Identity and Self-Realization 認同感與自我實現
Where do I come from? Where do I go?... These contributions offer tools to explore the complexities of identity, overcome contradictions and recognize one’s true self.
I have a nice colleague who once told me that she loved "Chinese eyes". I was as surprised as when I first heard from French tourists that Chinese have les yeux bridés. Whatever does that mean? Among Chinese, we think we either have double or mono eyelids, perceived to be hugely different. I was then shocked to read about the suggestion, from American and French presses, as well as from some English-monolingual writers of Asian origin who do not have much contact with Asian communities, that Asian women go through double eyelid surgery so that they can look more Westernized, or as a form of "internalized racism". That is a serious charge unknown to most Chinese people. It is not much help that the most vocal people to oppose this view tend to be connected to beauty industries. Even though statistically they know more Asian women who have gone through the procedure, their financial interest makes their opinion less credible. Since no one wants to be "spoken for" nowadays, I might as well say something about my eyelid and my identity. I will limit myself to the Chinese case whenever possible because I do not claim to know enough about all the Asian cultures.
Having double eyelids in no way makes a Chinese woman look Westernized. I have natural double eyelids and live in the "West", but no one has ever thought I bear any resemblance to a Westerner; on the other hand, I have met Vietnamese or Japanese who mistook me for one of their own. As far as I know, people have always preferred double eyelids in China, even during the decades of Mao Zedong's reign when no Western movies were allowed. Actresses in leading roles almost invariably have double eyelids, to the point that a few years ago, when a beautiful woman with single eyelids played the leading role in the film Under the Hawthorn Tree (2010), all my Chinese friends noticed the "momentous" change and wondered if mono eyelids were finally becoming fashionable. In fact, people as old as my father remember their parents also thought women with double eyelids were prettier. The pressure mainly comes from Chinese community itself. Double eyelid surgery is one of the most frequently performed procedures in China or Chinese communities elsewhere in the world. Contrary to some gruesome procedures, it is almost non-controversial. All of us know someone who has done it and people increasingly do not keep it a secret as the practice became more common. Since it is not rude among Chinese to give unsolicited advice, when a girl has mono eyelids, it is not unusual for some affectionate aunties (ayi) who are not really her aunts to tell her:
- You would be even more beautiful if you had double eyelids! It is really an easy surgery!
As someone who considers getting ear piercings (holes) too painful and settles for wearing only necklaces, I am the last one to advocate for plastic surgeries. I am glad to live now in a society where many people are or claim to be open-minded to different types of beauty, but we need to realize the challenge others face in their own cultural environment. It is easy to take the moral high ground and judge Chinese women who go through double eyelid surgery, but I can put myself in their place, because they can be my friends, my sisters and my daughters, and I know that my eyelid is not my identity.
Since my mother has double eyelids and my father single eyelids, it was through pure luck that I inherited the culturally more desirable feature. My younger sister, however, was born with monolids. Strangely, when she just woke up her eyelids would look double for a while, or when she rubbed her eyes, which she did more often than our parents liked. Maybe she had a hidden or very shallow crease. Then in her twenties, her eyelids became double even when she was not rubbing them or waking up. I noticed the change during a visit:
- Oh, they just became like this little by little! She said as if it were nothing.
Who would have believed that? But I did, and for many years. Then it dawned on me she might have done what many other women did.
- How...How did your eyelids become double? I tried to sound as casual as possible over the phone.
- I just got a surgery! It was so wonderful! She giggled like a little girl.
She already had a job, and an adoring husband. But so many women she knew were getting them, with stunning results. She chose the simple technique of "stitching threads", which leaves no scar, and with quick recovery time.
- Did it hurt?
- Not at all! And it took less time than a haircut!
- What...what did brother-in-law think?
- He was thrilled. I surprised him. He saw my double eyelids when he was walking upstairs, and liked them right away. Oh, it was the happiest day in my life!
It was the same old happiness, perhaps, as when Cinderella somehow got her party outfit. It did not occur to me to ask her if she internalized Western beauty standard, or if she betrayed our father's heritage. I knew the answer was no, and no.
