Daring to Take Risks 勇於冒險
True wisdom helps us to take risks… True wisdom weighs the risks and shows us how to face them.Here is advice and experiences that will help you to decide when to take risks and how to survive them. An alternative cookbook for success!
Photography by Liz Hingley
Few would deny that the modern world is facing a spiritual crisis today. This observation was met with consensus in the beginning of the 20th century and continues on today.
As late as the Renaissance, Western civilization was dominated by Christianity. As scientific knowledge and methodology evolved, they started to chip away at the foundations of the Western theological worldview, starting with the findings of scientists such as Galileo Galilei and reaching an apex with the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origins of Species in 1859. Nowadays, most people do not buy in to the idea that our lives are governed by a certain deity (or deities). Neither do they believe that our world was created by some supernatural force. Science has apparently won the battle over religion, and many of us would pride ourselves as enlightened, intelligent modern human beings, free from the superstitious beliefs that dimmed the minds of our ancestors.
However, the proliferation of New Age theosophy and the increasingly complex discourse on astrology proves otherwise; thanks to the evolution of the technological industry, you can now receive complex astrolabes that can not only tell you your traditional astrological sign but also your moon sign and your ascending sign, and so on ad nauseum, which each have their own meanings and are supposed to influence you in different arenas of your life. What's more, the attraction of astrology is immune to scientific scrutiny and it’s not unusual to find PhD science graduates indulging in the guilty pleasures of astrology and feng shui. Clearly, the Promethean wisdom of science is not sufficient to quench our thirst for other-worldly meaning.
Max Weber, in his 1918 lecture "Science as Vocation" quotes Tolstoy’s concise explanation of why science cannot satisfy our spiritual appetite: "Science is meaningless because it gives no answers to our questions, the only questions of import to us: "What shall we do and how shall we live?"" Of course, as one who took up science as a vocation, Weber is not one to agree too quickly with the statement that "science is meaningless," but he does agree that the presupposition of a complete, wholesome theological metanarrative projects a stable theological subject, while the lack of such creates an alienated, self-centered individual, unsure of what to make out of the world or what to make out of himself. Weber further concludes that "natural science gives us an answer to the question of what we must do if we wish to master life technically. It leaves quite aside, or assumes for its purposes, whether we should and do wish to master life technically and whether it ultimately makes sense to do so."
Noting this sense of spiritual lack and the impotency of science, many people in the contemporary world have returned to their churches and their temples, in order to find spiritual peace. It is easy to imagine, however, that this is by no means an easier route. What has been undone by science cannot be remedied so easily. A couple of months ago, eRenlai presented a focus entitled "My God?" that explored the discovery, loss and rediscovery of faith. Interviewees included followers of Buddhism, Catholicism and Christianity. A Buddhist interviewee mentioned how difficult it was to completely commit to her faith, as in the modern world people are often jaded and guarded against religion. Even after several years of Buddhist practice, her Master doubts whether she has even reached the minimum requirement of becoming a true Buddhist.
The problem of committing to religious beliefs that are unscientific does not only exist in Buddhism. In order to avoid awkward encounters with scientific knowledge, such as the theory of evolution, the majority of Christian teachings nowadays mostly take a symbolist approach to the Scriptures. Those who embrace the fundamentalist approach and deny every scientific statement that opposes the propositions of the Bible are extremely scarce and are often viewed as misfits in contemporary society. However, though the symbolist approach is accepted in modern society, it is not a satisfying method, in that the authority to interpret sacred texts is then granted to humans and it gives the whole process a political spin. Who gets to decide the specific meaning of each text, and does that make the interpretation infallible? How do we know whether such an interoperation is not simply a guise for manipulation by vested interests? It is these doubts that constitute the core canon of literature on religious doubt such as A Portrait of the Artists as a Young Man or The Way of All Flesh. It is thus easy to see how difficult it is to maintain a steadfast religious conviction in modern society, despite the fact that science itself offers nothing better.
So what do we do now? For those who wish to remain religious, Max Weber suggests an "intellectual sacrifice," similar to a fideistic leap of faith, though this is no easy task, as demonstrated by the example of our Buddhist interviewee. For the non-believer, he has to search for the answer himself, to determine who is his God and who is his devil. Science works only insofar as it becomes a tool for the modern man to clarify his ideas. Either path he chooses, concludes Weber, the most important thing is to maintain his integrity. If one is faced with doubts about one's beliefs, one should have the courage to face these doubts head on, and not simply rush to the nearest exit.
--A conversation with Mike and Dawa Bochnia of Seven Generations Outdoor School
On the evening of April 26th, 2013, I met up with Mike and Dawa of Seven Generations Outdoor School, along with their trusty intern, Wanderer (蕭健宏), to talk a bit about the school, and what they hope to accomplish here in Taiwan.
