Erenlai - 按標籤顯示項目: nick coulson
週五, 27 九月 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.


週日, 01 十二月 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.


週五, 30 八月 2013 10:19

Uniting the Sea of Islands

Epeli Hao'Ofa, the most significant Pacific scholar of his age, wrote a momentous paper Rediscovering our sea of islands, in which he laid out an indigenous vision of the Pacific, one in which the people were united by their "sea of islands" rather than constrained by the seas, the passport system implemented by the colonial powers and acquired linguistic differences. I experienced these words in all their emotional and symbolic power during the six weeks that my newly discovered siblings, Fijian Ledua Setaraki (Seta) and ethnic Samoan New Zealander Tupe Lualua, spent in Taiwan, where they had been invited to engage in exchange with Taiwanese aborigines to explore with one another their common Austronesian heritage through the mediums of dance and navigation, both revived traditional forms of indigenous wisdom which they had employed to re-engage with the contemporary world. Indeed, Seta had been a part of a navigation team which had put into practice 'uniting the sea of islands' by sailing the breadth of the Pacific using the traditional navigational methods of their forefathers.

Pacific scholar Vilsoni Hereniko once told me in this 2010 interview that the important point was that indigenous communities were empowered with 'cultural autonomy' rather than them to be perceived as 'culturally authentic'. From then on I always maintained some doubts when participating in or researching cultural projects commissioned by the government that are inevitably imbued with a self-congratulatory character and language and often have a superficial focus on supposedly authentic regalia, song and dance that seem detached from the real everyday lives and struggles of the participants, who are nonetheless often obliging due to the pride that cultural recognition furnishes them with and the jobs provided by the indigenous cultural revival industry. I often find these projects like to blow their own trumpets in terms of the diversity that they supposedly foster and their focus on praising Taiwan as the source of migration to the Pacific, a claim that is underlain with domestic political and geopolitical functions. I had heard too often indigenous peoples adopting and internalising the Han Chinese trope of the "indigenous person with the great sense of humor", or what one could term a "stage aborigine", commonly found in different media representations of the indigenous community. The tendency to focus on rediscovery of lost cultural traditions I feel often clouds contemporary social justice issues between the ethnicities in Taiwan and within the individual tribal groups. For example no cultural exchange group has ever received government funding to come and see the urban indigenous communities such as the Sanying tribal village or the Sao'wac Amis who suffered the full violence of the state machinery with the demolition of their riverside communities.

Another doubt I have harboured relates to the ethnic and racial historical burden. Although I generally try not to think in racial terms, having experienced being marked as a clear and obvious racial group, in a relatively racially homogenous island, being viewed sometimes in both an unfairly positive and unfairly negative light, in the context of this trip, I couldn't help having a discomforting nagging feeling that led me to question my very role in this trip. What was I, an English national, the very same English who had once been colonial masters and profiteers over both the Fijian and Samoan peoples, doing assisting in this project, translating between one colonially-received (or acquired?) language to another colonially-received (or acquired?) language forced on the local indigenous populations during their centuries of Han Chinese domination and marginalisation, for a project which was commissioned by the same ROC government (albeit from the Council of Indigenous Peoples) and being implemented by the Ricci Institute in which the main organizers were Han Chinese? Was this empowerment? 

Primarily serving as a translator and guide for the visiting Pacific guests, our entourage spent much of our time dining, drinking, singing, dancing, swimming, capsizing, crashing and generally living together as a swiftly improvised family and support network. In the host of parties and welcomings we were jovial partners in celebration. On a personal level, Seta shared with me some of his local knowledge, helping to reignite a passion for re-immersing myself in nature and all the daily survival struggles in the age of pre-convenience, as he taught me how to make my first sling spear, to ferment coconut and pineapple based alcohol which bared an uncanny resemblance in taste to indigenous Taiwan's infamous millet wines and finally to prepare and serve Kava, a tree root based powder mix, in the traditional way they drink the mix in his native island of Fiji. "Ta-kii" Seta called, and he clapped twice before I handed him the coconut half-shell cup, which he drank and clapped once more before handing the cup back to be passed on to the next person. And in that moment I felt a tingle of belonging and my own status doubts were somewhat resolved, as I realised that to live together in a globalized world, we are filled with both a need for universal fraternity in the goals of peace, love, unity and respect, and also a sense of belonging in a community of familial love and understanding.

