5 Surprising Ways Digital Technology Is Changing Childhood
Jul 22, 2018

According to recent studies, 21% of children aged three and four have their own tablet. How is digital technology influencing modern childhood?

When even tech veterans such as Napster founder Sean Parker critique how smartphones are affecting childhood development, you know a shift is coming. In 2017, Parker warned that social media "literally changes your relationship with society, with each other…God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains." Parker has two young children, so he's surely familiar with the universal tactic of handing over a screen to buy a moment's peace - the so-called "digital pacifier".

The Council of Europe recently issued recommendations on children's rights in the digital environment, building on GDPR's legal framework, which establishes the limits of children’s consent to use of their data. There's more awareness than ever that technology in childhood needs to be policed properly, by both governments and parents. To help you weigh up some of the issues involved, here are five ways in which the screen is reframing children's lives.

1. Physical Changes

The evidence is still anecdotal, but it's likely that technology's ubiquity from the earliest years onwards - a fifth of children aged three and four have their own tablet - is reshaping our bodies. Short-sightedness has doubled since the 1960s, and obesity is increasing. Only half of seven- and eight-year-olds get the recommended daily hour of exercise in the UK. Spine surgeons have reported an increase in young patients with neck and back pain, likely related to bad posture during long periods of smartphone use. But with the increasing number of apps and devices to monitor physical activity levels, the solution could be digital, too.

2. Rewiring the Brain

The addictive design of many video games and apps could be rewiring children's brains. Many of them are structured around "reward loops", which regularly dispense incentives, including a biochemical dopamine hit, to keep playing. Autoplay functions on YouTube and other video websites reinforce these rhythms.

"Almost all digital interactions, social media particularly, are deliberately designed to make an individual want to undertake the cycle again, immediately and repeatedly, whatever the time of day or night", stated a recent landmark report on Digital Childhood by the UK-based 5Rights foundation. It believes that tech companies need to adjust the design of their products for children - for example, by switching off Autoplay.

3. Space, Not Time

Amid the hand-wringing about cognitive decline, it's worth remembering that perhaps technology is just making children different to us. Even early studies of the effects of video games suggested they improved spatial reasoning. While verbal skills, logical argument and attention spans may now need more offline encouragement, most toddlers will benefit from accelerated hand-eye coordination and image recognition abilities, as well as the general digital literacy that is now essential to growing up.

4. The Definition of Childhood

Just as the pressures of industrialization created the concept of "childhood" in the Victorian age, and post-war consumerism gave birth to the idea of the "teenager", the digital era is shaking up life boundaries once again. While the first year of high school may be regarded as a default age for a child to receive their first smartphone, 39% of 8-to-11-year-olds already have them.

Entry into the world of social media suddenly gives immature children a relatively independent space in which to test out "risky behaviours" that they can't necessarily understand or cope with, according to the 5Rights report. The collision between incongruous age groups and behaviours that social media entails means that both children and adults need to understand their respective responsibilities under the new digital compact.

5. Crowdsourcing Mental Health

There has been much discussion of the growing sense of inadequacy and loneliness fostered by social media, and its impact on young people’s mental health. Teenagers who spend more than three hours a day online are 35% more likely to be at risk of suicide, according to a recent US study. But perhaps that's confusing cause and effect. The last decade has seen a growing awareness of and sensitivity to mental health issues. Much of this discussion is being held by young people in the environment that is most natural - as well as discreet - for them: the internet.

There's no doubt that the new digital frontier is drastically redrawing childhood, threatening tender bodies and minds. But perhaps we can meet these challenges if they are handled in the spirit of the internet's original precept: free and frank discussion.

Photo credit / pixabay

By Anna Bruce-Lockhart
Edited by Shawn Chou

Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam With Highest Consumer Confidence In Southeast Asia
Investvine, A Company of Inside Investor, Ltd.
Jul 16, 2018

The Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam, just behind India, rank within the top four in the latest international consumer confidence survey compiled by US-based research organisation The Conference Board and business intelligence firm Nielsen.

Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore ranked eighth, 10th and 25th, respectively, in the global ranking, which, according to the authors, reflects prevailing business conditions in the countries and likely developments for the months ahead. Overall, the survey details consumer attitudes and buying intentions, with data available by age, income and region.

Vietnam and Malaysia featured among the top five nations with the highest growth in consumer confidence.

