Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: development
Tuesday, 30 October 2012 17:12

Amoy A’okay Haiyawan: Ethnicity in the Tourism Industry

I come from the Saisiyat tribe of Wufeng township in Hsinchu county. My reason for taking part in this international exchange program stems from the fact that I am going to graduate this year and enter the job market, so I want to make the most of still being a student and see other countries. The exchange program organised by the Council of Aboriginal Affairs not only allows us to go abroad and broaden our horizon, but also to share the experiences that we have had abroad with our family, friends, and tribe members. We are like a seed being planted, which will later grow and share what it has seen and heard with the whole of Taiwan.

In Fiji, we visited four villages, namely Navala village, Navua village, Muaivuso village and Korova village. When looking around these four villages, I formed lots of different opinions. The first two villages were focused on the tourism industry, and were fairly developed. One of the reasons for them to develop their tourism industry was to preserve their traditions. They believe that “developing tourism” is the best way road to “preserving tradition”. I couldn’t help but think that in modern Taiwanese aborigine society, “developing tourism” and “preserving tradition”, are not often things that you see together, so I think it is really worth it for us to study this and take it back to our tribes. Another thing that left an impression on me was that, while at Navua Village, the locals not only introduced the particularities of Fijian culture, but also constantly impressed on us the importance of culture, and how careful we should be about not losing it. I was very moved; in their eyes we are probably just a group of tourists that will only come to Fiji once in their lives, but they still used their life experiences to illustrate the importance of culture for us. They hope that not only their own culture can be preserved, but rather that every ethnic group should preserve its own traditional culture. This kind of mentality moved me a lot.

 

After visiting these villages, I compared them to Taiwanese aborigine villages. In Taiwan, lots of aborigine villages that have developed tourism are not so capable of preserving tradition, even to the point that people from aborigine towns involved in the tourist industry, change everything about all things aborigine in a capitalist way, regardless of the feelings or habits of aborigine residents of that area, just to cater to the tastes of the consumers. Not only do the aborigine towns become more Han, but even the aborigines themselves gradually become assimilated to Han culture. Actually when I first laid eyes on the villages of Muaivuso and Korova, they reminded me a lot of the tribes in Taiwan now: Simple houses, a relaxed pace, no traditional buildings, etc. It felt the same as being back home. The difference is, however, that they still maintain their way of life, where as we beg for our existence under the capitalist system.

IMG_5916amoy

In Fiji, there are two main types of tourism: the first is ecotourism, such as the aforementioned visits of villages for sightseeing. The other type is the one typical of any tourist destination nowadays; tours of scenic spots, luxurious hotels, all manner of aquatic activities, etc. Combining these necessary elements with the unique local culture is the approach most tourism companies are taking nowadays. At this point, too, it is inevitable to draw a comparison between Taiwan and Fiji. In Fiji, even though a lot of foreign businessmen have established a presence and developed the tourist industry, I have also noticed that the smart ones have understood the need to incorporate the cultural characteristics to the tourism industry. For example, when we went to Denarau Island and visited two hotels, they both included elements of local Fijian arts and crafts and building styles. In contrast, in Taiwan, the tourism industry and hotels run by so-called “Foreign businessmen”, always seem to focus on the concepts of “high-class” and “cosy” as their defining characteristics, striving their hardest in order to pander to the requirements of the consumers. They don’t really think about how to integrate their tourist model with the local culture. In this sense I think Fiji is definitely a place worthy of our study.

IMG_4555amoy

When visiting the “Pacific Harbour Cultural Extravaganza”, we all realised it was a little similar to Pingdong’s “Aborigine Culture Park”, it is a completely packaged experience and has become cultural tourism. What made it feel special to me was that they used acting to narrate their culture, an approach that made for an intimate experience, and also made it easier to absorb the knowledge on a personal level. Just as I was considering whether this style of performance would be suitable for Taiwan or not, I heard one of the members of our group say that if this method were to be used in Taiwan, it might lead to the problem of stereotypes. After all, indigenous Fijians represent roughly half of the local population of Fiji, and they are all of the same ethnicity. Local people are very familiar with indigenous Fijian culture, which makes it unlikely for stereotypes to arise. In Taiwan, however, aborigines amount to only 2% of the population, and what’s more there are 14 distinct tribes, each with their own cultural characteristics. Certainly, not everyone who lives in Taiwan understands aborigine culture, even how many tribes there are is unclear, so how can we demand that they become completely familiar with 14 different tribes? If it’s not clear how can acting be used to narrate, and tell them about our history? I hope that one day in the future everyone who lives in this piece of land we call Taiwan can come to understand the distinct aspects of Taiwanese aborigine culture, since after all it is our most precious asset.

