Come along, let's find your brilliant time
Perhaps you have had such an experience—on a Sunday afternoon, after entering the Taipei Main Station from somewhere and walking around similar intersections, you finally follow a crowd to a hall with checkerboard floors. Somewhere in one of the grids, a group of people are gathered around a suitcase full of books, each holding a book in their hands and reading. Between the people and the suitcase and books, a board is set up that reads: "Perpustakaan Brilliant Time" (燦爛時光).
This is the mobile library "Brilliant Time", an independent bookstore run by the manager, Cheng Chang (張正), who is also the incumbent Chief Director of Radio Taiwan International (中央廣播電台). He was previously the editor-in-chief of 4-Way Voice (四方報), the secretary-general of the Dream Together Charity Association, and an outstanding first-year alumnus of National Chi Nan University (NCNU). NCNU college students have the right to call him senior.
Southeast Asia is so unfamiliar
"I enrolled in NCNU by accident." It all started with two books about Southeast Asia history given to him by his boss at the Lihpao newspaper, Lucie Cheng. At first, he was shocked by how Southeast Asia was so unfamiliar to him. "At that time, I was the deputy editor-in-chief of the newspaper, and I seemed to be an intellectual; however, I didn't know much about the neighboring countries. If I didn't know Southeast Asia, I guessed most Taiwanese didn't know Southeast Asia, either."
According to Cheng Chang, most of Taiwan's early research focused on Europe, the United States, and Japan. Southeast Asian topics have only become popular in the past decade. But Cheng Chang likes to go to places where only a few people are around. He believes that treasures can be found in less populated areas. Perhaps because of this, he came to NCNU and enrolled in the Department of Southeast Asia Studies graduate program.
While at NCNU, he was older than most of his peers, but this was not a hindrance. On the contrary, because of his experiences, he had different perspectives from his past school days. For him, attending class was not only for learning but also a break from work that he cherished. "When you are older, you will not be timid about raising your hand to speak; you'll study the handouts and finish homework on time."
Whenever people had doubts about career opportunities with a major in Southeast Asia studies, he would smile and say, "Don't worry, when I majored in Southeast Asia studies, I didn't know that I would work at the 4-Way Voice." He believes that learning should be short-sighted and only focused on present interests. "Don't think about four years from now. Focus on what can ignite your passion presently and give it a 90% or 100% effort. Of course, this does not mean you should let go of everything else. It would be good if you passed your other subjects, for example. If you are interested in Laos, then try to understand it. Someday, if Laos wants to export coffee to Taiwan, and you know Laos very well, you might become a business representative."
See the world from 4 Ways
Adhering to the belief that one should "roll with punches and go for it", Cheng Chang went to Vietnam to conduct a field study for his thesis. He confessed that although the field investigation did not help much with thesis writing, an opportunity came up for launching the 4-Way Voice newspaper.
The President of the Lihpao newspaper, Lucie Cheng, hoped to have a channel for the underprivileged to speak out, so she founded the 4-Way Voice, a newspaper for immigrants from Southeast Asia in Taiwan. Cheng Chang, who had many years of media experience, majored in Southeast Asia studies, and spent several months in Vietnam, became the best candidate.
The 4-Way Voice, as its name implies, connects immigrants and foreign migrant workers from all directions. Initially beginning with the Vietnamese version, it has since successively developed Thai, Cambodian, Indonesian, Filipino, and Burmese versions, allowing immigrants in Taiwan to see Taiwan, Asia, and the world via 4-Way Voice. They also see each other via the newspapers. The newspaper not only provides reading content, but also empowers immigrants to speak up.
Half of the page of 4-Way Voice is written by immigrant workers. They write about their experiences and express their feelings of homesickness. Cheng Chang was most impressed by Thao Van Pham's story. Under the laws of Taiwan, Thao Van was a runaway. She had to flee because her employer didn't like her, and because of the huge agency commission and other big and small things she could not seem to finish describing. The 4-Way Voice started an "Escape Column," devoted to escape-related manuscripts. Many of which were later assembled into the book titled "Escape – Our Formosa, Their Prison."
The Migrant Worker Literature Award: Continuing the stories of migrant workers
The Migrant Worker Literature Award was established shortly after Cheng Chang stepped down as the editor-in-chief of the 4-Way Voice. He believed that compared with the 4-Way Voice, the literature prize could make the stories of foreign migrant workers more visible while preserving and extending the lives of the stories.
Below is an excerpt from the first prize winner of the 2018 Migrant Worker Literature Award, "About Love." Cheng Chang was very touched after reading it. The story was written by an Indonesian migrant worker Loso Abdi and translated by Chong Miao Yan: "Kutatap matanya-yang sebening kaca, indah dan memancarkan sinar. Dan selalunya begitu, dia, pemilik mata indah itu, akan segera memeluk leherku lalu menghujani seluruh wajahku dengan ciuman. Dan kami akan tertawa bersama." (I look at her transparent glass-like eyes, beautiful and shining. They have always been like this. She, the owner of those beautiful eyes, is about to come over and hug me, kiss my face, and then we will laugh together.)
Cheng Chang elaborated on the novel: "This story involved very complicated emotions. A migrant worker came to Taiwan to take care of a girl, and she developed feelings after taking care of her for a long time. This nanny had her children back home and she could not take care of her own children. Over time, there was an empathetic effect; she treated the child under her care as her own. The author accurately illustrated the emotion of this struggle." Above love, she loves her child and the child she takes care of. Every three years, when the contract expires, she has to wonder if she should stay, but this is just a small section of many foreign migrant workers' stories.
