Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: taipei
Monday, 27 October 2014 00:00

The Second Life of the “Grand Ricci”


At the end of August 2014, Beijing Commercial Press (or Shangwu, one of the biggest Chinese publishing house, owner of the Xinhua Dictionary, the world's most popular reference work) launched a volume more than 2,000 pages: The Ricci-Shangwu Chinese-French Dictionary, a revised and shortened edition of the "Grand Ricci", the seven-volume dictionary published in 2001 by the Ricci Institutes of Taipei and Paris. (Since then, the two Institutes have entrusted the Ricci Association with moral and financial rights over the work.)


Wednesday, 17 September 2014 00:00

A Night Out

The following is a short story from eRenlai Paul Jacob Naylor, who spent time in Taipei last year learning Chinese and researching the role of Islam in Chinese and Taiwanese history. Paul has a blog were you can read more of his short stories and journalistic pieces from his time spent in Syria.

Bright flashing lights and loud music. Neon tops, cleavages, baseball caps, muscles, hair gel, tattoos, sweat and smoke. Bottles of beer and cocktails glow under UV lights. Sticky floor. A loud voice tells us to put our hands in the air. People collapsed in corners holding their head in their hands, people making out, a sign that says 'If you need to throw up please use the bathrooms.'

It has happened. I have frozen. The night started off very well. We went for rechao, drank plenty of tai pi, went to a bar. Got talking to a film-maker who was making a documentary about an orangutan sex slave in Borneo. Then someone – was it Kirsty or was it Steve?- decided we should go to Babe 18 and now I have frozen. I have no idea how long I have been standing here but I can't seem to do anything else. I was having a good time in the line outside, making jokes, trying it on with the girls, but as soon as I walk down the shiny metal staircase and have to think about cloakroom charges and drinks tickets I just zone out, become an observer.

A table full of discarded champagne flutes, a girl wearing a hat that says 'boy', a man with spiky hair, a chewing gum wrapper on the floor. Scanning the room looking for a familiar face but when I see one I don't go over, just keep scanning, looking busy, trying not to look like I am standing in the middle of the dance floor for no reason. Nobody else is looking around. They are all in their own worlds, doing their own thing. Why can't I do my own thing? Maybe this is my thing.

I look at the dance floor, imagine there's no music and think about why all these people are crowded into this small space and why they are moving around so much. I am in a silent disco with no headphones. I try to get into the mind of each person- 'Why did you come here tonight?' 'What is it you want?' 'Why do you have a hat that says 'boy' on it?' I reproach myself for being so arrogant and superior, but I don't feel arrogant and superior standing here. I just feel confused.

A western girl with a flower in her hair comes over to me. 'Just imagine it's your living room.' She says, dancing and looking straight into my eyes. 'Do you think these people realise there are other people around them? No, they come here to look at themselves in the mirror, to wear nice clothes, to show off their bodies.' She dances off.

An old man wearing a long-sleeved silk cloak is swaying to the music, holding his walking stick in the air. As he sees me standing there, a broad smile spreads across his face. 'A reed before the wind lives on, while mighty oaks do fall.' He says, guffawing, showing the depths of his toothless mouth.
I should drink some water.

'You've gotta finish what's in your glass before I make you another one.' says the bartender.

'But I don't want this one.'

'You gotta finish it.'

'I just want some water. I don't want another drink.'

'Finish it or charge is 200NTD.'

I head to the toilets to get rid of my drink and come back with an empty glass. Easier than arguing.

'No drinks in the toilets' says the bouncer.

I walk back to the dance floor. The old man is gone. I put my half-finished drink (I think it is a gin fizz) under my jumper and walk back to the toilets, folding my arms to hide the bulge. I get to the urinal, take out the cup and quickly empty it out.

'Hey, I saw that.' The bouncer is behind me.

'I just threw up.' I say, wiping my mouth.

'Come with me, now.' I follow the bouncer, still holding my cup. We arrive at the cash desk.

'Pay 200NTD or leave'.

It's cold outside and I realise I have forgotten my coat in the cloakroom, which also has my mobile phone in it. I turn round to go back down the stairs but the bouncer is still waiting there.
'Don't let that guy back in' he says to the security guard at the door as I approach.

I back out into the square, go across to the 7/11 to get a coffee. Nobody is there, not even the attendant. I look across to Babe 18. The queue has gone, the security guard is not there, and the main doors are shut up. The whole square is deserted apart from a scooter parked up in the middle of the square with the engine running and the lights on. The lights cut across the dark of the square, making the small thin trees send out wild shadows in all directions. I wait in the 7/11 and look at the clock on the wall. If it gets to half past twelve and nobody comes back to the scooter, I will get on it. The hum of the engine is the only sound I can hear, it fills my whole head.

By 12:35 I am on the Xinyi express road heading south east. A few solitary taxis pass by, the faces of the drivers hidden in shadow. The sounds of the city are soon lost completely as I leave the highway, pass shuttered noodle shops and the dim red glow of temples. The road climbs and the shops and dwellings get sparser until they stop completely, giving way to trees and bushes and the occasional tudigong shrine.
The drone of the scooter lowers and is replaced by a whirring, then a clattering, then silence. No more fuel. I pull into the side of the road as the headlights slowly dim, leaving me in total darkness. As the cooling engine crackles, the air becomes full of cicadas, the ping of bats and the nocturnal rustlings of unknown creatures.

But among the persistent drone of the cicadas, there is a more human sound. Somebody is singing in the forest. Pushing away branches and fending off clouds of mosquitos I leave the road and climb down a steep incline, towards the noise. The forest turns into a clearing. At the end of the clearing there is a small brick house. In front of the house is a low-walled courtyard. A small naked light bulb hangs above the entrance. Sounds of the accordion and keyboard accompany an echoed gravelly voice, singing in Taiwanese. A group of old men sit outside, smoking and chewing betel nut. They cannot see me approach. In the middle of the courtyard I can see the accordion player, a blind man with a beret, sitting on a chair. The whole crowd joins in the chorus, their cans of beer raised in the air.

I leave the clearing and continue climbing down the slope. In no time at all the music has disappeared. The incessant chirping of cicadas and humming of mosquitos returns. A light breeze shakes the leaves of the trees above, faint traces of incense. At the bottom of the valley is a small temple, lit by the lights of a hundred flickering candles. Monks in red kneel before a statue, hidden in darkness, rhythmically chanting to the quick beat of a drum. I walk past them, following nothing in particular as the long night draws on.

The flat ground comes to an end and starts to rise. The other side of the valley perhaps. It seems I have been walking for ages but impossible to tell. Here there are rocks and boulders, slippery with moss. I begin to scramble up them. A snake slithers across my path, pale and ghostly in the moonlight. I stop for a minute to negotiate my way through the boulders when I hear the snap of a twig close by. I freeze. A rustling of leaves behind. Out of the forest comes a man wearing only a grass skirt. In one hand he holds a spear, in the other a dark bundle that seems to be tied with string. I breathe out too loudly. He hears me and shouts in an unknown tongue to the forest behind, gesturing in my direction. A voice replies. As he comes towards me he is lit up by the moonlight. He is carrying a bunch of human heads, knotted together by their thick black hair. Our eyes meet.

I scramble up the boulders, slip and fall several times, never looking back. The day begins to break and the top of the valley above is outlined on the pale blue sky. Breathless and covered with sweat, covered with grazes and scrapes, I pull myself up the final rock and surprise a few keen photographers. Taipei 101 blinks red in the dawn. I walk down the stone steps and reach Xiangshan MRT in time for the first train of the day.
Steve sits in the living room of our apartment in Taipower playing Fifa, a half-eaten happy meal lying on the table in front of him. 'How was your night?' says Steve. 'You disappeared.'

Photo credit: Amina88


Monday, 07 July 2014 00:00

Internet as Body Focus Response: Has technology changed the way we date?


When I first started to toss around the idea of exploring the stories of the gay male community in Taipei I'll admit I was a little overwhelmed by the magnitude of what I was attempting to narrate. How could I tell the varied and diverse stories of these men living, working, and loving in such a large city and focus the narrative enough to make something of the multitude of anecdotes I was hearing? Trying to weave together a thoughtful, honest, and accurate portrait of such a large, diverse community while doing justice all points of view within the group seemed almost too large of a task to take on within a single piece and threatened to kill the project before it even started.


Monday, 05 July 2010 18:09

Tea break with Taipei's only Rabbi

Born in Vienna, Austria in 1918, Rabbi Dr E. F. Einhorn has witnessed huge global change throughout his 91 years.  He moved to Taipei in early 1975 where he has since served as Rabbi.

Belying his age, Rabbi Einhorn is the Chairman of Republicans Abroad Taiwan; Honorary Representative Asia and Pacific Region for the Polish Chamber of Commerce; and Honorary Secretary of State for Montana, USA, among several other roles.

Here Rabbi Einhorn discusses his role as Taipei's Rabbi and shares some insights on how he remains motivated after so many years of dedicated activity.


Friday, 08 March 2013 13:19

A visitor's glimpse into life in Taiwan

Maddy King, a Pacific Studies student from ANU learning Chinese in Taipei gives her opinion on a variety of topics related to her stay, such as what she has learned from it, how experiencing Taiwan has shaped her view of the Pacific, and what she misses most about home.


Monday, 01 October 2012 23:36

Revising Reality Through Sound

A Review on Revitalization of Chiayi Sound Project

TheCube Project Space is in the Gongguan area of Taipei, near the Cineplaza theatre, hidden on the second floor of an obscure apartment building. Although National Taiwan University lies just across the street, the atmosphere nearby bears no trace of scholarly temperament. A strange mixture of traditional Taiwanese food stalls such as stinky tofu and Taiwanese fried chicken and a peculiarly large amount of sport equipment shops dominate the whole block. The asphalt is always stained with oily muck and the myriad of bicycles and motorbikes makes it hard for one to maneuver about.

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I was thus amazed when a small flight of stairs revealed an entirely different world: The dusty fragrance of wood and dried hay immediately shot through my olfactory nerves at the slide of the glass doors. A spacious white room was decorated with rectangular wooden boards and people were arranging themselves comfortably upon the beige tatami mats spread across the floor. Intently, they were listening to the booming of tractor engines, the murmur of old farmers in Taiwanese dialect and the crackle of feet stepping on dried hay that were sent across the room through eight devices: two pairs of stereo speakers hanging on both sides of the wall, and four other sound devices that were placed on the tatami or hanging from the ceiling. These devices came in different sizes and shapes. For example, the sound device placed on the ground was an electric megaphone, and the device hanging from the ceiling was an old radio. One speaker was even hidden inside a wooden box, in which the reverberation and vibrations of the box created a peculiar acoustic effect.

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Wooden boards were placed across the room to absorb echoes

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A speaker is placed inside the wooden box, creating a peculiar acoustic effect

The exhibition piece was a montage of sounds recorded from Chiayi, a large agricultural area in southern Taiwan. Sounds were arranged according to different themes, such as aboriginal tribes, religious ambience, agricultural activities or ecological surroundings. They were broadcast in a fashion that recreated our general perception of aural space. For example, the grinding noise of an ancient tatami machine was presented through stereo surrounding speakers, creating a sense of immediate, enveloping presence. The sounds of people speaking, on the other hand, were broadcasted through monophonic sound devices, such as the radio or the electric megaphone, which denoted the sound object’s specific position in space.

While the montage may seem random at first, it doesn't take long to perceive a certain order. For instance, the religious section at first featured the clatter of the divination blocks, signaling God’s will as they fall to the ground, followed by a mother’s clicking high heels and a child’s nagging whines. The soft chanting of Buddhist nuns emerged, shifting towards the grunting of men which in turn acted as a prelude to the festive religious music filled with gongs and suona, the Chinese oboe. Finally, the section was finished off with the loud explosions of Chinese firecrackers, intensively broadcasted through different speakers in an alternating fashion.
 

Aside from the main installation, two smaller pieces were also present in the gallery. One is a sound recording of a tour guide in a sugar factory, the other a thematic presentation of various aspects of Chiayi, such as the lost art of Beiguan music. These were accompanied by slides containing dictations from interviews with the locals.

 

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Album cover of Sounds of the Underground

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Album cover of Taiwan Sound Archive, Religious Music Vol. 1
(tai wan you sheng zi liao ku quan ji bian qian ji si wu dao pian
台灣有聲資料庫全集《變遷祭祀舞蹈篇》), produced by Hsu Tsang-Houei.