Indeed on the trip certain doubts were assuaged, especially after seeing the reaction of the children in the schools where Tupe's energetic and inclusive singing and dancing, such as the mosquito swatting dance, brought smiles to the faces of all the school children and the tales and video footage of Seta's two year boating trip left the children staring in awe, filling the kids with a sense of adventure and a sense of their own potential to achieve their dreams. THIS was empowerment. That some of Tupe's works bring up contemporary social issues was also enlightening, and people did question to what extent Tupe's dances were similar to the dances of old, to what extent had they overturned the thorough religious, linguistic, cultural and artistic colonization and to what extent their revival had a positive effect on society. Furthermore Seta's talks and demonstrations always contained a strong environmental message, "my grandpa used to say, every second breath that you take in comes from the ocean", he went on to build awareness of the state of the ocean, with his gripping tale of his experience saving a huge sea turtle that had been dying, stranded on the masses of plastic waste irresponsibly left there from humanity's excesses. These children of Formosa, and Orchid Island, I believe will never forget that the stewardship of the oceans is one of their great missions and perhaps a generation later they will be the ones leading the fight to clean the Pacific.

I still had some doubts, however. For example, while Tupe often mentioned how some of her dance works could also function as a critical art medium to express social problems in marginalised communities, in general it seemed to draw little attention from the audience, with still too much attention on selling an 'authentic look' to improve their economic benefits. Furthermore as expected the group did not visit the controversial settlements mentioned above, and barring the unavoidable exposure to Orchid Island's nuclear waste dump, these politically sensitive aspects still tended to be glossed over in the sea of dance and cultural display. I would hope that in addition to cultural renaissance, future projects could also put more emphasis on ocean wide Austronesian land rights and community inequalities. The Pacific, must be 'united as a sea of islands' facing a common set of environmental and social struggles.

nick seta zijie


週三, 10 二月 2010 19:36

What is still sacred?

Celebration in Crisis? As we approach the first Chinese New Year of the twentytenty's. The Chinese Diaspora is in a prolific period of evolution. Its festivals also appear to be in a process of evolution. Chinese New Year is becoming internationalised on a scale close to that of Christmas. [/dropcap]With these evolutions come new challenges, new identity issues and new soul searching. Indeed the true value of Christmas has long been questioned annually, the commercialisation of the ceremony, its newer function as a stimulant to heat up the economy in the midst of winter, lifting economies out of recession and lifting the mood of the people. Indeed, Christmas and CNY have a lot of similarities:

[dropcap cap="T"]he east is red, the west is red. Is there enough red dye in the world or will our stocks of red Christmas hats, red fireworks, red lights, red Santa’s, red envelopes, red banners ever be depleted? Santa's overworked elves have growing bags under their eyes, reduced holidays; rising fuel costs stops new machinery being installed, running out of resources but the kids keep asking for more, so the parents keep asking for more and Santa has got to provide more, because his constituents no longer embrace the concepts of moderation and austerity, the constituents want more, the constituents always want more, but the elves underground keeping everything going are really, REALLY tired, their joints are red and close to collapse..[inset side="right" title="Beast"]Santa's overworked elves have grown bags under their eyes[/inset] And there are new competitors on the field; billions of pounds of lights, explosions fly over from the central kingdom. The New Year Beast (年獸) is faring no better than Santa in the East And as one gets closer to the New Year you can here his cries from the mountains surrounding Taipei as he looks over the city, over Taipei 101: "This used to be my domain, now they encroach further, now the river runs red all the way up to my mountain abode. I fear the red more than anything, red banners with spring couplets which spread propaganda that deny me, which decry my ending; and the kids, the kids who used to be so delightfully cute, so delightfully edible; I used to eat the kids, now the kids are all armed with their bazookas of light, these fireworks of artificial joy; the streets are getting redder the kids are getting fatter and the fat cats are getting fatter and everyone is taking a bite out of me. They don't even pay me due respect, they eat more food as escapism from their uncomfortable family gatherings, feeling naked, as the computer screen that acts as a shield no longer separates and protects them from reality."[/dropcap]

As broadband and facebook reach all corners of the world it gets more and more difficult to find the last few patches of real human interaction in our virtual world. The annual visit to your grandparents, became your biennial, became your triennial visit home, became your annual telephone call, became your biannual msn conversation and electronic Christmas card. Technology and society evolve faster than the human mind is ready for. Christmas trees, mince pies, Easter eggs hunts, turkey, Yorkshire puddings, present opening, the red arrows became a mere figment of our past memories and we sink into nostalgia. Are we the generation of fast food, fast love?

