Erenlai - Cerise Phiv (張俐紫)
Cerise Phiv (張俐紫)

Cerise Phiv (張俐紫)

Former Managing Editor of eRenlai.com

前e人籟執行主編

Tweets @cerisefive

Thursday, 18 March 2010 00:00

Meeting up to standards

Annie Lai's path to university was a very different struggle to the normal one. She explains her tough route to Providence University in Taichung, Taiwan. Furthermore, she explains why she feels that despite the struggles it's worth the effort.

 

Monday, 03 December 2007 00:00

Asian Union and Interreligious Dialogue

On December 2d, the Ricci Institute organized a roundtable on “Asian Union and Interreligious  Dialogue" at Tien Educational Center, Taipei. Moderated by Dr Chen Tsung-ming, executive director of the institute, the roundtable gathered representatives from different religions. What are the prospects for unity and cooperation among Asian nations? And will cohesiveness among Asian peoples be strengthened through religious dialogue, or will religious divisions further nurture conflicts throughout Asia? These were the questions introducing the roundtable.
Mr. Ni Guo-an, president of the Board of the Association of Chinese Islam, stressed the value of friendship in Islamic tradition, pleading for a dialogue form the heart, and distinguishing social and cultural tensions from purely religious ones.
Pastor Lu Jun-yi, Taiwanese Presbyterian pastor of the Dong-men Church, emphasized the importance of grassroots and localization work, giving example of the way the Presbyterian church in Taiwan committed itself to a mission of truth and justice.
While recognizing that Buddhism is a Pan-Asian religion, Prof. Li Zhi-fu, Emeritus director of the Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies of Fa-gu shan, also described the diversity of Asian Buddhism, making it difficult to transform it into an unifying force throughout the continent. He also stressed that fact that Buddhism is a religion, while not being merely or first a religion.
Benoit Vermander, editor of Renlai, insisted on the work of self-examination conducted by Catholicism in the fifties and sixties, seeing in the this opening the roots of European unity. Likewise, he said, capacity for self-examination and trespassing of boundaries pursued by Asian religions could be a driving force for fostering a new style of communication within the continent.
Prof. Tan Yao-zong, Director of the Department of Multicultural and Linguistic Studies of the College of Global Research and Development at Tamkang University, gave a personal testimony on the way his identity, be it cultural or spiritual, had been shaped by the encounter with various religions and a search for inner sincerity going beyond dogmatic definitions of truths to be believed.
The debate that followed the presentations was rich and sometimes heated. Taiwan was a case in point both of the riches brought by inter-religious cooperation and of the difficulties to translate these riches into political and social assets. However, everyone was agreeing that cultural interaction was a way to transform Asia’s future through confidence-building and cross-fertilization. The future of Asia cannot be based solely on economic premises. Especially, taking ecological and spiritual dimensions as a basis for transnational cooperation will help Asia to creatively tackle global challenges.

On December 2nd, 2007 the Ricci Institute organized a roundtable on “Asian Union and Interreligious Dialogue" at Tien Educational Center, Taipei. Moderated by Dr Chen Tsung-ming, executive director of the institute, the roundtable gathered representatives from different religions. What are the prospects for unity and cooperation among Asian nations? And will cohesiveness among Asian peoples be strengthened through religious dialogue, or will religious divisions further nurture conflicts throughout Asia? These were the questions introducing the roundtable.

Mr. Ni Guo-an, president of the Board of the Association of Chinese Islam, stressed the value of friendship in Islamic tradition, pleading for a dialogue form the heart, and distinguishing social and cultural tensions from purely religious ones.

Pastor Lu Jun-yi, Taiwanese Presbyterian pastor of the Dong-men Church, emphasized the importance of grassroots and localization work, giving example of the way the Presbyterian church in Taiwan committed itself to a mission of truth and justice.

While recognizing that Buddhism is a Pan-Asian religion, Prof. Li Zhi-fu, Emeritus director of the Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies of Fa-gu shan, also described the diversity of Asian Buddhism, making it difficult to transform it into an unifying force throughout the continent. He also stressed that fact that Buddhism is a religion, while not being merely or first a religion.

Benoit Vermander, director of the Taipei Ricci Institute, insisted on the work of self-examination conducted by Catholicism in the fifties and sixties, seeing in the this opening the roots of European unity. Likewise, he said, capacity for self-examination and trespassing of boundaries pursued by Asian religions could be a driving force for fostering a new style of communication within the continent.

Prof. Tan Yao-zong, Director of the Department of Multicultural and Linguistic Studies of the College of Global Research and Development at Tamkang University, gave a personal testimony on the way his identity, be it cultural or spiritual, had been shaped by the encounter with various religions and a search for inner sincerity going beyond dogmatic definitions of truths to be believed.

The debate that followed the presentations was rich and sometimes heated. Taiwan was a case in point both of the riches brought by inter-religious cooperation and of the difficulties to translate these riches into political and social assets. However, everyone was agreeing that cultural interaction was a way to transform Asia’s future through confidence-building and cross-fertilization. The future of Asia cannot be based solely on economic premises. Especially, taking ecological and spiritual dimensions as a basis for transnational cooperation will help Asia to creatively tackle global challenges.

