Sun, Nov 12, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Taiwan's unofficial ambassador of culture

An immigrant living in Canada, Charlie Wu has built the Taiwanese Cultural Festival into an award-winning showcase that attracts tens of thousands of visitors


It was the night before Charlie Wu (吳權益) left for Canada. After a full day of meetings, the jolly professional and his senior, James Chou (周洪才) , chairperson of the Taiwanese Canadian Cultural Society (TCCS, 台加文化協會 ), are still full of vim, talking about their ideas and plans for the Taiwan Cultural Festival, of which Wu is the executive coordinator. “Are you sure we are not keeping you? We can keep on talking about TCF for days,” asked Wu, who immigrated with his family to San Francisco when he was 15, and has for the past 10 years called Canada home.

Financial planner-turned-cultural event organizer, Wu was recently listed by the Vancouver Sun as one of the top 100 Chinese-Canadians who are making a difference in British Columbia for building TCF into a significant cultural event in Canada.

Originally a music concert held in 1990, the Taiwanese festival expanded to an arts and cultural event, but was a low-key affair until 2001 when Wu stepped in and transformed the conventional event into a carnival-like big party that has seen attendance leap from a few thousand to tens of thousands.

Last year, Vancouver’s Plaza of Nations and Roundhouse Community Center were again packed with kaleidoscopic activities and performances by groups such as Taiwan’s pop/rock outfit Won Fu (旺福樂團 ), Kenny Wen and the girl Erhu band Perfect Ten (溫金龍與十全十美女子樂團 ), Aboriginal and Taiwanese craft fairs, cooking contests and popular dragon boat races.

This year’s three-day extravaganza, held in a new venue in Toronto, saw a record attendance of nearly 70,000 and won the Best Cultural Event Award from the Canadian Event Industry Award for the fifth straight year.

Working with a team, the members of which have an average age of under 30, the 36-year-old leader wants the event to demonstrate Taiwan’s forward-looking energy and creativity that young generations can identify with.

“The generation gap is a big issue … . It’s all too often that Taiwanese cultural events abroad are like educational programs. It’s like this thing for our fathers’ generation, so naturally young people distance themselves from such gatherings. My thinking is that we don’t need to educate people in three days, but to bring in Taiwanese culture to let visitors experience it and have fun so that young people can say ‘Ya, this is our show,’ and the old generation can say ‘hey, we can let the young people take over now,’” Wu said.

However, with solid academic training in marketing and finance, Wu understands too well that to showcase Taiwanese culture, unfamiliar to most members of the public in Canada, effective strategies are needed.

“Culture needs people’s involvement. You need to be able to move people and more will join … . The term culture should be loosely defined so that people of different interests can find inspiration from the multiple aspects of Taiwanese culture, not just limited to high arts,” Wu said.

A cultural researcher, Wu has returned to his homeland once a year for the past four years to search for topics to export to the Canadian festival.

Wu knows a good cultural export when he sees one.

Take the Barbie and Me exhibition for example, Wu stumbled upon the existence of the Barbie Museum in Taishan Township, Taipei County (台北縣泰山鄉) while wandering the capital’s streets and immediately knew it was something that people in Canada could relate to.

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