Emily: So when I signed up for your Natural Living Basics I course last month, I didn't know what to expect. But I have to say, Mike, you had me right from the opening speech. You spoke about what you hoped to achieve through the course, and you talked about building a deeper connection with nature, a relationship of respect and love. Can you give us a bit of that speech now?
Mike: Well, when you talk about respect, if it's not a part of you, if it's not a part of who we are, it's almost fabricated. Then nature becomes a place to visit, nature becomes a place that we entertain ourselves with, but it doesn't become a part of us. Whereas, as soon as people integrate and understand that nature is the one thing that everything on this planet has in common, and if we can integrate that back into our lives, there is no fabricating, there is no, "Oh, I should do more to save the earth", there is no trying to be a conservationist, you just are. And that's what I aim to accomplish through our courses.
Emily: Yes, that was just as powerful as I remember it. Now, before we get into what 7 Generations (7G) is doing here in Taiwan, I would like to ask you a question, Dawa. You were General Secretary of the Society of Wilderness in Taiwan, and I imagine this must have given you a pretty good picture of the environmental situation here in Taiwan. What would you say the state of the general public's awareness is now, in regards to the environment?
Dawa: You know, before I went to tracker school in the US and gained a deeper connection with nature, of course I knew there were problems and issues here and there, but really had no idea how deeply rooted the problem was. But after coming back from the US and seeing it from a completely different perspective, I realize now that it's a part of our culture and personality, which has developed here that is causing the problem on the island, and it's actually getting so much worse! It's an awareness that people are really lacking, and I'd say it's so much worse than what I would have admitted a few years ago. But I'm also very happy to see that there are counter actions going on. Because I'm in the field now and helping people connect with nature, more of this information is coming my way. If I wasn't doing what I'm doing, most of this information would just pass me by and I wouldn't know that there were so many people who are concerned about the environment and working to help it. So it's a blessing for me to be walking on the path and seeing so many more problems, but at the same time seeing so much more effort being done. Even though this effort is not enough yet to counteract the damage, I still see hope in it. You know, it really is the government and the structure of this society that needs to be changed, but for that to happen you need to go back to the role of the people and look at what kind of politicians they are electing, and their knowledge of what kind of actions they can take to make a fundamental change, otherwise it's not possible. Going back to the grassroots is very important.
Emily: I was going to say, working for a group like the Society of Wilderness (SoW), where you were dealing with government authorities and the general public on a more political scale, had you found yourself frustrated with the amount of impact that you were achieving?
Dawa: Actually, the Society of Wilderness kept themselves away from politics as much as they could. I mean in the past. I've been away from it for a while, but when I worked for them, it was their policy and they were very proud of the fact that they would not take a cent from the government, and that all their donations or funds were coming from the people. I mean they would rather have one thousand people donate $100 dollars each than having one person donate a hundred thousand dollars. So, that's their mentality, they want to work with the general public rather than the government. I haven't worked with them since 2000 and I don't know how much they've changed, but at that time they were more grassroots and even now, they are still the biggest conservation group in Taiwan.
Emily: With 7G you're working with people more on an individual level. Would you say that this is just as effective, maybe even more so, as far as raising awareness and making change?
Dawa: Yes. There is a fundamental difference between SoW or any other conservation groups and what we're doing here at 7G and that is that other groups provide more of a flash experience, in that they go in and out. You've attended some 7G activities and you know that it's not just a superficial experience, it goes inside, you know, into the heart. We provide people with the ability to look inside further, rather than only having an interesting, exciting and fascinating experience. It's an experience that allows you to go inside and to see your relationship with nature, and that is very rarely achieved by other methods or activities provided by most environmental or outdoor groups.
Mike: That's the reason why we only have 5-10% lecture, so that I can have you guys get more hands on and active within different types of skills and activities, because in the end, sitting as a bystander is not going to give you any sort of immersion in nature.
Emily: I agree. When I look at the efforts of many environmental groups working to make change, whether it's through campaigning or educating people in different ways, you're flashed with images of nature and slogans of why it needs our protection, but you're not really experiencing it within yourself.
Mike: Of course. Photos are beautiful, but they're 2 dimensional and it's disconnected from you. I'd much rather sit somebody down in the grass and even if a spider has to crawl across your leg, that way you're a part of your surroundings. It's much more powerful to feel, taste, hear and smell life and learn that way.
Children learning to use their Owl Ears.
Dawa: There is one thing that is very powerful in our belief and that is, we are not the teachers, not even the guides, the real teacher is Mother Nature and all the elements in it, and we have full confidence that the teaching will come through to each individual. We allow nature to do the teaching, because we know how powerful it is and we have the firm belief that it will be accomplished.
Emily: Right. But at the same time, I was blown away by the amount of information and skills that you have. Do you think it's this practical knowledge that people are attracted to and initially draws them to the courses?