 

Tuesday, 29 September 2009 02:41

A Museum for Tushanwan

Shanghai World Fair comes with a surprise: The Tushanwan Museum, to be opened in May next year, celebrates the Tushanwan Training Studio and Orphanage established in 1852 by Jesuit missionaries. A project managed by the Xuhui District Cultural Bureau.

The founder of the workshop was the Jesuit Spanish Brother Juan Ferrer born near Valencia in 1817. His father had been a distinguished sculptor who had worked on the decoration of the Escorial Palace. He entered the Jesuit order in Naples where he was completing his artistic education and, on his request, was sent to China in 1847. He drew the blueprint of several churches of Shanghai and contributed in their decoration. With the approval of his superiors he founded a training workshop in Xujianhui (Zi-ka-wei), the domain where Jesuits in Shanghai were gathering their various works and schools, in 1852. The workshop educated outstanding Chinese sculptors and painters, working first for religious buildings and later on extending the range of its activities. Juan Ferrer died a premature death in 1856.

Other professors and artists at the orphanage included Brother Nicolas Massa (1815-1870) who taught oil painting, Brother Lu Baidu (1836-1880), Brother Adolphe Vasseur (1828-1899), and, most notably, Brother Liu Bizhen (1845-1912).

In 1864, an orphanage founded by the Jesuits was transferred to Tushawan (Tu-se-wé) on the periphery of the Xujiahui domain, and the workshop became a part of it, providing artistic and technical education to the orphans. Printing, woodwork, music and other trades were added to the curriculum.

Tushanwan played a key role in the development of modernism in Shanghai. The center had a casting plant, a printing press, a photolithography workshop and a stained-glass making facility. Tushanwan’s graduates often went on to teach other craftsmen and artists.

tusewei-8_rAround 1886, there were 342 orphans living in Tushanwan, 133 of them receiving a formation in the workshop. The trades taught then included woodwork, cobbing, tailoring, sculpture, gilding, varnishing, painting, weaving, engraving and printing. For a time, agriculture was part of the formation, but the experiment was interrupted. From 1870 on, book printing became one of the main activities of the workshop. After 1876, former students of the orphanage, working in different workshops around Shanghai, started to inhabit houses built nearby the orphanage, shaping a distinctive village life.

The sculptor Zhang Chongren, who was the friend of Hergé and was immortalized by him as the ’Tchang’ character of the Blue Lotus and Tintin in Tibet, was a pupil of the school and became later on the director of the Shanghai Arts Academy.

The last director of the workshop was another Spanish brother, native from San Sebastian, Jose Antonio Navascues (1910-1979). The son of a painter, he brought to the workshop his gift in this discipline and in the making of glass-window.

No doubt that the opening of the museum will give light to the international history of Shanghai and retrieve some of its diversity and uniqueness.

The Official Xuhui District Website


Friday, 28 August 2009 02:53

Fear in the post-apocalyptic movies of the 90’s-2000's

In the last decades, the movie industry has produced hundreds of blockbusters in the post-apocalyptic genre, i.e. science-fiction movies picturing the end of civilization and the human race after great disasters such as a natural catastrophes, nuclear wars or plagues. These films, often considered as “B genre” movies, might have a certain cathartic function beyond their mere entertainment value. In some ways, they concentrate the popular anxieties of their time and push the possible scenarios of the reality to their limits, oscillating between plausibility and over-exaggerated violence. This is especially the case with post-apocalyptic movies which exploit the fear of pandemics and viral plagues such as Outbreak (Wolfgang Petersen, 1995), Twelve Monkeys (Terry Gillian, 1995), 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002), the third sequel of the movie based on the eponymous video game, Resident Evil: Extinction (Russell Mulcahy, 2007) and I Am Legend (Francis Lawrence, 2007), inspired by Richard Matheson’s novel (1954).

Primal fears

These movies are first meant to create feelings of horror and fear in the spectator, the primal fear being that of death. Thus, these movies do not only display images of dead people but they play with the suffering and the deformation caused by illness. The first characteristic of the viruses is the rapidity of their spread, airborne contamination being the fastest type, as in I am Legend, where people get infected merely by breathing contaminated air.  In the other movies, the virus mostly spreads by contact with infected fluids or biting, which also allows for more spectacular fights splattered with blood.  Indeed blood plays one of the important roles in these movies, as it is the most visible representation of the deterioration of the body. In all movies, except Twelve Monkeys where the virus and its effects are almost not shown, once one gets infected, one does not only die, but also has to endure the intense pain of being deadly sick, as in Outbreak where the agony is described by an officer of the U.S. army: “When the patient first gets the virus, he complains of flu-like symptoms and in two or three days, pink lesions begin to appear all over his body along with small pustules that soon erupt with blood and pus (…). These particular lesions become blown. They feel like mush. There is vomiting and diarrhea and bleeding in the nose, ears, gums; the eyes hemorrhage, the internal organs shut down, they liquify…” Outbreak gives a very realistic representation of the symptoms, as the virus called “Motoba” is directly inspired from the Ebola virus and its own symptoms. Thus, the mask of death quickly replaces the one of the living and becomes the antithesis of the sanitary mask worn by the doctors and scientists.

