Erenlai - Nick Coulson (聶克)
Nick Coulson (聶克)

Nick Coulson (聶克)

I was born in sunny Torbay on the south western coast of England's green and pleasant lands. I'm prowling the streets, parks and ruins of Taiwan hunting for absurdities and studying the sociology of the underground. Furthermore with our nomadic arts and action space "The Hole" we attempt to challenge rigid and alienating structures.

出生於英國西南部,海邊的天堂為Torbay。目前在台灣的街上,公園,廢墟尋找世界之荒謬與世界之美,努力盡量在各方面跳脫框框。透過我們的游牧空間「洞」我們不斷地用藝術與行動來挑戰早已僵化的體制。

Monday, 23 May 2011 14:52

New Energy in Taiwan's Social Movements

From gritty Punk to technotronic Rave music; media savvy hoaxes to terrifying performance art; relaxing in activist cafes to energetic street parades; this months Focus we give you snapshots of innovation and creativity in Taiwan's social movements and in doing so a peek at the state of civil society in Taiwan. With local activist Zijie Yang as my trusted guide, I explored the recent history and the most dynamic of current social movement activity in Taiwan, choosing the increasingly active anti-nuclear power movement as a main focal point.

Having made the conversion to democracy from within the system rather than through outside powers, Taiwan can be an inspiring example for the aspirations of other democratic movements in Asia. Furthermore, Taiwan's advanced level of openness to outside ideas is unprecedented in Asia; the ideas they have brought in from outside have been modified and Taiwan-ised and may have a lot to offer the development of civil society in Asia, the Pacific and in China. The continuation of a robust civil society and social movements in Taiwan is all the more important due to the danger of relapses into more authoritarian governance that we are seeing in much of Asia, already known for being among the tightest regions in the world. Furthermore Taiwan itself is after all, still in a period of transitional justice; whether legally, systemically or in the collective psyche, traces of past terrors still remain, thus social movement aims can have a high relative value.

Before we can truly understand the current movement setting, we must first introduce the historical context and understand the background to activism in Taiwan. We therefore begin by abstracting Professor Ho Ming-sho's papers on social movement history in Taiwan. We also ask why much of Taiwan's youth seem so apathetic to social change. Is freedom no more than the 'right' to buy a Gucci bag? And yet we nonetheless witnessed many examples of highly motivated activists becoming ever more confident in their actions. What motivates these young activists to get involved in social movements? When looking at developments over the past few years it is impossible to sidestep the Wild Strawberries student movement which erupted in November 2008. We analyse two of the most comprehensive evaluations of these movements from two very different participants, to try and understand why the Wild Strawberries went mouldy, by looking at the organisational phenomenon and problems of new social movements in the post-modern era.

From there we can begin to question, what are the factors that will dictate future movements and what new energy is needed in social movements? One of the legacies of the Wild Strawberry student movement and its perceived failures, is what Sean Hsieh called "the opening of new spaces" for increased dialogue and stronger intra-organisational links. He introduces us to one of these spaces, Café Philo, and in particular its 'Philosophy Friday' which far less abstract than it sounds, focuses on concrete social, political and judicial issues, cultivating a much deeper and mature understanding in the socially active citizens that attend. A balancing act between knowledge, and practice.

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Another 'space' which is fermenting stronger, more informed activists is Go Straight Café, which inherited the legacy of the WildBerry House but rapidly reinvented themselves and is now home to the most innovative of movement activity, in particular the No Nuke Cultural Activism Group. They use music, art exhibitions and event organisation to open a dialogue with the wider public. Gong-li She use the medium of punk and rave, to channel the anger and frustration of the youth into action and activism, supporting social movements with music events. The communal fruits of these various groups can be seen with the 4/30 manifestation against nuclear energy in Taiwan, sparked partly in reaction to the Fukushima Nuclear disaster in March and in the exhibition 'Don't brush off what you see' where Esther Lu brought together 10 artistic works concerned with nuclear power and energy resources.  In a tribute to the Yes Men, the Jammers, printed 10 000 fake copies of Taiwan's major newspapers declaring, as a hoax, that the proposal for the controversial KuoKuang Petrochemicals factory had been rejected by the government. The stunt achieved its desired media attention and eventually the government removed its support for the project which could have endangered the survival of the last remaining Chinese White Dolphins. Another group concerned above all with nature and their natural rights are the Langyan Action Group, who every year since 2007 have lit pyres, setting off smoke signals that call for all indigenous peoples to unite and fight for what they see as incomplete transitional justice. This year they collaborated with No Nukes calling for a non-nuclear homeland.

In academic theory, its accepted that the development of social movements, the consciousness that group organisations can affect social change arose with education and the freedom and dissemination of information. Mainstream education and media in Taiwan is often criticised for being too didactic, and foreign teachers lambaste that rote-learning is the norm. Indeed, eRenlai is also a 'space' - our mission is to train people to truly reflect, question and form their own opinions rather than recycle the morning editorials that tend to polarise opinions, fashion a culture of blame and rarely present constructive dialogue. In this spirit we invite you to peruse our selection of the spiciest activism in the Taiwanese social hotpot...

