“tai ke” dance

What started this post was this video posted to facebook by one of my former students.  It was filmed at our school:
___So, let’s back up a little, first what is 台客 (tai ke)?
This is actually quite difficult to answer.  I’ve heard the term “tai ke” could be likened to the term “redneck” or “white trash.”  Meaning it is a certain subculture that is looked down on by the mainstream culture because of class, economic standing, and/or beliefs.

Lawrance also likened it to the hip hop culture–a subculture that is proud of who they are and where they come from that sets trends in music and clothing.

The New York Times says it is “a phrase that originally meant ‘redneck’ but has now come to encompass a youth-focused lifestyle that celebrates both the déclassé (flip-flops, Long Life cigarettes) and the haute (Gucci, Macallan).”

But, this seemingly simple term for subculture also is seeped in socio-political, historical implications.  Historically, tai ke was “used by those post-1949 mainland Chinese arriving in Taiwan with the KMT regime.”  At that time, “the term connoted ethnic discrimination towards native Taiwanese and was used specifically to articulate perceptions of their unsophisticated outlook and behaviour” (Taike rock and its discontent).

See, literally “tai ke” means “Tai guest.”  So, the mainlanders were calling the Taiwanese and Hakka people who had been on the island longer than them–guests.

But, now, thanks to Wu Bai, who has been called the king of tai ke, and the commercial efforts of music companies, the term’s negative meaning has “been subverted and is now given a positive touch to mean ‘coolness’ and confidence” (East Asian Pop Culture).  Wu Bai sees tai ke as a “direct expression of national culture.”

However, if you ask local Taiwanese people about what is “tai ke” they won’t refer to the historical or political implications.  And, most won’t tell you that it means “cool and confident.”  Instead, they will begin describing stereotypical actions of the people they consider to be “tai ke,” telling you how they drive, speak, and even chew.

Here are some things that are stereotypically thought to be “tai ke”–people who wear white and blue plastic slippers outside, have low education, chew betel nut, smoke and drink heavily, have cheaply dyed golden hair, wear imitation name-brand clothing, and hang out around temples or internet cafes, and participate in temple parades.  There are even more stereotypical characteristics and behaviors; but, more than actions and behavior, being “tai ke” is a possessing a certain attitude.

So, nowadays, telling someone who is not “tai” they are “tai” is meant to be an insult.  It would be like telling someone they have no class or are being disrespectful.  But, those who actually are “tai” find pride in being “tai.”

And, while most people in Taiwan look down on things that are “tai ke,” there is also a sense of pride across Taiwan for some of the things that have come out of the “tai ke” subculture because it is uniquely Taiwanese (This is especially true in southern Taiwan).
“Tai ke wu” is one of these things.

OK. So, that brings us back to what is 台客舞 (tai ke wu)?
It is a group dance–similar to country line dancing in that lines of people do the exact same moves at the same time.  And, that lots of people know how to do the dance.

And, like the fact that the subculture is mostly about a embodying a certain attitude so is the dance.  As I was searching for videos, I saw one Taiwanese celebrity explain that although the foot work is easy, the arm movements and attitude that one has to portray is what makes the dance so special and difficult.

Lawrance pointed out to me that since the dance originated from people who participate in temple parades and hang out at temples, they naturally incorporated certain movements and feeling from temple parade marches that are made when carrying an idol down the street.

There are several videos on youtube showing students doing the “tai ke” dance. Here is what seems like the most watched “tai ke wu” video on youtube.  It starts off as a group dance, but dancers back off one by one because one guy is so much better than the rest.  All the shouts and screams coming from the sidelines are people expressing their admiration for how great he is doing.  This was funny to me at first because originally I thought he was doing a poor job (kinda sloppy on the moves), but the more I learned about tai ke wu the more I realized it was all about embodying a certain attitude–and this guy’s got it.

___I liked this one that invited their teacher to join in, and she did.  Throughout the video, everyone is impressed with the middle student’s dancing ability–again, she’s got a certain attitude going.

