LIFESTYLE articles for AVON ...March / April issues

Uzbekistan circus family entertains at Taiwan theme park

by Dan Bloom

special to LIFESTYLE

Dameel Usunov is a circus performer from Uzbekstian in the former Soviet Union who has been working at a theme park in southern Taiwan for the past six months. He came here with his wife and ten year old daughter, and they plan to stay for six months. An acrobat and comic actor by profession, Usunov is here with his wife Petra, his daughter Katrina, and two elder brothers. Yes, it's "all in the family" for this circus company from Uzbekistan.

The family and two other performers present three shows a day, seven days a week, under the circus roof in Chiayi County at a theme park called China Culture Village. Buses bring customers from Taipei and Kaohsiung and Taichung in the morning and afternoon, and the Usumov family presents an Uzbekistan-flavored circus show for the mostly elderly tourists from all over Taiwan.

One of the star attractions of the show is Katrina, a little girl with a smile that can light up the darkest room! Visitors love having their pictures taken with her and her family after the show, and she does her best to attract customers for the NT$100 photo shoot with a Polaroid camera by shouting out in Chinese and Taiwanese.

"Come one, come all, get a picture with us! Just one hundred dollars!" she barks out, like a professional circus girl.

Her father, Dameel, 35, explains their situation: "My daughter, when she was two, she came with us to India where we worked in a circus, and she learned to speak Indian. Of course, now she has forgotten it, but she has learned English and some Japanese now, and here in Taiwan she is learning Chinese and Taiwanese, too. The tourists love her! She has that kind of wonderful smile!"

Katrina looks like a Russian Shirley Temple, a little girl so cute and full of enthusiasm for people and life that one can't help but wonder what the future holds for this charismatic actress.

"Visitors from Taipei and Kaohsiung, love to have their photos taken with her, and her personality has become a main attraction for the acrobat family," says her mother Petra, 32.

Dameel studied business management at college in Uzbekistan, he said, but his mother worked for a local circus there. So, first his older brother became interested in joining the circus to make some money, then his second brother and then Dameel.

"It's a job. it pays the bills," Dameel says in perfect English. "And I like it. I like performing and I like travelling. It is very intersting to see the world this way."

Dameel and his family also enjoy living and working in southern Taiwan, he says. "The people of Taiwan are so kind and friendly. This has been a great work experience here for us. We hope to come back again some time, too!"

"Taiwan is really special, the people here are very warm and kind, and even with the language barrier, we have met many kind and friendly people," Mr Usunov told this reporter on a recent Monday afternoon. "For me and my wife, and my two brothers, and our entire troupe, living and working in Chiayi County has been great. We love it here!"

The Usunov family climb ladders, fall off, ride bicycles on ropes suspended above the stage, fly on trapezes, dangle from long ropes and give a performance that is both entertaining, humorous and exciting. Their love for performing and interacting with the theme park's visitors, mostly middle-aged people from around the island, is evident.

Damell also told me about some of the cultural aspects of Uzbekistan.

"One of the most important holidays there is called Navruz Bairam," he explained. "Navruz is a very ancient holiday, which was celebrated long before Islam formed as a religion. People were worshipping the nature and believed in special power it had. Enchanted by this mysterious day they were dancing, welcoming the coming spring. In hot Central Asia, which is where my family is from, the holiday is special."

"In Uzbekistan, this day is a time for people to relax and appreciate the beauty of the nature around them. People don't work and spend time in visiting each other and participating in street parties. Families with their children usually go out to the big squares and streets, where they can see free public concerts and presentations," Dameel explained.

"In addition, acrobats from roaming circuses called 'Dorboz' perform on the streets of the cities and entertain the public," he said. "In a sense, we are a Dorboz circus performing here in Chiayi County!"

Dameel said he enjoys eating Chinese food and likes many of the local Taiwanese dishes, too, such as black chicken and cho dofu. He told me that in his own country, there is a special food called "sumalak".