 

The “Revitalization of Chiayi Sound Project” is a collaboration between Yannick Dauby, Yen-Ting Hsu (許雁婷) and Wan-Shuen Tsai (蔡宛璇). In 2008, poet Chung Yung-fung (鐘永豐), the then Director-General of the Cultural Affairs Department commissioned Dauby and Hsu to collect sounds from the eighteen townships of Chiayi County, in hopes of building a sound archive that could one day be shared with the citizens of Chiayi. Had it succeeded, one could say that it would be a project of great historical significance, since the only notable works in Taiwan that were close to field recordings were the folksong collection movement carried out by musician Hsu Tsang-Houei (許常惠) and Shi Wei-Liang (史惟亮) and the ethnomusicology studies of Liu Bing-Chuan (呂炳川) in the 60’s and 70’s, followed by the more recent Sounds of the Underground (lai zi tai wan di ceng de sheng yin來自臺灣底層的聲音) compilation by Crystal records during the 90’s, all of which were still situated within the song-based musical realm and not field recording, strictly speaking. Unfortunately, due to bureaucratic reasons, the project came to halt after one year. The artists, however, having already built tight bonds with the locals, continued to collect sounds. Three years later they selected several sounds from their archive and composed the “Revitalization of Chiayi Sound Project.”

“Revitalization of Chiayi Sound Project” is the 6th installment of the Re-envisioning Society series curated by TheCube art gallery. According to their website, the goal of this series was to uncover an authentic relationship between human beings and their surroundings; a relationship which is hidden beneath the layers of artificial constructs that govern modern society. Furthermore, they sought to “construct a new vision for society” by observing the transformation of individual and collective experiences in specific aspects of contemporary life.
 
 

So how can a sound exhibition live up to such a grandiose purpose? We could say that humanity in modern society is dominated by images, or rather, that human civilization has always been preoccupied with sight. The saying “the eyes are the windows to the soul” is self-evident. Sight is the organ that determines boundaries, the boundaries upon which interpretations are made. One can say this is the initial step towards an abstract, conceptual world that is the premise of a society of spectacles. Sound, on the other hand, is more ambivalent. During the exhibition, it is often hard to make out the original sources of the sounds. Bird sounds that come from grainy radio speakers have a metallic quality that resembles a machine, thus the boundaries between organic/inorganic are blurred. Attention is given not only to the sounds presented but also to the media through which that sound is represented, which in this case is the radio speakers that convert melodic bird chirps into abrasive mechanic noises. In other words, sounds retain the noise of the media, the qualities that are generally filtered out/ignored/neglected by sight. Through close listening of sounds, attention is lowered to the materiality of things, and not the abstract concept it represents. From this site it is possible to start something new, to view our surroundings in a new light.

 
 
It is also from this site that a new construction of identity is possible. The clue may lie in the Chinese title of the exhibition: “Sheng Tu Bu Er” (聲土不二). The phrase is a word play on the phrase “Juan Tu Bu Er” (身土不二), which originally was a Buddhist phrase that explains karma, but was appropriated by Japan and Korea for its literal meaning, namely that body (身) and soil (土) cannot be separated (不二), in order to promote local food movements. The exhibition’s substitution of the word “聲” (sound) for“身” (body) can thus be interpreted that sounds cannot be separated from the soil.

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Orientation of Revitalization of Chiayi Sound Project

In the orientation following the exhibition, Chung Yung-fung gave an illuminating example of this concept. He mentioned how he couldn’t recognize the Hakka singer Lai Pie-Hsia’s (賴碧霞) voice in Hsu Tsang-Houei’s recordings, because the sound quality was too clear and lacked the noisy ambience that usually accompanied the singer’s performance. That was when he realized how crucial the recording environment is to preserving aural memory. It is thus reasonable to say that the identity of the sound is inseparable from the environment that produced it, whether in a noisy night market or in a church full of echoes. The awareness of the importance of noise, that which was initially considered as a threat to the recording of “pure” sound, evokes a categorical redistribution of how we perceive the world.

Furthermore, as our perception of the world changes, so our perception of ourselves transforms. During the orientation, Dauby explained how a man from the countryside might move to a big city and attempt to forget his memories of the countryside, perhaps ashamed by the hegemonic developmentalist ideology that defines the countryside as a backwater, inferior place. Chiayi, in many ways, is precisely such a place. However, if these field recordings are presented to him, perhaps he will be able to pick up messages that lie beyond the limits of the developmentalist discourse. He will perceive the different nuances of Chiayi, nuances that were not captured by a developmentalist interpretation of Chiayi, and subsequently discover the different nuances concerning his own identity. From this perspective, it is indeed possible through field recording to discover genuine relationships between men and other men, as well as men and his local environment; to surmount the spectacles of society and to arrive at new conclusions.

Written by Julia Chien with further editing by Daniel Pagan Murphy. Photos by Julia Chien.


Tuesday, 28 June 2011 17:58

Flâneur Daguerre: An Alternative to Modern Jazz

Formed in June 2009, the group brings together some of the island's finest improvisers from diverse musical backgrounds, both foreign and Taiwanese. Flâneur Daguerre was founded on the belief that modern music, especially that which is so-called "avant-garde," can be enjoyed and accessed by the same audiences that find comfort in today's mainstream pop. The band explores free jazz, Eastern European and Balkan music, but they often subject pop and rock + roll forms to the improvising methods of jazz and Indian musicians.

Sunday, 01 December 2013 21:03

Journey to the Karaoke Temples

In Taipei the mountains are never far away. How easy it is to escape from the city and discover a different pace of life.  Human voices rise above the roar of the traffic, and in the safety of the mountains people form communities and express themselves in ways that could not happen in an urban setting, for all its apparent conveniences and freedoms. Filmed around Tiger Mountain, 2013.


Tuesday, 03 December 2013 14:15

Will my Friends come out Today?

 The old men at Huanmin Village have lived there all their life. Every day, they meet to chat about things, as old friends often do. Their peaceful existence, however, is being threatened by the plans to demolish the houses which hold so many memories for them.


Sunday, 01 December 2013 20:58

Tiger Mountain and the Miculture Foundation: Transforming Spaces

 


Overlooking the Xinyi district, home of Taipei 101 and Taipei's financial and commercial hub, are the Four Beasts Mountains (四獸山) : Elephant, Leopard, Lion and Tiger. The image of four wild animals-embodying raw nature- dominating the urban metropolis below is a powerful one. Elephant Mountain has largely been tamed-it is now a must-see on the Taipei tourist trail and also popular with photographers wanting to get the perfect night-time shot of Taipei 101- but Tiger mountain is more elusive.


Sunday, 01 December 2013 00:00

Toad Mountain Edge Effects

For students of NTU, Gongguan's café hipster youth and the high density of foreigners and government officials in the surrounding area, Toad Mountain (蟾蜍山) is merely a beautiful mountain ink landscape backdrop as one walks down Roosevelt Rd, as that painted by the traditional oil paint artist He Cong (何從):


Monday, 03 September 2012 08:39

History of the Shida Controversy

( Mandarin Training Center in NTNU)

Unlike in most in most Western countries, the mixture of residential and commercial areas is a significant characteristic of Taiwanese Cities. Most foreigners who have lived on this island for a while are sure to have discovered this charm and convenience already. How should people live and work together in this kind of lively sleepless streets is another question.

The well-known Shida Road and surrounding areas probably are the first stop for many foreign students in Taipei City. Since the war between a residents’ group and businesses began, rumors and mistrust have spread through the area. Shidahood Association (師大三里自救會) seems to be trying to shut down every illegal shop in the area, the illegal status of is often attributable to a rather complicated history.

The story continues still, and no one can be sure how this chapter will end. We try to locate the actual historical casual relationships of this controversy, starting in the 1960’s.

 

The timeline of the Shida area controversy

9102_3Going back to the 1960’s, the origins of the Shida night market area can be traced back to some lower class Mainlanders who came to Taiwan with the KMT. They occupied the open spaces between Jinshan South Rd., Heping east Rd. and the north part of Shida Rd. It was known as “Longquan night market” because Longquan Street was the main street at that time.

In 1967, the government expelled all squatters, knocked down illegal buildings in the area and built Shida Rd. Some businessmen moved to the Nan Ji Chang night market (南機場) and the Zhong Hua business Center (中華商場, in the Ximen area), other trader and food stalls gathered on Shida Rd (now the park).

In 1987, due to urban planning and requests from local residents, Taipei City Major Hung decided to expel vendors and built a park on Shida Rd. A few stall-keepers moved into the lanes and alleys on the east side of Shida Rd. The businesses requested to keep their house numbers and continue running their businesses.

From the 90’s, because of NTNU Mandarin Training Center and the academic background of many local residents, new cafes and international restaurants became more and more common in the area.


(Every shop in Lane 13, Pucheng St. is closed now)

 

Enlarging the scale of business area

2007

Boutique shops began opening in the area. The number of clothing stalls was growing.

2008

A famous writer, Han Lianglu (韓良露) introduced and promoted the “Kang-Qing-Long” life area concept as a tourist attraction. This area stretched from Yongkang Street (永康街) to Qintian street (青田街) and Longquan street (龍泉街). The media began to promote culinary delicacies in the Shida area. The Longquan neighborhood tried to attract attention by holding a “shopkeepers’ beauty contest and a “best shop in Shida” contest.

2010

In January the Longquan neighborhood began cooperating with the Taipei City Market Administration Office and the Taipei City Office of Commerce. Under the guidance of the city government, they planned to found an autonomous night market committee, to redesign street signboards and undertake an environmental cleaning program. They were forced to postpone parts of their project due to the objections of local residents.

The Taipei City Office of Commerce promoted Shida as one of the top five business areas in Taipei. Local shops enrolled in the “Beef Noodles Festival” and other official tourism events. The Shida area became a new tourist spot.

In September, the Tourism Bureau and the South Village company which belonged to Han Liang Lu (韓良露) launched the “Spotlight on Taipei” program to attract international tourists.

SIGN

(Shida "night market" was only on the sign of MRT exit for months,
it has now been reverted to the original name.)

2011

The Longquan neighborhood office founded an association of businesses in the Shida area and built a billboard, “Welcome to the Shida Business Area”. They even changed the formal name of the bus stop from “Shida 1” to “Shida Night Market” and began indicating the night market at the MRT Taipower Building Station. This move enraged local residents.

At the end of 2011, the Shida business area won the ‘most popular award’ in a Taipei City Office of Commerce contest. Meanwhile, the number of shops had increased from 200 to 700 in just two years and extended further into nearby residential districts. There was a rapid deterioration in the surrounding living environment with pollution from overcrowding, smells, noise and rubbish.

On 26th October, due to the increase of clothes shops and restaurants in the neighborhood, residents from Taishun St. (east of the night market area) organized a public hearing to ask Taipei City Hall to ban illegal shops in residential areas, and formed the Shidahood Association (師大三里里民自救會). In response, Taipei City government formed a Special Shida Taskforce (師大專案小組) headed by deputy mayor Sherman Chen (陳雄文) and involving a wide array of government departments. They first banned all foreign restaurants on Lane 13, Pucheng St.

2012

In February, some shops organized the “Shida Business Area League” petitioning to the government for their right to work, through different forms of protest such as stand-ins, kneel down and turning off all the lights on the street for 30 minutes.

In May, the Shidahood Association posted an article on the blog criticizing that Shida Park had been left abandoned as a dangerous and licentious zone.

On July 15th, the legendary live house Underworld was forced to close under pressure from the Shidahood Association.

In August, Roxy Jr. Café which had been running for 18 years on Shida Rd. hung a first banner to counter the protest banners of the Shidahood Association. Yet, on 19th August they nevertheless decided to close up temporarily.

 

JR

("Legal businessman against fake neighbors' persecution" wrote by Jr. Cafe)

References

http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%B8%AB%E5%A4%A7%E5%A4%9C%E5%B8%82

David Frazier, Dodgy dealings, TAIPEI TIMES, 2012.07.25

找出師大商圈四贏的藍海,聯合報社論,2012.02.27


Edited by Nick Coulson

 

 

Published in
Focus: Living Together

Friday, 27 September 2013 11:53

Learning Chinese the Traditional Way

In this video we talk to different students of Chinese about their experiences learning it, what the hardest aspect of it is, and the aides and help they have found along the way.


Monday, 23 December 2013 14:17

The "Minuit" Sonata

Photographer and journalist Hubert Kilian shares his experiences documenting the side of Taipei behind the glitz and the glamour in black and white, a side of Taipei that is often forgotten.


Tuesday, 16 April 2013 16:52

Finding your path within the unexpected

In this two-part interview, Barnabe Hounguevou tells us the story of how he gradually decided to join the Jesuits, how was assigned to Taiwan by the society, and what he likes most about the island.

 


Tuesday, 28 May 2013 17:18

The Taiwanese Experience: Adjusting to life on the other side of the world

In this video we talk to Roberto Villasante, a Spanish Christian living in Taiwan and learning Chinese, about his insights into Taiwanese culture, how it differs from the West, and what he misses most about home.


Monday, 02 December 2013 15:05

The Mountain and the City

The Mountain is looking at the City spreading. The City tries to rise but just spreads. Building after building, a forest of concrete, steel and glass; how small it looks when you take altitude and see it from above- from the height of a peak!


