[Fragriver in Taiwan] Bookstores in Taipei: The independent bookstores/ Eslite Bookstores

Bookstores are always listed in must-visit places in almost every place I travel. I get into a habit of visiting a bookstore in any place where I visit (Of course, this bookstore should be a good one according to my own criteria), choosing some good books and recording the place, the date and signing on the first page of the book. Having one’s signature on the first page of the book seems old-fashioned now, however, just imagine yourself opening this book years later, such feeling is really amazing. Sometimes I found a book in our family’s bookshelf with my father or my mother’s signature on this, which may be dated back to 20 years ago, I feel kind of nostalgic as well as lucky for have it. Although there are thousands of blog entries regarding bookstores in Taipei and Taiwan, I just feel like to keep my own account on the bookstores I have visited in Taipei.

  1. Independent bookstores

As the capital of Taiwan, it is no doubt that the number of bookstores in Taipei outnumbers that in other cities in Taiwan. There is a wide variety of bookstores in Taipei ranging from bookstore chains for either new or used books) to independent bookstores. Independent bookstore (獨立書店) is among special features of this vibrant city and perhaps this country. In Taipei, I think it is not difficult to find an independent bookstore in a small lane or a cultural park, which maybe at the same time a coffee shop or a place where handmade souvenirs are sold. In my first month in Taipei, I attended in a speaking event regarding independent bookstores in Taipei, named Poetries from the Bookstores” (書店裡的影像詩). Poetries from the Bookstores” is a documentary filmed by Director Hou Chi-jan (侯季然), in which stories related to 40 independent bookstores and its owners all over Taiwan are featured. A picture book named “Beyond Bookstores”(書店本事), written by Fumin Yang(楊富閔)that depicted independent bookstores in Taiwan is also published. According to my observation in Taipei, I guess that “independent bookstore” is referred to one that is not run by large company or not franchised. The independent bookstores featured in the aforementioned documentary somehow represented its owners’ characteristics as well as its owners’ book preference. For example, a bookstore named “老武俠”in Taipei is ran by a taxi driver and he collected lots of wuxia novels written by Taiwanese novels (Many people often relate to wuxia novels written by Hong Kong famous writer Jin Yong but this taxi driver felt that Taiwanese wuxia novel is equally good or even better.) Or a bookstore named Brilliant Times (燦爛時光) is dedicated to sell or lend books written in South East Asian languages (Vietnamese, Indonesian, Thai, etc.). Fortunately, I attended an event held in NCCU relating to the first literature prize for the immigrants in Taiwan and happened to know that the initiator of this program is a Taiwanese person, who is passionate about helping South East Asian immigrants in Taiwan obtain equal human rights. You may find that series of documentaries on Youtube.

During my time here, I have been to a few independent bookstores only: Yue-yue bookstore (閱樂書店) in Songshan Creative Park, 青鳥 Bleu & Book Bookstore in Huashan 1914 (as far as I remember). These bookstores are beautifully decorated, facilitating quite a good atmosphere for readers as well as sparing some of its place for organizing small to middle-sized speaking events. Having a quick look at the book titles sold there, actually I found it difficult to realize any difference between books sold there and books sold in Eslite. Things that made it different perhaps lie in its limited offering of books/ topics and its decoration. There are several bookstores serving for specific languages, for example Librairie Le Pigeonnier (信鴿法國書店 Librairie Le Pigeonnier) for books in French or Junkudo Bookstore (台灣淳久堂書店) for books in Japanese.

2. Eslite Bookstores

When it comes to bookstore chains, Eslite clearly comes out first as the must-visit place for book lover if he/she visits Taiwan in general and Taipei in particular. I do not remember the number of Eslite bookstores in Taipei and Taiwan but I do think that I have been to most of them during my time there. While the head quarter in Xinyi is famous for offering the widest range of books, the Dunhua Branch is famous for its 24-hour opening. I also visited Eslite stores in Ximending, Songshan and Gongguan (near National Taiwan University) and each branch brought about different impression to me. Its Headquarter in Xinyi should be among the most favorite spots to hang out of mine during my time in Taipei. I still remember these days after finishing my class, I caught the bus Brown 18 or Green 1 to MRT Taipei Hall Station, walking for 5 minutes to get into the Eslite Building. It just took me another 3 minutes on the escalator to reach the 3th floor, where most of the books are exhibited. A bookworm, especially ones who can speak both English and Chinese, will find the bookstore a paradise for its wide and diversified offering of books in both English and Chinese. There are usually something surprising awaiting you. You may see a minimal exhibition of handmade craft immediately after entering the bookstore, or may see a crowd listening to a book introduction event, in my case, the event where Vivian Hsu introduced her book on bringing up her child. I imagine myself wandering first at the shelves for Chinese literature books, silently wishing that I could read these books smoothly without using the dictionary. Unlike the small bookstore I am used to going when in Vietnam, where English books of all kinds are humbly arranged in one small shelf, in Eslite, I can find thousands of English books arranged in different categories: Literature, History, Politics, Philosophy, Business, etc. Even in the Category of Literature, I can find different shelves for English Literature, American Literature, European Literature, Young Adult, Criminal, Literature Commentary, etc.  I picked up a book, walking to the nearest table or simply sitting down right at the corner when all the tables are fully occupied. Sometimes I felt sleepy and listened to the classical songs broadcast in the bookstore. Occasionally, the music stopped, a sweet voice floated in the air, saying: “Hi my dearest friend, welcome to Eslite Bookstore. How are you today? Are you happy at the moment?” (Original text: “親愛的朋友您好,歡迎您來到誠品。今天過得還好嗎?此刻感覺到幸福嗎?”.)  Simple yet touching. When not reading book, I sometimes went to the room where the speaking event took place, listening attentively to the speaker. Sometimes, I did nothing but observing people, imagining about their occupations, their characteristics, etc. All of the above may sound boring to many people but for me, whenever struggling for a moment of peace when living in Hanoi, these seemingly boring activities are always the first coming out of my mind.

Thing that makes Eslite Bookstore and other bookstores in Taipei memorable to me is its great offering of book or culture-related event. As I once mentioned in my post “The artistic side of Taipei”, it is very easy to attend book-related events in Taipei. Inside many bookstores in Taipei and Taiwan, the bookstore owner usually spare a space for a small stage, in which a cultural talkshow or book introduction event  will be held. The nice thing about it is that there is no boundary between people who participate in the event or the other readers who may walk by the bookstore. You can easily come in to join the event or leave it if you feel no more interested. The themes of these event may be varied from book introduction, experience sharing on topics like travel, life abroad, caring children to poem commentary or talkshow on a cultural incidence.

When in Taipei, other than Eslite Xinyi, I also visited Eslite Dunhua (the second most frequently visited one after Eslite Xinyi), Eslite Spectrum, Eslite Bookstore in Taipei Metro Station, Eslite Bookstore near National Taiwan University and Eslite Ximending. While Eslite Dunhua is famous for its opening hours of 24 hours/day, seven days/ week, Eslite Spectrum, located in Songshan Cultural and Creative Park, impressed me with its aesthetic design. Eslite Ximending is far smaller than the other Eslite bookstores. It is located on the 3rd floor of a building in the busy Ximending. My impression about Eslite Ximending is its furniture design that employs the ancient Oriental style. I also visited Eslite Bookstore in Taichung and Kao Hsiung and somehow admired this Company for their ability to make the visitor feel impressed whenever entering into each Eslite bookstore yet still finding it familiar like coming back home.