"Sumalak is a cream-like food, which looks like a chocolate pudding, but in fact it has no sugar in it and is made from chopped wheat grains. It is interesting that although everyone cooks the same dish, using the same recipe, taste of sumalak is never the same. The taste very strange, just like your cho dofu here. At first, no one likes it. But it comes with time. After your fourth time, you try sumalak, you will understand the taste and like it. I wish that Taiwanese people can someday taste our sumulak from Uzbekistan!"

The China Culturre Village is located in Jungpu in Chiayi County, about 30 minutes away from Chiayi City in the countryside facing the central Taiwan mountain range nearby. If you ever have a chance to visit the theme park, by all means, stop by and have your picture taken with Dameel Usunov and his family. They will bring a smile to your face, as they brought a smile to mine!

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Treasure Island

How about F1 car races for Taiwan? Yes!

As Taiwan tries to build itself into an international and oceanic nation, there are many ways to attract international attention and media coverage. One good way might be to build a Formula One (F1) Grand Prix race track in southern Taiwan, perhaps in Yunlin County where there is plenty of land available for this project.

Shanghai in China already tested the waters recently with a superb Formula One track, and the race that was held there in September caught the media attention of the world. Surely, a Grand Prix race track in Yunlin County (or some other rurual area) would be a good way for Taiwan to enter the international arena of sports culture. It would become a landmark on Treasure Island.

ROC politicians Cheng Yun-peng and Chen Ching-chun already asked the central government to start planning for a Grand Prix race track here on Treasure Island. It is not an impossible dream, and in fact, several years ago, work got underway in Yunlin County for just such a race track. However, the project now needs more support.

Shanghai built its F1 race track in 10 years, and now it is Taiwan's turn to something similar. Perhaps by 2010 or 2015, Taiwan's Forumla One dream can come true.

World media coverage would be immense. CNN and BBC and ESPN and major sports channels would send teams to cover the event, which could be held once a year or more.

The Shanghai International Circuit is a US$240 million 3.4-mile modern race track with seating for over 250,000 spectators. Surely, the race track in Yunlin County could be built in a similar way, with government and public support. And Treasure Island will never be the same.

Image F1 racers like Rubens Barrichello, racing for Ferrari, calling Taiwan home. In addition to sites around the world, the F1 culture now has tracks in China, Bahrain, Brazil and Japan. Taiwan can join this group of forward-thinking nations.

As the China Post newspaper said in a recent editorial: "The Grand Prix auto racing circuit is a synonym to fame and fortune." It can happen here in Taiwan, too.

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American expat in Taipei publishes "The Trumpeter of Bull Mountain"

by Max Suzuki

special to LIFESTYLE

Writing under the pen name of W. Martyn McClave, a longtime American expat in Taipei has written a 300-page memoir of his life in the USA and Taiwan. McClave came to Taiwan in 1991, to work as an English teacher, and he later met and married a local woman, with whom he has one son, now seven years old. The author himself, a native of the state of Michigan in the USA, is in his 50s and calls Taipei his home now.

Titled "The Trumpeter of Bull Mountain," the book has earned rave reviews for its style and grace. The action of the book takes place both in North America and in Taiwan, where McClave has often worked part-time as a street musician playing the trumpet. Maybe you saw him once in an underpass or while walking into an MRT station?

McClave's book is available online and from the author himself via email. Just send a note to homart.borsli@msa.hinet.net and you can order this inspiring, entertaining and insightful book.

When asked what brought him to Taiwan, McClave told LIFESTYLE in an email interview that he had earned a degree in English Litereature in the USA, "so I had to use the degree in some way. I came to Taiwan to teach English."

The book McClave has written is the story of his life. He wrote it, published it himself and is now promoting it in the local media.

In addition to writing a 300-page memoir, McClave has also written a book for children, "Forever Young," using poetry and black and white line drawings as illustrations. When asked if his son likes the children's book, McClave answered: "My son, who is seven now, does like my children's poems and pictures, but he is a big fan of 'Captain Underpants'. My writing is a little dull for him, I think -- too clean, by comparison."