In the meeting on the night of our last day in Fiji, Teacher Guan proposed a question for us to ponder: “If your tribal village was to develop its tourist industry, how would you like it to go about doing so?” He told us there was no hurry to answer this question. In fact, I had already started thinking about this question since I first arrived in Fiji. If the tribal village in question is my own, then I would not be interested in the slightest in developing its tourism. Perhaps the increase of tribe tourism has started to become a trend over the last few years, but I think that tribes are just that, tribes, and I wouldn’t want too many people coming from the outside and causing a disturbance, since it really is a kind of “disturbance” after all. In Fiji, we saw how tourism development and the preservation of tradition can coexist, but I don’t think this is possible in Taiwan at this stage in time. Perhaps you may ask? How do we make money then? Well, before the trend for tribe tourism had taken shape, tribes already had their own way and rhythm of life, did they not? Why do we need to risk the hazards posed by these “disturbances” just to “modernize” our tribes, especially when it’s not clear whether these “modernizations” will be beneficial or not?

Actually, speaking as a Saisiyat, I don’t think we currently need to rely on tourism to preserve and pass on our culture. The event that people are most aware of, our Pas-ta’ai religious festival, will carry on being held with or without tourists. Even when tourists do attend the festival, they have to respect its predetermined rules, such as attaching Chinese silvergrass to our bodies and cameras, and staying in the outer circle as opposed to the inner one. Just because tourists are curious and want to participate in our festival, doesn’t mean we should cater to their demands. When it comes to preserving traditional culture, I think us Saisiyat are actually quite a conservative tribe.

 

Translated from the Chinese by Daniel Pagan Murphy


Tuesday, 16 October 2012 17:24

Sra Manpo Ciwidian: Models for Autonomous Development


I’m Sra Manpo Ciwidian from the Pangcah (Amis) Tribe. I was born in the Ancuhy (安通) tribal village. When I was still young, my parents decided to leave their home in the east of Taiwan due to economic considerations and in order to get a good education for their children, and the four of us moved to Taoyuan County, where we live to this day. I read diplomacy for my undergraduate degree, in the course of which I learned a lot about international politics. A field research project inspired me to rethink my own relationship with aboriginal communities, so I applied to change my degree to joint honours with ethnology. I knew that if I wanted to help my tribe to protect their cultural heritage, I would have to broaden my perspective on it and learn more about it, in order to improve things for the aboriginal peoples. In 2009 I passed the admittance examination for the National Chengchi University’s Ethnology Masters program, gaining entry to the program.

In the course of reading my masters, I got to know aboriginal classmates from different backgrounds, and we founded a group of Amis young people in our age set studying in the North of Taiwan called La Qinghan. It was as if we’d brought the feel of our tribal villages to the capital. Whether we were having a laugh, singing, or engaged in more serious discussions about the current issues affecting aboriginal peoples, it made me feel that even though I was in the capital, I had a concrete sense of belonging.

When I complete my studies, I always hoped to be able to integrate the fields of diplomacy and ethnology. This was, therefore, a great opportunity for me to broaden my own horizons by harnessing my own identity as a Taiwanese aborigine and coming into contact with the larger world; at the same time, I had the chance to interact with other Austronesian groups like myself, the indigenous Fijian people, from several different perspectives, in the hope that the dialogue we engaged in during the visit would provide a frame of reference for the way aboriginal affairs are dealt with in Taiwan.

Our trip was divided into two parts, specifically our encounters with the different villages and our visit to the University of the South Pacific. We visited four villages during the trip: Navala, Koromakawa, Muaivusu and Korova. In our visits to these four villages we observed not only the beauty of the villages themselves, but we also got an idea of the social intimacy amongst the villagers. Even though we spent only half a day in each village, the feelings of unfamiliarity were quickly broken down by the overwhelming similarities in language and culture.

I attached a lot of importance to how the village had chosen to orientate its development and how it took the initiative to develop autonomously. In contrast to the more touristic development model of the villages of Navala and Koromakawa, I’d like to share my experience of visiting the other two villages, which left the deepest impression on me of the whole trip.

Muaivusu village chose marine life protection as its orientation for village development. Muaivusu wasn’t involved in the tourism industry, and few tourists visited the village. USP Professor Randy Thaman brought us to the village, he had been working in cooperation with local villages to protect the ocean for over ten years, throughout this period he’s seen how the marine ecology had gone from near destruction to gradual recovery. His environmental protection work did not just extend to protecting marine life and their natural environment, but it also included recording the local Fijian indigenous peoples’ knowledge and techniques with regard to animals, plants and ecology. Professor Thaman understood that this section of ocean was a big part of the Fijian way of life, their knowledge of it came from their interaction with it, and had been passed on through generations. Protecting was not just blindly following the demand to ‘let natural reserves recuperate’, but rather it was the idea of incorporating man into the ecological model, in that Taiwanese aborigines and the indigenous people of Muaivusu village know how to interact with the ocean.