Sunday, 01 December 2013 19:15

In Search of Utopia

As observed in the mass media and our own personal experience, the Earth's habitat is facing an unprecedented crisis. We clearly realize that the problems and disasters caused by global warming cannot be avoided by any country: one infectious disease after another quickly spreads across national borders, acid rain floats over the seas, even China's sandstorms affect Taiwan. When humankind causes an imbalance in the natural order created by other species, the retribution always ends up coming back and affecting humankind. Never in human history has humankind realised, the way we do today, just how inextricably connected all life on this planet is, forming one big symbiotic entity.


Sunday, 01 December 2013 19:00

The Toad Mountain Community Arts Festival

Text by Nicholas Coulson

The Toad Mountain Community Action (蟾蜍行動 鄰里起哄 藝術節)

One Autumn night in August 2013, a group of our friends had been invited to a local café-bar, Faust (孓孓).  Coincidentally the Good Toad Club, consisting of documentary filmmaker and local Td Mountain resident Lin Ding-chieh (林鼎杰) and NTU Building and Planning (B&T) student Ah Bang (城邦) were inviting film producer and curator Angelika Wang (王亙瑜) to curate a spontaneous community arts festival. As default coordinators of the preservation action, Ding-chieh and the B&P students began to solicit filmmakers, other creative nostalgics and cultural circles with the aim of galvanizing residents and sympathizers to help defend against the imminent demolition of the cultural and social artifact that is the Toad Mountain community. Through Wang came the support of Taiwan’s most highly acclaimed director Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢) who agreed to show his 1987 film, Daughter of the Nile (尼羅河的女兒) in the Toad Mountain community square, where it had been originally shot.

It was agreed that the spontaneous 10-day 'happening' or action would be held immediately at the beginning of September. Film students or others wishing to make their own short films about Toad Mountain were given one week to shoot and edit them. At the end of the week they could then show these films to the residents and assembled supporters of toad mountain and anyone else interested to accompany the screening of Daughter of the Nile.

Loosely affiliated members of our informal arts and action group, The Hole also took up the Good Toad Club’s invitation to volunteers to release their creative energies in any way that felt fit to revitalize a street from which residents had recently been removed in preparation for the demolition. It fit well with our spirit of DIY and spontaneous direct action, and from this time on we began making our own documentary of the process, edited by Pinti Zheng:

 

clean-up

With talk of demolition beginning that month, time was of the essence. By the next morning certain sympathizers had begun the rejuvenation of the vacant houses in the spirit of spontaneity and non-organized direct action. The middle of the street was cleared out to make it safe for residents walking through. Then trash was given new life. More than just a middle class nostalgia for all things old and pretty objects, the vacated houses were cleaned with a spirit of recycling, re-usage and DIY - the original buildings were themselves makeshift, using whatever leftover materials they could get their hands on. With this spirit the volunteers tried to address the contemporary problems of waste and scarce resources. As time went on, the vacant street seemed increasingly reinvigorated, fit for residents and flaneurs, half-works sprouted up everywhere, individually and as groups we were empowered as we reconnected to the fruits of our labour. Abandoned red lanterns were hung up on both sides of the street. Mini-paper toads stuck everywhere. Abandoned motorbikes were turned into installations. A dozen broomstick heads and a century of lightbulbs had similar reorganisations. A street artist and professional recycler, Uncle Bird (鳥伯), had added his own collections from years of gleaning in Taipei, he was by far the most experienced at finding the functional or aesthetic value of waste. One architecture student gathered together glass shards and forged them into the shape of Toad Mountain, adding a Bodhisattva statue she'd found to give it symbolic protection. A recovered board and chalks was used to make the main billboard for the Community Arts Festival.

clean-up2Another focus of this 'happening' was the relationship between the natural ecology and the city, considering that this community was right at the mountain border and there was a much higher level of interaction between the people and their mountain. Rather than the urban jungle ever encroaching on the natural jungle, we saw this as a base from which nature was re-invading the city: trees were growing through the ruins, smashing through the roofs.  During the Toad Mountain action, these roofless buildings were re-appropriated, turned  into experimental urban gardens, most of the rubbish was cleared out and the space filled with various types of compost. One of the garden volunteers even held a workshop one morning to teach residents and students how to look after the composts, further strengthening the links between the remaining residents and their natural surroundings. The old trees which had prevented the early demolition were also draped in string connected to the buildings representing the inextricable life force existing there between the tree and the land but also the community and the land. Fallen leaves return to the roots (落葉歸根) goes the Chinese proverb, meaning that the elderly return to their homes to die. Was it to be that the elders of this mainlander community were twice denied that fate?

clean-up3The works also focused on the community and its participation. Red string, gleaned from one of the ruins, ran through all the houses on the street, linking the overlooking balconies which previously would have been the focal points of daily communication, something lost in the detachment of high-rise life, a source of modern urban alienation. Indeed it seemed to represent the previous connectedness, the inseparability of the community and how if one part was cut the whole community would fall. In a time transcending reply to a barely comprehensible poem that had been discovered behind a removed mirror, one of the foreign volunteers read a poem about the joy of people gathering, which he transposed onto another wall space with a paler shade  from which another mirror or poster had likely been removed.  Who knew who might rediscover it in the future. The B&T students such as Naijia, Yuwen and A Pei presented their interviews and mappings of the residents houses, along with old photographs, showing how each family  had a worthy story which should not be overlooked in the pursuit of rapid development. At the last moment Chenggong University students Dong Yuci (董玉慈) and Liu Chunjun (劉純峻) also rushed over from their anti-nuclear protest to offer their support, having sewed together several bandages and transposing prints of objects leftover in the abandoned buildings, to show that life was full of pain, but that they had always been able to patch it up again, fitting the fix-it-yourself ethic of these impermanent communities.

Perhaps most successfully of all, the community square was full of residents and sympathisers for the final weekend of performances. For the noise performance "The city's memory is disappearing, we cannot stay silent" by One Night Band, Yu Jun re-jumbled the words of memory which they had collected from resident interviews in A Ming's mobile community recording studio. This video by Sky Lee summed up the weekend feeling: 

On the final Sunday, each household brought a pot-luck dish and there was a full house for the music performances and the film showings, which overlooked the mountain and its iconic radar. The Daughter of the Nile brought the evening to life and following that the filmworks which had been made about the community were displayed on the huge screen against the backdrop of the mountain. It kicked off with the documentary film "Will my friends come out today?" which has since been instrumental in bringing attention to the movement:

一家一菜3 蟾蜍山除了外省伯伯本省媽媽外也有印度人原住民居住於此是文化的大熔爐

It kicked off with the documentary film "Will my friends come out today?" which had been instrumental for bringing attention to the movement. It was then followed by these films.

It had been a blissful temperate night overlooking the mountain, but as they say in England, it ain't over till the fat lady sings. That moment arrived as Lin Ding-chieh's requested that Toad Mountain Marching Forward, the festival theme tune, a cover of Lim Giong's Marching Forward, be sung with its new lyrics. Despite the handing out of lyrics, the rendition nevertheless left the crowds vocally unimpressed and slightly confused. A black dog howled half way through the rendition and the night came to an abrupt, but timely end. For better or for worse, the visibility of the issue at hand had been raised by this ten-day 'happening' and perhaps Toad Mountain was marching to a different future.

Photos provided by Good Toad Club, Sharon Liu, Pinti Zheng, Nick Coulson

尼羅河女兒尼羅河女兒很難在市面上找到放映當天除了在地居民外也吸引許多電影愛好者前來觀賞


Sunday, 01 December 2013 00:00

Liminal Realms at the Mountains and the Margins of Taipei

 

The Mountains and the Margins of Taipei

 

As the second of our two-part feature on nature and the city, Shanshui Taipei, we explore Taipei's mountains. The mountains represent the natural frontier of the city, the border between the natural jungle and the urban jungle, but also the border between a standardized modus operandi of urban living and the diverse community lifestyles on the periphery, detached as they are from the daily reliance on the mainstream structures of the urban core.


Friday, 01 November 2013 17:25

Taipei, Water City

 Leftover Nature by Pinti Zheng

 Text: Nick Coulson 

Connectedness to the chaos of nature, or lack of it, is inextricably linked to the modern human condition. The flow of water is a stream of consciousness running through the human psyche and a basis for spontaneous action. Yet, the modern city has tried to overcome nature, pushing it to its margins. However, nature is always rediscovering, reoccupying the human city. The flow of water is ceaseless, through, around, over and under, seamless in its passage through streams, springs, rivers, canals, lakes, reservoirs, a dancing brush swiping its calligraphy throughout the human city, leaving dynamic traces of natural and human history along its way. Like the creative flow, it can be diverted, guided, hidden, buried, yet it is always there flowing underneath and ready to emerge like a stream of consciousness.

Taipei, Water City, a new book by local author Shu Guo-zhi's, gives a historical topography of the transition of Taipei from water city to land city. It follows the alleys and lanes of the city on a journey back through time, re-exploring the canals, ditches and other stretches of water that used to cover much of the Taipei basin. Nowadays the twists and turns of Taipei's lanes and alleys mark the former routes of the canals and streams, which have been buried under tarmac and concrete. Signposts indicating former dykes, natural reservoirs and mounds are clues to tracing Taipei's forgotten heritage (The 'po' from Zhongpo for example indicated that there was once a natural reservoir there). The loss of water from the face of the city is a spatial manifestation of a city in transition, one that went from being a water-world, to a concrete industrial and commercial city.

The frolicking children and old men fishing have been removed from the river cityscape. When we see that most children in Taipei don't even know how to swim, we realize there is a general amnesia about the former water city. Taipei children may know the words to the idyllic children's song "In front of my home is a stream, behind are mountain slopes" (我家門前有小河,後面有山坡), but it is unlikely to mirror their own experience of Taipei. The Liugong Canal, gradually buried under the city in the 1970's, is perhaps the best example of this amnesia. Though there seems to have been a rupture between the generations who knew and who never knew the water city, there are still lucid memories left over amongst the older generations. For some people the name of the Liugong Canal strikes fear into their hearts as they remember it as the site of a dismembered body in a murder case, or the site where collectors of wild animals would dump their oversized crocodiles. While delivering a speech at an international Chinese literature conference, Cheng Tsun-Shing (陳傳興), an author with a background in psychoanalysis­ and head of the Flaneur publishing house, recounted, without further explanation and to the gasps of the audience, that when he walked along the Liugong Canal to school in the mornings, he would see people prodding fetuses with sticks to check if they were alive. At the time abortion was illegal. Sometimes he would smell bodies burning at night as he lived near the funeral parlour and would be left wondering if the stench was the fetuses. For others, the memory was slightly less extreme but encapsulated their fear of the filth and sewage of the hidden underworld. However, for many who lived in the age of the water city, it reminded them of their youth bathing and playing in the river, catching clams; of older men fishing, working men washing themselves at the end of the day and mothers washing the clothes in the river. It reminded them of a lost community space.

From these memories, we began shooting a short documentary, edited by Pinti Zheng, first exploring the recollections of various residents before looking at ways to reconnect this memory to contemporary Taipei, by bringing water back into the city.

 

 

Leftover architecture small
Leftover Architecture by Pinti Zheng


Tuesday, 29 October 2013 10:30

Shanshui Taipei, City of Water and Mountains

 

 Wormhole Diagram (by Pinti Zheng)

 

In Chinese, 有山有水 'have mountains and water' is synonymous with a good natural environment, and the imagery runs through Chinese aesthetics and language. From the two natural phenomena shan (mountains) and shui (water) as starting points, eRenlai brings you two features in November and December, exploring respectively, the relationship of Taipei's waterways, and its mountains to the city's inhabitants.

The natural environmental potential of Taipei is plentiful, it was founded in a basin, water was omnipresent, and the city is surrounded by rich mountains to the north, east and west. By these standards it should easily qualify for the Chinese proverb 'has mountains and water'. Yet the city now seems both intertwined and distant from its natural settings, at some point it seem to become 'poor mountains, filthy rivers' (窮山惡水) synonymous for poor ecological surroundings. In the pursuit of modernity, the city organism encroached ever further on the mountains, diminishing jungles and dotting Taipei's mountain cityscape with high-rises that seem so insecure, with the unpredictable bipolar rage of this regions winds and earthquakes. The rivers which brought settlers to this basin and made the city have been shut out by 10-metre high walls and the irrigation canals which fed the land were pushed underground. Expensive high rises of Taipei often name themselves after idyllic natural settings from ancient Chinese literature and provide breathtaking views overlooking mountains and rivers, yet seem to distance the residents from actually breathing the mountain humidity and the stench of the polluted rivers. Under the pressure of rapid population growth, there was a rupture of most city dwellers from the natural surroundings that previously fed them. Someone brought up in Taipei in the 70's returning to the city 30 years later to the site of family photo taken by a river, may find it replaced by a wider road. The distancing from the rivers also diminished community space and strong neighborly ties. Children used to play naked in their community section of the river, safely overlooked by fishing adults, perhaps collecting clams to sell in the markets, a seamless part of the nature-city montage. Now the Taipei residents in search of water are more likely to visit the crowded tourist destinations along the river - Xindian and Danshui - to stare at the river alone in a sea of strangers, or head to a public swimming pool to share in the sweat of a hundred bodies. With the sacrificing of much community space over the last 40 years, it seems that while idyllic natural settings and history from thousands of miles and years ago are remembered, there is amnesia for recent history, buried and forgotten underneath the concrete city along with the irrigation canal. Finally the distance from nature and community in the modern city has led to a reliance on the great conveniences of the metropolis, be that 7-11, food availability or the Internet, alienating us from our own physical work, and numbing the senses and instincts which allow us to act spontaneously and survive out of necessity.

