Erenlai - Conor Stuart (蕭辰宇)
Conor Stuart (蕭辰宇)

Conor Stuart (蕭辰宇)

Born in Belfast. Just finished his Master from the Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature at National Taiwan University (NTU). Currently lives and works in Taipei. 

Tuesday, 16 November 2010 00:00

Making green power easier in Portland: an interview with Lisa Libby

Lisa Libby serves as the liaison between Mayor Adams and the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to develop policies that are focused on long-range planning and carbon emissions reduction. Key policies include the Portland/Multnomah County Climate Action Plan and the Portland Plan.

Portland, Oregon's commitment to sustainability is built on a foundation of leadership set in place generations ago by civic leaders who recognized the importance of protecting this unique place in the Pacific Northwest. From the statewide land-use planning laws that created urban growth boundaries to the pioneers of light rail who chose smarter transit over another freeway, Portland has benefited from the courageous decisions made in years past.

Portland continues to define the urban sustainable experience for other American cities. In just the past two decades, Portland has innovated and experimented its way to the forefront on everything from green building (with the most LEED-certified green buildings per capita of any American city) to environmental stewardship (bringing ecological approaches to treating stormwater in a way that saves money and protects our rivers and watersheds). Portland boasts the highest rate of active commuters (bicycle and pedestrian commuters) in the U.S., a statistic built on smart investments in bicycle infrastructure and a fact that yields a healthier and more active community.

Under the leadership of Mayor Sam Adams, Portland is charging forward with ambitious and aggressive plans to be America's living laboratory for urban sustainability. Our climate action plan will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Our economic development strategy targets 10,000 new jobs, with a focus on clean technology and renewable energy. Portland is now home to the U.S. headquarters of Solarworld, Vestas, Iberdrola and other international leaders in the green economy. Portland leaders are working to grow industries of the future and build on the city’s reputation for developing environmentally responsible solutions so that its citizens can sustainably live a life they enjoy and guarantee for future generations.

 

 

 

 
Tuesday, 02 November 2010 00:00

Documenting his own reality: The films of Kidlat Tahimik

The first film directed by and starring Kidlat Tahimik is Perfumed Nightmare (1977). He is a Phillipines born director who released this film with the help of Francis Ford Coppola. Although his films were shown as part of the documentary film festival in Taizhong at the end of October, they do not follow the style of the conventional documentary, and incorporate what could be called performance art, or a performative rendition of memory, experience and emotion.

The director, in what seem to be fictionalized sequences, traces his memory of setting out from the Phillipines to France and then the US. The director seems to attempt an experiential or sensous recreation of the trip. First setting out from his imagination of the West, a kind of Occidentalist structure with its foundation in Voice of America broadcasts and dealings with American soldiers and later recognizing the error in this imaginary of the West. The film employs a lot of surrealist imagery to fragment the logic of the narrative and the events on screen quite often happen in contradiction to the narrative voice of the film.