Indeed, what is also at stake in the conflict between the sane people and the sick people is their humanity, and what could be more fearful than death if it is not becoming a monster, especially a zombie or a living-dead. Thus, except for Outbreak and Twelve Monkeys, the pandemics turn the infected people into zombies (or vampires, in the case of I am Legend). The main characteristic of the zombies are their beastliness and their inherent stupidity, they are the extreme metaphor of monstrosity as their body is mutilated, their moves are not human anymore, they are awkward, mechanical and they attack indifferently, usually starting with family and friends. In 28 Days Later, the virus named “Rage”, inspired by rabid viruses, turns infected people into mindless and vicious creatures; when Selena, one of the main characters, is asked how she knew that her friend who she just executed with a machete was infected, she replies: “I didn’t know he was infected, but he knew and I could see it in his face. If someone got infected, you’ve got between ten and twenty seconds to kill them. It might be your brother or your sister or your oldest friend, it makes no difference.” Each person is a potential monster as each one can break the boundary of humanity and pass to the “other side” once infected. The virus seems to awaken the dormant beast within us as it forces the survivors to fight and kill for their existence.

 

The animality of humanity

The themes of war and battles are omnipresent in the movies which all develop the topics of hunting, of the relationship between man and animal, predator and prey. Animals indeed play an important role in all the movies. The recurring animal is the monkey, who is the carrier of the virus in Outbreak and more specifically the chimpanzee in 28 Days Later. This movie starts with scenes of experimentations and torture of chimpanzees which are, among other cruelties, forced to watch clips of extreme violence broadcasted on TV. The line between humanity and animality is then crossed when we no longer know which one is the crueler between both. Ironically, in the movie mentioned above, it is the attempt by animal activists to save the monkeys that starts the virus outbreak when one of the chimpanzees infected with the “Rage” virus bites one of the activists. Twelve Monkeys also exploits the theme of animals ill-treatment, drawing a parallel between the way monkeys serve as guinea-pigs and the way a “healthy society” treats its mentally-ill subjects, segregating them into asylums or making experiments on the prisoners. And, at the asylum, one of the internees affirms it to Jeffrey, the main hero: “Torturing experiments. We are all monkeys (…) Maybe the human race deserves to be wiped out”. Furthermore, in the post-apocalyptic future drawn by this movie, men are forced to live underground while animals occupy the surface: the encaged ones are no longer the animals, they’re the humans.   

So, one of the other fears also exploited in these movies is the transformation of man into a prey: man is no longer the dominant species as we are close to eradication (many of these movies explicitly indicate the level of infection e.g. Twelve Monkeys mentions5bn people, leaving only 10% survivors,) and sane people are hunted down by zombies who feed on them. Survivors have to live hidden, always on the watch for a danger which surrounds and outnumbers them; the environment has become hostile to them, cities are deserted, without electricity and drinkable water (I Am Legend, 28 Days Later), its also explained by the heroine in the beginning of Resident Evil 3: “The virus didn’t just wipe out human life; lakes and rivers dried out, forests became deserts and whole continents were reduced to nothing more than bare wastelands. Slowly but surely, the Earth began to wither and die.” Then, besides escaping from zombies, the survivors have to sustain their more elementary needs: food and water. I Am Legend describes in length the daily routine of Robert Neville, the main hero, who endures a solitary life during three years, scouring the city of New York and visiting abandoned flats in search for supplies. During one of his excursions, he spots a stag which he aims at with his rifle, just before a lion pounces on the prey. In fact this scene can be seen as the counterpart of the one when Neville is caught in a trap set by the vampires and attacked by infected dogs, he barely escapes but his own dog and only companion gets bitten and he has to execute her, grieving inwardly.  

 

The conspiracy and the cure

The survivors are then isolated and left to ones’ own devices, they cannot even trust other sane people as some of them reveal themselves to be worse than the zombies they fight: in Resident Evil 3, a bunch of stereotypical rednecks set a trap to capture the heroine, they are obviously only motivated by cruelty and sadism and the heroine has no other choice than to kill them indifferently, in the same way as she exterminates the zombies. As the human race comes close to extinction, the humanity of those remaining appears to vanish too. It is also noticeable that the survivors are mostly youngsters, kids or the military. They are then divided into two groups which could be roughly summarized as the “goodies” and the “baddies”. The masses themselves identify two different types of people: the zombie crowd and the army. Apart from Twelve Monkeys, the army and associated medical researchers play an important role in the movies chosen here: In their own way, all these stories celebrate the triumph of individualism over the masses and the success of guerilla over big-scale war. In Outbreak for example, the U.S. army knows beforehand the existence of the virus and as they plan to use it as a biological weapon, they are ready to all means in order to protect its secrecy. They even destroy a mercenary camp in Africa and order the bombing of the town where the virus outbreak occurred. More generally, the outbreaks of viruses in the different movies are all parts of diverse conspiracies or products of experiments made by mad scientists (Resident Evil). When the origin of the virus is unknown, the army still seems to aggravate the situation by its incapacity to contain the infection and to control the panic of the crowd, and the crowd is the ideal place for the virus to spread.