Photos: N.C.

 

Wednesday, 18 May 2011 15:47

Why did the Wild Strawberries go mouldy?

In November 2008, the Kuomintang (KMT) in Taiwan and the Chinese Communist Party held their highest level meeting in 60 years. As largely expected, all did not go smoothly as pro-Taiwan independence supporters and other dissatisfied groups showed up in their masses 'sieging' the entrance to the Grand Hotel, Taipei where Chen Yunlin, the emissary from China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) would be received. As the protestors attempted to block Chen from entering, or held up signs in protest, questionable police brutality was used against the protestors, giving rise to impassioned criticism and a fear particularly in academic circles, that the state of human rights was sliding back to the days of martial law.

Following the Chen Yunlin Incident, at the suggestion of a BBS message from NTU Sociology professor Li Ming-tsung, with the support of some influential NTU Sociology professors, a sizable number of students quickly moved to take action condemning the police brutality at the Grand Hotel. Almost twenty years after the Wild Lilies had successfully tunnelled a passage to democracy; it was now the turn of the Wild Strawberries to bear fruit. Beginning with a sit-in protest at the Administrative Yuan on 11/06, it would not be until over a month later when the students finally left their resting place in Freedom Square empty handed; their demands unsatisfied.

Why was the student movement generally seen as a failure? Did it achieve anything at all if not in tangible gains, perhaps in innovation or experience? What were the organizational phenomenon and difficulties present? Most importantly, what lessons did the students and activists learn from this?

While there are a plethora of opinions on why the movement failed, the most detailed analyses have been from Ho Tung-hung (何東洪) and Sean Hsieh (謝昇佑).

Rob Voight translated Ho Tung-hung's article, My notes on Yecaomei of which the initial article appeared in Reflextions Magazine (思想). At the time it was the first real in depth analysis on the movement organization. Ho was one of the so-called "wild professors" alongside National Taiwan University's (NTU) Zhuoshuixi club (including Fan Yun who was a student leader during the Wild Lillies Student Movement 18 years earlier). Ho Tung-hung's article takes note of how the movement was seen as NTU-centric from the start, as the call to arms was sent on NTU's BBS chat system by Li Ming-tsung who was later sued unsuccessfully by the government for his role in setting off the protests. Due to this NTU-centric perception many well established and experienced activsts were reluctant to participate. Ho feels that this was exacerbated by the movement organisation, or lack of it, which was messy due to the reluctance to have a real leadership. This is expressed in the final sentence of his essay, where he expresses the opinion that "Post-Modernism should never be allowed on to the streets, yet it was allowed and with that as the movement relocated to Chiang Kai-shek Temple, it perished." Going to the Temple (Freedom Square) could be seen as nostalgia for and an attempt to follow in the footsteps of the Wild Lillies student movement, however sitting in a public square, where people are generally free to walk around was far less daring than going directly in front of the Presidential Palace, a road normally open to vehicles which would have continued to cause furore and question the Parade and Assembly Act (which controls on the freedom of assembly rather than guaranteeing it).

The post modernism mentioned here also refers to the attempt to stage the protest completely outside of the structural hierarchical organization model of other social movements or political parties,  perhaps the more socialist model favoured by some. Furthermore this 'post-modernist' dislike of authority extended even to those 'Wild Professors' sympathetic and supportive of the movement who were refused a greater role in the movement due to a fear of the idea of being pawns in a game of chess (下指導棋). While there were many non-NTU students, Ho Tung-Hung picks up on some immature actions which he feels further alienated established social movements. For example the setting a line in which only students were supposed to be allowed to pass, wanting to keep the protests apolitical only seperated them from the people and refusing for a while to recieve the Sanying aboriginal community, who were hardened activists from their past few years fighting the demolishing of their houses and had come to offer their support.

Doctorate candidate at NTU's Graduate Institute of Building and Planning, Sean Hsieh, gave his own analysis of events, which contrasted and to an exent tried to refute Ho Tung-hung's critique of the Wild Strawberries, providing Reflextions second in-depth analysis of the movement, with his article "Incidental or Inevitable".  Sean Hsieh is now part of Youth Synergy Taiwan, which offers support to various social organisations, and is also completing his doctoral thesis at NTU's Graduate Institute of Building and Planning department. Hsieh early on takes issue with Ho's final sentence proclaiming that Post Modernism should never take to the streets, stating firmly that it had already has taken to the streets. Hsieh feels that Ho failed to pick up on the incidental nature of the protests, all the unavoidables that the students, who could not possibly have been prepared for having no chance to meet up in advance anticipating these events. The police brutality, as well as the poor decisions made by the government to forcibly remove the students from the Administrative Yuan, when most students were probably planning to leave for their end of term exams all forced the students to join together and make a tough decision rapidly, without pre-organisation.

