Last Saturday, Daniel Yeung invited me out to see a Taiwanese circus. It was a nice night out, but it marked my first real conversation with a Chinese mainlander about Taiwan and Japan. Given, Danny is very cosmopolitan, having finished his dancing training in Amsterdam and subsequently touring all over the world as a dancer, choreographer, and actor, but it was nice to hear a different point of view from that "jaded expatriate gaijin in Japan" perspective.
So here’s the rub: according to Danny, he views the Japanese people as a people who dream more than the Chinese, who are more interested in manufacturing a quick buck. I felt like this was the opposite from my point of view, coming most recently from Europe and Canada, but I stopped to think about it from the Chinese perspective. That let to a lot more questions that I had been stepping over in my first week and a half in Taiwan: Why does Taipei’s youth demographic look to Japan’s fashion and trends instead of drawing on their own cultural past? Relatedly, why is it that despite their best efforts, Taiwanese youth are unable (thankfully) to shed their Taiwanese identity? Why is it that Taipei has such an aura of grass-roots arts? Why can Taiwanese women dance sexy while Japanese women are only able to dance like a woman who is dancing sexy?
It is strange, this relationship between Taiwan and Japan. I am thinking about it a lot. Ask someone in Taiwan what they think about Japanese culture, and you will get a pretty interesting answer. Ask someone in Japan what they think about Taiwanese culture, and you will get a pretty vapid answer.
Lest anyone accuse me of being anti-Japanese here, I want to examine the same question from a different angle? Why is it that people all over the world have an opinion about American culture, but your average man-on-the-street in America can offer little more than an Epcot-Center, It’s-a-Small-World caricatured culture summary of country X?
My main question: which fosters greater ignorance, the culture which is blind and deaf to its world neighbors or those cultures which form opinions based on a maelstrom of media tidbits and propaganda?
Anyways, it got me thinking.
Danny and I talked a lot about art and performance and the transition and evolution from performer to creator and he kept talking about how he started dancing at such an advanced age and that now he is really feeling older. There were other strange facts that I picked up on; he seemed to be at a really high-level stage in his career for someone about my age, perhapd a little younger. Fine, I figured; he was a child prodigy who has come into his own, but then, at the Taiwanese Yakiniku place in Ximen, he told me that he was actually 39.
I’ll be damned. 39. I have never been so off on an age estimate. It was shocking, but at the same time, it tells me that we can really make it in this industry. I don’t know many scientists or engineers (although there are a few) who are as energetic and enthusiastic about their work as Danny is.
Here’s a last point: of the six artists I have met at the artist’s village, only one is a woman. She is also the only one who is in a stable relationship. Us male artists, we all seem to be a little pessimistic about the prospects of that ‘irresponsible’ artistic life merging harmoniously with a healthy relationship. I draw no conclusions and I offer only the facts.