However, this is not an easy road to take, and in the process of protecting the marine ecology they’ve come up against some stumbling blocks. There are still instances of illegal fishing that occur there, the rubbish from neighbouring towns pollutes the ocean, amongst other problems. The most serious problem, however, is that the knowledge of the ecology passed down from the elders in the past, is gradually disappearing amongst younger generations. Due to the loss of local languages, young people no longer use traditional fishing methods, and the elders, due to their great age are no longer able to go out on the ocean to observe the ecological environment, this is one of the reasons that Professor Thaman is recording local indigenous knowledge of the ecology. In the course of this visit, I was able to perceive clearly how to take a positive and active role in pushing for development in the village, as well as observing the role that academia should play, not sitting in an ivory tower unrelentingly pursuing esoteric abstractions, but engaged in the issues, big or small, that life throws up, contributing academically to the society of which they are a part.

The fishing village of Korova is a little village in close proximity to the capital. It was there that we came across an instance of land issues that was still an issue today. This was because the land on which the village was built didn’t legally belong to the villagers. However, according to Professor Paul Geraghty, who took us to the village, when the villagers migrated there, they asked the then chief of Suva if they could use the land there, a request to which he acquiesced. This approach was the most commonly accepted way of going about this under the traditional system, and so Korova village felt they had the right to use the land, but this was not acknowledged by the legal system. There are several examples of similar circumstances when it comes to Taiwanese aborigines, like the Sanying (三鶯) tribal village and the Xizhou (Shijou 溪州)) tribal village.

korova

On the first day of our visit to the University of the South Pacific Professor Marika Kuilamu and a graduate student from the university Apisalome Movono shared with us the current state of the tourism industry in Fiji. Apisalome’s presentation compared the social impact of involvement with tourism on two villages. He employed both qualitative and quantitative information to relate how tourism had affected local culture, it felt as if he could just as easily be talking about Taiwanese tribal villages. Taiwanese tribal villages have faced many similar problems, like, for example, funding, professional training, as well as land issues. Apisalome’s presentation reminded us once again of the similarities between the Fijian and Taiwanese indigenous peoples. That afternoon we participated in a forum with five professors who taught at the school, in which one of the professors informed us that the term ‘Austronesian’ was a linguistic term, and that, in fact, people from Oceania did not recognise themselves as being Austronesian. However, recently, some countries that speak Austronesian languages had started to incorporate the concept of ‘Austronesian’ as an ethnic grouping, so younger people were more familiar with the idea. This was quite a shock for me.

On the final day of our trip we visited the Pacific Harbour Arts Village, which resembled something akin to the Taiwan Aboriginal People Culture Park. However, in their arts village they had only to introduce Fijian indigenous people as a whole, they didn’t have the task which falls to Taiwan of introducing fourteen different ethnic groups in one go. At the start the tour was hosted by warm hearted elderly gentleman, who had been working there for 30 years. First he took us to an area where he introduced the origins of the lovo (an earth oven), which had originally been used to cook people, as part of Feiji’s cannibalistic tradition. In our discussion afterwards we considered the possibility that the cannibalism had perhaps been over-emphasized in the interests of tourism. In aboriginal societies, cannibalism perhaps wasn’t as common or as everyday a custom as they seemed to suggest. I think, it perhaps merits comparison with the way Taiwanese aborigines are often said to have loved headhunting, but was headhunting so lightly or casually looked upon by aborigines? I doubt that very much.

We went on a little boat tour, on which they introduced different aspects of the traditional Fijian way of life: mat weaving, making fire by rubbing sticks together, how the tapa bark cloth is made, pottery techniques, as well as traditional Fijian weapons and defences. In the second part they took us into the forest, to experience other aspects of Fijian traditional life. In the course of this second part several interesting things happened, like when a Fijian performer came up on us as if to kill us, and the idea that traditional Fijians didn’t want a pretty wife, because it meant that they would live longer. I gleaned two concepts from this experience:

The first was that the Taiwan Aboriginal People Culture Park could use this performance-led tour experience model to introduce the different tribes within Taiwan, allowing tourists to get closer to the aboriginal way of life, which would help to facilitate better communication between aboriginal peoples and the Han population, or even between different aboriginal tribes. What concerns me, however, is whether or not this experience model would turn make tradition overly formulaic, and would simplify the diversity of development and culture between different tribes.

The second idea was that this experience model would lead to the formation of another stereotype of aborigines. To me aboriginal life is not just about maintaining and continuing traditional ways of life, but aborigines are surviving in the contemporary world, and they play an important part in our country.

