Standing up for the trees of Tainan City.

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TC Cheng, organic farmer and advocate for a natural, sustainable lifestyle.

Another modern day David vs. Goliath story.

Around the world, we have seen the struggles of groups of people who stand up against economic development that they fear will destroy their natural environment, and their ecologically-sustainable livelihood. Recently, the world witnessed diverse groups of people protecting the natural water supply in North Dakota against the development of an oil pipeline. Other struggles to protect the environment in Hawaii and the Amazon have been shared primarily through social media, but most struggles by Nature’s champions are invisible to the public eye. These groups have one common belief:

“What good is money when we run out of clean air and water? At some point, we have to start protecting the natural resources that sustain all human beings and all living things.”

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Little Sigang Forest Farm in Sigang District, Tainan City, Taiwan.

One such INVISIBLE struggle has been going for years has been happening in Sigang District (西港區), Tainan City (臺南市), Taiwan.

“It’s another struggle in the timeless battle between forces of economic development versus champions of environmental protection.”

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A small road currently passes through a peaceful, shady area next to Little Sigang Forest Farm, but Tainan City Government plans to expand the road into a 4-lane thoroughfare.

The story is similar to many others around the world, but there are a few factors that make this case worthy of public attention. The first thing that makes this case notable is the central figure standing up against a road development project, Tun-che Cheng (鄭敦哲).  This resident of the agricultural community of Sigang, is fighting to protect his family’s land, known as Little Sigang Forest Farm, on the eastern edge of Sigang District.

TC Cheng is an unconventional character by local Taiwanese standards. His English is almost fluent, and his appearance takes people by surprise, making it hard for most people in Sigang to relate to him. He gained an appreciation for trees and nature from his father and grandfather, who planted the trees that now make up the small forest. The 90-yr-old grandfather placed incense and a small altars of rocks at the base of the trees that are slated to be cut down by developers, as a sign of respect and thanks. TC also has an uncanny respect for nature and knowledge of sustainable living. His concepts of organic gardening, mulching, farming in harmony with native plants and wildlife are lost on most of the local farmers and landowners, who mock his methods of farming. Regardless of the difficulties, Mr. Cheng continues to share his sustainable farming knowledge and experience to professors and college students and any visitor who is willing to learn. He has also co-created with other organic farmers in Tainan City a sustainable food-to-table community farming concept.

When the city government made offers to purchase the land needed for the new road expansion, all landowners eventually gave in. Tun-che Cheng was the last holdout, as he listened to the reasoning for the development plan, he wasn’t convinced that the project was in the best interest of the people of Sigang District. The other landowners were upset, and they believed he was holding out for a higher price. But on the contrary, TC understood that as a holdout, Tainan City government would be able to use Eminent Domain laws in Taiwan to force him to sell his land for much lower price than they offered to everyone else.

What makes TC unlike most people in Taiwan is that money is not a motivating factor to him. He could have accepted the government’s offer and bought another tract of forested land in Taitung or elsewhere. But, what he chose to fight for was the protection of Sigang’s last remaining forest for the people in the community, and to keep the living legacy of his father and grandfather alive.

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TC manually filters beans from his garden.

Little Sigang Forest Farm, the living legacy, is another factor that makes this case notable. It is a parcel of land approximately 7 acres in size, framed by tall trees and filled with bamboo, grass meadows, and all types of lush growth. There is nothing quite like it for miles around, as most usable land in the lowlands of Tainan City have been developed for residential or commercial purposes. Here, you can find endemic wild animals in the shade of the trees or in the tall grass, including lightning bugs, frogs, snakes, a variety of birds and squirrels. It is almost as if TC Cheng has preserved a diverse, biological piece of living history.

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There is a surprising variety of plant and animal life on the 7-acre parcel of land.

