Tag Archives: indigenous

Voters demand change in Taiwan through its elections. Now what?

Taipei 101 in Taipei, Taiwan

Taipei 101 in Taipei, Taiwan

As an American journalist living in Taiwan for the past 6 years, I have enjoyed the fruits of living on this diverse island, but its people have been struggling to recover economically after the global financial crisis of 2007-2008. Before that, Taiwanese people were recovering from another drain on their economy caused by the steady flight of manufacturing jobs from Taiwanese companies moving their manufacturing to China since before 2000. During that time, along with the flight of companies and skilled labor to China, Taiwan also lost access to foreign investment capital and international markets.

There have been some promising signs of future recovery, however. According to a November 16, 2014 article in the South China Morning Post, Taiwanese manufacturers are beginning to move their operations back to Taiwan. Even though mainland China workers earn a minimum of US $2,472 per year, compared to a minimum of US $8,481 per year for Taiwanese workers, growing risks in the Chinese business environment and benefits of the Taiwanese marketplace are attracting more companies to return. Taiwan has added 89,000 new jobs since 2006.

The signs are positive, although the recovery has been slower than expected. Expectations were set high by the promises of President Ma’s governing administration (2008-present). The ruling Koumingtang (KMT) Party touted liberalization of economic activity with China, which they promised would result in more jobs and increased prosperity for Taiwanese people. After 6 1/2 years of governance by the KMT administration, Taiwan’s economy saw some improvement, but the results fell well short of expectations, and the citizens expressed their disappointment during the local Taiwanese elections of November 29, 2014. The ruling KMT Party lost leadership positions in unprecedented fashion. Many people believed the KMT losses were a result of slow economic growth,  dissatisfaction with the growing disparity between the income classes during the past six years, and they questioned the legislation and negotiation methods of the trade and service agreements with with Beijing.

President Ma Ying-jeou’s cabinet, and Prime Minister Jiang Yi-huah resigned from their posts, and according to a recent article by the BBC, President Ma also resigned as Chair of the Kuomingtang Party, stating that the KMT had failed to reform Taiwan quickly enough to meet the public’s expectations. The people have spoken through their votes, and new leaders from the “Green Camp” (Democratic Progressive Party and other Independent Parties) prepare for the upcoming Presidential election in Spring 2016. It is an exciting time for the new leadership, but they have the challenging task of finding solutions to give people the change and improvements they are looking for.

I know thousands of people in Taiwan, and most of them feel very insecure and uncertain about Taiwan’s future. This past year, over 100,000 recent college graduates could not find a job. I can sympathize with the many parents who invested their savings to educate their children only to find no sign of hope for employment. As a journalist and business entrepreneur residing in Taiwan while observing and learning about Taiwanese society, culture and business, I have my own ideas and thoughts about economic reform that I would like to share for the people’s consideration.

Improved relations with China has been a positive development for Taiwan, as a more relaxed environment has produced more opportunities and cooperation for both sides. There is nothing to gain from political and military tension (except for the people who hold power and supply weapons systems.) What I hope to see is for economic and cultural ties to continue to improve between Taiwan and China, but most people would prefer to see the process of negotiations to be transparent and follow the proper legislative procedures, so the terms of the agreements can be as mutually beneficial as possible.

Taiwan should continue to pursue dialogue and participation in other international agreements, such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), but because of the lack of transparency in the negotiations, Taiwan’s leaders should carefully analyze the terms and make its agreements in a transparent manner in order to ensure equitable benefits. Taiwan should follow the lead of New Zealand, which has been firm in negotiating for terms that are fair for the people of their country. I don’t recommend accept terms “as-is” in order to reap potential benefits before weighing what level of autonomy the Taiwanese people will need to give up to gain the benefits.

The Taiwanese leadership should also examine and evaluate its current international agreements and relationships and decide what policies need to be changed to strengthen these relationships. Of course, Taiwan has signed the controversial Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China, but it has also signed the Agreement between New Zealand and the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinsmen and Matsu on Economic Cooperation (ANZTEC). Taiwan also signed a free trade agreement with Singapore in 2013. I believe that continued efforts with these international partners can make Taiwan a more attractive trading partner.

I also believe that Taiwan’s tourism sector is widely underdeveloped for international tourists. Efforts by the Taiwanese government has been focused on Chinese tourists, and I have never really seen any substantial efforts to attract tourists from other countries.