And finally here is a modified tai ke wu (an aerobic exercise version) on the news . . . with all ages participating and the mayor of Kaohsiung promoting it.  In this video, you can see people in costume dancing as gods on stage–this is what Lawrance was talking about . . . and we’ll get into more in depth tomorrow.

qing ming jie and christians

The issue of ancestor worship is complex.  It would be impossible to express exactly what it is and what it means to the Taiwanese.  Each year I’m here I understand a little more.  And, now that I’ve married into a Taiwanese family–as a daughter-in-law to the first born son–I understand even more.

And, still words fail to truly express all that is embodied in ancestor worship.  It is more than simply worship.
Worship of the ancestors and showing filial piety is of utmost importance to the Taiwanese.

The worship of ancestors is probably the most difficult aspect of conversion to Christianity for new Taiwanese Christ-followers.  Giving up idol worship and temple worship is much easier than giving up ancestor worship.


Here are my thoughts on the matter:

(1) When a young believer (18-35 yrs old) tells his parents he is Christian, his parents hear “I don’t love you, and I am ungrateful for the fact that you have given me life and provided for me all these years.  I don’t care what happens to you after you die–rot in hell for all I care!”

(2) Ancestor worship is corporate worship.  It is almost never done alone.  The family gathers, two or three pass out incense and the worship commences.  If you refuse to participate, it appears that you are ungrateful, disrespectful and have no manners.  It’s almost as if you are spitting in the face of those who gave you life.  So, the pressure–not peer, but rather familial–is STRONG, VERY STRONG.

(3) The social function of ancestor worship is more than just “worship.”  The coming together to clean a family tomb and pay respects is a form of family reunion.  To be expelled from participating in qing ming jie is perhaps the most severe punishment that could be given in traditional society–it means that you are no longer seen as part of this family.

Dr. George MacKay, the first presbyratian missionary to Taiwan, had this to say:

This venerable cultus, the worship of ancestors, in indeed the most stubborn obstacle Christianity has to face.  It is so ingrained in the nature, and appeals touchingly to the heart, that it requires the strongest conviction and the finest moral courage to beak its thralldom and brave the scorn of friends and relatives, to whom neglect of one’s ancestors in the spirit world is the most inhuman and cruelest of crimes. (Far from Formosa, emphasis mine)

In 1925, the author of an article entitled “Chinese Ancestor Worship: A Study of Its Meaning and Its Relations with Christianity” concluded that “the problem [of ancestor worship] will ultimately be solved by the Chinese themselves. Only those who have grown up within a system in which ancestor worship is central can wisely make provision for its future evolution and sublimation. Ancestor worship still awaits treatment at the hands of those who are both truly Chinese and truly Christian. In their hands we may safely leave its destiny.”

One Christian family I know, uses a scroll to maintain the family tree instead of using ancestral tablets.  The names are still kept, family history still proudly displayed and the deceased still remembered.  We know lineage and family history is important to God–why else would there be so many lists of who begot who in Scripture if it were not?

Another family held a graveside worship service the year after their mother/grandmother had passed away on qing ming jie.  They read Scripture, prayed to the Most High God, sang praises to him, and told stories of remembrance.

I think these are great alternatives . . . the advantage these two families have is that they are not alone.  They are families of believers.  The first one was a first generation believer, but he is the oldest son and now the head of the household, and his wife and children are also believers.  The second one is a several generation Christian family (what a blessing!).

So, for those that are first generation believers, the only one in their family, the challenge to show respect to those who have gone before them and yet also want to make a stand for their faith is huge.  One alternative for first generation believers who are also the first believers in their families is to attend the ceremonies, but not participate.

This is what Lawrance and I did.  We did not hold incense, we didn’t join the group in their prayers and bows, and we burned no paper money.  After they had finished their corporate worship and had gone to line up to place incense before the gods who protected the tombs, Lawrance placed flowers inside the structure at the tomb area.

Lawrance has been a believer for 11 years now, so his parents have had time to grieve and accept the fact that he will not worship them after they’ve passed on.  Even so, Lawrance still has to stand up to the pressure from aunts and uncles to join in the worship.