In this little corner of Tainan City, economic practicality seems to have been put aside to make room for TC’s dream of sustainable co-existence with Mother Nature. Mr. Cheng also believes that his principals and ideals should be valued even more than short-term financial gain in Tainan City, because of the problems with pollution and global warming. TC hopes the locals can gain more appreciation for the fresh air and cooling effects his forest offers. The natural shade provides retreats from the hot sun for TC and his friends, as they can lounge in one of his hammocks, or enjoy baking organic pizza in his outdoor pizza oven.

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An outdoor brick pizza oven often used by groups of visitors.

In order for the land to sustain his lifestyle, he does grow many types of organic fruits and vegetables, with the help of a few friends, but mostly from his own toil. He sells the crops at an outdoor market in Tainan City, but he hopes to expand the farm-to-table concept for the local residents. His family also has a small greenhouse nursery, where they grow ornamental plants. The land does provide some economic impact for the local economy, but it is work in progress. More importantly, it is a labor of love.

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TC Cheng enjoys taking a break in the shade after his hard work, listening to the birds and watching the wildlife.

What’s important in this case is how the drive for economic development has been stopped and postponed on several occasions by TC Cheng and his small group of friends. Not having financial means or social influence, Mr. Cheng turned to reason and facts to build his case. He has challenged the government’s impact studies, and proved that Sigang District does not have traffic problems that require a new thoroughfare to be built around the middle of town. He challenged the traffic count figures and carried out his own traffic counts to disprove the official figures. He recruited the help of small groups of environmentalists, and professors to build a case for the environmental impact of the project. More importantly, during the many meetings and discussions in Sigang, Tainan City, and Taipei, TC invited the media to hear his side. With the landowners, developers and politicians attending the meetings with their friends, it was often overwhelming for TC, who often stood against them alone. He believes in his message, but he is worried that the influence of money and power drowns out his voice.

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A loquat tree.

When looking at the proposal, TC’s case is that the politician behind the project is using figures that are inaccurate to build a case that there is a need for the road. The project’s proponents are promoting economic growth and progress as the main reasons for the new road, but TC believes that the proponents have not provided any plan that could justify their claims. What is certain is that the landowners along the new road will have economic benefit in terms of land value.

The proponents claim that the new thoroughfare would ease traffic congestion along the town’s main route, Jhongsan Rd (Hwy 19). The opponents have traffic count figures that disprove any traffic congestion problem. Also, a close look at the proposed route may cause one to conclude that the new road would actually create more congestion, of the main bridge leading into the town. The Jen-Wen River bridge is a bottle neck of traffic, and if the traffic light directs traffic in three directions, instead of the current two, it would slow down traffic.

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Visiting students from National Cheng Kung University built these structures for the farm.

As for the economic impact for Sigang District, the new road may cause new houses and small businesses to be built, but it would direct traffic away from Jhongsan Rd, where many local businesses rely on the steady flow of traffic to survive. Taking customers away from one place and bringing them to another location in town isn’t exactly economic growth.

On the contrary, providing a clean, tranquil environment, fresh air, and organic produce for local residents will make Sigang a more pleasant location to live in. The residents near Little Sigang Forest Farm enjoy the relative peacefulness of their home, but when they were approached by TC to join them to voice their concerns about the road development, they declined. Many people in Taiwan do not want to stand out or make waves, so it has been difficult for the defender of Sigang’s environment to attract supporters to share his concerns. Also, most people don’t have the means to take time of from work to attend public meetings about this case, nor do they have the money to travel to Taipei to share their voices. It is also interesting to note that most of the people of Sigang District, who will have some impact from diverted traffic, don’t even know about the project.

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A nursery greenhouse at Little Sigang Forest Farm.

Tun-che Cheng has a clear plan for Sigang District, to provide an alternative solution for growth and development, based on environmental harmony, sustainable and high quality of life. He wants to help people to see things a different way, in order to appreciate the value Mother Nature provides to their lives. TC asks:

“Is it truly worth it to sell out a high quality of life for our community for short-term financial gain?”

