A Night at the Opera

It’s not everybody’s cup of Chinese tea, but I happen to like Peking Opera.

In the 1980 and 90s when I made frequent visits to Beijing (Peking), I was often able to fit in a ‘night at the opera’.

Males often sing female roles in Peking Opera

Males often sing female roles in Peking Opera

Peking Opera is recognized as China’s national opera. It’s a performance art incorporating singing, reciting, acting and martial arts. It arose in the late 18th century and was fully developed by the mid-19th century.

Although widely practised throughout China, its performance centers on Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai. The art form is also preserved in Taiwan, where it is known as ‘Guoju’. It has also become popular in many other countries including the United States and Japan.

The famous heroine Mu Guiying in traditional Peking opera

The famous heroine Mu Guiying in traditional Peking opera

Alas, it does not have much of a following the Philippines. I once suggested to a member of the local Chinese community that we stage a Peking Opera to raise funds for the Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation. He said I shouldn’t bother as he doubted anyone would show up. A pity.

Peking Opera features four main types of performers. Performing troupes often have several of each variety, as well as numerous secondary and tertiary performers. With their elaborate and colorful costumes, performers are the only focal points on Peking opera’s characteristically sparse stage.

Opera star Kang Wansheng preparing for a performance

Opera star Kang Wansheng preparing for a performance

Peking opera is sung and recited using primarily the Beijing dialect, and its librettos are composed according to a strict set of rules. The operas tell stories of history, politics, society and daily life and aspire to inform as they entertain.

The music of Peking opera plays a key role in setting the pace of the show, creating a particular atmosphere, shaping the characters and guiding the progress of the stories.

Costumes are flamboyant and the exaggerated facial make-up uses concise symbols, colours and patterns to portray characters’ personalities and social identities.

Performers us their skills of speech, song, dance and combat in movements that are symbolic and suggestive, rather than realistic. Above all else, the skill of performers is evaluated according to the beauty of their movements.

A painted 'mal' face, or 'Jing', in a Peking Opera play

A painted ‘mal’ face, or ‘Jing’, in a Peking Opera play

Peking opera was denounced as ‘feudalistic’ and ‘bourgeois’ during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, and replaced by revolutionary opera. But after the Cultural Revolution, performances started again.

While still popular among the older generation, Peking Opera is struggling to attract younger audiences though it is attempting to widen its appeal by improving performance quality, adapting new performance elements and performing new and original plays.

With many Filipinos going to China on holiday these days I thoroughly recommend a trip to the local opera house if they get the chance. It’s quite a spectacle.

The Volkswagon L1 - 109 km per liter of gas

Volkswagon’s hyper-fuel efficient car?

By Robert Harland
The Volkswagon L1 - 109 km per liter of gas

The Volkswagon L1 - 109 km per liter of gas

I don’t know if it’s true or a hoax, but here’s a story doing the rounds that Volkswagon is about to launch a two seater car in China costing just US$600 (Php26,000). Even better is the claim it will do over 100 kilometers to one liter of gas.

All sounds too good to be true? But there may be something in it. Volkswagon’s PR people declined to comment for this story despite several requests for information.

If its true then I’m definitely going to buy at least two. Let’s look at what one will get for Php26,000.

The two-seater Volkswagon L-1 was originally a concept car designed to prove that one liter of fuel could deliver 100km of travel. It has a carbon fiber body so it’s super light at just 290kg, anti-lock brakes; airbag and an electronic stability program. It holds 6.5 liters of gas and has a top speed of around 120kph.

The power plant is a 299cc single-cylinder diesel engine positioned ahead of the rear axle and combined with an automatic shift controlled by a knob in the interior.

Safety was not compromised as the impact and roll-over protection is comparable to the GT racing cars.

All this for Php26,000? Come off it!

Numerous bloggers claim Volkswagen did a lot of very highly protected testing of this car in Germany, but it was not announced until now where the car would make it’s first appearance. Allegedly, the car was introduced at a VW stockholders meeting as the most economical car in the world.

But the Utility Consumers’ Action Network (UCAN) – a US-based non-profit, public interest consumer advocacy group – claims the bloggers have the price wrong.

UCAN writer Charles Langley says for  600 bucks he wouldn’t mind getting passed by cement trucks, risking his life on the freeway or being outrun by golf carts. But, unfortunately, he says the $600 price tag is fiction.

It is a real car he adds, but the price is closer to US$26,000 (Php1.09m). That sounds more realistic and like most Volkswagens these days, rather pricey.

Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that the project had been scrapped, but later restarted. It’s critical of the design saying that passengers will have to sit bobsled style with their legs around the driver’s seat. At this stage no information about where the car might be launched have been announced. And there’s no mention as to where the luggage will go.

Oh well, it was a nice thought that I might be able to buy such a cute new car for Php26,000. I’ll keep dreaming.

Masseur Milks New Opportunities

By Robert Harland

“I’m a high-class qualified breast masseur”, Mr. Xia Jun, CEO of the Household Service Company, told reporters in Shanghai. “And I message breasts in a very scientific way”.

Xia claims to be China’s first qualified breast massage therapist. He’s planning to promote breast-massaging services in the country and believes it offers a good business opportunity.

Mr. Xia demonstrating his techniques

Mr. Xia demonstrating his techniques

He said it was well known that breast massage can boost milk secretion in nursing mothers. In the wake of recent baby milk formula scandals many more mothers want to feed their babies naturally.

“There are male gynecologists and obstetricians so why not male breast masseurs,” he asked.

It it took Xia three months to get officially qualified as a “breast massage tutor” with a license from the China Employment Training Technical Instruction Center at the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.

He said the instruction center was more reliable compared with private training institutes in Shanghai. He is now training his employees in the correct techniques which takes between ten and 18 days.

“For just 500 yuan (Php3,300) an hour, let me and my qualified staff boost your milk production.”

Mr. Xia claims that men are better suited to being breast messieurs, but not everyone agrees. A medical researcher said there was no difference between men and women learning breast massage skills. He added that the key problem is whether mothers are willing to accept masseurs at all.

Mr. Xia’s services have not been universally welcomed in Shanghai.

“It’s disgusting” said local resident 24-year-old Xu Boshi. “What kind of husband would allow another to massage his wife’s breast? I’d rather study the techniques and do it myself. Anyway, I’m dubious about Xia’s professional and scientific skills because his training course only takes a few days.”

Dr. Hou of the Shanghai No. 1 Maternity Hospital added “it’s not necessary for a nursing mother to employ somebody else to massage her breast. She can boost milk production by doing it herself.”

So far Xia hasn’t had any requests for his new service, but said he remains confident.

Wok the Dog

By Robert Harland

Would you eat dog meat? Perhaps, if it’s that or starve. But I think most of us would prefer not to see man’s best friend on the dinner table.

A dog is wrapped for sale at a market in the Baiyun district in China's southern city of Guangzhou

A dog is wrapped for sale at a market in the Baiyun district in China's southern city of Guangzhou

Dogs have been eaten in parts of Asia since time immemorial. In South Korea alone it’s reckoned there are around 6,000 restaurants serving over a million portions of dog meat a year.

Dogs on their way to market a South Korea

Dogs on their way to market a South Korea

In Vietnam, I’ve seen cages on street corners containing dogs bred and reared purely to end up on the dinner table.

In China dog eating goes back thousands of years, but these days with more and more middle class Chinese owning dogs the notion of eating what could be a pet is becoming distasteful. China is now considering a law to outlaw eating dog meat.

But many ask why ban eating dogs when we eat pigs and cows? What’s the difference?  A growing army of Chinese believe that dogs should be treated as pets and not food.

In South Korea there’s been a substantial increase in the number of protests against eating dog meat. The Korea Dog Farmers’ Association was recently planning to stage an open-air market in Seongnam City, just south of Seoul, but it was canceled following growls of protest from animal rights groups.

A South Korean child protests against eating  dog meat

A South Korean child protests against eating dog meat

“This is making our country an international laughing stock, and making the whole world mistakenly believe that all South Koreans eat dogs,” said Park So-Youn, head of Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth.

“Canines are the animals emotionally closest to humans. You can’t just publicly celebrate killing and eating them,” Park said.

In 2002 when South Korea co-hosted the FIFA World Cup, French actress-turned-animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot said she received thousands of death threats for criticizing the practice of eating dog meat.

Last week, the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2018 Winter Games to the South Korean county of Pyeongchang. Will South Korea once again come under international pressure from animal rights organizations? The IOC declined to comment for this article.

There is also the cruelty aspect of the dog meat trade. Devotees believe the meat is richer if the dog is beaten to death to release the blood into the meat.

And many Asian men are convinced there are medicinal benefits from dog meat. They say it enhances their sexual ability.

But these days there’s always Viagra — it’s proven to work, it’s not cruel and it’s probably a lot cheaper than a slap-up dinner with Rover as the main course.