The film seemed to be countering the notion that modernization in the guise of progress is a good blueprint for what in the West is referred to as "The Third World". The protagonist who had been eager for progress to occur rescinds his membership from a fan club of an immigrant to America who helped to build the Apollo space shuttle. This signals his realization that the American dream is not the path to happiness. At first he is awed by France but as he grows accustomed to life there, he realizes that technological progress does not endow places or things with the meanings and emotions that places and things are endowed with in his hometown. The faceless encroach of the supermarket on the 4 seasons market confirms for him this absence of meaning that he comes upon in the West. Despite his ever more caustic tone in his films, Tahimik, in his interview with erenlai.com, insists that he is not anti-Western in his sentiments, but rather feels that the contemporary world could benefit from the application of aboriginal values to modern life, the indi-genius way, as he calls it. A theme he goes on to develop in his film Why is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow (1994), suggesting that "old ways" are essentially an untapped resource in terms o_MG_0912f conservation and ecology; what he calls "an inbuilt brake system" Although used in an ironic tone in this later film, he adopts the dichotomy of first and second world on one hand and "the third world" on the other, dividing the world into "indigenous" and "Western" peoples, he seems to buy into this way of categorizing the world, which in essence is a result of a Western ethnocentric psyche. He traces the recent social and political events of the Philippines through the eyes of his son, Kidlat. He seems to be continually harking back to an imagined "non-Westernized" Filippino nation, embodied in his mind, in the Igorot aborigines. This is stressed in another of his films, his 1981 film Turumba, narrated from the perspective of a young boy called Kadu, gives an account of the dehumanizing effects of the European system of mass production on the village where Kadu lives. The local craft of Papier-mâché prepared for a local festival called "Turumba" is distorted and homogenized by a German woman who starts to export the craft works to Germany en masse. What had originally been a family enterprise laden with tradition, becomes a sudo-sweat shop, and the models that had been used before are discarded for the 1971 Munich Olympic Games mascot. Kadu's father who originally had been the Kantore at the festival every year becomes the boss of this enterprise and becomes obsessed with accruing status symbols of wealth, including a TV, a Mercedes Benz, foreign travel. This material wealth is contrasted to Pati, a machete maker, who lives simply but happily without the pressures of trying to prove wealth in material possessions.

 

The theme of both of these films along with Tahimik's debut film, Perfumed Nightmare, talk of a disillusion with the Western "developed world" and a pastoral longing for a simpler life uncomplicated by a imported system of values. These films reminded me somewhat of the short story 蕭蕭 (Xiaoxiao) by 沈從文 (Shen Congwen). The short story, in one interpretation, conveys a longing for life on the margins of civilization, as yet untouched by modernization. The old society's rules and laws although seemingly chauvinistic and oppressive are regulated by the institutions and the men and women within the society. This is represented within the story by the horrible things we hear about how women are treated in the society in which Xiaoxiao lives, but the relatively benign treatment of the protagonist herself, which denies us a feminist reading of the story. This suggests the pre-Western society had already evolved an independent "Chinese Modernism", the potential of which was lost with over-exposure to Western modernism. The film like this short story seem to be praising this cultural wilderness while simultaneously acknowledging its coming destruction. Both the film and the short story question the prizing of the modern above the native, and seem to point to an already void desire to found an alternative Eastern modernism, independent of the perils of what is often called "The American Dream".

 

Some excellent bits of the first film include the Filippino cast "whiting up" in a scene where they act as the white guests at a farewell party that make Kidlat feel small, prompting him to say:

I am Kidlat Tahimik, I'm not as small as you think, nothing can stop me from crossing my bridge.


Another scene, earlier on in the film, is where religious self flagellation is portrayed, and Kidlat goes to pray to the Virgin Mary, who speaks to him in a very crude manner, revealing the snideness of an icon who demands the pain of self-flaggelation. Mary describes Kidlat in the garb of self-flaggelation as "sexy". In his interview he discusses in more detail his relationship with religion, particularly Catholicism. Which he sees not as an enemy but as a circumstance, which has interfered with the cultural brake mechanism in the Philippines.

His apparent view of Western culture is summarized in his first film as follows:
 
 
The white carabao is rare, it is born against nature. The white carabao is beautiful but inside its cold and aggressive. One day, Kidlat, you will understand that the beauty of the white carabao is like the sweetness of the chewing gum the American soldiers gave you.

This seems to me to indicate the illusion created by Eastern imagination of the Occident and the subsequent disillusion that it begets.