The first time when I came upon an Asian woman (I could not tell her exact ethnicity) with single eyelids on a magazine cover either in France or in the U.S., I experienced a moment when "one hundred feelings mixed up simultaneously" (baigan jiaoji). Seeing a woman who would have had a hard time in a school dance in China look confident in her attractiveness revealed to me that perhaps in this world beauty might be somewhat relative and culturally constructed. It reminded me that it was beneficial to expand the range of our beauty tastes for the sake of our own and other people's pleasures. The realization made me feel bad for all the Chinese women with single eyelids who did not have the luck of being discovered and appreciated by Western lenses. But I also wondered if it could reflect a subtle form of orientalism: that is how Westerners think Asian women typically look.
Sometimes our poor eyes can only perceive what our heart or mind want them to see. A longtime Chinese diplomat and Francophile, who had spent years in France, wrote a book in Chinese about his wonderful impressions living in the Hexagon (Impressions in France, Falanxi yinxiang): one of his greatest pleasures while traveling there was to ask directions to "slim and graceful blond women with blue eyes". You wonder how long he normally would need to wait. I know that French women don't get fat (that is the title of a popular book in the U.S.), but it is safe to think that his pleasure would have been reduced at least by half if it had depended on talking with blond women with blue eyes (jinfa biyan, the Chinese stereotype of Westerners) in France, because he would have had at least equal chance of running into women with different eye or hair colors. Believing that single eyelids constitute a distinctive feature of Chinese women is not much different from thinking that French women typically have blond hair and blue eyes: what about the other (roughly) half?
Once single eyelids were made the distinctive mark of Chinese women despite the fact that a significant proportion of them naturally have double eyelids, any attempts to modify them through make-up or surgery can be viewed as an identity issue. We can observe an obvious double standard: when a brunette dyes her hair blond, a blond dyes her hair red or black, a curly woman straightens her hair, fair-skinned people sunbath or use tanning beds risking cancer to obtain darker skin, those widespread practices are not perceived to involve their identity even though they alter their natural look. Sometimes well-meaning people interpret too much through racial lenses. Instead of going as far as those who accused them of psychological projection or cultural imperialism, I would rather think they simply overlooked some important facts. My late foot-bound grandmother, who had never seen a single Westerner in her entire life, told me that "whiteness of skin covers a hundred flaws", which happened to be a common saying in China. In case you still think she was somehow influenced by Western standard, an influential poem from the Book of Poetry, written several hundred years B.C., describes a great beauty as having skin as white as "frozen fat". I do not know why my ancestors of the time preferred fair skin, but it was probably not due to internalized racism.
It is not my intention here to discuss the pros and cons of plastic surgeries, or its place in the continuum of things we do to embellish our appearance based on beauty standards du jour. Employment discrimination based on irrelevant and ridiculous criteria such as eyelids should be illegal, but then in a market economy, if enough kings/customers in certain places make their business decisions according to the perceived beauty of the vendors, it will be difficult to enforce such a ban. At the very least, when a Chinese woman decides to get double eyelid surgery, please do not assume that she is having an identity crisis or she is denying her cultural heritage. She most likely just wants to look as beautiful as her own mother or supposedly luckier "sisters" who constitute her reference group. The tapestry of our identity cannot be reduced to the shape of our eyelids, or whatever we do with them.
Drawing by Bendu
Aude Fluckiger was born in Switzerland, but has been living in Taiwan for four and a half years. During that time she worked on a paper titled "Case Study of an Urban Indigenous Healer in Taiwan". In this interview, she tells us about her experiences researching alternative healing in Taiwan and the specifics of one case study in particular.
Investigating healing rituals in Taiwan and the ethnological case study of a sound healing practitioner
What first led you to Taiwan?