So what is left of our celebrations? WHAT IS STILL SACRED?! ...What was ever sacred?

There are however a few sacred corners which continue to exist, which will always exist, some last untouched portals, a wonderland for romantics. Openings in the woods, green fields, strawberry fields, meadows, riversides, beaches, abandoned mines and openings in the rainforest, and other mysterious natural places...and with the decline in everyday interaction have come new fields of interaction...the rave party, which in its modern form engulfed the UK, and was an escape from escapism, a place to connect, to celebrate direct human interaction, to promote our visions and our relation to nature, the loud, thumping music acting as the catalyst for social inebriation. In addition to all the places in nature, it overtook the citied extending to car parks, even places of worship such as the 'Rave Masses' from Sheffield all the way to California. And in these rave settings there was liberation from social codes, the philosophy of dance was endorsed as an expression of inner feeling, less focused on the outer aesthetic, allowing a sense of belonging that transcended through language, creed and colour. The act, the will to, the entrancement in dance; from shamanic rituals, to rugby war dances, to students who would spend months feeling, exercising and enjoying the music; the communication, the meditation, the appreciation, the art of living in the moment.

And what of the origins of these raves? The latest manifestation of the rave I attended was a small post New Year car park party in Taipei, named Tiger Hunting and inadvertently a fitting celebration of my 24th year (and other youth born in the year of the tiger). And whilst culturally these raves of neon lights, fluorescent backdrops and marginalised youth seemed a million miles away from the family gatherings at New Year and Christmas, they essentially remain intimately linked to the original spirit. A celebration of lunar phenomenon, family (albeit non-biological) and adrenaline rushing dance. This year on the 21st of June at around 11.28 Greenwich meantime, is the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere. And as the religious and pagan festivals since the beginning of recorded history we will see then some of the most vibrant manifestations of the rave. Furthermore it is with these winter and summer solstices and the equinoxes that we see the innate call to festivity, to celebration, that cannot be separated from human essence.

The winter solstice that precedes the belated Christmas and the birth of Christ is a day of celebration even for many pre-Judaic religions. Centuries ago, since the dawn of astronomy and even before, albeit a little less accurately, people would celebrate winter solstices. A rebirth, as the hours of daylight gradually begin to increase, the worst is behind and everything’s better from here on out. Like the Chinese spring couplet 一年復始萬象更新 (with the start of a new year everything commences anew), with a milestone of a new beginning comes new opportunity and allows one to relive everything as a new experience, and if we extend this, every day, and every breath, can be lived as a new beginning, a spiritual renewal. Every moment is different, whilst at the same time everything is continuous. This may be seen as a rapid period of evolution in our festivals but we can never put a stop to the perpetual manifestation of the festival. What is true remains the same. People will continue returning home for Christmas and CNY. And perhaps the most pure form of religion is that of experience; thus the will to dance, sway, shake, slide, twist, spin and jump is evidence that ceremony is still alive.

The soul-searching is in vain because the ceremonies will always remain, because the revelation lies in our very nature and the festivals are merely the formulisation of human experience, the phenomena of the stars, planets and solar systems and that (him/her/it) which operates these phenomena. Homo erectus, prehistoric man, the Incas, the Celts: they all danced in the forests, and then they danced on the grass, on the deserts, around the fire, on the mountains, on the beaches. We dance in the forests, on the grass, in the deserts, on the mountains, around the fire, on the beaches; and generations onwards will also dance and celebrate, because it is sacred.

The wild man is more beautiful than the knowledgeable man. Experience is sacred.

 


週二, 26 一月 2010 20:57

The passing of the New Year Beast

Nick shares his first experience of Chinese New Year and also recalls the origins of one of its main rituals: the throwing of firecrackers.


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