On this journey to Fiji, we discovered that Indigenous Fijians owned 80% of the land, and they can choose their own development model. Therefore, some villages, in response to the demand to maintain their livelihood, choose to rent land to property development groups, who launch large scale tourist resorts. Others choose to develop their own tourist industry, and others still choose to protect the natural resources of the village, choosing environmental protection as an orientation for development. Regardless of which developmental model is in place, the village always plays an important model within it. This is very different from the experience of aborigines in Taiwan. In Taiwan, aborigines don’t own their own land completely. The majority of the area of our traditional territory is now called “government-owned land”, and aborigines cannot take the initiative to make use of their own natural resources. To me, land holds the role of a mother to our culture. With the loss of land, how is it possible for a society to pass on its culture and social structure to the next generation? I rejoice for Fijian Indigenous people therefore, as they don’t need to concern themselves with land issues, as land can’t be bought or sold, nor cannot it be lost.

How can we apply what we learned in this experience to the development of Taiwan’s aboriginal people? It’s true that Taiwanese aborigines no longer hold the rights to their traditional territories, and they are still engaged in a struggle over it. This will take a long time to settle, whether from a political point of view, or a cultural one. My experiences in Fiji inspired in me a thought on this issue, the drawing up of the borders between traditional territories and their promulgation is an extremely important act. Although in the context of the gradual erosion of aboriginal knowledge of the ecology, is this really possible? Are we still capable of using the wisdom of our ancestors to manage mountain forests, rivers and lakes or the ocean? Therefore, in addition to continuing to research traditional territory, there should be an attempt to discover and record traditional aboriginal knowledge and ecological knowledge, and pass these on to the younger generations in the tribe. This is the only way that aboriginal wisdom can continue to be passed on. In the future, if aborigines gain autonomy, we’ll be able to demonstrate aboriginal wisdom and techniques to the government, proving our ability to look after the forests, rivers and oceans that our ancestors had entrusted to us.

As well as autonomous development by the villages themselves, we discovered that professors and students from the University of the South Pacific also play an important role. Through cooperation with the University of the South Pacific, the villages got access to a lot of management techniques and wisdom, as well as paving the foundation for a friendship with USP. For the university, the village provides an opportunity to put their theory into practice, and to give back to society. For the village, the university’s participation gives the village more resources in managing the land, allowing the village to keep up their livelihood, as well as passing on local cultural practices. It made me think of National Taiwan University, or any other academic organization that researches aboriginal culture, and how they could take part in tribal village life in this same spirit, allowing the villages to develop autonomously, not just treating it as the passive object of research.

As my undergraduate degree was in diplomacy and by masters is in ethnology, I had hoped that through this experience, I could get a feel for the interaction between different Austronesian communities. I did feel a sense of intimacy between the two groups of aborigines, not only through hearing Paiwan tribe businessman, Shi Xiongwei, who is based in Fiji, sharing his experience, but also through direct interaction with local people, as well as with USP professors and students. They gave me the feeling that Taiwanese aborigines have a lot of brothers and sisters in Oceania. Although Oceanic islanders don’t universally identify as being Austronesian, but I think that the more contact we have with other Austronesian communities, we can form a new connection, reconnecting the people living in Oceania, and this new connection will provide a narrative of the similarities between our languages, cultures and even our social structures.

For me it is important to share my experiences in Fiji with other members of my tribe. Although it’s not possible for them to go to Fiji themselves, I hope that through pictures and film they can get a general idea of what indigenous Fijians were like, and to use the issues revealed about them to reflect on the development of Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples.

This trip also helped to decide my own direction of research into Austronesian peoples. Currently my research is focused on “Austronesian Diplomacy”. However, in the future I hope to go to Oceania and engage in regional research there. I hope, as well as comparing this experience to Taiwan, that my research will enable links between different Austronesian groups in the Pacific.

In the hope of engaging in a pilot study for Austronesian research, I have applied for next year’s World Austronesian Project. As well as this, I am trying to save money, in the hope that I can attend the Pacific Arts Festival, which will be held in 2016 in Guam. If at the time I have enough money, I’m sure that the exchange will be of great benefit for Oceanic arts and culture as well as encouraging links between different groups of Austronesians.

If it were possible, I would have liked to have stayed in the village for a night. If we had stayed in the villages for a night I think we would have gotten a more complete picture of life in the village and it would have facilitated more interaction with the local aboriginal people.

I’m extremely grateful to the Council of Indigenous Affairs and to the Ricci Institute. Thank you for allowing us this rare opportunity, at the same time I hope that this scheme will continue to be held, to give young aborigines a chance to create their own links with aborigines from other countries, and to share their history, their society and culture, as well as harnessing this experience to make a difference to their own tribe, helping contribute to the future development of the Taiwanese indigenous peoples.