Dawa: I think that why people are drawn to us, apart from the knowledge and skills that we can provide, is for the connection to nature and that is what we truly want to offer. A lot of people don't know that that desire to connect with nature exists or that it's is what they want in their hearts; but when they see that that's what we can offer, and through things that are more tangible, rather than just what people would call spiritual growth like meditation, they are drawn to us. Well, we do sit you down and do some meditation, but in a different way. But that connection is really what is bringing people in and that's what modern society really needs and craves, without necessarily being aware of it.
Mike: If you get to know your neighbours and you sit down and have tea with them and laugh with them and have food with them, cry with them and truly share with them, that's a powerful bond. Whereas if you just look at your neighbour, and know that I should be respecting my neighbour and say Hi to my neighbour, but never talk to him, you have a disconnect and it's much easier to create a dislike or prejudice towards him, or even a hatred. So what it is, is that you have that connection, that you aren't disassociated from it, but a part of it. Nature, it should feel like our bedroom or our living room, it should feel that comfortable. We shouldn't be there simply because we know it's pretty, or is good for us and offers a nice bike route, it should be, part of us. It actually is, it's just we aren't aware of that.
Emily: Yes, and as Dawa said, people may think that they're coming to your courses because they want to learn how to track animals or make a fire from scratch, but realistically when is your average person going to use these skills. I think that it is more the connection that they're looking for, rather than survival skills, and I believe that this connection is the number one survival skill that we do truly need for our survival on this planet and for the survival of the planet itself. This is what I got out of your course, and that's why it had such an impact on me. But as far as the skills that you offer, I guess they are a tool to building this connection...
Mike: It's one of the mechanisms. To have a balanced connection, it should be physical, mental and spiritual. If you are growing in only one direction, you become imbalanced, you become too heavy, if you will. You need to have a strong foundation. So, if you want to go out in nature and meditate, that's great, please do! You know, it quiets the mind and the body, but at the same time, there's a physical aspect to life. So if you can understand that by taking those pieces of wood and shaping them the right way by using your hands, being part if it, smelling it, having a little sweat from the brow and then rubbing them together... I mean, we all enjoy sitting in front of a fire, but knowing that you can make it from the wood that you just looked at; not only is this spiritually uplifting, but it's also physical. You're actually physically bonding with those pieces of wood. And so these skills, which our ancestors created and developed, well we wouldn't be here if it weren't for them. And some people look at them as primitive skills, but they're so beautiful! And functional! These physical acts also help us, in a way. For many people, it's hard to meditate, especially with kids. It's hard to tell them to sit down and fold their legs and be quiet with their eyes closed, for an hour. They think they're being punished. But if you can sit them down with a couple pieces of string in their hands or cord and teach them how to braid it, make a necklace, and interlace it with flowers and pine cones and leaves, that they found on their own, and it smells good and feels good – they've turned it into a form of meditation. They've got that connection because they've quieted down and are working with their hands. Even with adults, there are a lot of adults that can't sit still today, in this society. So these are ways to help us get grounded and connected. That's what these skills are.
Dawa: And what the physical aspect is doing, is not only training you physically to do the skills, but through all the elements that you are using, the materials, you often learn more about your self than you learn about the different substances. You know, the wood will teach you that you are not patient enough, or that you need to find different ways to work around difficult parts, or that you need to find some ingenuity in making things work. Discovering how little patience you have or how you react when faced with different problems are some of the teachings that the materials show you when learning the skills. So that in itself is a powerful form of therapy.
Emily: Well, yes. The interaction is such an important part, and the course made me realize that I don't get a lot of this sort of interaction with nature. I mean, I've always considered myself an outdoorsy sort of person, I like camping and hiking and love nature, but I'm not really interacting with the elements.
Mike: You're not the only one. That's the way I was some fifteen years ago. I was a hiking, camping enthusiast. I thought the ultimate was getting out of my car throwing my backpack on and slugging it up to the top of the mountain, and being like – I camped on the top of that mountain, I'm bad-ass. But between the car and the top, I didn't connect or know very much. I didn't even really look at very much to tell you the truth, because I was just so focal visioned on the task of getting to the top.
Dawa: The beauty about working with nature is that it will teach you whatever you need to learn in that moment and however much you are ready to learn at that moment and there is no judgement. No one is going to say you are doing this wrong or you are stupid, it's just self learning. And that's why it's so comforting to be in nature, allowing nature to be the teacher.
Emily: You know, after the two day course, I got back to Taipei and I felt so good, better than I can remember feeling in a long time – mentally, physically and emotionally. I was full of this strong positive energy and it reminded me that nature really is the best medicine, an amazing cure for our modern day ailments.
Mike: That's great to hear, and it's so true. I say it often in my lectures – we would put so many therapists out of business if we re-immersed ourselves in nature as regularly as we possibly can.
Emily: Yeah, I believe it. So, as for what's to come -it seems like the response so far has been pretty good.
Making fire with a handmade bow drill.
Mike: Yes, the response has been great. We've had up to 80 -100 people show up at lectures and in the last few months we've had waiting lists for some of the workshops here. The only thing that is holding us back now is finding the right piece of land.