The otherness of nature in its absence from city life, indirectly leads us to three other disenfranchisements: it alienates us from our own work, killing the DIY spirit and the ability to survive and provide for oneself by forcing reliance on pedantic bureaucracies and commercial networks; it further disconnects us from our human surroundings as community space and ties are weakened; finally the inhabitants are left in a state of amnesia as natural and human traces are constantly destroyed in the temporary city, people are alienated from their own history and memory.

These are the conditions under which we ask: in what type of city do we wish to live? Can we reduce urban and environmental alienation, bringing nature and community back into the city through actions and artistic happenings? In the spirit of ecological connectedness, spontaneous action and community participation, we explore and initiate micro-ecological and artistic actions aimed at liberating both ourselves and wider society, bringing agency back to the individual and the community. In acting from below, we attempt to restore our autonomy, paving the way for a more democratic, involved and connected society.

Despite the one-size-fits-all dominant urban model, where bigger is always better, Taipei is also rich in marginal communities surviving on the urban border, physical traces reminding us that there are diverse ways of existing in the modern city. In our attempt to excavate the memories of alternative living communities, in order to imagine alternative futures, a focal project of our nomadic arts and action space, The Hole, has been the spontaneous action to try and preserve the Toad Mountain[1] military dependents' community which we will be looking into in our December focus in time for the Hong Kong and Shenzhen Architecture Biennale and its focus of "Urban Border". Toad Mountain is also the spot that of this month's interviewees, Professor Kan of National Taiwan University, suggests as the water source to bring natural rainwater back into the Taipei City basin, and consequently turn NTU into a water campus to rival Cambridge University. This brings us to this month's focus on Taipei's waterways.

Taipei, Water City

"那時的台北,是水渠密佈,水田處處的台北。"

水城台北  舒國治

"Taipei, at that time, was a dense network of canals, with paddy fields at every turn"

Taipei, Water City, Shu Guozhi.

As local author Shu Guozhi reveals in his latest book, until recently Taipei had been a city of water. Symbolically, this November, the same month in which our feature is published, Taipei's latest metro line, the Xinyi line will have been opened to the public. While Taipei City celebrates this latest engineering feat, we have been re-exploring an irrigation channel of old, the Liugong Canal[2], the great engineering feat completed 250 years ago, which first sought out and brought a water source to irrigate the Taipei Basin[3] , turning Taipei into a city of water. For the last 40 years, however, the Liugong Canal and most of Taipei's water channels have been removed from the community, gradually covered with asphalt and concrete to make way for the residential and commercial space; buried underground, to make way for economic development.

Thus we begin our explorations of the water city. First, we present a brief cartographic history of the Liugong Canal. Then, we began to dig up Taipei residents' memories of the Liugong Canal, shooting a documentary film, Taipei, Water City, traversing through the time-travel wormhole to be reconnected to the memories which were buried along with the canal. The documentary teaser goes on to explore plans to bring the Liugong Canal back into the city and introduces the ideas and actions of our own nomadic arts space, The Hole, as it explores and re-appropriates the now underground network of canals.

Since the late 90's academics and community groups and even politicians began to explore the idea of reopening some sections of the Liugong Canal and bringing water back into the everyday life of the city. These plans have differing economic, environmental, cultural and social aims and standpoints. Water expert, Dr Chun-E Kan shows how we can return clean natural rainwater to the city, starting by 'sunlighting' (reopening) the section of the Liugong Canal which runs through the NTU campus. We then introduce another comprehensive proposal for a larger scale reopening of the Liugong Canal with a community aesthetic and interest in social innovation. Taipei's interdisciplinary architectural research hub, the Ruin Academy have advanced on European Architect of the Year 2013 Marco Casagrande's vision for Taipei River Urbanism with their proposal for Sustainable Synergies.

Meanwhile, rivers also have a fleeting creative value. Daphna Salpeter, long term sinophile and Taiwan Literature graduate student, explores the significance of water imagery in classical Chinese literature and poetry. And merely watching the flow of the rivers, can inspire a flâneur to a poetic gest; photographer-explorer Benoit Girardot, who sees poetry wherever he may roam, tells us what it inspires in him.

With this month's focus as a starting point, The Hole will continue to provide a public forum on bringing water back into the community. Asides from artistic actions, we will further explore the memory of the Liugong Canal as we develop a full length documentary. We are in discussions with a school and institutes, trying to make the Liugong Canal and Taipei rivers' as outdoor ecological classrooms. We look to extend the idea of ecological classrooms, perhaps by building an ecological raft, and taking ecological tours around the farm allotment island near in the middle of the Danshui River, helping Taipei's youth to better get to know their river, their nature and their agricultural heritage. We are also looking at ways of stimulating community participation in any future plans to bring the water back into the city, empowering the people to take part spontaneously in making Taipei's environment cleaner and more sustainable.

Text: Nicholas Coulson


[1] 瑠 公 Liu Gong (pinyin), Liu Kung, Leo Kong. Named after Kuo Hsi-liu (郭錫瑠), the 公 'gong' was posthumously affixed as a term of respect for accomplished older man. '圳' Usually pronounced "jun" but can be confused with the Taiwanese and often Taiwan Guoyu pronunciation of 'zun' and the most common Mainland China pronunciation of 'zhen' as in Shenzhen. The 'jun' can be translated into English as ditch, dyke, channel or canal. Based on a mix of common usage, definitional logic and the recent adoption of Pinyin in Taipei, I will standardize as the Liugong Canal, though it should be noted that it's primary function was as an irrigation waterway and not as a transportation canal. When referring to the individual I use Liu Gong with the space.
[2] 蟾蜍山 (chanchushan) Toad Mt or Toad Hill, a community tucked away on a mountainside near Gongguan, Taipei City. It is Taipei's last remaining mountainside Military Dependants' Village, these villages were constructed as temporary accomadation by soldiers who came over landless from the mainland following their defeat in the Chinese Civil war. There were several of these communities along the Liugong Canal originally.
[3] Referring to the space of land that lies between the Danshui, Xindian, Songshan and Jingmei rivers, and enclosed by mountains in the east.


Tuesday, 29 October 2013 10:29

A Cartographic History of the Liugong Canal

The course of Liugong Canal is a calligraphy brush carving Taipei's human history into its natural history. The collection of maps gathered at Academia Sinica, along with more recent maps made for various purposes, are useful guides to explain the history of Taipei from the view of the Liugong Canal.

(Googlemaps screenshot of Taipei)

In 1736 Kuo Hsi-liu, originally of Fujian province, came to Zhonglun in Taipei from Changhua and began the settling and development of a small farming community by the name of Xingyazhuang. Before long he found that the water resources for the village were drying up and were insufficient to maintain the community in the long term. By the time of his death in 1765, the farming plateaus of Taipei were well on their way to being fully supplied by an intricate and vast system of irrigation channels now known as the Liugong Canal, fed from the Xindian River, where water was diverted through the tunnels and trenches they dug to form the canal. While the original canal was completed in 1762, the Liugong Canal (公 'gong' is a respectful name affixed to great men, 'Liu' is derived from the individuals name) now refers to a grand network which spreads and branches out through Taipei City.

liugong map1(A map of the system of channels around the time of Liugong's death in 1765
See the whole map : http://webgis.sinica.edu.tw/map_irrigation/Canal_D04.html)

As the story goes, Kuo Hsi-liu dedicated his life to the construction and development of his farming community. He borrowed money to start the village, became a topographer in order to search for new water sources as natural reservoirs dried up and farms suffered droughts, and sold all he owned to fund the construction of the canal. Beyond that, he married an indigenous woman from a local tribe in order to stop the persistent raids on the workers and the destruction of their engineering works. He organized a great collaboration with the five villages of Dapinglin which lay along the path of his great plan. However, in the end he died distraught after watching his life’s work shattered by a typhoon which destroyed the critical Snakes Cage Dam, but not before handing down responsibility for the continuation of his magnum opus to his son.

This documentary commissioned by the Kuo Hsi-liu Foundation tells Liugong’s story, depicting him with all the aspects of a conscientious Chinese hero; self-sacrifice, piety, and lasting historical contribution to Chinese culture. As with many historical accounts, and great development projects, it is slightly oversimplified and perhaps glorified. Many other important individuals contributed to the construction of the channels and the road to agricultural security was paved with dead construction workers, who were regularly attacked by indigenous peoples angry that there lands were being encroached on by the Han settlers as there water resources grew. Though it was perhaps a the most peaceful solution, the act of bequeathing an indigenous woman, was a common tactic of the Han settlers to appropriate indigenous lands and ultimately become the new stewards of the Taipei basin. Nevertheless the project is an important part of Taipei’s heritage had lasting implications, helping secure the foundations for Taipei to become a major city in Taiwan. Kuo Hsi-liu was honored posthumously for his contributions with the respectful ‘Gong’ title by the contemporary Qing emperor. The following map shows the extent the canals had reached towards the end of the Qing Dynasty period over a century after Liu Gong’s death. At the time the canal systems were still divided into the Dapinglin, Wulixue and Liugong (originally Qingxi) canals

 liugong map2

By the Japanese era all the different names of the canal systems had been merged to create one single Liugong Canal. In order to solve their drainage and flooding problems, the Japanese constructed the huge Horikawa Drain (堀川) in 1933, which overlapped and rebuilt part of the Liugong Canal, thus bringing part of the canal into the sewage system, this trend continued as the drainage network expanded.

liugong map3(Liugong Canal during the Japanese era, 1939
See the whole map: http://webgis.sinica.edu.tw/map_irrigation/Canal_D06.html)

Not long into the KMT era changes happened in waves to the Liugong Canal. Emboldened by the pervasive spirit of modernity that had now seeped through to Chinese culture, the KMT pushed rapid industrialization and urbanization. Due to population strains, political needs, comparative unprofitability of farmland and more and more pollution nature was squeezed into the margins of the city and the Liugong Canal pushed underground. With rapid economic development, the population of Taipei further exploded. Most of the remaining farmland in the Taipei basin, including that bordering the Liugong Canal, was bought up by developers to build high rises, in order to meet and multiply the needs of Taipei's urbanization. Using techniques such as reinforced steel box culvert, the canals were paved over to build residential and commercial areas on top. The following map shows the water sources left in Taipei in 1904:

liugong map4

By the late 1970's most of the water sources within the main rivers of Xindian and Songshan and the mountain ranges enclosing Taipei from the east (i.e. the Taipei city area) were underground, covered by roads, buildings or parks. By the 80s the vast majority of the Liugong Canal was cemented over and either became obsolete in terms of its original irrigation function or certain parts were merged into the existing sewage system. One can now access the maps of the sewage system and underground waterways of Taipei using sewage maps that run on the Google Earth engine.

Anyone born in Taipei since the end of the martial law-era will likely not have experienced the Liugong Canal like their previous generations, washing, playing or collecting clams. Taipei’s richer youth may shop at the SOGO megastore in Zhongxiao Fuxing, but are unlikely to know that underneath flows the Liugong Canal and that the land is owned by Taipei’s Liugong Irrigation Association. Now there are only a sprinkling of open areas along the Liugong Canal, treasures worthy of letterboxers. For example, there is a 10-metre stretch outside the Café Pick up a Cat in the Alley on Wenzhou Street, a 5 km section near the source of the canal in Bitan, and since the turn of the century the ecological pond on the NTU campus. 

