Sowing the Seeds of Dreams
As more and more cultural immigrants plant their roots in Tainan, Taiwan's first capital city is slowly emerging as the island's creative and cultural Mecca.
Sowing the Seeds of DreamsBy David Huang
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 504 )
Amid the factories of Annan District, an 800-seat performance venue has risen, the area's first privately established concert hall. And off a picturesque city lane sits a museum dedicated to seeds – unique in all of Taiwan.
The founders of these cultural venues are just two examples of Tainan's newest breed of residents, who are sowing the seeds of dreams they hope will one day bear fruit for the island's oldest city.
Dream Land Concert Hall
Amidst the rice fields and factories of Tainan's Annan District, a splendid music park has taken shape, its entrance marked by a koi pond in the shape of black and white piano keys.
A sign posted there reads "Music Foundation: 2,500 km," noting the distance between Tainan's Dream Land Concert Hall and the Nippon Music Foundation headquarters.
Each year, concert hall executive director Lin Hung-hsing leads a group of kids studying music to Japan to vie for recital opportunities, allowing the kids to start honing their onstage performance skills at an early age.
"Taiwan is a country that has the talent but lacks the venues," Lin says.
A graduate of Senzoku Gakuen College of Music in Kanagawa, Japan, Lin studied fine arts during his school days but also studied piano continuously since he was a small boy, owing to the expectations of his father.
But he never really had a chance to perform in public, since he wasn't part of a formal music program. It is this that has long inspired a dream in him to provide a performance venue for Taiwan's young music and art students.
A Stage where Hard Work Can Be Seen
That dream recently came to fruition with the opening in June of Dream Land Concert Hall, the new venue Lin worked for five years to make a reality. The 807-seat Dream Land is larger than many municipal-level music facilities.
Up on the stage sits a NT$7 million Steinway piano.
"I waited seven months to get this piano," Lin says. "I hope that by getting the kids playing on professional-grade instruments from the start, they can really see themselves as future musicians."
Lin returned to Taiwan 16 years ago and started out with preschool arts programs and training student orchestras, singlehandedly putting together an educational institute that now has 300 students. But he was reluctant to allow his performance space to become a mere audition hall.
"If you want to improve, you have to practice. If you want to improve, you have to perform," Lin told his students. Dividing them into five levels, he allows the top two levels to perform individually, while the entire student body puts on group music and dance performances.
"Only through performance can hard work get noticed," Lin contends. The Taiwanese education system is obsessed with competing for first or second place, he feels, but is not as concerned as it should be for students who work hard trying to make progress. as they're growing up. His aspiration is to "provide a performance space that will motivate students to progress."
Dream Land has only just become a reality, but Tainan National University of the Arts student Huang Shih-che has been a Lin protege for 14 years. Lin brought Huang and four other students to live with his family when they were in junior high school, to gain an appreciation for art in their lives and to learn how to interact with others.
Upon graduation, Huang hopes to work at Dream Land Concert Hall and help even more Tainan residents reach out and grab hold of their artistic dreams.
Cian Ci Seed Museum
"Have you ever heard a sandbox tree seed pod explode?" Chao Ying-ling asks, shaking a pumpkin-shaped seed pod that gives off the sound of a maraca, adding, "When it blows up, it sounds like a bottle rocket going off." The explosions from this palm-sized pod can continue on and off for up to two to three minutes.
The 60-year-old Chao and her husband have been involved in ornamental landscaping for more than 30 years. Some 20-odd years ago the family began amassing a collection of southern Taiwan's tree seeds on a plot of land on the corner of a little lane off Dongfeng Street near the campus of National Cheng Kung University.
They did not deliberately purchase the seeds and seed pods in their inventory, but gathered them from the grounds of companies, school campuses and homes where they did their landscaping.
"When a seed pod or seed falls to the ground, don't throw it away – I'll come pick it up." In that way, Chao quietly put together a collection of specimens from more than 200 different varieties of trees commonly seen in southern Taiwan, from Pingdong County north to the Tropic of Cancer, and they are now on display in what is known as the "Cian Ci Seed Museum."
Cooling the City
The double door at the main entrance is made of scavenged wood slabs. The low surrounding brick wall is constructed of used bricks from demolished old Tainan buildings. These unique "pork loin bricks" are smaller than most and sport two semi-spherical indentations in the middle.
"Not only can we reduce the weight load, but we can also use glutinous rice as mortar, which helps bring down the temperature and is more environmentally sound than using cement," says Chao.
"I'm hoping to send out a message that everything can be recycled and reused," she says, gesturing to some seed-distilled mosquito repellant for visitors to try out.
Asked if this is her dream, Chao only says it is a happy coincidence that her interests and her work coincide. What was once a strictly private endeavor went public three years ago when a friend suggested it should be opened to the public to give interested residents a glimpse of the seeds' beauty.
"If you really want to talk about dreaming, I hope to have an influence on my neighbors and do some more greenification, filling homes with plants and bringing down the temperature in the city," Chao says. "I hope to have a world that stays at 26°C without a single air conditioner."
Translated from the Chinese by Brian Kennedy