Breaking Cultural Barriers:One Song at a Time

Dec. 7, 2017

Written By: Rosemary Chen (陳昱安)
Photo Credit: Kevin Lin (林育賢)

Summary

The National Taiwan University (NTU) International College Provisional Office and the university’s Student Association continue to work hands-in-hands to connect local and international students through creative storytelling. Their two-month-long event series, “Be a Storyteller: Your Journey is Our Journey (有故事的旅程計畫:個人行動圖書館),” saw its third event come together, “You Play I Listen: The Music Sharing Event,” on Dec. 7, with over 35 students in attendance.

Introductions

The crowd sang out loud to the famous Cantonese song, Boundless Oceans Vast Skies (海闊天空) by Wong Ka Kui (黃家駒), while waving their phones with beaming flashlights — this is not a scene from the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement nor is it a rock concert, but a story-telling event on NTU campus.

The National Taiwan University (NTU) International College Provisional Office and the university’s Student Association continue to work hands-in-hands to connect local and international students through creative storytelling. Their two-month-long event series, “Be a Storyteller: Your Journey is Our Journey (有故事的旅程計畫:個人行動圖書館),” saw its third event come together, “You Play, I Listen: The Music Sharing Event.”

On Thursday, Dec. 7, students gathered at the NTU Liberal Arts Building’s first-floor-round-table-area to share music from their own countries. Of the 35 students, one-third were overseas Chinese students mainly from South East Asian countries.

“We want to break stereotypes about South East Asian countries and music is one of the best ways for people to connect,” said Steven Chen (陳冠儒), head of the student association’s External Affairs department.

The music sharing event began with a warm-welcome from Chen and was followed by ten music videos from seven different countries, individually introduced and with round-table discussions in between. The songs were submitted online by the participating students and were chosen either due to cultural significances or immense popularity in their home country.

Music Knows no borders

Some would nod to the music while others drummed on the table with their palms, regardless of whether the songs were played in Malaysian, Indonesian, Thai, Cantonese, or Mandarin.

For example, when the Cantonese song Attitude (態度) from a Macau band, Catalyser, played on the projector screen, many thought of equally motivating songs from their own countries.

An Indonesian overseas student shared the song Don’t Give Up with other students at her table, which sings “it might be hard now but no one is perfect, life is a blessing make the most of it,” she translated. It is resonates with the lyrics in Attitude, which encouraged young people to chase their dreams.

Other similarly motivating songs were accompanied with stories of political events, such as the song, Stick Out Your Middle Finger (揸緊中指) which was repeatedly sang during the Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution in 2014.

“It represents the darkness and change experienced in Hong Kong in the past few years and discontent towards government oppression,” said a student from Hong Kong.

Other song submissions introduced well-known melodies that are “almost comparative to our national anthems,” some joked.

The song Satu Malaysia “is stuck in everyone’s head, it was played at every public place imaginable, repeatedly, day-to-night,” said a Malaysia student. The song was part of the government’s 1Malaysia program to promote “national unity” and “bring together different ethnic groups,” explained another local.

Similarly, the Indonesian song Gebyar Gebyar also praises national unity, as Indonesia was previously under Dutch colonial rule, the song is about “loving your country and pursuing the dream of independence,” explained an overseas student from the country.

“Everyone knows the song and whenever its played we all sing together — it makes us feel united,” Ella from Indonesia shared with her table during the discussions.

When an upbeat Spanish song was played, many thought it was yet another song about national unity. But the Costa Rican overseas student explained, “It’s just a happy upbeat song that everyone sings in Costa Rica — we are the happiest country in the world after all,” according to the World Economic Forum’s Happy Planet Index.

Two Taiwanese songs were also shared at the event, Jay Chou’s famous Blue-and-White Porcelain (青花瓷) and A Little Happiness (小幸運), the movie theme song of Our Times (我的少女時代).

“If you haven’t paid much attention in your high school classes, you might not understand the song,” one student joked, as the Jay Chou’s hit-song makes many references to historical events and “represents the beauty of Chinese culture.”

Connecting with each other

“In life, we have a lot of dreams but sometimes reality gets in our way, and these songs remind us not to forget our passions,” said Suki Chau an exchange student from Hong Kong. She had brought two other friends to the event and thought music was a great way to connect with people. “I would like to have heard more Taiwanese songs though,” she said.

“I heard a lot of songs I usually would not listen to and it helped to have locals explain the meanings, literal and political, for me to really understand and appreciate the music,” said Chen Yu Tung (陳雨彤), a local Taiwanese student.

“Music is a light-hearted way to reach your audience and influence others, its an indirect way to speak one’s mind,” explained Baron Pan (潘禾脩) when asked why music has been an important element in recent Hong Kong social protests.
The Hong Kong exchange student thought the music sharing event was a simple but effective method for cultural exchange because “you don’t need to know the language to understand music.”

What’s next?

“Originally we were very nervous that no one would show up, but we’re very happy with the turnout,” said Geng Zi Yuan (耿子元) one of the ten student council members present.

“We have seen increasing numbers of overseas students show up at our story-telling events and we hope for more foreign exchange students to join the conversation,” said Li Zheng Hao (李正豪), another organizer from the council.

The last storytelling event of the year is scheduled for Dec. 21 and will see students share travel stories and unique travel destinations from home.

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