Come to read if you love to read
Speaking of writing, Cheng Chang said that writing and reading complement each other. He was inspired by comic books when he was a child. He learned to write from reading. For example, there was a period he liked Haruki Murakami very much, so he would imitate his sentences. His article "In an era where reading is like riding a horse," published in CommonWealth Magazine, told everyone not to read. In fact, his clever use of irony signifies that reading can promote thinking, increase knowledge, and improve self-cultivation.
At the same time, he doesn't expect everyone to like reading. He laughed and said, "What we can do is provide a channel for reading... Looking back in history, there are actually very few people who can read paper books. Fifty years or a hundred years ago, the literacy rate was not high, and people who could read were basically elites, so it's good for us to be elites."
For Cheng Chang, reading is an enjoyable thing to do. "Frankly speaking, reading has been sanctified. I don't expect everyone to read. Those who love to read will come and read, and those who don't read will play mobile games. It's okay; people have different needs."
Their brilliant time
Cheng Chang's "Brilliant Time", a Southeast Asia–themed bookstore, allows people to borrow books with a deposit. He also initiated the "Bring a book that you can't read back to Taiwan" initiative and called on friends who traveled to Southeast Asia to bring a book back to Taiwan for immigrant workers. As for revenue, most of it is dependent on activities and applying for subsidies. "I wonder how the bookstore could last for so long without going out of business? It's breaking even for now; there is no loss or profit," Cheng Chang announced with a bold smile.
The "Brilliant Time" bookstore was inspired by Erin, an Indonesian caregiver. The grandfather she cares for cannot survive without her, so Erin can't leave him alone. She works all year round with barely any time off. She said that reading set her free. With this idea in mind, Cheng Chang and a group of friends decided to open a bookstore for foreign friends to read books in their native language away from home. In that magical moment of reading, it would be like returning to their hometown and having a brilliant time.
From 2017 to 2019, Cheng Chang served as the secretary-general of the Dream Together Charity Association. In 2018, he won the Taiwan Charity Award. When asked why he likes to do charity work, he replied without thinking: "I believe that all people have a sense of justice. I can only say that I am lucky and even encouraged to do this. My family was not saddled with debt. The newspaper, Lihpao, I used to work for, also encouraged staff to care for the disadvantaged. We were always encouraged and supported by all parties in society. In particular, the gratitude from immigrants and foreign migrant workers is priceless."
Use "Three Ones" to meet new friends
There are many people in the community who are trying their best to eliminate discrimination. However, the recent controversy in Miaoli in response to the epidemic that banned foreign migrant workers from leaving their apartments, as well as the ban on sitting on the floor of the lobby in Taipei Main Station during the epidemic, were reported by the media. Some netizens still echoed the ban: "Yes! Don't let those foreign migrant workers sit there. It's humiliating." Similar situations like these rejections of other ethnic groups still exist in Taiwanese society.
At present, the number of foreign migrant workers in Taiwan exceeds 700,000 (excluding marriage immigration). Therefore, how to get along with people of different cultures has become an issue Taiwanese people have to deal with. Cheng Chang proposed the "Three Ones" method:
Meeting a Southeast Asian friend, trying to learn a language from this friend (simple words like eating, good morning, hello, etc.), and reading a book about Southeast Asia to learn about their culture.
Cheng Chang's open-minded attitude has come into play at Radio Taiwan International, which has multilingual programs. He was publicly selected as the Chief Director in March 2019. With his experience and the resources of Radio Taiwan International, he has initiated many projects, such as simultaneous interpretation and live broadcast of major events in Taiwan (National Day, Mazu Pilgrimage) in multiple languages. There are also multilingual infographics for festivals or important events. He launched the "Finding the Lost Second Mother" project to search for foreign nannies who had taken care of Taiwanese children in the past. Recently, a delegation of "Migrant Workers Ambassadors" has been recruited to invite migrant workers who have come to Taiwan and friends from their hometowns to share their beautiful experiences in Taiwan and to speak up for Taiwan.
Although Radio Taiwan International is a media with a nearly one-hundred-year-long history, Cheng Chang believes that it must continue to make break throughs. He requires that podcasts and social platforms be added to the program in each language in addition to the original broadcasts. He also encouraged various departments to set up the trendy Gather Town (virtual collaborative work platform) during the pandemic. "In 1928, when Radio Taiwan International was established in Nanjing, the station had the most cutting-edge shortwave technology. When the Minxiong branch was established during the time when Japan ruled Taiwan, it had the most advanced technology in Taiwan at the time. The reorganization in 1998 was also in response to the new system, design, and environment change. I hope Radio Taiwan International will maintain the spirit of innovation and continue to develop new tools and new methods. "
Cheng Chang already has so many titles and has accomplished many objectives. What is the next plan? "I want to write a long novel, but the future is uncertain." He has a consistent "short-sighted" spirit and will continue to push through as he carries on.
Late night after the interview, Cheng Chang sent a news link with the headline: "When others are slightly relaxed, he rides a horse on the street." When we were talking about how reading is like riding a horse, he moved his eyes and said, "Have you seen anyone riding a horse and wandering around the streets..." Before he finished speaking, he laughed out loud and coughed a few times. Perhaps it is this straightforward and optimistic personality that has enabled him to focus on Southeast Asia for twenty years, from a beginning where he unintentionally got involved. From an initial stage that lacked public attention to today's well-organized program, he has brought in perspective, vision, and strength, and injected sincerity and humanity into Taiwan's right to speak.