Dawa: Right now, because of the lack of a permanent site there are a lot of things we cannot do. For example, having a sweat lodge.
Mike: We can't do more advanced courses. We wanted to teach people how to make shelters that they could live in or adapt to their home, more advanced skill like these, but you need a more permanent location for that. So it's frustrating, but it's out there, it's just a matter of finding it.
Emily: Right. Well, I hope you find each other soon. Before we end, Wanderer, can I ask you a couple questions? You've been with Mike and Dawa, what, almost a year now?
Dawa: Yeah, it'll be a year in June. The first workshop was in June.
Emily: So, you came to do a workshop and then never left (laughter)?
Dawa: He wrote us an email telling us that he wanted to walk China, and that he didn't have enough skills yet, but didn't have enough money to come to all our classes; so he asked if he could volunteer and in exchange he would do labour work for us. And so we let him participate in the first workshop, that was All About Fire, which is a very labour intensive course (laughter), and he's been with us since.
Emily: So, I'm sure you've acquired a lot of information and skills to help with the walk to China, but what would you say is the most profound piece of knowledge or experience you have gained from being here at 7G?
Wanderer: The biggest part of my learning experience, apart from the skills, has been how to "be" in nature and that, even when I leave in the future, I am confident that I will be able to continue to learn from nature.
Wanderer nestled deep in nature.
On the way back to the train station the next morning, I had the chance to talk to Dawa a little more about Vision Quest, an 8 day course, of which 4 days are spent alone in the wilderness.
Dawa: The vision quest is an eight day course, with 2 days preparation, then the sit, which is four days and then there are two days after the quest to help you reintegrate back into daily life. The first day of the course is very relaxed, as you may have had to travel a while. The next day you go out and find your site and I will give a little lecture about the things you can do and what not to do during a quest and stuff like that.
Emily: I would guess that it's more practical preparation, as there's probably not much you can do to prepare mentally, is there?
Dawa: It's actually both – preparing mentally, physically and spiritually. In fact when you register, which needs to be a few months before, I will give you homework. In the time before the quest, I ask that you practice how to fast and how to be alone. If you can get accustomed to doing this in your daily life, you will not find it to be such torture. That is definitely not the purpose of the vision quest.
Emily: I know that I can be alone and I've done some fasts before; what makes me nervous is the thought of sleeping outside with no shelter, with the mosquitos and snakes and this feeling that it's going to be a battle. But I imagine you just have to get to the point where you let go and surrender to the elements rather than fight it.
Dawa: You're right, surrender will happen. It's either surrender to the fear or you surrender to nature. You surrender to the journey, or maybe you surrender to the fear and you come out crying, but either way it will be what you need at that time. What I'm try to say is that you can prep all you want, but you still won't know exactly what the lessons will be. That's what makes the vision quest difficult for people today, is that we are so far away from nature, whereas in the past indigenous people, walked out their door and were in nature. So this one step for us is a much bigger step now.
Then, in the two days after the quest, one thing is to break your fast, that is a very important part after the four days. We need to help you come back and integrate into society, not only mentally and spiritually, but physically as well. And there are a lot of things that need to be taken into consideration. There are also lessons taught on how to understand the visions that you received in the four days. This isn't all that easy either, as there is a lot of symbolism and the visions are not always clearly interpretable, they come in many different shapes and forms.
Emily: I thought it would be more like a sort of meditation practice. With the time spent alone and without all the usual comforts and distractions, you would have no choice but to look inward, but I guess you also have nature as your teacher.
Dawa: We always say that vision quest is a very long (ninety-six hours) and very slow meditation, but meditation is mostly in the mind, whereas here when you are sitting in nature, what you are doing is allowing the mind to be quiet enough to receive the visions. Like I said, the visions come in all shapes and forms, they can come in your dreams, from things that you learn, or your encounters with the animals. For me, one of the biggest teachings that I received during a vision quest was from the trees. In the traditions and beliefs of the Native Americans all things have their own spirit, and they are all capable of teaching and all of us are creators in ourselves, so allowing that part of you to be in communication and communion with that is a very important part. So, it's a bit different than a meditation course where you solely concentrate on quieting the mind. When you sit in nature, a solo sit in nature and it doesn't have to be a vision quest, it has such power because you allow yourself to be open to all teachings. This is especially strong with the vision quest, as you are fasting from everything familiar, including food and everything that gives us a sense of security or comfort zone. This allows you to go into a different dimension and make a much quicker jump forward spiritually.
Seven Generations Outdoor School is run by Mike and Dawa Bochnia, and has been helping people reconnect with nature through workshops and classes in Taiwan for over a year now. Mike has been practicing primitive skills for about 14 years. He studied with the Tom Brown Jr's Tracker School and 6 years ago, he held a position with the school, in which he lived primitively in the woods for one year. Hsiao-Ping, also known as Dawa, was born and raised in Taiwan where she worked for the Society of Wilderness for many years. She also worked as a translator, which brought her to Tom Brown Jr's Tracker School to translate two of Tom Brown's books. She has studied primitive living and skills with the Tracker School and became a vision quest facilitator under the guidance of Malcolm Ringwalt at The Earth-Heart Institute of Vision and Healing. Mike and Dawa met at the Tracker School and were married in 2009.
