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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Autistic Riders Circle Taiwan: Links

A group of cyclists who have been diagnosed with autism are currently on their third day of a round-island adventure that seeks to provide a positive activity for those with autism and their families.

I recently had an autistic student in my class, and it was a lot of work. She was a delightful girl, but demanded a lot of attention, but she had plenty of energy and enthusiasm, so I can see how cycling could be a great activity for families with an autistic member. My favorite quote from the article is from one participant's father:
"She might get hurt. However, seeing that she was so looking forward to the journey, I decided to fulfill this dream with her, "
I wish more parents shared this attitude with their children. I see so many parents afraid their children will draw a little blood or get a bruise that the children are so pampered and brittle they break or cry at the slightest bump or fall. Kids actually break bones from tripping and falling down.

I am also very proud of my wife for calling her bruise from a fall on some loose sand last weekend "a trophy".


Taiwan Cycling Festival and the Trouble With Taiwan's Ethnic Tourism

Mudan village of Shimen in Heng Chun

The reports on Taiwan's First International Bike Festival are streaming in from bloggers, riders and from the Government Information Office (GIO). Despite the wet weather, riders have followed their prescribed routes to enjoy the beauty of Taiwan's cycling. One recent report from Taiwan Today quotes the Minister of Transportation and Communications as saying:

“Not only are the participants in for a wonderful riding experience along Taiwan’s beautiful coastline, they will also get a chance to enjoy aboriginal culture, hot springs and local delicacies,”

Regular readers may have already noticed my scrutiny of the government and many of its policies; especially on matters involving culture, tourism, transportation and cultural production.

Taiwan often uses its indigenous cultures and their cultural production to attract tourism and satisfy the tourist's own fetishized desire for the "exotic".

The government of Taiwan, known as the Republic of China (ROC), was founded as a modernist project that leveraged its own definition of "modern" against peripheral peoples in an attempt to civilize/colonize them and draw them closer to the center. This civilizing project was deployed against all Taiwanese following WWII, and especially against indigenous peoples who would or could not acculturate.

The ROC government determined Taiwanese indigenes to be lacking modernity and sought to transform them under the ROC project, but in order to be recognized as indigenous, indigenes must provide displays of state defined traditional culture i.e. language, dance, art, material culture... etc. Therefore, to be indigenous in Taiwan, the indigene can not be viewed by the government as equal as they are always lacking modernity, which has been conflated into state high culture, a recent invention often referred to as "Chinese" or "Han"culture. This situation has resulted in a problematic post coloniality for Taiwanese as the civilizing project continues to bear against local and indigenous cultures through the various contact points between the citizen and the state; points which include schools, military training facilities, licensing programs, civil service, entitlement programs, and public welfare and utility providers. The GIO's tourism campaigns continue to bring this problematic postcoloniality to light.

During the 1990’s, eco-tourism took off in Taiwan in many of the areas “reserved” for the Indigenes, designed to allow city dwellers to escape and explore their own sense of “otherness”. Tourists will usually be treated to demonstrations of indigenous dancing, singing and traditional handicrafts to learn about the “other”.

The general assessment from the Tourism Bureau of the value of Indigenes in Taiwanese society echo a sentiment of the urbanite intent on encapsulating pure authentic primitiveness in which some conceptual balance can be achieved. The urban imagination collects the images of the Indigene and blends them together with scant knowledge of the colonial history of Taiwan.

In Taiwan, the indigenous people who once were at war with one another, were thrown together under a similar situation by a the greater power of “civilizing centers” that mandated Taiwan’s indigenous policy, thus becoming “exotic” in their own land. As Homi Bhabha points out in The Location of Culture, “ …the fullness of the stereotype –its image as identity-is always threatened by lack.” Indigenous people must now "perform" or lose their separate identity.

It takes less energy from those in power to avoid the dialogue of a lengthy colonial history on Taiwan, especially while social tension between Hoklos and “Mainlanders” takes center stage in the political arena. But the perpetuation of the status quo maintains an oppressive situation. In Taiwan there are only a few areas of social life where the dialogue between colonized and colonizer can actually be encouraged: areas of dance, tourism, and performance.

I think Hsieh Shih-chung has a very insightful observation on Taiwan's indigenous tourism, culture and coloniality:

The formulation of cultural tradition is based on the manipulation and interpretation by particular people themselves…especially when the tradition is utilized as a powerful element to maintain ethnic boundaries… Tradition is imagined, shaped and defined by holders or sharers of the tradition in a meaningfully current situation… Even when an ethnic group’s original cultural traits have disappeared, it can still mold an exotic expressive culture to attract tourists.” (Hsieh 1994:201)