Austronesian Tourism in Taiwan: A visit with the Bunun Tribe

Austronesian Tourism in Taiwan: A visit with the Bunun Tribe

I have worked to promote cultural exchange between the indigenous (Austronesian) tribes of Taiwan and the 400 million Austronesian peoples in 30 plus countries of the Pacific and Southeast Asia, so I believe that another opportunity exists for Taiwan through its Austronesian cultural ties. The 15 recognized Austronesian tribes in Taiwan represent a minority of about 2% of the population, and their culture and language (and DNA) more closely resemble the cultures of Polynesia, New Zealand and Madagascar than the Chinese. Dr. Marie Lin has performed groundbreaking research to show this DNA link.  I believe that if more Taiwanese people could take DNA tests, they would be surprised to discover how closely related they are to the world’s Austronesian population. What does this mean for Taiwan?

As more Austronesian peoples are discovering their cultural and historic links to Taiwan, there is more interest in cultural and academic exchange. As awareness grows, there is also a growing opportunity for tourism from a marketplace of 400 million people. Indigenous tourism and ecotourism is already growing in Taiwan, but efforts to attract international tourists through Taiwan’s Austronesian cultural connection would accelerate that, and develop a type of tourism that has less impact on the environment.

Because of the ANZTEC agreement with New Zealand and the connection with the Austronesian Maori tribe from New Zealand, Taiwan is increasing its cultural activities with New Zealand. But, is anyone prepared to leverage this activity to produce more economic cooperation between the two partners? There may be groups in Taiwan who wish to develop and promote this type of economic development, but in my opinion, they need more recognition and support to create lasting results.

Lastly, I believe the people of Taiwan have a real opportunity in their hands. Being a player in a global economy can bring prosperity, but without self-sufficiency and authoritative self-regulation, Taiwan loses much of its leverage, and puts itself in a weak and vulnerable position with other nations. We can look at the multiple food scandals in Taiwan over the years and see how reliance on food products from Vietnam, China and other countries has put the health of the Taiwanese people in jeopardy. We can also see how lax regulatory oversight and light punishment has led to food industry executives to pursue profits over stricter standards to protect their customers.

As the future leaders of Taiwan start looking for solutions for the future of Taiwan, they should take the time for self-reflection. If they can enact policies that improve the lives of the Taiwanese people, and the environment, other opportunities will fall into place. Take care of the Taiwanese people, and they will happier, healthier, and more productive. In other words, make Taiwan a more attractive place in the world to live and to do business, and the opportunities will naturally come.

Bunun Ear-Shooting Festival (Mala-Ta-Ngia)

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A Bunun tribal elder showing golden millet grain, their staple food.

A tribal event showcasing physical strength and strengthening family bonds

After getting lost in the mountain roads of Yanping District, in Taitung County, Taiwan, I had almost lost hope that I would find the Bunun Ear Shooting Festival in the village of Yongkang. This two-day festival at the beginning of May had a reputation of being the biggest Bunun festival in the Taitung area, and I didn’t want to miss it. The  GPS wasn’t working well in the mountains, and I couldn’t find the flags indicating the location of the event. With persistence, I finally located the festival by catching the steady chorus of the Bunun voices singing their world-famous “Pasibutbut” songs. These songs, which resemble loud, clear chanting, are prayers to the gods and ancestors for a bountiful millet harvest. I am thankful the voices were so clear and loud, as they led me over a great distance to the festival.

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Visitors are encouraged to try the Bunun traditional customs, like archery.

The annual festival is named after one of its important competitions. The archery contest sharpens the hunting skills of the warriors and teaches the young boys. The traditional target was once the ears of the pigs or deer. Now, they are animal-shaped targets drawn on cardboard. I tried my hand at shooting the bow and arrow after waiting in line with the other tourists. I wasn’t as good as the Bunun warriors, but I think I could shoot a large cow if it was not too far from me.

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Most of the tribal participants and spectators wore the colorful traditional Bunun costumes of their village.

There were many Bunun from several villages around the district, as well as tourists from all over Taiwan. The two-day event brings people together in the spirit of friendly competition and strengthens family bonds. It is an important time for the adults to teach the younger generation survival skills. Like the other tourists, I relished the opportunity to learn the special characteristics of the 4th largest tribe in Taiwan. These included their special singing style, which could be heard for miles around in the mountains. Another notable item in Bunun culture is their thousand-year-old written calendar. It is the closest thing to a written language that existed in Prehistoric Taiwan.

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The millet grinding competition uses a traditional mortar and pestle, and requires synchronized teamwork.

