The Gallup Global Emotions index for 2018 is here. It confirms what we all know instinctively. The world is getting angrier and more negative for its dwellers. However, if you live in Taiwan, you might feel better about the situation than almost everyone else in the world, as Taiwan has ranked lowest in negative experiences in the world. Over 150,000 responses were tallied from over 140 countries to see how people around the world felt about their situations.
“Gallup asked adults in 142 countries if they had five different negative experiences on the day before the survey. More than one in three people said they experienced a lot of worry (39%) or stress (35%), and three in 10 experienced a lot of physical pain (31%). At least one in five experienced sadness (24%) or anger (22%).” – Gallup
The country of Chad ranked highest on the survey, showing that at least 66% of residents in 2018 experienced physical pain. 61% reported that they worried a lot, and 51% endured a lot of sadness and stress. 38% of people in Chad also said they were angry a lot, which is nearly twice the global average of 22%. Their overall score was 54 on the Negative Experiences Index.
This is in stark contrast with Taiwan, which scored 40 points lower on the Negative Experience index, getting only 14. This made Taiwan the place with the least negative experiences in the world. Other countries in the world at the bottom of the list were Singapore (17), Kazakhstan (17), Vietnam (18), and Turkmenistan (18).
However, it must be noted that Taiwan was not at the top of the Positive Experiences Index either. Latin America dominated that list with Paraguay (85), Panama (85), Guatemala (84), Mexico (84), and El Salvador (83), rounding out the top 5 places with the most positive experiences.
The global average for positive experiences was 71, and the global average for negative experiences was 30. Compared to previous years the global average of negative experiences are on the rise while positive experiences have generally stayed the same.
How do you feel about the situation in Taiwan? Is it less negative than any other place you’ve been to?
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This year Christmas is falling on a weekend and many are looking for what to do for this special occasion. Holidaze X-mas Food Festival is pulling out all the stops to bring you one of the best family-friendly events happening anywhere in Taipei.
Bring the kids, bring the family, come out to eat food from over 20 vendors, and listen to live bands playing Christmas classics. Besides great food and music, the festival is completely free for all to join with no entry fees at all.
Central and easy to get to just come down to Maji Square at Yuanshan station and find the big white tent! Just listen for the music and you will find it. Open from 12pm to 10pm on December 25 & 26.
The lineup of food is mouth-watering but also includes vegan and vegetarian options! Have a look a the list of food vendors joining the festival below. If you fancy a drink don’t pass up the Christmas cocktails, eggnog, craft beers, and a variety of delicious drinks served at the bar.
-Sabor Venezuela -Wei’s Bakery -Chinita’s Cubano -Taco Toro -Maha Indian Kitchen -Mama Russia -Empress Hot Sauce -Kai Kombucha -3 Leafs -UA Shwarma -爅登煙醺 -甜點的秘蜜花園 -Dobriy Mishka 多波熊 -What the Fudge! Brownies -Spice&Butter -SKB Burger -Maryjane Pizza 瑪莉珍披薩 -Pupusas Y Tipicos El Sabor Latino -OR ELAVE CAKE | BAKERY -PASTA & CO. -Aaand It’s Vegan -彤云甜點Tongyun Dessert -Faded -This Wei London -聚落山海 ‧ 山海豆花
Even if you don’t know much about Taiwan there are a big chances that you have heard about the Taiwan Tattoo guy. A British man who tattooed his forehead while intoxicated back in 2017. The news about his tattoo spread around the globe like wildfire. Everyone was talking about that British man who tattooed mandarin characters for Taiwan on his forehead and the Taiwan independence flag on his chin. He reportedly regretted it immediately after he sobered up enough to fathom exactly what he did. It was too little too late and in the space of a few days every major tabloid, in most western countries, had mentioned his antics, something that the hapless Taiwan Tattoo Guy wasn’t overjoyed about. Now he is selling his tattoo as an NFT.
This wasn’t the only mistake he’s made, as many long-term residents of Taiwan know. He was notorious on Facebook making many incendiary comments nearly every night. He spoke fierily about Taiwan and demanded its independence. He even got into a fight, which was reported on national TV, over Taiwanese independence after becoming inflamed when he misheard somebody calling Taiwan China. The Taiwan Tattoo guy is mostly known for throwing a petrol bomb outside of a convenience store. This was done because clerks ran out of ketchup sachets and refused to serve him. He then expressed his disapproval with fiery passion.
He also once threatened to self immolate as an act of martyrdom for the sake of Taiwanese freedom during the Hong Kong protests in 2019.
The Taiwan Tattoo guy also had an entrepreneurial side to him and a passion that helped him to earn money. He opened a pork gyro stand next to a temple causing an inferno of popularity at the Kaoshiung street-food market.
He definitely has a fiery past, but those days are over. Luo Han, his Taiwanese name, has settled down and started a family. It’s been a very long time since he’s done something blazingly wrong and he is trying his best to have a normal life. Luo Han is leading a simple life. He’s biggest focus now is his Taiwanese family and their well-being.
