Tue, Sep 23, 2014 - Page 12 News List

Taiwan’s Cafe Philo debuts in New York

The Big Apple experiences a bite of Taiwanese politics with the expansion of Cafe Philo @NY, based on the Friday night salons which started in Taipei in 2010

By Dana Ter  /  Contributing reporter in New York

Organizers and attendees at the inaugural Chinese-language forum of Cafe Philo @NY on Aug. 15.

Photo Courtesy of Cafe Philo @NY

St. Marks Place in lower Manhattan is infamous for being the stomping grounds of hardcore hipster bar-hoppers and shisha smokers. But a different kind of concoction was brewing nearby on the first Friday night of last month at 440 Studios on Lafayette Street.

A few dozen attendees, mostly Taiwanese and Taiwanese-Americans, were settling into the studio for the first ever English-language forum organized by Cafe Philo @NY (哲學星期五 @NY). Modeled after 19th-century Parisian salons, the civic forum started in August 2010 at Taipei’s Cafe Philo (慕哲咖啡) on Shaoxing North Street (紹興北街). Since then, Cafe Philo @Taiwan has provided a space to debate topics from philosophy to social issues for those seeking an alternative high on Friday nights.

GLOBAL EXPANSION

On its fourth anniversary and in the wake of the Sunflower movement, Cafe Philo expanded to London, Hong Kong and New York, as well as other US cities, to facilitate transnational conversations about social, cultural and political issues in Taiwan.

The topic on that particular New York evening was on the evolution of US-Taiwan relations, featuring guest speaker Julia Famularo, a doctoral fellow in East Asian political history at Georgetown University. There was a good mixture of artists, lawyers and scientists present in the audience. In addition, there was a sizeable portion of graduate students from Columbia University who were noticeably jet-lagged from the 16-hour flight from Taiwan after the summer break, but were nonetheless enthusiastic about the evening’s discussion.

The Taipei Times sat down with the Taiwanese organizers of Cafe Philo @NY to discuss various reasons and goals for the forum’s expansion to the US, and communicated through e-mail correspondence with organizers based in Seattle and Taipei.

The New York team stressed the fact that they wanted to invite people who are experts in a variety of fields ranging from politics and international affairs to art and design. As Alysa Chiu (邱雯莉) said on behalf of the group, “we don’t want to limit ourselves to academic discussion with scholars, but hope to make social issues more accessible and interesting to the audience.”

There was an overwhelming consensus that young Taiwanese are taking the initiative to promote Taiwan-related causes internationally, and that Cafe Philo is stepping up as a platform for overseas Taiwanese to make their voices heard and to instigate social change.

SALON BEYOND BORDERS

The strong links between Cafe Philo organizers in Taiwan and the US is what keeps the salon thriving in both places. Participants are in constant communication with each other through various social media, keeping each other up to date on local developments while working collectively towards common goals.

As Sophia Liao (廖健苡) from Taipei said, “each local branch has their own topics to discuss which affects them on the ground.”

She added that “slowly, we can grow in strength and convert these related topics into discussion series.”

The most pressing issue to date has been centered on the cross-strait service trade agreement and, in general, on China’s increasing encroachment into Taiwan. America’s role in cross-strait relations was also an important topic, especially for Cafe Philo organizers in New York and other US cities.

“Taiwan’s marginalization in international relations by China’s economic and political adventurism makes it important for us to regroup and rebuild a space for generating intellectual conversations among young Taiwanese people in New York and in the US at large,” says Wen Liu (劉文), who spoke on behalf of Cafe Philo @NY.

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