By the late 1990’s the Taipei City government began pushing the idea of ‘livable cities’ and there was growing interest in beautifying the city. These trends provided an opening and encouraged politicians, academics and community groups to re-explore the idea of bringing waterways back into the everyday life of the city. In 2005 there began to be some political interest in reopening some sections of the Liugong Canal and ever since then there have been projects highlighting and promoting the rediscovery of this historical relic which still exists beneath our feet. Beyond beautification, these projects increasingly include an environmental sustainability angle while they attempt to bring the Liugong Canal back into the city and renegotiate the relationship between Taipei’s waterways and its inhabitants. For example Professor Chun-E Kan of NTU’s Department of Bioenvironmental Systems Engineering has made the ‘sunlighting’ of the Liugong Canal his life’s work and has long promoted the restoration of the NTU section of the Liugong Canal by channeling natural rainwater flows from the nearby Toad Mountain. Further proposals for reopening the Liugong Canal have also come from a group of Finnish students mentored by the recent winner of the European Architect of the Year Award, Marco Casagrande and his cross-disciplinary research hub, the Ruin Academy, who bring in an aesthetic of nature re-invading architecture, but also have a social focus on community participation. There have also been groups and organizations more focused on memory and the historical value of the canals. For example, the Daan Community College ran historical walking tours along the former path of the canals. In 2013 there were even day-event cycling tours riding along the covered canal routes. There was a cultural landscape preservation movement (非瑠不可) led by students of NTU’s Department of Building and Planning for the preservation of a marginal military dependants' community whose makeshift houses bordered the open part of the canal close to the Xindian River. Indeed, re-exploring the Liugong Canal in this feature was also partly stimulated by the participation of our nomadic arts space, The Hole, in a movement to preserve another military dependants community, that of Toad Mountain near NTU. The skeleton of the Liugong Canal borders runs along the front Toad Mountain community. Until the 80's the canal was open and used daily by the residents, but by the 1980's it was paved over and there is no longer a regular flow of clean water running through.

(A brochure map for the historical tours run in the Daan Community College.)

For the more adventurous minds, one can even descend into the underworld, for a bit of urban exploring or catacomb-like art, visible only to those who may descend into the underground passages. In fact when entering the canal from the mountain streams that flow in there is still a diverse ecosystem underneath - a paradise for turtles, watersnakes, white egrets, fish, and huge toad and frog species, before reaching cockroach territory as you go further under the city. Budding cartographers can even find ways to trace the canal from above or below and find interesting new ways to display the maps, perhaps hand-drawn by a local residents or schools to promote community participation in design, perhaps using open source mapping to aid in the decentralization and democratization of the internet. These are all activities which our group is engaged in and promoting.

Over recent years more and more plans have emerged for the reopening of parts of Liugong Canal. Some are based purely on beautification, others on green economy, environmental protection and awareness and now, certain groups have begun to bring in ideas of community restoration and participation in planning for the Liugong Canal's future. As we can see from above, different parts of civil society - academics, community organisations, individual enthusiasts and artists - are already remapping the Liugong Canal. One thing is for certain: there are still many changes to happen to these maps, and the cartographic history of the Liugong Canal is far from over.

Sources:
http://www.khl.org.tw/about1-en.html
http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E7%91%A0%E5%85%AC%E5%9C%B3
http://thirdgenerationcity.pbworks.com/w/file/fetch/53734479/Aalto%20University_SGT_Taipei_Final_report_15.5.2012.pdf
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5HGFbVIqRE
http://140.131.110.231/tmhui/subpage_4-6-6_J_b05.html


Tuesday, 15 October 2013 13:18

Seeing through the haze: The truth about smoking

 

"...but as the world grew more and more affluent, laws and restrictions multiplied, discrimination increased, and somehow we lost our freedom. Why did this happen?"
Yasutaka Tsutsui, "The Last Smoker"

In Japanese author Yasutaka Tsutsui's 1987 novel "The Last Smoker", he depicts a fictitious Japan in which the anti-smoking movement has become powerful, leading eventually to the extermination of smokers. Even though this piece is classified as science fiction, the descriptions found in the novel, such as the unwillingness to understand smokers, their plight of being loathed, and the general state of discrimination against them are all too present in the real world.


Monday, 30 September 2013 15:41

The Temple and The Mosque

Abdullah is from Yemen but grew up in Saudi Arabia.  He came to Taiwan to travel and to discover a new culture and way of life.  Here he shares his experience of Taiwanese religion and spirituality and compares it with his religion, Islam, on a walk around Longshan Temple.


Friday, 27 September 2013 14:12

Teaching the "New" Modern Language, Chinese

In parallel to the interviews made with different learners of Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan, we decided to ask various teachers about their experience teaching in Taipei but also abroad, such as Mexico and France. Shufan, for example, has been a teacher of Chinese as a Foreign language for more than five years, her favourite experience being teaching to College students. She also lived in Mexico two years where she taught young children. Feajuar is a slightly less experienced teacher who has now switched to teaching English as a second language in Taiwan. Leo, or "professor Zhu" (朱老師) is one of the rare male teachers of Mandarin in Taipei, we met him at the Tianmu branch of the infamous Taipei Language Institute. Emmanuelle is French and she has been teaching Chinese to junior high school students in France for two years, at Perigueux, she was then in Taiwan for a workshop on teaching Chinese a sa foreign language. 

For our viewers in mainland China, please click here.


Monday, 16 September 2013 14:53

A Message from the Sun

An interview with Max Savage

Max Savage is a young French musician living in Taipei. He received us in his little studio, nested at the top of one of those 70s buildings, surrounded by plants and flowers, closer to the sky and the god Ra. He has just finished recording his first EP named "heliogram" and soon to be released free for download. In the meanwhile, discover a radiant artist who will take you far from the roaring city. 


Wednesday, 07 August 2013 18:20

Does the way you hold your chopsticks influence the way people see you?


We asked around the office, asking both foreigner and Taiwanese people how the way people hold their chopsticks influences the way they feel they are perceived or the way they perceive others - we got a range of responses, some which contradicted one another, others which seemed to have been fabricated out of thin air.


Monday, 01 July 2013 14:26

The shape of rituals, happiness, and camera lenses

 

“A photograph is not only an image, an interpretation of the real; it is also a trace, something directly stencilled off the real”

~Susan Sontag

I like to shoot boring things; and this makes the act of photographing a wedding quite difficult, because I need to capture touching moments. This is not entirely my problem, but is rather related to the fact that emotions in weddings are always expressed in similar ways, so after attending two or three you become tired.


Monday, 01 July 2013 13:06

Goodbye, my dear sister

 

I have been thinking for a long time how to start this article. What tone of voice can I use to remember you, my dearest sister?

I’ll start from the day when you resolutely decided to leave us.

It was the summer of 2009, I am a little bit fuzzy on the exact date. September 18th? September 20th? It seems like something that happened very long ago. A few days before, I had come back from the disaster area of the Morakot Typhoon. At that time, my only thoughts were of getting home, I wasn’t aware that it was all an omen of you leaving.


Tuesday, 28 May 2013 18:34

Gender and Weddings in Taiwan

Red candles, ceremonial cannons, fresh flowers, everybody coming together to celebrate, but with all the throwing of fans (the bride throws a fan on the ground to represent that she's leaving her youthful temper behind her), the bride's mother throwing water at the bride's departing car (spilled water can't be retrieved, which signifies that the daughter should not go back to her old house just like the water can't be unpoured) and walking over broken tiles (which represents overcoming the past and expelling evil deities), the bride can't help but be a little overwhelmed. "Rites" are a kind of standard or a restriction, if a wedding is supposed to be for both the bride and the groom, then why are all the restrictions during the marriage rite imposed on the woman?

Translated from the Chinese original by Conor Stuart



Tuesday, 28 May 2013 18:26

Keening: Taiwan's Professional Mourners

Translated from the Chinese by Conor Stuart. Photos courtesy of Liu Junnan and Wang Zhengxiang

When did keening become so forced?

A Mei: 'There was always someone there saying: Now you should cry... You can't cry now...My brother and I often got mixed up, "Do we have to cry now? Or not cry?".
                                                                                                                 -Seven Days in Heaven (2010)

The film, Seven Days in Heaven (Fuhou Qiri) from the short story of the same name, describes the experiences of A Mei, the female protagonist who has been working in the city for many years, on her return to her rural hometown for her father's funeral. There was a montage in the film with a lively Spanish dance track playing in the background, in which the 'keening' during the funeral preparation process is satirized – at one point A Mei hasn't finished eating, and later hasn't finished brushing her teeth, but hears the call "the girl should come and cry", and she has to don her mourning clothes and sprint to the altar to cry – in a very memorable scene. This scene must have made a lot of Taiwanese watching laugh (at least that is what happened with my friends and I), not just because of the comi-tragic sorry figure she cut, but also because we've all had similar – even if not quite as dramatic – experiences and sentiments.

Funerals, always touch on death and separation. Being grief-stricken or crying, is a natural emotional and physiological reaction; however, having to cry or 'keen' under the strictures of a pre-formulated ritual, is hard to think of as 'natural'.

How old is traditional? How new is modern?

In Taiwanese funerals the time to cry is appointed and when that time comes you have to cry, even if you have to fake it, and it's a loud keening wail – this is an element of Taiwanese funeral culture which is often criticized as a corrupt practice. When watching Seven Days in Heaven, A Mei's embarrassment, and the laughter of the audience, reflects the distance that people nowadays feel towards funeral rites.

For the past 20 or so years, a trend towards modernization in funerals has gathered momentum; the customs surrounding the funeral rites, often seen as esoteric were rebranded under the new moniker 'the study of life and death' (a field of study in the Chinese speaking world: shengsixue), advocated in the context of Metaphysics. A milestone in this trend has been the regulatory impact of the 'Mortuary Service Administration Act' promulgated by the Taiwanese government at the end of 2002, an act that states its purpose as essentially advocating conforming funeral customs to reflect the demands of a modern society.

If one compares the funeral model listed under the Citizen Ceremonies' Model ratified by the government in 1970 and similar models offered by funeral businesses today, one discovers that there's not much difference – clearly we haven't completely gotten rid of the old, and welcomed in a new way of doing things, but rather we've adapted and reinterpreted some of the finer details. So, before we rush to accept the traditional/modern dichotomy, perhaps we should ask ourselves what is this tradition that we are talking about? How old is it really? And what about the meaning of it should be reformed?

The shift from secular to religious funerals

To continue the example of keening, let's do a bit of historical research.

Normally people from Han culture think of funeral rites as pertaining to three separate traditions, the Confucian school, Buddhism and Daoism, at the same time, different characteristics sprang up in different localities. The fact that a funeral rite is called a rite () implies that it not only a religious activity; comparing the Confucian, the Buddhist and the Daoist traditions, the relationship between rites () and the Confucianism is much older and much deeper.

Very early on, China already had the concepts of ghosts, deities and ancestor worship, however, from the time of Confucius and Mencius, the rites, although they took their origin in belief and sacrificial rituals, developed by Confucian intellectuals from the rites of Zhou has always been secular, the main thrust of which was concerned with governing the behaviour of man. Confucianism tends to a belief that improving one's own sense of morality can give order to society, and allow one to accept one's place in life; they didn't feel the need search for consolation in imagining ghosts or deities. Therefore, the funeral rites and customs Confucianism advocated didn't include religious mysticism, but rather they reflected the 'normal' social order and social contract.

Pursuing harmony and rationality in this world, cannot ease the primal terror that people feel when faced with death, and this pursuit is unable to answer people's questions or speak to their imaginings of the afterlife. The narrative of life and death in Confucian thinking, advocating the ideas of putting the service of man before the service of spirits and that of keeping a respectful distance from ghosts and deities, is not enough to satisfy these questions; so, as Buddhism, which had come from elsewhere, and the home-grown Daoism came to fruition in the Wei, Jin and North-South dynasties, the system of rites surrounding funerals associated with Confucianism became intertwined with those of Buddhism and Daoism; with the changes in the way people think about the world, the secular Confucian orthodoxy has gradually become less dominant, under attack as it was from modern ways of thinking; supernatural religious belief was able to come to the fore in funeral rituals, revealing even more clearly the shift towards thinking from a religious perspective.

哭喪04Restraining Grief, a Thousand Year Old Ritual

However, in the midst of this trend, keening is considered an example of a more 'classic' ritual.

As the Chinese equivalent to "I'm sorry for your loss", which translates roughly as "Restrain your grief, so that you can adapt to the loss", which people today still use regularly, can attest to, the main tenet by which the Confucian system of rites deals with crying or keening during the mourning period emphasizes mediating grief by controlling one's physiological reactions. The passage 'Questions about Mourning Rites'in the Classic of Rites (Li Ji) is an early record that, even in the case of mourning for parents, the mourning period shouldn't last more than three years, the purpose of this is in the hope that people will gradually be able to exercise emotional restraint, and return to their customary life in society. This current of thought continued until after the Song (960–1279) and the Yuan (1271–1368) dynasties, when Confucian scholars gradually compiled Family Rites wherein the role of crying as a stage in funeral rites was laid down more clearly in writing, this included instructions like the following: on the death of a relative or a friend, you cry loudly (the person is dead so you can cry); throughout the period when one is offering sacrifices for the dead, one can cry if one feels sad (there's no appointed time for crying, when grief comes one may cry); but once the body has been interred, during the 'Enshrining the Spirit' ritual, one can only cry in the morning and in the evening (crying at dawn and at dusk); after a year of mourning, one should stop crying – this is where the idea of appointing the times when one could and could not cry came from in part.