Contrary to the masses of dead and undead, the survivors are scattered and have to move around restlessly, either to escape to their assailants or to reach a territory which hasn’t been infected by the virus. Thus, as the heroine of Resident Evil 3 states at the beginning of the movie: “The few survivors there were, wanted to keep on the move. We avoided major cities, if we stopped any place too long, they would be drawn to us. Only a few at first, but then more and more, a never-ending army of undead. Staying on the road seemed the only way to stay alive.” The last contacts with humans are messages left on a notebook (Resident Evil) or transmitted by radio (28 Days Later, I Am Legend), a digital voice which leads the survivors either to their destruction or their salvation. The survivors mostly head towards the North with the hope to find other sane people in some regions where the cold weather might slow down or stop the progression of the virus. In Twelve Monkeys, the main character, James Cole, even travels back in time to collect information on the virus and eventually obtains an original sample of the virus so a cure can be made. Then in some of these movies, emerges a certain image of the hero/-oine who is also somehow ‘superhuman’ like Alice (Resident Evil) who was genetically modified by the same corporation that created the deadly virus and who carries the cure in her blood; or – to a lesser extent – Neville (I Am Legend) who possesses a natural immunity to the virus and finally succeeds in his researches to find a cure, for which he sacrifices himself at the end of the movie. 

At the end, the hero is still above all a human, vulnerable even when immune; he/she is still primarily driven by the intense fear of dying and suffering. To overcome this fear, the supreme step is to tame the monster that lies dormant within a ‘normal’ person, might it be by becoming oneself this monster as Jim from 28 Days Later experiences, when he kills savagely the remaining soldiers. Just as the spreading of a virus in Outbreak is a chain of events where the virus travels from a monkey to a man who brings back the virus on a plane and contaminates a whole theater, the final raison d’être of the hero reveals itself in his very ability to break that same chain of doom.

 

Download the article (PDF)


Wednesday, 01 July 2009 02:57

Li Jinyuan sketches Taiwan

After several months going through the long and frustrating process of applications, Sichuanese painter Li Jinyuan was finally able to step onto Taiwanese soil. Retired professor at the Sichuan Normal University in Chengdu, he thought he should take advantage of his new free time and gaily accepted French painter Bendu’s invitation to discover Taiwan. Li Jinyuan arrived in Taipei on April 24th , right during the “plum rain season”. The strait’s climate is often very unstable and can affect landings and takeoffs but the North-East monsoon had already switched directions and the southern winds were preceding the Kurashio current, meaning the shoals of flying fishes would soon be able to swim up the North coast.

On arrival in Taipei, Li Jinyuan was not very familiar with the Island’s geography, so his host decided to take him on a tour of the Island. They started at Danshui wharf on the North of the capital and Jinshan township on the Northern Coast. He then embarked on a twenty day trip which led him to Nantou County in central Taiwan; to Alishan forest in Jiayi county (West Coast), before switching to the maritime East Coast - from Hualien city to Nan-Fang-Ao Port, Orchid Island, off the coast of Taidong.

Li Jinyuan brought back a considerable amount of sketches, paintings and drawings from his trip around Taiwan. With his black felt-tip pen, he would capture real-life scenes, of which he was the occasional spectator: a man reading his newspaper in a fast-food restaurant, a couple drinking their tea in silence at the terrace of a café, a fisherman repairing his net while two women next to him play with a stray dog… Sometimes, he would use pastels adding a touch of colour and animating the drawing. Li Jinyuan also experimented with felt-tip pen techniques to display the textures and the movements of the millenia-old trees of Alishan forest and Jade Mountain: here, the painter plays with the spaces left blank by the heavy black line, whilst the crooked branches and trunks seem firmly root into the emptiness beyond the page…

Whether you know Taiwan already or not, let painter Li Jinyuan be your guide through this pictorial adventure, telling you his version of Taiwan’s story.

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Friday, 22 May 2009 01:28

Rumour and prevention

Last week, the Internet showed again its formidable rapidity: on Sunday night (May 19 2009), a prolonged but moderate earthquake shook the area of Los Angeles. Almost instantaneously, people started to flood Twitter with messages and the news of the earthquake was coursing through the world of microblogging long before the Internet press published the information. Rumours on the Internet can spread like pandemics and the way to control their nuisance could be equally employed to prevent pandemics.

As the main task of the World Health Organisation (WHO) is to be a worldwide health monitor, teams of the organization also dedicate themselves to track down the rumours of illnesses on the Internet in order to analyse them and evaluate the risks of pandemics. Nevertheless, the evolution of any flu virus is totally unpredictable, which makes it very difficult to foresee its extent of danger. In the case of the “swine flu”, the WHO has been very careful to prevent a repetition of the panic effect produced during the SARS epidemic. This time round, they have been more watchful with the terms used during informative campaigns. Recently, I heard on the radio a doctor working at the WHO insisting on the fact that the correct name of the flu is “A/H1N1 influenza”. Beyond what could seem to be an excess of pretentiousness, it is indeed important not to encourage false associations of ideas which could create paranoia and generate disastrous consequences such as the recent mass slaughtering of pigs in Egypt. Furthermore, the expression “swine flu” is inappropriate: despite its swine origin, the virus has not been yet isolated on animals and is only transmitted between humans. ’The Mexican flu’ or ’the North American flu” are different names used to define the A/H1N1 flu and they show how difficult it is to apprehend the pandemic, Le Monde even pinned the term “grey flu” (“grippe grise”) to underline the uncertainty experienced by organizations and States when it comes to taking decisions and measuring their efficiency.


