My parents visit Taiwan

Mum and Dad at Hotel One

My parents have just spent the past week in Taiwan. This was their second visit to Taiwan following their first visit in 2008. The week long visit was just enough time to see a few of Taiwan’s highlights.

Fengjia night market in Taichung

The first day was spent relaxing and enjoying some of the good things in Taichung. We drank Taichung’s best coffee at Orsir. Then we had lunch at Hotel One with a great view of the city. In the evening we visited the Fengjia Night Market. Thankfully it wasn’t too busy and crowded on a Monday night. Continue reading

John Seed in Jianshi and Smangus

Atayal artist Yawi

After travelling through central and southern Taiwan the next part of John Seed’s trip spent a few days in Jianshi Township of Hsinchu County. The photo above shows the Atayal artist Yawi. He has a studio up in the mountains and he kindly showed us around. His artworks have been purchased by the former Vice President Annette Lu and the current First Lady Chow Mei-ching.

Ginger cultivation in Jianshi

We also went to see the area where ginger is being cultivated in Tianshui. This is another important local environmental issue. The ginger growing is done by outsiders who come in and rent or buy the land, usually via dubious legal methods. The cultivation is being done on slopes which are steeper than the legal limit. The extensive clearing and disturbance of the soil creates a significant risk of a landslide. The growers exploit the land for short term profits while the local residents have to live with the effects of environmental degradation and risk of landslides. Continue reading

Trip to Marqwang and Smangus

I spent last week visiting Marqwang and Smangus, two communities in the houshan (後山) area of Jianshi Township (尖石鄉) in Hsinchu County. The visit was to conduct field work for a research project about the management of the Shimen Reservoir Catchment following the implementation of the Shimen Reservoir and Catchment Area Remediation Special Act (石門水庫及其集水區整治特別條例) which was passed by the Legislative Yuan in January 2006. The act created a special budget of NT$25 billion to upgrade the facilities of the Shimen Reservoir and management of the catchment area.

The Shimen Reservoir suffered severe impacts following Typhoon Aere in 2004 and several other typhoons in the period from 2001 to 2005. These typhoons caused large inflows of the sediment into the dam and compromised the ability of the reservoir to supply water to Taoyuan and Taipei counties. Michael Turton recently published a post detailing some of the problems based on an article that was published in CommonWealth magazine (天下雜誌). These two articles provide excellent background information. Continue reading

Ethnoecology workshop at Smangus

Smangus community classroom

On Sunday and Monday I attended a conference in Smangus. The conference, organized by National Chiao Tung University (國立交通大學), brought together a small group of anthropologists to discuss the topic of “Rethinking environment, localisation and indigenisation.” While it poured rain on the Sunday afternoon the cafe at provided a great refuge for the presenters gave their papers.

The presentations started with Dr Lin Yih-ren (林益仁) talking about the politics of the plan for the Maqaw National Park. The proposed national park covers a mountain area that is the traditional territory of the Atayal people. The social movement to promote the park developed through several stages. Initially indigenous people were not involved but an alliance between indigenous people and conservationists later developed. However, there was also another indigenous group that opposed the park. The plan for the park is now suspended but it has had an important influence on the development of ecotourism and laws related to indigenous peoples. Continue reading

Smangus and the Atayal spirit

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I visited Smangus this week to continue the research for my thesis. There were some significant changes in the village since my visit last year. The major one was the new classroom building near the main entrance to the village. Construction began in July last year and was completed in April. There are currently 12 students studying in the experimental branch of the Xinguang Primary School. The curriculum includes classes in Atayal language and traditional knowledge.

The building has a slate roof, rough sawn timber walls and a concrete foundation. Its combination of traditional materials and modern building techniques is in many ways a metaphor for the Smangus community which combines traditional Atayal culture with ideas from the modern world. Continue reading

A day in Qingquan village

Before attending the Pasta’ay in Wufeng I spent the day in Qingquan village (清泉). I met Sandy early in the morning in Zhudong and she drove me up to Qingquan. Sandy is my classmate at NCCU and she is a teacher at the Taoshan Primary School (桃山國小) in Qingquan.

Qingquan is an Atayal village located in Wufeng District, Hsinchu County at an altitude of around 600 metres. It is the last major village on the road. Beyond it is the Shei-pa National Park (雪霸國家公園) and the Syakaro Historic Trail (霞喀羅古道).

After a brief tour of the Taoshan Primary School I crossed the river to the Catholic Church. There I met Father Barry Martinson (丁神父). I have read Father Barry’s book Songs of Orchid Island and it was very interesting to meet him in person. I purchased another two of his books, Chingchuan Story and an illustrated bi-lingual children’s book The Fish Boy of Orchid Island (蘭嶼的魚男孩). He also showed me another book he was working on that will be published soon. It is about San Mao (三毛; Echo Chen) who was a friend of Father Barry and often spent time in Qingquan.

I asked Father Barry to describe some of the changes he had seen in Qingquan over the past 33 years. He said that one of the major changes was communication. When he first came to Qingquan there were no phones and the road was very poor. Now people have mobile phones and cars or motorbikes. This has lead to people being more individual in their way of life rather than centred on community. Another point he noted was the people no longer suffer as greatly from poverty. The National Health Insurance scheme has relieved people of a lot of burden. Continue reading