Wise Tea

JANUARY 23, 2017

Wise Tea is a web-documentary questioning what it means to be Taiwanese. The project seeks to build a narrative around what constitutes Taiwanese wisdom and identity, delving into its complexity, taboos and ambiguity.

Wise Tea relates the journey of two young women, an artist and a political scientist, wishing to enquire about their Taiwanese roots. A camera in their hand, they will go and meet Taiwanese people across the island. They start the journey with two fundamental questions about themselves, but also about Taiwan as a nation: Where do we come from? Where are we going? They will travel, interview and film, capturing the memory of Taiwan, past and present. The numerous encounters, interviews, testimonies and daily impressions will be shared around cups of tea. The project will take the form of a compilation of short videos on a website as well as an art exhibition taking place in Taipei around March 2018.

Wise Tea serves two goals. First, it aims to spark an open conversation within Taiwanese society about what it means to be Taiwanese - a topic which has often been divisive and controversial at home and abroad. Secondly, it aspires to build a platform through which what is precious about Taiwan can be shared with the broader international community. The purpose is to build an authentic narrative going beyond bias propaganda, or the cliches of night markets and bubble tea.

Why and who?

Who is the “we”? A nation is an imagined community constructed through stories and narratives. Even the members of the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members. Yet, the image of their unity live in the minds of each, because of the stories told …

Taiwanese identity is the product of a complicated history and the stories have been heavily politicized. As a result, there is a lack of a coherent narrative. Wise Tea seeks to document the lived experiences of the Taiwanese people, to construct a narrative which goes beyond the old and new controversies. Ultimately, the project is about reconciling the multiple strands of narratives which form Taiwanese identity.

Wise Tea is an investigation. We do not wish to start with an pre-fixed idea about what constitute Taiwanese identity. However, we hold two hypothesis:

Firstly, Taiwanese identity is less and less about ethnicity, religion, or the myth of a common ancestry. Instead, it is more about how we - as a community - interact and care for others. In this sense, it is mainly a political and civic identity.

Secondly, it is also our contention that this identity carries a lot of wisdom. We want to enquire about the source of this wisdom and document how it is lived and reproduced in the everyday life of the taiwanese citizen. To this end, we will connect broader social, political or economical features of Taiwan with the daily attitudes of Taiwanese citizens.

Why now?

We believe that now is a key moment to carry out such project for two reasons.

Firstly, what constitutes Taiwanese identity is a difficult topic. It is complex, it is controversial, it is political, it is taboo. However, we believe that an honest conversation about Taiwanese identity and what is at the root of its wisdom is necessary, as the percentage of people identifying themselves as solely Taiwanese has recently reached a record high of over 80 percent.

Secondly, the first three generations that has lived under Taiwan ROC as a modern nation are still co-existing. Our grand-parents who lived through the formation of Taiwan ROC, our parents who lived through the democratization; and finally our generation, who will be responsible for building on their legacy. Before our grandparent’s generation passes away, we should speak with these three generations, have them meet and talk and share their hopes and desires for the future. This conversation is important at a time where the younger generation seems to be redefining Taiwanese identity. We need to ask what we want to keep but also what we want to leave behind.

Why the name?

We chose Tea, because it represents Taiwanese culture, hospitality, but also because it is a symbol of self-reflection and meditation.

Offering Tea in Taiwan is offering hospitality. Tea is how we welcome people, pay our respect, and become present for each other. Over Tea, we discuss and talk to each other. But drinking Tea can also be a moment of presence with oneself, a moment of self-reflection and meditation.

We chose the title Wise Tea, because the traditional way of brewing Tea is an act of kindness and patience, two virtues we associate with Taiwanese culture and wisdom.

We hope to share cups of tea, as this simple act will be an ideal setting to bring people together, to share their stories, hopes and question.

Who?

We are Sylvie and Ninon, two childhood friends, both half-Taiwanese half-French. We know each other from our Taiwanese mothers, who have transmitted to us a love and pride of being Taiwanese. As young adults, having spent a large part of our childhood outside of Taiwan, we both experienced the desire to return and live in Taiwan in order to reconnect with our roots.

In 2015, we set up the Epic Failures Taipei (Insert Link). The conference was a great success after which we realized that our childhood together, shared identity and deep mutual understanding was a great advantage for collaboration. It gave our partnership a lot of strength and resilience. Thus, in 2016 we co-created Art / Earth / Tech (Insert Link) an initiative which seeks to build a community of people seeking a wiser society.

In 2017, Wise Tea will be our next adventure. We believe that our profiles to be highly complementary for such collaboration. As young adults the quest for our Taiwanese roots was often guided by different interests. Sylvie spent a lot of time enquiring about the art, the culture and the philosophy. Ninon on the other hand, took a closer look at the political, economic and social dynamics in Taiwan. We believe that these two perspectives will be very complementary for Wise Tea.