For the Bunun, there is nothing more important than feats of strength and endurance. The men and women traditionally lived a hard life in the rugged mountains, and needed these qualities to survive. The competitive activities that I witnessed centered around their hunting and millet cultivation activities. The performance groups sang for divine blessing, before the contestants showed their skills at millet planting, weeding, harvesting, and grinding. The teamwork displayed with the pounding of the grain with mortar and pestle was impressive, while the women threshed the millet. Only the men were allowed to compete in the archery contest. They showed their strength in the wood-carrying, pig-catching, and wrestling contests. The wrestling matches made the crowds go wild, as short, heavy men with large bellies tried to pull each other to the ground.  I heard that the Bunun women consider the portly physique of their men to be sexy. “The larger the belly, the better,” I was told with a wink.

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Wrestling is a popular competitive event at this festival.

I looked down at my growing stomach, which was quite large after stuffing myself with millet and smoked muntjac meat, which was from a small species of deer. I thought, perhaps this was the one place on earth where soemone with my physique would fit in very well. Especially after the hosts shared their millet wine and offered so much cultural enlightenment and hospitality to all of their visitors, I felt quite at home.

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The Bunun elders made me feel like part of their family.

Recapturing our youth in Hsinchu

We arrive at the Hsinchu HSR Station on Friday at 3:30 pm. New friends meet for the first time. (From left to right: Leo, Gary, Henry and Neal)

We arrive at the Hsinchu HSR Station on Friday at 3:30 pm. New friends meet for the first time. (From left to right: Leo, Gary, Henry and Neal)

“This is like being young again,” exclaimed Neal, “like back when I was in summer camp.”

A group of my good friends and I are walking down the unlit street in Shoulan Village, nestled in a river valley between high mountains in Hsinchu County. My friends range in age from their late 30’s to their 50’s. Many are together for the first time, getting to know each other during this 1-day trip. My good friend Leo, our Taiwanese host, and his friends are leading the way into the darkness. Some of them have flashlights to light our path, while others follow, uncertain of our destination. On the main village road, we walk towards the river wearing our swim trunks, flip flops, slippers and sandals. The sounds of frogs, crickets and cicadas envelop us.

Our trip begins with a tour of the historic Hakka town of Neiwan. We enjoyed a personal account of the history of the area, which enjoyed significance as a logging town during the Japanese occupation.

Our trip begins with a tour of the historic Hakka town of Neiwan. We enjoyed a personal account of the history of the area, which enjoyed significance as a logging town during the Japanese occupation.

I stare up into the clear night sky and marvel at the thousands of stars I can see. I thought I saw a shooting star fly across the sky. Neal’s words hit me, and I am overwhelmed by the feeling that I am a world away from my life back in Tainan, but not only that. Emotionally, I feel like I haven’t felt since I was a teenager. I feel light, carefree, and joyous, free to enjoy the experience and connection between the people I was with.

“I haven’t felt like this since I was a teenager!” I shout.

New friends stand in front of the historic Neiwan Theater.

New friends stand in front of the historic Neiwan Theater.

Just a short while before, our group was really getting to know each other over a dinner of indigenous food over at Watan’s restaurant. After a tour of Neiwan, which is a historic Hakka town, and a long 90-minute drive on winding mountain roads, it was good to plant our feet on solid ground. We regained our sense of balance over dinner, and had lively conversations filled with laughter. Miss Hsu recognized Gary from TV commercials. Neal impressed the group with his singing talents that didn’t miss a beat since his days performing on Broadway. When Neal found a guitar, he started singing classic American songs, impressing us with his professional singing voice. My friend Gary also sang along, sharing his talents. The energy was high when dinner ended, and we walked to our dormitory to change into swimming clothes and to relax in a natural hot spring.

A stroll through the streets of Neiwan reveals that the entire town has been reinvented as a tourist attraction.

A stroll through the streets of Neiwan reveals that the entire town has been reinvented as a tourist attraction.

The walk to the river’s edge was somewhat perilous, especially when we had to walk over stones in the dark. Many times my slippers fell off, and I fell behind putting them on again, I was fortunate to have helpers (Miss Li and Miss Hsu) to carry my towel and light the way. Often they lent me a helping hand to climb up or down the rocks. Needing and accepting help, as I stumbled into the dark unknown only heightened the sense of youthful adventure.

We pose in front of the old Neiwan Police Station, which served the area about 100 years ago during Japanese occupation. A new police station will be built, and this one will be converted to a museum.

We pose in front of the old Neiwan Police Station, which served the area about 100 years ago during Japanese occupation. A new police station will be built, and this one will be converted to a museum.

We located and settled into a small spring filled with warm water at around 10:00 pm. It was only knee-deep in places, and the bottom was a mixture of mud, sand and rock. We sat on large stones with our legs in the water, or sometimes we sat in the water. When we shined the flashlight into the water, we realized we weren’t imagining things when we felt our legs tickled by something.