Many different things, but I've had this strong fascination for Asia for as long as I can remember, a strong interest to understand local peoples' way of perceiving their own cultures and beliefs in very distant areas of the world, and it is also a kind of personal quest, maybe even a spiritual quest, because I am very attracted to Eastern philosophies and traditions, I'm very sensitive to Oriental aestheticism, Chinese painting, martial arts, meditation, yoga, and so forth. In addition, I completed a Bachelor's degree in Chinese studies and History of Religions in Geneva and had this opportunity to come to Taiwan on a Huayu scholarship and after a while I realized I had to stay to pursue with a Chinese Master in ethnology, because going back to Europe would be a pity, for the language mostly.
What does your current research project consist of?
I've conducted anthropological fieldwork research in Taiwan on an indigenous healer who is not living in her tribal setting anymore and has no connection with her native village, she moved at an early stage near an urban centre in Northern Taiwan. My research was trying to understand how this Amis indigenous woman established a unique healing practice that she calls "Sound healing", as well as to investigate the nature of this particular healing method (e.g. decipher the indigenous features from the more global influences), and tend to understand the conditions for a successful healing process in relation to the quality of the therapeutic relationship.
Does this "Sound Healing" involve a fusion of disciplines?
You could say so. As most indigenous people in Taiwan do, she received Christian influences in her village since she was very young. Some of the older generations were more resistant to this, but she was born in 1955 and definitely felt the Catholic influence. Of course there is also a huge influence of Buddhist concepts in Taiwan, which she references, helping to attract many Buddhists. In addition, certain elements in her speech can also be connected to Taoism. However, the main influences I was able to identify from her speeches and actions were those of New Age globalised religions and movements that have been present in Taiwan since the 1980s. I didn't mention the Amis aspect yet because in comparison to all the above it's practically nonexistent. For the most part her speech is related to those international New Age movements. Sound healing finds its roots in many archaic cultures and societies, but with the present revival of shamanic ancestral practices and worldviews through New Age media, sound healing is also finding its legitimacy and presently a growing number of alternative therapists worldwide rely on theories of emerging fields like "cymatics" (lit. "science of waves or vibrations") to legitimize "sound waves" as a therapeutic tool.
What kind of people seek her help and what kind of ailments do they usually suffer from?
I would say because of the nature of her method, she attracts people that often move in those New Age circles with the means to attend her workshops, which are often very expensive. The majority of them are middle aged women who have a stable economic situation, but there are also men and women of all kind of ages and nationalities, the youngest being usually in their thirties. They generally come searching for spiritual growth. I didn't see that many people come in with physical ailments. When I asked her about this, she said she can help anyone as long as they are willing to "face themselves". She claims that even if you have cancer and you are really ready to face yourself, then she can heal you. She also conducts private healings and in that case the mode of interaction with is quite different..
Can you tell us more about her method?
She's using her own voice as a major tool for healing. Her actual chanting is monosyllabic and without lyrics, it isn't a "language". She considers that the sound of her voice is reflecting the primal force of nature and that it's through that sound that she gets her power to heal people. In this sense she is using sound in a similar way to other practices such as Himalayan singing bowls and other methods stemming from both traditional and New Age backgrounds. She often starts the therapy by insisting that people have to "face" the things they have issues with. In the case of a patient having unresolved issues with a father, for example, she would say she would call his soul (the father being alive or not), she would "become him" (through a "possession" related process), and then the patient would face him and interact with him. It doesn't necessarily need to be a person, it can also be a feature of one's personality, such as anger. In this case, the healer would "become your anger" so you can face it. When she "becomes" those features or embodies a "soul", she claims that the other alien soul manifests itself through her body by standing momentarily next to hers. She's completely conscious, and there is no memory loss. In ethnology this type of possession is certainly not "traditional" in regard of the traditional use of "possession states" employed by the Amis or other Austronesian groups in Taiwan. Because of her connection and past training with international transpersonal models of healing (more psychologically orientated), these types of states can also be put in relation with today's Western psycho-therapeutic developing methods such as techniques to induce so-called "trance-like" states in the patient, or more simply therapeutic "role playing" in order to help the patient to put awareness and re-enact and transcend a painful event. She also developed a more discursive aspect that I call "guided dialogue" where she "guides" patients to realise and speak out so far unconscious parts of themselves, and this speech part has been one of the focus of my analysis as it can reveal how the healer is establishing her authority in the therapeutic relationship.