The recent outbreak of A/H1N1 flu in Japan has caused the government to take special measures such as closing down more than 4000 schools while health officials called for calm, stressing that the virus had not caused any deaths in Japan and that most cases were relatively mild.
Tuesday, 24 March 2009 00:00

山中人

射在棲身的鐵皮屋頂上的酷熱攪擾了早晨的謐靜。他伸伸懶腰,一躍而下。幾週過去了,他可以感覺到肢體愈來愈僵硬。這是個惡兆,表示水還在漲。和住在氣候極端地區的人一樣,他老得早,卻又沒有年紀可言。他不知道自己何時出生;其實,他連災難發生前的一切都不記得了。他走到外頭,感受照在臉上的陽光。一如往日,他從巡視「田產」的儀式開始他的一天;而所謂的田產,也不過就是幾個靠垃圾堆撐起的老篷屋和建築物罷了。他閉上眼睛,試圖重新拼湊各種感官記憶的片段:聽來如撞擊般的轟然巨響,穿破耳膜,害他從此耳聾的尖銳噪音。到底他是真的在陷入毫無知覺的昏迷前感到了溫暖的血滴噴灑在顱內,抑或者只因為夢見這場景太多次了而信以為真?

他突然發現跟前執著的小東西:一隻貓在他腳邊,翠綠的眼神定定看著他,討著每日發放的糧食。這隻貓是他幾個月、甚至幾年以來,在這附近唯一見過的生物。他其實也說不準時間,因為他已經過了好一陣子不知年月的日子了。「老頭子,」那貓似乎在說,「你別老記掛那些填不飽肚子的陳年往事吧。」

「好吧,小聰明,那我們來看看今天有什麼魚要上鉤吧……」老人調整頭上的草帽。

他們一起沿著水泥地間鑿出的小溪溝朝下游走。雖然溪水看似混濁,但其實清新乾淨,嚐起來甚至帶著甘甜。隨著快走的腳步,他聽見自己的心跳節奏,強勁的砰砰聲喚起了其他的記憶:駭人的隆隆聲,海濤像巨鞭般痛擊著城市。他不得不停住,他的頭開始痛了起來。他揉揉太陽穴,想要擺脫口裡那股餘波留下的鹹味。頭幾週,那平原就像一個巨大的火鍋:房屋、汽車、樹木、動物和屍體漂浮在由瀝青與海水調製的濃稠液體中,混合物慢慢被無可言喻的熱氣烹煮得翻騰起泡。接著島嶼開始下沉,為數不多的倖存者必須往更高的山上爬去。老人與貓來到池塘邊;老人看來很滿意,兩個捕魚器都滿了,其中一個捕魚器裡還有個沾上變硬瀝青的扁平塑膠盒。

他一回到家,就將今日的收穫清洗乾淨,用木籤串起青蛙,將所有漁獲都放上烤架。他和貓咪共享一餐,貓咪仔細地啃著魚頭,一吃完就立刻轉身離開。老人通常會小睡片刻,但他想研究一下今天撈到的「寶」,因此他把那個扁平塑膠盒拿到「工作室」去:工作室其實是隨手搭建的遮蔽所,裡面存放著他在山中找到的各式物品──他的寶藏。有許多他撿到的寶仍散亂的堆置在四周,等著清洗,有的還需要修理,之後再分類。他在很短的時間裡,就收集到足以建立一座貨真價實博物館的物品,但實際上只有幾層架子展示著精心挑選的寶。他的最愛是保存良好的金亮幸運符。他喜歡假想前人曾將這些小擺設掛在玄關或窗邊,因為糾結的奇妙字體所投射出的影子,就像狂熱的精靈般,在牆上跳著舞。他自己的脖子上也帶了一個,之前他還試圖掛在貓身上,貓咪用爪子狠狠拒絕,之後便逃得遠遠的。大多數的東西對他來說都很陌生,不曾引發任何記憶;儘管如此,清洗、修復和分類還是讓他創造出熟悉的範圍,讓自己確信這些東西當初必定有著那樣的用途。就某種程度來說,這些祭壇為的是要記錄編列他過去所曾經屬於的文明。

他仔細刮去塑膠盒上的瀝青,發現了一張褪色的照片。他唸出上面的字:「亞基瑞,神的忿怒」。那是上個世紀一部電影的封面。一名眼神狂亂的男子回身向右望,鐵製的頭盔與纏亂的金髮形成對比。他的膝上是一名金髮少女,胸口中了一支箭,也同樣望著那神秘的方向。他用指甲刮除盒子另一邊殘餘的瀝青,揭開上面的字:「西班牙軍人羅貝‧亞基瑞帶領一群征服者深入祕魯叢林深處的亞馬遜河尋找傳說中的黃金城(El Dorado),但卻只落得發狂葬身異地的下場。」老人默默將這幾行字反覆讀了又讀,彷彿重複默念就能夠揭開其中的神秘意涵。亞基瑞徒勞的追尋讓他感到莫名的不悅,因為那無法激起他遺忘的回憶,卻又讓他內心深處受到幾許感動。他不難想像這些人如何奮力開路進入茂密熱帶叢林,一個其實與他目前所處境地相去不遠的陌生世界。他可以親身體會到一個光靠想像力所導引的存在有多麼瘋狂和脆弱。