“Leeches,” said Gary sarcastically.

“No, they’re tadpoles, ” said Neal.

Neal and Henry take photos of the views from Yulao Village at the top of the mountain.

Neal and Henry take photos of the views from Yulao Village at the top of the mountain.

So there we were, five men sitting in the hot spring, staring up into the starry sky. We talked over the sounds of the raging, cold river next to us, and the chirping crickets. Tadpoles nibbled on our toes. Each of us had a beer in hand, and a few friends standing beside us made sure our cups did not stay empty.

I am thoroughly enjoying 21 C (69 F) weather outside again at the end of July, while we enjoy a cup of hot tea.

I am thoroughly enjoying 21 C (69 F) weather outside again at the end of July, while we enjoy a cup of hot tea.

“This reminds me of being out by a river or lake with friends during my college days,” I think out loud. I remember how during those days, my friends and I would share our personal thoughts and secrets with each other, so I asked each of my friends in the host spring to share their past experiences during their youth. It was a bonding experience haven’t had since my college days, and I never expected to have again as a mature adult, so I cherished every moment. I decided that this must be how tribal people feel when they are out together enjoying nature very often. I believe that the experience of adults letting down their walls and being intimate and vulnerable as friends is rare in the modern world and it strengthens bonds more than anything else can. It was a priceless experience.

“Best day ever,” yelled my friend Henry over and over.

It is Friday at 6:10 pm on the mountain top. We still have a 45-minute drive to Shoulan on the river far below.

It is Friday at 6:10 pm on the mountain top. We still have a 45-minute drive to Shoulan on the river far below.

After an hour in the water, we walked back to the dormitory relaxed and peaceful. We changed clothes, and gathered in the living room. When I got there, the table was set with drinks, dried squid, boneless chicken feet, peaches, bananas, and lychees. The karaoke machine and television were on. We sang until 1 am, singing familiar Taiwanese and English songs, and admiring each other’s singing abilities.

We arrive at Watan's indigenous restaurant in Shoulan around 7:00 pm, and dinner was already waiting. Our hosts and friends get to know each other better over food and drink.

We arrive at Watan's indigenous restaurant in Shoulan around 7:00 pm, and dinner was already waiting. Our hosts and friends get to know each other better over food and drink.

That night I lay in bed with the windows open, and the mountain air gave me the opportunity to sleep with a blanket. I basked in the warmth of my experiences, and enjoyed getting familiar with feelings from a forgotten time. I couldn’t remember when I laughed so much and sang in harmony without inhibition. Even more important to me was knowing that I helped bring people together, which gave everyone something special to remember for their lifetimes.

Neal finds a guitar and starts singing, kicking up the energy a few notches.

Neal finds a guitar and starts singing, kicking up the energy a few notches.

After a night under the stars in the hot spring, we return to the dormitory to enjoy karaoke.

After a night under the stars in the hot spring, we return to the dormitory to enjoy karaoke.

The dormitory that housed us in Shoulan and the black van that transported us.

The dormitory that housed us in Shoulan and the black van that transported us.

On Saturday morning I returned to the same place where the night before we talked in the hot spring under the stars.

On Saturday morning I returned to the same place where the night before we talked in the hot spring under the stars.

Our entire group poses in front of the Yulao Police Station on our way back to Hsinchu. (From left to right: Tony, Miss Li, Miss Hsu, Mr. Li, Mr. Jien, the local police officer, Gary, Leo Li, Neal, and Henry)

Our entire group poses in front of the Yulao Police Station on our way back to Hsinchu. (From left to right: Tony, Miss Li, Miss Hsu, Mr. Li, Mr. Jien, the local police officer, Gary, Leo Li, Neal, and Henry)

Yulao Village and Police Station are important stops for cyclists who visit the area from Hsinchu City. It is an impressive accomplishment to make it this far.

Yulao Village and Police Station are important stops for cyclists who visit the area from Hsinchu City. It is an impressive accomplishment to make it this far.

Our host from the area, Mr. Li, takes us on a 2 km hike up a mountain to build up our appetite for lunch.

Our host from the area, Mr. Li (foreground), takes us on a 2 km hike up a mountain to build up our appetite for lunch.

We are taken to a famous fish farm/restaurant in the area for an unbelievable feast of local Hakka and indigenous cuisine. The owner of the restaurant shows us the proper technique to de-bone a fried fish.

We are taken to a famous fish farm/restaurant in the area for an unbelievable feast of local Hakka and indigenous cuisine. The owner of the restaurant shows us the proper technique to de-bone a fried fish.

