On Talking Back: A Report on the Taiwan Workshop
What does it mean to Talk Back? Who do we Talk Back against? Are we alone in our attempts or a part of a larger community? How do we use digital technologies to find other peers and stake-holders? What is the language and vocabulary we use to successfully articulate our problems? How do we negotiate with structures of power to fight for our rights? These were the kind of questions that the Talking Back workshop held in the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica in Taiwan from 16 to 18 August 2010 posed.
Twenty-two Digital Natives were selected from regions as varied as Kyrgyztan, Pakistan, Vietnam, Jakarta, India, China, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Moldova and Thailand to come together and share their stories at the 'Talking Back' workshop. While we already began pinging everyone on the phone, and online through emails and chat, the participants themselves were encouraged to fraternise digitally before they even met IRL (in real life).
The Great Fire Wall
Two participants were lost to border authorities as they not only disallowed their entry into Taiwan from China but also permanently blocked their movement out of China. Another one from Burma missed out on being present at the workshop as much as we missed not having her with us.
Though admittedly on the first day of the workshop we did have them in on our secret group chat that we infamously termed as a coup d'état. A facilitator also on her way from Egypt was unable to make it through to us. Our Taipei team learned that a certain Chinese Airlines had omitted clearing the visa on arrival for a number of our invitees to the connecting airlines. While some we did insistently manage to pull across, the aforementioned were lost to the borderlines.
In Academia Sinica
So were we all in Academia Sinica, Taipei and under one roof by the night before the workshop? No, not yet. As mentioned above, three participants and a facilitator were unable to make it. On the Monday morning of 16 August 2010, Ritika Arya, a 20 year old Indian national had not yet arrived. She was to come as a participant and had on the previous day arranged for an event by her NGO, My India Empowered, Mumbai, India (MIE). She had already intimated us about her meticulous plans for Independence Day. However, it was Monday and she wasn’t yet there in the workshop! A call made it known that she was in fact at the Taipei airport with luggage transfer issue to be resolved. Ritika shared with us later how she grappled with the thought of losing her luggage and also spending a lot on the taxi fare instead of getting on a bus from the airport to Academia Sinica. Ritika, founder of MIE came in the nick of time really. Kudos to Ritika for the grand success of her event on India's Independence Day and for her landing smack on Day One; just in time for the Birsds of a Feather (BoF) meetings.
The First Day
On the first day of the workshop many presentations were made in quick succession. At end of presentations by facilitators and participants it was apparent that there was a language issue. We had Som Monorum from Vietnam who'd write down in English what he had to say and then say it out aloud to us. He continued adding all his responses to the group at large this way. Pichate from Thailand not only heard out every single presentation from start to end but also shared instances from his country with relevance to topics mentioned. For instance, when Seema Nair spoke of the Pink Chaddi Campaign, India, Pichate was quick to share links to the union labourers who were members of Triumph Employee's Union
An impromptu wake up call for some who were in jetlag daze was the coup de tat which was but a group chat initiated by most of us on whom no amounts of coffee could shake off jet lag. Hardly were we five minutes into the coup d'état when chat members being refreshed from it, one by one returned to 'workshop mode' and slipping out of the group chat resumed focus on the workshop. The smileys and lols remaining in the group chat RAM.
Same Same - But Different
As per the workshop schedule the first day we worked in BoF format. BoF is a type of un-conference model wherein members are grouped by what they share in common, be it the use of technology or the topics of work, each group of participants being assigned one guide.
Later the participants were assigned partners to discuss
- What is my political legacy?
- Who are the people I engage with?
- Who are the others that I am engaging in this?
|Some initial responses briefly in the beginning:
"What do you mean my political legacy? I am apolitical."
The intense ice breaking BoF meetings were certainly fruitful.
|On the second day an impromptu exercise which took us briefly away from the scheduled Barcamp model of conferencing. We were made into random groups and assigned one Global Crisis to each group. We were to plan a solution via campaigning for the crisis with a plan which we were to present at end. The topics assigned varied from Violence to Global Warming.|
The last day had a flurry of activities from participant Prabhas Pokharel's birthday to more Barcamped discussions, presentations of our campaigns to solve Global Warming et al. At the end after the vote of thanks we had an open feedback session. Here most importantly was brought to the table the need for sensitivity to language and vocabulary hindrances.
|Over the three days of discussions, presentations and reflections also at the end, the Taipei team organised visits to the 101 – the tallest building in the world to date, the night market and the participants themselves explored a lot of it on their own.
Travellers who plan to travel to places with cuisines unacquired by their own palate came prepared with a 'Help! What can I eat!' and 'OMG I need a Burger!' and 'Where's the closest Starbucks?' Well we all did dive into the hot pot outlets, mama-papa set meal restaurants and iced oolong tea shops with broad grins. Taiwan has been spoken well of for its Taiwanese cuisine and being an Indian-Chinese I must say even I can’t label it as Chinese food, for it honestly has a style of its own. Parathas on the streets!
The Taipei Team were as attentive to the dietary preferences as anyone could be. On Prabhas's birthday for instance, Miss Mengshan Lee got us three cakes! She said, “We wouldn't want anyone to be left out and to celebrate altogether. With everyone's needs met; eggless and with the egg we made a pretty picture.