A Clip from Perfumed Nightmare

Monday, 01 November 2010 00:00

A Whispered Life (2010) Marie-Francine Le Jalu, Gilles Sionnet

This film dealt with superfans of Japanese writer Osamu Dazai (太宰治). At first sight, given that the focus of obsession for these fans is an author and his novels, these fans might seem to transcend our expectations of the vulgarity of worshipping popstars, or cultural icons, it is soon clear, however, that this is not the case. The fans' obsession differs little from the teenage girls who scream hysterically at boybands. Throughout the course of the documentary the fans consistently glorify suicide and death, all the characters in the film were slightly repugnant in this way. Suicide in the film was ironically portrayed as another way to become eternal, similar in a way to the very egotistical act of writing or to the very concept of American Idol. The dramatic pathos of suicide is an attempt to endow their empty lives with meaning; an attempt to supercede the boundaries of life and death. I remember one of my teachers telling us about a Chinese poet who tried to launch his fame by commiting suicide after the completion of his book, in an attempt to mimic the suicide of other literary greats in Chinese literary history, like Qu Yuan (屈原) and Lao She (老舍). His plan failed because his writing was so bad, so he garnered attention by his suicide but his work was quickly forgotten. Each of the characters implied that "they were writing" and are attracted by suicide and mental illness as a way of marking their imaginary genius. This marks their lives with melancholy and depression, which they suppose to be central to the creative project when it in fact is seemingly incidental to creativity. The character in the film who writes her blog believes herself to be writing something of great value, and ties this value to depression and suicide, but what she is writing is the mundane description of common depression. The film echoed Dazai's call for "Love and Revolution", the directors went on to explain that they had interest in Dazai for the French qualities of this very call. This call rang false for me though, as this urge to mark one's life in the taking of it, is in essence a strong statement of one's belief in the world; one has to believe in something to be subsequently disappointed in it. Every one of the fans seemed to me to be no different from those desperately untalented people who attend American Idol auditions with so much self-belief, only to realize that talent is not a state of mind. The message that the documentary communicated to me, was similar to that of shows like American Idol; to embrace the ephemeral nature of life, and renounce attempts to hold onto this world beyond the bounds of death and to live averagely.


Film Rating 4/5

Monday, 01 November 2010 00:00

I Shot My Love (2010) Tomer Heymann

This film won the audience award at the Taizhong Biennial Documentary Film Festival. It is an Israeli film which is compiled of a series of home videos, but not in the conventional sense that we regard "home videos". Heymann uses the camera to initiate serious discussions with his mother and his boyfriend, as well as recording their present lives, and bodies. His boyfriend is German and what I liked about the film was that it refused to focus on the "gay" relationship, instead focusing on the gay "relationship"; Tomer and his boyfriend, Andreas, discussed their relationship as two people and their families are both accepting of homosexuality.

 

The difficulties and the focus of the documentary was love across two different cultures, especially across the sensitive bounds of Israel and Germany - with Andreas pursuing a policy of ignorance is bliss in terms of his possible Nazi heritage.

The film was interesting because of its openness and reluctance to cower away from an invasive honesty; this included the boyfriend's discussion of life after being abused by his priest, and the doubts and worries he felt entering into a relationship in which he was willingly giving himself as well as the bitter pessimism of the director's mother about love given her divorce. The boyfriend's curiosity about himself and his relationship with his parents and Tomer is intriguing again for its honesty to his experience of emotion. He also points out that Tomer often saves up the "serious" conversations for the camera; this was not only pointing out the artificial nature of the presence of the camera recording "normal life" but also hinted at Tomer's retreat behind the camera, a safe place from which to carry-out serious discussions, which suggested a lack of self-exposure, unlike the vulnerability of the mother and the boyfriend, constantly subject to the objective gaze of the camera. In this way, he plays the role of the director, as opposed to revealing himself.

 
The perspective with which Andreas examines his own role as "victim" and his rejection of the victim mentality stands in stark contrast with the caustic post-colonial self-victimization of Tahimik, who was also featured in the film festival as a focus director, throughout his films.

 

Film Rating: 5/5

Monday, 01 November 2010 00:00

The crazy thoughts of silent lightning

An interview with Kidlat Tahimik, a movie director, writer and actor born in 1942 in the Philippines.
 
 
Is referring to your work as “documentary film” justified?
Tahimik: For a long time I never really thought of genres. I did my first film Perfumed Nightmare and then my second and third. Then in 1989, suddenly, I was invited by the Yamagata documentary festival to show a certain film I’d made, and I said “You mean I’m a documentary maker? But my films are not like the BBC!" I always thought that that was the mould for documentary. Over time the documentary has relaxed what its outer shape and inner shape is supposed to be. So I guess I am a documentary maker, documenting my crazy thoughts.

