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. 

Wednesday, 16 January 2013 16:29

Historical Resonances: War, Colonial Experiences and Peace-Making

The following video is a recording of the Q&A from the second session of the International Austronesian Conference 2012 - Historical Resonances - War, Colonial Experiences and Peace-Making.

Wednesday, 09 January 2013 13:26

Teaching a Common Pacific History: Morgan Tuimaleali'ifano

Professor Morgan Tuimaleali'ifano discusses how the teaching of history in Fiji has been decolonized, and how Taiwan and other Pacific nations can work together to create an alternative version of history which incorporates indigenous memory and stands apart from the colonial view of history.

Wednesday, 05 December 2012 14:28

Mental Difference?

This month, eRenlai is focusing on the stigma surrounding mental health and mental disorders. For this purpose we've coined the term "mental difference" in the hope that this will encourage our readers to view the people around them not in terms of the binaries sick/well abnormal/normal insane/sane, but rather to approach everyone in the world with an open mind as to the way their mind functions and their personality traits, regardless of their mental health issues or lack thereof, or their deviation from our perception of the normal.

First we have two views from psychiatrists: the first gives us his view on what is normal, with an interview with Dr Wu Yuquan, the second is an interview concerning the effects of illegal and legal highs on the mind and body. Then Daniel reviews Anita and Shower, the two films cast mental disability in a more positive light. Paul Farrelly also has a film review for us, which deals with Reunion, a film about a teacher who quits to look after mentally disabled children and encounters resistance from the community, featuring two Taiwanese actors who later transitioned into careers in the spiritual world. Finally we have a short interview with Father Giuseppe Didone, he talks about his experience in Taiwan struggling to convince parents to overcome the stigma attached to mentally disabled children and get help for children in dire need of it, he also reflects on a shift in attitude from when he founded the school in the 1980s to the present day.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012 14:25

Fiji Time...


I went into this trip with certain unconscious preconceptions about the idea of ‘aborigine’ and what an ‘indigenous culture’ should be. This preconception consisted in the idea that they should be the naive, artless minority amongst a corrupt majority race of ‘latecomers’ - the Hoklo and Hakka migrants to Taiwan. Their way of life has often been portrayed in documentaries as a healthy and balanced, essentially good way of life on the brink of extinction, thanks to the evil oppression of colonialism, whether cultural or imperial.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012 13:28

Passive Aggressive Much?

Let's face it, we've all written them at times, and at other times we have all pretended that they are not written about us, whether they be notes pinned to front doors, or slogans pasted across 5 stories of a building, passive aggressive notes are an unavoidable symptom of city life. Taipei is no different, being a city with a very dense population, people tend to get on each other's nerves. This mostly anonymous way of addressing the strangers that live around us is one of the easiest forms of communication to overlook, it tends to blend into the city scape except in extreme examples, but it also tells us a lot about what is acceptable and unacceptable about our behaviour, and the minute influences we have on the people who share the city with us. Here are a few examples of passive aggressive notes that I noticed around my neighbourhood, what about yours? Feel free to send any passive aggressive notes you find to eRenlai (conor_at_erenlai.com).

[Main writings] "Only animals pee here"
[Added writings on the right] "I am an animal"

 

2

 

 

[Message in black] Dear residents, please make sure the door is well closed in order to prevent unwanted people from entering. Our safety depends on your vigilance. Thank you for your cooperation!

[Message added on the right side] Some people often forget to close the door. If anything happens, these people should pay full responsibility! This is terrible and outrageous!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3

 

 

"Attention please:
The new residents are kindly requested not to throw their garbage here, not to mention cigarette butts as they may increase the risk of fire. Please show more consideration for our public environment. 
Thank you for your cooperation."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4

 

 

"To the residents of the building:
In order to maintain the quality of our living environment, 
please do not throw trash here."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5

"LITTERING AND POLLUTING BUSINESSES,
LEAVE MY HOME ASAP"

 

6

 

 

 

[Left] "SAY NO TO SMOKE AND NOISE"

