In “Pondering the Pacific,” we conceptualise the Pacific as an oceanic highway or a contact zone. The vast ocean connects Pacific Islands. We travel from the island of Taiwan (we are reluctant to call it main(is)land) to Pongso no Tao to recover and explore this connection. When on the island, we further learn about Tao people’s connectedness to other Pacific Islanders. Upon our return, we wrote these poems to celebrate the Pacific. Along with other Pacific Islanders writers and poets, we praise the Pacific for its abundance and ability to connect people. We also join Pacific Islanders in voicing out against nuclear contamination and all forms of environmental injustice.
By utilising the Pacific as a space to reflect not only on the Trans-Pacific connections but environmental issues and even on humanity, our poems take us on a journey beyond Pongso no Tao and Taiwan across the Pacific.
Written by Ysanne Chen
Written by Ilin Tsai
Return / or the beginning?
Written by Shih-Hao Huang
* “Return the eyes to the ocean!”
** “We come from the ocean; we leave from the ocean, too.”
*** “The story will begin again.”
Written by Ysanne Chen
We returned from our journey to Pongso no Tao with a changed perspective.
Our time in Pongso no Tao allowed us to revisit and re-experience what we already knew through fresh eyes. Like the ever-changing waves of the resilient ocean that kiss the shores of our homes, we furthermore recognise the importance of continuously challenging our views just as we hold on to precious traditions and memories. Perhaps more significant than any solitary experience is the lesson we learned on connecting every new piece of knowledge to our own lives, thereby taking up our share of ownership in the narrative.
From poetry to photography to song, our collection attempts to do just that and realise the potential of culture, history, and truth as something that must be shaped through collaborative efforts. As scholars, we often assume the comfortable role of a passive observer and remove ourselves from our literary assessments. But through this journey, we begin to understand how hearing someone else’s story enriches our own. As we read the work of various Pacific Island authors, we use the ocean to reflect on our place in this “sea of islands”, rearranging the singular mainstream viewpoint to include the rising voices of numerous participants. As such, the Pacific, an ocean that has seen devastating war and diaspora, can become a starting point for peace.
Pondering the Pacific has been a journey of self-discovery for many of us, as we observed alternative histories and processed how we relate to them. In the process, we see the many deviations and diversity in our stories and takeaways; however, we also see how these come together to form a greater picture of what it means to participate in something bigger than ourselves. With this realisation, we can only humbly hope to help the Pacific continue to thrive by adding to the stories and experiences that weave together the rich tapestry of its waters.
Thus, through our shared moments in life, we continue to ponder and act upon our connections to the Pacific Ocean and one another.
We thank Professor Hsinya Huang for her teaching and guidance through this project and National Sun Yat-sen University Taiwan for funding our field trip to Pongso no Tao (Orchid Island).
This is part two of a two-part article. Part one can be found here.
Ysanne Chen grew up travelling between her homes in Taipei and Seattle. The trip to Pongso no Tao centred around the Tao people’s connection to the ocean and brought out her childhood memories with the Pacific as a constant background. To her, the ocean has always evoked a feeling of longing, curated memory, and sanctuary. Her segment “Pacific Peacemaking” endeavours to highlight the shared experiences and joint histories that can be found in the smallest of things. Through writing, she seeks to piece together a sense of what it means to belong and reach an understanding of our responsibility to the environment and each other.
Ilin Tsai has had many encounters with the ocean but was told to stay away, for the ocean is unpredictable. The journey to Pongso no Tao began with Ilin discovering her connections with the ocean as an “islander” who has long been separated from the ocean. “Prevailing Blue” describes the ocean waters composed of shades of blueness that are overlapped and merged. In this fast-changing era, many traditional cultures are sometimes washed away or buried deep inside people’s hearts. Ilin’s writing reflects her personal experience of breaking free from the past and repositioning herself in the Pacific community.
Shih-hao Huang was born and raised up in a hillside town but nurtured by the ocean during his college days, so he knows the life between waves and mountains, the life “on” an island. However, the journey to Pongso no Tao teaches him to live “beyond” and awakens the islander consciousness deep within but never fully recognised. Shih-Hao’s poetry trilogy “Songs of Becoming” documents this very process of awakening and tackles the issue of “islander consciousness” by drifting between memory, sensation, and tradition.
This article was published as part of a special issue on “Pacific Encounters.”