We were walking around a couple of Saturdays ago and came across the Yunlin Puppet Museum. Puppets have been around for quite a while and have embedded themselves within the Asian culture. It just so happened that the small city we lived in had its own museum. We saw a large crowd outside of it and walked across the street to check it out. Greeting us were hundreds of puppets, set up almost as if they were taking a class photograph. We were amazed at the level of detail, and how lifelike each puppet looked. A few were more cartoonish, but the majority resembled real men and women, just, you know, warriors.
There appeared to be some sort of raffle going on, as different posters and prizes were being awarded, so we decided to head into the museum. The entrance and exit were through the gift shop of course, and we kicked ourselves when we saw journals with the warrior puppets faces on them, as we had just purchased a plain journal the day before from a stationary store. We went into the first viewing room, and were greeted with many displays of how the puppets were made, and different items that the artists hand craft for each one. No detail was too small, we saw examples of head gear, clothes, weapons, and heads, all with the tiniest details stitched or carved into them.
There were also many historical photographs displaying how they used to travel around to perform their show. The stage was set up in the back of a flatbed truck that I assume they drove from town to town to perform out of. There were video clips playing from one of the episodes of a TV program, these are very popular in China and Taiwan. At the end of the room we saw another crowd gathered around many warrior puppets that were striking a pose. I believe these were some of the more famous ones from some of the shows. They looked intense.
So after touring the museum, we talked to a few people that were sitting at a table handing out programs. It had a list of many different shows over a 2 week period under the heading “Yunlin International Puppet Festival.” I asked the woman how much and she understood. She replied, “free.” We could not believe that we would have a chance to see an actual show for free!
We headed back outside where a few different puppeteers were walking around performing and taking pictures. Liz asked to take a picture and the guy happily obliged us. After I took a picture with him, he pointed one finger towards the sky and said something in Chinese. I didn’t understand at first, but finally I pointed my finger up too, and he immediately placed the puppet on my hand! The one finger is used to control their head, eyes, and mouth. People started taking pictures of me holding this puppet like I had any clue of what the heck I was doing, but we got a nice picture out of it.
After leaving the museum grounds, we headed across the street and saw a group of art cars parked, so we went over to check them out. Plastered all over the cars were images of different warrior puppets, and a lot of rhinestones to make it all sparkle. It was definitely the strangest art car exhibit I have ever seen.
The night’s show started at 7:30 pm and it was around 2, so we went home to wait. We fell asleep, and woke up too late. Lucky for us, we only missed one of around a dozen different shows that were going to be running every night at that time for the next week and a half.
The next day we went with a few of our new friends from church and watched the show. I wish more pictures had turned out, but the lighting they used just bleached out any kind of detail in almost all of them. The show was cool, but kind of long. Any sort of dialogue was lost to us, but the fight scenes were really cool. When 2 puppets fought and their swords collided, someone put two metal rods together and created a shower of sparks. Also at one point a puppet was beheaded, and another shot a huge fireball and torched all of his enemies.
The puppeteer that performed was one of the most famous in all of Asia, and had been performing on TV for decades. He came on stage before and after the show, dressed in a bright red sequined shirt that shimmered when he moved. He showed off a few of his tricks, which included tossing a puppet into the air and having it land upright back on his hand. He also voiced all of the different characters in the show, while others moved them around.
We were very fortunate to arrive in Huwei almost at the exact time this all began, and we will never forget this experience.