[Right] "FOR A RESIDENTIAL AREA WITHOUT SMOKE AND NOISE POLLUTION"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7

"SAY NO TO SMOKE AND NOISE"

9

[Left] "DEFENDING THE RIGHT TO A BETTER LIVING ENVIRONMENT"
[Right] "SAY NO TO SMOKE AND NOISE"

11

"LIVE TOGETHER, FLOURISH TOGETHER

SUPPORT THE SHIDA COMMERICAL CIRCLE"

12

 

"Why is it only the Shida Commercial Area being closed down?... Do you think its really fair?"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13

 

14

 

15

"Under video surveillance
Please do not feed dogs over here"

 

16

The white characters on the blue door say: 
"NO PARKING"

 

18

"Notice: In order to keep the arcades of this building clean, it is strictly forbidden to install any stand, to spit betelnut juice and to throw cigarette butts."

 

19

"Please do not sit on this scooter unless you're a cat of the shop"

 

 

Thursday, 31 May 2012 20:07

Film Review: Fast Cheap and Out of Control and Grizzly Man


 
Last year we found a cat on our doorstep with a broken paw that was whining and meowing like crazy. After a dramatic episode whereby the cat was caught and boxed with the help of a now permanently scarred Taiwanese friend, we brought the cat to the vet to get its leg fixed and its tubes tied and my flatmate decided to adopt it. We initially thought the cat was whining because of its broken foot, but we have since learned that whining is a way of life for it. It whines for a door to be opened, then when it is open it turns away in disgust. I don’t have much interaction with the cat, I just hear it whining from day to night, but I don’t understand how it works or what motivates it. I read its behaviour in human terms at times, in turns it can be stubborn, spiteful, manipulative, pig-headed, ungrateful and fussy. Despite attributing these human motives to it/she, I’ve never felt the urge to refer to it with the gendered pronoun ‘she’, despite the litany of names given to it by my flatmate, Felicity and Princess are the only two I can still remember, in my view this is because the cat is a street cat and still retains personality traits that distinguish it from a normal pet, and this was not the case with other people’s pets to which I was able to develop more of an attachment. When I saw these two films, the double standards I had used with ‘pet cats’ as opposed to ‘street cats’ came more clearly into focus.

 

The two films I’m going to talk about in this review give an insight into the different ways that people interact with animals. The first is a documentary called Grizzly Man (2005), a film which deals with a man who lives long periods of his life in Alaskan bear country living amongst grizzlies. He contravenes the National Park regulations by approaching the bears and interacting with them - he records a lot of these encounters on film. He does not take the neutral role of an observer of nature - like many nature documentaries, but rather he invests himself into the bears’ way of life, and feels that he is a member of their community. The director makes clear in his narration and in interviews conducted throughout the course of the film, however, that he idealizes the bear world, to cope with his failures in the human world: he’s a failed actor (he had almost gotten the role of Woody Harrelson in the sitcom Cheers) with drug problems. This becomes more and more clear as we discover his self-mythologizing in his own recordings, he lies about being alone at times, urging his girlfriend to remain out of sight of the camera, he also lies about his nationality and about certain other elements of his past and who he is. He applies a similar mythology to the world of the bears too, he imposes idealistic human values on them, and as the director points out, he sees only the positive aspects of their life and is unable to recognize certain aspects of their animal nature, exemplified in his extreme emotions and his disturbance when he comes across the body of a baby bear which has been skinned to the bone by another male bear. He is unable to comprehend why this has happened - in staunch contrast to the usual dispassionate narration of nature documentaries, he expresses his distress that something like this could happen in the animal world, although the director states that this is common behaviour within the bear world. His attempt to enter the bears’ world ends ultimately in failure - when he is attacked late in the season by an older, hungry bear from inland. The film is punctuated with local people who criticize Timothy’s way of interacting with the bears and the director sums up the failure of Timothy Treadwell to get to grips with the reality of bears at the finale of the film - with a photo of a bear and his commentary that the director sees nothing but bored savage indifference in the face of the animal where the protagonist had seen so many human traits. The film essentially asserts itself in the matter of difference between animals and humans - and maintains that distance should be kept. The footage that Treadwell shot with his camera is breathtaking and the film is well worth watching for this alone, but the real subject matter of the film as the title suggests is naivete of the protagonist in unwittingly humanizing the behaviour of bears and attempting to integrate himself into his idealized imaginary of their world, only to meet death in his encounter with this animal 'other'.

fast

The second film that I wanted to discuss was Fast, Cheap and Out of Control (1997) which I heard of from a video of a Cary Wolfe lecture online. The movie approached the issue from four distinct angles, some more fully realized than others.