Notably, the Vietnam consumer confidence index gained an all-time high of 124 points and shot to the highest in a decade for the country. In the first quarter of 2018, Vietnam’s index rose by nine points compared to the last quarter of 2017. The positivity about the state of personal finances and local job prospects has helped Vietnam emerge as the fourth most optimistic country in the world in the period.

Historically, consumer confidence in Southeast Asian countries continues to be higher than in mature economies. The level of consumer confidence in the region rose from 119 points in the fourth quarter of 2017 to 121 in the first quarter of 2018.

The reason for the rise in the region is largely attributed to overall economic growth, with major economies growing between five and seven per cent in the last year. In addition, increases in foreign direct investment and disposable income have also helped improve confidence.

Going forward, the growth in the economy and foreign investments will continue to boost incomes in the region, leading to even higher consumer confidence. Food and beverages, along with retail, education and healthcare, will continue to attract majority of the consumer spending, but savings will continue to take precedence over discretionary spending, the survey noted.

- ASIA TODAY News Global Distribution http://www.AsiaToday.com

Company Investvine, A Company of Inside Investor, Ltd.
Contact Imran Saddique
E-mail imran@insideinvestor.com
Website http://investvine.com
Did Mulan Really Join the Army out of Filial Piety?
Jul 14, 2018

Taiwanese singers Nana Lee Chien-na and Judy Zhou Ding-wei, who both became famous through the Taiwanese “One Million Star” talent contest TV show, play the lead roles in a new pop version of the original Chinese-language musical Mulan. With their powerful vocals, the pair brings to life a version of Mulan that casts the legendary devoted daughter in a somewhat different light. Playwright Tsai Pao-chang, director of the modern theater troupe Tainaner Ensemble, and composer Owen Wang, founder of theater company Studio M, add moments of laughs and tears, stemming from contemporary gender role issues.

The story of Mulan, the most famous heroine in Chinese history, is returning to the stage in Taipei. Mulan The Musical uses plenty of comic elements, turning gender stereotypes and historical imagination on their head, to interpret the life of Mulan, the girl who posed as a man to join the army on behalf of her ailing, elderly father. This latest version features much stronger pop music characteristics, making the musical more appealing to a younger crowd.

“Following the army on behalf of my father is not what I want; my soul wants to fly. I want to fly, to gracefully fly forward. I fly, bravely pushing straight ahead is what I want…” After nine years on the road, Mulan The Musical returns to the National Theater in Taipei with an ensemble of 26 actors and 17 musicians.

Since its Taipei debut in 2009, the musical has been performed in various locations abroad, including most recently 36 performances during a two-month period in Singapore in late 2016 and early 2017. This August, the model female heroine will again saddle her horse to go to war in a performance that is as hilariously funny as previous versions but with a much stronger dose of pop music.

Everyone is familiar with the story of Mulan, who went to war in her aging father's place. But can her decision really be explained by “filial piety"? Wouldn’t she have agonized over her decision before enlisting? “Why me? Why should I go?” “So you go, you go, if you don’t go, who is going?” This is how Mulan, her sister and her brother try to pass the buck of army service to each other during a family conference that is acted out during the song 'Family Revolution'.

Wang explains that, in the debut production, the verbal skirmish between the siblings was in spoken dialogue form. However, in the 2011 version, the singing parts became more important and were no longer only used for emotional transitions from spoken dialogue to spoken dialogue. Instead, the dramatic conflicts were incorporated in the songs to drive the plot forward.

The story’s main character Mulan is played by Nana Lee, a former One Million Star participant, who at a height of more than 170 cm is tall by Asian standards. Of the 20 songs in the musical, Lee most likes a new song that she sings in a duet with an effeminate fellow recruit. “What’s the big deal about being like a man? What harm is there in being like a woman? Only if we stay true to ourselves will we be able to last, and the world will see us shine.”

While new songs and rearrangements are necessary when staging a reproduction, Wang, a perfectionist, hopes to use the lively, cheeky song 'So What if We’re Different' to strengthen the positive power of the girly man role.

In the army, Mulan transforms into manly “Munan”. Two men, General Chien Chun-hsieh, and her childhood sweetheart and fellow soldier Chiang Kuan-fu, nonetheless, fall in love with Mulan/Munan. Trying to come to terms with the fact that they are smitten with Munan, they ask themselves “Alas, can this be love?” The combination of Tsai’s lyrics and Wang’s tune deftly describe the conflicting feelings the two men go through as they sing the song Love, Alas.