I initially intended to name this post as kinda Bookstores in Taipei – Part 1, however, I am aware of a daunting fact that I never succeed in writing the next part for every post named Part 1, which is the reason why you may see nothing like Part 1 on the title of this post. I will try to revisit this topic another day ‘coz there’s still a lot to say about the bookstores in Taipei and Taiwan.

[Book] On Liberty

For random thoughts of mine, please skip to the end (if you really care).

For summary in Vietnamese, please find the link below for your ease of reference.

Trạm Đọc | Tóm tắt sách: Bàn về tự do

I think that there were various summary notes for this book on the Internet, however, if you are interested, you may refer to the following links

Spark Notes: On Liberty

Wikipedia: On Liberty

For the free copy of the book, you may find here:

Project Gutenberg | On Liberty

on liberty

While the book has only 140 pages, it is not easy to get the author’s ideas at the first reading. I think what makes it difficult to follow what the author tried to convey should be his style of writing: too long a passage, no headline or title for ease of reading (except for the chapter title) and sometimes deviating from the key topic. So it is recommended to ones who are interested in reading the book that it is of great use to scan through the summary to catch the main ideas.

Fortunately, I came across its hard copy while wandering by a used bookstore in Taipei and bought it with too good a price (NTD100) and found the book still stay in good state. The version of mine includes the introduction by Currin V. Shields.

In this post, I do not attempt to make a comprehensive review on the book or the idea conveyed by the author but pick up several parts and add up my comments respectively.

John Stuart Mill, as referred to in the Introduction, is “no doubt the most widely known nineteenth-century British political writer.” He, like another famous political writers as far as I remember, was well equipped with a standard formal education with study of Greek/ Latin or reading of classics, history, politics and philosophy from such young an age. What makes me feel interested about his background is that notwithstanding the stern and somehow ideal education like this, John, at such young an age, often found a lack of emotional feelings. He felt no sense of purpose in life, stating himself being “left stranded at the commencement of my voyage, with a well-equipped ship and rudder, but no sail.” He sought to fill up such lack of emotional stimulation by turning to music, poetry and art with a view to remedying such defect and retaining the balanced personality. His idea of the necessity of gaining balanced personality and cultivation of emotional stimulation in addition to intellectual discipline is something that I feel totally empathized. As one who often struggles herself to get over all the accounting and legal stuff for some minutes of reading fiction or free writing, I often yearn for the need of balanced state of mind.

The book was divided into five main parts:

I. Introductory

II. Of the liberty of thoughts and discussions

III. Of Individuality, as One of the Elements of Well-Being

IV. Of the Limits to the Authority of Society over the Individuals

V. Applications

The most impressive part to me should be Part II, where the author, while stressed the importance of thoughts and discussions, also stressed the importance of being tolerant of both good and bad ideas and emphasized on the need of challenging the status quo. Some of his ideas may be valuable even in today given what we have seen in the debate on our Internet when both sides of the debate are too aggressive on their own views without really considering the reasons of the other side. It is so easy for us to find a reason to defend our arguments but it is difficult to really listen to the other side, finding some valid reasons to invalidate the other side’s argument and more difficult to admit that perhaps we are wrong indeed.

“The whole strength and value, then, of human judgment, depending on the one property, that it can be set right when it is wrong, reliance can be placed on it only when the means of setting it right are kept constantly at hand. In the case of any person whose judgment is really deserving of confidence, how has it become so? Because he has kept his mind open to criticism of his opinions and conduct. Because it has been his practice to listen to all that could be said against him; to profit by as much of it as was just, and expound to himself, and upon occasion to others, the fallacy of what was fallacious. Because he has felt, that the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner. The steady habit of correcting and completing his own opinion by collating it with those of others, so far from causing doubt and hesitation in carrying it into practice, is the only stable foundation for a just reliance on it: for, being cognisant of all that can, at least obviously, be said against him, and having taken up his position against all gainsayers—knowing that he has sought for objections and difficulties, instead of avoiding them, and has shut out no light which can be thrown upon the subject from any quarter—he has a right to think his judgment better than that of any person, or any multitude, who have not gone through a similar process.”

“The rational position for him would be suspension of judgment, and unless he contents himself with that, he is either led by authority, or adopts, like the generality of the world, the side to which he feels most inclination. Nor is it enough that he should hear the arguments of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. That is not the way to do justice to the arguments, or bring them into real contact with his own mind. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them; who defend them in earnest, and do their very utmost for them. He must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form; he must feel the whole force of the difficulty which the true view of the subject has to encounter and dispose of; else he will never really possess himself of the portion of truth which meets and removes that difficulty. Ninety-nine in a hundred of what are called educated men are in this condition; even of those who can argue fluently for their opinions. Their conclusion may be true, but it might be false for anything they know: they have never thrown themselves into the mental position of those who think differently from them, and considered what such persons may have to say; and consequently they do not, in any proper sense of the word, know the doctrine which they themselves profess. They do not know those parts of it which explain and justify the remainder; the considerations which show that a fact which seemingly conflicts with another is reconcilable with it, or that, of two apparently strong reasons, one and not the other ought to be preferred. All that part of the truth which turns the scale, and decides the judgment of a completely informed mind, they are strangers to; nor is it ever really known, but to those who have attended equally and impartially to both sides, and endeavored to see the reasons of both in the strongest light. So essential is this discipline to a real understanding of moral and human subjects, that if opponents of all important truths do not exist, it is indispensable to imagine them, and supply them with the strongest arguments which the most skillful devil’s advocate can conjure up.”

And what I am used to complaining to my friend so far, many people are so in love with categorizing the whole world into two poles: the good and the bad but forget the thing that stays between the two poles. For example, it is an idea generally accepted by many people that the West should be better than the East, as such, studying abroad in an UK university should be better than studying in a Korean university. Then, there was a time when I witnessed an influx of Vietnamese students going to the USA for overseas study, people keep writing and talking about how superior it is to study in the US until the last US election. Many Vietnamese I happened to know cast doubt on the American dream and the democracy and then easily come into conclusion that even in America, bad thing can happen like this so it is normal to witness not so good a thing in Vietnam. However, many forget that America is not the only country in the world that has democracy and why we have to set America as our only model for developing?

“It still remains to speak of one of the principal causes which make diversity of opinion advantageous, and will continue to do so until mankind shall have entered a stage of intellectual advancement which at present seems at an incalculable distance. We have hitherto considered only two possibilities: that the received opinion may be false, and some other opinion, consequently, true; or that, the received opinion being true, a conflict with the opposite error is essential to a clear apprehension and deep feeling of its truth. But there is a commoner case than either of these; when the conflicting doctrines, instead of being one true and the other false, share the truth between them; and the nonconforming opinion is needed to supply the remainder of the truth, of which the received doctrine embodies only a part.”

And here comes the three recaps of Chapter II.

“We have now recognised the necessity to the mental well-being of mankind (on which all their other well-being depends) of freedom of opinion, and freedom of the expression of opinion, on four distinct grounds; which we will now briefly recapitulate.

First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.

Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions, that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.

Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience”

The following passage is perhaps a nice guide to the manner for getting involved in discussion or debate:

“Undoubtedly the manner of asserting an opinion, even though it be a true one, may be very objectionable, and may justly incur severe censure. But the principal offences of the kind are such as it is mostly impossible, unless by accidental self-betrayal, to bring home to conviction. The gravest of them is, to argue sophistically, to suppress facts or arguments, to misstate the elements of the case, or misrepresent the opposite opinion. But all this, even to the most aggravated degree, is so continually done in perfect good faith, by persons who are not considered, and in many other respects may not deserve to be considered, ignorant or incompetent, that it is rarely possible on adequate grounds conscientiously to stamp the misrepresentation as morally culpable; and still less could law presume to interfere with this kind of controversial misconduct. With regard to what is commonly meant by intemperate discussion, namely invective, sarcasm, personality, and the like, the denunciation of these weapons would deserve more sympathy if it were ever proposed to interdict them equally to both sides; but it is only desired to restrain the employment of them against the prevailing opinion: against the unprevailing they may not only be used without general disapproval, but will be likely to obtain for him who uses them the praise of honest zeal and righteous indignation. Yet whatever mischief arises from their use, is greatest when they are employed against the comparatively defenceless; and whatever unfair advantage can be derived by any opinion from this mode of asserting it, accrues almost exclusively to received opinions. The worst offence of this kind which can be committed by a polemic, is to stigmatise those who hold the contrary opinion as bad and immoral men. To calumny of this sort, those who hold any unpopular opinion are peculiarly exposed, because they are in general few and uninfluential, and nobody but themselves feel much interest in seeing justice done them; but this weapon is, from the nature of the case, denied to those who attack a prevailing opinion: they can neither use it with safety to themselves, nor, if they could, would it do anything but recoil on their own cause. In general, opinions contrary to those commonly received can only obtain a hearing by studied moderation of language, and the most cautious avoidance of unnecessary offence, from which they hardly ever deviate even in a slight degree without losing ground: while unmeasured vituperation employed on the side of the prevailing opinion, really does deter people from professing contrary opinions, and from listening to those who profess them. For the interest, therefore, of truth and justice, it is far more important to restrain this employment of vituperative language than the other; and, for example, if it were necessary to choose, there would be much more need to discourage offensive attacks on infidelity, than on religion. It is, however, obvious that law and authority have no business with restraining either, while opinion ought, in every instance, to determine its verdict by the circumstances of the individual case; condemning every one, on whichever side of the argument he places himself, in whose mode of advocacy either want of candour, or malignity, bigotry, or intolerance of feeling manifest themselves; but not inferring these vices from the side which a person takes, though it be the contrary side of the question to our own: and giving merited honour to every one, whatever opinion he may hold, who has calmness to see and honesty to state what his opponents and their opinions really are, exaggerating nothing to their discredit, keeping nothing back which tells, or can be supposed to tell, in their favour. This is the real morality of public discussion; and if often violated, I am happy to think that there are many controversialists who to a great extent observe it, and a still greater number who conscientiously strive towards it.

The third chapter is more about how an individual should live independently from the customary life led by the previous generations.

“He who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation. He who chooses his plan for himself, employs all his faculties. He must use observation to see, reasoning and judgment to foresee, activity to gather materials for decision, discrimination to decide, and when he has decided, firmness and self-control to hold to his deliberate decision. And these qualities he requires and exercises exactly in proportion as the part of his conduct which he determines according to his own judgment and feelings is a large one. It is possible that he might be guided in some good path, and kept out of harm’s way, without any of these things. But what will be his comparative worth as a human being? It really is of importance, not only what men do, but also what manner of men they are that do it. Among the works of man, which human life is rightly employed in perfecting and beautifying, the first in importance surely is man himself. Supposing it were possible to get houses built, corn grown, battles fought, causes tried, and even churches erected and prayers said, by machinery—by automatons in human form—it would be a considerable loss to exchange for these automatons even the men and women who at present inhabit the more civilised parts of the world, and who assuredly are but starved specimens of what nature can and will produce. Human nature is not a machine to be built after a model, and set to do exactly the work prescribed for it, but a tree, which requires to grow and develop itself on all sides, according to the tendency of the inward forces which make it a living thing.”

Though progressive and liberal it seems to be, in light of the modern view, John may be criticized for his too confident view on the superiority of the Western civilisation to that of the East.

“Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end.”

“This is the case over the whole East. Custom is there, in all things, the final appeal; justice and right mean conformity to custom; the argument of custom no one, unless some tyrant intoxicated with power, thinks of resisting. And we see the result. Those nations must once have had originality; they did not start out of the ground populous, lettered, and versed in many of the arts of life; they made themselves all this, and were then the greatest and most powerful nations in the world. What are they now? The subjects or dependants of tribes whose forefathers wandered in the forests when theirs had magnificent palaces and gorgeous temples, but over whom custom exercised only a divided rule with liberty and progress. A people, it appears, may be progressive for a certain length of time, and then stop: when does it stop? When it ceases to possess individuality. If a similar change should befall the nations of Europe, it will not be in exactly the same shape: the despotism of custom with which these nations are threatened is not precisely stationariness. It proscribes singularity, but it does not preclude change, provided all change together. We have discarded the fixed costumes of our forefathers; every one must still dress like other people, but the fashion may change once or twice a year. We thus take care that when there is change, it shall be for change’s sake, and not from any idea of beauty or convenience; for the same idea of beauty or convenience would not strike all the world at the same moment, and be simultaneously thrown aside by all at another moment. But we are progressive as well as changeable: we continually make new inventions in mechanical things, and keep them until they are again superseded by better; we are eager for improvement in politics, in education, even in morals, though in this last our idea of improvement chiefly consists in persuading or forcing other people to be as good as ourselves. It is not progress that we object to; on the contrary, we flatter ourselves that we are the most progressive people who ever lived. It is individuality that we war against: we should think we had done wonders if we had made ourselves all alike; forgetting that the unlikeness of one person to another is generally the first thing which draws the attention of either to the imperfection of his own type, and the superiority of another, or the possibility, by combining the advantages of both, of producing something better than either.”

Given that the essay was published in 1859 in the period of colonialism, it is unavoidable that the author held such a view.

It is said in the introduction that the subsequent essay of John “On Social Freedom”, John somehow switched from his liberal, individualistic position toward socialism and idealism. As noted below, there was a time I used to be obsessed with the idea of individualism as stated in the novel “The Fountainhead” written by Ayn Rand and recently found myself moving toward socialism. It may be worth a try to find his later essay to understand about his view conveyed in this regard.


I have never thought that I get hooked on the topics related to philosophy, politics, etc. before I started reading philosophy-related books, i.e. “Sophie’s World” and “From Socrates to Sartre: The Philosophic Quest” two years ago. During the last two years, perhaps more than two years, I am often obsessed with the idea of individuality. My favorite period in philosophic history should be the Enlightenment period, I am a little bit obsessed with individualism and fall in love with The Fountainhead written by Ayn Rand wherein the author emphasized on the pursuit of self-interest as the means to the well-being of society as a whole. I often wonder about the limitation to freedom of speech and question about the legitimacy of totalitarianism. I am a great supporter of feminism and uphold the idea that people are allowed to do anything provided that their actions do not cause any inconvenience to anyone. I am more likely to lean toward the idea that learning should be for learning’s sake and learning is more like a means of setting ones free. When I came to Taiwan and had more time on my own, reading more books and staying in the same class with friends who hold too liberal a view, I just felt somehow I have been liberal and held some kinds of complacent view toward the view that I hold. I was a little bit perplexed when my French friend held aggressive view toward giant corporations and financial institutions while I thought it was not so bad indeed to work in big firms. When coming back in Vietnam, I found myself often in the aggressive mood to the crony capitalism.