The first was about a garden in which the gardener has made animal shapes out of the hedges - this part I felt could have done with more development, as I didn’t really see how it related to the other parts in the film, or indeed its general thesis, the implication was that the gardener had attributed animal characteristics to the plant life - and thought of them like pets, but this failed to really come through in the film and it wasn't as convincing as the other parts of the film.

The second subject of the film was a lion tamer who had worked for the circus, he talks about his experience with lions and the close calls he has had due to the unpredictability of the lions' behaviour. It is notable in this part that although he develops affection for the lions, his attitude towards them is in marked difference to Timothy Treadwell's attitude to the bears in the first film: the lion tamer acknowledges the differences between animal and human and is less prone to humanizing them, he demonstrates the same intimidation techniques to assert his territory as Treadwell does in the first film, but he doesn't invest his emotions into these interactions and remains unsurprised when these semi-domesticated wild animals attempt to kill him, for he sees it in their nature.

The third part was about the discovery of a species of mammal that lives like a termite (one of only two eusocial mammals) - the naked mole rat. This part questioned the dichotomy that we often draw between certain animals - wherein we humanize or portray as familiar the way in which mammals live to some extent, yet we think of the way insects live as something completely foreign and alien (an interesting reference here is the insect-like aliens in many sci-fi films like Alien). This undermines the traditional ways in which we categorize different animal species and the divisions between them (including our own).

The final part is about artificial intelligence, in which MIT scientist Rupert Brookes designs robots that function similarly to insects, suggesting that animal life is not perhaps as unique or irreducibly complex as we would like to imagine. This part also calls into question the idea of human exceptionalism as the mechanical and reactive nature of the way animals and humans function is brought to light through the replication of some of those processes with machines.

The film is slightly slow moving at times and lots of footage from the circus, cartoons and films is incorporated. It is an aesthetically pleasing film to watch, in this sense, but at times this took away from its coherency and there was no attempt to tie the different aspects of the film together into one thread of narrative.

The two films worked to similar effect but by different routes. The sympathetic yet incisive voiceover of the director, Werner Herzog, in the first film, Grizzly Man, reveals for the viewer the flawed way in which Treadwell mythologized both the bears and himself - leading us to the conclusion that much as the impersonality and constructed landscape of the modern world might incite us to 'return to nature' or somehow turn back the clock to an era when man was supposedly in tune with the animal world, this in itself is an revisionist view of history, and what Treadwell fails to realize in the film, even in death, is the animal world is completely alien to that of the human world and human values, where killing children is looked on as a necessity, where hunger and survival are the only things that matter; although we might humanize animals to a certain degree, we must never lose sight of their fundamental difference, or we risk judging them by human values which they can never live up to. The lion tamer in Fast, Cheap and Out of Control reinforces this idea with the lion tamer's affection for the lions tempered by his knowledge that they would kill him in an instant. The other parts of the film challenge the other divisions and categories we make between plants, animals, humans and machines - suggesting that we tend to over-romanticize human nature as something that has been freed from the mechanical drives of animality or, indeed, machinery, without questioning a lot of the mechanical drives that still pertain to us and that this is based on the way the human animal conceives of the world and reacts to it.

Both films are well worth watching.