We interviewed Sean Hsieh at Cafe Philo (Chinese only)

One thing that Ho Tung-hung found most enraging was the burning of 35 000NTD a month on the "WildBerry House" towards the end of the movement. He felt it was against the DIY spirit of social movements and an insult to all those who had been taking part in social movements, putting in huge efforts just to earn their causes peanuts. He felt the money would have been far better distributed amongst other social movements while they went back and raised the money again, whilst gaining more experience taking an active part in social movements over a sustained period of time.

Hsieh feels this is however another 'incidental'. An unavoidable decision to make for the students. People had donated tens of thousands of NTDollars in support, and they could not but attempt use it productively if they were not to let down the people. He discusses Wild Strawberries instead as a symptom of deep structural problems in Taiwanese society. These strctural problems are the education system and the political trauma Taiwanese have suffered over successive goverments. This led to a mutual mistrust and suspicion on the square, that made it hard to build a leadership or common aims. Furthermore Hsieh evokes Althusser's evaluation on Machiavelli that what we need to really work at is "Opening new spaces". Arguably the controversial WIldberry House was a product of these structural problems in Taiwanese society and an opportunity for more effective successors, which could attempt to rectify these structural problems(see article on Movement Spaces). He feels that blaming the failure of the movement on the incompleteness of the movement demands and divergence from traditional forms of student movement organization, misses the point and what is important is that this movement opens up the doors for reflexive-criticism. "Only by reading profound philosophical works can patterns emerge in your mind  which will be engraved in your mind and soul. Finally the meticulous thinking processes cultivated in the process will eventually come to use during the longer struggle."

While Hsieh and Ho present different arguments here, it is possible to see that future movements could take advice from both sides. Indeed many of the students lacked experience and there is always a need for more people to engage long-term in social movements, so that they are constantly struggling and more well organised, should similar actions be needed in the future. At the same time, it is also necessary that spaces are opened where people can mature their oppinions through research, discussion and self-reflection. In a democracy, well informed and vigilant activists are the vanguard against tyranny. Indeed, since the Wild Strawberries student movement came to a climax, some of these 'spaces' have begun to develop.

 


 

[1] Translated from the Chinese by Rob Voigt. Original article 我的台北“野草莓”雜記/何東洪 published in 《思想》Reflextion, 11th ed March 2009, 《聯經》Linking Publishing Company.

[2] Article in Chinese 偶然還是必然?野草莓學運的結構限制與機運/謝昇佑, 《思想》Reflextion 12th ed June 2009,  《聯經》Linking Publishing Company

 

Tuesday, 17 May 2011 19:46

Movement Spaces: Brewing the perfect cup of activism

Activism isn't all about movement. Individuals need a constant flow of information, group debate and thus reflection on their actions and ideas. A culture can be born of the fusion of the ideas from a dynamic group of people and a 'space' for constant interactions they can remain dynamic, constantly regenerating themselves to meet with oscillating circumstances.

Here eRenlai introduces you two bases of innovation, discussion and reflection. An activist factory and a platform for Socratean debate. Both serve coffee...

Go Straight Café (直走咖啡)

Go Straight Café was borne of the legacy of the Wild Strawberries student movement. After the movement was unsuccessful in its demands, they realized they needed a permanent space which would create the right environment to give birth to new ideas, relationships and energy. Two years later, Go Straight is not only the home of No Nuke Cultural Activism Group at the centre of the anti-nuclear movement, but has become a base and indeed the birthplace for many smaller social movements who may not have had the funds or the human resources to set up their own places.

As Yang Zixuan told me, "activists can't spend all their time on the streets protesting". There has to be something in between that. In between days of  protest, whether successful or not, there are constantly new laws, new injustices, new attempts to circumvent the regulations of democracy, the public must thus always remain vigilant. While this vigilance has become easier with the internet and the spread of social media it has also encountered new problems - for example it is easy to be extremely active on the internet, all the while being extremely inactive in the real physical world. This is somewhere Go Straight Café can help to translate vocal or blogger support into a more real activism. Here, hardened cafe activists, Yang Zixuan and Stef Pei discuss how Go Straight has facilitated activism since it was established in 2009 and how they personally have developed along with the cafe.

Go Straight Café can be found a five minute walk away from Taipower Building MRT at the following address: No.18, Alley 27, Section 3, Tingzhou Road, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City

Café Philo (慕哲咖啡館)

Although French philosophers, like Sartre spent hours a day frequenting a selection of café’s, turning and perfecting their ideas, it wasn't until 1992 that Marc Sautet set up the first of the cafés-philos in Paris. Although Taiwan's Cafe Philo is a space of debate above all, it has also become a gathering point for activists and NGO's, especially the Philosophy Friday held by the Youth Synergy Taiwan foundation (青平台 Qingpingtai). While other social enterprises directly manage social movements, Youth Synergy takes a more strategic role, providing a space (the Chinese translation is platform) and support to other movements. eRenlai interviewed Youth Synergy's Sean Hsieh, to find out more about what they were doing.