I do not mean to get you perplexed with all the terms as mentioned above. I am always in such confusing state of mind and though I love reading on philosophy or politic, I am often messed up with many schools of thoughts and the more I read the more I know that I know nothing in this regard. I just have vague ideas about what it means by saying “left”, “right”, “pan”, “liberalism”, “utilitarianism”, “socialism”. While my current concern now is more about the individualism, the equality, and the complicated relationship between the individuals and the society, all of my ideas were merely random thoughts collected from various sources and by now, it is a good news to me to say that I no longer hold a complacent view toward what I learnt or how I viewed the world.

[Fragriver in Taiwan] Hualien – Taroko National Park: A nice trip to the great nature

I left Taipei for Hualien right on 26 November at the first day after finishing my Chinese course at NCCU, starting my 7-day trip around this beautiful island. I felt a little bit moody that day when packing and moving out of my beloved dormitory at NCCU. Thinking about my very first days setting my very first steps on the uphill dormitory, thinking about the first day getting lost at the longest trail reaching the main entrance of this university, I can’t help feeling sad. Thanks to the great support of Tam, a Vietnamese friend of mine and many other nice Taiwanese friends on the way, I managed to move my 45-kilogram luggage (It was not until when I reached Taoyuan Airport that I realised how heavy my luggage was) to the downhill campus and leave them at the dorm of Tam. Even when I knew that I would get back to NCCU and Taipei the following week, the feeling of leaving something that had been a part of my life for the last three months was really unbearable.

After picking out necessary stuff for my next 7-day trip around Taiwan, I said goodbye to Tam and headed for Songshan Station, where I caught train to Ruifang Station then bus to Bitoujiao. Thing, however, did not come up as planned. I mistook the high-speed train for ordinary train, reaching Ruifang after being penalised for not buying the HSR ticket and was unable to find the bus route to go to Bitoujiao. Therefore, instead of going to Bitoujiao first then leaving Bitoujiao for Hualien,I decided to buy the ordinary train ticket to go to Hualien immediately. Fortunately, I bought the ticket with a seat beside the window so four-hour traveling was quite interesting when I could have a look at beautiful scenery ranging from forest, river to paddy field and ocean. I still felt a little bit moody, staring at the GPS point on my Google Maps and realized how far I had been from Taipei and silently sang the song “Memory” (記念) of Tanya Chua, which added more romantic feelings to my travel.

View of the East Coast on the train from Ruifang to Hualien

It was around 7pm when I reached Hualien Station. After setting very first steps out the Station, a feeling of scary suddenly came across my mind. Hualien is not as busy as Taipei and it somehow made me remember the little towns in the Center of Vietnam like Phu Yen, Ninh Thuan. It was the first time I really had a trip on my own and I stayed in a hostel so it was a little bit scaring to me. When in Taipei, I stayed in the school dormitory and at least school can be considered my home. However, when in Hualien, I started to realise that I was on my own. It took me around 5 minutes to locate my hostel, Big Bear Hostel. As I was so tired after a day busy moving out and traveling, I decided to buy some snack at 7 Eleven right at the street corner. What I really appreciated during my time in Taiwan is its people’s compliance with law. Even in Hualien, a little town in Taiwan, the pedestrians wait for the green light and walk right on the zebra crossing. After checking the weather of the following day and knowing that it might rain hard, I decided to book a tour to Taroko National Park with the hostel owner.

It turned out to be a wise choice, at least to me. One person of the tour agent came by the hostel at 8am to take me to Hualien Station, where I got on another bus with around 30 tourists. It seemed that there were only Chinese-speaking tourists on my bus that day so the driver cum the tour guide introduced to tourists a lot of information related to Hualien and Taroko. I did not expect that having a tour guide was that useful because back in Vietnam, the tour guide that we had when traveling by big group often provides with few information related to the destination but trying so bad to entertain us with songs or jokes. Perhaps it is the good thing that the driver is the tour guide at the same time so he is too busy to over-entertain the tourists. The tour guide/driver shared with us information related to Hualien, its aborigines, Hualien City’s policy of promoting the minority there. On the bus, I sat by an old man and his daughter. This man should be around 70 years old while his daughter was around 40 years old. After a quick chitchat, I knew that the old man came from Pingtung while her daughter had migrated to Canada for around 25 years. She just came back and had a trip with her father. While I took some photos, that daughter came to me and said that her father wanted to offer me with a cup of coffee. I was so surprised and asked her about the reason for such special treat. The reason was very simple, she said, “Because you come here alone.” We, however, did not chat a lot then but focused on enjoying the beautiful scenery on the way as much as possible. It was a pity that it rained so hard that day but the beautiful scenery compensated any disappointment caused by the rain.

The two tourists who offered me a cup of coffee (at the right corner of the photo)
The tour guide cum driver

Here come my photos taken during my trip to Hualien. There were moments that I felt myself at a loss for words for the magnificent scenery offered by the Mother Nature in front of my eyes. There were times that I felt like myself walking in a traditional Chinese painting with temple and bridge, mountain and river, waterfall and cliff, etc. Nice poem written by Li Bai, a famous poet of Tang Dynasty, which I learnt when I was at secondary school, suddenly came across my mind:

View of a Waterfall at Mount Lushan

Sunlit is the Incense Summit, aglow in smoke and steam;

To afar, like a drape that glitters, a waterfall hangs upstream:

 Flowing, flying, fluttering ~ plunging three thousand feet,

 As if it were the Silver River, falling from the heaven supreme.

(Original text:


– 李白—





Vietnamese translation:

Vọng Lư sơn bộc bố

– Lý Bạch –

Nhật chiếu Hương Lô sinh tử yên,

Dao khan bộc bố quải tiền xuyên.

Phi lưu trực há tam thiên xích,

Nghi thị Ngân Hà lạc cửu thiên.)

The tour then ended at Qixingtan Beach. The beach is not kind of sandy beach that I used to visit when I was in Vietnam but a beach full of pebble which is not so ideal for swimming. Actually, it was a little bit dangerous so the tour guide kept warning the tourists not to get down the water for fear of its unpredictable depth causing harm to the tourists. However, for one like me, who are not so keen on swimming, it is an enjoyable experience to have a one-hour walk on my own along the beach, play with the pebbles by arranging one on each other and simply sit down facing the wide Pacific Ocean. That feeling of traveling on my own to the place I have long desired for makes me feel somehow satisfactory and lucky for the fact that I am still young and free.

Hualien in the rainy night

[Dịch]”Họ đã học môn Giáo dục công dân như thế nào?” – Long Ứng Đài

Quái lạ, Đài Loan sao lại có nhiều 7-Eleven đến như vậy?

Ngày 21 tháng 3 năm 2006, “Tọa đàm tư tưởng Long Ứng Đài” được tổ chức tại Hội trường lớn Đại học Quốc lập Thanh Hoa[i], chủ đề “Người Đài Loan có thể có ý thức công dân thế giới không?”.

Hôm nay nói chuyện về ý thức công dân thế giới, tôi muốn bắt đầu nói từ hai đối tượng nghiên cứu nghiệp dư của tôi. Hai đối tượng nghiên cứu này, một người năm nay (2006) 15 tuổi, người còn lại 20 tuổi, hai người này từ khi còn nhỏ sớm tối đã ở bên tôi. Tôi muốn chia sẻ với mọi người, tôi đã nhìn thấy ý thức công dân thế giới từ hai đối tượng nghiên cứu này như thế nào.