 

Friday, 11 May 2012 15:20

The Line Between Humans and Animals in Literature


Huang Zong-Hui, Professor of Languages and Literature at National Taiwan University discusses Kafka's 'Report to the Academy' and Roald Dahl's short story 'Pig' and how the concepts of anthropomorphism and zoomorphism function within literature to define the shifting boundaries between the human and the animal:

Wednesday, 02 May 2012 18:39

Women and Nationalism

As more foreign workers and students come to Taiwan, the role of women in nationalist narratives has undergone a shift towards conservatism, so this month we want to look at how ordinary women embrace or subvert the roles provided for them in the nationalist narratives and how these imposed roles affect the way women are imagined by men, women and the mainstream media. We first hear from a woman working in a sport to which Taiwanese attach a lot of their national pride, Liu Bojun talks about her experiences as a female baseball umpire; Witek and Zijie look behind the stereotype of the betelnut industry's betelnut girls, an image perpetuated by domestic and foreign press as a lewd representation of the "local", and see instead a devout Catholic aboriginal woman running a small family business; then Wafa Ghermani looks at the shifting modes of how Taiwanese women are represented in Taiwan's national film industry as more passive in the 2000s and 2010s in contrast to the stronger female role-models of the 1980s and 1990s; Conor has translated a short story from renowned short story writer and cultural critic, Lolita Hu, which gives us an unfamiliar perspective on the familiar scene of Western guys and Chinese girls meeting in a Beijing Night Club; the nationalist undertones that lie behind the term Xicanmei (referring to Asian girls who date Western guys) are explored in a conversation with several Taiwanese girls and a Western man, highlighting the term's function in undermining female identity; the lead singer of Taiwanese band 'The White Eyes' describes her experience as an unconventional female role model, and the fight against being side-lined as more woman than musician; Finally, Daniel has written two articles, one concerning the recent candicacy of Tsai Ing-wen for president, and the second about his perceptions of a gender imbalance in Taiwan and the reasons for this.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012 16:02

Nationalism and Girls who Date Foreigners

In Taiwan I've often heard the word Xicanmei (西餐妹) bandied about —— Xicanmei literally means girls who like to eat Western food, but here it is used to mean Asian girls who date Western men—— but the term always made struck me as over-emphasizing the difference between Taiwanese people (us) and Western foreigners (them). The fact that it refers almost exclusively to women suggests also that there is a male chauvinist implication behind the term - it functions to undermine the individuality and independence of women in the choices they make in their love lives, and sees these choices instead in terms of a failure to be patriotic and marry 'into the tribe' so to speak. The term was popularized when a Taiwanese rapper wrote a song about it, the lyrics of which are anti-Western in sentiment and very critical of girls who date with foreigners. This is an extract from the song originally in Taiwanese:

'When they're not listening to ICRT [Taiwan's English Radio Station] they're looking for girls, they go round bars with a Heineken in their hand

The stuff they talk about is vulgar and shallow, they're all talking about Dog-G's new album.

One of my friends is dating a big-nose [Taiwanese word for foreigner] She says he's a gentleman and very romantic

She thinks maybe she can get a green card and have a little foreign baby, she's at the night market buying oyster omelettes

You say that some are actually alright, I understand, they'll toss you a "ni hao" and you think it's so cute, give me a break!' (Dog-G)

 

Below is an interview with several women and one man who express their views on the use of this term, and its ideological implications:

(Remember to press CC in the bottom right corner for English Subs)

For readers in Mainland China you can watch the video by clicking this link

Illustration by C. Phiv

 

Friday, 16 March 2012 13:02

Creative Inspiration

Being a Manga artist is a job which demands a lot of sustained creative and imaginative output, in this section several of the artists discuss how they get their inspiration and how they are able to sustain creativity throughout their careers. Or as Chen Uen puts it "Amateurs talk about inspiration, professionals will tell you that you have to rely on life experiences accumulated".

“Writing comic books is like hatching some eggs: All sorts of birds will fly from the nest.”

