Friday, June 16, 2017

Si Bheag Si Mhór

Over at the Starry Plough, this always comes to be played as a waltz. But I don't really notice the nuances of it when it's played in such strict dance rhythm. I like it much more as an air. Si Bheag Si Mhór (Shee-bag Shee-moor) which means Big Fairy, Little Fairy has this very charming lull in the part A and then climbs to a climatic swell in part B. After being enveloped in the soothing music, the second part always lifts my soul to new heights.

The first few notes already places you in the calm grass plains in the sun. I can imagine so much of the breezes in the wind that ruffles the grass. Despite so much breeze, everything still melts away. It's like Ed Harris' rendition on the guitar. He plays a much calmer one overall and doesn't have that extra life in the second part but the atmosphere he creates is so soothing.

Here's a short rendition of mine here in my house in Mexico City.

I only go through it once but I keep thinking of the spinning waltz couples in slow motion. Right now I always like to play it like there's a particular spin where when you're dancing in a couple's embrace, there is nothing else but you and your partner lifted into the serene clouds. Towards each end of the first and second part of Si Bheag, the tune gently puts you back down to earth. Do you hear those steps gently placing you back down?

Pete Huttlinger's video here has more of a nostalgic feel. Thinking of times past. This music goes through an old house and looks and lives all of the photos over the fireplace and all the memories of the times when children ran through the house. This rendition is slow enough to incorporate all of the harder struggles that happened... that somehow this tempo allows for a fuller palate of emotions.

And lastly with the TinWhistler brothers, a fantastic duo I found a few months ago, they combine their low whistle and guitar in a rendition that builds up the energy of the tune very gradually. It has the same feeling of being in a room with only yourself. The energy is calm and then after some time more and more family and friends join you and before you know it, there's food being set on the table and all of the plates and chairs lined up.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Struggling to Make Money Abroad, Mexico Part 2

I call this stage Mexico, Part 2. I returned for another six months in Mexico starting on June 11th. Before that, I needed to renew my visa so I went back to my parents in California for a week. It was a week of nothing but family, friends, and shopping. Now I'm back here in the Mexican capital, Mexico City and my current struggle is: How do I support myself abroad? 

Exploring my options, I've decided to go the Internet route. I'm going to keep on chugging along here on the Internet and dig my way to fresh water. Here are a couple things I'm currently digging into:

Blogger. This is the site that I'm starting my blogging with (if I haven't archived and transferred all my posts onto my own website yet). Inspired by the stories of Caz and Brian Lofrumento, I'm going to keep on posting and updating my website. It gives me joy thinking about this website as part of my own business. I never thought I'd create a business but that's the mindset I have to have. Archiving and crafting my history here on Blogger will at least let me keep a public journal for my family and friends to follow but also my own record in case I would like to pursue a Master's Degree in music or language. From this blog, I hope to document more and more of my musical journey as well as my language learning journey.

I've sent in my application yesterday. I first discovered this website while trying to look for language learning resources. So many people redirected me to this. In the past, I was pretty miserly with it because I only took a few classes of Cantonese and Indonesian and then quickly gave up. Part of the reason was from embarrassment... but now that I'm here in Mexico City, I've gotten some experience teaching English to foreigners and people like Benny Lewis from his website, Fluent in 3 Months, advertised this option for earning money abroad. Another company I'm going to apply to is wyzant.

What is Darmasiswa

Me and my two friends after watching an all-night Calonarang, a Balinese purification ceremony with stories of Rangda and the Barong.

The first thing that let me get a taste of the traveling bug was the year-long Darmasiswa scholarship from the government of Indonesia. So if you want to go to Indonesia and delve into another country's art, language, and culture, I suggest signing up for this scholarship. The deadline always comes around on the February or March to apply for the scholarship that begins in September of the same year (or earlier, for certain 3-6 month programs).

On their revamped website this is how they describe the scholarship, 
 “DARMASISWA is a scholarship program offered to all foreign students from countries which have diplomatic relationship with Indonesia to study Bahasa, art and culture. Participants can choose one of selected universities located in different cities in Indonesia. This program is organized by the Ministry of Education and Culture (MoEC) in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA).” 