What is her background?
She comes from a very disadvantaged background and she hasn't had any connection with her tribe for many years. She has been through a lot in her life and is very committed to her spiritual practice At 38 years old she arrived to a non-return point where she realised her mission to become a healer. She was sick with cancer herself. According to my informants at some point she was only given three months to live and she kind of found a way to heal herself. She has mentioned that the main thing that helped her in her healing process was the "facing of herself" with the help of international New Age leaders, amongst them Supreme Master Ching Hai. However she is never specific about her masters and will only divulge a few clues from time to time. This mystery related to her own background is often encountered with certain leaders (not just in the spiritual field) and plays a critical role in the gathering of potential followers and the building of a charismatic relationship.
Are her sessions one-on-one or group sessions?
She actually does both. She holds group workshops about every two weeks in the mountainside, near where she lives. There are always new followers, she is never lacking. She is very popular and attracts people through her various indigenous flavoured performances. I would say that the main difference between the one-on-one and the group sessions is that in the group sessions, the requirement for commitment is much smaller, there is less pressure put on the patient whilst the one-to-one sessions are more challenging in terms of personal involvement and unpredictability.
Is there a personality cult surrounding her?
There is, but it is not so obvious in the group setting. Most of my fieldwork was conducted in the individual setting, and, there it was more intense. In her practice, it is never a case of healing one time and goodbye. Whenever a newcomer arrives, she sets a few rules. However, these have changed drastically in the years I have known her. In the beginning she would sometimes even offer healing sessions for free, but today her one-on-one sessions are quite expensive considering the Taiwanese living standards.. The last time I saw her, however, I was quite alarmed by radical her conditions to accept new patients were, and that's why I had to put an end to my fieldwork. It had come to a point where it was obvious that what she was looking for where not patients, but disciples. She was then requiring that those that come to her be extremely committed, implying in that case a consequent change in their lifestyle, an important degree of suspending one's critical sense and free will. These conditions are not always expressed in a clear-cut way. It also happened several times that maybe after the second or third meeting, she changed the rules of their interaction so that patients barely had any choice about what aspects they wanted to take, which left them in certain cases almost completely disempowered, and at the mercy of the authority of the leader, much like in a sectarian dynamic. People who are usually passionate about her often just break contact and leave within the three first sessions. That being said, there are people it might work for. One of my informants was extremely vulnerable when I first met her, and close to suicide. She is a young foreign woman who was very lonely, with lacking Chinese which made it hard to communicate with others. She was feeling rather left out, and she said that this woman became both a mother and a spiritual teacher who taught her how to manage herself. So, despite what we might say and how we may judge on the surface, it's true her method might help some people. However, I also believe it can be dangerous for some types of personalities who may lack resources to escape her influence. The interesting aspect to study in her case is the efficiency of symbolic ritual in regard to the therapeutic interaction. For example people who are more inclined to submit to her authority claim to feel better quite immediately after the first sessions. People who are maybe more "psychologically grounded" in the way they conduct their lives seem to be much less inclined to assess efficiency in a clear way and they usually don't go back after the three first sessions, the therapeutic frame being unable to offer them a space for doubts or self-process and assimilate the healing experience by referring to themselves fully, rather than referring to the assessment of the healer. The last case is usually part of a therapeutic relationship based on grounds of mutual dependence.
What other healers have you met?
I've met some "titong 乩童" or as they're often called by some specialists "Chinese shamans", Taoist priests and ritual specialists conducting rituals for healing or re-guiding "lost souls" to the other realms, certain mediums in temples or installed in a private practice, and some Taiwanese and Western shamanic workers who are more closely associated to what we can call "Neo-shamanism", as they allow the revival and the spread of ancestral shamanic knowledge of different parts of the world (like the Amazonian traditions) and render them accessible through workshops and teachings worldwide.