Photos by Sra Manpo Ciwidian and Lin Yimiao. Translated from the chinese by Conor Stuart

 


Friday, 28 January 2011 00:00

The green dream of community farmers

We all have to eat, but what exactly should we eat? There is a saying in Chinese - “we would rather eat expensive food than take cheap medicine”. In other words, eating good food prevents us from getting sick.

Taiwanese homemakers are well known for how smart they are. However, planning to prepare good and healthy food for the family is one thing, being able to buy food that is free of toxic chemicals from a traditional market, supermarket or the internet is another. For all you homemakers out there who are caring, family-loving, smart and virtuous - are you sure the foods you buy for your family are non-toxic and healthy? In fact, the only thing you can be 100% sure of is that there are labels and instructions on the packages. The Homemaker’s Union and Foundation in Taiwan recently did some random checking on the concentration of nitrate in vegetables and discovered that they exceeded the standards of the European Union. The Council of Agriculture in Taiwan admitted that there is no relevant standard concerning the nitrate concentration in vegetables sold in Taiwan.

Can we really trust the current food standards in Taiwan? Taiwan has the highest rate of uremia sufferers in the world and there are way too many books on the market about detoxification therapy and the increasing number of people with skin allergies. Instead of pointing the finger at our homemakers, we should look to the producers, farms and rice fields. In fact, pesticide use in Taiwan was once the highest in the world.

Working together to make a military fort environmentally friendly

Coming out the number 2 exit in Tucheng MRT station and across Jincheng Road, we follow the leisure farm signs to see a military look-out post which was once an ammunition depot. Walking past the lookout-post, there are many warning signs declaring “for military use only”. Having crossed the culvert of the freeway, the scenery of the three surrounding tree-clad mountains emerges. It feels amazing and surreal to know that it is only a five minute walk back to Tucheng MRT station!

Xian-Hui Qiu is the owner of the “Hui-Yao Toxic-Free Vegetable Garden”

“I was an air conditioning maintenance man before becoming an organic vegetable farmer 4 years ago. The government was going to buy the farmlands here from us so they could transform the military ammunition depot into the second detention centre. My family has been farming here for many generations and then the government has ordered us to desert these farmlands inherited to us from our ancestors. Of course we refused the government’s offer. This is why the ‘Tucheng Environmental Guarding Association’ was formed, to make a stand against the government in an effort to protect the environment here. We only use natural compost on our farmlands now and no longer using chemical fertilizers and pesticides”.

Ren-Zhi Huang, a former graduate of Building and Planning from National Taiwan University, once the secretary general of “The Organization of Urban Re-s”, is now an important member of the Tucheng Environmental Protection Association. Mr Huang said

“I volunteered to come and assist the farmers here. This farm village is able to remain unchanged because of the moratorium on the military ammunition depot, so why can’t we make this place into a conservation area? This place is very close to Tucheng MRT station and developing here would increase the land value. However, the locals are against developing this place, they chose to guard their homes and protect their farmlands. Farming does not bring the farmers much income, but the joys and satisfactions of farming cannot be purchased by money”.

Mr Huang took out the government’s brief and planning report on the military ammunition depot and said

“During the years of stopping the county government from developing this place, there have been many eco-tours, farming experience tours and fun markets held here. Li-Lan Liu, the director general of the Tucheng Environmental Guarding Association, set up the ‘Ms Liu Environmental Classes’ here, promoting events such as ecological education and leisure coffee house, to show the government that we will never give up farming. There are now a total of 13 people in the ‘Military Ammunition Depot Promotion Cooperative’ and they will be working with farmers from other communities to regularly hold a farmers’ market to jointly promote their farm products. I believe Taiwan is a huge community and what we are doing here is community supported agriculture”.

Community supported agriculture (CSA) is a new type of direct marketing. Every growing season consumers sign contracts with farmers for a fixed amount of money. This amount is determined by how wealthy a certain consumer is. The consumer then has the products from the farm delivered once a week. The consumer and farmer share the risk together. In an age where the price of resources and foods keep rising, CSA reduces the wastage from transportation of resources. The consumers enjoy the freshest foods of the season and the farmers guarantee their source of income even when there is a nature disaster or in a time of under-harvesting. The local people are able to claim their “rights on food” from this type of direct marketing.

Photo courtesy of  Tucheng Watch Green Union. Translated from Chinese by Jason Chen

 

 

 


Friday, 21 January 2011 13:30

If these Walls could Talk

Translated from Chinese by Jason Chen

Abandoned houses are probably some of the most common ruins we can see in Taiwan. From the things left inside these houses we can briefly understand the life style of the previous owner. Although we might feel some shame or guilt by invading other people’s privacy, by getting into their memories and private life we can adorn our curiosity with a sense of intimacy.