You can choose from a list of locations and universities. For me coming from the USA, this was a continuation of my gamelan music studies from Santa Cruz, California. I got my first choice of location which was at the university of ISI Denpasar on the island of Bali. My focus was in what they label as "karawitan" or traditional gamelan music. The whole year experience was nothing I could have imagined... living in Bali was beyond my wildest dreams. The people that I met, the friends that I made, the ceremonies I got to see and participate in were nothing less than extraordinary.

A friend of mine performs in PKB, the annual Balinese Arts Festival
Indonesia is one of the most generous countries in the world for doing this. While you are there, they give you connections to the university as well as money for living expenses. Being in Bali, I used up at least $2000USD from my savings for extra food and music lessons. The government has already done a lot for you. If you stay there on your own, you need to renew your visa every month which can be a hassle even for people used to it. So much so that there are people you can pay to do the process for you.

And the best part is you are doing this with other Darmasiswa scholars. We were about a group of 10-15 scholars. Some of us went on our own path but about 10 of us stuck together as we learned the arts and the Balinese and Indonesian languages. Of course, I also got stuck into some bad habits. I wish I pushed myself more to meet more Balinese and Indonesians. I was too embarrassed to make mistakes in a foreign language and make a fool of myself. That's what I needed to learn the language and the etiquette. The Indonesians are a very friendly people. Despite how much money from tourism can darken certain Indonesian mindsets, there are hundreds more Indonesians who are willing to help you.

A word of advice, travel consciously and keep a journal. It's very easy for this to be a year-long vacation. So know that there will be plenty of time to rest and have fun. This is Indonesia opening its doors to you. Learn about them and learn with them how they can connect with you and the world. I'm still wondering how I can help them out. For now, I'm teaching gamelan here in Mexico City, but I think the least they want is for the world to know about their land and culture. All my friends were curious when I came back...

Wearing Balinese ceremonial clothes at a Balinese family ceremony

The Official Darmasiswa Website

If you have any questions about the process or anything you have read on this website, feel free to contact me through Facebook: Brandon Yu

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Tepoztlán & DIa de San Juan Bautista

This is a post looking back at my travel to Tepoztlán, Morelos, Mexico.

Back in 2013, I met a woman in Bali who was researching children and their learning process through cultural rituals. She was a Mexican professor abroad doing research recommended by her friend to come to Bali. For me, it was great to be around somebody who was also curious in the learning processes of art and music.

Three years later, I sent her a message on Facebook and she gladly welcomed me to stay a bit in Tepoztlán. Two days after I got into Mexico City, I met her at a Metrobus stop in the south and she and her husband drove me towards Tepoztlán. Oh, am I so glad she gave me a taste of what it was like on the country/pueblo-side of Mexico.

Her name is Yolanda and when I saw her in the summer of 2016, she was just as with the spirit of a child as before. When I talk to her, I feel like she is going to tell me the grand secrets of Mexico to me. There's something about the way she says “Ah yes, but have you seen...”, “It IS very beautiful, yes?” Once, she was also showing me a collaboration of her's with a university in Colorado, USA. The children on the USA side and the children on the Mexican side teamed up to study and give children a chance to delve into the world of photography. By giving children a new tool and a project to work at, they also could see how children perceived their world. What were the places they valued and what were the places they avoided.

I also got to meet her family including her new dog, aptly named Bali. The dog is a xola, a breed native to northern Mexico where Yolanda is also from. Bali would get happy all of the time seeing us in the house... so happy, in fact, that her tail would wag so wildly that it brought the rest of the half side of the body with her. So if you woke up in the morning in the kitchen and she spotted you, she would power walk to you as her hips swayed madly from side to side and the rest of her body would be focused on walking in a straight line. The closest equivalent I can think of is a fashion model in fast forward down the catwalk. I was so amused that I played catch with her and chase her around the house just to see that mad swaying walk.

