There are some beautiful lines in ‘Being and Nothingness’ in which Sartre explains to his readers that a café is haunted by the absence of his friend Pierre, whom he was supposed to meet. Pierre, Sartre tells us, is absent from the whole café, not just from the place he usually sits.
You know by now that Leila Slimani didn’t come to Taiwan. She was absent yesterday from the whole school, not just from the amphitheatre where we had planned to meet her. I jinxed it with the enthusiasm of my letter last week, and that’ll teach me to choose my subjects more wisely in the future (as if I weren’t under enough pressure now that I am faced with a challenger for your weekend reading attention!). Happily, we had the pleasure of welcoming Mme Noble, Leila Slimani’s editor, to our secondary campus yesterday; she was kind enough to step in as a replacement at the last minute.
This week, quite simply, I would like to wish our Taiwanese community a very happy Chinese New Year. In Europe, the Chinese New Year is often portrayed stereotypically – firecrackers, dragons, lanterns, “the greatest human migration in the world” – representations which lead to a superficial, sometimes tacky understanding of this festive period, bearing little resemblance to its reality.
I feel privileged to have experienced the reality of Chinese New Year celebrations in Taiwan for the past five years (not that I am claiming to understand them completely mind you!). There is something unmistakeable in the air; the city slows down, shop shutters gradually close, seats are suddenly free on the MRT, decorations pop up and children buzz with excitement. The Chinese New Year is more than a date on the calendar; it is above all a moment for families to meet and spend time together over tables overflowing with delicious food, it is a moment for children to be spoiled by their grandparents, aunts and uncles – it’s a tradition that is shared between old and young.
The TES Chinese and Language Department puts in a huge effort every year to share this special moment with all of our students; they are particularly attentive to our students from overseas, many of whom are experiencing Chinese New Year for the first time. That said, I do feel that our European School, as a whole, should do and could do more all year long to build a stronger relationship between our students and the country where they live, especially considering that it is one with such a rich and fascinating culture and history.
We shouldn’t allow our pride in being European let us become ethnocentric. It is of course a wonderful thing for a French family to find, in this French school in Taipei, a certain familiarity and recognition of systems and methods. Wouldn’t it be an even more wonderful thing if that familiarity was coupled with an opportunity to discover Taiwanese society? Personally, I find that what we do merely scratches the surface of the wealth of Taiwanese culture and tradition our students could be learning about.
The advantage of celebrating the new year twice a year is that we have two opportunities to make new year’s resolutions; so over the coming months I would like to work on developing closer, more meaningful links between our school, Taipei and Taiwan. I will be looking for your input – so keep reading!
Gong Xi Fa Cai!
(Thank you Marianne for the illustration!)