More about Seven Generations courses and how to register can be found at their website
There are extraordinary moments in life. Moments of deep, soul-shaking happiness, moments of tremendous discovery, moments where the mountain we climb during the entirety of our existence suddenly offers us a glance of the richness of its landscape – valleys, clouds, streams and lofty peaks... There are also moments of extraordinary misery, when a beloved one disappears, when one's love is betrayed, when sickness is diagnosed, or when goals and dreams prove impossible to fulfill.
The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has come for most commentators as a big surprise. How can someone in a position of power voluntarily relinquish it? Power and honors exert so strong an attraction on us that we often see political, economic or clerical leaders cling to them till the end of their lives. Therefore, the departure of the Pope comes as a testimony of personal humility: Benedict XVI has recognized publicly the fact that he no longer had the physical strength necessary to carry on. The fact that he made this announcement on the day marked on the Catholic liturgical calendar for praying specially for the sick makes such recognition even more moving. The gesture made by Benedict reminds me of the words addressed by Jesus to Peter: "I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." (John 21,18) Let us first admire the courage and clarity of someone able to evaluate what he still can reasonably do or not do. This is certainly a lesson in inner freedom.
But two additional questions were raised when Benedict XVI's resignation was made public. The first one might have troubled many Catholics - though it has been asked also by many people who do not belong to the Church: is not the office of the Pope "something special", something sacred somehow? Did not his predecessor, John-Paul II, and several other popes before him, show another example when they persevered till the end, notwithstanding the burden of their illness? Benedict XVI alluded clearly to this when he said in his declaration that the office of the Pope was not carried on simply by "doing things' but also by prayer and by offering one's sufferings. It is not primarily an administrative office, but a spiritual one as well. Still, he also made it very clear that personal discernment could lead different people to reach different decisions. This Pope, whose style has often been presented as conservative, finished his Pontificate with a revolutionary decision, one that will have a profound impact. A Pope is no longer a "prisoner" of his own status, but rather someone who, like many elderly people nowadays, must cope with an ever evolving health situation: what is the best way to live the remaining years of ones' life? Silence and prayer are indeed an option worth considering. By doing so, the Pope has highlighted the humanity, the frailty of any spiritual leader – and spiritual leaders may show also their leadership in the way they renounce their charge. I personally think that the Pope's decision will help advance towards Christian unity: the Bishop of Rome can peacefully resign when his health compels him to do so, as every other bishop and Church leader does The Pope is not "divine", he is a man who can recognize the moment when someone else must take charge. A humbler vision of the Papacy may help to cement unity around it, as many Protestant leaders have already noted in the past. Relinquishing the "magic" of the Papacy will actually make the Papacy stronger, by highlighting the role it can play for all Christians.
The second question that has been raised is to know whether the Pope resigned because of the crises that have agitated the Catholic Church these last years. It seems that Benedict XVI rather thinks that he has helped the Church to return to the basics, that he has put the house more or less in order, and that he can thus leave without failing his duties. For sure, his pontificate has been a tormented period. May Spring now come on the Church, and may she become able to better listen to the voices coming from Asia, Africa and South America, so as not to be only a house of sorrow but also and foremost of praise and of joy. This is certainly the wish of Benedict XVI himself, and he has certainly sacrificed much of himself in order to allow other people able to harvest one day what he has sown.
Photo by Giuseppe Ruggirello [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
In this video, I discuss my views on Taiwanese aboriginal literature, my encounters with famous aboriginal writers Topas Tamapima and Monaneng, and the place indigenous literature occupies in the Pacific and the world.
Written version of the interview
Can you tell us about your academic background?
So, between 1999 and 2005, I read Chinese Studies at the University of Provence in France and I lived in Taiwan for two years, between 2001 and 2003. Then I did a Masters degree for which I wrote a dissertation about the contemporary written literature of Taiwanese Aborigines. In 2010, I decided to continue my research in this field by starting a PHD thesis in the same university, under the direction of Noël Dutrait who has supervised me since the beginning of my studies.
What was the subject of your Masters dissertation?
Despite the fact that there were already some indigenous writers like Gao Yisheng or BaLiwakes, who were mainly songwriters under the Japanese colonization, a true indigenous written literature in Mandarin had started to appear around the lifting of the martial law at the end of the 80’s. In 2003, an anthology devoted to indigenous writing was published. It brought together the most representative indigenous writers of Taiwan and their work, consisting of 7 volumes which were structured around the three major literary genres that are novels, poems and essays. These texts often took the form of original fiction, traditional myths and legends or a mixture of the two. The dissertation I wrote for my Master degree was a work of synthesis about all these writers and their texts. I also translated four novels written by Topas Tamapima, the first indigenous writer of the post martial law generation. I interviewed him for the first time at the end of 2003 in his dispensary in the county of Taitung. At this time, I also met Sun Dachuan, the current minister of Aboriginal Affairs, who helped me a lot.