Mẹ là quan chức hủ bại

Đối tượng thứ nhất, năm cậu ấy 12 tuổi, có một hôm, khi tôi đang là viên chức của Chính quyền Thành phố Đài Bắc cùng một số nhà báo dùng bữa, đứa trẻ 12 tuổi này cũng tham gia cùng. Khi tôi giới thiệu với cậu ấy vài người bạn tốt, đối tượng 12 tuối này ngay lập tức phản pháo tôi: “Mọi người làm sao có thể là bạn tốt được? Mẹ là quan chức, họ là nhà báo, mọi người chỉ có thể có quan hệ giám sát và bị giám sát, làm sao có thể trở thành bạn tốt được?” Phản ứng trực tiếp của cậu ấy lúc đó làm tôi sững sờ. Một đứa trẻ 12 tuổi làm sao có thể có khái niệm đó được, biết được truyền thông và quan chức chính phủ có mối quan hệ giám sát và bị giám sát? Ai dạy cậu ta vậy?

Khi đối tượng nghiên cứu 13 tuổi, có một chuyện như này xảy ra, câu chuyện này tôi đã từng kể, hơn nữa còn được lưu truyền rộng rãi hơn. Có một ngày đứa trẻ 13 tuổi đó từ Đức tới Đài Bắc thăm tôi, tôi rất vui dẫn cậu ấy đi một cửa hàng giày nổi tiếng để mua giày. Nguyên nhân tôi đi là vì ngày đó tôi còn đang làm tại Cục Văn hóa có quan hệ hợp tác với hãng giày này, hãng giày này từng quyên góp 8000 đôi giày, giám đốc thương hiệu từng nói với tôi: “Lần sau con chị đến Đài Loan mà muốn mua giày, em sẽ giảm nửa giá cho chị.” Tôi kể với cậu ấy duyên cớ, cậu ấy liền nhảy dựng lên chuẩn bị đi giày theo tôi ra cửa. Nhưng cậu ấy vừa buộc dây giày, vừa quay đầu lại nói với tôi: “Mẹ con mình đi mua giày, nhưng mẹ phải thật rõ ràng! Nếu mẹ con mình mua giày giảm nửa giá, mẹ sẽ là quan chức hủ bại!”

Lúc đó tôi liền nhảy dựng lên, nói: “Con nói vậy là ý gì?” Cậu ta liền đáp lại: “Lẽ nào mẹ không biết chuyện Gysi đã từ chức như thế nào sao?[ii]

Gysi là người Đông Đức, là chủ tịch một đảng thiểu số. Vị chủ tịch Đảng này lúc đó vừa lên tiêu đề các báo chuyện từ chức. Vì sao vậy? Bởi vì đảm nhiệm vị trí chủ tịch, Gysi thường đi công tác bằng máy bay, tích lũy rất nhiều dặm bay, thế là nhận được một vé máy bay miễn phí, thế là vị chủ tịch này liền tặng người thân trong nhà vé máy bay ưu đãi đó để đi nghỉ. Trong bối cảnh xã hội Đức, hành động này bị coi là biến của công thành của tư, ông ta vì vậy mà phải từ chức.

Đứa trẻ 13 tuổi đó vừa đi giày vừa nói với tôi, vị giám đốc kia giảm nửa giá cho tôi là bởi lẽ tôi từng vì việc công mà hợp tác với họ, mẹ đưa con đi mua giày giảm giá là đã chuyện cá nhân chiếm hữu ưu đãi mang tới từ việc công, như vậy mẹ là quan chức hủ bại.

Sau đó chúng tôi không mua giày nữa? Tôi đương nhiên là không mua nữa, giày thì tới chỗ khác mua trọn giá.

Rốt cục xã hội như thế nào lại để một đứa trẻ 13 tuổi, không những hiểu được vị chủ tịch đảng vì sao từ chức, không những hiểu được chuyện chiếm hữu của công thành của tư mà còn đem nguyên tắc đó áp dụng vào thực tế cuộc sống?

Đức Giáo hoàng chọn sai rồi

Đối tượng nghiên cứu 13 tuổi khi ở thời điểm 15 tuổi, tại thời điểm Giáo hoàng Roma được lựa chọn lại, tới thời điểm cuối cùng khi phải lựa chọn giữa ba người, một người là giám mục người châu Phi, một người là giám mục Mỹ La-tinh, còn một người là giám mục người Đức. Ngày công bố kết quả, đối tượng nghiên cứu 15 tuổi đó vừa đi học về, vừa vào cửa tôi liền hỏi cậu ấy: “Con biết kết quả chưa?” Bởi vì tôi biết cậu ấy đặc biệt quan tâm đến vấn đề này. Cậu ta liền nói biết rồi. Vì vậy, tôi hỏi cậu ấy: “Con và bạn học của con, các con là người Đức không cảm thấy tự hào vì Giáo hoàng mới là người Đức sao?” Không ngờ đối tượng 15 tuổi đó trả lời, chúng con đều thất vọng.

Tôi rất ngạc nhiên, dò hỏi nguyên nhân.

Cậu ấy nói cậu ta và bạn học đều cảm thấy rằng, Đức Giáo hoàng Thiên chúa giáo xưa nay đều rất bảo thủ, nhưng mà vị Giáo hoàng tiền nhiệm người Ba Lan thì đã có rất nhiều đột phá. Họ cảm thấy rằng nếu vị Giáo hoàng tiếp theo là người châu Phi, hoặc người Mỹ La-tinh, từ những nơi xa xôi đó, từ những tộc người và nền văn hóa yếu thế đó có một vị Giáo hoàng, điều đó cho thấy Thiên chúa giáo sẽ có một bước tiến vượt bậc. Kết quả, không ngờ lại chọn một vị truyền thống nhất, đến từ  Đức, trung tâm của châu Âu, họ cảm thấy rằng ý nghĩa tượng trưng của bước tiến đó đã mất đi một nửa.

Tôi hỏi cậu ấy: “Cá nhân con nghĩ vậy? Hay là bạn cùng lớp con nghĩ vậy?” Cậu ấy nói bạn học của cậu đều nghĩ như thế, đến cả cô giáo lúc lên lớp thảo luận cũng nghĩ như vậy.

Trong lòng tôi thầm nghĩ, một đứa trẻ 15 tuổi, từ lúc nào bắt đầu ý thức thế nào được coi là tiên tiến, thế nào là lạc hậu, thế nào là cầu tiến, thế nào là bảo thủ? Rồi từ lúc nào hình thành giá trị quan như vậy, tin tưởng vào những dân tộc và nền văn hóa yếu thế cần được chú ý đặc biệt, hoặc cần được nâng lên đặc biệt? Quan niệm đó từ lúc nào lại xâm nhập vào đầu óc những đứa trẻ này như vậy?

Hàng tạp hóa không còn nữa

Đối tượng nghiên cứu 15 tuổi cùng anh trai 19 tuổi một lần tới Đài Bắc. Họ đi bộ trên đường phố Đài Bắc, phát hiện hầu như góc phố nào cũng có 7-Eleven, tôi nghe thấy hai đối tượng nghiên cứu nói chuyện với nhau.

Đứa nhỏ hỏi đứa lớn: “Quái lạ, Đài Loan sao lại có nhiều 7-Eleven như vậy?”

Đứa lớn nói với đứa nhỏ: “Anh cũng thấy kỳ quặc! Chính phủ chả nhẽ cũng để như vậy à?”

Lúc đó tôi không kìm được liền xen vào. Tôi nói quái lạ nhỉ, 7-Eleven thì có gì không đúng đâu? Nó rất tiện lợi mà. Tiện thể nói cho các con hay, Đài Loan là nơi có mật độ cửa hàng tiện lợi cao nhất thế giới đó. Có vấn đề gì không?