NFT = Non Fungible Token/Nice Face Tattoo
In the digital age of blockchain technology it came to his attention that his dopey move of the past can bring some wherewithal and his not so ‘Nice Facial Tattoo’ can be turned into a non-fungible token (NFT) which he can sell. So he decided to turn the very first photo of his tattooed face into an NFT which is now on auction at: https://bit.ly/2S5X6yX .
Remember that mistakes are a part of life. This is something that he says he needed to go through and it was his struggle, he definitely isn’t proud of what has been done but wants to do better. Life’s greatest lessons are usually learned at the worst times and from people’s worst mistakes. People aren’t their mistakes, they can move on. People have the power to change their present and their future. We can all have hope for a better tomorrow. We hope Lou Han can find peace and be happy with his new family.
And you never know, maybe this nugget of Taiwan internet history will appreciate in value in the future and bring you some financial gains. A part of the proceeds from the sale will be donated to a Taiwanese foundation whose purpose is to promote democracy around the world.
One of the central ideas in Francis Fukuyama’s Identity: Contemporary Identity Politics and the Struggle for Recognition (2019)is that identity as we understand it and emplace it within political contexts is comprised of three ideas. The first is thymos, a Greek word for “the part of the soul that craves recognition [and] dignity;” second is the difference between one’s inner self (one’s authentic identity and something of one’s “soul”) and the outer self (the self that functions in political and social contexts; here “identity politics” comes into full play); and third, an evolving conception of esteem by way of which recognition is granted to all in a society, and not just a favored sub-set. These ideas are of important in Taiwan today.
That a given “Taiwanese identity” has emerged in extraordinary ways in recent years is no longer a surprise to anyone. What is perhaps strange is that it took as long as it did to truly evolve. After all, peoples of all nationalities and ethnicities have long prided themselves on being just that—unique peoples with unique cultures, communities, polities, and not least, identities. Taiwan’s long history of colonization no doubt had an important influence here, and the people of Taiwan were rarely ever allowed to think of themselves as a unique commonwealth and citizenry. Well in any case, those days are past, and a new day has dawned, with Taiwanese people now celebrating their Taiwanese-ness, and all that suggests. This conception is still in some doubt, however, and everything from an associated and closely-related “Chinese-ness” to the fact that Taiwan and Thailand are often mistaken, complicates matters. But let the matter stand: Today, Taiwanese are Taiwanese, nothing more or less.
To return to Fukuyama, let’s look at his ideas and their importance in terms of modern Taiwanese identity. First, the idea of a people’s desire for recognition, principally as a nation and a commonwealth, and in turn individually, as citizens and civilians. This is an idea that has been evolving as far back as Martin Luther and the Protestant Transformation, and it came into truly serious acceptance with the works of Rousseau, Hegel and Kant. This is the veritable essence of free political thought and individuality. To be sure this is important to Taiwanese people, though their search for recognition has had a fairly torturous evolution, and is still incomplete, given Taiwan’s diminished status in world affairs and youthful democratic character. But this is not to say that Taiwanese people do not recognize their own values in term of their political systems and the lives they lead. In this respect, they have achieved the real deal, and all citizens are recognized as equals with equal rights. But again, Taiwanese people look to the world at large, and there they do not see the same full-scale recognition. Yes, they do see a lot of recognition from major world players, and as well from individual foreign citizens who live and visit here. But the uncertainty remains, and in a word, this is an incomplete element of Fukuyama’s triumvirate. But the future does not look dim for Taiwan.
In terms of point two of Fukuyama’s theory, this looks to be a fairly straightforward conception that Taiwanese people have a good grip on. Of course, the complications continue, as that which is “inner” about the Taiwanese often has a rough row to hoe in terms that which is “outer”—all those people and nations “out there” that still do not always assent to and respect that which is internally Taiwanese. This battle continues.
Finally, the embryonic conception of esteem, by way of which recognition is granted to all and not just favored groups of people, has certainly been accomplished in Taiwan in the large sense, with all citizens treated equally, with fair and free franchise, equal opportunity, and parity across all the people, not least the governors who are elected. There is one problem in this conception, however, which Fukuyama brings up. This is that the idea of equality in such a system is something of a two-edged sword. That is, an “equality of freedom” is granted to all, which is no doubt good, but its implementation does not always yield social and economic equality. Surely this is true in Taiwan, as it is in all liberal democracies with free, laissez-faire economic systems. This is troublesome, but is generally dealt with socially and governmentally. To return to the main point, the most important thing is that the essential recognition of equal citizenship, with all having a equal hand in selecting and modifying government, exists in the first place. And here again, Taiwan has attained this in spades.