What are you going to discuss in more detail in your PHD thesis?
A lot of research has already been done in this field in Taiwan. But there is almost nothing in western countries, except a few works in English by scholars like Terence Russel, Darryl Sterk and John Balcom. However, most of the works in English I’ve read are just translations and don’t really analyze the contents of indigenous literature.
By attending some conferences in Western countries about Taiwan, I realized that most of people were mainly interested in the substance of these texts. So I’ve decided to shed light on the viewpoint that was expressed by all these writers in their background and their texts. This is the first part of my dissertation which tries to summarize the background and the major texts of the 33 indigenous writers who are officially identified in Taiwan by the online data base of the Mountains and Seas Publication Society. By “viewpoint“ I mean the perception of the world around them. In the second part of my dissertation, I try to compare this viewpoint with the viewpoint that is expressed through the literary and sociological reception of this indigenous literature in Taiwan.
The final part of my thesis is an annotated translation in French of the last collection of short stories written by Topas Tamapima and which were published in 1998. Its name is Memories of a doctor on the Orchids Island and it retraces the experience of the author as a doctor on Orchids Island at the end of the 80’s. This translation helps to analyze the “viewpoint” of an indigenous writer throughout one of his works. We can see through this translation the mobility of the author’s viewpoint because in those short stories, Topas always seems to be caught between his professional status as a doctor, whose field is Chinese medicine, which was originally foreign to the indigenous people, and some collective reminiscences which constantly remind him as to the defense of all the Aborigines against Han society. So, the aim of my research is to see what arises from the meeting of this multiplicity of different viewpoints.
During your research, you met the two famous indigenous writers - Topas Tamapima and Monaneng. Can you tell us more about those meetings?
The first time I met Topas was at the end of 2003. At this time, I still was a Masters student and I was already writing a dissertation about the indigenous writers of Taiwan, which focused especially on the works of Topas Tamapima. The meeting was very fun and friendly; It was at his dispensary, Changpin, on the southeast coast of Taiwan in the county of Taitung. I asked him some questions about his background, his childhood, about some novels he wrote and which I had translated into French for my Masters degree dissertation. The second time I met him was in 2011, it was still at his dispensary. He didn’t remember our first meeting. It was a bit frustrating for me. I interviewed and filmed him for an hour. We had a deep discussion about everything, indigenous literature, what he thought about the current state of aborigines in Taiwanese society, his political viewpoint and his experience as a doctor on the Orchids Island amongst other things.
The meeting with Monaneng was a few weeks later in his massage room in Taipei. We talked about his background and his writing too. In front of my camera, he read one of his most famous poems. Its name is ‘When the bells start to ring’ and it talks about young indigenous women who become prostitutes. The meeting with him was really touching.
Is the Pacific represented in Topas and Monaneng's writings? How?
To me, the Pacific is absolutely not at the heart of their writings. Their writings were born around the lifting of the martial law and I think Topas and Monaneng were particularly concerned about the plight of the indigenous people. They mainly criticize the clash between indigenous cultures and modern civilization which was imported by the Han people. They don’t talk about the Pacific, maybe indirectly like in Memories of a doctor on Orchids Island in which Topas describes the ocean culture of the Tao and the sea which surrounds Orchid Island.
Do you think that TW aboriginal literature fits into the TW literature ? And into the idea of the common Pacific literature?
When the true indigenous literature in mandarin started to appear around the lifting of martial law, I mean with regular and homogeneous publications, not like the works of some indigenous writers like Lifok O’Teng or Kowan Tallal which were very underground, quite sporadic and isolated before the 80’s, at the beginning this true indigenous written literature was just another symptom of an identity and a cultural crisis among Taiwan Aborigines. I mean, although the idea of writing novels or poems as an indigenous writer was also promoted by some Han writers and intellectuals, the first indigenous texts in mandarin were just a global reaction to the critical situation of Taiwan Aborigines. But during the 90’s, it’s true that this literature began to be institutionalized with the creation of some specific literary prices which were also organized by the Council of Indigenous Affairs in Taiwan. From that moment on, this literature began to be indirectly instrumentalized by public authorities,for example, if you analyze the posters which promote these literary prices, you can realize that one of their goals is to increase the diversity of Taiwanese literature. So, at the beginning, indigenous literature didn’t belong to Taiwanese literature, but it has been progressively included in it as another aspect of the literature of the island.