At some point, human beings may learn the consequences of their irresponsible, self-benefiting choices, but TC does not think it is too late, and will not give up trying to save his little piece of Nature. The Ministry of the Interior has met several time to discuss the Eminent Domain proceedings for this project, and Tun-che Cheng is ready to face them and the project proponents. He is willing to endure the criticism, taunts and anger directed at him, but he seeks people who feel the same way about the environment to join him to show the government that people do care about the environment.

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Taiwanese leaders echo sentiments of world leaders in the wake of mass shooting

The worst mass shooting in the United States occurred in Orlando, Florida early Sunday morning around 2:00 am, leaving 49 people dead and 53 injured. According to American news sources, this criminal act has been tied to terrorism, because the shooter reportedly called 9-1-1 during his rampage to declare his allegiance to ISIS. The tragedy, which was described by authorities as a hate crime against the LGBT community, has renewed vigorous debate on gun control laws as well as global terrorism. But for the most part, the international community has responded with messages of compassion, sympathy and support to the traumatized people of Orlando, Florida.

American President Barack Obama and the Presidential candidates all weighed in with sympathetic messages and Tweets. Pope Francis reacted in “horror” to the massacre. Queen Elizabeth of England released a statement of sympathy on Sunday afternoon, and the country’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, stated he was “horrified” when he heard about the tragedy. As the shooting occurred in a LGBT night club, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed “solidarity” with the LBGT community. Also joining the global chorus of world leaders were President Donald Tusk of the European Council, Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek of Turkey and Prime Minister Lars L Rasmussen of Denmark.

Taiwan’s President Tsai, Ing-wen (蔡英文) echoed the sentiments of other world leaders by expressing her sentiments in the official response from the Presidential Office of the Republic of China.

The spokesman of the Office of President of the R.O.C., Mr. Alex Huang (黃重諺), said on Monday that “President Tsai is deeply concerned over the deadly terror attack in Orlando, Florida, USA. Ms. Tsai has directed the Secretary General of the National Security Council, Mr. Wu Zhao-xie (吳釗燮), to express our concern to the Director of American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), Mr. Kin W. Moy (梅健華).” Mr. Huang added that, “In addition to her condemnation of violent terrorism, Mr. Wu will also communicate President Tsai’s condolences to the U.S. government to mourn victims and their families.”

Tainan City Mayor, William Lai (賴清德) stated in a letter to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, “On behalf of the two million citizens of Tainan, Taiwan, I extend our deepest condolences to the victims and their families who lost loved ones in the terrorist attack on your city. We are shocked and saddened by these cruel acts of terrorism and condemn all violence. Orlando has been our Sister City since 1982, and we care deeply about the safety and well-being of your people. I now write to assure you that Tainan will stand with Orlando through this difficult time. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all. We wish that the deceased may rest in peace, that the bereaved may be comforted, and that wisdom, courage, and strength be given to us all as we stand together, ready to protect peace and human rights.”

Orlando, Florida, known as the tourism capital of the USA, has a special connection to Taiwan. Orlando, Florida became the Sister City of Tainan City, Taiwan on June 24, 1982. This longstanding relationship has been valued by the Mayors of both cities. A striking similarity can be seen as the Orlando Mayor has led his stunned community through this crisis, as did the Tainan City Mayor during the deadly earthquake of February 5, 2016.

Post-Disaster Tainan City In Mourning

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The collapsed Wei-guan Golden Dragon building.

In the early morning hours (3:57 am local time) of Saturday, February 6, 2016, a magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck near the northern Kaohsiung City community of Meinong District. Although the quake was strong, the area surrounding Meinong did not sustain much damage. About 35 kilometers away in the Yong-kang Distict of Tainan City in Southern Taiwan, most people were asleep and ready to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday.  The almost 2 million people of Tainan City were abruptly awakened by a massive earthquake that subsided in about 30 seconds. There was a brief aftershock. The quake was felt all over the island of Taiwan and as far away as Mainland China.

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A tall crane lifts a rescue team into the rubble to find survivors.

