Among this year’s events is an exhibit about Indonesian migrant fishermen in the Taiwanese town of Tangkang.
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Taiwanfest Vancouver: The Stories of Independence

When: Sept. 3-5, various times
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Where: Downtown Vancouver venues and virtual programming

Tickets/info: vancouvertaiwanfest.ca

Fishing plays a significant role in the lives of the Taiwanese as both a source of sustenance and an economic driver. The democratic island nation has many small harbour towns that are both fleet bases and processing centres.

The southern town of Tangkáng is one such locale known for its harvest of bluefin tuna, mullet roe and sakura shrimp.

With 400 years of maritime history behind it, the town’s population of nearly 50,000 people is a mix of Indigenous locals, Chinese colonists and a large number of migrant workers brought in under various temporary foreign worker policies. Since the 1990s, the largest group is made up of 10,000-plus Indonesian seafarers. So much so, that the community is represented in cultural enclaves featuring businesses catering to clients in Indonesian languages, specific products and services, and a community-built mosque.

Gatherings once happened on-board ships, but over the past decades an autonomous seafarers’ community named FOSPI — the Indonesian Seafarers Gathering Forum — has united thousands of fishermen from different Indonesian regions in Taiwan and established meeting centres. FOSPI is often referred to with the Indonesian word Silaturahmi, meaning “connecting and mending ties of relationships.”

Silaturahmi is also the word chosen for an interactive installation exhibit featured at this year’s Taiwanfest Vancouver reflecting stories of the Indonesian community in Tangkáng. The focus of this year’s multi-day event is about stories of independence within the Indonesian and Malaysian communities in Taiwan, as well as within other areas of the Taiwanese population such as Indigenous artists, publishing and international relations. The event takes place in the 600-block of Granville Street on Sept. 3 and 4, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sept. 5, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Cultural activist Ting-Kuan Wu and cultural worker and freelance writer Yu-Chen Lan curated the project that will include numerous components. Both curators have extensive connections to Indonesia, as well as exploring myriad aspects of issues affecting migrant worker populations.

“Working in the field of migrant workers for more than six or seven years, my focus was more on literature collaborating with authors and researchers from Indonesia,” said Ting-Kuan Wu. “This is the first time that I have been involved in an art exhibit looking into the community. Because the sakura shrimp fishery operates only Monday to Friday, Tangkáng is one of the few places where the fishers get weekends off and that contributed to the active community in town.”

“There are also a lot of indirectly associated workers in processing and so forth who are also not out on the sea for very long extended periods,” said Lan. “Not being directly on the boat means needing access to everything from meeting and eating places to making art and so on.”

Working with members of the community who both curators note had some very clear ideas of how they wanted their stories and lifestyles to be presented, a collaborative model was developed to come up with the exhibit presentation that will be seen outdoors on Granville. Given how much of the migrants’ lives take place outdoors, the setting is perfect.

“If you go to Tangkáng, you will see fishers gathering together on large industrial tarps laid down on the ground to pray, to eat, to socialize,” said Yu-Chen Lan. “So we will recreate this on Granville, establishing a story-space experience.”

On the tarp surface will be everything from carvings by a fisher from Java whose work adorns the mosque in Taiwan to a music installation featuring documentary footage of the processes involved in making art, food and other cultural practices. There is also a karaoke unit.

“We have records made by the fishers themselves as it is very common for them to gather at night on the docks or boats, play guitar and sing songs,” said Lan. “Some of these are even originals about life in Taiwan and its associated hardships and challenges to migrants.”

“Since most of the karaoke machines in Taiwan are coin-operated and pre-recorded, a lot of migrants actually bring their own machines so they can have the songs they want to play,” said Wu. “There are also some fisher bands that have adapted traditional Taiwanese instruments to play everything from Javanese songs to Muslim chants, often appearing in some of the local Taiwanese cultural parades. It is a very interesting situation that has developed around the Indonesian migrant workers’ community expressing its sense of identity and individual freedom.”

Forging new connections while hanging onto a sense of home is a constant process for migrant workers in the global economy. Discovering the often ingenious ways that responsive communities arise for transient populations is part and parcel of developing multicultural societies. Silaturahmi is just one of these examples at Taiwanfest Vancouver, which will also feature a Stories of Independence concert, cinema, lectures and more.

Visit the website vancouvertaiwanfest.ca for a complete list.

sderdeyn@postmedia.com

twitter.com/stuartderdeyn

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