Month: April 2014

On the Road with Xuanzang

This was a spectacular find. Xuanzang is one of the most celebrated monks in the history of Asia. His historic pilgrimage from China to India in the seventh century has been re-imagined in texts, images, and performances for well over a thousand years. In the early twentieth century, Xuanzang’s translations and commentaries were enjoying a revival after more than a millennium of neglect. The Faxiang tradition of Yogācāra Buddhism, whose intricate phenomenological and epistemological systems were popularized in China through Xuanzang’s efforts, fell out of favor soon after his death. But the Yogācāra textual corpus had been reintroduced to China by the late Qing era lay-scholar Yang Wenhui, who retrieved a collection of Yogācāra texts from Japan in the late nineteenth century. Incredibly, just a few decades after the body of Xuanzang’s work was brought back from obscurity, his long lost physical remains were also unearthed. Since its discovery, Xuanzang’s skull shard has both re-enacted and extended Xuanzang’s life. It has also multiplied. Over the last seventy years, Xuanzang’s parietal bone has been broken and divided more than a dozen times—producing a plurality of relics, each with its own distinct history. Because Xuanzang’s life and literary legacy have left such

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My Neighborhood Park

There is a small park near my apartment in Taipei where I like to go running.  The park has a track, so most nights there are a fair number of people running or walking their dogs. The park is something I’ve always loved about my neighborhood.   I see the same people and dogs frequently, and it’s nice to feel like part of the community. One recent night, I was walking home from dinner with a friend. For weeks it has been pouring rain day and night in Taipei, but this night the rain finally let up. The crisp feeling in the air after weeks of rain made me eager to get out and take advantage of the weather. I only planned to stop at home long enough to put on my running shoes. However, my plans quickly changed as our walk home from dinner took us by my park, where I was a bit dismayed but mostly confused to find large crowds of people heading toward the entrance. With a run now out of the question, my friend and I agreed to follow the crowd and find out what was happening. What we found surprised us: a full concert stage

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Amber Kao: Mirrors of Time

Mirrors of Time – Amber Kao, dancer and choreographer in collaboration with pianist and composer, Ming-Hsiu Yen premiered, Mirrors of Time, on October 18th, 2013, at Taipei National University of the Arts. The colossal size of the two-story, membership-only wholesale club had me mesmerized before I entered. I was stunned at the sight of the massive warehouse vibrant with business. I walked through the aisles of Costco gathering items off my grocery list, happily noticing familiar brands from back home. Spotting “Pepperidge Farm” and “Ziplock” products momentarily transported me out of Taiwan. I tightly clutched an extra-large sack of string cheese like a prized possession. That evening, I contentedly piled my harvest into a tall tower with the jumbo pack of toilet paper as the base and the super-sized bag of carrot sticks at the top. As I stepped back to gaze at my stash of goods, a rush of familiarity flooded my senses. Oddly, the bulk-sized convenience-driven products reminded me of home. Somehow, large super-sized bundles just didn’t seem to fit with my impressions thus far of Taiwan. The trip to Costco revealed how I had ventured from my previous comforts and habits and highlighted the path that I

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Fragments from a Taiwan Notebook

The flight to Taipei was a 13 hour-long tunnel through about a million movies, and Taipei was a glimmer of signs in the dark. We’ve woken up in a gorgeous hotel room. Outside the window it’s Times Square but with palm trees. Next, we drive south to Taichung. Maia: “I could get used to Taiwanese hospitality.” We’re in Taichung, in a house on campus, and it’s a little bit like living in Jungle Book. There are geckos walking across the ceiling and frogs in the kitchen. Outside there are cobras in the tall grass (we’re told) and bats at dusk, peacocks and weird butterflies. The main road is lined with banyan trees and their branches look like they’re dripping into the ground. Plus, it’s really steamy. But the people are incredibly hospitable in a completely informal way, and the food is just astounding. Papaya for breakfast, mangoes like poems, a kind of red candied tofu… At night any open space is utilized: lines of women shyly dancing to the music of a boom box, their exercise routine. Everyone in unison. Whenever you hear a tinny rendition of “Fur Elise,” it’s a garbage truck passing by. Food at the night market:

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Preliminary Reflections on the CKS Memorial Hall

The Fulbright Taiwan program is generously sponsoring my year of sabbatical research here in Taipei, where I am investigating the relationships between public spaces and the emergence of democracy.  I am interested in how Nationalist era symbols and rituals have been used on Taiwan from 1945 to the early 2000’s. Over this period, the Nationalist Party (the Kuomintang, or KMT) at first tried to use symbols and ceremonies developed on the mainland to turn former Japanese colonial subjects into dutiful Chinese citizens loyal to the party’s “revolutionary” leadership. From the outset there was tension and violence between local Taiwanese people and the hundreds of thousands of mainlanders that came over to Taiwan with the KMT, particular during the retreat from the mainland in 1949. As a result, for many residents “national” symbols were full of unintended ironies and variegated meanings. During my year here, I am exploring the uses of public spaces as these symbols were contested and transformed as Taiwan moved from a one-party dictatorship to a liberal democracy. Over time, popular public spaces come to acquire a “superabundance of meanings” (Jones 2000), and this was particularly true in the public spaces of Taipei as new forms of Taiwanese

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