Well I gave my best rendition of “Duke of Earl” an encore song of there choice of course it was “I left my heart in San Francisco”. More drink later and the whole room demanded I give a speech about the virtues of San Francisco. What the F—.
Well we left there around mid-night and returned to the small village where I was staying I was as full of good food and liquor as I have been and was looking forward to a good sleep but that was not to be. As soon as we arrived a hand full of villagers greeted us and before I knew what was happing a guy brought a chicken and promptly snapped its neck. Bottles of beer were brought out and the chicken was boiled. At this point I want to tell you about Bin-long AKA beetle nut. It is everywhere here little stands are all over every part of this island and it is traditional favorite the Aboriginal folks. I have been wondering about it since I have been here but the opportunity has not arisen to try it. Low and behold there was a big sack of the nuts and one of the men showed me how to chew it. Much chewing and spiting later I did not seem to fell any effects. Around 2am we finished the beer, chicken, and beetle nuts and I crashed out. I will say that whether it was the Beetle nut or the liquor I did have some of the most intense and prolific dreams ever that night.
Today was the big parade in Keelung. We gathered the forces around noon in a rally spot at the start of the parade. I was given some room on the sound truck to set up the Flame Effect and I felt right at home with the sound crew. Cables, speakers, and mixing boards are a language I can speak anywhere. I attached the Propane tanks to the effect and gave it a few test bursts. I don’t think anyone told the sound guy’s that this was part of the deal but when they saw that they were safe they gave me the thumbs up. The parade was as big as any I have ever seen stretching for 5 city blocks of more featuring large elaborate floats, aboriginal drumming groups, Brazilian style dancers and a whole mess of other stuff. As the parade started we were tasked with providing amplification for the native drummers and singers. Although most of you know I have never really been a drum circle kind of guy but I was definitely in the rhythm. I worked out some beats on the effect the accented the drum beats and the drum leader Hakim was impressed with my ability to jump right in. The parade went on for what seemed like hours and I wished I had brought a few replacement tanks because I was blasting it so frequently the I was freezing the tanks almost right away. There was a small generator on the truck to run the sound and power the effect and with some tinkering in motion I placed the muffler facing the tanks providing some heat for the tanks. With some switching of the pilot light tanks with the accumulator tanks on the fly I am happy top say I was able to keep the pressure up all day! I had made a long control cable for the effect and when I saw a likely group of old folks or kids I would hand the button to them so they could fire the effect. Man I love that look on someone’s face when they fire the effect!
After the parade we went back to the assembly point to do some basic break down of the floats and to my surprise they were driven the 20 miles back to the Dream Community on the city streets… no need for a flat bed truck here. It was a full day and I crashed early with a smile on my face.
My last day here…
I was asked to give a talk to the Dream Community members about the Flaming Lotus Girls and the Burning Man and about 100 folks showed up. As I talked my friend here translated what I was saying into Chinese and from all the smiles and head nodding I could tell I was getting through to them just fine. I showed 8 clips from TV free burning Man that showed both the works of the FLG’s and all the work that goes into Burning Man. After a short Q and A session we went outside where we had set up the Flame Effect and lets folks fire it off. Oww Joy…
I was glad I brought a lot of business cards on this trip as I have been handing them out like candy. With both hands of course as that is the respectful way that it is done here. After the presentation all of my friends here got tougher in one of the artists residences called the goat house and we drank until the wee hours of the night. As I blearily headed to my crib I knew I would miss this place big time, as this has been one of my greatest adventures yet.
I fly home in the morning I have caution tape for all…
Your man in the field