There were three main attractions for the rest of my time in Tepoztlán:
  1. The central market
  2. Climbing up to the Tepozteco Pyramid
  3. The celebration for Dia de San Juan Bautista (Saint John the Baptist's Day)

The Mercado
I'm not too avid of a shopper or collector, though nowadays I think I'm starting to look out for gifts I could give to my friends now. However, in the marketplace, there were tons of trinkets but the one that stood out to me were these beads. The mysterious thing about them is I also was attracted to the Tibetan Buddhist mandala paintings and some of these have a similar feel to them. Perhaps their spirituality and way of thinking is not as far as I thought...

I came back from the mercado with a few presents for my niece. I had some bracelets for my nieces. One with brown and gold-colored beads and another with these smooth but also sharp pointed black rocks.


One thing Yolanda told me to do was to visit the Pyramid and what a trek. I had no idea what kind of hike I was getting myself into. The entrance towards the pyramids doesn't really declare itself except perhaps by this tree and the stone bricks. Walking up one of Tepoztlán's streets, the road starts to shift to dark, wet stone. In the summer is when the wet season is. At the bottom of a hill, I was greeted by a magnificent tree trunk split in half. Climbing up the hill, there were tons of steps upon steps with tree roots and rocks guiding the path towards the top of a hill. There may have been some parts of the path that are a bit treacherous but nothing too challenging. The whole hike took me about an hour towards the top... and once you get to the top, what a view! As I stepped onto the pyramid, I was accompanied by some meditators who sat facing towards the pueblo of Tepoztlán. I didn't meditate, but I just tried to imagine how the temple was used and how the chambers could have felt like being inside them when the pyramid still had its complete form.

As more tourists started approaching the pyramid, there were more of these wild raccoon-like creatures that started to edge their way toward us. Looking for food...

Dia de San Juan Bautista
When I scheduled my trip, I looked at the calendar to see if there was a Mexican holiday I could overlap with. I found Dia de San Juan Bautista. Before coming, I asked Yolanda about it and she said she could ask when the time got closer.

What eventually happened was our trip to San Juan. People gathered for mass at the town church and afterwards people would go to a house to celebrate and eat. I didn't quite get a picture of the whole church exterior but I saw this amazing lasso made of churro. I could feel at any moment, the churro vendors could use their churro lassos to rally up cows and horses or any person lookin' to cause trouble in these parts. Yolanda and I were the first to enter because the tables and the chairs were not even set up. The ground wasn't level at all but with a bit of wood and dirt shuffling, all of the guest furniture was ready – about 8-9 long tables and many chairs. This is the day to have a big feast with as many people as you can get.

The food was rice, nopales and stewed beef. And like many Mexican places, you have an infinite supply of tortillas and salsa to go with that. For drinks, there was juice but the new thing for me was pulque.

This was the first time I drank pulque. White, creamy-looking, a teeny bit viscous. Pulque is an alcoholic drink native to Mexico. It is another drink that comes from the almighty family of agave. The taste was a bit sour but this pulque was sweet enough. Another surprise that came was this whole band of merry people showed up not only to eat but to also sing and play music. Part of the band included one man who looked and dressed like Mark Twain. He told me he's been living like a bum for a while. Another man looked just like a my English theatre professor from UC Santa Cruz. In this situation, he was singing and playing the harmonica. They had a whole book of Old Songs of Mexico or something like that title. It also had a brown and black cover that made it look like it was published in the 50s or 60s. I realized during the meal these guys were from the Milano Centro Cultural Comunitario.

It was also on this trip to San Juan that Yolanda revealed to me an interesting animistic ritual. A few days after I would leave Mexico City, she said she and her family and her guide would climb up the mountain by San Juan to give the mountain some offerings. There were three things she was to give. One was the very decorated breads, another was flowers and I don't remember what the third one was...