From the meanwhile classical, flirtatious duet between the General and Mulan 'Can You Please Pick Up the Soap for Me' in the debut version to 'Goddess of Mercy, Please Give Me More Time', a song that was newly added for the Singapore production, Munan/Mulan runs into many funny situations as she socializes with fellow soldiers or rushes to see her superior while also heading to meet her close friend.

Mulan The Musical frequently makes the audience burst into laughter but also provides food for thought, challenging established thinking and perceptions.

By Chia-hui Si-Tu

Translated from the Chinese Article by Suzanne Ganz

Edited by Shawn Chou

Rural families in the Philippines tune into health advice
Jul 07, 2018

Radio show, home visits bring critical services to the hard-to-reach

June 2018 — When Ailleene Joy Verbo was a child, she loved listening to her grandfather’s solar-powered radio. “Our rural village did not have electricity,” she said. “The radio broke the quietness of the day.”

Verbo grew up in Siay, Zamboanga Sibugay — a province in the Philippines’ Mindanao region. She, along with her five siblings, lived with her grandparents because her parents moved away to find jobs.

“My mother had to work overseas to sustain our needs,” said Verbo.

Now a nurse and mother herself, Verbo knows how difficult it is to support a family, especially in rural areas where unpaved roads, marshlands, mountains and seas isolate people from opportunities available in towns and cities.

“Sometimes, if people get sick, they just endure pain and illness,” said Verbo, adding that people, in many instances, are unable to take charge of their own health.

A recent national health survey showed that more women in Mindanao desire to limit or space their pregnancies and use family planning methods, but lack information on where they can access the services. The areas where these women live are marked by high percentages of unintended or risky pregnancies that can result in serious consequences, including death.

In 2013, USAID launched its MindanaoHealth project, implemented by Jhpiego, to help the Philippine Department of Health strengthen health systems and services, especially for people living in hard-to-reach areas. The project, which works to improve access to maternal, neonatal and child health and nutrition, also trains health service providers to counsel parents looking to choose a method of family planning.

In 2017, Verbo became a family health associate in her hometown and undertook this training. Through this project, she learned to perform and administer basic procedures and services. She began visiting communities and homes to provide on-the-spot care.

Last February, a local radio station invited Verbo to appear as a guest on a show called Itanong mo Kay Doc! (Ask Doc!) to answer listeners’ questions about reproductive health. Since people in the region get their news from the radio, she saw this as an opportunity to make a big difference.

Verbo’s broadcast reached nearly 300,000 people across the province. When listeners flooded the station with questions, the station invited Verbo to host regularly. She also gave out her personal mobile number to answer listeners’ questions or refer them to their nearest health center when she is not on air.

“I just don’t want more children and families to suffer,” said Verbo, who now hosts the show about once per month.

USAID’s MindanaoHealth project, which runs from 2013 to 2018, has trained over 9,000 health service providers across Mindanao. Mostly, these service providers conduct group counseling and community outreach activities. They also visit hospital wards and outpatient departments.

“Doing a good job is not always about impressive innovations; sometimes it is only about doing something with plain dedication,” said Verbo.


NUS and SMI set up S$18m research centre to enhance global competitiveness of Singapore’s maritime and port industries
Jul 01, 2018

With the support of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Singapore Maritime Institute (SMI) today established a S$18 million research centre to enable Singapore’s maritime and port industries to develop innovative capabilities and enhance their global competitiveness. The agreement to set up the new centre was signed today by Professor Chua Kee Chaing, Dean of NUS Faculty of Engineering, and Mr Toh Ah Cheong, Executive Director of SMI.

The new Centre of Excellence in Modelling and Simulation for Next Generation Ports (C4NGP) will be part of the NUS Faculty of Engineering and it will work with companies in Singapore’s maritime and port sectors to improve their technical knowhow, efficiency and productivity, and prepare them for the next phase of global competition.

C4NGP will also work closely with companies to ensure that the Centre’s research and development efforts are aligned with industry needs. Over the next five years, the Centre aims to focus on the following areas:

  • Design and build maritime systems, including simulation platforms that cater to the needs of maritime and port related industries;
  • Conduct navigational channel capacity studies and develop systems to simulate and optimise incoming and outgoing marine traffic;
  • Study various port terminal systems, including automated guided vehicle optimisation, scheduling and charging strategies; container yard storage management strategies; analysis of future port systems; and traffic flows within port terminals; and
  • Examine land transport-related systems such as port gateway design systems and analysis of inter-terminal traffic movement between port terminals.
    At steady state, C4NGP is expected to have about 20 NUS researchers working on projects in these important areas.

