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Dungeons and dragons at Taiwan puppet eatery

Get up close and personal with monsters and watch knights and princesses fall in love – all whilst dining at a Taipei eatery that specialises in puppet theatre.

by: Ben Tai and Christine Lu: Reuters | 05 Jun 2008

Taiwan's See-Join Puppet Troupe Restaurant serves up the local cuisine, alongside the island's rich tradition of puppetry, which spans three decades.

At the modest one-room restaurant hidden down a narrow alley, almost 100 hand puppets are displayed in the front window and more than 20 wooden figures are propped up beside the tables ogling customers' orders of fried squid and chopped chicken.

A colourful stage is set up in front of rows of wooden tables and chairs. Rehearsals spice up weekday meals, and performances take place on most weekends.

"In the urban area, traditional puppet performances are becoming less and less," said restaurant owner Bill Chen, "so I provided this restaurant for puppet lovers like myself, or foreign visitors who are interested in Taiwan's traditional culture, this restaurant makes the performances more approachable."

Dinner and a show
Chen wrote story scripts, designed lighting and sound effects that better suit with the restaurant setting and which involve a lot of interaction with customers. In some cases he sticks to puppetry tradition. In other cases, he tries new forms.

Other members of the restaurant puppet troupe include drama students, factory workers and sales people, all keen to keep the Taiwan art form alive.

"Puppet shows originating from Taiwan are not commonly seen, This artistic industry could diminish soon. It is a very special art," said diner Hsieh Chia-da.

At the restaurant shows, puppets talk directly to audiences, walk out of the stage, and offer a friendly handshake. The puppets also host birthday parties.

On performance nights, entrance costs T$300 ($10). Customers also have a chance to learn the techniques used to operate the puppets.

Chen said many of his customers are foreigners keen to soak up Taiwanese culture, but the locals also show up to relive childhood memories.

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