It’s difficult to say if Taiwanese indigenous literature fits into the idea of a common Pacific literature. Of course, some writers like Syaman Rapongan describe the Pacific. But I think, I mean, as far as I have progressed in my research, I think that Taiwanese indigenous literature belongs more to a “world indigenous literature” rather than to a “Pacific literature”. You know, even if the contexts are very different, the content is very similar in the writing, for example, some Native American writers or some Australian indigenous writers also criticize colonization, the destruction of a modern civilization over their original culture, the destitution of their tribe, as well as some social problems they encounter like alcoholism or poverty. I mean, in my opinion, the common point is more social than geographical in what we call the “minorities literatures”.
What is the benefit of your research for the study of Taiwan?
From an academic point of view, many aspects of Taiwan have already been studied all around the world. The Aboriginal issues are really suffering a severe lack of attention in Western countries, even if some specialists like Scott Simon are emerging, he approaches his research from an anthropological and political perspective. I’m probably one of the few western researchers who works in this field through written literature, and I think it is of great value for our knowledge of those issues. It’s also a way to ensure that all the work which have already been done by French researchers like Elizabeth Zeitoun, Josiane Cauquelin or Véronique Arnaud will be continued…
Haneh and Geleke are the blissed owners of a restaurant nested in the hills of Hsinchu County in Taiwan. Haneh is attayal and she is Bunun, they met while working in the city. In search for a way of life that would combine the simplicity and authenticity of their aboriginal culture, they settled and funded their family in the region of origin of Haneh.
Is it better to further one’s study or to immerse oneself in a job? This question often haunts the new graduate. On the one hand, they are thrilled by the opportunities that their freshly acquired diploma brings with it: entering adulthood, earning an income, testing their skills at something concrete, exercising responsibilities, even if such responsibilities are modest in scope… On the other hand, they realize that they do not know much yet, that they may earn a bigger salary within a few years if they master extra knowledge and become more competent, that holding a job might soon appear to her more boring or stressful than remaining a student… Deciding between Present and Future, between different kinds of gains and losses, and between different lifestyles is never easy, and can generate a lot of anxiety.
The new graduate may be comforted by a few thoughts:
- First, this choice is much less final and binding than was the case in the past. Today, there are a variety of bridges that allow one to go from study to work and from work to throughout one’s professional path. Therefore, it is practical and beneficial to keep one’s intellectual curiosity always intact, and to remain ready to sacrifice one’s immediate interest at some point in order to re-enter the path of study and research.
- Work can reactivate one’s thirst for knowledge and investigation. Often, students lose interest in knowledge and research because of the way they were taught in high school or in university. Their drive towards practical and intellectual knowledge is reactivated through the problems and challenges they meet in real life: the very fact of being surrounded by technical wonders, complex social mechanisms, injustices and moral dilemmas makes one formulate anew questions that have been agitating the human mind since it undertook to both understand and master the world (while doing so through very diverse knowledge systems…).
- New graduates may also be somehow comforted by the fact of knowing that finding the balance between study and work is a problem that plagues everyone until very late in life – till the end maybe: “Is it better for me to invest my energies into doing what I know I can do, and thus to be of immediate help to the people I care for and my family – or should I challenge myself to once again embark on the road of professional and intellectual improvement? And should I not chose to study and research just out of gratuitousness, whatever the advantages that come out of it?” Fortunately, the choice is not always so drastic, and professional life may offer time and resources for learning the trade and embarking on a progressive program of study.
So, finally, how is one to decide when confronted with such a choice? Basically, ask yourself how you feel about it. Is there in your heart a strong longing to go ahead on the road towards knowledge and research? Or does the idea of becoming someone active in society and receiving recognition for what you do reveal itself to be the most appealing choice for you right now? If you can answer this question peacefully and without too much hesitation, just follow the desire of your heart. If not… let the answer formulate itself within your inner self. It will do so naturally, if you can avoid to be too overtly anguished by it. But always remember: when working, protect and nurture the flame of intellectual curiosity. When studying, do not close yourself in an ivory tower, and remain burnt by the desire to share with others what you are researching. And do remain aware that life will often renew the challenge, and will ask you again and again to come up with your own answer…
Illustration by Bendu
After producing the CD of contemporary world music, eRenlai magazine facilitated three concerts with the participating artists in the compilation. A dozen or so different bands performed their music live to the joy of the audience. For this third and final performance, on September 16, the Tien Educational Center opened its doors to world music for the second time, and it was fitting surroundings, with sound system and lights ready to create an unforgettable night.
From the outset we were embraced by the presence of Viba, previously introduced to me as Paul, I didn’t recognize him and thought he was part of Orbit Folks since we were all on stage doing the sound setup before the concert. It was then I realized that the night was going to blend of different musical styles until the lights went out.
Orbit Folks were next on stage, with Martijn Vanbuel (double bass), Toshihiro Wakaike (Indian tabla) and Mike Zeng (piano) combining elements of jazz and tabla to bring us some outer space rhythms. There was an interesting contrast between the Folks and Viba, since their ensemble is completely acoustic whereas Viba is mostly electronic. The band's performance was impressive, all of their members have a strong musical background that was gently delivered to the audience. As in any other jazz concert they included a lot of improvisation showing their mastery of the instruments and preparing the ground for the next band. They played some of their songs like Anouar, Santur and Serenade composed by Martijn Vanbuel and Caravan (by Juan Tizol, arr. by Martijn Vanbuel) and Rahu (by Toshihiro Wakaike, arr. by Martijn).