    Professor Freddy Boey, NUS Senior Vice President (Graduate Education & Research Translation), said, “NUS is delighted to partner MPA and SMI to set up this new Centre of Excellence. The C4NGP will work closely with the industry to promote innovation in the port and maritime sectors and to co-create cutting-edge solutions that could advance these sectors. This concerted effort will greatly enhance the long-term competitiveness of the maritime and port industries, and further strengthen Singapore’s strong reputation as a global maritime hub.”

    Mr Toh said, “We are pleased to support the establishment of the C4NGP to deepen NUS’ capabilities in port modelling and simulation and to promote greater collaboration between the academia and the port community to increase the overall competitiveness of the maritime and port sectors.”

    “The establishment of C4NGP is timely as it deepens our port modelling, simulation and optimisation capabilities. The centre aims to improve the planning and operations of our Next-Generation Port at Tuas and the eco-system around the port. It will help PSA and Jurong Port with the optimisation of their existing and future operations as part of the Industry Transformation Map. Beyond our ports, we hope C4NGP can be a good repository of modelling expertise as well as serve as a platform for collaboration with institutions across the world to develop and establish standards for port modelling and simulation”, said Mr Andrew Tan, Chief Executive of MPA.

    The C4NGP Governing Board chaired by Prof Boey will comprise members from key stakeholders such as MPA, SMI and industry partners. The Centre will be jointly led by Associate Professor Chew Ek Peng and Associate Professor Lee Loo Hay from the Department of Industrial Systems Engineering and Management at NUS Faculty of Engineering.

    Assoc Prof Chew said, “The Centre aims to make significant impact to the port community, both locally and globally. We will work closely with industry partners and apply our expertise in modelling, simulation and optimisation to create next-generation ports and maritime systems as well as pioneer disruptive technologies that could potentially reshape the shipping industry.”

    This is one of the latest maritime research centres supported by SMI as part of its efforts to deepen research capabilities while developing a steady pool of quality maritime researchers in Singapore.

    SOURCE / the National University of Singapore

    The Hakka Cultural Renaissance Memories─Tea, Camphor Laurel, and Sugar Cane
    Jul 01, 2018

    In the mid-19th century, Taiwan had three major exports: tea leaves, camphor laurel, and sugar cane. Tea leaves and camphor laurel were mainly cultivated along the Taiwan Romantic Route 3. The Chiang A-Shing Tea House in Beipu Township, Hsinchu, the Formosa Tea Industry and Culture Gallery in Guanxi Township, Hsinchu, and many other well-preserved former tea factories remain as a reminder from those glorious years.


    In the mid-19th century, Taiwan had three major exports: tea leaves, camphor laurel, and sugar cane. Tea leaves and camphor laurel were mainly cultivated along the Taiwan Romantic Route 3. In its heyday, 60% of all Taiwanese tea leaves were produced here. They were exported to more than eight seaports in over sixty countries. The Chiang A-Shing Tea House in Beipu Township, Hsinchu, the Formosa Tea Industry and Culture Gallery in Guanxi Township, Hsinchu, and many other well-preserved former tea factories remain as a reminder from those glorious years.

    Visions From a Tea House

    The aromatic, amber-hued oolong tea Dongfang Meiren, known as the "Oriental Beauty" in the West, was the crowning jewel of the Taiwan Romantic Route 3. The Hakka Affairs Council (HAC) planned the "Longtan Tea Story Park" in Taoyuan to revitalize the tea industry and create jobs for Hakka youth returning to their hometown. The park is expected to weave tea culture, Hakka cuisine, and life on a tea farm into one mesmerizing experience.

    Visitors From Afar

    The people and sights, the history and geography-these are the abundant tourist attractions on the Taiwan Romantic Route 3. Thanks to international promotion by the HAC , more than 15,000 tourists from Japan have already visited this year, underscoring the potential of this beautiful mountain route.

