Sinalunya Interviews: Huei Chiang
When someone would go to a concert of the Empordà Chamber Orchestra, he or she would possibly be surprised to discover that the first violinist and assistant concertmaster is a young lady from East Asian origin. Her name is Huei Chiang (江蕙) and she was born in Taipei in 1980. She is also a talented writer, her other huge passion besides music. She has been living in Catalonia since 1999, when she accepted such a position in the Empordà Chamber Orchestra. As a Taiwanese native but also a long time resident in Catalonia, she has the perfect profile to analyze both societies and how globalization is getting them to be closer every passing day. Sinalunya has approached her with this purpose and we thank her for taking the time to answer these questions.
Q: You have been living in Catalonia for more than 10 years now. What is your perception of the Catalan society? How was integration in such a different society for a young Taiwanese lady? And what was the reaction of the local people?
R: It’s a tricky question! I wouldn’t say that in general the Catalan people are open to foreigners; people are nice and friendly in this region, but it doesn’t mean that they would try to make you “feel like home” in this country. From my part, in my fifth year in Catalonia, I thought that it was time for me to learn some Catalan, I wanted to feel more integrated, so I took Catalan classes. Some people were really impressed by an Asian girl that “tried to speak Catalan” and they were happy to answer me in Catalan as well, but some others just kept on speaking Spanish to me, like it didn’t matter to them… People are hard to please!!! (Joke)
Then I realized that speaking the local language is not the main thing which makes you feel being a part of a society, it helps, but what’s really important is if we “want” to understand and communicate with each other! Here I’ve seen the worst and the best qualities of people; I have some very good Catalan friends, and I don’t think that they would like me any less if we speak Spanish to each other!
Q: You were hired as first violinist and you were only 19 years old at that time. Were your fellow colleagues with the orchestra surprised to have you there? How was their acceptance? And what has been the evolution of your role there?
R: I don’t really know what they thought of me during that time! Maybe too young to be working?! But I was a good player then, and they were my first friends in this country!
What I’ve been doing in the past 11 years is to take as much advantage as I can from this work: I love playing as a soloist and I’m very fortunate to have many chances to be accompanied by my own orchestra. They are my colleagues who support me, and I’ve learned so much by being on the stage as a soloist -controlling one’s nerves and mental state, building up one’s presence and self confidence…
When I first entered the orchestra, I was a first violin tutti and then became the assistant concertmaster (the second chair in the first violin group), which means sometimes that I also do the concertmaster’s work while he is on leave. Being in that chair is a challenge, because then you really feel the responsibility right on your shoulders -how can you make your group sound better together? And be 100 % sure for your orchestra because they rely on you. All together it has been a good training for my personal growth.
Q: Catalonia has always been an open nation that has looked beyond its borders, but now nearest markets are becoming difficult and East Asian ones can play an important role in getting out of the crisis. What would you recommend to Catalan entrepreneurs and businessmen if they had to go to Taiwan in order to deal with Taiwanese people and culture?
R: Taiwanese people are fascinated by foreign cultures. They used to be very American influenced, and then both the Japanese culture and the Korean cultures have also played quite an important role in the recent past. In the last 15 years, every time when I get back home I’m so amazed to see how international the place has become. In big cities you’ll find European cafes, restaurants even better decorated than here, and getting good Italian, French or even Spanish food is no rarity. As Taiwanese are open to things coming from the outside, people like to change their taste every now and then (the speed of fashion is much quicker there), basically nothing stays the same for more than 2-4 months, and people would have to keep renovating, reinventing their products in order to catch the public’s attention. Catalan people are very smart in relation to economy, what I would suggest is to understand Taiwanese people’s tendencies and needs: healthy products such as olive oil and grape seed oil, they also appreciate wine, cheese (in the supermarket you can get all kinds of cheese, possibly more varieties even than here!). As for dealing with businessmen there, I really have no idea, because there are all kinds of people! Some people can be direct and honest, some can be “never reject you” in front of your face, but they wouldn’t do what they’ve promised, but they will always be friendly and polite with you.
Q: Talking about Taiwan, is there something from there that you are terribly missing here? And what would you take with you from Catalonia if you would move back to your native country?
R: I think all Taiwanese people would say the same thing: FOOD!!! The food is wonderful there. I also miss the people who I love (family and friends) and all the traditional Chinese holidays -by doing the celebration you really notice that the people have great respect towards our ancestors, our gods and ghosts. We treat the spirits, the unknown, with respect and indirectly that makes the place full of warmth. Every Chinese holiday has an interesting, sometimes even romantic story behind it. Unlike the western holidays, Chinese holidays have very little to do with religion but more with seasons and mythology.
Another thing I miss are the bookstores in Taiwan, you will only see this there: Every bookstore is like a library, there are tables and chairs around, you can choose any book you want, sit down and spend the whole afternoon reading it till you finish, no one will even come and ask you to buy the book! That’s what we think “normal” in bookstores, and the stores are always full of people and quite! The result is that people always buy books as well, but then you can really choose something you must have rather than buying some books you are not quite sure about.
And what would I bring from Catalonia, food wise? As for presents I often bring torrons, pimientos de Padrón, polvorones… but if I do move back to my country, it would be my whole living experience! My professional experience in playing and Yoga! I learned Yoga in Catalonia, and I am also a trained Yoga teacher.
Q: Are there any cultural interactions between Taiwan and Catalonia that you are aware of? Do you think that it is something to be explored? Any ideas?
R: I don’t think there is such an exchange between these two places, a lot of Asian people still haven’t heard of “Catalonia”, they know the city of Barcelona, and artists such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, the football team FC Barcelona… Of course there are things to be explored such as art and gastronomy.
Q: What are your highlights of your life and career here? And what are your projects for the near future?
R: What a question! I didn’t win any special “gold medal” to have golden lights shining all over me! I’m a violinist and I enjoy playing, when I do a good performance and feel the audience responds to me, this makes me complete, these are the moments I appreciate in life.
As for my projects- I have something that I have to keep secret yet, because I want to be one of the first people who present such a thing in the world. When I get it finally planned and settled, I’ll be glad to publish the news on the site!!! (Carl Jung talked about the collective unconsciousness, so I may not be the first one in the world who has had this idea).
Q: Finally, please let us know a little bit more about yourself by telling us your tastes:
A book: About Love and Solitude by Krishnamurti
A movie: The Shawshank Redemption
An actor or actress: Audrey Hepburn
A song or musical piece: Bach – Ciaccona
A performer: Billie Holiday
A composer: Franz Schubert
A landscape: L’Empordà
A dish from Taiwanese cuisine: Everything!
A dish from Catalan cuisine: Arròs negre (black rice), Fideuà, Cargols (snails)
A wish: To experience and live every moment
The above questions are too difficult to just answer one, especially about music and musicians; there are so many things which I love, so many composers and performers… So when I name one, it means- Everyone, Everything!
Finally, let’s enjoy the incredibly talented Huei Chiang on violin together with the Orquestra de Cambra de l’Empordà, conducted by Carles Coll, playing the Faust Fantasy op.13 by P. by Sarasate