What do you think is the most common misconception of your work?

Tahimik: My works are very open ended, so I don’t know. I think for a close-ended world that’s where most misconceptions will occur. I like it if there are 200 spectators and 201 interpretations.
 
Tahimik Junior: I think one of the things is that they sometimes perceive my father’s work as anti-western and I think it’s not so much anti-western as pro-indigenous. The other side.
 
Tahimik: Our side. Like for example my mother watched my first film and asked me “Why did you make such an anti-American film?". And then I said to her, “Ma, it’s not anti-American, it’s more oriented towards finding our own inner strengths. We have been subdued by American education, maybe in a certain sense we’d never been aware that we were overly Westernized because of our Western curriculum, and because Hollywood’s curriculum. American idol has been in our country long before American Idol became a TV program.
 
 
In your film Turumba, you make reference to the nativization of Western religions. What do you think of the massive influence that the church plays in the Philippines today?
 
 
Tahimik: I look at Catholicism as a circumstance rather than an enemy. I have a feeling that it has contributed a lot, although its ideals, like many great religions are quite lofty and worthy. But because it doesn’t really belong to our people, it tends to be interpreted at our convenience. So when you read about all the corruption in the Philippines, I think it is linked to the Catholic idea that you can live a completely sinful life, and at the moment of your death you have an act of attrition and you just go to heaven. So Marcos is in heaven. So it may have interfered with our cultural brake mechanism. Maybe that’s why there is a seeming anarchy in our country.
 
 
Do you think that the term “The Third World” has transformed in meaning in recent years or been reclaimed?

Tahimik: I didn’t really understand that it was a dichotomy, as opposed to the first and second world. I guess it’s mainly economic nomenclature. An indigenous chieftain in one of my films. He always mispronounced the word “indigenous” saying "We indi-genius peoples have been trampled upon, our indi-genius culture is looked down upon”. And I said “Wow! It’s a really cosmic mispronunciation.” to combine the “genius” with the indigenous culture. I think that third world juices can be harnessed for economic development. There is a lot of indigenous wisdom that can balance this world which has lost its brakes.
 
Listen to the interview here:   
 
 
For a review of three of Kidlat Tahimik's films see Conor's article: Documenting his own reality: The films of Kidlat Tahimik
 
 
 
 
 
Monday, 18 October 2010 13:14

楊富閔:「台客」文學新未來

楊富閔是一位閃耀的年輕文壇新星,近來出版了短篇小說集「花甲男孩」--- 包括駱以軍及施淑等多位著名作家與評論家,皆對此書大表讚賞。


Tuesday, 12 October 2010 00:00

Simply Filming Yanting

An interview with Taiwanese Director Chu-chung Pan (潘巨忠), co-director of the 2010 documentary "Green's 284 Blue's 278", which was featured in the 2010 Taiwan International Documentary Festival. The film portrays the daily life of an autistic young person, and in this clip the director discusses the difficulties encountered and the rewards of filming this particular subject matter.

Tuesday, 05 October 2010 17:08

Yang Fumin: The Future of "Tai Ke" Literature

Yang Fumin (楊富閔) is a promising young writer whose recently published short story anthology Huajia Nanhai (花甲男孩) was lauded by many famous writers and critics including Luo Yijun (駱以軍) and Shi shu (施淑) amongst others. His work captures the interesting duality of the Taiwanese psyche, with descriptions of folk customs and beliefs humorously juxtaposed to icons of popular culture in Taiwan, like Star Boulevard, BBS and the Wolf 125 motorbike. The satirical humour of his work is underscored by a note of compassion and self-identification which makes his work more human and touching than a lot of his predecessors. The proliferation of cultural references and the use of Taiwanese language structures make it a difficult but (with the help of a good search engine and Taiwanese dictionary or friend) worthwhile read for foreign students. This is an interview with him conducted in the Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature at which he is currently undertaking a Masters degree.