Taiwanese and their identity. In this, like only a few other nations, the Taiwanese people have found and established an “equality of dignity of all human beings based on their potential for inner freedom.” Who am I? Taiwanese people have asked and answered this question in the most important and beneficial ways.
The following essay developed out of a Global Issues class I teach at National Taipei University of Business. We were on the topic of nations and states, and we watched the 2001 documentary Promises, which examines the Israeli–Palestinian conflict from the perspectives of Palestinian and Israeli children living in communities in the West Bank and Israeli neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Upon conclusion of this beautiful film, I asked students to write a piece entitled “My Taiwan, My Nation,” in order to examine the conception of nationhood, through the eyes of Taiwanese students. The following is taken from their reflections on nationhood in Taiwan. To be sure the students voiced perceptive and profound opinions, which we, foreigners all around the world, must take note of. Yes, “My Taiwan, My Nation”—a conception these students know full well, and one that I myself know better than many people realize.
Students may have begun with what seems to be a fairly obvious view on just what sort of nation Taiwan is. That is, “Taiwan is a country of democracy and freedom,” (Audrey Liu, age 25), it “ranks high in terms of political and civil liberties, health care and human development,” (Sunny Pan, age 40), has a media environment “among the freest in Asia” (Winnie Chen, age 43), and it is “a free and independent country” (Pitt Shi, age 37). “We are one of the most democratic countries in the world, we support human rights and protect freedom of press, speech and thought,” wrote Anthony Chen (age, 34). To sum up, “I am proud to be a citizen of Taiwan, we are one of the most democratic countries in the world” said Chen. Taiwan is “a hidden treasure in Asia” (Leona Wang, age 29), “Taiwanese people have fortitude and the spirit of never giving up; we are willing to fight for freedom and rights” (Julia Liu, age 25), and “I love my country, Taiwan” (Ann Lin, age 39).
All of this suggests more, and there were occasional doubts and questions in my student’s views. Crystal Mo (age 47) asked “Is Taiwan a sovereign, independent nation?” Her answer was yes, “Taiwan is a de facto independent democratic country”—falling into the old “de facto” trap, which is itself a contradictory view of nationhood. She went on to consider that “those who advocate that ‘Taiwan is a sovereign, independent nation’ may fall into a contradiction”—that is, that only 15 countries now recognize this so-called nation, and its “name” is not officially Taiwan, but the Republic of China. The ROC, but not necessarily Taiwan, “can still be regarded as a sovereign state.” Mo continues that, “in essence, Taiwan is a sovereign state that is not generally recognized by the international community,” summing up the concerns of those advocating Taiwan’s independent status. Meanwhile, “those who advocate that ‘Taiwan is not a sovereign, independent nation’ also fall into a contradiction”—that is, and again obviously, that Taiwan does indeed possess most if not all of the necessary attributes that define what a nation state is. “It seems that Taiwan’s problem still have to wait for time to resolve,” writes Wilbur Dai (age 48), and he goes on worrisomely “could it be possible that Taiwan will be transformed to a communist and totalitarian country…so that political thinking on both side of the Strait can become unanimous?” Many people here are waiting for answers to these questions in the best ways. With this confusion, with both “opposing claims,” what is the truth of Taiwan’s sovereignty? asks Mo.
Wilbur Dai adds that “When you are not a ‘state’ on any occasion that involves international politics, you simply have no place to stand, not matter how much you contribute to the world or how good your performance is.” To make matters worse, he continues, “in the constitution of the Republic of China there isn’t any intention or indication to cut off the connection with ‘China.’ From other states’ perspectives, as long as this circumstance doesn’t change, it is just two countries fighting for the same representative right.”
In light of this “deliberate ambiguity” (Lynn Wang, age 21), and in reference to the opening statements of this essay, the perhaps obvious conclusion is that “Some countries do not think that Taiwan is a country, but we have our own laws, systems, and our own presidents. We have everything that a country should have, why are we not recognized?” (Chen, age 21). To conclude with a conception common in Taiwanese politics that incorrectly tries to sum this all up, Wang says that “The status quo is accepted in large part because it does not define the legal or future status of Taiwan, leaving each group to interpret the situation in a way that is politically acceptable.” Pitt Shi adds that “It is time to correct Taiwan’s humiliating treatment on the international stage,” and “We should do our best to [earn] the international recognition that Taiwan is a free and independent county.” The contradictions and ambiguities mount.
China and its relations with Taiwan may be suggested in all of the above. Though a handful of students were somewhat antagonistic to the Middle Kingdom (“I do not think the government of the PRC can be trusted to be humane,” wrote Mitchell Li [age 23]), one student hoped for something better. “I don’t want to perform like an irrational person and just curse China,” wrote Nini Wang (age 21). “I think communication is the only way we can decrease misunderstanding. I hope we can have more opportunity to know each other and not bring the bias and judgement, just listen to what the other side is thinking. We can think from another perspective to learn each other’s merits, learn from other countries and progress ourselves.” No argument against this more accommodating view.