Energized by the positive response to his first published book, McClave says: "I am working on a new book now, one that will be much more commercial oriented, in terms of book sales. My wife will do the translation of it into Chinese, but it will also be in English. The working title is 'The Tale of Wingy Borsli.' It's a fictional account of the life of a trumpet-playing squirrel, with 50 illustrations I did. Hardships, heartaches, reconcilation, that sort of thing. No sex, though."

When asked about the changes he has seen in Taiwan over the 15 years or so that he has been here, coming and going, McClave said the much of his feelings about Taiwan are in the book, and he hopes readers will find things in the book that show an interesting light on Taiwan.

"Today, as things stand, I'd say that things aren't as good as they were when I first arrived here 14 years ago," he says. "But then again, I'm older now and so my feelings may have more to do with my age, 51. Regardless, there seems to be a different political climate these days, more conservative, more reserved than before. Taipei is no longer the rough and ready town it used to be."

McClave said that he views his self-published book as a kind of "thick greeting card," for friends and interested readers. He printed up 300 copies in paperback, plans to sell them online and at local used-book bookstores NT$135, including postage costs.He hopes the recent glowing reviews in the English-language media here will help sales a bit.

"The local reviews and support here in Taipei have given me enough incentive to keep writing and listen to the advice of people of admire and respect," he says. "Yes, I intend to keep writing. More books are on the way."

McClave, who has often played music on the streets, in clubs, and in underpasses of Taipei, says that he intends to perform at a new local bookstore, which has just opened, and also hawk his books there, too.

"If things go well, I might take up busking again and perhaps try to sell my books when I do. But right now, I'm practicing -- getting my chops back."

McClave's book is largely a humorous account about trying to find the meaning to life. According to the author, his treks in the mountains in California, are always spiritually-tinged journeys, painful as they are.

"I would say that the meaning to life revolves around the procreation of the species -- all species. The meaning to life is life, but don't quote me on that, I'm not a scientist. I'm also pro-choice, if that matters. As a human being, I would say that the meaning to life is whatever you want it to be. And looking around the world today, there seems to be no shortage of a diversity of opinions on that subject. For myself, the meaning of life is not so important. I'm over fifty years old now, it has been a good ride and the remaining years are all gravy."

Well said, and the book is well-written. Readers in Taiwan can find it online via a Google search.


Treasure Island

Vacation time in Taiwan is a treasured time

By David Henry Newman

It's summertime, but how many Taiwanese will actually take a summer vaction? And for how long? A weekend or two? One week, perhaps?

Is this long enough to decompress from 51 weeks of 24/7 activity? Compared with European counterparts, Taiwan citizen's annual vacations are meager indeed.

In Germany, even the lowest-rung factory worker gets 30 days' paid vacation on average (or 24 days by law.) In France the norm is five to six weeks. Australians get 30 days paid vacation by law and take 25 days on average. Yet these countries maintain high rates of productivity. Could it be that their employees work more effectively and are less stressed due to a saner balance between work and personal life?

Maybe Taiwan should move in this direction. Yes, on Treasure Island, let us all take more time to enjoy the summer months and make time to relax, play, sightsee, travel and decompress.

All work and no play is counterproductive. We humans need downtime to recharge our batteries, define our priorities, and just relax. Downtime is an important part of one's lifestyle. There is nothing wrong with doing nothing. In a book titled "Work To Live," Joe Robinson in the USA makes a powerful case for less work and more play, rather than living exclusively for work.

Taiwanese need time off for rest and repair, to focus on family life, and to distance ourselves from work problems. There's more to life than "put your nose to the grindstone". It's all about balance. Here on Treasure Island, too!

So this month, September 2004, make some time for yourself and your loved ones, your family and your friends, your town, your city, your island. We are indeed lucky to be living on Treasure Island, so let's treasure our time here as well.

A day, a long weekend, a nice week. Vacation time is important time on Taiwan Island!