{soundcloud http://soundcloud.com/erenlairicci/final-yangfumin}

Yang: I come from Tainan, and I’m just the kind of person who likes writing… When I say Tainan I mean the countryside. Actually I’m just a normal guy, just kind of a typical Taiwanese young person. I grew up in a good family, I grew up going to cram schools, studying, taking exams, went to university, graduated with flying colours and got into graduate school. I haven’t had any major problems in life, nothing really bad happened to me.

Nick: So you would say you grew up in an average Taiwanese family?

Yang: Well yeah, my family is average, but everyone’s family environment is different and particular to them, so you can’t say it’s “average”, but no matter what the peculiaraties, you can say that at least it wasn’t bad. However there were certainly some exceptional aspects to the way we grew up. One example would be because we lived in the countryside, so I have an interest in things related to temple festivities, including worship at temples, gods, ghosts and monsters. I like this kind of stuff.

Conor: Who do you think reads your work?

Yang: Who reads my work? People with an affinity with me, because I don’t really know… When I started writing…

Conor: So you were writing for yourself or with other people in mind?

Yang: I just wanted to write, and then I discovered if you want to write you have to publish too, to publish you have to enter competitions, so when I finished writing something I would enter it in a competition. So I would put it like this, I wanted to write so I started writing, somethings would bother me, so I wrote them out, in the style of a short story.

Conor: In your work you often seem to bring up Taiwanese…

Yang: …Folk customs?… I write about so much folk culture or customs that maybe it might come across as overly superstitious. But writing about that kind of thing I find is a kind of mal du pays, like reminiscing, the melancholy affection for my hometown that reminiscing triggers in me. And actually, I don’t really like these folk customs that much, I actually despise them. I despise them, and I grew up amongst these customs I’ve seen too much of them, I’ve also seen the negative side to the whole thing. When people think of temple festivals, they think of people on the margins of society, children who don’t study hard, with bad grades, so folk culture is stigmatized in a way. So when I was younger I kept away from it, but it’s only when I grew up that I realized that that is where I came from. So in the process of writing about it, I stopped despising it. I realized that it is still a part of who I am. I not only stopped despising it but I accepted it as a kind of energy… one of my motivations for writing.

Conor: Has coming to Taipei influenced the writing process or the content of your writing?

Yang: After coming to Taipei I’ve only written one short story, Huajia (〈花甲〉), the last story in the anthology. I still haven’t really become accustomed to the pace of life in Taipei, the busyness of it, and I’m also taking my Masters degree, so I feel I should focus on my studies for the moment. I still haven’t really settled in yet, so I get nervous.

Nick: What does Huajia Nanhai (《花甲男孩》) mean?

Yang: Well, as you know, Huajia (花甲) is one of the stories in the anthology. Nanhai (男孩), because it would be too simplistic to just call the book Huajia (花甲), so I added Nanhai(男孩)… Huajia (花甲) means 60 years old, and Nanhai (男孩) is the word for boy, so the title means 60 year old boy providing a paradoxical contrast, which I thought was interesting.

Nick: Does this refer to yourself?

Yang: It’s not me exactly. I think it’s a work that reflects the way I think.

Conor: In the book you use a lot of Taiwanese language, in terms of sentence structure and vocabulary. How do you feel about foreigners reading your work? Is it strange for you?

Yang: Actually I’d be very interested in whether you both were able to understand it, or if there are lots of things that you can’t quite grasp.

Conor: I think that there were certain bits that were hard to understand, but if you just look them up on the internet you can find out what they mean.

Nick: In your work you mention computers and you also mention more traditional things.

Yang: Yeah, there’s a lot of very Taiwanese things, but also a lot of modern things.

Nick: Do you think these provide a contrast?

Yang: They do, but that’s not something I deliberately tried to write about, because this contrast is a part of our lives. In my own life this kind of extreme contrast often arises and you realise its absurdity. It is these kinds of contrast that I like, so I write them into my work, they have the effect of making people not sure whether to laugh or cry.