As well as this, keening in this context, isn't simply 'crying', but rather it involves singing a keening song (dirge). From the perspective of the Han people, the folk keening dirges can be sung in several different ways, some are freestyle with no limitations on content, others, however, have words, but most are sung by women, such as wives and daughters on the death of an elder; during the funeral rites of the Zhuang, the Yi and the Jingpo peoples, all minority ethnic groups from the South West of China, one can always find rituals which fuse dance and keening dirges to express and relieve grief.

Can grief-stricken keening be carried out by proxy?

We can say for sure that keening is a part of a funeral culture with a long history, and it had a rich significance, and not a negative one, so is it right to label keening as a aberrant practice?

In the film Seven Days in Heaven, as well as the 'genuinely' filial daughter, A Mei, who feels bewildered by the keening ritual in the process of the funeral, there is also another classic role associated with crying: the 'fake' filial daughter A Qin, who keens professionally. In the film, A Qin is a larger than life career keener who can turn her tears on and off at the drop of a hat; the idea behind this character comes from the Chinese expression for a professional keener 'Xiaonvbaiqin'(孝女白琴 literally: filial daughter Baiqin), which formed a part of Taiwanese funeral processions (zhentou 陣頭) ten or twenty years ago. Somehow, compared to the relatives of the dead not knowing how to cry, spending money to hiring a perfect stranger who is in this profession to keep up appearances for them by 'performing' grief, seems a lot harder to reconcile with the practice of 'rites', but in Taiwan, this phenomenon has really taken off.

In fact, as well as "Filial Daughter Baiqin", another element of the parade tradition (zhentou 陣頭) with which Taiwanese readers will be familiar is the part called "Five sons cry at a tomb" (Wuzikumu 五子哭墓), these all play a part in "orthodox" Taiwanese funeral customs: the latter takes its origin in a Hoklo folktale; the former, on the other hand, is derived from the character 'Filial Daughter Baiqiong' in the 1970s' Taiwanese popular classic puppet theatre The Great Confucian Knight-Errant of Yunzhou (雲州大儒俠) – so these are all relatively "new traditions", so to speak. That's not to say that these more performative examples of keening don't have an element of filial piety or that they don't count as an expression of grief; however if one really goes back through historical records it becomes clear that these performances were actually invented by Taiwanese funeral homes – another relatively "new tradition" which only really started to become popular from the 1960s onwards.

 Because of its close connection with the rise of local funeral home companies, most of the professionals performing as"Filial Daughter Baiqin" normally work for relatively small organizations, often with staff shortages, and they're often responsible for weddings and other celebrations in addition to funerals - working in a variety of different roles, not just in the funeral sector, like performing as show girls on dance floats at weddings - a common sight at local weddings, celebrations and sometimes even funerals. For that very reason, the "Filial daughter Baiqin" profession is one of the most denigrated within Taiwan's contemporary funeral cultural industry, indirectly reinforcing people's negative impressions of this keening custom at funerals.

Overcoming the diametric opposition between "traditional" and "modern"

From another perspective, however, no matter if it's the services performed by the undertaker, the"Five sons crying at the tomb" (Wuzikumu) or "Filial daughter Baiqin", given that the structure of society has changed over time, the way funerals are held has adapted accordingly, making up for something that is now missing from our society (the popularization of funeral homes reflects the weakening of the bonds between people living in the same area and within families, as well as the scarcity of people familiar with rites; the rise of this kind of performative keening by professionals is not unlinked to the shrinking of families and the decline in the number of children), that reflects the psychology and demands of a bygone era. The custom does not take its origins in temples and it does not have a long history, but compared to the esoteric mysticism of the religious conception of rites, it is perhaps closer to the true essence of rites as they relate to the life of the ordinary man.

With the tide of modernization concerning funeral and burial customs, people have advocated freeing ourselves from the corrupt practices of traditional funeral customs and rites: they should be more solemn, there should be no loud mournful keening; they should be simplified and adapted to the times, there shouldn't be such extravagant decorations; one should follow religious practice, and not indulge in petty superstitions... however, these imagined "traditions" cannot be so easily homogenized, and one cannot break away from them simply by constructing modernity in opposition to them. Using the example of keening, we can even go far as to say that 'modernity' surfaces in order to resolve that which seems to be a contradiction or an aberration in any given society – here it would be the aberration would be the idea of a stranger being paid to mourn for one's relatives, but often in problematizing this aberration we flippantly iron out the creases in history, and simply thrust upon it the term 'tradition'. In this way we often remain ignorant to how the same practice, in this case keening, in a different time and place can change in the way it is carried out (i.e. from family members to professional keeners); and how this kind of aberration is a product of historic shifts within a society, and shouldn't simply be banished as a corrupt traditional practice.

Ghosts and deities remain outside of the grasp of human perception, and so judgement of whether something is good or bad is simply a product of our way of thinking and we shouldn't ignore the historical realities that lie behind apparent aberrations.

 

 

 


Friday, 26 April 2013 18:56

Peace, Love, Unity, Respect and Struggle: The Taiwanese Theatre of Party

In the following video Chen Xiaoqi, a theatre student at National Taiwan University of Arts, discusses the concept of rave parties both as a form of theatre and as a form of protest and how the interactive and decentred nature of parties affects the social aspect of the art of DJing. 


Friday, 19 April 2013 14:47

The Soundfarmers: Electronic Music Composes Anti-Nuclear Statement


In Dec 2012, A DJ collective called "Soundfarmers" from Taipei released an electronic music compilation "I Love Nuclear," which has been reviewed in Paul Farrelly's eRenlai article A Sonic Meltdown: A Review on "I Love Nuclear!?"

Listen to the concept behind the album. For more information, check out their website or buy the album on the Green Citizens' Action Alliance webstore.


Tuesday, 02 April 2013 14:23

(Dis)belief in Taiwan

This series of videos explores the diversity of personal beliefs that lie under the way we declare our beliefs (or lack of beliefs). In this video the experience of people from different cultures of faith or lack of faith in Taiwan is explored.

Published in
Focus: My God?

Tuesday, 02 April 2013 14:19

(I believe therefore) I'm moral

This series of videos explores the diversity of personal beliefs that lie under the way we declare our beliefs (or lack of beliefs). In this video we look at what role faith and religion has in the formation of our morality whether directly or indirectly, and whether or not morality goes beyond a utilitarian social contract.

Published in
Focus: My God?

Tuesday, 02 April 2013 14:14

The form of (In)divinity

This series of videos explores the diversity of personal beliefs that lie under the way we declare our beliefs (or lack of beliefs). In this video we explore the different images people have of god, and how this changes with time and with the progression of our journey through life.

Published in
Focus: My God?

Tuesday, 02 April 2013 14:09

Divine In(ter)action

This series of videos explores the diversity of personal beliefs that lie under the way we declare our beliefs (or lack of beliefs). In this video the way different people conceive of the way in which any god might interact with the world and with humans is explored as well as the different ways that people try and communicate with their god.

Published in
Focus: My God?

Tuesday, 02 April 2013 14:04

Living (Dis)belief

This series of videos explores the diversity of personal beliefs that lie under the way we declare our beliefs (or lack of beliefs). In this video the trials and doubts undergone by those who have already committed themselves to a belief or life without belief.

Published in
Focus: My God?

Tuesday, 02 April 2013 13:42

(Dis)ordered World

This series of videos explores the diversity of personal beliefs that lie under the way we declare our beliefs (or lack of beliefs). In this video we look at how different people structure their world in relation to or apart from their belief system, and the link between the two.

Published in
Focus: My God?

Tuesday, 02 April 2013 13:39

I Believe(d)

This series of videos explores the diversity of personal beliefs that lie under the way we declare our beliefs (or lack of beliefs). In this video the personal journey that people living and working in Taipei undergo to determine whether or not they have faith is examined and discussed.

Published in
Focus: My God?

Wednesday, 23 January 2013 17:49

A Hand-Drawn Map of Taipei

Tom Rook was born in in Exmouth (England) in 1988. After he graduated from the geography department of the University of Nottingham, he moved to Taipei where he makes a living as an English teacher. He shares with us his passion for maps by introducing us the map of Taipei he meticulously drew for more than 100 hours.


Friday, 16 November 2012 13:45

Le poème lignifié / The Poem Lignified: An Interview with Two Artists

 
At the art exhibition " Le poème lignifié," Amis artist Lin Yu-Tah talks about his piece "Schema," his obsession with objects and tactility, and how he considers malls before 10 am as the greatest archeological site ever. Following the discussion of materiality, Taiwanese artist Chuang Hsin-I explains her concept of "Materiality of Memory," which has been the nexus of her art over the years. In addition, she shares with us a touching story concerning a postcard and the death of a relative and how this experience influenced her work later on...

Friday, 31 August 2012 12:39

Taipei’s Civility Engineering Project

Riding Taipei’s subway home from the recent Radiohead gig, I was struck by what should be a peculiar sight.

It was close to 11pm and the carriage had many more passengers than there were seats, yet no one was availing themselves of the dark blue Priority Seats reserved for elderly, frail and pregnant passengers, or those travelling with children. By the time I alighted the MRT eight stops later, not one passenger had taken a Priority Seat even though many remained standing.

The seats appeared to be saved for people who were not likely to board the train. Not many obasans ride in to Taipei Main Station at that late hour. Those passengers who were not elderly, frail or pregnant appeared unwilling to offend those that might sit in those seats, even though no such person was there. Perhaps though, the intended or possible presence of an obasan was enough to shape such cautionary behaviour. Such is the civil code of the MRT.

Officially labelled the Mass Rapid Transit, the MRT is an essential feature of daily life for those Taipei citizens without private transport. Only 15 years old and with new lines appearing every couple of years, the network is slowly diffusing throughout the bowels of the city. On an average June 2012 day, 1,588,700 people took advantage of the MRT’s punctual, clean and orderly service to travel around the system’s 101 stations .

More than just an ongoing civil engineering project, Taipei’s MRT is a civility engineering project.

It could be chaotic but it is not. Somehow the authorities have managed to instil a sense of cooperation into the riding public. Platform queues are orderly. Seats are yielded to those in need. Food and beverages are not consumed. Phone conversations are generally kept to a minimum.

For foreign visitors to Taipei, especially those unfamiliar with the Chinese language, the MRT is the easiest way to traverse the city. Were one to stay underground in the MRT system, one would think Taipei to be clean and cool; regimented and reliable. Such conceptions would be obliterated upon stepping up from the MRT station and into the frazzling pedestrian traffic and frying heat of the street. In that sense the train system underground serves as a panacea to the often frantic life above ground.

One part of the government’s project to train MRT passengers is an extensive set of posters hung in both trains and stations. These posters encourage proper behaviour both IN and OUT of the MRT.

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Passengers are exposed to a range of advertisements that seek to influence their behaviour. Having control over the walls of the stations and trains gives the government the opportunity to monopolise the advertising medium. Of course much space is given over to commercial advertising, whose valuable remittances help keep the MRT system afloat. But the endless entreaties to behave better are what really created an impression on me. The captive audience of the MRT is ideal for the government to impress upon its ideals of how to create a better city.

Do people live together in the MRT? Yes, they do. An unspoken code of behaviour exists. This is not without contradictions. Someone could bring on a box of freshly fried stinky tofu, and while the odor might be a bit much for some, as long as the offending passenger does not eat any then this is OK. However, if someone is feeling in need of a drink, which is common in the summertime heat island of downtown Taipei, then he would be advised not to sip from his water bottle, lest he incur a sharp look of disapproval from the nearest righteous passenger.

Such a stringent code of behaviour is not without failing though. The Priority Seats can be contentious, especially if you are sitting in one and do not look old or injured, or are not wearing the appropriate sticker. Of course, many injuries or illnesses are not perceptible from the outside. If you are sick or sore but do not look it, then your fellow passengers might take umbrage at your bold occupation of a Priority Seat. I once saw a lady vehemently defend her right to sit in the Priority Seat, even though there was an older (and at least visibly, more frail passenger) standing nearby. Confrontations of this sort are uncomfortable for those nearby but, at least to my knowledge, rare.

In a city where almost every available inch of space is utilised and contested, the MRT exists as a zone of relative harmony and compromise. It is not only citizens who take the MRT, but the city of Taipei also rides it on the way to a more civilised society.

 

 

Published in
Focus: Living Together

Wednesday, 25 July 2012 14:11

Last Fight, Last Hope

After capturing and presenting the atmosphere at night in the Huaguang community - one of the last mainlanders village left in central Taipei-, here are the voices and faces of its last residents. This old community retains the mood and traditions of old Times. Its inhabitants, civil servants from the ministry of Justice, mainlanders' families and others Taiwanese, have been living here for more than 50 years. By the end of 2012, this community will be demolished to give way to a financial center called "Taipei Wall Street". The residents are claiming for Justice and decent solutions.