Students appreciated Taiwan’s diversity, calling the nation “a melting pot developing its own unique characteristics from different cultures” (Arthur Liu, age 21). “Multiple ethnicities live here, different cultures are combined, and coming out this small island is a Taiwanese culture,” wrote Winnie Chebn. “Taiwan is a country with many ethnic groups, including indigenous peoples, Hakka people, Minnans [閩南語, the Min Chinese originating in Fujian Province], and immigrants and foreigners who come to Taiwan to work or marry Taiwanese,” wrote Jamie Wu (age 26). As a long-living foreigner in Taiwan, I would not disagree.
Perhaps to sum up, “What is gratifying is that Taiwan is making progress in a good direction, from wilderness to civilization, from Colonial period to dictatorship, from dictatorship to freedom and democracy. Taiwan is my current home and my nation. No matter what its past or future name will be, or what story happens, we should all guard together at this moment to make this place become better and better” (Queenie Fu). “Taiwan must use a brand-new identity to make it possible to embark on a new path and enter the international community, wrote Pitt Shi. Let’s hope this all comes to be. “I still hope to retain the original Taiwanese spirit,” wrote Fanny Pan (age 21), and Fiona Chang (age 21) concluded that we have “a great opportunity to shine like a bright star and show the world regarding Taiwan.”
It feels great to get your hands on a brand new computer, but have you ever wondered what happens to your old machine after you dispose of it? Most old computers in Taiwan end up in incinerators or at old computer yards, where they waste away for a few extra years until they end up in incinerators anyway. Some parts can be recycled, some cannot. Only a fraction of them gets repurposed or reused.
The mission at Cinecore Foundation is to fix up and deliver those old machines to the disadvantaged communities around the world, especially those in Africa. Cinecore is boosting digital literacy by providing people with access to the very computers that you, and our society as a whole, often sentencing them to death in flames of the incinerator, when they are still able to Make a difference and donate your old computer to us, now!
If you have upgraded your digital devices recently, don’t throw the old one in the trash even if it might be broke or seem like no one can use it. Cine core may still be able to fix the device or use it for parts in repairing other devices. Tablets cellphones and computers are more useful recycled than thrown out.
Cinecore is trying to bring digital literacy to disadvantaged children and help those children improve their prospects in the digital age. If children can develop their digital skills they can help not only themselves but their communities, too. They will more easily be able to access information that can benefit their lives and may even lead to innovative solutions for problems specific to their communities.
So don’t delay, don’t throw away! Help disadvantaged kids today!
Taiwan held its first ever basic income march on Sunday(Dec.13,2020), attracting nearly 200 participants to rally in front of Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan. Current and former legislators joined the march led by UBI Taiwan, calling for greater discussion of a youth dividend and guaranteeing the right to a basic livelihood for all Taiwanese.
A prominent national legislator in Taiwan People’s Party, Tsai Pi-ru, gave a speech at the opening of the march in front of the Legislative Yuan. She said she attended because she wanted to show her support for Taiwan’s young people who are “bravely” speaking out. Tsai discussed the possibility of using a carbon tax and dividend as a step toward basic income.
“While participating in the basic income parade today, I saw young friends stand up. They are courageous to stand up for a new idea that is easily misunderstood,” she said.
Basic income is defined by Basic Income Earth Network as “a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement.”
UBI Taiwan informally began in 2016 and was formally established in 2018. In that time, the group has held three international conferences and produced multiple white papers analyzing methods for implementing basic income. Most recently, UBI Taiwan released a white paper advocating for an emergency basic income, meeting with legislators in early 2020 to discuss the possibility of including cash transfers in Taiwan’s stimulus measures.
The organizers said there were three main demands of the march: guarantee the right to basic subsistence, protect a sense of economic security, and prevent working families from being trapped in low-paying jobs.
As the global pandemic continues to rage on, Taiwan has not experienced a local transmission for over 200 days which allowed the rally to take place without restrictions. Nonetheless, march organizers said the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic created a new urgency for the basic income discussion in Taiwan. Despite expecting modest growth overall this year, Taiwan has experienced uneven effects from the global downturn which disproportionately harmed low-income families.
Former national legislator and magistrate of Tainan county Su Huan-chih said at the march that promoting the basic income system will help young people increase their flexibility and opportunities in choosing jobs, and will also help the unemployed maintain their dignity.
The General-Secretary of Taiwan’s Green Party Rita Jhang said basic income “provides universal protection for every person, alleviating the plight of exploitation and overwork.” Jhang said Taiwan’s current social welfare system with strict conditions and qualifications is not well suited for the rapidly changing modern era.
“When people no longer have to worry about their basic necessities, they can make longer-term plans for their lives and they can engage in more creative and public welfare work,” Jhang said.