    Vitality and Creativity

    Local artists, musicians, and photographers benefit from various memorials to the arts, as well as the "Local Artist Project" implemented to inspire a new generation of creative minds. The "Zhudong Music Village," currently under construction, will be situated in township , Zhu-dong that has hosted Hakka singing competitions for half a century. It will be an open space designed for musicians to perform in, and for locals to visit and admire their craft.

    By mining the treasures of Hakka culture, then infusing it with vitality and creativity, the HAC hope this new resource will inspire youths to return home, and reclaim their birthright: the dormant beauty of this mountain avenue and its inhabitants.

    Edited by Duo Lee
    This content is sponsored by The Hakka Affairs Council.

    Top UNESCO Official Endorses Chengdu's Practice of Sustainable Development
    Jun 19, 2018

    CHENGDU, China, June 20, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- The 12th annual meeting of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) was held in Krakow and Katowice, Poland. Themed "Creative Crosscroads," and built on the idea of cross-sector cooperation among the UCCN members, the event started on June 12 and concluded on June 15.

    The opening ceremony saw the attendance of more than 350 delegates representing the 180 UCCN members from 72 countries across the globe, including 40 mayors. Mr. Ernesto Renato Ottone Ramirez, UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Culture, when addressing the ceremony, expressed his appreciation to Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province, for its strong support to the organization and great practice of sustainable development.

    At the meeting, a delegate from Chengdu made a presentation on the city's "Eat. Clean. Care." initiative, and shared its experience of eco-energy retrofit in the catering industry.

    Chengdu, having long been troubled by the environmental pollution in the catering industry, launched a city-wide eco-energy retrofit program a couple of years ago. Through the common efforts of local governments at different levels and industry practitioners, so far, most local restaurants have used clean fuel.

    After the opening ceremony, Mr. Ramirez received an exclusive interview with gochengdu.cn, a major city portal website on Chengdu. He spoke highly of Chengdu's effort and achievement in the sustainable development, from which other cities can learn a lot.

    "Chengdu contributes remarkable experience to the world which is highly helpful for the cities in South America and South Africa," said Mr. Ramirez.

    He also expressed his great interest in what else Chengdu had done to improve its environment and ecosystem. He had planned to visit the city in August or September, he said.

    Chengdu's "Eat. Clean. Care." initiative had been published on unesco.org, which says that "Chengdu's approach to reducing air pollution is praised for not only improving the environment and living conditions for the residents of Chengdu, but also for making vital steps in helping China achieve its goals outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development."

    At a sub-meeting for the 12th annual meeting of UCCN, Chengdu shared its experience of building "Slow Villages" with the delegates from 26 UNESCO Cities of Gastronomy. It called on more cities in the world to join in a "Slow Village Co-building Plan," which promotes a rural development model focusing on environmental protection and bio-diversity conservation.

    UNESCO attaches great value to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Chengdu's "Slow Village" program perfectly reflects the vision of UNESCO and provides a new model for other cities in China to revitalize rural areas. It was highly recognized by all the delegates at the meeting.

    For more details, please visit www.gochengdu.cn.

    Source: Gochengdu.cn

    A Cultural Feast
    Jun 17, 2018

    Chinese opera is set to enchant the city with an upcoming festival and the soon-to-open Xiqu Centre in West Kowloon.

    Few art forms can evoke the mystery and charm of ancient China as eloquently as Cantonese opera. In Hong Kong today, this centuries-old tradition of story-telling through musical theatre is enjoying a resurgence, with major events taking place in theatres, town halls and temporary bamboo stages; performances held at universities and schools, in streets and parks, and at private gatherings organised by local operatic singing clubs.

    Audiences of all ages remain enchanted by the colourful costumes, distinctive voices and intricate gestures rich with symbolism that define this distinctive form of entertainment, which originated in southern China and has evolved over time into hundreds of distinctive regional performing styles.

    Hong Kong's variation is recognised on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and to keep the tradition alive for generations to come, Cantonese opera has been incorporated into the music curriculum of primary and secondary education since 2003.

    Various venues offer opportunities to enjoy a performance, including the Sunbeam Theatre in North Point, a vintage venue dedicated to Cantonese opera, and soon, the new Xiqu Centre due to open later this year as the first major performing arts venue of the West Kowloon Cultural District.

    Top-class Festival

    The highlight of the year's operatic calendar is the annual Chinese Opera Festival, a two-month-long celebration of operatic culture performed by top virtuosi and maestros in the field. This year, the programme running from June to August covers genres that have been inscribed onto the List of National Intangible Cultural Heritage of China, including Peking, Kunqu, Yue, Diaoqiang, Pingdiao, Puxian and Xiqin opera, as well as local Cantonese opera. Apart from the performances on stage, there will be guided appreciation sessions, talks and exhibitions.