Friday, 22 June 2012 15:24

Exploring the rise of Taiwanese Mormons

Two young missionaries overlooking Taipei. Original photo by Benjamin Lee.

Living in Taiwan, it is a common sight to see a pair of clean-cut foreigners dressed in suits riding around in bicycles and approaching people in the street. They are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and their numbers are ever-rising in Taiwan, according to their official records at least.


Friday, 01 June 2012 17:04

Last Night of Wang Family's House

On the night of March 28th 2012, Wang family was to be evicted from the house they owned for years. This controversial case of one family has captivated thousands of young bodies and hearts. No matter if for support or opposition, these young people have left their computers and stepped out of their houses to meet one another, and used their youth to experience and to ‘make’ the society.


Monday, 30 April 2012 11:04

A World Falling Apart

The Huaguang community (華光社區) is one of the last mainlander villages left in central Taipei. This old community retains the mood and traditions of old times. Its inhabitants, civil servants from the Ministry of Justice, mainlander families and others Taiwanese, have been living here for more than 50 years. By the end of 2012, this community will be demolished to give way to a financial centre called "Taipei Wall Street". Inhabitants are calling for justice and decent relocation solutions. Through this documentary, a collection of nocturnal colors photography, the presence of the inhabitants is suggested but not shown outright, their anger and frustration is just acknowledged but not emphasized. The wall and windows, the alleys and the vegetation, where you can feel the sweat of their existence, are all photographed by night to underlie the unreal mood that will follow the demolition. No digital retouchings have been made to the photos; all shot with a Kodak Ektar Chrome 100.

 


Friday, 13 January 2012 12:23

University Life: Freedom or Responsibility?

University students Lisa Lo and Yu-Tang Hou (侯昱堂) tell us about their feelings and impressions on university life in the following two videos. They represent the youth of Taiwan, and have both had very different university experiences, but both agree that university is a place where one can simultaneously feel more mature but still enjoy the carefree hapiness of youth.

Lisa is a student of Graphic Communication at National Taiwan Normal University. She comes from Taipei and has found in university a sense of freedom and emancipation, in addition to an opportunity to meet lots of new people from all walks of lfe, which had previously been difficult due to her all-girls school upbringing.


Thursday, 29 December 2011 10:45

Deflower

This is the trailer of the film I realized last summer.

"Clasping your consciousness
your back turned to the beast, 
you hide in a dark, dank hole.

Wake before the rotting of the flesh,
Deflowered."


Thursday, 22 December 2011 00:00

San Wang Ye: A god goes back home!

Last month,  a very special event happened in my street: my neighbor, the god San Wang Ye (三王爺), decided to travel back home for his birthday!

The god San Wang Ye is originally from Tainan, a city around 300km south of Taipei, and he had arrived in Taipei a long time ago, so long ago that I don't remember!

I had been wondering for a long time what the temple in my street was all about: this small, unassuming, but well taken care of temple, that you can hardly see by day, but is always shining and often holds events at night. Some lanterns are usually hanging, a vague reminder that a god lives there. Day after day, I had made up stories of mafia and gangsters, of witches and weird spirits, stories of everything that could happen in this mysterious temple.

But I was wrong. When I met the people who take care of 三王爺 (San Wang Ye), I could immediately see that this god is a good god as he protects people around in exchange of some attention, and doesn’t ask much, only to go back and see his family once a year. I was also told by the disciples that he likes to be talked to. I could see that he smokes cigarettes, not only incense; he also likes to drink milk tea, and dresses rather conservative. He has a good relationship to its neighbors, too: in front of his temple, a very old japanese house, dimly lit, is shelter to an old man who lives in peace with the God. When there is a ceremony, it is probably the only time a year he opens his house, in a mark of recognition.

The ceremony for departure of the god lasts 2 days. On Saturday everyone travels to Tainan, spends there the evening celebrating, eating, and they all go back on Sunday. 三王爺 (San Wang Ye) has about 10.000 followers: among them, around 400 made the trip to Tainan, this is already quite impressive. More people were to join in Tainan, where he is popular.

Having heard about the event the night before, and together with a friend, we decided to go and attend the departure ceremony. From 4.30am to 7.00am, the main followers prepare the Gods, and double check the organization. The gods are brought out; it seems like the main God has invited some fellows from his family to join. Dancers and fighters repeat their moves, the encense is burning, the drums start to play. Waking up at night, entering this somehow different world, is a strange feeling. At this time, people start to leave a nearby disco, adding to the feeling; they watch incredulously the world of Gods as alcohol seems to make all things look plausible to them. They seem to be satisfied and they resume their path in the wide night.

Then, suddenly, at dusk, the ceremony starts. The ceremony master is a strong robust lady who directs the participants. She sets a fire on the road, then waits for the long queue of dignitaries to come and bend before it, then jump above the fire, and turn back normal again. During the procession most people seem possessed, it is an impressive demonstration. The lady-ceremony master also beats herself with some kind of axe. The drums are playing heavily, there are firecrackers and smoke everywhere. After everyone has come, it is the God’s turn to cross the fire, and I could almost see him smile, delighted to leave soon for the South, and to have so many friends.

There is a market nearby, a typical old place that will probably be destroyed soon, God knows why. It has been deemed too old by the municipality, and this is only one step in the fight that opposes the day forces such as business and money, to the Gods of the night and the ancient culture of Taipei. Alas, I think I know who’s gonna win this one…

First published on Litanies.net.

Click here to see the complete set of photos.

All photos by B. Girardot


Tuesday, 26 April 2011 14:03

Returning Humans to Nature and Reality

Since attending drinks and bbq session at the Ruin Academy, Urban Core, Taipei City in fall of last year, I gradually became more and more familiar with Marco Casagrande’s C-lab and the offshoots (ruin academy, third generation city, local knowledge, urban acupuncture, anarchist gardener). I also became convinced that Taipei has great need for these ideas and the very soul of the city may well rest in these decaying ruins.

Rolling at the Ruin Academy

"There is no other discipline than nature. There is our pub."

It was a Friday night, in light winter rain when I was told to come along to the Taiwan Contemporary Art Centre, Taipei for free drinks and barbeque, and the opening of the ‘Ruin Academy’. I knew little of what to expect – except for free alcohol, Ruan Ching-yue (one of Taiwan’s top 3 authors) and rumours of a Sauna on the 3rd floor. It sounded like a lethal combination…

Entering the 4-storey building I felt a strange aura, something distinctly un-Taipei, at least as I knew it, a vomit stain on the clean, white bed sheet of the Taiwan urban development dream. A tree growing off the side of the building, its roots implanted only in drainpipes, large and potentially hazardous holes drilled into the cement floor, allowing you to see from the top to the bottom of the building.

As the whisky flowed, my thoughts were disturbed as Ruan demanded I read his story with him. After playing the role of mother in the story twice over, I took advantage of a brief moment of distraction to make my great escape to the sauna.

While housemate and figure model, Showzoo, raced to strip and leap into the sauna the minute the steam rolled of the imported Finnish stones, I strolled in rather conservatively five minutes later with my undersized towel slightly revealing my buttocks. I had inadvertently placed myself in the gaze of Showzoo’s glaring nakedness on one side and two fully clothed, shy Taiwanese youths on the other, a contrast perhaps comparable to the awkwardness of much architecture in Taiwan. I looked up from this amusing but unnerving position, searching the room for the validation required before I could throw in the towel; and there, beyond Showzoo, was a man with Viking features calmly being, breathing and occasionally stoking the coals. An essence of rapprochement with nature shone through and overcame the tendencies of a somewhat Victorian prudence and shyness that I had seemingly developed during my time in Taiwan. I flung away the towel, and sunk into the steam. This was the man had built the sauna – Finnish architect and anarchist gardener Marco Casagrande.

"We focus on local knowledge and stories. The Academy is more like a pub than a university – or like a public sauna in Finland, where everyone is stripped naked from the President to the police."

Pot-naked in a sauna perhaps isn’t how most of you envision your first meeting. However, fully revealing your body, as the day you were born, is certainly a load off your mind and shoulders. Pretensions are dropped, nothing is hidden, and all the while nothing is intentionally revealed. It wasn’t until several months later that I discovered the sauna was also a gathering place, a school and a forum for the natural revolution of human impulsion that is brewing here.

Third Generation City

Marco and associates have been working on a whole new architectural philosophy in Taiwan and a multitude of projects to put into action the Third Generation City - the organic ruin of the industrial city. Third Generation City follows the first generation where humans' peacefully coexisted with nature and the second generation built walls and stone structures everywhere in an attempt to shut out nature. In the third generation however, nature, which can never be truly shut out, grows back through the ruins, through the cracks in the wall, sucking human nature back into the wider nature. Third Generation City concentrates on local knowledge and urban acupuncture. Gardens should be built in all the corners of the city. The walls shutting off the city from its river and life source should torn down.

"The Ruin Academy sends an open call to think on the urban environment - the city, the people and the nature. We want to understand the ruining processes in Taipei."

Architecture and human structures are something I had never profoundly contemplated. To get a clearer idea about what they were doing, I attended a lecture given by Marco Casagrande at the NTU Department of Sociology. The lecture was partly an admittance of the limitations of architects, who he says "only chill with other architects". It was a call for sociologists to take part in a multitude of projects – like Taipei Organic Acupuncture and Taipei River Urbanism - to combine their humanist expertise in peoples' interactions with society & nature with the design skills of the egotistical architecture trade. For example, since the city only exists because of the river, the river is thus the indicator of how healthy the city is. So in order to have a complete and humanistic interaction with the river, the sociologists would need do the local research - with drawings, photographs and interviews. They would ask: How was the river before? When did the fish start dying out? Who will live there in the future? What will there attitude to the river and the city be?

One question raised by the sociologists, was whether or not this ideal for a Third Generation City was feasible. Marco replied "If it works in my family, then in their community, in their society, in the whole city - then that's enough". Marco feels that the government actually needs this impulsiveness, they are unable to enact under the stringent controls of bureaucracy. In fact Marco and Ruin Academy is just saying what the government wants to say. When questioned about the rebuilding of post-tsunami East Coast of Japan, Marco reflected: "Will they just rebuild what was there before? They have capacity for so much more."

Frank Chen was another architect with C-lab that I first met at the Ruin Academy. In April he took me too visit some physical manifestations of the Third Generation City. Frank also made a beautiful film of his own, documenting a full day for the Chen House, from sunrise, amongst the constant calls of the insects and birds:

Living in the ruins

Finally Frank took me to see where the Ruin Academy's own principal, Marco, had lived 4 years earlier. The guru himself, seemed to live by the principles that are found throughout his work. Indeed, when I arrived at the site in Sanzhi nature was growing through the gaps in the walls, the doors, and the windows of this former tea factory; there existed no clearly defined inside and ouside, instead merging into one seamless flow of nature; rather than trying to keep the trees and shrubbery out, he instead built his trademark sauna amongst the trees. There were still the traces of Marco's previous inhabitance there: a pile of clothes, a wooden mattress, a small stove and a couple of pans which acted as his makeshift kitchen overlooking a stream with an ants nest sitting comfortably in a tree above.

{rokbox album=|myalbum|}images/stories/focus_architecture_may2011/marcohouse/*{/rokbox}

As the academy makes organic ruin of our industrial city, perhaps these ideas can infiltrate our minds, permeate through our ears, eyes and noses and vibrate our flesh down to our toes, degenerating and making ruins of defunct structures of thought.


For a fuller look at the whole range of projects C-lab has previously worked on please browse the Anarchist Gardener Magazine (mainly Chinese) for the main thrust of Anarchist Gardener philosophy as when it was originally presented at the Puerto Rico Biennale in 2002. The Ruin Academy building can be found in the Urban Core Artsblock near Ximending in Taipei.

 


Wednesday, 23 November 2011 00:00

CEFC Files: Neighbour of China, Taiwan's Liminality

Stéphane Corcuff is a political scientist trained in Sinology and Geopolitics. When he is not on sabbatical research in Taipei, he is also a professor at Lyon Institute of Political Studies and lecturer at Paris’ National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations. When we visited the CEFC, Taipei branch, Stéphane explained some conclusions from his past research leading up to his current program of study based around identity politics in Taiwan and the geopolitics of Taiwan since the 17th century. He draws a parralel between Zheng Keshuang (鄭克塽) - the grandson of Koxinga (鄭成功) - who was briefly the leader of Taiwan (1681-83), and the incumbent President of the ROC, Ma Ying-jeou. He then uses this historical context to analyse the policies and consequences of the current Kuomintang regime.