According to Tsai, many of the criticisms against basic income were made 30 years ago when Taiwan began implementing its early social welfare system. At the time, she said many were worried social welfare would bankrupt the government. But welfare is not the area where Taiwan’s government is wasting money, she said.
“The biggest problem is that the government wastes money to build a lot of large and improper construction projects and unused government buildings. These wasteful projects create debt and harm the natural environment,” Tsai said.
To help educate the public on the issues facing Taiwan, the rally included booths to educate the public on basic income, share real stories related to basic income and the global basic income movement, as well as an open space for the public to discuss questions about basic income and the future tech-driven economy.
Prior to the march, prominent basic income scholars from around the world sent their advice and well wishes to Taiwan including Sarath Davala, the chairman of Basic Income Earth Network. Davala said that he hopes the basic income march in Taiwan becomes an “example” for other countries in the region.
“The march that is being organized in Taiwan is a sign of how strong the UBI Taiwan movement has come to and it has the capacity to provide and influence the government to adopt this innovative system,” Davala said.
University of London Professor Guy Standing said in his video address to Taiwan’s march that the pandemic has shown “the resilience of society and the resilience of all of us as individuals will depend on the resilience of the weakest members of society.”
“Now is the moment for a basic income movement and a basic income system. Brave politicians must take this opportunity and usher in a better society,” Standing said.
For Tsai, Taiwan’s first basic income march was a starting point for a larger conversation about how to reimagine Taiwan’s society for the future. She discussed how basic income could help address the problems of Taipei’s high housing prices and the displacement caused by Artificial Intelligence, while encouraging greater risk-taking and entrepreneurship.
“The great changes in the world start from small places. The world is always changing, and our imagination needs to be liberated,” Tsai said.
UBI Taiwan Chairman Tyler Prochazka took the stage to discuss why he has advocated for basic income in Taiwan. Prochazka moved from the United States to Taiwan in 2016 under a Fulbright proposal of studying the feasibility of basic income in Taiwan.
“I truly believe there is a real possibility to implement basic income in Taiwan and open up the unrealized potential among Taiwan’s young people,” Prochazka said.
With only a few days left of 2020, a tumultuous and transformative year, we speak to some local musicians who are going to be making waves in 2021. In Taiwan, one place that is safe from COVID-19, people can still enjoy live music and performances. Hopefully, you can see some of these musicians perform next year.
Hailing from the Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) and based in Hualien, new father Youguey has been making music in Taiwan for a while. So what’s new? With his latest release Amen, Youguey’s short and sweet rap promotes his individuality. A message for himself and others, to take pride in who you are.
When asked about his plans for next year, he told the Taiwan Observer that, “I’m going to release 26 songs, that’s two songs per month. The first one, Siempre, will be out on January 15th”. Damn! That’s three albums of music in a year. We’re looking forward to a ton of music from Youguey in 2021 and until then, you can listen to Amen on Soundcloud and watch the music video on Youguey’s YouTube channel.
Singer, poet, model. Is there anything Angie can’t do? Angie has been performing all over Taiwan since she moved here from the US. In her most recent song Treat You Right, Angie considers her biggest lesson from 2020; to treat herself right. If you don’t treat yourself right, who will?
So what’s coming up for Ange in 2021? She told us that, “I will release a music video for my new single: Treat You Right. I’m also recording an EP, which should be out by the end of 2021. I’ll continue to collaborate with other artists, like Rolhensha, and perform throughout the year”. Enjoy listening to Treat You Righthere.
Brand new to the island, Moodi from Tennessee, is ready to bring his music from the US to Taipei. Being so fresh, Moodi hasn’t had the opportunity to perform in Taiwan yet, but we’re excited about his debut next year. While in lockdown, he wrote and produced his latest EP, 2fold.
When asked about his plans for 2021, Moodi said, “I released and made a lot of music in 2020, but I want to write new music, and explore new possibilities as an artist in a new place!” You can access 2fold and the rest of his music from 2020 here.
If you are interested in entrepreneurship, please attend for free during Meet Taipei, Taiwan’s largest startup festival with hundreds of startups participating, well worth a visit for all business-minded people.
The Dragons’ Chamber 2020 teams:
::: Avox The most flexible and hassle-free parental control tool to manage online computer gaming.
::: Boom Tea Quick and fun to make instant boba kit, boom bubble tea is the new beverage you will want in your kitchen.
::: Sol bike It is our goal to immerse the player into the game so far so that increased fitness & knowledge comes only as a by-product of the fun and enjoyment the player experiences.
::: Simply the Best We provide best in class natural, organic, zero waste and vegan certified skin and body care products for an eco-friendly lifestyle.
::: Origami Labs OFLO, a productivity-focused visual-less smartphone delivered through a discreet audio wearable, designed to enhance frontline workers screen-less workflow with voice computing and bring these frontline workers into the digital workplace.