Nick: Do you think that Taiwan has a very Taiwanese identity?

Conor: Would you say your work is self-representative or representative of a common feeling of being Taiwanese?

Yang: Of course I think my work is self-representative. It’s not my place to represent Taiwan, but you could say I represent my view of Taiwan. My view of this imaginary place. Taiwan after all is just a place, an island.

Nick: How would you compare Taiwan literature to other Chinese literature in China and the Chinese diaspora?

Conor: What is the definition of Taiwan literature in your mind?

Yang: I don’t think I’ve captured this in my work. I’m still grasping for a definition. We’re studying Taiwan Literature now. In the process of studying it, you try and understand what it means. It’s natural for me to speak Taiwanese, so it’s not a contrived gesture. It’s natural, just like when I talk with you I sometimes use a bit of Taiwanese.

Nick: What do you like to do when you’re not writing, studying or working?

Yang: I like sleeping. Haha, I like walking but I also like watching TV a lot, but it’s not like I am addicted to it. I like watching the news, there is lots of news in Taiwan, don’t you think? 24 hour news channels, so there’s news to watch 24 hours a day. I’m pretty normal, I like cycling, riding my scooter and just generally being out and about. So I’m not a geek who just stays at home all day (awkward laugh).

Conor: How would your friends describe you?

Yang: Eh… well how would you describe me then? Haha. My classmates all say I’m good fun, and not a very serious guy.

Nick: I saw on the internet you styled yourself “the revolutionary Taike author who swam down the Zengwun River .”

Yang: That actually came from the publishing house. It’s kind of a marketing technique, it’s not really that dramatic. Embarrassing though it is to admit.

Conor: Would you like to publish more?

Yang: I think I’ll continue to write, but I guess that’s up to fate. I think continuing to write is more important than getting published. You write if you want to write and not just to get published.

Conor: Do you get any pressure from the publishing house?

Yang: No, it’s not everyone who wants to get published. A writer has to have a certain attitude towards their own writing.

Nick: Where do you get your inspiration for writing?

Yang: Inspiration? Like I said from life, from TV, from walking and from the my background and where I grew up. I write what I’m familiar with, I don’t write science fiction or detective novels, because I don’t have that kind of experience.

Conor: You mention death quite a lot in your work.

Yang: I’m pretty scared of death actually because from when I was very young, I was often in contact with things related to death. Like for example in our institute we often hear the sound of funeral parades going down the street, the sound of dead people. An important part of my writing is death.

Conor: You write about spirits and ghosts? Are you scared of them?

Yang: I don’t write horror stories. It’s just part of the mal du pays and missing home. Everybody was together there, there was a sense of homely humanity.

Conor: Along with the nostalgia and the reminiscences there also seems to be a sense of duty and guilt no?

Yang: Yes…

Nick: Do you think this sense of duty is too much of a burden on Taiwanese people generally?

Yang: I don’t think it’s so bad, and I think for some people, they wouldn’t think of it as a burden or pressure, but rather they think it’s just what is right… Its of use to them. Sometimes it can be pressure, for others it’s helpful. It can make you more determined or it can be a burden.

Nick: Who has influenced you most in terms of other writers?

Yang: 100 years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and in terms of Taiwan, at my former university Tunghai University (東海) one of my professors was also a writer, Professor Zhou Fenling (周芬伶), I’ve read a lot of her work. However I’ve also taken courses like the Literary History of Taiwan, and I liked the majority of the authors we read, it’s part of the process of literary enlightenment. I’m a little bit embarrassed that I started writing without having read a lot of the work of other writers, after writing it leaves you slightly empty. So I think it’s necessary to read more widely, both Western and… it’s not even just about reading, but about broadening one’s horizons.


(1) Taike refers to a subculture in Taiwan stereotypically characterised as beetlenut chewing, with dyed red hair, wearing blue and white sandals.

