CultureCurious John

English Service host John Van Trieste is curious. There’s nothing about Taiwan’s many cultures that he doesn’t want to know more about. Join him every week as he gets to the bottom of yet another question. What will he be curious about this time?

What's On

17 April, 2021

Imagine finding out that a place you thought you knew well is actually full of secrets. I’m talking false walls, hidden doors, and secret passages. It sounds like the premise of some pulpy spy novel, right? Well, that’s what actually happened to me this week. For close to eight years, I never suspected anything about the great stone wall off to one side of RTI’s parking lot. But the wall is hiding something, a Cold War mystery that’s only just been solved. Join us today as we descend into the tunnels that hide beneath RTI's neighbor, Taipei's Grand Hotel!

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10 April, 2021

Each year in the early spring, most Taiwanese people head to the graveyards. The occasion isn’t morbid: it’s about remembering those who have passed on and celebrating family ties, in much the same way as similar holidays around the world like Mexico’s Day of the Dead. This is the Tomb Sweeping Festival, a chance for a long weekend, and a family gathering. But like many traditions, the Tomb Sweeping Festival in Taiwan is not static, and recent years have brought some big changes in the way actual people on the ground observe it. One recent tomb sweeper, Sam, is here with us this week to tell us about the holiday and the growing gap between tradition and how people actually observe the holiday today.

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10 April, 2021

Each year in the early spring, most Taiwanese people head to the graveyards. The occasion isn’t morbid: it’s about remembering those who have passed on and celebrating family ties, in much the same way as similar holidays around the world like Mexico’s Day of the Dead. This is the Tomb Sweeping Festival, a chance for a long weekend, and a family gathering. But like many traditions, the Tomb Sweeping Festival in Taiwan is not static, and recent years have brought some big changes in the way actual people on the ground observe it. One recent tomb sweeper, Sam, is here with us this week to tell us about the holiday and the growing gap between tradition and how people actually observe the holiday today.

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03 April, 2021

A few weeks ago in a Taipei park I had a bit of a surreal experience. Suddenly, standing in front of me was a group of people dressed in elaborate period costume—knights in armor, armed peasants, and a cloaked, sword-wielding man wearing a skeleton mask. Had I stumbled on some kind of weird Renaissance fair? Despite the Medieval-inspired garb and the period musical instruments being played, no. This was my introduction to the world of something called LARP—short for “live action role playing”. It’s a relatively new thing in Taiwan, but it seems to have taken root across the country. And it’s a bit of a difficult phenomenon to classify. People who take part in LARP games aren’t historical reenactors. Nor are they cosplayers, people who dress up as characters from their favorite works of fiction. To further complicate things, each LARP group has its own rules and aesthetic style. I was a bit confused at first, but the head of the group I happened upon in that Taipei park, Dennis Chou, is here with us today to explain what LARP is, what LARPers do, and why.

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27 March, 2021

Taiwan’s indigenous peoples are famous for their gifts of song and dance. But fewer people outside their communities are quite as familiar with their traditions of instrumental music. As my guest today tells me, this is often quieter and more introspective music. It’s often intimate, not meant for grand public performances, but just for one or two listeners. The typical instruments from a range of indigenous groups are now on display in an exhibit at the Cahamu Museum, a museum of indigenous culture in the southern city of Tainan. Here to take us on a tour of the collection and teach us a bit about Taiwanese indigenous music is the museum’s Mukuwi Aniw.

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