Sanya Huang /photo byChuang Kung-ju /tr. byPhil Newell
The different patterns and colors of traditional Indonesian batik clothing express different meanings. The photo shows traditional Balinese attire. (photo by Chuang Kung-ju)
“Eko eado!” This motivational expression from the Nauruan language means “never give up.” It may be used as a warning in calamitous situations, or in a positive sense as an expectation of oneself. Asia-Pacific Culture Day, held on October 27 and 28 of 2018 in the concourse of Taipei Railway Station, was organized by the ROC Ministry of Foreign Affairs in coordination with 18 foreign embassies and representative offices in Taiwan, and the local governments of seven Taiwanese cities and counties that have sister city or friendship agreements with localities in the partner countries of Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy. With a theme of “Together Sparkling in Asia-Pacific,” the event attracted over 100,000 visitors in two days.
After learning some words of Nauruan at the Asia–Pacific Culture Day, visitors received a specially made bilingual sticker.
The opening performance at Asia-Pacific Culture Day was a uniquely Taiwanese dance work by T.S.D. Dance Crew, which set an energetic tone for the event. It was followed by the traditional Te Mwaie dance of the Republic of Kiribati; Barong dance from Bali, Indonesia, as well as the Indonesian Penabalan (Tabal) dance; a performance on traditional instruments by Korea’s Hanayeon musical group; and two types of dance performed by the Tuvalu Students Association in Taiwan—the fatele and the siva. The performances were very exciting, attracting people to crowd around the stage, and allowing them to feast their eyes on the art and culture of numerous countries in only two days.
The gorgeous clothing worn by dancers from Indonesia, who performed the Balinese Barong as well as the Penabalan (Tabal) dance, made for a powerful visual experience.
In the Te Mwaie traditional dance of Kiribati, dancers extend their arms outward like birds spreading their wings.
One of the ways that the hospitable people of Kiribati welcome guests from afar is to place handmade shell necklaces around their necks.
Handmade shell necklaces of Kiribati
Colorful South Pacific island countries
Although Nauru, a diplomatic partner of Taiwan in the South Pacific, did not put on a performance, they did set up a “parroting” language game at the venue. People received on-the-spot instruction, and if they could correctly pronounce commonly used terms like tarawong (“goodbye”), tubwa kor (“thank you”), and nga ebonw (“I love you”), they would receive a bilingual sticker to commemorate the event. The pronunciation of Nauruan is different from that of the Taiwanese and Mandarin normally spoken in Taiwan, so people had to practice numerous times to produce the correct sounds. The instruction provided by the young teachers was earnest and kind, and they never got impatient or frustrated.
Papua New Guinea provided one of the most dazzling highlights of this year’s culture day. Using the painted-on designs of the Mt. Hagen Cultural Show as the theme, more than ten Papua New Guinean students studying in Taiwan, as well as officials stationed in Taiwan and their families—adults and infants alike—all painted their faces with colorful greasepaint. The contrast with their dark skin brought out the brilliance of the colors, arousing people’s curiosity to approach for an up-close look.
Several Asia-Pacific countries including Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Papua New Guinea displayed natural tropical products such as coffee, seashells, and coconut as their “special local products.” All of them displayed handicrafts made from shells or woven from grass, such as necklaces, baskets, and rugs.
A family member of a diplomat from Papua New Guinea in eye-catchingly colorful face paint and attire. These are indispensable elements in song and dance performances at traditional festivals in that country.
Two tracks: Culture and business
Besides Taiwan’s diplomatic partners in the South Pacific, Southeast-Asian countries also provided many highlights on Asia-Pacific Culture Day. The Taiwan office of the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE Taipei), the official Malaysian organization for trade promotion in Taiwan, each year has invited authentic Malaysian restaurants in Taiwan to act as gustatory ambassadors, giving visitors memories of the flavors of Malaysia.
The Indian booth, surrounded by visitors, gave out travel maps of India, and also sold well-known Indian brands of cosmetics products. They also invited two Indian scientists doing postdoctoral research in Taiwan, Ravinder Singh and Samir Mehndiratte, to act as ambassadors for their culture by demonstrating how to wind turbans in accordance with Sikh religious traditions. People gathered round to watch as turn by turn, Ravinder Singh steadily and methodically wound a strip of cotton cloth more than ten meters long around the head of a visitor, to create a firm conical turban. It was a real eye-opener for those looking on.