Lúc đó hai đứa bé bắt đầu công kích tôi:

“7-Eleven là tập đoàn đa quốc gia, có tài lực và nhân lực dồi dào, có thể vận hành suốt 24 giờ. Nhưng mà những cửa hàng tạp hóa bình thường, hoặc những cửa hàng nho nhỏ mang dấu ấn cá nhân của các bà các mẹ, không thể một ngày làm việc 24 giờ được, mà biết đâu một gia đình có bố mẹ cùng con cái luân phiên chăm lo việc kinh doanh. Nếu 7-Eleven nhiều như vậy, cho thấy hệ thống tập đoàn đa quốc gia đang tiêu diệt văn hóa những cửa hàng nhỏ, hơn nữa còn làm những cửa hàng nhỏ đặc sắc bị tiêu diệt triệt để. Vì vậy, nếu muốn bảo vệ sự đa dạng của xã hội, cần duy trì bản sắc của thành phố, chính phủ phải chú ý, các tập đoàn lớn đa quốc gia không được mở nhiều cửa hàng như vậy.”

Tôi lấy những ví dụ này, bao gồm chuyện lằn ranh giữa công và tư, chuyện nhà báo và quan chức, Đức Giáo hoàng quá bảo thủ, nền văn hóa yếu thế hay chuyện những cửa hàng truyền thống đặc sắc của chủ kinh doanh nhỏ cần được bảo vệ, v.v. không phải là muốn thảo luận chuyện quan niệm và chủ trương của những đứa nhỏ là đúng hay sai, mà muốn nhấn mạnh, những vấn đề hai cậu thanh thiếu niên quan tâm và quan niệm cùng lập trường của hai cậu ấy, thực ra chính là giáo dục công dân, một hình thức giáo dục ý thức công dân thế giới.

Ý thức giáo dục công dân thế giới của hai đứa trẻ từ đâu tới vậy? Ai dạy hai đứa trẻ này vậy?

Khi tôi chuẩn bị bài diễn thuyết này, tôi cùng đối tượng nghiên cứu, lúc này đã 20 tuổi nói, ngày 21/3 mẹ tại Thanh Hoa nói chuyện, là về chủ đề này, mẹ muốn phỏng vấn con. Mẹ con mình ngồi xuống, nói với nhau vấn đề này nhé.

Con nghĩ mẹ là người nước nào?

Cậu ấy nói: “Mẹ quên rồi sao? Khi con học lớp mẫu giáo, sách minh họa có rất nhiều nhân vật chính không phải là John hay Maria người Đức, mà là Ali người Thổ Nhĩ Kỹ.

Người Thổ Nhĩ Kỳ là nhóm dân tộc thiểu số lớn nhất tại Đức. Tôi có nhớ, có rất nhiều sách tranh cho trẻ em, trong đó Ali là nhân vật chính, để cho những đứa trẻ người Đức hiểu được câu chuyện của Ali người Thổ Nhĩ Kỳ như thế nào, nói ngôn ngữ gì, vì sao lại làm như thế này, vì sao lại làm như thế kia, vì sao lại ăn đồ ăn thức uống như thế này, đó chính là giáo dục sự đa dạng văn hóa.

Cậu ấy nói: “Mẹ quên rồi sao? Năm con 4 tuổi tham gia đội bóng đá. Mỗi lần trước trận đấu, huấn luyện viên đều nói chuyện với chúng con, thực ra mỗi lần đều nói: Làm thế nào để hợp tác với đội bóng, làm sao tôn kính quyền uy của huấn luyện viên, nhưng cũng nói nếu con có vấn đề gì, làm thế nào để con nói chuyện với quyền uy mà con phản đối.”

Sau đó cậu ấy nói: “Mẹ quên rồi sao? Năm con học lớp 3, mẹ đến trường, mẹ rất ngạc nhiên vì trên bích báo của trường, có dán bức thư tình của một học sinh nam 10 tuổi cho một học sinh nữ.”

Tôi nhớ chứ, đó là họ đang tiến hành giáo dục về giới tính.

Cậu ấy lại nói: “Mẹ quên năm con học lớp 5, chúng con có tiến hành hội vận động toàn trường, đi bộ vì Nepal sao?

Ở Đức, học lớp 5 không còn là tiểu học, mà là học cấp hai rồi. Trường học của tụi nhỏ lúc đó quyết định, mỗi đứa trẻ chạy vài vòng, ngân hàng địa phương sẽ dựa theo số vòng chạy của những đứa trẻ để quyên góp, cậu chạy một vòng thì quyên 100 đồng, chạy hai vòng thì quyên 200 đồng. Tiền quyên góp được thì để làm gì? Mang đến những vùng cao Nepal để xây trường học. Thông qua hoạt động đó, những đứa bé lớp 5 ở châu Âu đã có mối liên hệ với những đứa trẻ Nepal.

Cậu ấy lại nói: “Mẹ quên ròi sao năm con học lớp 7 có bài thuyết trình, phải đứng trước lớp trình bày. Chủ đề mà con được chỉ định là “McDonald trong bối cảnh toàn cầu hóa”, thuyết trình về hình thức kinh doanh của Công ty này, hơn nữa con còn làm thuyết trình bằng PowerPoint, mẹ quên rồi sao?”

Tôi nhớ chứ.

Tiếp theo đó cậu bảo: “Năm con học cấp 3 con có cùng mẹ thảo luận, mẹ con mình cùng đọc kịch bản “Galileo” của Bertolt Brecht.”  Môn tiếng Đức, cũng là môn Ngữ văn của họ. “Mẹ quên rồi sao, lúc đó mẹ con mình thảo luận về kịch bản này, chủ đề thảo luận chính là gì?”

Trong kịch bản, Bertolt Brecht miêu tả Galileo đối mặt với những lựa chọn cuộc đời, lựa chọn khác nhau thể hiện những phương thức suy nghĩ khác nhau về giá trị sinh mệnh. Dưới sự áp bức của Giáo hội, Galileo có hai lựa chọn, một là chọn dũng cảm vì nghĩa, đấu tranh với giáo hội tới cùng. Chọn chết, ông ta sẽ trở thành người bảo vệ niềm tin, thành người anh hùng vì chân lý; tuy nhiên có thể trở thành người anh hùng rơm, bởi lẽ những nghiên cứu trước đó của ông sẽ không có cách nào giữ lại được, về sau cũng không thể nào tiếp tục nghiên cứu. Tuy nhiên lối suy nghĩ đó cũng thể hiện rõ giá trị mà cậu ấy kiên trì ủng hộ.

Một lựa chọn khác là tôn trọng sinh mệnh. Lựa chọn khuất phục trước Giáo hội, vì vậy có thể được sống tiếp, có thể thông qua phương thức trường kỳ, dần dần cải biến lối suy nghĩ của xã hội, nhưng làm vậy anh không còn là anh hùng nữa, đồng thời bị làm nhục, thất bại, và dần dần suy thoái. Đối tượng nghiên cứu 20 tuổi của tôi nói, trong khi đọc các tác phẩm văn học tiếng Đức, họ thực ra mượn cớ để thảo luận cá nhân đối diện với xã hội, đối diện với quyền uy, và đưa ra những lựa chọn đạo đức như thế nào.

Đây cũng là giáo dục công dân.