CHEN Uen, whose real name is CHEN Jin-wen, worked for twelve different design companies before founding his own interior design company. His career was launched when he published his first comic The belligerent black panther, in the magazine China Times Weekly in 1984. Acclaimed by critics he immediately published two more comics which he illustrated with Chinese ink, and which were both inspired by real Chinese history accounts by Sima Qian. His style, painstakingly detailed and bold, rests upon a mastery of Chinese ink and Western illustration. His creations have a chivalrous, heroic, generous, and tender feel to them. In 1991, after publishing a very popular Chinese historical comic in Japan, he became the first foreign author in 20 years to receive the prize for excellence in manga creation from the Japanese manga association.

{rokbox album=|myalbum|}images/stories/manga_focus/chengwen/*{/rokbox}

 

Readers in mainland China can view here

“Comic books are mirrors in which I reveal myself”


Chi, whose real name is LIU Yi-chi (in mandarin it is pronounced like the numbers 617), was born in 1988 in Kaohsiung, in the South of Taiwan. As a student of art, she spent almost ten years learning about fine arts. The year before entering university she published her first comic book, and throughout her time studying, published a whole series of them. Chi belongs to a whole new generation of Taiwanese comic book artists; her mastery of graphics is surprising, her style covers children’s illustrations, the realistic American design, and even extends to Japanese aesthetics. Activities she is involved with include design, illustration, and photography, but most of her interest and creations still lie within the realms of comics and publication. Chi attempts to merge the beauty of design and art into her comics and illustrations. Her dream is to go on a trip around the world, and she hopes one day to be able to see that Northern Lights and the Loch Ness monster.

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Readers in mainland China can view here

“Comic books are life itself”

Born in Taipei in 1968, Chang Sheng graduated from the Fu-Hsin college of art and commerce, in the department of western painting. After working for 15 years in the advertising business, he realised one day that his childhood dream of becoming a comic book artist had never been realised. This is what pushed him to quit his job and launch into a new artistic career. For Chang, beautiful illustrations and a good plot are the basis for a fantastic science fiction story. A fan of cinema, Chang often bases his characters on real movie stars. Films, videogames, and alcohol or his favourite pastimes, but he is also interested in collecting figurines and in building models. When he is not so busy with drawing, he plans to dive into the world of cinema or writing.

{rokbox album=|myalbum|}images/stories/manga_focus/changsheng/*{/rokbox}

 

Readers in mainland China can view here

“For me, comic books are a way to accomplish what I was born to do: entertain people.”

Born in 1965, Loїc HSIAO arranges his comics with only one illustration per page. Amongst all the Chinese comic book artists to arrange their images this way, he is the most famous. He started his career by publishing The hidden side of fairy tales. This book, consisting of 30 individual vignettes, sold 500.000 copies, it’s a best-seller known all around the Chinese-speaking world. Loїc has a wide array of interests, and is involved in hosting TV shows, and acting in commercial spots amongst others. He is also a very active stage actor, and has founded his own silent theatre troupe, called House of Sugar. In 2010, he even created some lucky charm mascots for the Tourism Bureau to promote Taiwan North coast’s National Scenic Route. The Taiwanese edition of GQ called him “the most talented comic book artist of Taiwan”.

{rokbox album=|myalbum|}images/stories/manga_focus/loichsiao/*{/rokbox}

 

Readers in mainland China can view here

Friday, 03 February 2012 18:04

Response to Efe

A reader's response to Efe's Levent article: The Year of the Voiceless

Where to start? After reading Efe’s article entitled ‘The Year of the Voiceless’ I felt compelled to respond. I must first congratulate Efe on the Guardian-esque style of his penmanship, it must not be easy to appear both sanctimonious and completely unconstructive in a second language, but you’ve done an excellent job of it. What annoyed me most is that the article rested on the deliberate misconstruing of the words of other people in an attempt, no doubt, to court controversy, which makes his comments about cheating at chess amusing if not worryingly self-delusional.

First I’d like to start with the binary opposition of Voicelessness vs Voice that the series of articles play on. This notion carries with it a narrative that what is heard is the oppressing voice of authority or the lies of the aggressor and the voiceless represent what should be heard, the victim, the truth. I disagree with the narrative this binary view of things produces, as it conceals from view the complexity of the idea of ideological truth, and the paradoxical idea that speaking for the voiceless somehow gives them a voice. The resultant effect is just to prioritize one ideological narrative over another, causing those who could originally speak to be silenced and throwing up another arbitrary narrative as “the truth”.