The past appearance of these luxurious ruins

If a certain abandoned house once belonged to a member of the gentry, the memory of the house would also bring out the local history of the place, making the ruin even more valuable. An example would be the Chi Qay Residence in Wurih in Taichung: This red and white mansion was built in 1919, and is the former residence of a well known local poet, Ro-Shi Chen. The county government appointed this house as a Third-Level historical site, recognising its excellent condition. The mansion combined both the Baroque and the Taiwanese traditional courtyard houses styles, making it a very unique building in the history of Taiwanese architecture.

 

What is special about the Chi-Qay Residence is that it is a historical site under management but at the same time, no one really looks after the place. During the holiday periods one can find many photographers and people from the wedding industry there. The house even has exclusive stamps for people to stamp, making it a sightseeing spot. Not under strict management, there is a sense of “freedom” in this place. Although there are security guards watching and it is only open during certain times, the guards normally turn a blind eye for tourists to slip in from the side door, not really obeying any rules.

The Chi-Qay Residence is almost too luxurious compare to other ruins. However, as you go deeper into the mansion, you start to see some old furniture, wrecked outdoor bathrooms, tilted beams and walls that are exposed of bricks, making tourists feel like they are really in a ruin. Interestingly enough, many visitors take photos of the pin-up calendar hanging inside the mansion (some of the models are shockingly sexy, to their amazement), to prove they have been to the place. The Chi-Qay Residence brings out the memories of the past beyond space and time and beyond social class, smiling warmly at the public.

Collective memory that fades

moment2If there is not just one but several abandoned houses in an area, it gives people a totally different feeling. One lone abandoned house only leaves traces of the families who lived in it over the generations. The ruins of a whole village, however, hide the collective cultural memory of an entire group. For example, the military dependent villages in Taiwan.

Most buildings in Taiwanese military communities were illegally constructed. We can tell the people in the village have lived a difficult life by looking at the simple architectural structure of their houses and the scarce use of their little room space. When the houses were built, most people believed they would only be temporary accommodation and they would be able to “go back home” soon. However, after a period of time, these people started to realise that they were unable to return to their homes on the other side of the ocean. They would have to settle in Taiwan. Once the people living there started to age, die or relocate, and the commercial value of the land increased, these military communities began to be demolished one by one.

Thanks to the artistic skill of an old gentleman, the “Rainbow” military dependent village in Chun-Nam-Theun in Taichung became popular almost overnight. This old gentleman and his small group of neighbours live in semi-ruined houses in the Rainbow military dependent village. In their spare time they painted artworks on some of the abandoned houses. Unexpectedly, their efforts attracted a large number of tourists to come visit the village. Eventually politicians also became interested in the place and recognised its commercial potential, temporarily delaying the fate of being demolished.

For the time being the Rainbow village looks like it is not going the way of so many other military communities as the government has promised that the place will be preserved. However, the so called “preservation policy” actually forces the current residents to relocate before the village is transformed into a "leisure-village". Without the artistic skill of the old gentleman and the living traces of the original residents, what makes the Rainbow community unique? What if the memories of the community are removed and all that remains are the cold but colourful buildings? This scenario may be even more miserable than the community being smashed into ruin and redeveloped.

The survival of Wan-Chun Residence

moment3Post-disaster wreckage is a different type of ruin that can bring a tear to one’s eye. Normally, these kinds of ruins are formed after a natural disaster hits a place, completely destroying buildings, killing and injuring residents and a leaving a painful memory in community’s collective memory.

Some post-disaster wreckages are preserved to warn future generations and teach them a lesson. After the 921 earthquake in 1999, some earthquake parks were established in central Taiwan. Whether it is the remains of a elementary school building that has collapsed or the surface of a playground that has been uplifted, these spaces were all transformed by the horrifying power of the earthquake.

What is most scary about these types of ruin is that it is not only natural disasters that create them but also man-made, and therefore avoidable, disasters. In 2009, Typhoon Morakot hit Taiwan and the reconstruction process still remains difficult. Whenever heavy rains arrive in an affected area, the residents evacuate immediately, fearing the tragedy might happen all over again.

Mr. Wu, a blogger who has previously written for Renlai, made a special trip to Namasia Township, Nansha Lu in Kaohsiung County (the place most severely affected by the Typhoon), in order to film a documentary. From Mr Wu’s work we were able to see the area after the disaster, including the abandoned houses that were hit and partially buried by landslides.

Compared to the wreckage Mr. Wu saw, what happened in the Tseng-Wen River Across Territory Water Channel Construction Site was probably even more unforgettable. Although the tragedy of Tsiao-Lin Village and Nan-Sa-Lu Village that were destroyed during Typhoon Morakot could not be directly linked to this construction project, the two villages were closest to the site. For safety reasons, the government has decided not to carry out construction work for the next 3 to 5 years.

