Mon, Dec 13, 2010 - Page 13 News List

We need to talk

Tech enthusiasts, artists, architects and entrepreneurs gathered on Thursday for TEDxMonga, a local version of the popular TED conferences

By David Chen  /  Staff Reporter

Attendees participate in a game at TEDxMonga last week.

Photo: Dilip Bhoye, courtesy of TEDxMonga

Architects, entrepreneurs and artists were among the diverse speakers that gathered at the National Taiwan University in Taipei on Thursday for TEDxMonga.

Around 100 people listened to an afternoon of lectures and presentations, which were modeled on the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conferences held annually in California.

With its slogan “ideas worth spreading,” TED has become a global brand, thanks in part to its popular “TED Talks,” which are short but often thought-provoking presentations on a wide variety of topics by high-profile figures, and are available to view online for free at the organization’s Web site.

TEDx is the local version of the conference, independently started and run by volunteers and enthusiasts from all over the world, who apply for licenses to hold their own events.

Tied to themes of innovation and social change in Taiwan, the topics at TEDxMonga ranged from the quirky to the visionary.

South African expat photographer Tobie Openshaw spoke about documenting Taiwan’s betelnut girls; French artist Lucie Kelche described her ongoing apprenticeship with one of Taiwan’s most renowned traditional puppeteers; architects Kuo Ying-chao (郭英釗) and Chang Ching-haw (張清華), best known for their work at the Taipei International Flora Expo and the Beitou Branch of the Taipei Public Library (台北市立圖書館北投分館), talked about the inspiration behind their eco-friendly architecture.

One of TEDxMonga’s organizers, British expat Christopher Gray, says the speakers were chosen for their tangible achievements, which fit under the event’s banner theme “Make It Real.”

“[We sought] people who weren’t just talking about what they wanted to do,” he told the Taipei Times. “They had actually gone out and done something and they had something concrete they could show you and that they could talk about. [We wanted to hear from] people who made some change, not just followed a career path from a young age.”

Indeed, some of the speakers took unconventional career paths. Hong Kong-native Herbert Ng (吳奕敬), started out as a computer game programmer in Beijing, but wound up moving to Taipei after being charmed by its “cafe culture,” which further ignited his passion for coffee.

Ng runs an online business selling freshly roasted coffee, and is still applying tech ideas to his favorite beverage: He says he’s currently building a “social coffee database” to help retailers learn about customers’ favorite beans or blends.

This would overturn the traditional business model in which shops are “pushing tastes to consumers,” he said. Instead, members of the Internet community would be the ones customizing their own products, Ng said.

A good TED presentation both informs and entertains, and Ng also did plenty of the latter, drawing laughs with well-timed jokes and humorous photographs throughout his presentation.

Others such as Kuo and Chang, the architects, appealed to the audience’s sense of idealism. They explained the philosophy behind their eco-friendly building designs, and elicited cheers and loud applause for their vision of an economy based on a “tree reserve” instead of a “gold reserve.”

Another socially-minded speaker was entrepreneur Shih Ting-chi (石亭芝), who founded ClickDiagnostics, a technology company devoted to helping communities with poor health care infrastructures.

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