Tiếp đó tôi hỏi cậu ấy, vậy thế nào là yêu nước? Giáo dục công dân thường được đặt ngang với lòng yêu nước. Ở rất nhiều quốc gia, nói đến giáo dục công dân là nói về nhận diện quốc gia, vi dụ Kennedy từng nói, “Đừng hỏi Tổ quốc đã làm gì cho ta, mà phải hỏi ta đã làm gì cho Tổ quốc.”

Tôi hỏi đối tượng nghiên cứu 20 tuổi: “Vậy các con từ lúc nào được dạy rằng Chính phủ cũng có thể có sai lầm? Được giáo dục rằng Quốc gia của con có thể đã sai rồi hoặc có thể không tốt?”

Các bạn đoán phản ứng của cậu ấy lúc đó như thế nào không? Cậu ấy cười lớn, biểu cảm còn có vẻ coi thường nhìn tôi nói: “Mẹ nghĩ con là người nước nào? Mẹ hỏi một người Đức vấn đề này sao? Mẹ biết lịch sử ba mươi năm phát xít đã cho chúng con bài học như thế nào? Quốc gia vĩnh viễn sai rồi!”

Cậy ấy nói: “Mẹ lẽ nào không nghĩ đến, cuộc vận động học sinh những năm 60 yêu cầu điều gì sao? Họ phê phán những điều gì? Mẹ quên rằng năm 1989, chúng ta đã gỡ bỏ bức tường Berlin, xóa bỏ một quốc gia. Vậy vấn đề này, mẹ sao lại đi hỏi một thiếu niên người Đức? Vấn đề này mẹ nên đi hỏi người Mỹ yêu nước cố chấp ấy.”

Giáo dục công dân không tồn tại

Tôi hiểu rồi. Giáo dục công dân không phải là một môn học công dân, mà là một loại hình ý thức xuyên suốt các giáo trình và các hoạt động ngoại khóa.

Nói thế nào nhỉ?

Hoàn cảnh trường học, từ vườn trẻ đến tiểu học, cấp hai trở lên, một lớp nếu có hai mươi người, ít nhất nửa lớp là trẻ con nước ngoài, có thể là từ Iran, Afganistan, Hàn Quốc hoặc Trung Quốc; còn trong nửa còn lại những đứa trẻ bản địa, có thể có một nửa là con lai. Vì vậy trong quá trình trưởng thành, nhìn sang phải nhìn sang trái đều là người nước ngoài, từ rất nhỏ đã hình thành thói quen tiếp xúc khăng khít với nền văn hóa nước ngoài.

Tôi cũng nhớ đến, cậu ta hồi còn đi học có rất nhiều người bạn là học sinh trao đổi cả đến và đi, bạn học cũng ra nước ngoài học một năm, cũng không ngừng có bạn là người nước ngoài. Tôi cùng lúc nhận ra, giáo dục công dân của cậu ấy, không phải là trường thiết kế ra một môn học gọi là “Công dân với xã hội” hay “Công dân với chính trị”, giáo dục công dân của cậu ấy hoàn toàn nằm trong các môn học.

Khi cậu ấy học môn Chính trị học, cậu ấy nói về chuyện thể chế chính trị quốc gia.

Khi cậu ấy học môn Xã hội học, cậu ấy nói về những vấn đề của xã hội.

Sau đó khi học về Tôn giáo và Luân lý, cậu ấy nói đến việc cá nhân đối diện với hoàn cảnh như thế nào.

Môn Anh văn của cậu ấy – Cậu ấy khi học lớp 3 bắt đầu học tiếng Anh, tới lớp 5, lớp 6 có thể đọc văn bản tiếng Anh, thảo luận về vấn đề chế độ dân trị của Mỹ.

Năm lớp 5 ở lớp Pháp văn, cậu ấy nói chuyện về tình hình cuộc sống của nhóm người Ả rập thiểu số.

Môn địa lý của cậu ấy dạy về việc toàn cầu hóa sẽ tác động đến kinh tế thị trường như thế nào.

Môn giáo dục công dân thế giới không tồn tại đấy còn thông qua đọc báo.

Hai năm trước, sau trận động đất và sóng thần Ấn Độ Dương[iii], báo chí Đức liên tục đưa tin về vấn đề trận động đất và sóng thần Ấn Độ Dương, tờ báo lớn có bản đặc biệt cho thanh thiếu niên, hỏi bạn: “Trận động đất và sóng thần Ấn Độ Dương gây ra thiệt hại về người cho những quốc gia nghèo, những quốc gia giàu có đối với những nước nghèo có trách nhiệm hay không?” Ngoài ra, thông qua truyền hình, có rất nhiều tin tức quốc tế và thảo luận về vấn đề này, thông qua bữa cơm gia đình nói chuyện, đó chính là giáo dục ý thức công dân thế giới.

Giáo dục công dân mang tính toàn diện tác động.

Hôm kia trên đường tôi lái xe tới Thanh Hoa, nghe radio, không biết vì sao có phát sóng chương trình của BBC. Cả một tiếng đồng hồ, lái xe từ Đài Bắc đến Tân Trúc nghe hết, chủ đề là biện luận về việc hợp pháp hóa thuốc phiện, heroin, các loại ma túy.

Người dẫn chương trình ở London, ông ấy đầu tiên gọi điện cho một chuyên viên phụ trách vấn đề ma túy của Liên hợp quốc tại Brussels, vì vậy toi có thể nghe được ý kiến từ góc độ chuyên viên Liên hợp quốc.

Cú điện thoại sau ông ấy gọi cho một cảnh sát nằm vùng trong băng đảng buôn lậu ma túy hơn 30 năm ở Massachusettes, Mỹ, hỏi ông ta quan điểm về vấn đề này.

Cảnh sát nói xong, người dẫn chương trình nối điện thoại tới Afghanistan, trực tiếp hỏi một người nông dân trồng hoa thuốc phiện. Sau đó, cuộc điện thoại tiếp theo gọi đến một thành viên xã hội đen buôn bán ma túy tại Columbia, Nam Mỹ.

Cuộc điện thoại tiếp theo gọi đến một người nghiện ở Mexico nói chuyện về kinh nghiệm đau khổ của anh ta. Lại thêm một cú điện thoại nữa tới nhân viên phi chính phủ Berlin, lại cú nữa tới chuyên gia cai nghiện người Pakistan.

Một tiếng đồng hồ nghe thảo luận, tôi chợt nghĩ, toàn bộ giáo dục công dân thế giới, không phải là vấn đề mở một môn học Công dân, bản thân nó đã nằm trong các môn học của nhà trường, nằm trong tin tức trên truyền hình, trong phần thảo luận trên đài radio, trong một chương trình biểu diễn ca nhạc, trong lễ hội carnival. Ý thức đó thâm nhập trong mọi mặt của cuộc sống, mọi chi tiết nhỏ của cuộc sống này.

[i]  National Tsinghua University – Đại học Quốc lập Thanh Hoa, Đài Loan. Phân biệt với Đại học Thanh Hoa, Trung Quốc

[ii] Germany: Politician resigns over Frequent-Flyer-Miles scandal 

[iii] Động đất và sóng thần Ấn Độ Dương năm 2004

Nguồn: Long Ứng Đài (龍應台), “Lắng nghe”(傾聽)(2016)

Link: 龍應台專文:他們是怎麼上公民課的

[Book] Amsterdam – Ian McEwan


It should be among the books that consumed my time the least (but not necessarily my effort) to finish. It just took me two days, interrupted with meetings with friends and family during Tet Holiday, to complete it. I was a little bit discouraged while scanning the very first pages but its choice use of English and its complicated and subtle thinking process of the two main characters made it a difficult task to put it down. And when it came to the very final pages of the book, there are still lots of questions stuck in my mind.

