Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Ghost Month Festivities

Here's an account of my experience of a traditional p’oh d’oh* held in one of Kaohsiung’s traditional open markets
*a Hoklo Taiwanese term for the special worship of lost dead souls during the Ghost Month (seventh lunar month)

The wind pushed against the white sheet, a makeshift movie screen, which had been stretched across the street, at eye level. Several feet away, two movie projectors were being prepared. As my friend and I spoke to the projectionist, a man who lived in the building upstairs came to speak to the projectionist, telling him to keep the noise down.

“Ten years ago, there wouldn’t have been any complaints. Everyone would have been outside in the streets. The streets would have been teeming with people, with barely any room to stand or sit. The Ghost Month ‘p'oh d'oh’ was always a fun, festive, bustling, exciting time, that I always looked forward to as a child,” my friend explained.

I tried to imagine what it must have been like as I looked up and down the empty street.

“Today people don’t want to be bothered by the noise outside. They’d rather remain in the comfort of their homes, watching TV or DVD movies,” explained the projectionist.

My friend and I walked down the street and around the corner; there was a stage on which scantily clad women sang and danced. Even more provocative were the gymnastic hoops suspended from above and (exotic dancer) dance poles. These and other forms of entertainment, including puppet shows, are performed outdoors for the enjoyment of dead souls who are believed to roam the earth during the Ghost Month.

In the past, such festivities served to unite a community. Everyone in a village, young and old, families, friends and acquaintances would gather excitedly outdoors in the lively, boisterous atmosphere.

During this time entire pigs are slaughtered as offerings to the ghosts. Tables of edible offerings are prepared with incense sticks prominently displayed. Here in the open market place, were several red round tables each with a particular type of food piled on. One table was piled with pears, another one cookies and yet another with instant noodles. It seemed as if anything edible was fair game to be put out as an offering.

The now dwindling numbers of people practicing these customs gives a new meaning to the term “Ghost Month” celebrations. For those who still observe these traditions it is still an exciting time, but for most people of this and future generations, it seems to have lost its meaning. Many young people no longer understand the difference between “p'oh d'oh” and “bai bai” worship that takes place throughout the year. They do not know reason why pigs in particular, are given as offerings to ghosts. There is a disconnect. There is no frame of reference or understanding of “p'oh d'oh’s” unique significance.

Perhaps there has been a shift in beliefs, people have become less pious. Or perhaps as the society has modernized, and as women increasingly work outside of the home, the laborious preparations for such festivities have become a burden. Modern conveniences have made our lives easier and faster, but perhaps they have isolated us from a sense of community too.

A rude awakening

Since about mid-July I've been spending my time in Ottawa, New York, Boston, Japan and Taipei feeling somewhat protected from the worries of the world. But on my way back to Kaohsiung yesterday, I faced a rude awakening from my dream when I heard about the violence that errupted amongst the Kaohsiung MRT Thai workers.

Click here for the full story in the Taipei Times.

Frankly, I'm not entirely surprised that such a situation has happened or been happening. While I've been in Taiwan I have heard of several cases in which domestic workers (home health aides, nannies, housekeepers), particularly those from South East Asian countries, have been verbally, emotionally or physically abused by their employers. These foreign workers often have very little recourse. They are stuck in a foreign country with very little skills or means, and therefore feel unable to leave their employer. They simply may not even be able to afford legal assistance or a return ticket home. They afraid if they speak up or seek justice that they might be repatriated as a result.

This just goes to show that Taiwan has a lot of room for improvement where basic human rights are concerned.

For more facts and statistics on foreign workers in Taiwan, click here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The privilege of seeing right through into the depths of a soul
Sharing a glimpse
Opened a door to the annals of
My dusty memories
Of loves lost and relinquished

Saturday, August 20, 2005


Although we live in various locations overseas, our common bond is our love of Taiwan. Now we are also bonded by our experience at the Lee Teng-hui academy. We are all like seeds that will spread knowledge about Taiwan to our friends abroad. We all wear this green band which reads TAIWANATION. Long live TAIWANATION!

-graduation statement made by Lee Teng-hui Academy Class of 2005 (Overseas Taiwanese Young Adults)

Green power!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Nine individuals
voluntarily assembled at

One conference center
for nearly

One week

Twelve hours
of lectures, workshops and discussions daily

This definitely has the makings of a reality show- just imagine the intensity- with so many different personalities thrown together so closely together over a compressed period of time.

That is my life for the next five days...