However, one community was shaken the hardest. It was in Yong-kang District of Tainan City, where the 17-story Wei-guan Golden Dragon building inexplicably collapsed. It was a large building with 4 floors of commercial space and 13 floors of residential apartments. The residents were mostly families and college students.

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Rescue teams from all over Taiwan and Japan searched the disaster site around the clock for a week.

An English teacher who lived in down the street rushed to the devastated Wei-guan scene, because he had dropped off his two sons at the complex the night before. He arrived before the dust settled, and before the police and emergency crews arrived. He waited nervously for any signs of survivors. When rescuers arrived at the scene, his ex-wife was the first survivor to pulled out of the wreckage in front of the glare of television cameras. Her 10-day old baby did not survive the collapse, and her husband died trying to protect both of them. The teacher begged the rescue workers to keep searching the dangerous ruins of his ex-wife’s apartment, but to no avail, his two sons were not found.

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Mayor William Lai worked tirelessly during rescue efforts to support the rescue crews and the victims’ families.

This personal tragedy was just one of many that unfolded over the next 7 days, with many parents losing their children and some children losing their parents. One-hundred-sixteen people died and more than 500 people were hospitalized in Tainan City. People waited days on end as the rescue efforts were carried out meticulously around the clock by professional teams during the first 100 hours. Their anxiety turned to grief, as the critical time for survival passed, and Tainan City Mayor William Lai (賴清德) made the difficult decision to bulldoze the wreckage to find the bodies deeper in the ruins.

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The Taiwanese flag flies at half mast at Jing-sing Hall at the Tainan City Mortuary Service Office, site of the mass memorial services.

Trained rescue teams, including rescue dogs, military personnel, police, paramedics and medical teams manned stations around the disaster site, and coordinated their efforts very efficiently and professionally with the local authorities. Volunteers from Taiwanese organizations, especially the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, organized supplies and support services to the small army of rescue workers and victims’ families during the weeklong rescue operations. The Tzu Chi volunteers were the first ones to arrive on the scene to provide relief support, and the last ones to leave, cleaning the area, and recycling the waste. A wave of foreign and Taiwanese media descended on the area, and were treated to gracious hospitality by volunteers and local residents who opened up their homes to the visitors. It was noticeable that the disaster brought out the best in the people of the community.

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Volunteers and family members pray and chant for the victims of the Tainan City earthquake.

On Friday, February 12th, mass funeral services were opened to help the community grieve for the 116 people who lost their lives in Tainan City. Family members, volunteers and officials joined the memorial service at the Mortuary Service Office in Tainan City in Jing-sing Hall. In attendance were Taiwan President Ma, Ying-jeou (馬英九), Taiwan President-elect Tsai, Ing-wen (蔡英文), Tainan City Mayor William Lai, and Kaohsiung City Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊). According to Taiwanese tradition, the souls of the deceased return home after seven days, so family members must provide them with food and blessings to take to heaven.

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Buddhist monks chant to calm the spirits of the deceased and guide them home, before they proceed to heaven.

Survivors and the victims’ family members are picking up the pieces to rebuild their lives. Generous donations from Taiwan and other countries are making their way to Tainan City to make the process a little easier. However, for most families, no amount of money can replace what was lost during the Lunar New Year holiday of 2016. It will take time for the victims’ families to find closure, and they are still seeking answers to the cause of the collapse. Currently, the builders of the Wei-guan Golden Dragon building have been arrested while they are being investigated by Tainan City prosecutors for substandard construction practices. Also, it was discovered that a landlord tore down supporting walls and beams on the first few floors of the building to rent the space to a large electronics retail store.

Around Taiwan, people are seeking answers and trying to learn from the lessons provided by this disaster. Many living in high rises are anxious and feel uneasy about when and where the next earthquake will hit. More people may choose to avoid living in high rises in Taiwan, but in many cities, finding alternate housing my not be an option. The owner of a reputable construction company Tainan City provided several factors to consider when people want to make the safest choices for high rise apartments in Taiwan. First, choose to live in a building that was built after 1999, when the government’s building regulations were strengthened after the notorious 9/21 earthquake. Second, choose a building where there is not retail space on the lower floors.