I remember when I first came to Taiwan I met this Shaolin master using Qigong to "heal", to work on body energy, and I could see him, it was quite impressive. He had his patients lying on their stomachs bareback with suction cups on their backs, and he would start to work with the energy and you could clearly see the cups moving in all kinds of directions, following the movement of the bones, all while he was one meter behind the patient! Seeing that right after leaving the very Cartesian-structured West-European society I come from, I could only be convinced that what cannot be "objectively visible" cannot be arbitrarily considered as non-existent or discarded for the comfort of the analytical mind that can only show resistance in those situations.
Has your subject read your research?
No, we didn't really keep in contact. Actually, she wanted me to become a healer like her and she didn't really understand the research perspective and my role as a participant observer that is proper to ethnology during fieldwork, so there was a growing tension during my fieldwork. It got to a point where it was impossible for me to observe from a distance because I had to be completely involved, to completely subdue and adhere to her therapeutic frame involving her own beliefs and rules. As there was no in-between ground possible there, I had to leave in the end. In any case, I don't think she would really be interested in reading it as her practice is primarily focused on experience by opposition to analysis, which is what we're suppose to do in a perspective of academic research. This research indicates how preponderant the New Age is in Taiwan today, how it dialogues with tradition and modernity, and points at the fact that the sectarian phenomenon is not an isolate case in Taiwanese religious landscape, the reasons for which would definitely be worth investigating in further research.
Interview and editing by Daniel Pagan Murphy.
We asked around the office, asking both foreigner and Taiwanese people how the way people hold their chopsticks influences the way they feel they are perceived or the way they perceive others - we got a range of responses, some which contradicted one another, others which seemed to have been fabricated out of thin air.
The Banaban people live on Rabi Island off the coast of Vanua Levu in the northern part of Fiji. They are originally from Banaba or Ocean Island in what was the former British Colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, and is now the separate states of the Republic of Kiribati and Republic of Tuvalu. The Banabans were moved to Fiji as the result of two major events. The first was the discovery that most of the island was made of phosphate in 1900 by a New Zealander, later knighted, Sir Albert Ellis, and the second, the Japanese occupation of the island during World War II.
There is a growing realization among psychologists and within the corporate world that the nature and organization of work have a lasting impact on employees' mental health. Boredom, tiredness and anxiety are the three overwhelming symptoms of mental stress that affect workers.
The new wall art team Bihuadui is encouraging artists from Taiwan to reconnect with their roots and include elements of Taiwanese culture in their art. It addresses some of the problems such as isolation of the artists and estrangement from one's own culture by promoting collaboration between artists and painting in unusual locations.We talk to some of those artists about their opinions on the team.
On August 28th 2011, eRenlai went to Taipei's Wolong29 theater to see a puppet show directed by Ash. On the spot, just after the performance, we interviewed Baptiste, an actor and a puppeteer in the show about his first impressions of being in an experimental play.
Jean-Jacques was born in Paris and raised in Brussels, Belgium, where he spent most of his lifetime with his taiwanese parents. He has 2 passions in his life : animation, and chinese traditional arts. He graduated in Brussels from the famous national art university called La Cambre, where he majored in animation and film direction.
A few years ago, he rediscovered step by step and from a distance his Chinese cultural roots and history, through movies, litterature, arts, martial arts, and even cooking; and gradually he fell in love with it. He strongly believes this happened only because he lived at the other end of the world from his roots, hence the need to discover them in order to figure out who he was.
He came back to Taiwan 4 years and half ago in order to find a job in animation, and has since then been an animation freelancer, working for several MVs, ads, and also storyboarding for a taiwanese anime feature movie and TV series projects, as well as a role as a special FX artist for the same TV series project.
Eventually, he aims to direct a feature animation movie or series which would have the dynamics and rythm of japanese anime, blended with the aesthetic and philosophic aspect of the traditional chinese paintings. Two of the prototypes for his goal are his last student movie : The sword and the brush.