Cafe Philo's Philosophy Friday is a platform that touches on vary facets of society, a public think tank of sorts, where they provide the space and with it access to the information and involvement in debate to promote open data, open government and transparency in Taiwan. While they sometimes take on abstract philosophical questions, they also often take on issues of current affairs, inviting NGO's, social movement organisations and various legal and political experts. One of the main aims is to be able to communicate with the masses, so during these talks one of the organisers is always on site to rephrase any overcomplicated talk. Two Friday sessions that I attended were full of lively debate. Sean, told me that one of the things he was most pleased with was the participation of many older people in the debates, enjoying the chance to interact and share opinions with Taiwan's youth. To push for real societal change one cannot rely solely on one age group, nor can you rely simply on the more radical activists, that may be more present at places like Go Straight, who are directly involved in managing social movements. Thus opinions that are more radical than the society they are in, need a less radical platform in which they can communicate ideas. This is the challeange that Sean and the Cafe Philo team are trying to balance.

Café Philo can be found at No 20, Alley 60, Taishun Street (off Shida Road), Da an, Taipei

Both of these two 'spaces' have a different role to play in civil society in Taiwan. Over the last year they have both showed development into forces for social change. One thing for sure is that sometimes it's OK to sit back and have a sip of coffee with your social enlightenment.

(Photo: N.C.)

Tuesday, 17 May 2011 14:33

RadioARTivity

One thing that I couldn't brush from our eyes during the NoNuke preparation and enaction of the 4/30 anti-nuclear power demonstrations, was the formidable displays of innovation and DIY creativity. Following the conclusion of their first major manifestation on the 30th April, NoNuke understandably didn't want the momentum to slip. Within a week of the 4/30 manifestation, they held an exhibition combining ten works from different artists, divided up between and held simultaneously at three separate galleries. Once again it showed the incredible organizational skills of this young yet maturing movement.

Don't Brush off What You See (不可小覷) was a way of keeping the spirit of the movement alive, meanwhile documenting the efforts of the anti-nuclear movement over the past 18 months and allowing individuals participating in the movement resting time to reflect on themselves and let their creative spirits flow. For curator Esther Lu it was also an experiment,

"to weave artistic production into social movement to shift the sociality of art. Quite opposite to the form social intervention, it is a social practice of artists as citizens to participate in the ongoing social debates with their own artistic research and practice that address reality with different visibility. They may reshape and diminish the conventions and collective ideologies of a demonstration, and create dynamic flux in social movement."

While not necessarily the most visually enticing art exhibition I've ever been too, it was full of energy and creativity to change and influence the way people and society think about energy issues. It was clear that the artists had considered many facets of the nuclear question and were certainly not uninformed extremists. The exhibition was full of innovative concepts, combining performance art, design, cinematography, some conceptual inventions and even organic urban regeneration. For example, the Plum Tree Creek group presented a comprehensive urban re-planning for the Zhuwei community in New Taipei City. While this exhibition was perhaps fired off by the Fukishima explosions in March, the works as a whole did not simply enclose themselves in an oversimplified nor purely nuclear framework. Instead, they opened up a dialogue with the rest of society and between themselves in the movement, suggesting alternative ways of living, in order to tackle the imminent environmental and energy crises without the use of dangerous nuclear fuel.

The Nuclear Waste Terrorists, provided documentation of their performance art, in which they carried fake barrels of nuclear waste in downtown Taipei,  before having an 'accident' which they were left trying to contain. After securing the perimeter they proceeded to pour what one could only assume was iodine salts to bring the radiotion levels under control. This use of terror was certainly an effective way to make onlookers wonder - just how prepared are we to deal with nuclear waste disposal and nuclear leaks? This doubt was further backed up by the work 'We never expected this to happen' in which they made a model representation of a nuclear power plant which they filmed blowing up, they further invited the visitors to make their own model power plants. Another work was of the classroom science invention type, The Red Eyes of Tom Boy, showing how tomato juice could be use to power a home-made battery.

Being Taiwan, their had to be some cuter artistic representations - Wu Qiyu, with his work 'Number 1 and the Dog'. certainly met the requirements.  He used film to portray the demise of an alpha male dog, once with a body of steel, who sees his strength waning after eating infected fish from the waters nearby Taiwan's first nuclear power station. The dog first has a headache, then he feels nauseous, eventually he violently coughs up his brains, jaw and even his teeth.

One work, We Create Power really sums up the greater meaning of this exhibition. The work stipulates that all energy eventually stems from human creativity. Indeed, human energy creates possibilities; superhuman energy can create problems...