Technology college students make case for Taiwan to take global leadership role for green energy

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A group of technology students from National Kaohsiung University Yenchao Campus participated in a contest to write a story for the news media. The topic was to declare why Taiwan should take a global leadership role in green energy.

The writing team that was selected include the following students:

曾晧然 (Tseng Hao-Ran)
賴柏瑋 (Lai Bo-Wei)
張傳彧 (Chang Chuan-Yu)
鄧淳仁 (Teng Chun-Jen)
呂岳衡 (Lu Yueh-Heng)
郭明森 (Guo Ming-Sen)

Below is their story.

Why should Taiwan take a global leadership role in Green Energy?

Because of the lack of natural resources, such as coal and oil, Taiwan has utilized nuclear power, which at present provides about 19% of the total supply of electricity. But actually it is not appropriate for Taiwan, an island located on a seismic belt, to utilize nuclear power. Thus, it has to develop an alternative power generation methods, namely Green Energy, to handle this situation.

Taiwan has innate advantages for developing Green energy, such as geothermal energy, solar energy and wind power. Cing-Huei geothermal power plant located in Yilan has been operating since 2014, and it supplies the electricity necessary for Cing-Huei geothermal park, the first self-supplied electricity tourist park in Taiwan. In addition, the density of wind energy content of Taiwan ranks second in the world, and there are 325 wind turbines in Taiwan. Until the end of October 2015, these wind farms had totally produced 1.1 billion 53 million kWh of electricity.

Currently the government of Taiwan strongly advocates Green Energy, and expects to introduce this concept into practice for daily life. For instance, products like electric vehicles, LED lights, and inverter air conditioners can help save electricity. National Cheng Kung University in Tainan has a wonderful green building named the “Green Magic School.” With advanced energy-saving technologies and renewable energy technologies, it successfully saved 65% in electricity. Moreover, National Cheng Kung University is also the world’s first to use the “carbon neutral measures,” a method of absorbing carbon dioxide by afforestation, to construct a zero carbon building.

In fact, it’s not only in Taiwan, but Green Energy is a global issue, since sustainable development has become a target we want to pursue. So, we hope that with the Taiwan’s example and leadership, more countries would follow and improve our environment for future generations.

New Zealand celestial compass project publicly honors ancestral connection to Taiwan

Maori Celestial Compass Project

An artist rendering of the Star Compass project in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. Drawing provided by Piripi Smith of Te Matau a Māui Voyaging Trust.

For thousands of years, Austronesian (南島) navigators (Tohunga) piloted primitive, double-hulled sailing ships called “waka” across vast stretches of the Pacific and Indian Ocean. These highly-trained sailors traveled across hundreds or thousands of kilometers discovering uninhabited islands, creating new colonies, and developing trade networks. What’s hard to believe is that these navigators traversed these great distances using no technology or maps, but instead relying on tuning into the stars, winds and Mother Nature. According to many scholars, these skills brought ancient ancestors from Taiwan to settle the vast area known as Austronesia, including the Philippines, Hawaii, Easter Island, Madagascar and New Zealand.

A traditional Maori waka sailing vessel

A traditional Maori waka sailing vessel

Up until modern times, these traditional sailing methods had been preserved by Polynesian peoples. There has been a recent revival of this method of transport, and to prove to the skeptics that the accuracy of guiding “waka” does not rely on luck, a new generation of navigators continues to sail between distant islands with no maps, compasses or GPS systems.

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Traditional Maori wakas sailing near New Zealand. Photo provided by Piripi Smith of Te Matau a Māui Voyaging Trust.

One group in New Zealand that prioritizes the preservation of this tradition is Te Matau a Māui Voyaging Trust, which manages a program called Waka Experience. The organization is led by Chairman Piripi Smith, who is an experienced Maori navigator. The Trust is partnering with Hawkes Bay Regional Council to undertake an ambitious project to build a large public project called the Star Compass. Not only will the project serve a functional purpose, it will also revitalize the historic Waitangi area.