Monday, June 12, 2017

Finding Mexico City, Music Music Music

Since January, I've been able to explore Mexico City a bit more. Little by little I'm discovering the various barrios, the colonias, the histories, the poverty, the crime, but also the great warmth that emanates from all the Mexicans here. I guess for a bit of perspective, let me backtrack to my first week here. Not the trek that I made with my family when I was about 8 years old in Tijuana, but actually the trip to Tepoztlán during my last birthday.

I first came here last June. Planning to get myself acquainted with Mexico I decided to visit one of my friends in Tepoztlán. Se llama Yolanda and her connection actually goes back to my years in Bali when I was introduced to her by another one of my friends. Knowing Yolanda as an anthropologist who was looking into children and how children learn their culture through rituals, I stuck close to her.

Tepoztlan viewed from the tepozteco pyramid
Eventually, I got the opportunity to visit her here in Mexico.  Go towards Cuernavaca in the south and turn east. Tepoztlán is a small pueblo about an hour drive from Mexico City but it also has some ex-patriots living here. The central market is accustomed to tourists. One of the main attractions is climbing the mountain to the Piramide. This is the view you can see from the pyramid but of course I would recommend you actually experience the view from there. You can see Tepoztlán cradled in between the mountains here while Cuernavaca is in the distance to the right of the picture.

Visiting Tepoztlán was a blast but the main thing that I got out of this trip was Yolanda's recommendation to check out a son jarocho class. She claimed only the old people practiced this music but as I know today, Son Jarocho is a very popular living tradition from the state of Veracruz.* From this class, the teacher recommended I look into the classes back in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Gamelan Barudak and a wayang kulit performance, June 2016

Thus, I found the group Son de la Bahia, named from the San Francisco Bay Area and its community. and began my foray in Son Jarocho. This gave me a chance to keep on working at playing Son Jarocho as well as making a couple connections with the Vega Family / Los Vega and Patricio Hidalgo who I later got to learn more from here in Mexico.

One other large musical connection I made was with Gamelan Barudak / Indraswara. Yolanda gave me the name of their teacher, Fitra Ismu, and from there we got to see a performance of him, his gamelan, and a shadow puppet show (wayang kulit).

Saint Patrick's Day Parade 2017
One final music connection was through visiting the festival for Saint Patrick's Day (Dia de San Patricio). With that, I found my current Irish music group that I get to play with. I think it was the wizard hat, robe and the costume design that attracted me to them. Here is a video (Daoine Sidhe) of them in action. Although, I don't think you can hear them playing music. The bagpipes (gaitas) are from a different band.

Ever since then, I've had a blast playing music and going to fandangos, gigs, and more with these artists.

* - There are also different types of Son from other parts of Mexico. Geographically, Son Jarocho extends from the city of Puerta Veracruz all the way to the south past Los Tuxtlas.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

When I Hear Gamelan Angklung and Semarandana

Balinese Angklung
The Balinese interpret the gamelan angklung as very sad music and only within the past year when I was in Bali have I started to empathize with that same feeling. Otherwise, you would the very opposite when you first hear it (see example below). The angklung is the gamelan used for funerals; the gamelan of death. When I first started to play it, the only thing that would come to mind is how much like little bells everything sounded. I could only hear the higher instruments (also because our bass-line instruments were out of tune with their resonators) and so that made me think of happy music. Once I was able to sing the bass melody and see the funeral rites performed did I start to feel sad inside. At the same time, I think the music has a cheerful tune to let the spirit move on to it's next phase of life.


Balinese Semarandana, in Çudamani
The Balinese Semarandana has a very alluring and mystical quality for me much more powerful than all other gamelan I've encountered. I wonder if this has partly to do with my nostalgic connection to it as the first gamelan I played during my first trip to Bali. The first program I joined in Bali with the Çudamani Summer Institute in Pengosekan and I had so many great memories with the people I got to learn gamelan with as well as my teachers and Balinese peers. But this feeling of elicited hypnotic nostalgia came to me even during the first day. I had probably heard the gamelan once before in Berkeley but that set didn't elicit the same emotion as the set at Çudamani.