    Opening the festival this year is Shanghai Kunqu Opera Troupe's full-version performance of The Palace of Eternal Life. Led by Kunqu Opera virtuoso Cai Zhengren and supported by actors and actresses from different generations and cohorts, the troupe presents the everlasting tragedy of Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang dynasty and his beloved woman Yang Yuhuan in a time of turbulence. Over a decade after its debut in 2007, this classic now returns with an all-star cast.

    In commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the death of maestro Cheng Yanqiu, one of the top four artists in the dan (female) role in Peking Opera and founder of the Cheng school, three full-length operas, namely Consort Mei, The Unicorn Pouch and Anecdotes about Empress Wu Zetian, will be performed by the Second Troupe of the China National Peking Opera Company with winner of Plum Blossom Award for Chinese Theatre Li Haiyan as the lead. Li will exemplify the elegant style of the Cheng school.

    After its debut in Hong Kong in 2013, the Xinchang Diaoqiang Heritage Protection and Development Centre of Zhejiang returns with the classic piece The Battle at Jiujiang, comedy The Old Water-carrier and five excerpts. In addition, there will be performances of Ninghai Pingdiao Opera.

    Rare Stunts

    Audiences will be introduced to the rarely performed shuaya (tusk stunt), the incredible stage skill on par with bian lian (face-changing stunt), and the quaintness, varied singing styles and deep-rooted tradition of Puxian opera, which preserves the traits of southern opera of the Song and Yuan dynasties. Fujian Puxian Theatre will bring The Imperial Scholar and the Beggar, Thrice Begging Fan Lihua and excerpts from its classic repertoire to showcase the unique beauty of this ancient art form.

    Xiaobaihua Yue Opera Troupe of Shaoxing will return with a range of performances, from gripping and action-packed to comedy. Wu Fenghua, national class-one performer and two-time winner of Plum Blossom Award for Chinese Theatre, will be joined by Wu Suying (Lu school), Chen Fei (Fu school) and Zhang Lin (Yin school) in these full-length operas promising a cultural feast for the eyes and ears.

    It is widely believed that bangziqiang (clapper tunes) in Cantonese Opera owes its origin to Xiqin opera. In view of their close connection, interrelated stories from their repertoire are juxtaposed for comparison. In a separate programme, representative bearer of Xiqin opera Lu Weiping will lead the Haifeng Country Xiqin Opera Heritage Centre in performing excerpts from Xiqin opera, followed by a performance by local Cantonese opera artists Law Ka-ying, Wan Fai-yin and Cheng Wing-mui.

    With renowned actor Yuen Siu-fai as the playwright and the lead, Cantonese opera The Return of Lady Wenji will feature a strong cast of veterans and current artists.

    Extra Activities

    Apart from the rich array of captivating performances, the festival organisers have also arranged a variety of extension activities including lectures, film screenings, artists' talks and exhibitions to facilitate the appreciation of Chinese opera from different angles. Separately, to mark the 60th anniversary of the debut of the Yue opera The Dream of the Red Chamber, Shanghai Yue Opera Group will present special guided appreciation programmes so audiences may feel the enduring charm of this masterpiece.

    The Chinese Opera Festival is organised by the Leisure and Cultural and Services Department, with performances staged at various venues across Hong Kong.

    Is Taiwan's Famed Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival an Environmental Plague?
    Jun 15, 2018

    This article is a reader’s contribution to Crossing. It explores the environmental pollution caused by the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival, one of Taiwan’s most famous tourist attractions. What can be done to create a win-win situation for the environment and the tourism industry?

    Sky Lanterns Have Put Taiwan on the Global Tourism Map

    The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival counts among a handful of events that have truly become world famous festivities, making Taiwan an international travel destination. The scene of these floating lanterns filling the sky might be the first impression many foreigners have of Taiwan.

    There is a reason for this. Taiwan has long used sky lanterns, released into the sky to wish for good luck and blessings, in international image campaigns such as for the Taiwan Pavilion at Expo 2010, in the 2011 movie You're the Apple of My Eye, or the Tourism Bureau's promotional video Meet Colors of 2016. The faint glow, hopefulness, unity and grandeur featured in these images have become a strong advertisement for our country.