However, when Mr. Wu and his friends travelled near the construction site, they saw gravel trucks and excavators were still working there, even channelling the river towards the direction of Nan-Sa-Lu Village. While Mr. Wu was taking photos of the scene, a construction personnel came and queried them as to the department they work for. Mr. Wu wrote in his blog:

“I ignored the guy’s question and he turned to my friend and asked him the same question. My friend replied, 'we are only here to take photos, we don’t work for any department.'

The Construction personnel requested us to leave and pointed out to us that the south and north sides of the site are not related. We didn’t want to cause any trouble so we just left. Later we told President Lee (who is in charge of the Nan-Sa-Lu Village Reconstruction Committee) about what happened there and he said to us “You guys are lucky being able to made it out of the site without being bashed up!”

Photos: Lordcolus

Tuesday, 30 June 2009 19:32

One 'swimming pool' for Yangjuan village

You may complain that your internet access is too slow. In Taiwan, where I reside, 5785 kms of optical broadband networks will be completed by the end of the year. However, while we’ll enjoy easier and faster surfing of the global village, the small village of Yangjuan in Southwest China is in need of 3 kms of pipes for a water network to allow easier access to this critical, life-giving commodity.

Since the school’s inauguration in 2000, cleaner water has been increasingly at the disposal of villagers. The school well did provide water to 300 students all year long but recently it seems seriously in need of maintenance, as it runs regularly dry during winter. During the summer of 2004 the first communal well was dug in the lower part of the village. However, after a few months, it met the same fate as the well of the school. People learned from that failure, therefore some of them dig home wells during the dry season, aware also that underground water is healthier than water directly taken from the river. In 2005 and 2007, on the villagers initiative, we canalized water from two sources in the hills above their houses. These small scale distribution networks were a real relief for approximately 60 households. Once again this encountered the same problem: from October to May water scarcely runs from the faucets, when it runs at all! I visited the village again last May and now they’re asking for bigger scale water works that could meet the needs of all the villagers.

Every day 5000 children in the world die from water related diseases.
At the end of 2006, the United Nations Development Program was asking the international community “to ensure that every person has access to at least 20 liters of clean water each day to meet basic needs” as “a minimum requirement for respecting the right to water—and that is a minimum target for governments.”

When we put into perspective the Millennium Development Goals: “halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation” with the needs of Yangjuan and the possibilities to improve the situation there, we feel sad and compelled to take immediate action. “The urgency of achieving the Millennium Development Goal for water and sanitation cannot be overstated. Even if the targets are achieved, there will still be more than 800 million people without water and 1.8 billion people without sanitation in 2015”. This extract from “Human Development Report 2006 Beyond scarcity: Power poverty and the global water crisis” leaves a chilling picture for the future.

On a micro level, there is hope for this small village in the mountains of Sichuan Province, crippled with all sort of difficulties. Ten years ago, the villagers had no consciousness of the need for clean water. Following the failure of the communal well, the villagers became aware of the necessity of clean water and started experimenting inside their own compounds. It was the villagers themselves who came up with the idea of bringing water from the hills behind the village. It was then easy convince them that it was better to canalized water from the source, than to take water directly from the brook. That was not a big deal to complete the job. Since we were providing the pipes and materials needed to build the water tank everybody was motivated to work together. Now, following these trials, that are far from complete successes, villagers are dreaming of a bigger scale project that could satisfy all their water needs for good. The informal network of ’friends of Yangjuan’, created and put into action using the power of the Internet, is coming together to solve any new, bigger problems they may meet in order to succeed in this huge undertaking. Who will be the responsible leader able to coordinate the efforts on a local level? Where will they find supplementary funds? How can they ensure that water taken from the brook will be drinkable at the faucet? How to solve all these problems without increasing the financial burden of the villagers once installation is completed?

In the village of Yangjuan, people leave, sometimes far away, to find jobs. Those who stay behind are the eldest and the youngest. Being forced to fetch water daily is a heavy burden when added to farming and schooling.

Water is not only the problem of Yangjuan as shown by a 2006 report from the WWF: a combination of climate change, drought and loss of wetlands that store water, along with poorly thought out water infrastructure and resource mismanagement, is making this crisis truly global.

Even in Taiwan, where tap water penetration rate hits 90.7 percent, one mountainous county only manages 45 percent.
It is estimated that the network of one water distribution company in the UK, leaks enough water daily to fill more than 300 Olympic size swimming pools! By western standards, such an amount could supply water for 2 800 000 homes…while for Yangjuan, one swimming pool would be more than enough.


Thursday, 13 September 2007 23:38

Water for All!