Thursday, 21 April 2011 18:23

Snappershot & Tainan Lutai

Cars, cameras and cats

Tainan's Lutai was established two years ago by Sam Wu (吳山姆) and (廖脆麵) as an exhibition space, and a gathering space for lovers of novelty model cars, photography and cats. While intially they were just content that they could provide this space, eventually they opened up a small vintage store inside, with the hope that in the future they could break even.

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Snappershots Troupe (亂拍團) meet one Sunday every month. A group of people with similar interests – photography, exploration and anarchic spaces – meet at Tainan Lutai before gathering in a pre-selected block, with ruins a plenty and pearls waiting to be discovered. Lutai have even created a map (see right) of their favourite ruins in Tainan. In line with their passions the perimeter of the map is metamorphosed into a camera lens.

When was the first time you went ruin exploring? What stimulation do you get from these regular urban excursions? When I asked Gao Pu-chi what he likes so much about exploring these ruins, he said it was a house with no one inside, no one was looking after the house, but it ferments its own flavour, its own character and its own life as a ruin. What keeps him going still now he summed it up as 'danger'. Here are some of the photographic treasures Gao Pu-chi has brought back from these trips.

Cuimian (脆麵), one of the founders of Lutai, told me that above all Snappershot was for fun, the loose group had no strict rules and little responsibilities. They didn't go to shoot the classic tourist places, they searched out the wilder places in a state of decay such as shut down factories, unwanted houses and ruins. Originally there was 7-8 people participating. They would blog their photos and explorations and neventually people began to ask where these places were. Those who enjoyed Snappershot Sunday would come again and again, those who didn't wouldn't come a second time. Cuimian feels that ones outlook on the world can definitely be changed and enrichened by urban exploration. You will begin to search for the stories left over in the ruins, to appreciate the life and death of these constructions. The capturing these places on camera is different every time since everyone's eyes are different.

Images by Gao Pu-chi (高菩祁)

 

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Visual tours of recent architectural history are something that anyone can do by just wandering the streets and alleys… However if you want to try your hand with Snappershot you can contact Lutai and find out the dates of the next Snappershot excursion or alternatively if you are interested in having your own guided tour of the most marvellous of ruins in Tainan you could negotiate your own personal tour. If you can read Chinese you can also check their blog and facebook for updates.

Sam Wu: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 0925094096      Gao Pu-chi: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 0985091236

 

Wednesday, 20 April 2011 22:05

Ruin Raiding in Tainan

Ruin Raiding

Strolling down crumbling alleys of all shapes and sizes, all the woes of the busybodies are forgotten, in between colourful temples and Japanese-era colonial buildings, under the moonlight, an exercise in escapism.

Tainan, the ‘first’ capital of Ilha Formosa, sidesteps the prevailing metropolitan global cities view; Mediterranean in its fiery temper - emotive and irrational. Quirky cafes, extra sugar with all orders, and a endless temples are all associated with Tainan, but one less known hobby is that of ruin raiding, empassioned urban exploration in derelict buildings, where the dust has fallen….

People often come to Tainan to escape the dog-eat-dog mentality of Taipei, Taichung & Kaohsiung. While there sometimes seems to be an assumption that to be anyone in Taiwan you need to first slave away in Taipei, barely scraping by, just to payoff your landlord-masters; those who can make their way in Tainan seem to appreciate the lighter side of life. While Taipei tries all to compete with Shanghai and Shenzhen in urban brutality, attempting to destroy the last forces of architectural humanism and connection to nature, Tainan (comparatively) seems to let the buildings flow beyond the pale as romantic smatterings of diversity in destitution, deterioration and degeneration.

I begin my journey at Tainan’s Lutai (台南小露台), in itself a ‘ruin’ of sorts. The 3-storey building overlooking the train-tracks has been renovated into a vintage store and art space and gathering point for the nostalgic. On the first floor, it’s filled with old collections of miniature Vespa bikes, as well as several obsolete full-sized vehicles, and a selection of bike horns to accompany (I left with the yellow rubber ducky – nothing says ‘get out the way’ with more authority). Meanwhile, on the second floor they have continuously evolving photography exhibitions, this time I visited it was all about cats – hungry + diseased kittens, patrolling cat gangs, sleepers, blindcats, Persian – even through this cat exhibition you're given snapshots of Tainan mentality. Finally, after getting past the three resident cats, all rescued (Yes, Lutai is also a part-time cat rescue and home finding centre). I make my way to base camp; a room on the third floor with my host Gao Pu-chi.

It’s fitting, that this hub of nostalgia for the class of the past is the base of explorations for Tainan’s underground culture of ruin raiding. Indeed, much of the stores wares are treasures recovered from derelict buildings, long abandoned. This is where I will discover the underground world of ‘space’ raiders, snappershot-storytellers and hopeless romantics hunting down traces of unwritten history.

