Significant Experiences the Class “East Asian Perspectives on Dialogue between Traditions and Modernity” Has Brought to Me

Wan-Yu Huang 24′
Department of East Asian Studies

Speaking of the most unforgettable thing I learned from the class, I would not hesitate to say that it is the field research we were asked to do in the compulsory class—East Asian Perspectives on Dialogue between Traditions and Modernity. This class was aimed at comparing different Asian cultures and conducting deep research on aspects such as history, customs, and immigration. And a group presentation related to these issues was required to perform at the end of the semester.

Our group soon decided to research Burmese immigrants who lived in Huaxin St. (華新街), Zhonghe Dist. (中和區), New Taipei City (新北市). First, we referred to lots of documents and surprisingly found that the migration was not only caused by living conditions of the country but also related to the notorious Anti-Chinese Movement that occurred in Burma in 1967. After consulting with the professor, we were suggested to take field research and interview local inhabitants to get first-hand information. That was the right time that we realized that the obligations of a competent sociology scholar are digging out the pieces of evidence and the truths instead of telling appealing stories.

We got to Huaxin Street on a freaking cold day. Nonetheless, we were so excited and full of passion that we were not influenced by the bad weather at all. The first stop we visited was an inconspicuous vendor at the corner of a traditional market. Attracted by the strong smells, we then noticed that the seasonings it sold were uncommon in Taiwan. The vendor told us those were shrimp pastes and were used in mostly every Southeast-Asian dish. She was so hospitable that she even asked everyone to try a bit. Moreover, we found that there were zong-zi(粽子) put on the tray but were wrapped as rectangles instead of triangles which were more likely to be seen in Taiwan. The vendor explained that her family originally came from Guangdong, Mainland China, and the Cantonese zong-zi she sold could be a kind of witness that forefathers came from Mainland China to Burma, eventually settled in Taiwan.

Later on, to learn more about the religious differences between Burma and Taiwan, we got to a Theravada Buddhism temple. Luckily enough, It happened to be a special day that some rituals had been done and we all got invited to join the after-event gathering, thus, we got a chance to get to know how the community was formed and organized even more thoroughly. Thanks to the enthusiastic locals, the research was going well beyond expectations. As we understood more about this street, we tended to have a feeling that all the research methods we had learned in the class were no longer indigestible knowledge but means to care about various issues taking place on the land we live. There were so many captivating interviews we took that made this journey even more profound for all of us.

As the saying goes “Action speaks louder than words.” It can’t be overemphasized that the importance for those who major in social studies to take the research in person. To me, the efforts we paid were not only to finish an assignment and get good grades but to mark the turning point of readjusting my mindset. Before, when people asked questions like “what’s the importance of social studies” or “what are you going to do for a living?”, I had a hard time answering them. At that time, I was puzzled that if I could do any dedication to this society with what I had learned from school. However, this adventure has guided me back on the right track. Seeing the proud faces when interviewees talked about their roots, I was so touched that people could define who they are with the culture passed from generation to generation. We all need to know where did we from before asking ourselves “where should we go?” I thought sociologists are like flashlights in the dark, directing us to a future full of uncertainties.