他忽然抬起頭來,烈日當空,燒烙他疲憊的眼皮,刺痛他起皺的項頸。他又開始耳鳴,於是他回到棲身的住所躺下,夢見穿著鐵衣的人們,頭一遭踏上這座為所人遺忘的島嶼。


 

本文亦見於2009年4月號《人籟論辨月刊》

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附加的多媒體:

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Thursday, 19 March 2009 00:00

The Man in the Mountains

When imagination replaces memory

The morning quiet is only troubled by the strong heat hitting on the iron roof of the shelter. He stretches his limbs and jumps on his feet. He can feel the accrued stiffness of his body week after week. That’s a bad sign- it means that the water is still rising. Like people who live in extreme territories, he is prematurely old and at the same time, ageless. He doesn’t know when he was born; in fact, he doesn’t remember anything that happened before the catastrophe. He goes out and feels the sun on his face. He ritually commences the day by making a tour around his “estate”, a complex of old sheds and buildings that seem to stand together only by the trash piled all around. He closes his eyes and tries to reassemble the puzzle of sensations and recollections: a great tumbling that sounds like a crash, a shrilling noise that drilled his eardrums and left him deaf ever since. Did he really feel the warm dashes of blood spilling inside his head before slipping into nothingness or has his mind made them real after dreaming of them so many times?

He realises suddenly the insistent presence in front of him: at his feet, the cat fixes him with its green eyes, asking for its daily ration of food. The cat is the only living being he has seen around for months and maybe years, he cannot be sure anymore as it’s been a while since he has completely lost track of time. “Old man,” the cat seems to say, “Stop brooding on the thoughts of the past that would not feed either of us.”

“Alright, smart pal, let’s see what’s fishy today…” the old man says while readjusting his straw hat on his head.

Together they follow the brook downstream, a brook that is formed like a gutter on concrete ground. Despite its muddy colour, the water is clean and fresh and it even tastes sweet. He can hear his heartbeat, following the rhythm of his rapid walk and the strong thumping just brings back other memories: a terrifying rumble and the sea thrashing the city like a gigantic whip. He has to stop for a moment; his head has started to hurt. He massages his temples to get rid of the salty after-taste in his mouth. During the first weeks, the plains were like a big hot pot: houses, cars, trees, animals and bodies were floating in a dense liquid made of tar and sea water. And the mixture was slowly being boiled by an unexplainable heat. Then the island started to sink and the few survivors had to reach higher heights in the mountains. The cat and the old man have arrived at the pond; the old man looks satisfied, two of the fishtraps are full. In one of them, there is a flat plastic box spotted with hardened tar.

3283397609_edc6806514_oOnce back home, he cleans out the catch, sticks the frogs on picks and puts everything on the grill. Then he shares his meal with the cat who eats the fish heads delicately before leaving as soon as it has finished. Usually, the old man would take a nap but he wants to examine his find, the flat plastic box, and he takes it to his “workshop”: a makeshift shelter where he stores all kinds of objects he found in the mountain- his treasures. Many of them are still piled randomly here and there, waiting to be washed, sometimes repaired and then classified. In a rather short period of time, he has built up a real museum but only a few shelves actually display some carefully chosen items. His favourite objects are well conserved lucky charms with a shiny golden colour. He likes to think that some other people before him hung these knickknacks in the entrances of their home, in front of their window, as the shadow of the magical and entangled character would dance on the walls like a crazy spirit. He himself carries one around his neck and tried some time ago to tie one to the cat who resisted with claws before escaping. Most of the things are strange to him and doesn’t trigger any memory; still, by cleaning them, repairing them and classifying them, he ends up by creating a familiar bound and he convinces himself that these objects must have been made to be used that way. Somehow, these altars are meant to be catalogues of the past civilization he used to belong to.

3283391645_967ea58a08_oHe scrapes carefully the tar on the plastic box and a photograph of faded colours appears. He reads aloud the characters: “Aguirre, the Wrath of God”. It’s the cover of a movie from the past century. A man with insane eyes looks over his right shoulder, his iron helmet contrasts with his blonde straggling locks. On his lap a young girl, also blonde, looks toward the same mysterious direction, she has an arrow stuck in her chest. On the other side of the box, he deciphers the text, scratching with his nail the remains of tar: “Lope de Aguirre, a Spanish soldier, leads a group of conquistadores down the Amazon River in the deep jungle of Peru but his search of the legendary city of gold, El Dorado, only leads him to madness and death”. The old man reads several times these few lines as if the repetition could unveil their mysterious signification. He feels strangely upset by Aguirre’s futile quest as it fails to arouse some forgotten memories but still moves something deep inside his mind. He can easily imagine these men struggling to open their paths into the thick tropical jungle of another world, but similar to the one that surrounds him now. He can experience in his own flesh the madness and the frailty of an existence lead by imagination.

