A Mother’s Day to Remember

My relatives in Tsongtzi Village in Wulai are honored for Mother's Day.

My relatives in Tsongtzi Village in Wulai are honored for Mother's Day.

Sunday, May 8, 2011 was the most amazing Mother’s Day I ever had the pleasure of experiencing, since my mother died in 1995.

Tsongtzi Village, where my great aunt Mei lives with her younger sister.

Tsongtzi Village, where my great aunt Mei lives with her younger sister.

My wife drove me to Chiayi High Speed Rail Station, and I gave her a quick happy Mother’s Day wish, with a kiss and hug. I then told my three boys to be extra good for their mother on this day. I purchased one business class ticket to Taipei, just for a new experience, so I could write a comparative article. (See article on the Taiwan High Speed Rail Business Class) The ride to Taipei passed very quickly, and I arrived around 10 am.

The mother's at the Catholic church in Tsongtzi Village are honored by the minister.

The mother's at the Catholic church in Tsongtzi Village are honored by the minister.

I caught the Taipei MRT (subway) to Hsintien Station, and then a taxi cab (chee-chen-chuh in Mandarin) to Tzong-zi Village in Wulai District. I wanted to surprise my great aunt Mei, who recently returned to Taiwan for good from the USA. She wasn’t at home, so I went to the Catholic church nearby and found her and many of my relatives attending a special church service dedicated to honoring Mother’s Day.

Great Uncle Masagi Lin gives a stirring sermon in the native Atayal language.

Great Uncle Masagi Lin gives a stirring sermon in the native Atayal language.

It was really nice seeing my great aunt Mei standing in line with other mother’s arm-in-arm, and holding a bouquet of flowers. I was fortunate to share the beautiful moment. She was very surprised to see me, as was all of my relatives there. There were many, including a few who I hadn’t seen in 20 years. My great uncle Masagi Lin, still a respected elder in the village, took the microphone and gave a sermon in the native Atayal language. It almost moved me to tears hearing the magical language being spoken and echoing throughout the large room. I closed my eyes and imagined I was in Wulai during a distant time. He acknowledged my return to the minister, and gave me the microphone. I thanked everyone and gave all the women, including my deceased mother, a warm Mother’s Day blessing.

My Wulai relatives in front of the Catholic church.

My Wulai relatives in front of the Catholic church.

When the service ended at noon, I greeted my relatives and everyone returned home for lunch. My great aunt Mei lived with her younger sister, which was a short walk away. I followed her home. She was leaving for a shopping trip with my uncle Henry and aunt Mei Lin, so I stayed with other relatives at the house. I was invited to stay for lunch made by one of my aunts that I did not see for 20 years. (Yummm!) Her two daughters were also there, and I took the opportunity to get to know them better. They were 6 and 7 years old when I last saw them, but they were now beautiful young women. After catching up on each other’s lives, they offered to drive me to Taipei to my film festival screening. I went by car with my aunt and two cousins to the Huashan Culture Park in downtown Taipei, arriving about 3:30 pm. I spent an hour introducing my relatives to Western cocktails and tiramisu in a little Italian place in the culture park. They left at around 5:00 pm. I used the time to write a speech for the opening of the film and for the Q & A session.

Great aunt Mei with my two cousins. I last saw them when they were 7 and 8 years old.

Great aunt Mei with my two cousins. I last saw them when they were 7 and 8 years old.

I returned to the site of the Urban Nomad Film Festival, a warehouse converted into a movie theater. I met festival founders Sean Scanlan and David Frazier, as well as some of their staff. They are a great group of people. At the front entrance of the movie house, there were two large bouquets of flowers sent by my friend Mr. Leo Li to wish me success. They were screening a film about Ai Wei-wei, and I passed the time by meeting people. Soon, Alice Takewatan and Li De-wei arrived. Both of them were instrumental in making my trip to Taiwan possible in 2005, when I traveled around Taiwan to film Voices In The Clouds. They prepared a table with traditional Atayal food and drink, generously provided by a good friend of theirs named I-na (ee-nah).