Xinglin Hospital

The walls were stained with the screams of bleeding patients. The stone slabs were carved with doctors legacies, the deserted medical cabinets stunk of junky, and every shard from the shattered windows was a testament to the will to survive.

The first ruin I am taken too – is a long abandoned Hospital. The Xinglin Hospital Complex (xinglin zonghe yiyuan 杏林綜合醫院). It’s a fitting first destination since Gao Pu-chi started out studying hospital management at university in Taipei before deciding to escape Taipei and spend almost a year working random shifts and focusing on his photography.

When Xinglin Hospital ceased to run, it was the days before Taiwan had National Health Insurance. At the time it was split into workers insurance, farmer's insurance etc. The worker's insurance meant that the worker would pay an annual sum, guaranteeing an allowance for medical costs; however, if you had not spent these costs by the end of the year, the credit was lost and the money dissapeared, never to come back. At that time the hospital started having some deals with the triads in order to profit from this system, cooperating with them to falsely recieve the insurance money. Eventually the boss of the hospital was caught for his dealings and sent to prison. This meant he was no longer able to give a salary to his employees, so everyone left the hospital, it became derelict, and has remained this way all the way until today. Nonetheless all of the drugs, beds and other equipment remained. Eventually anything that could be sold or used has been taken - including the metal and wood holding together windows.

remain_13crop

Photo by Chen Po-I from his collection 'Remain'

When I arrived there in broad daylight, at the centre of Tainan city from outside the building looks like the remains of a blitzkrieg. Not a window was still standing, nonetheless these vacant walls were stained with poetry. Poetry of the past patients, doctors, nurses and corpses that inhabited these now barren and broken walls. Reading the stone slabs above the different doctors office, I realised that from explorations into a 30 year old building – untouched apart from lootings – that you can sometimes learn a lot more about history than any museum.

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This stone slab above a doorway gives praise to the ingenuity and skills of the doctor who occupied the room. Traditionally a grateful patient may contribute one of these slabs, this one details the remarkable recovery from a horrific car accident in which the author had  fractured his skull.

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wangziReliving the Blitzkrieg

“I dreamt that you had come down south”

Love letter dated 1981 (民國70年)

The ‘Today’s Showings’ board at the Prince Theater (王子大戲院) is empty today. I feels like its been empty a long time too, a couple of slightly ripped and faded posters remain outside – on one of them you can make out a western film perhaps from the 80’s that I never knew. At some point in the 1980's this complex suffered from a great fire leaving much of the building destroyed and pushing the variety of entertainment businesses out of the building. After the fire it suffered another form of destruction, torn apart for its wood, nails and ladders – anything that could be sold or reused. This however doesn’t bother Bibi (B-Boy), people don't loot the things that he is interested in - the pictures, the posters, the marks left on the wall from the posters, and loveletters - everything that tells a story.

The building used to be at the heart of Tainan's more controversial entertainment scene. The second floor used to be a karaoke joint and had hundreds of old VHS videotapes. The 4th floor - a strip club. While Bibi explained to us that all the seats had bins underneath to throw away your issues, we found an abandoned G-string, used perhaps 25 years ago and the posters that they used to use to promote the club. There were three theatres in the building in which all the seats had been ripped from the floor, at the back of the theatre were a set of couches, these were the more expensive seats where you could take a partner and engage in more questionable business. Perhaps the most beautiful moment, however, was when Bibi found a 30-year old love letter and its reply. The story was of a girl from Tainan in the south of the country and a boy form Taipei in the north. Reading the handwritten letter we could almost feel the emotions from the two lovers, their dreams and their life pressures and their chances for a future together. We were only able to speculate on how the relationship concluded.

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After the dust settles...

During my few days exploring these ruins in Taiwan, I gained a great affinity for these independent spaces. I was left wandering, what memories would I leave for someone exploring my ruins 50 years into the future. This touches on our very permanence, and sustained being. After the dust settles, what mark would you leave on this world?

Thursday, 31 March 2011 17:03

Mapping and Unmapping the Pacific: Island Perceptions of an Oceanic Continent

Rediscovering our sea of islands was a momentous paper written by Epeli Hau`ofa, the most influential Pacific scholar of his age (read here), where he laid out his ideas for a new Oceania. Indeed during this conference it seemed like the Pacific had rediscovered the lost island of Taiwan and Taiwan had rediscovered the ocean. Mapping and Unmapping the Pacific: Island Perspectives of an Oceanic continent was the first international conference held by the newly established Taiwan Society for Pacific Studies and it undeniably reaffirmed Taiwan’s position geographically on the edge, but spiritually as a core part of the Pacific. While in February we covered Taiwan's indigenous peoples and Taiwan's specific role in the Pacific with our Focus, Turning East, Taiwan's Pacific Frontier, in this April Focus we are given a smorgasbord of insights and perspectives on the wider oceanic continent.