    As a stark cultural image, sky lanterns represent the collective memory and generational scars on Taiwanese soil. On the other hand, Pingxi District has dedicated great efforts to Taiwanese tourism in a more substantive manner. During the period from 2010 to 2016, for instance, Pingxi District saw a total of 6,41 million visitors. In 2016, it was picked as the third most popular sightseeing spot in Taiwan by international travelers, beating the Taipei 101 skyscraper.

    Moreover, the Sky Lantern Festival, which takes place once a year, has not only been voted as the world’s second-biggest New Year’s Eve celebration by the Discovery Channel, the American cable TV network CNN has included it on its list of 52 Things to do Around the World, while National Geographic Magazine and the travel guide publisher Fodor’s have both listed the festival as a must-see event.

    Sky Lanterns, while no doubt beautiful, have triggered controversy over the environmental hazard they pose.

    Looking back, many Taiwanese people haves experienced releasing sky lanterns to some extent. I sent my first sky lantern into the air when I was in fifth grade. Back then, my parents and I, each of us holding a brush, very cautiously wrote our deepest wishes on the thin, translucent rice paper. After finishing, we stood on both sides of the railway track, and once we let go, the sky lantern, containing a gently flickering flame, slowly rose up into the sky. At this moment, my face glowing as red as the lantern, we prayed for all our wishes to be fulfilled once they were high enough to be heard in heaven.

    However, in the past few years, these sky lantern memories have begun to make me feel guilty since the environmental controversy regarding sky lanterns came to light. Many groups have come forward, charging that the lanterns, after falling from the sky, are generating an endless amount of waste for mountain towns, and that residual dyes and heavy metals could endanger the lives of animals in the mountains. Each year, when the Lantern Festival draws to a close, the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival triggers an avalanche of criticism and dismay, and never-ending calls for a ban on the release of sky lanterns or even the abolishment of the festival itself.

    Each time I see the deluge of comments left by readers under news articles, such as: “Why don’t we abolish such a bad custom?” or “I hope that the government prohibits their release sooner rather than later!” I can’t help but feel extremely sad. The sadness comes from the fact that I understand that all these people deeply love this piece of land and that their motivation is to make Taiwan a better country. Sky lanterns do have some bad effects. However, can it be that one side must be sacrificed if culture and progressive values clash with each other?

    Sky Lantern Culture and Environmental Protection Should not be a Zero-Sum Game

    I believe that in this day and age we don’t have to accept a “choose one or the other” zero sum game scenario when we face new challenges and value conflicts. More and more examples show that we can find compromises when facing these problems, as long as we are willing to use creative thinking in combination with modern technology – this is probably not a perfect or sufficiently thorough approach, but it is more hopeful than just maintaining the status quo forever.

    Take for example the thorny issue of the “million square meter garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean” – How can several hundred thousand tons to several million tons of plastic waste and other garbage floating in the oceans be cleaned up? When everyone said this was impossible, a 19-year-old Dutch man, Boyan Slat, decided in 2013 to courageously tackle the challenge, proposing the concept of an “ocean vacuum cleaner” which was projected to clean up the great Pacific garbage patch in five years.

    Another problem that has received widespread attention over the past decade is the “surplus food problem,” which German youngsters sought to solve with the help of the convenience of the Internet. In 2012 they founded the platform foodsharing.de, setting up a food saving map and food sharing model that have meanwhile been expanded to Switzerland and Austria. By 2016, the site had reportedly gotten 2,500 supermarkets and restaurants onboard to provide surplus food, as well as 15,000 registered users. Altogether, 4,000 tons of food have been saved from being thrown away, an astonishing result.

    Getting back to Taiwan, we are facing environmental challenges regarding the sky lantern culture. Fortunately, we also have a bunch of young people who are willing to work to solve the problem. From 2016, a group of students at National Chiao Tung University formed a team to try to develop biodegradable, environmentally friendly sky lanterns to upgrade this Taiwanese cultural tradition and make it sustainable.

    Expert Team Develops Zero Carbon Sky Lantern

    Simply speaking, the environmentally friendly sky lantern developed by that team burns up completely in the air without leaving any waste. This means it will not become an environmental burden for the mountain towns, and flora and fauna in the mountains won’t be threatened by pollution as a result.

