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September 23, 2019

Sweet Potato Island from Head to Toe| Eden Tai | 2019 PH

by edentai

Hi! It’s been a bit over a month since my first update. Since then, I have seen so much more of Taiwan!

a map of Taiwan, marked are the main areas we have visited since arriving in Taipei

The more people we meet up with to interview here, the more connections we make to more people and places. We are sometimes receiving more leads than we can keep up with, which is exciting but also exhausting! Many times we are working with people who have tight schedules and long commutes, so there is limited time for setting up a shot and perfecting sound. In the soggy Taiwan heat, it seems cruel to ask our interviewees to turn off their AC units and fans, which presents another hindrance to recording ideal sound. As someone who is not super experienced in documentary work, this is all a very new challenge for me. I am a slow thinker and worker trying to adjust to a very fast-paced mode of operating. However, looking back at the footage and finding the places where people really glow and feel seen through this project makes it so worth it. The more practice I get making footage, the more confident I become, and the better the video turns out.

Currently we have collected hours and hours of footage. Going into this fellowship, Irene and I expected to interview a few people and events which would be edited into a short video. However, as we come to understand how large this tong cao community actually is, we have decided to prioritize gathering footage and interviews during the rest of our time in Taiwan. By the end of December, we will create a short teaser for the project in order to apply for more funding to expand our work.

Working with the Taiwan Tong Cao Association has been an incredibly unique learning experience. Jerry and Kuei Mei have been generous with their time and connections, accompanying us to interviews and sites which often require hours of travel from Taipei. We have been working together to come up with ways to expand the accessibility and knowledge of tong cao. There is so much potential for tong cao as a sustainable material for use in children’s education, product packaging, and DIY culture (very big in Taiwan), to name a few. Kuei Mei’s interdisciplinary approach to building and supporting community is especially inspiring to me. The way she uses her resources, access, and privilege to help people and continue her mission is definitely something I want to apply to my own work. She makes friends wherever she goes, and is always excited to educate new people about our efforts.

This fellowship has given me an experience I could have never imagined in a place I have always dreamed of visiting. To be able to learn about my culture, meet some of my family for the first time, and do work I believe in all at once has been unreal. Scroll down for some stills from our upcoming documentary!

Irene and Youzi, a new friend from Kuei Mei’s neighborhood, discuss Youzi’s work as an employee at a horticulture therapy farm in Taipei
Kuei Mei shows us some of her pith paper flowers
jelly wax being poured into a vase for a pith paper flower arrangement
view from outside a storefront in Yilan, where the daughter in law and wife
of a pith paper flower master meet us for an interview
sleepy early-morning bus ride to an interview
Kuei Mei and Irene prepare lunch before a big day of work
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