Identity and the struggle for recognition in Taiwan

by David Pendery

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. 

My Taiwan, My Nation

by David Pendery

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.”

Three Taiwan Based Artists to Watch in 2021.

By Zoe Lorimer

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.

(Editor’s note: Support these artists and the writer at their event on Saturday, Dec.19.)

Youguey @youguey

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.

Angie @a_hueman_angel

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 Right here.

Moodi @moodidude

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.

Then outside of music, both Youguey and Angie write and perform poetry. So if you want to see them in person, you can come to Ooh Cha Cha (Technology Building) on Saturday 19th at 3pm to watch them perform!

A Day With the Tafalong Amis Tribe: History, Food, & Culture

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.  


Ghost Festival’s Eve in Keelung: Hungry Spirits, Parades, & Burning Boats

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.    

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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 Diyu on 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. 

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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.  


US Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt Asks For Photos Of Taiwan

US actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt recently asked for pictures of Taiwan for a project on his website,, in a post to his Facebook page. Netizens have shared the post over 4,000 time and it has garnered over 21,000 reactions.

The photo he shared was a picture of the 2016 Taoyuan Lantern Festival in Taiwan, highlighting hundreds of red hanging lanterns above people’s heads.. The photo was originally taken by @kikishen and was shared as an example for people to post their own pictures of Taiwan for the project he on his site.

The post has caused quite a hub bub on social media. So much so that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs chimed in to praise the actor for his interest in Taiwan and also saying that “…he spoke to the media praising Taiwan’s #Coronavirus-fighting prowess.” MOFA also called for people to upload their own photos for the project on the site.

HitRECord is a platform for creators to find collaborators or make content directly on the site together. Contributors to projects that get monetized are able to share some of the profit from the venture. However Gordon-Levitt warns in his “HitRECord and money” that this isn’t going to be a way to make a living. Nevertheless its a great opportunity for anyone looking to fin projects to contribute to.

Black Lives Solidarity Rally, Taipei

The Black Lives Solidarity Rally this afternoon, June 13th, saw hundreds of demonstrators gather in the 2/28 Peace Park in Taipei. The rally was held in solidarity with all those demonstrating in the United States and around the world. Many demonstrators were from the expat community in Taiwan and the rally was held in English and Mandarin. 

Demonstrations like these have popped up all over the world showing support for Black Lives Matter sparked by the killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and countless others. Speakers at the rally read off a list of names of people killed by the police in the United States, urging all to “Say Your Names”. 

Musical performances, spoken word, and moments of silence were observed at the rally. Speakers gave insight into the systemic racism in the United states, higher incarceration rates for African Americans, reduced educational opportunities and more. They also touched on discrimination against aboriginals in Taiwan. 

One moment of silence observed was for 8:46. This was the amount of time Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the neck of George Floyd. Another moment was taking a knee in a show of protest against police brutality.

There was a police presence at the rally, notably without riot gear or excessive numbers. They felt like peacekeepers and observers of a peaceful demonstration. Freedom of speech was well represented in Taiwan today.

Organizers made it clear ahead of time that this was not a political rally. So foreigners didn’t have to worry about getting in any sort of trouble for joining the rally. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic large gatherings have been restricted in Taipei. Last week  saw the easing of some of those restrictions, particularly for gatherings over 500 people in outdoor spaces. Taiwan has seen only 443 cases and 7 deaths, and has gone 2 months without a local transmission, meeting the requirements for easing of restrictions. Organizers said they had the required permits from the police for the rally. 

Something that struck me at the end of the rally was when the speaker asked us to tell the person standing next to us what we were going to do, a concrete action we were going to take, after today. Immediately a conversation was sparked. A conversation that hopefully moved people to act even if in just a small way.

Thanking Taiwan: Indian Community in Taiwan to hold Bike & Car Rally, June 13th

By Jaya Asmi 

TAIWAN CAN HELP- From the New York Times to the skies of Sydney to being printed on the millions of boxes of masks sent to dozens of countries – this slogan is everywhere! And soon you can find it on bikers’ t-shirts and flags during a rally dedicated to Taiwan’s COVID-19 success. 

Yes, Taiwan can help share the success of dealing with the grim pandemic that has taken the world by a storm this year. With millions of people affected by the novel Coronavirus around the globe, this tiny island has risen like a roaring lion. Learning from its previous SARS-2003 epidemic and the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, the island was well prepared with the appropriate laws in place, timely tracking of the outbreak in China, scrupulous monitoring and testing, and effective treatment in well-equipped hospitals. 