Moving on to Efe Levent’s article in particular, I think the conflation of two separate notions are somewhat ironic given the author’s own status as a non-practicing “cultural” Muslim: he somehow confuses criticism of rule by religious law (essentially theocracy) – whether those rules come from Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism or elsewhere – with an attack on the existence of the Islamic religion. The former is what many of the figures he attacks in his article address (including an author that Efe criticizes as a “drama queen” for having received death threats on the basis of writing a novel that many who attack him probably never read, and which Efe himself admits to never bothering to read). The problem with any non-secular form of government as the history of Europe can well attest to, is that religious laws differ from secular laws, in that they have a sacred or divine backing to the morality they outline, which undermines any challenge to them or debate of them. Regardless of the joy that the painful death of Christopher Hitchens seems to arouse in Efe, it does not change the fact that disagreeing with the tenets of someone else’s religion or the sacred moralism the religion outlines is not racism. The “four horsemen” Efe refers to do not attack Islam exclusively, and have often stated their opinions with regard to Christianity also. Efe fails to acknowledge that multiculturalism has to be more than just “tolerance” or turning a blind eye to religious practices as long as they conform to the law in any country, rather it involves intercultural dialogue and the ability to scale cultural barriers which is simply not happening in contemporary Europe, and is resulting in conflict.

The very structure of Efe’s article is culturally divisive and unconstructive, whilst pretending the opposite. Echoing the oversimplification inherent in the very notion of “voicelessness” versus “voice”, he picks from the sea of voices in the West (a contrived concept in itself) one voice that is suitably extreme as to be an easy dueling partner or simply just misconstrues that voice. I'd like to end with a few questions to the author: What would make the world better in his opinion? Do you want democratically elected theocracies in the middle east? Do you want criticism of China's neo-colonialism in Africa and its internet censorship to stop? If anyone fits into your generalization of aggressor (white, Western, descendent of colonists, not a plumber) should they no longer offer up opinions? Do you agree that someone should be threatened with death for writing a novel?

Illustration by Bendu

Wednesday, 04 January 2012 14:13

A Portrait of China Emerging

The narrative of China's emergence that has predominated in the Western press over the last decade is one of a racially homogenous economic superpower in ascendance; the West seems to characterize China simply in terms of its potential as a huge untapped market to be exploited or as a threat to Western cultural and economic hegemony. This month, eRenlai hopes to offer an alternative perspective on China's emergence, wherein the reality of China's racial and spiritual heterogeneity and multicultural legacy can be borne witness to on a level more fundamental than that of Nationalism. Away from the rhetoric and scare-mongering of politics and economics is the space where one can experience China on a more personal and experiential plane. Here, eRenlai has picked a variety of stories that span the last decade which paint an alternative picture of China in its period of rapid development, focusing primarily on rural life.

First we get a snapshot into the lives of the nomadic people who now populate the birthplace of the legendary Tibetan King, King Gesar, and the remnants of the Barge Wall and the Funeral city which once stood in Shiqu. Then we  move on to Shangri-La to experience the growth of eco-tourism in the Tibetan village of Napa. In Chengdu we hear of the hardships experienced by Yi migrant workers, faced with discrimination and being taken advantage of by employers. We then arrive in Yongren County to bear witness to the more colourful side of the Yi people, with their annual fashion show. Then on to Yangjuan village to monitor the progress of the school built there in 2000, with two different perspectives on the village and the project, one from the Summer of 2006 by Liang Zhun and the second from Father Duraud in Winter 2010. We also take a look at China's Muslim Hui people as they celebrate the feast of the birth of the prophet Muhammad in Pi County and attend the rebuilding of the Tibetan Buddhist Kangwu Temple in Muli County. We also discover how the previously thought to be defunct Tibetan Buddhist school of Jonang, turns out to be very much alive in Dzamthang.

Photo by Liang Zhun

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