Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: urban culture
Thursday, 21 April 2011 16:09

The Cultural Inheritance Behind Illegal Architecture

Amongst the participants of the opening of the Illegal Architecture exhibition held in Ximen in March of this year, was mainland Chinese architect and artist Wang Shu. Perhaps aptly, given the topic of the exhibition, there was a construction crew digging up the road right beside the exhibition's marquee. Despite the repressive authoritarian thrum of council diggers and drills, Wang Shu took time out from competing with the noise to answer a few questions from the eRenlai team about illegal architecture and its role as a voice of civil society in Taipei:

Alternative (for readers in China)

Interview by Ida Wang, Nicholas Coulson and Conor Stuart, Video Editing and Subtitles by Conor Stuart.


Wang Shu's installation on the roof of the exhibition centre, The award winning "The Decay of A Dome"

 


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

 

 

 


Sunday, 31 October 2010 00:00

The Un-Bollywood

“We are fed up”.

So says one of the Nats, a community of street performers in eastern India, featured in the documentary King of India.  As itinerant performers existing on the margins of society, the Nats pass through the markets, street corners and fairs of metropolitan India, eeking out a living by putting on shows. Another day, another dirty slab of concrete, another set of headstands and tightrope walking.  Possessing the dual charms of athleticism and cuteness, the child performers grind out their show several times a day, hoping to bring in enough rupees to keep their family afloat. The kids’ energetic dance and acrobat routines are driven by rhythms pounded out an old drum and tin plate rattling against the ground.  Squint your eyes, muffle your ears and maybe you might mistake it for a big ticket Bollywood number.  Or maybe not.  The dust and desperation of these children is the Un-Bollywood.  The throbbing beats and gyrating hips filtered through the dusty melange of Kolkata’s backstreets offers us a different story altogether.

 

The King of India is just one of several films about India and South Asia that were screening at the 7th Taiwan International Documentary Festival in Taichung.  These depictions of struggle are far removed from the all-singing, all-dancing entertainment juggernaut that is Bollywood.  In addition to King of India, I also saw Dreaming Taj Mahal and three of the Journeys with Kabir tetralogy.

 

Dreaming Taj Mahal tells the story of a Pakistani driver, Haidar, whose lifelong dream is to visit India’s Taj Mahal. Frustrated by small-minded village life, government propaganda and the semipermeable membrane of the Indo/Pak border, Haidar never gives up his dream of visiting the Taj.  He lives in a world where fear of the Other conspires to trap him.  The restrictive duality based on Hindu and Muslim differences that shapes Indo/Pak relations is nothing new though, Kabir had already dealt with similar issues in an altogether different era.

 

Kabir was a poet who lived 500 years ago in India and the Journeys with Kabir films look at his contested legacy.  Kabir sought a more inclusive society through religious tolerance.  His poems have long existed in an oral tradition and are kept alive in many different ways.  The director, Shabnam Virmani, stated “the more people I meet, the more Kabirs I meet”. Almost everyone seems to have a different interpretation of Kabir’s poems, from the universal view of the protagonist, Dalit (untouchable) folk musician Prahlad Tipanya, to the more dogmatic and exclusivist position of some of the pundits and experts met on the roads and rails of India. The Journeys with Kabir filmsoffer a probing look into the forces that shape contemporary India, from communalism to globalisation, with an ever-present folk soundtrack.  For fans of Indian folk music, the Kabir movies are worth watching for the extensive concert footage alone.

 

These stories are given time to unfold and are uncluttered, especially Journeys with Kabir.  The characters have space to talk, to let their feelings flow.  The ambient (and not so ambient) sounds of India reverberate throughout – car horns, train station announcements, heated finger-waving discussions.  The India shown here is the flipside of years of economic development.  Those in the village and those who have moved from the village to the city in search of a better life aren’t shown to be sharing in the spoils of India’s growth.  They survive in a world where the politics of caste continue to shape one’s destiny.

 

As opposed to the glitzy glamour Bollywood, these movies are better seen in the context of subaltern studies.  Writers in the subaltern studies group have long attempted to give a voice to those who are neglected by most historical accounts, an approach that can be equally applied to film.

 

For several decades writers from the subaltern studies group have been generating a view of history that locates the place of minority, repressed or low class people within the context of post-colonial societies.  The work of these writers can help explain how the lower castes remain on the fringes of Indian history.  Evolving from the work of Antonio Gramsci, subaltern refers to non-elite or subordinated groups.  A large number of groups have this status in India as they are marginalised by their caste or other socio-economic factors.  According to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak[1], the existence of the subaltern is an unavoidable product of the discourse generated by elites.  This discourse in India has been primarily concerned with the democratic progress towards modernity and is found in the media and history books.  The subaltern is thus “marginalized not because of any conscious intentions but because they represent moments or points at which the archive that the historian mines develops a degree of intractability with respect to the aims of professional history”[2].

 

The characters in these movies all occupy the role of the subaltern.  Be it the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan, the struggle for equality for the lower castes or the ferocious forces of globalisation that threaten to leave large portions of the Indian population behind as the country modernises, these events are so large that the voices of the marginalised can be easily drowned out.  Watching the Indian selection from the 7th Taiwan International Documentary Festival won’t necessarily be an entertaining couple of hours, but it will be eye opening.  The frustrations of the characters in these movies say so much more about the unfortunate reality of so many in India than your average Bollywood extravaganza could ever hope to.