However, Taiwan did not just bask in the glory and praise it received from around the world in effectively dealing with COVID-19, it has gone many steps further and is sharing its technical know-how and equipment with other countries. Taiwan might have been excluded from the WHO but it has refused to be isolated. Taiwan has provided more than 16 million medical masks to support medical professionals around the world and has worked together with the US and the EU on the most advanced rapid tests and vaccines for COVID-19.The Indian community in Taiwan has felt touched by how Taiwan has treated citizens, residents and tourists alike- with respect, dignity and compassion. Taiwan has seemed like the safest place to live on earth during these tumultuous times. We have felt proud to be living in a country that was one of the few who reached out to Red Cross Society of India and sent 1 million masks to protect its vulnerable medical personnel. We want not only our fellow citizens back home but also the whole world to know how much we appreciate this beautiful island that we call home. We hope that the world will take notice of this event and support Taiwan in every way possible as it is not just Taiwan, but the rest of the world too which gains from being inclusive.

On June 13th, hundreds of members of the Indian community from all walks of life will come together in the form of a motorbike and car rally to show our appreciation to the government and people of Taiwan. The event is organized and supported by the different Indian associations of Taiwan. This is the first time any foreign community living in Taiwan is coming out and saying thanks to Taiwan. 





The Hypocrisy of Dr. Tedros Adhamon Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General.

Some weeks ago the Director General of the WHO (World Health Organization) Dr. Tedros Adhamon Ghebreyesus accused Taiwan of racial attacks against him. He even went as far as to say the Taiwanese government was complicit in this racist campaign against him by not denouncing it and even encouraging it. Taiwan denied this. Following these baseless accusations, he failed to provide evidence of his claims. My guess is that his Chinese handlers showed him a few posts floating around there on the internet and told him they came from Taiwan. Also, he felt personally attacked because a petition to have him resign as the head of the WHO, for his many failures, had been launched by someone in Taiwan. The petition had garnered over a million signatures by the time it was closed by the creator, Osaka Yip. I signed that petition and I hope you did too. 


Only the problem for him, yet again, is that his words have come back to bite him. In the same week that he was chastising Taiwan with the now infamous phrase, “This attack came from Taiwan” (which had a great hashtag associated with it ,#ThisAttackCameFromTaiwan), China’s government instituted a controversial and entirely racist crackdown of African migrants living in China. Restaurants refused to serve black people, landlords evicted African tenants and left them homeless, Africans were being forcibly tested for the coronavirus, and stores refused them entry. The situation got well out of control with many African nations, such as Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and more raising the issue with Chinese authorities. Some nations, like Nigeria, even summoned Chinese ambassadors and demanded they respond to the allegations. In hindsight, it seems like it was mostly for show, as many didn’t go further than that. But we’ll see. 

Too much reading? Watch the video!

Yet Dr. Tedros has remained silent on the issue. Almost as if he isn’t allowed to speak of it, akin to the time Dr. Bruce Aylward pretended not to hear questions about Taiwan and hung up on an RTHK journalist when she repeated her questions…only to answer a follow-up call and insist that he had already spoken about China…which Taiwan is not a part of.


He was quick to condemn the Taiwanese and our authorities for the petition and what he perceived as a racist virtual attack towards Africans from Taiwan, which he claimed was sparked by their discontent with his directorship of the WHO. At the same time, he has kept silent when an actual racist attack is being perpetrated by the Chinese government. The hypocrisy is astounding!


Let me see if I can offer some explanation as to why this could be. We already know how the Chinese government operates in the UN and other international organizations on all matters regarding Taiwan. And how they constantly bully or as they would say “use the carrot and stick method” to push their “One China” propaganda on the world. To better understand this situation, we can take a closer look at Tedros himself.


He was the Minister of Health for Ethiopia, his home country, from 2005 to 2012, during which he had been accused of covering up cholera outbreaks in the country. However, he was also praised for helping in sharply reducing the mortality rate of AIDS and TB patients, and helping to open up thousands of new health centers and 30 new medical universities(DW report). He then became the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, serving from 2012 to 2016. The following year, he was appointed WHO Director General, and has held the position since. 


An important bit of context to note is that Ethiopia’s current government is headed by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, who came into power in 1991 after overthrowing the previous regime, the “People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia”; the Front has held the seat of power ever since. They considered themselves to be Marxist-Leninist until 1990 when they rebranded and began to operate under a revolutionary democracy Tigray nationalism framework. This was after the fall of the Soviet Union, when “communism” became less popular. 


The reason for breaking out his resume and talking about his government is to show that he undoubtedly made friends with Chinese government officials during his time as Minister of Foreign Affairs. He must have spent a great deal of time with them, seeing as China is the largest foreign direct investment (FDI) partner they have in the country, accounting for about 60 percent of the newly-approved foreign projects in the East African country during 2019, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Report 2020. This is the 4th largest investment China has made in all of Africa. The FDI inflow amounted to $2.5 billion USD in 2019 and 3.3 billion in 2018. That’s a lot of money. 


It isn’t hard to see how China would be able to pull the strings on Tedros, as they often threaten to hurt the economies of countries that don’t regurgitate their propaganda. This might also help explain why he praises China and sticks to the CCP narrative as much as possible. He doesn’t really have a choice, does he? And who knows – maybe he has personal investments that could be in jeopardy if he rubs the CCP the wrong way, but there is no way to prove that definitively at this time. The CCP, however, will keep investing in Ethiopia, as it is the home to the African Union and it pays to have influence in the country that houses the political center of Africa. 


