Friday, October 30, 2015

Tony Coolidge, A Taiwanese Aboriginal Activist from the US (News Lens)

The Atayal are an Austronesian tribe indigenous to the mountains of north Taiwan, so it's surprising to find one of the tribe's most high-profile members in Tainan City's Xigang District, a small lowlands town in the south. Even more unusual is that this man speaks to his wife and three children not in Atayal, or Taiwanese or Mandarin, but English.

It wasn't until 2009 that Tony Coolidge, as he's known to most of the world, gained his Atayal name, Shilan Sabi. Spurred largely by the lack of pride many Taiwanese aborigines show in their ancestry and culture, Coolidge has devoted much of the past two decades to projects which aim to build tribal dignity and bolster links between Taiwan's Austronesian minority and indigenous people in other parts of the world.

Coolidge was born in Taipei in 1967. He moved to the US with his mother, Chen Yu-chu, and adoptive father, American soldier David Coolidge, in 1972, after one year spent at a US military base in Japan. But he didn't discover his aboriginal heritage until 1995, a year after his mother – who grew up in what's now New Taipei City's Wulai District – had passed away from cancer.

Neither Coolidge nor his mother ever returned to Taiwan between 1971 and her death. He didn't apply for a Taiwanese passport until 2009, when he decided to move back to Taiwan with his wife, Hsu Shu-min, who he met in Florida. Like most Taiwanese, Shu-min traces her ancestry to Fujian province in China.

“My mother missed her family very much, and it was her fondest wish to return for a visit..."

Earlier this year, News Lens - a Chinese-language website with Taiwan and Hong Kong editions - invited me to contribute to the International Edition they were gearing up to launch. After a few delays, my first article appeared earlier this week. To read the entire piece, click here.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Travel Writing / Freelance Writing Workshop: December 6

To promote the writing workshop I'm holding in Taichung on December 6, I've created a Facebook event page and a dedicated Wordpress blog. Anyone interested is encouraged to take a look at both. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

More dialogues for local government officials

Three years ago, I wrote a set of model conversations intended to help local government officials introduce their cities and counties (nine areas in all) to visiting foreigners. This summer, I joined a follow-up project to add two more counties, Chiayi (not to be confused with Chiayi City, which was covered in the first project) and Yunlin. Here's an extract from one of the Yunlin-related dialogues:

Narrator: With more than 600 species, including migrants, Taiwan has emerged as a top destination for international birdwatchers. 

Taiwanese official (TO): Do you like birdwatching or other kinds of ecotourism?

Foreign visitor (FV): I do. After going to lots of meetings, I find it very relaxing to get up close and personal with nature.

TO: I'm glad to tell you you've come to the right place. Yunlin County has mountains, forests, as well as plains and rivers. Along the coast there are several spots that attract waterbirds. One is Chenglong Wetland in Kouhu Township. The government has designated it as a “wetland of national importance.” It has featured in some birdathon events.

TO: What's a birdathon? A bird... marathon?

FV: Kind of. It's a competition for birdwatchers. People try to spot as many different species in a single day. Sometimes they start in the hills and then move down through the lowlands to the coast.

FV: Sounds like fun! Do you know what species I might see at that wetland?

TO: Let me have a look on my smartphone… hold on a minute… here's a list: Little Tern, Saunders' Gull, Common Kestrel, Painted Snipe… and several others, including the Black-faced Spoonbill.

FV: Very promising indeed! 

TO: If you want more information, I suggest you contact the Southwest Coast National Scenic Area, or have a look at their website. The scenic area covers part of Yunlin County. 

FV: Is there any good birdwatching inland?

TO: Lots! In the foothills around Huben and Hushan villages you may be able to see the Taiwan Blue Magpie and Swinhoe’s Pheasant. Both are unique to Taiwan. In the summer, the same area draws a lot of Fairy Pittas and Oriental Cuckoos.

FV: I know what a cuckoo is, but I don’t know anything about the pitta species you just mentioned. 

TO: It’s an incredibly beautiful bird, and attracts many photographers. It breeds in Taiwan but doesn’t stay year-round. In Chinese, we call it baseniao, which means "eight-color bird." 

FV: It really has eight colors?

TO: Some say seven, some say eight... 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Cover model!

Recently on Facebook, I posted a magazine cover designed around a photo I'd taken in Meinong. Few people know it, but in addition to snapping photos which have ended up on magazine covers (and hundreds which have appeared in newspapers), I've been a cover model.

Back in 2003, I posed as Santa Claus in a number of tropical settings for Compass Media Group, the Taichung-based publishers of city guide magazines. At that time I was the managing editor of their Kaohsiung/Tainan edition. On the left is the cover of Taiwan Fun, their north Taiwan edition. I forget who we borrowed the surfboard from. You can't see it, but I wore beach sandals instead of the fur-lined boots Santa usually has on his feet. To accompany the article, shown on the right, we got images of Santa praying at a shrine, buying betel nut (from a young lady who, sadly, had lost most of her teeth), and driving the kind of small blue truck used by Taiwanese farmers (surely more practical than a sleigh if you need to deliver presents to many locations).

I wasn't paid (and, to borrow a P. J. O'Rourke quip, I earned every cent) but the shoot, conducted by my old accomplice Rich J. Matheson, made for a fun change from sitting in front of a computer writing and editing.