“This year we had more teams than ever applying to participate and had a tough job picking our 5 finalists. We wish all teams who applied all the best success!” – Dragons’ Chamber
Watch the first round of Dragon’s Chamber 2020:
More info about the event:
Organizers: Enspyre, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, MUSA Trademark Reach to Teach
Sponsors: Anemone Ventures, Business Next, Grant Thornton, Geber, Futureward, ICRT
“Dragons’ Chamber Taiwan has no legal or financial stake in any outcomes from this event. We do not vouch for or guarantee the credibility, reliability, honesty or professionalism of any of the entrepreneurs. We do not encourage that you make any business deals while at this event. All activities undertaken by the attendees or entrepreneurs are entirely at their own discretion and risk.” – Dragons’ Chamber 2020
Taiwan Observer recently had the honor of experiencing some of the most treasured traditions of the Tafalong community, as arranged by MyTaiwanTour.
The Tafalong community of the Amis tribe, the largest of the 16 officially recognized indigenous tribes in Taiwan, is primarily based in Guangfu Township of Hualien County, which neighbors the Guangfu River and the Mataian Settlement, another Amis community. Hualien is home to the largest concentration of indigenous people in Taiwan – namely, 200,000 of the 500,000 indigenous individuals scattered across the island; 5,000 of the 140,000 Amis tribesmen inhabit the Tafalong settlement today. The Tafalong community is among the oldest of its kind, its history stretching back some 2,000 years. Their folksy trademark handicrafts, ranging from vibrant textiles and pottery to exquisite wood carvings and bamboo work aside, the Tafalong people are famed for their cultivation of katepayi, or red glutinous rice – a crop exclusively grown in this region.
The Tafalong’s ancestors – also known as the “Taibalang,” a reference to the area’s abundance of white crabs and verdant rice paddies – originally hailed from the Fengbin Township in Maogong Mountain, roughly 23 kilometers southeast of Guangfu. According to Tafalong lore, they settled at Guangfu at the Sky God’s urging. In other accounts, their relocation was prompted by the rapidly swelling population and the exhaustion of arable land.
The Tafalong cherish the roots of their people just as they nurture the roots of their beloved crops. Once upon a time, as the legend goes, there lived a pair of siblings: a boy named Pilukalau and his sister, Marokirok, who resided in a land called “Karara.” Their peaceful lives in this little parcel of paradise, however, were disrupted by a ghastly flood that swept away all things in its path. The quick-thinking siblings managed to save themselves by launching themselves into a massive wooden mortar in the nick of time.
The currents carried their makeshift boat to a place called Tsatsulaan. It was here that the siblings eventually bore 12 children – six boys and six girls, whose descendants were the forefathers of the Vataan, Bunun, and Atayal tribes, as well as a subgroup of the Amis known as the “Nanshih Ami.” Meanwhile, two other sets of siblings made their escape from the flood in similar fashion. The first brother-and-sister pair, Tsihtsih and Patorau, who found refuge on a floating wooden partition, wound up in Amanlai. Lutsi and Lalakan from Kalapanapanai, distraught by the drowning of their other sister, drifted eastward to Tsilayasan. The two daughters of Lutsi and Lalakan were the progenitors of the Tafalong and Kiwit clans.
Tejamatsan, the literally glowing daughter of the gods Majau and Tsinatsinau, is said to have been the direct cause of the flood. In other versions of the story, Tejamatsan was not born to deities, but rather was the youngest daughter of a fourth-generation Tafalong family. Whatever the case, both Kodunkun, the god of thunder, and his brother Kalawatsan – the sons of the sea god Pansajan and the goddess Rijar – were resolved to make the breathtakingly beautiful maiden their bride. Majau and Tsinatsinau initially accepted Kodunkun’s proposal on their daughter’s behalf, their wedding scheduled to be held in five days’ time. Kalawatsan, who wanted Tejamatsan to himself, implored her parents to revoke their blessings, but they stood firm in their decision. Enraged yet undeterred, Kalawatsan proclaimed that he would, one way or the other, wed their daughter in two days.
True to his word, Kalawatsan arrived in Tsilayasan 48 hours later. Tsinatsinau scrambled to find a hiding place for Tejamatsan, stashing her in remote caves and deep in the mountains, but the inextinguishable beams of shimmering light that radiated from her daughter’s body rendered all her efforts futile. Kalawatsan soon found her and whisked her off to the east. Three days later, Kodunkun came to Tsilayasan, and upon learning about his missing fiancee, flew into a rage and conjured up a violent flood.
Our first stop was the Guangfu Wild Vegetable Market, which features the most diverse assortment of edible greens in all of Hualien. Every stall, each manned by a Tafalong local, was stocked with freshly-picked leafy greens and seaweeds, a rainbow of herbs and spices, and gourds of varying shapes and sizes. Certain vegetables such as the bitter gourd – bright green, somewhat lemon-shaped fruits covered in curious goose-pimply bumps – and the tire bitter gourd, reminiscent of miniature green pumpkins that fit in the palm of your hand, are only grown on Tafalong fields. Also for sale in at least one stall were mesh produce bags pulsating with dozens of tiny frogs.