Uniting our sea of islands in the face of common struggles

The Austronesian family has long been scattered and restricted in their movements - through colonialism and then through the constraints due to the nation-state and the paradoxical ‘pass'-port system. Yet during this two day conference and as the guests visited Austronesian communities in Taitung, there was rejoicing as they were finding their long lost relatives - recent research suggests that the Austronesian language family spread out into the Pacific from Taiwan. The most influential Pacific scholars joined the growing network of Taiwanese students of the Pacific in this attempt at 'remapping' the Pacific. Grant McCall went on to explain the historical attempts to 'map' the Pacific and gave his own suggestion for a linguistic division by 'nesias' before showing that the Pacific is nonetheless connected on a Möbius Strip of knowledge; Francis X. Hezel shows how Christianity can still be a tie that binds the Pacific together along with Arthur Leger S.J. who claims that the Catholic Church can be a force to keep Oceania from falling off the map; Hamashita Takeshi offers suggestions for a peaceful future for East Asian engagement in the Pacific through a union of coastal cities which transcends national definitions and rivalries and Katerina Teiwa explains that the Pacific is united by its diversity and which is expressed in their arts and culture festivals and exchanges.

Whether it be culturally, economically, academically or politically a common theme throughout the 2-day conference was the need for a degree of autonomy. While Ta-chuan Sun (Paelabang Danapan) presented his final propostion for Taiwan's indigenous movement, Vilsoni Hereniko compared the what he had seen of the indigenous situation in Taiwan with the plight of indigenous Hawaiians, commenting that all the way accross the ocean the struggle was the same - to be free, indigenous peoples must have cultural autonomy. Indigenous peoples must be masters of their own future, then as custodians of the ocean, they can unite in order to face up to the growing environmental crises, drawing on traditional wisdom which dictates harmony with nature.

Renaissance Oceanie

As Hamashita Takeshi points out in Learning from Ryukyu the world has much to learn from the Pacific. What we observed at this conference was that the Pacific can go beyond mere cooperation in the face of common struggles. In times often dominated by selfish nationalism on country to country basis, the concept of Oceania offers an alternative world view which could be as promising as when Europe declared it would never have intra-wars again with the creation of the EU. The Pacific offers fusions of traditional culture and modern society as well as ideas that transcend the prevailing nation state concept.

One of the last major obstacles to overturning the Pacific's colonial legacy is building narratives and education indigenous to the Pacific. In this spirit, Pierre Maranda presented the ambitious project Oceanie.org, a type of intranet encyclopaedia which works through the concept of "attractor" and "attractor basins" to remap Oceania thought as well as advancing new media in the field of anthropology. Many of the conference participants were trying to flout new narratives, that transcended western academic traditions such as Yedda Palemeq with her papers expressing the different notions of time between Western academic thought and Austronesian thought and Nakao Eki whose is attempting from her PhD to offer produce work based from an Amis historical narrative with her concept of the Inbetweeners.

Many other speakers at the conference offered new innovative perspectives; for example, Patrick Savage combines his musical background with his anthropological interests in his presentation on the possibility of using music as a marker for Austronesian migrations. The critical point was that the conference laid out a new roadmap, from this point forward, their would closer networking, a sharing of ideas, innovation and mutual respect, borrowing Grant McCall's concept "we are all connected by a Möbius Strip of knowledge".

We give thanks to all the speakers and those who partook in the organisation of this conference, including the young volunteers who kept the show running (see video below). Special thanks goes to Paul Farrelly and Conor Stuart for their enthusiastic support in documenting the event and helping disseminate information through to the public.

Alternative (for readers in China)

{jcomments off}

Monday, 14 February 2011 16:32

The 2011 3rd Sustainable Life Awards winners

The five winners of the 2011 3rd Life Sustainability Awards have now been announced. The Life Sustainability Awards aim to encourage and congratulate those who take action to protect and develop cultural diversity, spiritual empowerment and environmental sustainability. By reporting the stories and contributions of those awarded the Sustainable Life Awards, we hope to encourage more people from Taiwan and the wider Pacific region to come together with innovative solutions to global challenges.

The First Life Sustainability Awards in 2008 produced 11 award winners. Then, in 2009 The Second Life Sustainability Awards produced 9 award winners. The award winners are chosen after carefully considering a host of worthy candidates with contributions to ‘Sustainable life’ and finally choosing a fair cross section with the winners espousing different qualities. In 2011 for the Third Life Sustainability Awards we narrowed down the criterion, choosing the winners based on two main requirements:

- they have contributed to the protection and development of Taiwanese aboriginal/Austronesian culture with continuous actions and an innovative spirit.

and

- have valiantly mobilised community resources to respond to challenges of sustainability.

prize,生命永續獎

Each of the award winners will be rewarded with a beautiful stone sculpture made by Wang Xiu-chi, who generously donated all the sculpture trophies for the First Life Sustainability Awards in 2007. To view more of his fabulous works, please click here.