The Star Compass will be used primarily as an education resource for a wide range of groups; trainee navigators of waka hourua, waka crew, school, youth and community groups. Visitors and tourists to the region will be able to understand the basics of how celestial navigation works. When asked why he was personally committed to this project, Piripi Smith stated, “It’s important to me as a trained navigator, as I now have a responsibility to pass this knowledge on to future generations, like it has been passed onto myself from my mentor Jack Thatcher.”

Mr. Piripi Smith, Maori navigator and Chairman of the Te Matau a Māui Voyaging Trust.

A photo of Mr. Piripi Smith, Maori navigator and Chairman of the Te Matau a Māui Voyaging Trust. Photo provided by Piripi Smith of Te Matau a Māui Voyaging Trust.

The Star Compass consists of thirty-two carved wooden pous (totems) approximately 2-3 meters high placed in a large circle outdoors. Six large limestone rocks will also denote the solstice points and centre of the compass. Four main pous for the North, East, South and West directions represent the four corners of the Austronesian world. The carved designs of the South Pou represents Aotearoa (New Zealand), the East Pou represents Easter Island, the North Pou represents Hawaii, and the West Pou represents Taiwan, home of the Austronesian ancestors.

The Te Matau a Māui Voyaging Trust worked with the ATAYAL organization and the National Museum of Prehistory (國立台灣史前文化博物館) in Taitung City (台東市) to select a design for the West Pou. Seeking a more authentic connection to their ancient ancestors, they sought an indigenous design from the appropriate region of Taiwan and time period. Chairman Smith explained, “We want to incorporate an ancient indigenous Taiwanese design so we can tell the story of where the voyages of our ancestors started.”

Director Shannan Chang of the Taiwan National Museum of Prehistory.

Director Shannan Chang of the Taiwan National Museum of Prehistory. Photo provided by the Taiwan National Museum of Prehistory.

The museum houses the largest collection of ancient Austronesian artifacts from the island. Its director Shan-nan Chang (張善楠) and his staff presented an assortment of ancient pieces from the Beinan (卑南) people, who lived in Southern Taiwan over 2,000 years ago. The museum considers this cooperation significant for helping Taiwan expand its international connections and to help the Maori in New Zealand connect with their roots. Director Chang stated that the project aligns with the museums original mission to expand Austronesian studies through its cultural connections, and expressed, “It is our honor and responsibility to reinforce the relationships for the Taiwanese people.”

Piripi Smith’s team has chosen the main indigenous design, which is from a Beinan Period jade artifact, as well as some other design elements to use in Taiwan’s pou. He is currently in a fundraising stage to build the project. The Star Compass project is tentatively scheduled to open in February 2017, depending on the success of finding sponsorship and other funding.

A large moai statue at Taiwan National Museum of Prehistory.

A large moai statue similar to those found on Easter Island sits on the grounds of Taiwan’s National Museum of Prehistory. Photo provided by the Taiwan National Museum of Prehistory.

Director Chang hopes to attend the opening ceremony of the Star Compass in New Zealand. When asked about what the design provided by his museum may mean to the Maori in New Zealand, he remarked, “This star compass project is really wonderful, because they can see an authentic design and feel the similarities of the connected cultures from the totem pole design.”

When the Taiwanese people look at projects like this, they shouldn’t underestimate what international opportunities Taiwan’s Austronesian heritage can provide for its future.

Ornamental jade ornament from the Beinan Cultural Period

The ornamental jade ornament from the Beinan Cultural Period chosen to be used in the Star Compass project. Photo provided by the Taiwan National Museum of Prehistory.

Internationally-acclaimed Taiwanese author’s back-to-basics campaign strengthens loyal following

A rare photo of author Wu Ming-yi.

A rare photo of author Wu Ming-yi.