He raises his head suddenly, the sun is high, burning his tired eyelids and stinging his wrinkled neck. His ears are buzzing again, he goes back to his shelter to lie down and he dreams of men with iron clothes, setting foot for the first time on this forgotten island.

 

Download here the short story in pdf

All photos by Roy Berman
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Wednesday, 21 January 2009 00:00

My Linguistic Paradox

I was born in a multilingual environment as both my parents speak several languages. My father was born in Cambodia and mostly grew up in Vietnam from a wealthy Chinese family. Back then, when he was a child, he spoke fluent Mandarin Chinese and Vietnamese. Furthermore, with his parents, he would speak two Chinese dialects: Hakka with his father and, with his mother, Teochew (Chaozhou dialect) which is the most common Chinese dialect among Han merchants in South-East Asia. As my father was educated in French, he too mastered this language, and now that he has returned to Phnom Pehn, he can also speak everyday Khmer. My mother was born in Taipei, also from a Hakkanese family. Then, in her childhood, she was already trilingual: she would speak Hakka with her parents, with her brothers and friends she would use Holo (or Taiwanese) dialect and Mandarin at school. As she studied in Tokyo, she speaks perfectly Japanese and now that she has been living in France for twenty years, she’s also fluent in French.

Thus, my first twenty years were crippled by the drama of not being able to speak another language than French: from my recollection, my parents never spoke to me in Chinese. In fact, my mother must have spoken to me in mandarin when I was an infant as she couldn’t speak French yet at that time. I was living in a small town of Morocco and, according to my parents, once I came back from kindergarten to decree that from then on I would only speak French. My parents are definitively too liberal and I am still offended by the fact that they had accepted my whim with such easiness! In fact it was quite convenient for my parents that my brother and I couldn’t speak a word of Chinese: they would argue and discuss private matters without having to worry about preserving our innocence. I must say that children have a more developed intuition than what parents think as we were able to recognize and memorize at an early stage most of the vulgarities often used. Also, I missed a second opportunity of becoming a bilingual when I was four years old. I had started to take some classes of Arabic, after a few days, my father asked me what I had learnt and I just said loudly “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”). My father probably thought that I was too young for that kind of education and he immediately removed me from the class. Soon after, we moved to Paris where I carried on my education in French.

At the age of 20, by a twist of fate, I enrolled in a Chinese Language and Culture Degree in a university of Paris and started to learn the language as a beginner. I have to admit that I studied Chinese in a rather dilettante fashion. However I managed to graduate and decided to take off for a year to study Chinese in a language center in Taipei. Chinese language centers are miniatures of the Tower of Babel: I had the chance to be in a small structure where people of the different countries were too few to form segregated gangs. There I dramatically improved my English and also discovered with pleasant amazement that I was even able to speak Spanish! (Actually I had learnt the language at school during seven years without having ever used it.) Suddenly I was no longer a miserable monolingual and soon I discovered the joys of speaking, thinking and even dreaming in other languages. This superimposition of languages in my family and, now, in my everyday environment triggers sometimes the most curious and interesting situations. Last summer, my mother came to visit, accompanied for the first time by her French companion and my brother. We decided to ride the Taipei cable car and I offered my Colombian friend to accompany us. We entered the car with a Taiwanese couple who gaped at us while we were chatting: my Colombian friend would speak in Chinese to my mother and I would translate in French to my brother and my mom’s companion, speaking in English or in Spanish to my friend. The couple must have found it strange that a foreigner could speak Chinese fluently while my brother who looked evidently Taiwanese was not able to mutter a word in mandarin!

My temporary conclusion is that Asia might just be one of the most suitable places to become multilingual.



Tuesday, 30 September 2008 01:53

Sustainable architecture by the people for the people


Hsieh Ying-chun was born in Taichung, and grew up in Hualien. After he graduated from Tam Kang University, he devoted himself to the practice of architecture, and received many awards for high tech factory building and public building designs. Soon after the 921 earthquake took place, Hsieh Ying-chun went into the Thao’s tribe in Nantou County where the damage was most severe and conducted the collaborative rehabilitation with the Thao people, an ethnic group with only 300 people left. Hsieh has founded “Atelier 3” in Nantou’s Thao’s tribe and set up his way of practicing sustainable architecture. In recent years, Hsieh has promoted the idea of collaborative building in the Hebei, Henan, Anhui, and Sichuan provinces in China and is continuing to promote his idea of “collaborative construction” and sustainable architecture.

Hsieh Ying-chun thinks that sustainable architecture has three main axes: Social culture, Economy and Environment. It has to be conducted through simplified construction methods, open buildings, and establishment of an economically self- sufficient construction system, which is done by exchange of labor. Also he implanted the concept of environmental protection and Green building to the villagers, helped to construct self-consciousness and cultural diversity in tribal communities, and established local micro-economy units such as cooperatives.

“’Less architecture and more humanity’. This is one phrase I’ve always said. In another words, I tend to practice the simplest and least unadorned architectural style, so that the meaning of culture, society, and community can permeate into the space. It also means to “empty” architecture, and let Humanity, Spirit, and Nature retrieve their prominent position.