Read an excerpt from the short story anthology below:

〈逼逼〉

Yang Fumin’s blog and 〈暝哪會這呢長〉

Update: Catch up with Yang Fumin here:

http://okapi.books.com.tw/index.php/p3/p3_detail/sn/72

conor_yangfumin

 

Thursday, 18 March 2010 16:29

Foreign students in Asia: Comparing identities in Northern Ireland and Taiwan


Conor Stuart is currently a Masters student at Graduate Institute of Taiwan Studies at National Taiwan University (NTU). Sitting pensively in front of NTU’s infamous Drunken Moon Lake he discussed study at Taiwan’s number one university,  not only as a foreign student, but also  the sole representative at NTU of his homeland, Northern Ireland.

How do you compare your experiences of British and Taiwanese education systems?
We often hear that the Asian system is learning by rote but in my experience that is not necessarily true. They are aware that they need to have a huge mass of general knowledge. I remember once professor Li Oufan was teaching at our institute and requested that the students hand in shorter essays than normal but included a solid argument when they handed them in. The students here have excellent all round knowledge and flair when expressing themselves and analysing if you are talking on an individual basis; however, one problem I found here is that when writing an essay they tend to be pleasing the teacher rather than consciously having a dialogue about a subject.

How about the teaching?
The teachers have all made excellent progress in making this graduate institute and dealing with the problems of creating Taiwanese literary theory. One problem I’ve encountered here is that it seems very difficult to get feedback from your professors in Taiwan, whilst where I was studying in Leeds it was very much encouraged that you spent more time with your teachers.

And the students?
The students I have come across are very well prepared; they’re confident, able to express themselves, can intake loads of information in foreign languages as well as Chinese, they can process and are so capable at what they do. Thus, for a foreigner coming here, and studying in their language with the best of the best, it’s very intimidating. The standard is kept so high that it is difficult to keep up.

In terms of social life?
Subcultures are very strong here. I think that Taiwanese are much more interested in cultural activities, perhaps because they don’t drink so much. In the UK most university socialising revolves around drinking.

Differences between Taiwanese and foreign students?
I think it’s easy to feel that you have an insight into some kind of analytical theory that they might not have. I think it’s a fallacy that western students are more this or Taiwanese students more that. It’s all on an individual basis. Generalising on upbringings is negated anyhow as every individual has such a different cultural upbringing. There are some students here I cannot communicate with, not because of language, or even culture & upbringing. It’s just because we’re on a different wavelength. There are also some students here with whom I have great mutual understanding. It’s all about wavelength.

In my own department the teachers have created a Taiwanese literary theory however it’s difficult as a foreigner to totally see through the eyes of the other. I’m more familiar with western literary theory so I still tend to analyse from a western point of view.

Why did you choose to study Taiwanese literature?
I think it’s great opportunity as it focuses on modern literature in contrast to the Chinese department, where the breadth of what you can study is so vast. Chinese literature has stemmed from such a wide area, but everywhere in the Chinese sphere has a local identity. In Taiwan the local identity is particularly strong. Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese and American influences have all played a part in influencing who people think they are over here and as such have all influenced the literature.

What about Northern Ireland and Taiwanese identity?
There are similarities and differences. Obviously, the losing of local languages in postcolonial identity, the pushing out of Gaelic and the Taiwanese languages is important. I think it’s even harder for Northern Irish people to have an identity, as you’re questioned on both sides. You can’t claim you're Irish as the people from the Republic of Ireland have claimed that identity, and you can’t claim you're English…even British is also taken by the English, who don’t care about our identity to mean English.

Initially this drove me to try and identify with non-violent nationalism and thus deciding to study Taiwanese literature. Eventually you end up realising the futility of drawing borders. For instance, I love the UK and I have lots of friends there. I’ve prospered much from being a part of the UK. However, the living standards and modern culture and society in NI and England are very similar and has been developing interlinked, here in Taiwan, it’s a bit different, as the Mainland and Taiwan have been developing separately and under completely different governments and two contrasting identities have emerged.

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