Yes, we were back at dear old Yangjuan village during the summer of 2007… That was the seventh year in a row that volunteers from Chengdu, Taiwan, France and the United States were gathering there. The months preceding the trip were somehow hectic due to the constant changes in the preparation of the projects. But finally, everything went very well…

Since the moment we have started to implement small scale hydraulic projects in Yangjuan we had been relying on volunteers from the French organization “Hydraulic without borders”. One of the volunteers managed the digging of a communal well (summer 2004) and the bringing down of water from a stream in the hills to 20 households in one part of the village (summer 2005), He was not available this summer. That is the reason why we started to look for an aborigine volunteer from Taiwan. And this proved to be the right move: Mr Yun has been indeed the very person to manage the work we did this summer 2007:capturing a spring in the mountains to bring water to 30 households in the “5th brigade” of the village.

For the hydraulic projects my concerns were many. It seemed to me that from the spring to the water tank above the village most of the pipe could not be buried in the ground. In theory, that would require better and more expensive material. We found out that the ideal material was not available in Xichang and, if available, that the installation would require electricity. Finally we had to rely only on the material available in the closest place to Yangjuan. The experience of Mr. Yun was such that he got immediately a good comprehension of the nature of the soil and after one morning of work the source was already captured. Work was not finished yet as the pipe (about 1500 m long) had to be buried in the ground or hanged along a cliff in the last stretch to the water tank. The building of the water tank took also another two to three days. The last days, when we were installing the pipes and the faucets in the village, invitation was made for all the “workers” with the killing and eating of a young pig and the coming of the water in the households was celebrated with abundance of beer! Mr. Yun could give precious advice to maintain the system, and, before we left, a “maintenance manager” was elected by the villagers.

The other project consisted in building two greenhouses for cultivation of vegetables. For the realization of the project we asked for help from the Agriculture technical University of Pingdong. The President was very helpful in introducing a professor who in turn introduced two students who were very fit for the job and very good in training the people to new ways of growing vegetables.

The so called “hydraulic project” comes from our very first stays in Yangjuan. Two nurses conducted a health survey and it appeared that the quality of the water could be greatly improved since all the water consumed comes from the river polluted by dejections from animals (pigs, sheep and horses). For sure, the people say that in their place there are no illness related to the quality of the water. Which to some extend is true compared with the situation in other places in Liangshan area. Still, hygiene had to be improved. The digging of a well in 2004 has been beneficial to the people. This summer again, I was told that people like very much to drink water from that well. This project has not been a perfect success, as during autumn and winter the well runs dry. But it was a good example anyway since afterwards at least two families dug a well in their courtyard. From this experience we know that July and August are not the ideal time for that activity: during that period the level of underground water is rather high and then keep lowering till March. A timid initiative by the people from the 3rd brigade the following year obliged us to change our minds (we were prepared to dig another well), and so we brought instead water from the mountains to their houses. Though the distribution network is very simple and made of cheap material it has been a very good surprise for me to see how well it has been maintained and somehow improved. What happened in 2005 was an encouragement, showing the willingness of the people to be more active in taking care of their living conditions.

It was not a surprise that at the end of my stay in 2005 villagers from the 5th brigade came to ask for the same thing for them. I went to see the spring that could be capture to meet their needs, but as the volunteer from “Hydraulic without borders” was already back to France I was not very sure of the feasibility of the project. Summer 2006 we had not “hydraulic project” (the French civil engineering professor was in Haiti) I went again to inspect the site of the water spring in the mountains. In March, taking occasion of a trip to Nanjing, I went again to Yangjuan mainly to test the willingness of the villagers to realize the project, knowing that it needed more manpower.

The implementation of our project this summer has been a success in the sense that the participation of the villagers was very good. The first meeting we had before starting the work was held in one of the offices of the school, the head of the village was there and my old friend the secretary of the Party was also present (he is one of the beneficiaries of the water adduction project in 2005). The fact that one of the villagers has been elected as maintenance officer is also a very good thing.

Is concern for the quality of water growing in Yangjuan? I received two requests in July, one coming for the people from the 5th brigade asking for a well, the other one from the principal of the school. During the winter period the bottom of the well that supplies water to the school is filled with a whitish muddy deposit. During this period the pipe bringing water to the tank above the school is placed in the river. I am not a specialist but I think that the well of the school just needs a serious maintenance during the dry season (i.e. in February or March).

It is difficult to give an evaluation on the other project, the construction of two greenhouses for cultivation of vegetables. It was not possible to find a common land. The owner of the plot of land where the two structures were built and where the first beds of greens were sown was getting along very well with one of the two Taiwanese students and hopefully will benefit from this improvement on his farm land. We can hope that the greenhouses will be a good example for other villagers.

Since 2000 we have been witnessing many changes in Yangjuan. A lot of people went outside to work in places like Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and even abroad. There is no sign so far that the village will be abandoned in a few years. Making life easier for example with a better access to water may slow down the process or at least ease the burden of the “grand parents” left there to take care of the farm and the grandchildren.


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