Mehndi, a form of body art practiced in India and elsewhere, uses natural henna coloring to draw patterns on the hands and other parts of the body. The motifs often have a deeply mystical air and are very popular with women.
Taiwan cities also shine
For the past few years the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has also invited several cities with close ties to Asia-Pacific countries, such as New Taipei City, Tainan, and Taoyuan, to join in the cultural exchanges of Asia-Pacific Culture Day. MOFA has invited these cities, which have sister city or friendship agreements with cities in partner countries for Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy, to set up booths at the event to let more people appreciate Taiwan’s cultural power.
Vice President Chen Chien-jen, accompanied by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Hsu Szu-chien and members of the foreign diplomatic corps in Taipei, visited the booths of participating countries. The photo shows a musical performance from the Philippines.
There is a passage in the book Our Struggle by the Indonesian writer Yohanes Arif Wibowo that reads: “Let us continually be aware of and remember our hopes and goals wherever we are, from Brunei to Taiwan / In order to achieve our myriad dreams / It is certainly very arduous / But everything must start from here.” This quotation comes from a collection of bookmarks, compiled by the Taipei City Foreign and Disabled Labor Office, featuring selections drawn from works that have won the Taiwan Literature Award for Migrants over the years. The bookmarks were available free of charge at the booth of the Taipei City Government, adding a rich literary tone to Asia-Pacific Culture Day.
The theme adopted by the New Taipei City Cultural Affairs Department was even more unique. They used the slogan “mobile museums” to attract families to their booth next to the main stage. Activities on the first day were led by the Shihsanhang Museum of Archeology. They allowed children to reassemble broken pottery to get a feel for cultural restoration work, and even adults joined in the fun. The second day it was the turn of the Yingge Ceramics Museum, which entertained children enormously with its specially made mosaic puzzles.
Tainan, which greatly values exchanges with other cities, appeared at Asia-Pacific Culture Day for the third year running. Each year it has taken an important historic building in Tainan as its theme, from the Chikan Tower in 2016 and the Hayashi Department Store in 2017 to the Anping Tree House in 2018 (with a model of the house as installation art). The city’s booth introduced Tainan’s history, culture, and major tourist attractions in several languages including English and Japanese. There was also an activity on both afternoons in which people could get prizes for correctly answering questions about special features of Tainan. They could win such things as Cheng Gong potato chips, Tainan-themed wangzaibiao (round printed cards similar to those used in the milk caps game), and pencil cases in the shape of milkfish. There was great excitement at the scene, attracting not only large numbers of foreign tourists, but many Taiwanese as well.
In the last 15 years, besides economic and trade interactions, Taiwan has been gradually expanding cultural exchanges with Asia-Pacific countries. For example, since its founding the National Center for Traditional Culture, located in Yilan County, has held the Asia-Pacific Traditional Arts Festival annually. The area covered by this cultural exchange event has expanded from the Asia-Pacific region to include Northeast Asia, North Asia, and, in 2018, the international community as a whole.
But while the Asia-Pacific Traditional Arts Festival brings in artists and performers from outside Taiwan, MOFA’s Asia-Pacific Culture Day draws on the talents of people already located here. Held in late summer or early autumn every year since 2012, it is seen as a major event by foreign embassies and representative offices in Taiwan. It mobilizes officials posted to Taiwan, their families, and overseas students studying in Taiwan, to sing or dance on stage or to set up booths selling authentic cuisine from back home, handicrafts and local specialties. These activities give visitors a chance to experience the rich cultures of Asia-Pacific countries using all of the five senses, including vision, hearing, and taste. Cultural exchange is by no means a one-way process of exporting culture outward, nor is it passive acceptance of outside cultural information. Rather, interaction provided by in-the-moment participation in activities is an even better way for people to experience the splendor and richness of Asia-Pacific cultures.
The photo shows wood carvings from the Solomon Islands, along with the ROC and Solomon national flags. The colors of the Solomon flag symbolize water and sky (blue), the sun (yellow), the land (green), and the country’s original five (now six) provinces (white stars).