More links about JJ and his work
Watch here JJ's MV for DJ Code
All marine ecosystems are in constant flux, affected by external influences and short-term disruptions as well as by seasonal cycles. Those who live within an oceanic environment necessarily see the world in a different way from those who dwell in the plains, highlands or mountains. Sudden and unexpected changes foster the representation of distant divine beings whose behavior is unpredictable; the sense of uncertainty generated by the environment encourages flexible strategies, rather than linear thinking. Nowhere is this truer than in the Pacific Ocean, which covers a surface larger than the one occupied by all land areas, and which accounts for eighty percent of the islands of the globe.
In the Pacific world, the ocean is the continent: the sea constitutes the natural environment for all forms of life, it is also the vector of communication... A writer from Tonga, Epeli Hau'ofa (1939-2009) has spoken of a "sea of islands', a sea that unites rather than divides, a sea that is a lived story: for the ocean moves and breathes in those born on its banks like the salt in the sea and the blood within the body. The immense ocean also dwells within the narrow limits of a human body, allowing man to travel into himself in the same way he embarks for finding other islanders.
All this may remind us of what the writer Romain Rolland called, in his correspondence with Freud, the"Oceanic feeling.” Through this expression he was trying to encapsulate a feeling of infinity that goes beyond all structured religious belief. Nowadays, Romain Rolland’s “Oceanic feeling” has become little more than a footnote in the history of religious psychology. Freud was not very appreciative: "How foreign to me are the worlds in which you move! Mystique is as closed to me as music” he wrote to Rolland – who replied, "I can hardly believe that mysticism and music are foreign to you. I rather think that you are afraid of them, as you wish to keep the instrument of critical reason unblemished.”
Illustration by Bendu
We have a clear-cut idea of what the words “progress” and “regression” point to: a student’s marks are showing academic progress, or they indicate that he is regressing in his class ranking; economic indexes measure how much a country is growing or if it is entering recession; after a certain age, our physical and intellectual abilities are regressing… And so, we grade ourselves as we move up or down the ladder, and we measure accordingly other people, institutions and societies.
Grades, indexes and measurements are certainly useful tools. Still, they cut into reality in ways that sometimes make us blind to the complexity of the phenomena we try to assess. The very fact that my abilities are regressing can actually be a factor of maturation, of reconciliation with my personal history, my limits and my achievements if I peacefully come to terms with the transformations that age or illness impose on me. A country’s economic growth often goes with cultural and humane regression when it destroys social structure and community values. Academic tests are rarely able to assess the whole process of intellectual, moral and emotional growth that a student is undergoing. Life mixes into a whole progress and regression, as the chaff and the wheat grow together on the field. Better not to try to separate them before the time of the harvest…
Progress and regression only make sense within dynamic processes that change the one into the other - and conversely. A short-time regression often triggers long-term progress. This is the case when it comes to affective and emotional maturation: an affective setback often comes with a period of regression - the mind closes on itself, closes on its wounds. However, when and if subsumed, setbacks become a force for greater self-understanding as well as for nurturing empathy. The one who ignores setbacks and does not experience regressions runs the risk of seeing one’s success end up as one’s ultimate failure, as he has most probably lived an existence estranged from his true self.
Does it mean that progress and regression just equate? No. Ultimately, we are meant to strive for success. But the texture of success is much richer and subtler than we usually imagine. It is interwoven with the threads of our setbacks, failures and regressions, which also serve to compose the shades and nuances of one’s personal achievement. When life seems to be going downhill, let us take solace in the fact that we progress towards the realization of our true self in a way that is uniquely ours – and our ultimate triumph is the uniqueness we achieve throughout the struggles that will have shaped our life.
Illustration by Bendu
Let’s go beyond the glamour of Paris. Last summer was for me the occasion to rediscover the splendour of the French capital and to meet Françoise Gardes who cares for those travelers without return tickets who run aground on the banks of the river Seine with nothing in their pockets but the hope of asylum.
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