    While the waste problem is solved, what about the carbon emissions caused by the burning of the sky lanterns?

    Data show that one tree can absorb the CO2 emissions of about 8.6 sky lanterns in a year. Should mass production of the environmental sky lanterns go according to plan, a certain ratio of income per every sky lantern sold will be paid into a tree planting fund. The team plans to cooperate with the Wutong Foundation, entrusting experts with the selection of tree planting sites and looking after the newly planted saplings for over three years. It is hoped that the carbon emissions caused by the burning of sky lanterns can be balanced and absorbed as much as possible.

    In the long term, they expect to collaborate with environmental technology engineering to conduct a complete carbon footprint calculation and assessment to truly understand the environmental impact of sky lanterns. Furthermore, they will invite expert consultants and a certification body to develop a carbon footprint management plan to achieve carbon neutrality under the international specification PAS 2060. Finally, they will allocate a certain amount of funds to buy enough carbon units to reach carbon neutrality by offsetting all of the greenhouse gas emissions caused during the entire sky lantern lifecycle, from procurement of raw materials to its release into the sky. They hope to keep promoting sky lantern culture and environmental sustainability from a professional, scientific perspective.

    Environmental Sky Lanterns not Mere Fundraising Tool but Opportunity to Take Taiwanese Culture to a Higher Level

    The late film director Chi Po-lin once said: “Why do so many people love sky lanterns? Seeing a wish lantern brings hope to people’s hearts. Sky lanterns are very comforting, and important for passing on our cultural heritage, too. I really don’t think that this event should be completely eradicated.”

    Establishing a culture and developing it is definitely a lengthy and arduous process. Any progress constitutes precious and important national assets. As times change, a growing number of customs and cultural traditions will probably be challenged by modern values. When we face such situations, we should not wantonly abolish or discard them, but rather seek to find sustainable possibilities for harmonious coexistence. We should take advantage of emerging technologies and use creative thinking to find balanced approaches to improvement – We should seek a new high ground with regard to many similar controversies, imagining more possibilities.

    We should lead this land forward while at the same time preserving our precious traditional culture.

    By Hsin-rung Teng/Contributing Reader

    Translated from the Chinese Article by Susanne Ganz

    Edited by Shawn Chou

    Photo / Shutterstock

    Taiwan's Education Ministry Launches Online Learning Initiative, Huayu 101
    Jun 13, 2018

    TAIPEI, Taiwan--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Ministry of Education (MOE) announced the launch of an online learning initiative called “Huayu 101”, a brand new online Mandarin learning material, at the end of May in Taipei, Taiwan.

    Professor Chang Yuhsin from the University of Taipei, the designer of “Huayu 101”, has more than 20 years Mandarin teaching experience. In order to provide easier learning experience, he and his team collect key phrases that people should learn for basic survival. The contents of “Huayu 101” include accommodation, shopping, food ordering, traffic, emergency help, etc. It’s useful for foreign students and travelers those stay in Taiwan, and can be applied to other Mandarin-speaking regions.

    To attract and motivate young people to learn Mandarin in Taiwan, MOE works with Logan D. Beck, a hotshot youtuber, to produce 2 videos of promoting Mandarin learning and Taiwan’s culture. The first video, “Dajia Mazu Pilgrimage” had reached 50,000 views within a night and it's over 150,000 hits now. In the press conference, Beck and Mr. Liu, a known rice cake seller, have shown the usage of “Huayu 101” with living drama of night market.

    In response to the global demand for Chinese language education, Taiwan’s Chinese language education sector is vigorously looking outward and international marketing. This led to planning and implementing the Eight-year Chinese Language Education Promotion Plan (2013–2020). Under this plan the Office of Global Mandarin Education was set up to integrate the resources and results of Chinese language education in Taiwan. In order to promote Mandarin learning in Taiwan, MOE invited the Ministry of Transportation and Communication's Tourism Bureau and the Small and Medium Enterprise Administration of the Ministry of Economic Affairs to be co-organizers, and integrated tourism and Chinese-learning resources to create a brand new study-tour model, "Mandarin On-the-Go" in Taiwan. Anyone who is interested in programs above is welcomed to check the information on the official website.(https://ogme.edu.tw/Home/tw)

    OGME (Office of Global Mandarin Education)
    Kuo-Ning Chi, +886-2-2391-1368 ext.1360

    - ASIA TODAY News Global Distribution http://www.AsiaToday.com