2007 Taiwanese Cultural Festival

Kappa Puppet

Now in its eighteenth year, I finally made it to the Taiwanese Cultural Festival, just in time for my own ten-year anniversary in my love affair with Taiwan. While, there were some fun things about the festival – abbreviated puppet performances and Taiwanese aboriginal dancing, mostly it was a chance for Vancouver’s mainstream businesses to show off that they have a few brochures in Chinese.

Unlike many other people, this festival disappointed me.

I moved to Taiwan in August 1997 and, now that I am back in Canada, I dip into the occasional depression that comes from missing Taiwan. I missed the night markets, the oyster omelettes, the barbecued mushrooms, the tea houses, beautiful hilltop Jiufen (which, according to Wikipedia, was the model for the town in Spirited Away), the peanut-butter-and-tuna sandwiches (Taiwanese peanut butter is heaven), Taiwanese shawarma, the boat from Keelung to the Okinawan Islands, the coral-built Penghu Islands, the stormy nights on Green Island, the secluded feel of Taidung, the National Palace Museum, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, the fantastic bus service (with its crazy, hammer-wielding drivers), the awkwardly sexy betelnut girls, the friendly aborigines, and even the creepy-crawlies – from the ubiquitous cockroaches of all sizes and the dinner-plate-sized spiders to the geckos, toilet bowl slugs, and pigeon and termite infestations.

Yeah, sure, no one wants to talk about the grimy side of Taiwan, but the festival didn’t even come close to showing Vancouverites many of the cool things Taiwan has.

Foodwise, Vancouver’s festival had some stands with only a few goodies, most eye-catching being the Taiwanese sausages. Everything else, though, was plain old noodles, the bastardized so-called bubble tea (“pearl milk tea” is the correct name) and no-stink stinky tofu. In fact, I was standing right next to the stand before I realized it was stinky tofu. In Taiwan, you smell the stinky tofu before you see it. Grr. I also didn’t see any rouyuan (or bawan in the Taiwanese dialect). Did anyone else see any? We didn’t make it into the Noodles of the World area, where the mighty Taiwan beef noodle soup was being made, so maybe the festival redeemed itself in this area.

The artisan stands were rather boring, with mostly manufactured goods of the Hello Kitty variety. I am not into dragon-boat racing, so I gave that a miss.

The popular Barbie and Me exhibit was, oddly enough, freakishly interesting. Drawing in little girls and the creepy old white guys that love them, the Taiwanese link was that the Mei-Ling Factory in the Taipei County village of Tai Shan supplied Mattel with an army of the blonde dolls from 1970 to 1987. The villagers, after Mattel moved off to places with lower wages, still had love for Barbie and, in 2005, the Tai Shan Doll Museum opened. I managed to break into the crowds to snap a few photos of the artefacts on display.

The dyed denim Barbies:

Dyed Denim Barbies

The kimono Barbies:

Kimono Barbies

The crocheted Barbies:

Crochet Barbies

My apologies for not getting any photos of the Taiwanese farm girl Barbies, the Tang Dynasty Barbies, or the recycled waste product Barbies. My photos were too blurry or had some awestruck girl blocking the full view.

I had been really excited about the Taiwanese puppet exhibition. It was indeed the most worthwhile part of the festival, with dozens of glove puppets from Taiwan. The exhibit, however, had almost no captions explaining the history behind the puppets and their place in Taiwanese society. Perhaps, as the audience was almost predominantly Chinese, there was no need to explain what most of them already knew.

Here are photos of some of the demonic puppets:

More Demonic Puppets

My advice? Pick up some Taiwanese brochures and visit the real place. Better yet, sign up for a language school, learn Mandarin and walk down every street in Taipei.

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