Click for more photos from the experience.

A 2,500 year old civilization unearthed in Taiwan

A skeleton of a married woman from 2,500 years ago.

A skeleton of a married woman from 2,500 years ago.

One of the great aspects of living and working in Taiwan is discovering the unexpected, and during one of our weekend family trips near our home, we discovered a 2,500-year-old culture. It was yet another great opportunity for our children to learn firsthand, something unique and interesting.

The archaeological site in Nanke, Tainan County, Taiwan.

The archaeological site in Nanke, Tainan County, Taiwan has been methodically uncovered, indexed and mapped.

While driving through one of the largest high-tech industrial parks in Asia, taking in the gleaming glass office buildings and cavernous assembly plants, we expected to see why Taiwan is the largest exporter of LCD technology in the world. But instead, we discovered an archaeological site where we could walk in the same footsteps that the indigenous people of Taiwan had left 2,500 years earlier.

The public was allowed to tour the site for 2 days only, and volunteers were on hand to educate visitors.

The public was allowed to tour the site for 2 days only, and volunteers were on hand to educate visitors.

Apparently, while excavating an expansive lot for a new manufacturing complex, workers had to dig pretty deep, and uncovered shards of pottery and bones. Scholars were called in, and it was quickly determined by carbon dating and by studying the geology, that they had just begun to uncover an entire village that was 2,500 years old. This was an opportunity, not just to see artifacts, but to study an entire lifestyle of indigenous Taiwanese families during the Neolithic Age of Taiwan.

A large earthen vase that held the remains of a baby.

A large earthen vase that held the remains of a baby.

There are over 1,000 archaeological sites throughout the island of Taiwan, some of them dating as far back as 15,000 years. People in Taiwan can visit the National Museum of Prehistory in Taitung to understand the earliest history of Taiwan, but nothing could beat the immersive experience our children were about to have. As luck would have it, the archaeological site in Nanke was open to the public for only two days (March 19 & 26), before being closed for further excavation. The village and its contents were going to be moved to museums for permanent display.

Jaden discovers an ancient people recently unearthed in Taiwan.

Jaden discovers an ancient people recently unearthed in Taiwan.

As we walked down through the grounds, volunteers were stationed at different areas to educate us on different aspects of prehistoric life, and to make sure the artifacts were not disturbed. The first volunteer described the geology and topography of the site, explaining how the active geological forces of Taiwan pushed up the area, so that it wasn’t so deep and inaccessible. He also explained that what was found was a village between two streams in an area rich in food, not far from the coastline. The people lived on fish, shellfish, farming, and hunting native animals, like boar and deer. We inspected vases and bowls that once held grain for the villagers. We walked to an area where houses one stood built on top of wooden posts. We could see what the people ate at the village dump site, where they left shellfish, oysters, and animal bones.

Jaden watches as guides explain how to determine the sex of a human skeleton.

Jaden watches as guides explain how to determine the sex of a human skeleton.

The most striking features available for our observation were the burial sites. We saw skeletons of adults, children, and even an infant. Pots filled with grain were buried next to the bodies to provide them food for the afterlife. The volunteer guides explained to us what we could learn about the people by studying the burial sites. In one site, we learned that a married woman was buried next to a baby. We learned she was likely married, because she was missing one of her canine teeth. In the indigenous cultures of Taiwan at the time, women chose who they were going to marry. Instead of giving a ring, they extracted (painfully) their canine tooth and gave it to the man they wanted to marry. Also buried in her gravesite was a weaving tool, so it was probable she was a skilled weaver in the village. It was amazing to learn how much could be ascertained about a people’s lifestyle 2,500 years ago, but it was all possible by paying attention to the details.

Children learn how cloth was made for clothing from the bark of trees.

Children learn how cloth was made for clothing from the bark of trees.

After our quasi-guided tour of the site, we returned to an area where booths were set up to teach children (and curious adults) about prehistoric life in Taiwan. There were many interactive areas, where children were encourage to try the ancient tools and methods. My sons learned about what people ate, how clothes were made (from tree bark), and what tools were used. It was amazing how much the people could do when there was little technology available. In the shadows of a modern computer chip assembly plant, the archaeological site provided a stark contrast between the Taiwanese culture of then and now. Perhaps it was also a revelation that the ingenuity and resourcefulness of people on the island of Taiwan will always be timeless and ageless.

Jaden studies bones from the types of animals that were found at the archaeological site.

Jaden studies bones from the types of animals that were found at the archaeological site.

Click for the CNN iReport.