Our guide was kind enough to teach us a few essential phrases in the Tafalong tongue, so that we could better interact with the indigenous vendors. “Nga’ayho,” we learned, is Tafalong for “Hello,” and “Aray” Tafalong for “Thank you.”
Next, we headed to the Tafalong Red Glutinous Rice House, where pre-prepared cooking stations, complete with pots, portable stoves, cooking utensils, and bamboo baskets filled with garden-fresh vegetables and ingredients awaited us.
Once we’d scoffed down our glutinous rice ball treats, each of which came with a distinctive savory punch, we made our own chili sauce and were each given Tafalong-style pompoms attached to some yarn to decorate our jars with.
We were then instructed on how to make our own salty pancakes from scratch, which we later stuffed with boiled greens, salted pork bits, and a healthy helping of other toppings and seasoning. We wrapped our rolled pancakes in ginger shell leaves, tied it together with bamboo husks and fuschias, and continued onward to our next stop.
We were brought to one of, if not the foremost Tafalong landmarks: the Kakita’an Ancestral House – a charmingly rustic, one-room structure fashioned out of rattan, wood, and bamboo, and crowned with a thatched straw roof. We even had the privilege of having Ms. Ko herself – a 59th-generation descendant of the Kakita’an family – show us around. In 1921, the Japanese authorities asked that the Kakita’an remove the dried, sun-baked heads that lined the roof, to which they complied; the heads were buried by a nearby hut. The house was officially declared a historic site in 1935.
Alas, the original structure was laid to waste by Typhoon Winnie in 1958. Seven ornamental panels, which featured carvings of the glowing daughter, the primeval flood, the customary headhunting practices, and other Tafalong traditions were salvaged by an anthropologist named Liu Pin-hsiung, who had them delivered to the Institute of Ethnology at Academia Sinica for safe-keeping. These panels were only returned to their rightful owners in 2003. The reconstruction of the ancestral house, based on the 1940 sketches of a Japanese architect, Chijiiwa Suketaro, started in earnest three years later.
Images courtesy of TELDAP
A delectable feast complemented by bottomless shots of rice wine, followed by an enchanting dance performed by an ensemble of lovely Tafalong ladies with infectious smiles, as well as a toron-making (pestle-pounded sticky mochi) session completed our experience.
Throughout the history of Taiwan, the indigenous communities of the island nation were made to endure centuries of unchecked abuse and neglect at the hands of the Dutch, Chinese, and Japanese colonizers – and yet, they persevered. Still, despite the increasing positive publicity surrounding Taiwan in recent years, these resilient indigenous tribes are often left out of the equation, which is, to put it bluntly, a downright shame, for they are an indispensable part of Taiwanese culture and heritage. It is therefore imperative that we do our part in helping to preserve and promote the precious and irreplicable cultures of our indigenous populations.
Taiwan’s time-honored traditions and phenomenal festivals account for a great part of the island’s charm. If you’ve lived here long enough, you’ll know that the locals pull out all the stops when it comes to celebrating their heritage – from the colorful cornucopia of candy for sale and the deafening blasts of firecrackers during the Lunar New Year to the dizzying pilgrimage processions, fabulous costumed parades, riveting drum sets, and enchanting dances and acrobatics, among a slew of other performances at the Mazu International Festival.
The Hungry Ghost Festival, or the Zhongyuan Festival, one of the most spectacular and anticipated events of the year, is no different. The Keelung Zhongyuan Festival was the first of its kind to be officially listed as a “national heritage asset” in 2008.
Last week, Taiwan Observer had the privilege of joining MyTaiwanTour on a trip to Keelung to experience their take on Ghost Festival’s Eve.
For starters, a “hungry ghost” is a spirit that has been doomed to an eternity of torturous starvation as punishment for their wickedness on Earth. Referring to them as “ghosts,” however, is considered poor form. They prefer to be called “Good Brother,” “Good Sister,” or presumably, by gender-nonconforming spirits, “Good Friend.”
The Taiwanese version of the underworld, or “diyu,” has often been compared to Dante’s nine circles of Hell. Diyu consists of 10 dians, or courts, each realm guarded by its own judicial king. Upon death, all souls descend to Diyu and are put on trial in these courts. The duration of their stay and the types of retribution inflicted upon them as they graduate from one court to the next are determined by the severity of their sins.
Not only are those who lived honorable lives exempt from punishment, they are given the option of choosing between a golden or silver bridge – the first of which takes them straight to Buddha’s paradisal kingdom, where they will be forever liberated from the shackles of mortal life, and the latter to the Jade Emperor’s realm to be crowned a deity. The excruciating journey of damned souls, on the other hand, culminates in reincarnation, specifically as vermin, beasts of burden, or humans destined to live a life rife with extreme hardship and misfortune.