When I met Professor Wu, Ming-yi (吳明益), he was sweating profusely as he pulled up on an old bicycle. It was no wonder he was so exhausted, after riding this bicycle through busy traffic and rainstorms for ten hours. He had given a lecture for his fans at a small bookstore in Chiayi (嘉義) during the previous day, and was meeting me for an interview before his lecture and book signing event at the Lingo Bookstore (林檎二手書室) in Tainan City (台南市). I was ready to snap a few photos for the interview, but he sharply declined. He didn’t allow me to take his photograph during the entire interview session, but he gave me permission to take a photo of his bicycle. I was taken aback by his directive, but I later understood that this was an important part of his mysterious marketing style.

In this day and age, where novelists pursue fame and book sales through publicists, media, international book fairs and social media, this internationally-reknowned author’s approach has been atypical. Wu, Ming-yi spent his Summer vacation promoting his new book, The Stolen Bicycle (《單車失竊記》), in a dramatically simple way. The novel was inspired by this environmental activist’s love for bicycles and Taiwanese history. Professor Wu designed his islandwide book promotion campaign consisting of lectures at small, independent bookstores throughout Taiwan. He would ride an antique bicycle around the island to visit each location, which is not an easy feat during a Taiwanese Summer.

An antique bicycle that Professor Wu used to promote his book around Taiwan.

An antique bicycle that Professor Wu used to promote his book around Taiwan.

“Why would you endure this torture, as part of your promotional campaign?” I asked. This soft-spoken academic replied that he wanted to get his readers back to the simpler times in Taiwanese history, when life moved more slowly, and people spent more time face-to-face with friends and neighbors. It was a time when bicycles were the preferred method of getting around, and cycling allowed people to digest and appreciate the details of the world around them. It was also a time when society wasn’t damaging the environment as much.

We proceeded with the interview, and I learned about his background. The professor is a literary academic who found his gift for sharing his knowledge, experience and ideas in a thought-provoking and entertaining way. He didn’t begin his career as a novelist. Wu, Ming-yi enjoyed sharing the knowledge that he learned about Taiwan’s flora and fauna in his research papers, and started building a following of people who appreciated his message of ecological conservation. Eventually, he began toying with the introduction of creative fiction to enhance his message, and his career as a novelist developed. Success growing a fan base in Taiwan was not easy, until he partnered with a talented literary agent and translator, who helped him to generate unexpected success overseas.

Before we concluded our interview, Wu revealed to me why we were meeting in a tiny bookstore with barely enough room to conduct an interview. He described his promotional style as something I would translate as “retro” or “grass-roots.” He preferred to connect personally with his fans, so he only chose small venues and limited the attendees of his lecture/book signing events to a maximum of 30 people.

The Stolen Bicycle

Wu Ming-yi’s new book, “The Stolen Bicycle.”

“People appreciate the opportunity to connect with me more intimately,” the author said, “and I don’t have to worry about marketing myself with social media, when my readers are so passionate about what I share that they do a great job of promoting the books with existing technologies.” Indeed, the author has a substantial presence on social media and the Internet, thanks to his fans. He said it was ironic that he was a marketing major in college, and he has chosen to go against everything he learned about marketing and promotion. When I witnessed the standing-room-only crowd in the tiny Lingo Bookstore, I saw people who were thoroughly engaged and mesmerized by the magical words of Professor Wu. I understood that these people were treated like friends and family by the author, and not like customers. As a result, Wu did not build a following of fans, but a growing team of passionate advocates for his message and for the environment.

I still wondered how this former marketing major was able to achieve this type of loyalty by shunning the modern marketing tools at our disposal. Why did a well-respected, successful author choose a slow, grueling, sweaty book promotion schedule at small venues around Taiwan while riding an antique bicycle? And why did he stop me from taking a photo with him? I was still sore about that. But, I noticed that none of his fans were allowed to take his photo, and they didn’t seem to mind. It furthered his reputation as an approachable man who preferred to have a meaningful discussion over coffee rather than take a selfie with a fan. As I walked out the door, I understood that Wu, Ming-yi was a GENIUS in his unconventional choices. He didn’t need fame or recognizability, as his always-intriguing, yet consistent, message was what mattered to him and his fans. And his message always involves getting back to the basics, to return to our basic humanity, which in turn, restores the world as well. Can this message of getting back to the basics really be conveyed by the messenger using computers, YouTube, tablets, and smartphones? I finally got it, and I bet Professor Wu will endure more heat and sweat to make sure more people get it, too.