Comprised of Louis Goldford (soprano sax) Lio Pinard (accordion), Martijn Vanbuel (piano), Kelvin Chuang (bass) and Weichung Lin (drums), Flâneur Daguerre were the next surprise, further raising the excitement in the same hall that once held Taiwan’s first absurdist theatre troupe. Their performance developed finely. I felt like there were fireworks shooting from the stage. The immersion of their music in complexity enabled the band to grab the attention of the audience at all moments. I would love to see this band again; in fact as I write this paragraph I am listening to the track Harvest Drums included in the CD.
Up next was Fao, playing his "Mamba in Solitude" including sampled Chinese flutes, guqin (古琴), Indian tabla and electronic sounds permeating through the crowds. Fao is a Colombian composer searching for new sounds in Asia. We thoroughly enjoyed his piece since it is a mixture of Latin rhythms (such as cumbia) with Chinese instruments around an Amazonian ritual.
Overall the CD and the concerts were a success and this was an admirable gesture from Renlai to provide the infrastructure and vision to put this idea together and hopefully provide the building blocks for future world music development in Taiwan. I just hope this is not the last time it happens. Thanks to all the musicians who participated in the CD. And thanks too to the enthusiastic public who embraced this mixture of music.
Renlai Concert #3 - Part 1
Renlai Concert #3 - Part 2
Videos filmed and edited by Pinti Zheng
The idea for this gallery was conceived in January 2011 in Bandung, Indonesia. At that time Budi Sukmana and his family were about to open a small coffee shop and he offered some of the walls as a photography gallery. I immediately said yes and the idea started to grow from there.
Our initial aim was simply to enjoy photographs in print (because we all have spent too much time looking into monitors) in a more casual, relaxed, and friendly atmosphere with friends. But then, we also wanted to become a melting pot for photographers, where they could meet, talk, and share ideas and inspiration, a hub for young, emerging and underexposed artists who wanted to showcase their work and grow together with us.
At first, our biggest influence was Dr.Karanka's Prints Stravaganza. We thought that his concept suited our vision well. I started to contact many of my friends all over the world asking them to send some of their prints. The response was surprisingly positive and many started shipping their prints.
The concept of the gallery changed shortly before our first exhibition into a monthly photography exhibition by a single photographer who showcased their latest series/photo essay or their best personal work.
Small but sure steps
We are still small and young but I have to admit that our first exhibition caught many people's attention in Indonesia and abroad. Our first exhibition was dedicated to the people of Japan after the tsunami (March 2011). Also, the photographer Yamasaki Ko-ji is quite famous and respected in the photoblogging world. And he sold his prints for the first time ever for charity. The combination of all that gave us the boost we needed for our next journey.
After several months, I got the feeling that many people and artists had started to see our gallery as an alternative way to showcase their work. Therefore many send us now their less-famous, but more personal, work --- it is totally unexpected but we totally love the idea.
We are looking for photographers whose works we love and admire. It's that simple. If we love what we see (usually through the internet), we will try to contact him/her. Some of the early photographers exposed by us were actually our virtual friends we have met years ago.
Our main challenge now is to manage well our time in order to be able to run and to expand the activities of this gallery while we still have to work during the day and take care of our families, we are all fathers of young children. So far we are an independent gallery and we are self-funded. Our next challenge is to find more funding without changing our spirit.
From August 10th to September 11th, 2011, Black Man Ray presents a solo exhibition by Hubert Kilian.
Photo courtesy of Eric Setiawan
You-sheng Zhang and Da-wang Huang met each other in 2010. Both of them had their own noise sound works circulating among their friends and on the internet. They got tired of most political news, especially those about so-called “100-year-old ROC”, so they decided to organize a duo and to disband it after this year (2011 is the hundred year of ROC). 民国百年, pronounced in Japanese “Minkoku Hyakunen”, doesn’t talk about politics but performs with some ideas of politics. No stable tempo and pleasant melody, only fools playing fool noise.
Meet Fao, one of the instigators of the Renlai World Music Compilation released in July 2011 with the issue #84 of the magazine.
I hail from Bogotá, Colombia and have been living in Taipei for two years now. I compose music in which I like to use contemporary elements, electronic generated sounds and traditional music from South America and Asia.
After teaching sound engineering in Colombia, I was able to save enough money to fulfill my goal to travel and learn traditional instruments from other parts of the world. I went first to Japan, where I did several collaborations with contemporary noise musicians and also got initiated to traditional Japanese music. Then I moved on to India to learn classical Indian tabla music, before finally arriving in Taiwan where I practice the guqin and Taichi.
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