My point in this very long winded post is actually quite simple.  Your Taiwanese brothers and sisters in Christ need your prayers.Would you please intercede on their behalf?  Would you pray for them to have “the strongest conviction and the finest moral courage to beak its thralldom and brave the scorn of friends and relatives”?   Ask the Most High God to give them wisdom and courage to say and do the things that are pleasing to Him.

qing ming jie con’t

After the family had worshiped Law’s paternal grandparents, we all went to the home where Law’s dad was raised.

Honestly, there seemed to be no real purpose for this stop other than to just claim we had stopped by.  However, Lawrance took advantage of the opportunity to find out just how many generations of Wu’s have been in Taiwan.
After counting on the ancestor tablet, Law’s dad found that he is the 10th generation of Wu’s in Taiwan and that Lawrance is the 11th generation.

Wu family Ancestor Tablet
After this brief stop, we drove about 5 minutes to a grave area tucked between some fields.

Entrance to the tomb area:
Worshiping the Ancestors who 1st came to Taiwan
The tomb area was actually quite large.  It was a two level area.  This photo was taken standing in front of the main “ancestor” structure looking back to the entrance gate.
Worshiping the Ancestors who 1st came to Taiwan
Around the outside of the lower area was two tomb like structures.  I assumed these were tombs–Lawrance informed me that these were for the gods who protected the tomb and the spirits of the ancestors.  One was female and the other male.
Worshiping the Ancestors who 1st came to Taiwan
Behind this structure there were 120 people buried.
Wu Burial Site
The people who gathered to worship at the Wu burial site at 10 in the morning were are all part of the Wu family–so they are all distant relatives.  But, for the majority of the people present, Lawrance has no idea how they are related.   Some, who had immigrated to the States, traveled from New York City and some from Colorado just to worship their ancestors.
Worshiping the Ancestors who 1st came to Taiwan
A few minutes past 10, incense was passed out and everyone (but Lawrance and I) took some.  Someone at the front prayed aloud for a few minutes, everyone bowed a few times then they went to leave their incense in the front.
Worshiping the Ancestors who 1st came to Taiwan
Then they lined up to leave more incense on the “tombs” of the gods who protect the site and the ancestors.
Worshiping the male god who protects the burial site
Then two stacks of paper money were set on fire–one stack for the ancestors and one stack for the gods.
burning paper money to the ancestors
After all was done, at about 10:20 or 10:30, firecrackers were set off.
One thing that dawned on me as we were there waiting for the firecrackers to be lit and were conversing with some of Law’s uncles is that even in death the difference between individualism and collectivism can be seen.  In America, we value individualism–being one’s self–we don’t mind doing things alone (ie, it is not necessary to go in a group to get a hair cut).

But, in Taiwan (and many other Asian countries) collectivism is valued–who you are is defined by your relationships.  You aren’t “LeEn;” you are “classmate,” “big sister,” and “wife.”  And, you probably do feel more comfortable if you could go with a group to get a hair cut–why would anyone want to do that alone?

And so those values can also be seen in how the dead are buried.  In America we have graveyards and tombstones for each individual who has lived.  In Taiwan, while I guess there may be some wealthy few who do have their own individual tombs, most are buried in mass graves marked with their family names.

qing ming jie

Last Monday was Qing Ming Jie (清明節), known in English as Tomb Sweeping Day.  If I am remembering correctly, it is the only holiday in Taiwan that is not based on the lunar calendar–here it is observed every April 5th.  But the Wu family observes this holiday a week early.  It was my first time to see a family as they worshiped their ancestors at their tombs.
We woke up early and were on the road before 7 AM on Sunday, March 28th.  About an hour later, we arrived at the temple that houses the urns of Lawrance’s paternal grandparents.
Worshiping Ancestors
__It was already quite busy with other families worshiping.

__While waiting for the rest of the family to arrive, I snapped a few photos.  This is a tree that is worshiped right outside the temple.
Worshiping Ancestors
__Families would start by placing their offerings on the altar.
Worshiping Ancestors
__Then they would light incense–making sure everyone had at least three.  First, they would bow facing away from the temple–this would be to the worship the “god of heaven.” This here is a photo of our family worshiping.
Worshiping Ancestors
__Here is what worship to gods and ancestors looks like in Taiwan. This is called “bai bai.”