The book was a peculiar one from its title. While the title is “Amsterdam”, the reader should expect that the story generally took place in London and it is not until the page 155 that the background of the story shifts to Amsterdam.

The main characters of the book are Clive Linley, a celebrated composer who was struggling for coming out with a masterpiece to welcome millennium and Vernon Halliday, a managing editor of a tabloid, struggling for preventing the circulation from falling. The two are close friends, as mutually assumed by each other during most of the story, such friendship, however, was once doubted by Clive as whether he had mistaken a scum for a friend when he tried re-defining their friendship. The two were connected by fond memories of their mutual old lover and resentment towards her very recent lovers, Julian Garmony, the Foreign Secretary, a notorious right-winged standing to be the next prime minister. They met each other in the funeral of Molly, their aforementioned old lover, who died of a mental decline, which turned “Molly, restaurant critic, gorgeous wit, and photographer, the daring gardener, who had been loved by the foreign secretary” into the sick-room prisoner of her husband, George. Such event then led them to agree with each other that if Clive, in any occasion, “get ill in a major way like Molly”, and “make terrible mistakes”, “errors of judgement”, “not knowing of names of things or who I was”, Vernon, as his oldest friend, will help him finish his life. While it is illegal in the UK for euthanizing anyone and Clive would not want to put his oldest friend on the wrong side of law, implicitly referred to “ways”, “places”, where such act is not considered illegal. The two were then depicted in their mundane lives struggling for their career. Vernon felt him to borne the mission of publishing the secret photos of Julian where Julian dressed like woman in an attempt to show Julian’s hypocrisy (actually, I was a little bit perplexed at such point. It seems that a right-winged one will be concurrently deemed to oppose marriage equality and it was condemned as “hypocrisy” by Vernon) but more important that it should be a catastrophe if Julian becomes the next Prime Minister (“There’ll be even more people living below the poverty line, more people in prison, more homeless, more crime, more riots like last year. He’s been speaking in favour of national service. The environment will suffer because he’d rather please his business friends than sign the accords on global warming. He wants to take us out of Europe.” – Given the world we are living in recently, it sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) Such intention, however, was disapproved by Clive for he perceived that the whole rationale is not relevant and more important, such an act is a betrayal to Molly cause it was a trust respected by Molly. Clive is not any better. While vacationing in the Lake District, as he summoned his effort to compose the signature melody for the millennial celebrations, he decided not to help a woman under threat so as to avoid the unnecessary complication which may interrupt his time and effort dedicated for his music. Clive and Vernon both went under their own rationalization of their choices and then condemned each other for commit unethical judgment. Finally, the two committed a suicide pact in Amsterdam.

Not so bright the whole story is. When buying this book in Thailand, I just did a quick search of books that won the Booker Prize and Ian McEwan with Atonement came across my mind as a good choice given my lack of Internet connection and the urge of buying books back home. As aforementioned, it is a nice book to read for its good depiction of characters’ lines of thoughts, their rationalisation process and their moral judgment as well. Its criticism of society seems to resemble that of The Fountainhead written by Ayn Rand but the different thing is that there seems to be no hero and heroine in “Amsterdam”. It seems that we are all villains ourselves.

There are several points remaining unresolved in me after reading this book. (Perhaps I need the second reading)

  • What is the spoiler that Vernon mentioned twice in the book? First, when his attempt of humiliating Julian became a failure. Second, when he died.
  • Molly and her actual influences on the two characters. The final moments of the two characters with the presence of Molly in hallucination are quite haunting.
  • What is the reality of Julian and George?
  • It appears to be more obvious to me of the self-destruction taking place in Vernon than that in Clive, should Clive be better than Vernon when it came to moral judgment?

There are some passages that I really enjoy during my reading:

  • “He fell himself to be the only one who really missed Molly…   Nobody else was missing her. He looked around at his fellow mourners now, many of them his own age, Molly’s age, to within a year or two. How prosperous, how influential, how they had flourished under a government they had despised for almost seventeen years. Talking ’bout my generation. Such energy, such luck. Nurtured in the postwar settlement with the state’s own milk and juice, and then sustained by their parents’ tentative, innocent prosperity, to come of age in full employment, new universities, bright paperback books, the Augustan age of rock and roll, affordable ideals. When the ladder crumbled behind them, when the state withdrew her tit and became a scold, they were already safe, they consolidated and settled down to forming this or that–taste, opinion, fortunes.”
  • The thought recurred to Vernon Halliday during an uncharacteristic lull in his morning that he might not exist. For thirty uninterrupted seconds, he had been sitting at his desk gently palpating his head with his fingertips and worrying. Since arriving at the Judge two hours earlier, he had spoken, separately and intensely, to forty people. And not only spoken: in all but two of these exchanges he had decided, prioritized, delegated, chosen, or offered an opinion that was bound to be interpreted as a command. This exercise of authority did not sharpen his sense of self, as it usually did. Instead it seemed to Vernon that he was infinitely diluted; he was simply the sum of all the people who had listened to him, and when he was alone, he was nothing at all. When he reached, in solitude, for a thought, there was no one there to think it. His chair was empty; he was finely dissolved throughout the building, from the city desk on the sixth floor, where he was about to intervene to prevent the sacking of a long-serving sub-editor who could not spell, to the basement, where parking allocations had brought senior staff to open war and an assistant editor to the brink of resignation. Vernon’s chair was empty because he was in Jerusalem, the House of Commons, Cape Town, and Manila, globally disseminated like dust; he was on TV and radio, at dinner with some bishops, giving a speech to the oil industry or a seminar to European Union specialists. In the brief moments during the day when he was alone, a light went out. Even the ensuing darkness encompassed or inconvenienced no one in particular. He could not say for sure that the absence was his.This sense of absence had been growing since Molly’s funeral. It was wearing into him. Last night he had woken beside his sleeping wife and had to touch his own face to be assured he remained a physical entity.

    Had Vernon taken a few of his senior staff aside in the canteen and confided about his condition, he might have been alarmed by their lack of surprise. He was widely known as a man without edges, without faults or virtues, as a man who did not fully exist. Within his profession Vernon was revered as a nonentity. It was one of the marvels of newspaper lore, difficult to exaggerate and often recounted in City wine bars, the manner in which he had become editor of the Judge.

    Lately he had realized he was learning to live with nonexistence. He could not mourn for long the passing of something—himself—that he could no longer quite recall. All this was a worry, but it was a worry that was several days old. There was now a physical symptom. It involved the whole of the right side of his head, both skull and brain somehow, a sensation for which there was simply no word. Or it might have been the sudden interruption of a sensation so constant and familiar that he had not been conscious of it, like a sound one becomes aware of the moment it stops. He knew exactly when it had begun—the night before, as he had stood up from dinner—and it was there when he woke in the morning, continuous and indefinable, not cold, or tight, or airy, though somewhere in between. Perhaps the word was dead. His right hemisphere had died. He knew so many people who had died that in his present state of dissociation he could begin to contemplate his own end as a commonplace—a flurry of burying or cremating, a welt of grief raised, then subsiding as life swept on. Perhaps he had already died.”

  • “We know so little about each other. We lie mostly submerged, like ice floes, with our visible social selves projecting only cool and white.”











2. 我對臺北的第一印象:“慢”









3. 我對臺北的第二印象:“文青”