The Award winners

Writer of a uniquely Dawu form of Ocean literature, Syaman Rapongan brings his readers to the ocean shores with him. He lives the life he writes; fishing, shipbuilding and embracing the traditions of his elders - Tao folklore will live on in his work for future generations. His contributions to the Dawu people and other aboriginal groups go beyond the literary sphere; he was also a pioneer in aborigine-related social movements in the 1980’s.

Sakuliu Pavavalung, an earthenware sculptor of the Paiwan minority, devotes himself to the renovation and documentation of the lost craft of earthenware pot making. He has long pushed his concept of a ‘community classroom’ teaching the kids about their cultural history and wisdom and spearheading the community rebuilding of his community following the devastation of Typhoon Morakot.

Dadelavan Ibau is lightning rod of inspiration for marginalised communities. A professional dancer, she also voluntarily teaches drums to prisoners and kids in remote schools. In these encounters and interactions she drums in hope and drumming out their hidden potential.

Documentary filmmaker and scholar Futuru Tsai, was adopted into the Atolan Communty where he has documented local popular culture such as ‘Amis Hip hop’. Later films and research follow Austronesian migration paths in the Pacific and explores the lost history of Taiwan’s aborigines. In his work he both learns from and enriches indigenous culture.

Bo-hua Peng has long spent her own free time visiting disadvantaged schools as a storyteller. The time with these children in eastern Taiwan alerted her to their needs and led her to establish the Wood Pecker Life Association, which trains the young people how to better spend there free time to study and provide service to the community.

The winners have been presented with their awards at the conference Mapping and Unmapping the Pacific: An Island Perception of an Oceanic Continent on February 16-17th. This conference is held by the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Executive Yuan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China, Renlai Monthly & eRenlai, Taiwan Society for Pacific Studies, National Central Library and other institutes.

 

{rokbox album=|myalbum|}images/stories/2011Life_Award_winners/*{/rokbox}

 

Thursday, 30 December 2010 18:42

"I have no hang-ups"

I never met Robert Ronald S.J. The first time I stepped into the old eRenlai offices was several months after he had passed from this ephemeral world. Yet as I came for an internship I was also somewhat blindly stepping into his shoes.

Monday, 06 December 2010 13:19

Whiskers in space

Kerstin Ergenzinger was invited as an international artist in residence for the '5th Digital Art Festival Taipei 2010'. Similar to cats' whiskers, her work brought together polypropylene, muscle-wire, silicon, steel an air currents sensor, hot-wire anemometer and her custom electronics to create makeshift 'whiskers' connected to sensors measuring fine air currents in the room, which transforms their position before they feed the impulses back on to the surroundings, creating a loop in which the installation is both affected by and affects the surroundings.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010 19:21

On the frontlines: The SIDS cases

While discussions continue, and most of the world lags behind its modest emissions targets. Some areas are already close to going under, that's to say sinking beneath our carbon-fueled rising sea levels. Ambassador Phillip K. Kabua for the Republic of the Marshall Islands in Taiwan brings local impacts to bear on global negotiations calling for greater actions even as some of his territories are doomed.
Monday, 01 November 2010 00:00

Trust me, I'm a DOCtor

The Artisanship of Documentary

This year TIDF ran the DOCumentary DOCtor Workshop in view of its responsibility to improve the quality and spread of Taiwanese documentary film. With four European and Asian ‘DOCtors’ present, DOCDOC gave the opportunity to aspiring Taiwanese filmmakers to have their projects assessed and DOCtored by experts.

Finnish DOCtor Janne Niskala, began by praising all the film projects present for having very specific subjects. He said that people often make the mistake of thinking you must have general issues to make a good film: “In fact the smaller the subject, the better the film.” He was impressed that in observational tragicomic Say Sing (說唱), the director/cameraman had forged a really intimate relationship with his subjects, a Hip-hop band who sang in a local Yunnan dialect. While far from complete, it had a universal musical dream and great potential.

Korean Min Chul-kim, mentioned that there was still room for improvement on the lack of producer culture and knowledge. Nowadays an understanding of production is crucial if a film wants to reach a global market and one may need to exceed pure activism or journalistic reportage and include a degree of cinematic creation. As such, he praised the commercial TV potential of A Tunafish Eye (滿載).

Jean Perret feels that filmmaking needs to be “maintained as a handcraft” and requires artisanship “to reveal in every detail”. He talked of the film of a wagon in Siberia, 8 minutes of a wagon moving through the snow.Too many Taiwanese and Chinese documentaries he saw covered “important” or “moving” subjects but were in no way made as a film. There was a need for hybridization between documentary and creative cinema. Also, he felt there was not enough respect for global audiences, with subtitles that are translated, but not considered an art in their own right.

 

All the DOCtors agreed that filmmaking required meticulous detail in all areas from the first frame to the production and distribution and were thus impressed with these young directors for partaking in the competition where they could refine their skills and breathe new life into their documentaries.

docs

 

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