Grand opening of the new ChiMei Museum fulfills a dream

The exterior of the new ChiMei Museum.

The exterior of the new ChiMei Museum.

Photos by Michael Sidebotham. Thank you, Michael!

On January 1, 2015, the new ChiMei Museum (奇美博物館) opened its doors to the public in Tainan City. When I visited, the sharply-dressed staff of about 100 people were busy greeting guests, polishing brass railings and adding the final touches to the exhibits. When I entered the grand lobby, I paused to take in the splendor, which was unlike anything I had ever seen in Taiwan. The museum has a striking resemblance to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC, which I have visited several times.

Cultural displays of historic world cultures.

Cultural displays of historic world cultures.

The new museum proudly displays 10,000 pieces of its collection, much more than the 5,000 pieces once displayed in the old ChiMei Museum. Visitors casually strolled through marbled hallways to marvel at the collection of preserved animals, classic works of Western art, cultural relics, and of course, the prized ChiMei collection of violins. The new building is, in itself, a treasure, a new iconic landmark in Taiwan, providing 40,000 square meters in exhibit space.

The famous Thinker statue on display in the Rodin exhibit gallery.

The famous Thinker statue on display in the Rodin exhibit gallery.

I was surprised when I learned that the ChiMei Museum is that this grand vision began with the childhood dream of Mr. Wen-long Hsu (許文龍). When he was a small child from a very poor family in Tainan City, during the early 1940’s, he often visited a local Japanese cultural museum. The young boy visited the museum to “escape” from the hardships of wartime to let his imagination fly to Japan. It was incredible to him, that even during a war, the poorest of people could experience the culture of a faraway place. He made a promise to himself, that when he grew up, he would offer the same type of uplifting cultural experience to the people of Taiwan. Little did he know then that he would grow up to found one of the most successful companies in Asia and grow a private, world-class collection of fine art and cultural artifacts.

A delegation from AIT visits the ChiMei Museum.

A delegation from AIT visits the ChiMei Museum.

I am certain that the ChiMei Museum will attract foreign tourists and Taiwanese visitors. I don’t think that Mr. Hsu, as a young boy, could have imagined the magnitude of what he would gift to the people of Taiwan. It’s hard to believe that the project of building a suitable museum for the ChiMei collection, which began in 1988, almost failed to materialize on many occasions and for many reasons.  On the first morning of 2015, the organizers, like Patricia Liao (廖婉如) could bask in their accomplishments after overcoming stressful challenges with sometimes very creative solutions. Because of their commitment, the ChiMei museum is a crown jewel of culture available to everyone who visits Tainan City, the ancient cultural capital of Taiwan.

Visiting with Patricia Liao, Deputy Director and organizer of the new ChiMei Museum.

Visiting with Patricia Liao (廖婉如), Deputy Director and organizer of the new ChiMei Museum.

“I would like our museum to spark the interest of young Taiwanese to reach out to the world in order to become global citizens who are proud to share their culture and open to discovering the cultures of others.” — Patricia Liao, Deputy Director, ChiMei Museum

Visitors who wish to tour the new ChiMei Museum can visit the web site (http://www.chimeimuseum.org) to place a reservation. Demand is high, so you may have to wait 3-4 weeks for an available day you can visit. Admission is free for Tainan City residents and NT200 for non-residents. The museum is open every day, except for Mondays from 9:30 am – 5:30 pm. You can also call (06) 266-0808 for information. The location is No. 66, Sec. 2, Wenhua Rd, Rende District, Tainan City 71755 (71755臺南市仁德區文華路二段66號).