I remembered that I wanted to buy a drum and some gongs. I had seen a great store in Tainan, but I figured carrying them around wouldn’t be necessary because Taipei would have a store too since there are lots of people using drums everywhere there is a temple, which is everywhere. But after making some inquiries I discovered that most of the instruments are made in the south and when people want ritual drums they special order them. That’s cool but it didn’t help me. Any way, people thought it was still possible but no one knew where.
So I decide to go to the Puppet museum, take a look and ask there. I had read that the museum also has a puppet making workshop. I figured-- puppet troops use drums, and crafts people are likely to know each other. When I got there, the workshop was right next to the entrance, they said they weren’t sure about buying drums, things were changing, but they drew a map for me.
Meanwhile they told me that the older puppeteer and puppet-maker, who seemed delighted by my request, was a master of a particular marionette god who does exorcisms (I forgot to write down the name of the puppet). This god is a popular character from legends, which is what puppet shows are often about, but remember, in Chinese culture legends are in fact based on actual history to some degree, and the majority of gods were actually real people with real biographies at some point.
After they drew the map for me I asked about the music playing in the background. The younger puppeteer got very animated and started telling me about his grandfather’s contribution to the art. Originally the puppets spoke mainly Taiwanese (I believe I read that they also speak something local people would hear as classical Chinese when certain characters enter the stage). The puppeteer’s grandfather was visiting Shanghai in the late 1940’s and he spent a month just listening and imitating Chinese Opera there. At the end of the month he had to flee back to Taiwan with the KMT (the Nationalists). But in that time he discovered that the fast pace of Chinese Opera vocals were better for fight scenes. Then my story teller picked up two puppets, dropped into a well trained horse stance, and made the two puppets posture and fight for me! I didn’t get that on video, but here is a little taste of the museum, barely edited in it’s youtube glory (sorry the quality could be better).
Oh, and the map worked, they sent me to a god carver who had some drums for sale and I bought two.