The first piece we learned to play was for a dance exercise, Tari Desar Wanita Satu. I can remember the first patterns that I interlocked with on the gangsa. I can remember the warm sun and the ceramic tiles we sat on. The large gamelan instruments covering us as we sat cross-legged on the floor (or tried to). The Çudamani practice space with its large trellis overhead hung flowers for all the bees and butterflies. The teachers in front of us directing and listening to our every strike of the golden keys.

It still feels like a very protective womb. Once I hear the sound of this Semarandana set, I feel encased in a setting where no where else have I experienced such comfort. There is also something to be said of the program at Çudamani where we were very warmly offered one of the tastiest Balinese lunches I've ever had during my stay on the island. Surrounded by our Çudamani study mates and our Balinese family, the music of the Semarandana brings up these memories from the well of sweet memories from Bali.


The people were just as nourishing if not more than the food itself. The home of Pak Dewa and Ibu Emiko was very supportive in a world we were just getting to know. We were all Bali babies at that point.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Translating Bali to America: Thinking of Pop-Up Museums

There was so much art as a way of life in Bali. Everywhere I went, everyday I walked around, I saw people playing music or making offerings. Then at the temple ceremonies which numbered more than one or two a month, I would see dances, shadow puppets, and so many people all the time.

The culture is so rich in Bali. I look back now while I am in America and it feels so empty and isolating. Where are all the carefully crafted objects, movements, or sounds?

The Balinese Life, Religion and Art

     When I lived in Bali, the main attractions for me were the temple ceremonies. I still think of them everyday I live my life in America. One of these ceremonies are odalan, or temple birthdays. When there was a full moon or a new moon, the local Balinese of the village would go to their temple during this time. As an outsider, it seemed to me like it was mandatory for people to have parties. All your neighbors that you knew would come to this one place to pray and socialize. During the event, everybody would wait for the priest to come so people can start to pray and the next step in the whole ceremony could begin. But while waiting, you would either find your friends or enjoy the gamelan music and dance.
     The women of the village had to make offerings and bring it to the temple. Thus all the women at the temple would see all the work every other women did. There was so much tradition compacted into this one event that happened every six months. Add on other major celebrations and you have the Balinese going to these temple ceremonies much more often than we may see our neighbors next door.

Translating into America

If I tried to explain it in American terms, it's like many of our holidays we have on the calendar had all of the district come together in one area. There would be people playing music and performing dances and plays. There would be so much of the practice of art everywhere. Everything we would see during these events would contain something very deep and unique to a part of our locale because the people who attended were mainly within a 5-10 minute driving distance away. The performers would also be from the same locale.

So where is this in America? Where can you find these art forms? Mainly in festivals and museums. They're very specialized locations and times so the exposure is very compact but I think the outreach needs to be extended even more.

So the question then becomes how would you get people to gather in one place and practice "culture"? I would like to try bringing the place and time towards where the people currently hang out.** This is downtown. We could have activity tables where people could participate and learn about other cultures through practicing the basics of art.

These types of events already happen (but are not focused on spreading awareness about different cultures). One thing that I have found near to me is my Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. It's a museum that recently implemented a philosophy of having people practice art while they discover other artists' work within the museum. Then there's an event that I would like to model from: The SCMAH Pop-up Museum.

Stories + Art + Objects

I wonder how it would go if I focused on art from different cultures/locations and had people try their hand at it? How easy it was for me to jump into a music or dance rehearsal in Bali, I wonder how it would go on the streets of the San Francisco Bay Area...


** (Ultimately, I would imagine these multi-cultural centers in every bigger neighborhood/district so people can easily walk to these places and be able to meet their neighbors everyday. Once these multi-cultural [or single-cultural] centers grow, their art can dialogue can also evolve past the basics. I dream of a day when we can truly see how diverse and different everybody is - to see all the special qualities that make us so complex. And then from there we can see how similar we truly are.)


- Discover a pop-up museum
- Ask the MAH if they've ever done culture-centric pop-up museums
- Update: Read Nina Simon's The Participatory Museum (+ Online Resource)