__Next, they would move to the inside incense holder in front of the “main god” of the temple to worship. This might also be one of the only times an entire family worships together. Corporate worship is not commonplace in Taiwan.

Worshiping Ancestors
__Then they would move on to the side rooms and/or the back rooms depending on how many sticks of incense they were holding. The back rooms house other idols.

Worshiping Ancestors
__Since it was the proper time to be worshiping ancestors, the rooms where the urns were kept were actually off limits because there would be too many people present.  So, the side rooms served as another location to leave offerings to ancestors.

Worshiping Ancestors
__After everyone in the family had deposited their incense, we waited a few more minutes and then Lawrance’s dad declared it had been enough time, and everyone went back to retrieve the paper money they’d brought to burn and the offerings, this time namely fruit.

Worshiping Ancestors
__Then we headed over to an open pit for them to burn the paper money.
Worshiping Ancestors
__Here Lawrance explains some of what we were seeing:

__In this video, he explains one of the papers that was being burned to the ancestors:

__After all the paper money that our family had brought was burned, we return to Lawrance’s dad’s car and drove about 10 minutes to the home where his dad was raised. But, getting out of the parking lot proved interesting. The photo below was taken from inside L’s dad’s van . . . yeah, it was just a tad crowded at the temple that day.  What you can’t see is that there are cars parked on both sides of the road–the woman in red got of the red car to help her husband . . . AND we both (our car and their car) and MORE cars lined up behind us.  It was one of those surreal “only in Taiwan” moments for me.

__I plan to show photos from the rest of the day, which includes how the Wu family worshiped the 9 generations before grandma and grandpa, as well as reflect on some of the implications a holiday like this has on Christian believers later this week in other blog posts.

stop explained

Stop Sign

Underneath the stop sign it says: “Stop car, then drive.”

Does a stop sign really need an explanation?

seventeen years ago

Seventeen years ago in late February or early March, I confided in my mother.  I finally told her about something I had been secretly praying about for quite awhile.

We were standing at the kitchen sink peeling potatoes when I told her.  Her response to my secret prayer?  She threw the potato and peeler in the sink, turned to look me in the eyes, pointed her finger at me and very sternly said “Don’t you EVER pray things for other people without talking to them first!  Because you KNOW God answers prayer!”

Then she left me standing at the kitchen sink while she disappeared for awhile.

Up until that point, I hadn’t really considered that my prayer for something I felt God had laid on my heart to ask Him for and that I had begun to desire would affect her life.  But, in reality, it would affect her life in a HUGE way.

You see, I had been praying for a brother.

SamOn March 30, 1993, Mom and Dad sat my sister and I down to tell us that they were expecting. At first we totally thought Dad was trying to pull an early April Fool’s joke on us.  But Mom’s tears and persistence that it was true finally convinced us.

So, we told all our friends and announced to our church on the eve of April Fool’s day that there was going to be a Baby Parmley soon. No one believed us.  Many didn’t realize it wasn’t an April fool’s joke till after my mom was clearly showing her pregnancy.

I remember Dad once used Sam as an illustration in a sermon on how God answers prayer.  See, Mom and Dad had prayed for a son soon after Sarah was born–that would have been around 14 years before Sam was conceived.  To my parents, it seemed like God’s answer was no, but really it was just wait.

manda and samSo, Sam is the answer to many, many prayers from different people and across time.

A lady at our church was praying for Baby Parmley.  As she was praying, God laid the name “Samuel” on her heart.  She told us all this story, and soon everyone was calling the baby “Baby Sammy.”

Do you know what the name Samuel means?  It is Hebrew for “God heard” or “requested of God.”  What a perfect name!

God’s timing is perfect.  I can’t imagine life without this kiddo.  He’s been and still is a huge blessing!

I love you, Sambo!  And that’s no joke.
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