Our first stop was the Grand Salvation Altar, also known as “Chu Pu/Zhu Pu Altar” (主普壇). The first permanent shrine dedicated to the celebration of Ghost Month was erected during the Japanese colonial period in 1929 in what is now Zhongsi Road, but it was relocated to its present-day location at Zhongzheng Park in 1971 to alleviate the inevitable traffic jams -both vehicular and human – that arose when the festivities rolled around.
For some context, Ghost Month began on August 19th this year, the first day of the seventh lunar month. Ghost Festival’s Eve occurs on the 14th day (September 1st), and the Ghost Festival itself, celebrated on the 15th day, took place on September 2nd. The ghosts are due to be chased back to Diyuon September 16th, the first day of the eighth lunar month.
According to Buddhist lore, one of, if not the original hungry ghost was the mother of a monk named Maudgalyayana (AKA Mulian), who was sent to the underworld after her death, where she was relentlessly tormented for her excessive cursing, devouring dog meat, and various other misdeeds. He made regular food offerings to his mother, but the cursed woman’s throat had been whittled down to the width of a reed stem. What’s more, whatever she attempted to consume instantly turned into flames.
The faithful son begged Buddha for his mother’s freedom. Buddha initially repudiated his pleas, citing the magnitude of her wrongdoings, but the pair ultimately found common ground. Buddha agreed to open the gates of hell and allow the underworld’s hungry ghosts to roam the mortal world for a month. In return, the living were to perform a series of rituals and hold an extravagant feast for their ancestors and wandering souls on the 15th day. You will often find Western dishes among the food offerings in Keelung, which are laid out for the French soldiers who perished in the port city during the Sino-French War (1884-1885).
The temple, normally a regal, but plain red-and-white structure with multi-tiered golden-yellow roofs, was adorned with vibrant panels, miniature puppet stages and displays complete with beautiful hand-painted backdrops, and brightly-colored banners bearing the names of the festival sponsors. Red lanterns lined the path leading up to the altar, meant to guide the spirits to the shrine like illuminated breadcrumbs. Bonus side quest: find the hidden Totoro.
The festival is hosted and its public rites performed by one of the 15 Keelung “kinship associations” – long-established fraternities typically composed of members that share the same surname – every year. This year, the honor fell to the Lianxin(United Clan Family), who splashed out a whopping $5 million NTD for the altar’s decorations alone.
The burning of joss paper, or “spirit money,” is another integral Ghost Month ritual. Following our trip to Chu Pu Altar, we headed to one of the oldest joss paper shops in Keelung, run by a lovely lady who has been in the joss paper business for three decades. The age-old establishment is a one-stop shop for all your worshiping needs, stocked with incense sticks, candles, stacks of ghost bills available in different currencies, elaborate paper ships and lanterns fashioned out of spirit money, and even pre-packed boxes of clothes and paper cutouts of cell phones, hair and make-up kits, jewelry and other accessories, and so on.
Ghost Month traditions also come with a lengthy list of taboos. Meat (mostly pork), rice, noodles, unpeeled fruits, tea, rice wines, and assortments of cookies and treats are some of the most common food offering staples. In Taiwanese culture, however, bananas, plums, and pears must never be served, as each fruit is a homonym for “greet,” “you,” and “come,” respectively, and in doing so, you are openly inviting the hungry ghosts to overstay their welcome.You will also want to delay construction projects, avoid moving into a new home, and refrain from whistling at night, lest you become a pied piper for evil spirits.
After dinner and a leisurely stroll through the night market and harbor, which was decked out with giant lanterns of animals and fabled figures and creatures from local folklore, we joined the swelling crowds on the sidewalks of the main roads for the preliminary event: the parade. Some spectators and journalists who were particularly committed to getting a good view huddled at the balconies of nearby buildings and climbed atop the roofs of underground passages. Although the parade this year was considerably downsized for COVID-related reasons, the procession of ornate floats – dressed in fresh flowers and a rainbow of LED lights, and blasting curiously lit tracks (from EDM to old pop songs) – was still a highly entertaining experience.
Our final stop of the night was the Badouzi fishing port. As tradition dictates, king-sized water lanterns built in the shape of old-style houses, each filled with ghost money, are set ablaze and launched onto sea. These lanterns are the living’s way to extend invitations to the underwater spirits, namely shipwreck victims and fishermen lost at sea, for the grand feast at Chu Pu Altar. These invitations are to be sent out before 11PM on Ghost Festival’s Eve.
Each lantern, emblazoned with the name of each Keelung clan, were carried down the slope by a group of its members, who were wearing color-coded uniforms and sashes, then passed onto the lantern launchers, kitted out in helmets and life jackets. The dazzling display was set to fireworks. Fistfuls of money were hurled into the air, raining on the water like confetti.
They say that the farther your lantern floats, the better your luck will be the next year.