Furthermore, for the past 15 years, Stéphane has been conducting research focused on the Mainlander population in Taiwan. His research leads him to consider the Mainlanders not as an ethnic group but a population of distinct collective identifications. Here Stéphane rounds up a tumultuous 20 years for Mainlanders  in Taiwan, since Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) split from the Kuomintang and so called process of 'desinicisation' began, before showing the identity consequences this has had for the 'Mainlanders'.

Stéphane Corcuff's latest book has been published this month "Zhonghua linguo / Neighbor of China. Taiwan's liminality" Taipei, Yunchen, 2011, 250 p. (Chi: Zhonghua linguo. Taiwan yujingxing / Fr: Zhonghua linguo / Pays riverain de la Chine. La liminalité de Taiwan). If you were interested in this content, Stéphane's latest book provides his most comprehensive compiling yet of his research on Taiwan's 'liminality'. Stéphane's publications can be found and downloaded at "Web de la doc" de Sciences-po Lyon or Association Francophone d'Etudes Taiwanaises. Stéphane is committed to bringing a higher level of sensory interactivity into his academia. Below is an interactive multimedia image of his current research program.


Tuesday, 02 August 2011 14:53

Listen to The Moment: Minkoku Hyakunen

You-sheng Zhang and Da-wang Huang met each other in 2010. Both of them had their own noise sound works circulating among their friends and on the internet. They got tired of most political news, especially those about so-called “100-year-old ROC”, so they decided to organize a duo and to disband it after this year (2011 is the hundred year of ROC). 百年, pronounced in Japanese “Minkoku Hyakunen”, doesn’t talk about politics but performs with some ideas of politics. No stable tempo and pleasant melody, only fools playing fool noise.


Monday, 01 August 2011 15:04

A Moving Sound: A Different Approach to The Tradition

In A Moving Sound’s music traditional Taiwanese, Chinese and neighboring Asian music forms are fused in new original song compositions. Instruments such as the Chinese erhu , the zhong ruan (Chinese guitar), an assortment of western instruments, and the transcendent vocals and dance of lead singer Mia Hsieh, transport listeners on a journey. The group is intensely passionate about how it presents the use of traditional instruments in its contemporary sound. Their approach is to be holistic – combining art, spirituality, social awareness, and a universal love of humanity play key roles in the creative process.


Friday, 26 August 2011 00:00

Viba Brings 80's Sound to World Music

Photo courtesy of Craig Ferguson

Viba hails from London but is a long-term resident of Taipei. Original inspiration stemmed from the Human League, Depeche Mode and other synth bands of the 80s, which led to the formation of several bands based around an array of Roland synthersizers.

Viba left the UK in 93 to become a resident DJ in Taipei and was at least partly responsible for bringing many of the house techno tunes of the London underground at the time to these shores. Viba started writing material again in the early naughties and has had numerous commercial releases since 2006; most notably, the solo album, East-West Relations, which clearly showed influences of more than a decade in Taiwan.

The most recent two years has seen the formation of ElectroFunk band Space Funk and work on several projects for film and video. However, 2011 has seen the return of much more solo material from one of the most prominent electronica artists on the island.

Interview by C. Phiv, edited and subtitled by Lisa Lo.

Viba's Music

 


Viba participates in the in the 2011 Renlai World Music Compilation, he'll perform in Taipei on September 16th, more info here.

 

 

 

 


Thursday, 07 July 2011 16:47

A review of the play 'Take Care'

Directed by HSU YEN LING
Taipei Blooming production
Length: 1 hour and 30 minutes

‘Take Care’ is the first production of TAIPEI BLOOMING, a theatre group founded by Hsu Yen Ling last year. The show will be performed at Guling Avant Garde Theatre from July 1 to July 10 2011. The main question raised in this new production deals with abandoned and injured animals through the story of a lesbian couple; one is a veterinary surgeon, the other a teacher. Italso raises the question of the complexity of the relationships between human beings, between human beings and animals, and between animals.

Hsu Yen Ling, well known as an extra gifted performer, presents her fifth show as art director: “I tried to find a new way to write a script. Before, I was used to writing it first and then ask my actors to perform it. For this production, we started from improvisation and wrote the script together; talking about the issues we wanted to focus on, and cutting or rewriting some parts.” This collective work is based on the main characters’ lives: the vet, the teacher, the businessmanand the student. She aims to show their relation to their particular jobs and to one another, usingvery ordinary dialogue, classical stage design and everyday life costumes to stick to the reality she wants to portray.

“How can we take care of the other?” This is the underlying question in the story told by Hsu Yen ling. “I wanted to talk about the animal issue too. In the big cities, many abandoned cats and dogs can’t take care of themselves alone. We have to pay attention to them and take care of them.” This issue leads her to think about animal relationships more based on touch. “I also ask the actors to play the animals in order to focus more on the touching; work on the emotion, the movement and gesture. We often pay too much attention to the sight or the talk. But there are other senses we can use to have contact with the other and in Taiwan, few people touch each other; Taiwanese are not used to physical contact.“ For example, when we say "goodbye" in Taiwan, we never kiss the other on the cheek. In this show, the animals talk and could be seen as examples that the main characters could follow in their own life, they even advise their masters when they face difficult situations in everyday life and relationships.

To embody one of the animals, she asks Fa Tsai to join her production: Fa Tsai, a famous talented artist had already played with the most famous art directors in Taiwan and we can assure you that his performance in this show is excellent and very detailed. Hsu Yen ling, in her role as art director, works on every detail with her actors, even with the non-professional ones such as Liu Nien Yun. She used to be Hsu Yen ling’s producer in ‘Sister Trio’ and ‘A date’, two successful shows she presented a few years ago in Taiwan.

“When Yenling asked me to be her actress in ‘Take care’, I could not refuse it: I was reallyinterested in the topic and wanted to support her production. I’ve known her since I was in senior high school, before I began to study women’s working conditions at university: she was the teacher in our theatre club. I also wanted to try to be an actress even though I sometimes feel alittle scared. For me, it is difficult to act a relationship, but I really want to work more on theatre projects, because since I began working for the labor organization* I have not had much time for theatre.” Her role is to be the vet and take care of the injured animals and the people who bringthem to her office.

“When Yen Ling told me the story she wanted to write, I found a connection between my actual job and the character of the veterinary. In my job, I have to take care ofinjured laborers – women who used to work for RCA (Radio Corporation of America), an American electric company sold to Thompson, more than 20 years ago and who later got cancer.They have been fighting for 10 years to get compensation. Many questions come to my mindwhen I am tired: why do I want to be an organizer? My character has the same questioning andfeeling.” One may have seen Liu Nien Yun on TV, the morning the Legislative Yuan passed thebudget for Taiwan’s fourth nuclear power plant; she was one the persons thrown out by thethstpolicemen in front the Legislative Yuan. As an activist, she is involved in the anti-nuclear andlabor movements, yet, all the while she is deeply implicated in her work, listening to the harmedpersons and helping them as best she can.

So, if you want to know what lies behind ‘Take Care’, we recommend you have a look at the show, partly presented as a comedy...an ordinary life comedy we should say.

* Taiwan Association for Victims of Occupational Injuries, based in Taipei City. www.hurt.org.tw
(Photo courtesy of  D. Vandermolina)


Tuesday, 28 June 2011 17:58

Flâneur Daguerre: An Alternative to Modern Jazz

Formed in June 2009, the group brings together some of the island's finest improvisers from diverse musical backgrounds, both foreign and Taiwanese. Flâneur Daguerre was founded on the belief that modern music, especially that which is so-called "avant-garde," can be enjoyed and accessed by the same audiences that find comfort in today's mainstream pop. The band explores free jazz, Eastern European and Balkan music, but they often subject pop and rock + roll forms to the improvising methods of jazz and Indian musicians.

Friday, 24 June 2011 11:04

Sombreros, Sandals and Smiles

A Summer of music with Renlai

Accompanying the release of Renlai's World Music CD compilation, we bring you a summer of live music in Taipei, holding three concerts on July 9th, August 19th and September 16th. Each concert brings you authentic flavours and fusions from around the World, and all completely FREE GRATIS!! So bring your sombreros, sandals and a smile as you dance with us to the rhythm of Renlai.

Published in
Renlai Music

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.)


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, 26 November 2010 00:00

Green power in Taipei County

The former Governor of Taipei County (Xinbei City), Chou Hsi-Wei, talks about environmental policy in his constituency:


Tuesday, 16 November 2010 00:00

Making green power easier in Portland: an interview with Lisa Libby

Lisa Libby serves as the liaison between Mayor Adams and the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to develop policies that are focused on long-range planning and carbon emissions reduction. Key policies include the Portland/Multnomah County Climate Action Plan and the Portland Plan.

Portland, Oregon's commitment to sustainability is built on a foundation of leadership set in place generations ago by civic leaders who recognized the importance of protecting this unique place in the Pacific Northwest. From the statewide land-use planning laws that created urban growth boundaries to the pioneers of light rail who chose smarter transit over another freeway, Portland has benefited from the courageous decisions made in years past.

Portland continues to define the urban sustainable experience for other American cities. In just the past two decades, Portland has innovated and experimented its way to the forefront on everything from green building (with the most LEED-certified green buildings per capita of any American city) to environmental stewardship (bringing ecological approaches to treating stormwater in a way that saves money and protects our rivers and watersheds). Portland boasts the highest rate of active commuters (bicycle and pedestrian commuters) in the U.S., a statistic built on smart investments in bicycle infrastructure and a fact that yields a healthier and more active community.

Under the leadership of Mayor Sam Adams, Portland is charging forward with ambitious and aggressive plans to be America's living laboratory for urban sustainability. Our climate action plan will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Our economic development strategy targets 10,000 new jobs, with a focus on clean technology and renewable energy. Portland is now home to the U.S. headquarters of Solarworld, Vestas, Iberdrola and other international leaders in the green economy. Portland leaders are working to grow industries of the future and build on the city’s reputation for developing environmentally responsible solutions so that its citizens can sustainably live a life they enjoy and guarantee for future generations.

 

 

 

 

Friday, 24 September 2010 19:22

Sunday afternoon at Hai Tze Tao

Hai Tze Tao is a new religious movement formed in Taiwan in 1984.  Paul Farrelly had the opportunity to visit their temple in suburban Taipei and film the Sunday afternoon service.  This video includes footage of the service, as well as a brief introduction to Hai Tze Tao and its beliefs.


Wednesday, 21 July 2010 16:58

All aboard the Coromandel Express

Coromandel Express formed in early 2010.  The group takes its name from the Indian train - 'The Coromandel Express' - that links Kolkata in the north with Chennai in the south.  With Page Byassee (蘇珮卿) on flute, harp and vocals and Cody Byassee (白克迪) on kanjira and percussion representing south Indian music and Yo (金光亮平) on sitar and Waka (若池敏弘) on tabla representing that of the north, the sounds of Coromandel Express reflects the cross-country journey of its namesake train.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010 21:12

In Bed with Rock in Hose

Ladies and Gentlemen, here is Rock in Hose!!

The burlesque dance troupe was formed in 2009 in Taiwan. Please meet Alita d'Bone and Trixie Treatz from Canada, Kitty N. Heat and Amor Galore from the U.S., Duke Vita and Onyx from South Africa.


Friday, 11 June 2010 17:42

Falun Gong protests in Taipei: An interpretive slideshow

In April 2010, Paul Farrelly visited Taipei 101 and Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall to observe the various ways that Falun Gong adherents protest against the Chinese government.  The actions of these protestors transform these popular venues into contested spaces, where tourism, spirituality and politics intersect.  His photos and commentary aim to illustrate the uneasy balance that these powerful forces somehow maintain.


Wednesday, 28 April 2010 12:44

A postcard of Taipei

Taiwanese conceptual artist Nat Niu introduces us to his two videos concepts: The Line and Postcard.

 
Published in
Focus: City and Poetry

Tuesday, 25 March 2008 23:08

Time and Numbers

In the dusk of early summer days, the ’Light of the Sun’ spreads its magical power upon the busy city during rush-hour time. The whole urban life is bathed in sun rays. Regardless of the human activities, the busy traffic or the senseless height of the skyscrapers, the sun light is travelling from one corner of the city to another.
Light, you always travel hand in hand with the sounds of the city: sounds of cars speeding up, rustling sounds of the branches, busy paces of people commuting to work...With a touch of light, you empower every creature amd object on your way

Day after day, night after night, you come and go, again and again. Your routinely constant visit, however, is neglected. The public has ignored you; the city has forgotten you. But this will never stop you from your coming back again and again. Your warm presence, witnesses everything, caresses everything.
You follow the tick-tack-tick-tack of Time. It is this senseless, at a first sight, tick tack which connects places, signs, symbols and people. Light, you lead time, and you aroused the awakening of my Soul, and your power is reflected in the depth of my eyes.

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