You can watch the Journeys with Kabir tetralogy at http://www.cultureunplugged.com/

 


[1] Gyatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography” in Ranajit Guha (editor), Subaltern Studies IV, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1985.

[2] Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Minority Histories, Subaltern Pasts” in Saurabh Dube (editor), Postcolonial Passages: Contemporary History-writing on India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2004.

 


Monday, 28 December 2009 20:03

Renovate the riverside for a new city image

Creating free public spaces

The cleanup of the Danshui River has already produced a gradual improvement in its water quality. Combined with the development of wetlands it has formed an ecological corridor which also provides an alternative for urban sewage treatment, meeting with the energy saving, low carbon emission objectives of a sustainable city. The next step is to make the creation of urban open space for the Taipei metropolitan area, a part of the overall environmental policy.

The main necessary condition of an urban open space is that of public accessibility. When building an open space, it must be open to the public. The public should be aware of these places, have access to and be able to conduct their activities in these spaces and the spaces should be connected to the public transport routes, such as bicycles, walk paths and so on.

In addition to this, how open an open space is, depends on the freedom it provides. Contrary to normal urban construction areas, open spaces are far more than a part coloured in green on a land use map. They should provide the potential for spontaneous activity which the citizens are free to choose and it should encourage social interactions. It is for these reasons that the community building work currently being promoted with the Amis Sijhou tribes on Xindian Riverside in Taipei County has extra significance.

The rich city culture of the urban Aborigine tribes

The Sijhou tribes are located on the Xindian waterfront. Both the flood prevention path and part of a bicycle trail pass in front of the Sijhou tribe. When the middle class families from the city cycle the bike routes during their leisure time, they pass by the Sijhou tribe and see our community gathering and eating areas enhanced by the friendly, hospitable atmosphere of the Amis. This community eating space, which is called Badousi in the Ami language, also displays the vitality of this Ami community.

This Ami settlement on the riverside, is most certainly not a dark corner of the city, nor is it built illegally. On the contrary, the Xindian Sijhou tribes bring the ocean culture all the way from the Hualien-Taidong coastline. Since migrating to the cities, the culture now manifests itself as a lively social interaction space in our urban open space. Thus, they must not be marginalised outside the city.

The Sijhou housing issue therefore warrants the ending of selfish interests from those at Taipei County’s Water Resources Bureau and the Indigenous People’s Bureau, amongst others. They must break through the undue legal and formal restrictions, to create an opportunity for an historical breakthrough on Taiwan’s urban Aborigine housing rights. Resolving this problem will allow the Environmental Protection Bureau to build on their success cleaning the Danshui River and the Water Resources Bureau to continue cleaning the Sijhou area of the river, at the same time further enriching Taipei’s urban culture.

I must emphasise that the Ami are people of the water who they do not fear rivers and oceans. They are different from the Han Chinese so deeply rooted to the land and are even further from bureaucratic culture and the rationale of modern engineering. The Ami knowledge of the wetlands combined with their agricultural production and fishing operations, makes for an excellent cultural and ecological classroom. The Sijhou urban Aborigine culture is not merely a marginal culture waiting to be reeled in and integrated by the government; furthermore, Taipei’s urban culture is not one full of ideological bias, one that disregards citizens of different ethnicities, sex or class, and one where all conform to an identical urban culture. The Xindian Sijhou tribes are part of the city, and urban aborigines are citizens.

Following the shaven head protest by the indigenous movement with film director Hou Hsiao-hsien on Ketagalan Boulevard, the strong support from the Mayor of Taipei County Chou Hsi-wei, the efforts of the Water Resources Bureau and a whole year of participation on the design by the students and teachers at NTU’s Graduate School of Building and Planning, we have now reached the final mile in the plan for the Amis culture park. We call for the National Property Administration to use the cheap rent model employed on school land in the USA and for the Indigenous Peoples Bureau to compile a register of the remaining inhabitants in the Sijhou Ami Culture Park area so that an official document requesting support with expenses can be presented to the central Council of Indigenous Peoples, allowing for the commencement of the next stage of the building process. This last bit of effort is still required for the realisation of this beautiful dream.


Remodelling space, reshaping our urban image

The wetlands and the ecological corridor of the Danshui River are also areas of open land with water flowing through them; thus they are also the borders between districts. No matter which shore of the river one is on, when one looks back over the city you get a special view of the skyline, helping us to know the city and creating a unique urban image. Therefore the relaxing of restrictions and size management for urban design should compliment the remodelling of our urban image rather than working under commercial and developmental pressures and giving up controls on size and height, leading to an enormous quantity but exaggerated density, and a lack of variety in the size of constructions. This damage is a legacy of the rapid urban development administered in Taipei County and also a burden of the Urban and Rural Development Bureau.

The remodelling of the urban open space on the Danshui riverside is a new opportunity to recreate our urban image. The limits on construction on both sides of the Danshui River are indeed too relaxed and the skyline is too homogeneous, appearing flat and uninteresting. Crossing the river during the daytime, is nothing like experiencing the picturesque River Seine in Paris, nor is the night time crossing anything in comparison to the silhouette of Shanghai’s Huangpu River or the Pearl River in Guangzhou. Therefore if there are some high-rise buildings to serve as landmarks, it could help strengthen our urban identity.

Translated from Chinese by Nick Coulson
(Photo by Wu Jinyong)

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