Sat, Dec 25, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Traditional Taiwanese arts for Christmas

The National Center for Traditional Arts offers a day of old fashioned entertainment

By Diana Freundl  /  STAFF REPORTER

While some feel cheated by replicated historical buildings, others say the imitation cities create a feeling of nostalgia. Either way, it generally works in theme parks as a major tourist attraction.

The wood railing and red brick buildings of the National Center for Traditional Arts (NCTA,國立傳統藝術中心) were designed to resemble those standing 200 years ago. Their similarity, said deputy director of the center Fang Jy-shiuh (方芷絮), "helps people to understand the architecture and lifestyle of the past."

The NCTA park officially opened to the public in 2002 and offers a day of entertainment the whole family can enjoy. Situated along the Tungshan River (冬山河) in Ilan County the 24-hectare area is home to an education center, museum, theater, concert hall, outdoor stage, snack area and a boulevard lined with shops selling traditional arts and crafts. Established by the Council for the Cultural Affairs (CCA), under the Executive Yuan, the original idea behind the park was not for it to be a tourist attraction but rather a center for the preservation of Taiwanese traditional arts, Fang said.

"We need to protect the intangible culture left behind by our ancestors such as music, performing arts and handicrafts. The center allows locals and those that want to understand Taiwanese culture to be able to do so. It provides a way to experience culture in a relaxed environment," she explained.

Just how relaxed the park is on weekends is debatable considering it sees an average of 3,000 people on any given Saturday or Sunday. The weekdays are relatively quiet, with less than 1,000 visitors per day.

Factoring in a two-hour drive from Taipei, it is best to schedule an entire day to spend at the park, a trip which could be combined with a trip to the Tungshan River Water Park (親水公園). Every summer during the Ilan International Children's Folklore and Folk Game Festival, a ferry service operates between the water park and the NCTA. The east portion of the park is occupied by education and administration facilities, so the exhibition hall and theater, located in the center of the park, is a good place to start.

The museum is divided into five areas displaying collections of pottery, lacquer, bamboo, embroidery and the winners of the CCA sponsored National Craft Master Awards. The artifacts are mostly daily-life items dating back to the Qing Dynasty. A portion of the hall is reserved for special exhibitions that change each season. A new exhibition on calligraphy opens today and will run until March. Guided headset tours, available in English, Japanese and Taiwanese, are also provided for free at the museum's entrance. The two-hour tour takes visitors through the museum, theater and other points of interest in the park.

Across from the exhibition hall is a 400-seat theater where a different Taiwanese opera, music or comedic troupe is invited to perform each week. Apart from national holidays, performances are held only during the weekends and include both a matinee and evening shows. Performances are free but tickets must be picked up at the park entrance. There is also a 150-seat concert hall that, when not being used as a rehearsal space, is reserved for hand- and shadow-puppet performances.

Along the Folk Art Boulevard are many mini galleries rented by local artists. In addition to selling their works, the artists offer visitors a chance to test their own craft making skills. The DIY activities range in both price and difficulty staring at NT$100 for materials and a short demonstration on how to make a clay necklace, up to NT$800 for lantern painting. The craft shops are not restricted to traditional arts and accommodate contemporary crafts or variations on traditional forms. One of the most interesting studios is Rachel's Glass Studio where visitors watch a glass-molding demonstration by shop owner Cheng Hui-yi (曾譓憶) and later try their own hand at glass molding. Cheng also offers less-complicated DIY activities that don't involve using a 1,1000C oven.

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