To conclude, Dr. Tedros Adhamon Ghebreyesus is a massive hypocrite and destroys his own credibility daily with his actions as the Director General of the World Health Organization, and doesn’t need help from Taiwan and its nationals to do so. He is quite capable of finding ways to prove his hypocrisy all on his own. This incident is just one of many and more to come. 


by Vincent Lovell


Portion of the cover photo was taken from artists @nagee

Walk Among the Clouds at the Top of Taipei 101

Despite its modest 15-year history, Taipei 101 has quickly cemented its place as one of the most iconic and beloved landmarks on the island. 

The eight-tiered skyscraper, slender and understated, yet majestic, is impossible to miss, be it near or from afar – and both literally and figuratively, what with its image plastered onto T-shirts, keychains, postcards, and a bevy of other merchandise found in department stores and night markets across the city. To locals, Taipei 101 has become a familiar presence, one that we often find ourselves instinctively on the lookout for when admiring the scenery from a rooftop or some other great height. Naturally, the stately tower attracts millions of visitors each year (it welcomed its 20-millionth visitor in the spring of 2016), excluding, without fail, the thousands that flock to the area to take in the fantastic fireworks display up close every New Year’s Eve. 


In June of 2019, management announced that the gates to the observation deck on the top floor would be opened to the public for the first time, as well as the debut of its new Skyline 460 feature; the outdoor deck now serves as a companion to the original viewing platform on the 89th floor. 

Chances are, you’ve come across the widely shared photographs of history’s freshest prince, Will Smith, posing up a storm on one of the world’s highest terraces when he visited Taiwan last October to promote his film, Gemini Man. 



Taiwan Observer was recently invited to experience Taipei’s pride and joy from a fresh and exciting perspective, a special adventure arranged by MyTaiwanTour. (click the link to take the tour)

Fun facts captured in infographics, an interactive multimedia wall, and sculptures dotted along the corridor entertained those waiting for their turn on the elevator. Designed and erected by C. Y. Lee & Partners, a local architectural firm, Taipei 101 shattered the world record when it was first unveiled in October 2004. It achieved the title of tallest building in the world at its impressive height of 1,667 feet (508 m), sailing past the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, and remained unrivaled until 2010, its thunder snatched by the 2,716-ft-tall (828 m) Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The skyscraper has since been demoted to 11th place, sandwiched between Beijing’s China Zun and the Shanghai World Financial Center. 

After a headcount and a brief breakdown on the day’s activities, we rocketed to the 89th floor in 37 seconds flat, as indicated by the video screen on top of the elevator buttons. The lift to the lower observatory, which travels at a speed of 60.67 km/h (37.7 mph), is among the fastest of its kind. 

As to be expected, the indoor observatory was astir with tourists and sightseers peering out the floor-to-ceiling windows, amusing themselves with touch-screens and displays, and browsing the gift shops. 

Before the main event, we were shepherded into a separate room to check out the gargantuan globe suspended between the 87th and 92nd floor, which was installed with the island’s high propensity for earthquakes and typhoons in mind.  The innovative design of the “tuned mass damper,” which weighs a whopping 660 tons and is capable of absorbing up to 40% of the tower’s movements, effectively stabilizes and guards the structure against these acts of God.


To access the observation deck on the top floor, we rode up two different elevators and scaled another flight of stairs. Those looking to conquer their acrophobia may find comfort in the fact that all sky-walkers were required to strap into safety harnesses provided by the staff. Clear plastic pockets with neck straps, for those who wished to bring their cellphones with them, were also available.

Upon entering the 360-degree observation deck, our guides clipped our harnesses onto the railing, which some of us clung onto for dear life. All nerves, however, were almost instantly calmed by the stunning panoramic view that greeted us, coupled with the embrace of an exhilarating breeze. For the next 40 minutes, we marveled at and snapped multiple shots of the seemingly endless circuit board-esque vista, all the more enhanced by the sliver of gold slicing through the horizon. 

Our stroll among the clouds was topped off with a cloud of a different kind. Following our trip to the outdoor observatory, we headed down to the chic and aptly-named Bar 88 on the 88th floor. Here, we enjoyed a round of their signature beverages: a selection of “cloud” coffees and teas. The “cloud” bubble tea (雲朵珍奶), crowned with a delightful afro of cotton candy, is definitely one to try out. Those who aren’t keen on tapioca pearls can opt for coffee (雲朵咖啡), which is presented with the illusion of a cloud hovering over your mug. 


A cool gift bag, which included a collectible mug, a souvenir photo from the Skyline 460 experience, and a flat bottle of “pocket water” completed our adventure.

If you want to take this tour of 101 visit MyTaiwanTour to book it now.

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