Throughout all these years promoting construction solidarity in Thao community and other 921 earthquake aftermath areas, and also practicing sustainable architecture projects in China in recent years, we always insist on our ideas and principles of sustainability. To build sustainable architecture, we not only need to consider technical problems of green architecture, but also the complicated mechanisms of society, culture, and economy lying beneath. It sometimes seems inevitable to give up tradition in the modernization process. However, in the process of rapid change, can we maintain the holistic thinking and arrangements of the whole environment, the society and the culture, like our ancestors did?

I always remember one time when our fellows were staying in tents to pass the winter. A Thao “Ina”(the respectful form of addressing elder women in Thao language) came, carrying an “ancestor spirit basket”(which is a representation of Thao’s religious belief) in her arms, murmuring the name of the ancestors, walking like this all the way into the community. The recently built bamboo houses were still green, and we could smell the fragrance of bamboo in the air. It was when the rehabilitation of the Thao Tribe was almost complete and the Thao families were just moving in that I realized for the first time how genuinely useful I could be to others as an architect.

I’m very grateful to the friends who support us in all kinds of ways!”


Read Hsieh Ying-chun's statement


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Wednesday, 10 September 2008 00:00

"Half-blind in the forest" - Bendu's exhibition

On the highlands or in a temple, on a peak or in the plain, sometimes far away and sometimes just nearby, but still always at the place where he has presently to be in the course of his pilgrimage, here comes the traveler – the one you meet on the road, Bendu… or yourself…
 
Since his awakening, he does not know where he is standing; he feels actually like being everywhere. Inside his paintings are the tears, the suffering, the rest that comes after the storm, the confusion, the ray of light within the nightmare. Between the spirit and the flesh, just between the opening and the closing of the door, between harmony and disharmony, Bendu paints the ever-changing appearances of a free heart – with the travail, the wait, the stops and the mere impossibility to stop, all that which goes along with the quest.

Bendu is the painter’s and poet’s pseudonym of Benoit Vermander, chief-editor of “Renlai monthly.” But it is not easy to reconcile Bendu with Benoit. The texts of Benoit Vermander come from his public persona, they are rational and analytical, universal in scope, aiming at providing people with norms and criteria for the decisions that they have to take. Meanwhile, the works of Bendu evoke a cat hidden into a hole; they bring along with them a feeling a mystery, of obscurity, of passion and of solitude. In the depth of our heart, each one of us might have two different voices for speaking to oneself…
 
Coming from afar, Bendu invites you to laugh, to weep and to whisper with him. At the same time, his paintings explore an itinerary, lead towards a destination that remains undetermined and improbable. The forest is a labyrinth, a feeble light is the only lamp of the half-blind traveler that walks into its depths.

Ink and water illuminate the spiritual labyrinth of Bendu. You have to navigate between natural, spiritual and artistic landscapes. The artist attains spiritual freedom through his creations, and this is why his artworks are the most beautiful gift he can make to us. For he thus leads us towards a road of spiritual freedom, transcending social divisions, gathering into One all the rivers of love, and making us all meet in truth.

The paintings of Bendu return towards the source of life. May they help you to confront your dryness, the torments of others, may they help you to confront the real choices that your life is made of. I am confident that they can also contribute to gather a community of spiritual seekers, a community of people searching for inner knowledge, so they can continue together along the road.

Raising a song to the universe from the depth of his heart, a song neither obscure nor luminous, a song that oscillates between hope and torment, Bendu invites you to narrate the tale of your own beautiful and tortuous pilgrimage.

Opening on Tuesday, October 7, 2008, 7pm

At the Sunbow Art Gallery
3F,0 Bld, 50, Moganshan Road(M50), Shanghai
Tel:86 21 62993931

The exhibit will take place from October 7 till October 22
Download here the pdf invitation

Monday, 17 December 2007 20:32

Europe is not a Chinese puzzle! China-Europe Forum 2007

A book that was published in Chinese and in French draws our attention to a most creative initiative, due to the “Fondation Charles Meyer pour le Progres de l’Homme”: the biennial China-Europa Forum, the second installment of which was held in October 2007.

The Forum had been conceived as a ‘two-stage’ event to implement dialogue between China and Europe. The first installment, which took place in China (in the city of Nansha, close to Guangzhou), invited the key actors and protagonists in the construction of the European Union to share with the Chinese their experiences and vision for Europe. The main subject of this forum was European Integration, and how China and the world at large could learn from Europe’s experience.

As European construction and development were the starting point and center of discussions, the published proceedings of the first Forum Europe is not a Chinese puzzle! (L’Europe, c’est pas du chinois!) can be seen as a presentation and a history of the European construction from an Asian perspective. Contributors such as Michel Rocard, Wu Jianmin, Jordi Pujol, Milan Kucan or Jean-Louis Bourlanges discuss issues related to world governance and globalization, through the European Union experience: “What are the challenges of a China-Europe partnership?” (Wu Jianmin) and “Can the European Union be a source of inspiration for the world governance?” (Michel Rocard)

More than a simple forum of discussion for mutual understanding, the initiative opens up a platform for redirecting the European construction towards the development of a multipolar world, a goal for which China’s contributions will be crucial. The relationship between Europe and China is not meant to benefit only the two regions, it should contribute to new ways of conceiving and implementing world governance.

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