My aunt and two cousins in front of the film festival site.

My aunt and two cousins in front of the film festival site.

I give my relatives a first taste of tiramisu.

I give my relatives a first taste of tiramisu.

Flowers from my friend Leo adorn the front entrance.

Flowers from my friend Leo adorn the front entrance.

The Atayal traditional food and drink were generously provided by I-na.

The Atayal traditional food and drink were generously provided by I-na.

I popped next door to Alley Cats to have their famous pizza for dessert, and waited for my friend Henry Liao, Weifan, and his wife. I saw a live cat at a booth making herself at home, and understood why the restaurant had its name. We caught up with each other, and I asked for Henry and Weifan’s help to take photos of the event. We returned to the theater and started mingling. I introduced my friends to whomever I could. Philip Diller arrived early. It was great to see him and Alice together. They both worked together in 2005 to make my film possible. Catherine Su arrived with her husband. She wrote a very nice article about Voices in the Clouds for the Taipei Times. I finally met David Reid, a well-known blogger who publishes David on Formosa. David wrote a nice article on the film as well. I met well-known author and democracy activist Professor Jerome Keating, who said he would like to work with me on his project. There were many nice people that I met, and I can’t remember all of their names.

Co-founder Sean Scanlan was always behind the scenes at the Urban Nomad Film Festival.

Co-founder Sean Scanlan was always behind the scenes at the Urban Nomad Film Festival.

Voices in the Clouds was the closing film on the last day of the Urban Nomad Film Festival. We were quite proud of the acknowledgment. The film opened at 7:45 pm with a special ceremony with 4 people on stage. Alice and I shared a Paiwan dual wedding cup and David Frazier and Angelika Wang, the founder of TOFU, shared another cup. Alice made a statement and we all shared out millet wine together.

The drinking ritual opens the screening of our film.

The drinking ritual opens the screening of our film.

I gave a speech about why I made the film, and how it really honored my mother and her culture. It was on Mother’s Day in 1995 that she passed away and wrote her last words to me, “I love you.” The film played to a packed audience of around 250 people.

Tony, Alice and Philip together again.

Tony, Alice and Philip together again.

I sat next to Alice Takewatan and Philip Diller in the front row. Alice occasionally held my hand during the screening. It was emotional to watch scenes of my mother and of the trip that Alice was instrumental in making possible.

Members of the audience during the Q&A session.

Members of the audience during the Q&A session.

After the film, I took to the stage once more, and presented thank-you gifts to I-na, Alice, and Philip Diller. I was very touched when Philip thanked me as someone who inspired him. The question and answer began with Gary Smoke thanking the ATAYAL organization for their donation to help a tribe in Western Washington State. When another man asked me if the Taiwanese government was doing enough for the preservation of the indigenous culture of Taiwan, I deferred the question to Alice. She took the microphone and said something that struck a chord in me. She said the government spent a billion NT dollars for cultural preservation efforts, and said that this film and Tony’s efforts accomplished something that the government has not been able to do… to touch people’s hearts. She also said the footage of the tattooed elders is an important documentation of Taiwanese cultural history. All of a sudden, I felt an increased sense of importance for the film and whatever my future may hold.

Breaking down the festival site also included putting the alcohol away.

Breaking down the festival site also included putting the alcohol away.

After a lively Q&A session, the crowd slowly dispersed, but most stuck around to socialize and to enjoy the leftover beer and Jaegermeister. I tried Jaegermeister for the first time, and chatted with as many people as I could. The Urban Nomad crew worked diligently late into the night to break down the makeshift theatre in the warehouse. I left at about midnight, catching a cab to the Taipei Main Bus Station and catching a Ho-Shin bus to Madou.

I want to personally thank David Frazier and Sean Scanlan, the founders of the Urban Nomad Film Festival for honoring Voices in the Clouds as the closing film, and for providing the translators and great hospitality during the event.

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