Happy Birthday, Red Room!

As Northern Taiwan cools down, sun-seeking Taipei-ren head down South for the weekend, and that was my plan for this one. It was a great plan, one which included snorkeling with sea turtles down on Xiao Liuqiu island off the coast of Pingtung.

But as the old Chinese saying goes, Jì huà gǎn bu shàng biàn huà (計劃趕不上變化), or “plans cannot keep up with change” (special thanks to Business Development Specialist Ann Lee who sits across from me in the office for providing that one – I was originally going to go with the Mexican saying “if you want to make god laugh, tell him your plans). To make a long story short, my partner Stephanie wound up having a crucial university exam rescheduled for the weekend, so out the window went our southern trip.

But spending the weekend in Taipei isn’t a bad thing, and especially not the coming one, seeing as it coincides with the second weekend of the  Taipei Red Room’s  eighth anniversary celebration. What’s The Red Room, you ask? Well, in the founder’s own words:

Photo credit to Red Room Taipei

“The Red Room is an ever-expanding community, exploring and extending the boundaries between audience and performer; a not-for-profit platform for events developing a culture of learning to listen to each other, what is around us, and ourselves.”

I don’t think I could put it any better, other to add that it’s a creative hub, Taipei’s most happening spot for artists, writers and free-thinkers of all sorts, and the brainchild of an esteemed group of Taipei movers and shakers including Roma and Manav Mehta and modern-day Taiwan renaissance man Ping Chu (whose interview will grace our digital pages next week).

I’ve been going to Red Room for years, but it was only while interviewing Ping Chu last week that I really found myself thinking of Red Room as more than just a cool place to meet up with friends and engage in creative pursuits. Indeed, according to Ping, “Red Room is a new model, a platform for artists to launch their passions, and for the community to participate in creating a shared economy and facilitating positive social change.”

This commitment to being an incubator for ideas was on full display last Sunday, the second day of the first weekend of Red Room’s two-week long eighth birthday party.  One of the panel discussions, called Think Eat Grow Regenerate, was hosted by my old friend, Permaculture designer and educator Tammy Turner. The presentation concerned thinking more deeply about where our food comes from and what its costs, not just in terms of dollars but also in how our nutritional choices affect the environment and society.

A semi-regular at the Red Room, Tammy calls the space “a vibrant, cross-cultural nexus of creative and caring people. I deeply appreciate the opportunity to connect with such a vitally diverse community on heady issues like the one that I presented on recently.”

Another session featured Taiwan legislator Jason Hsu and the crew from Forward Taiwan, a group that promotes regulatory reform to help attract expats who want to bring their expertise, creativity and world view to Taiwan.

I’d first come to Red Room with another friend, photojournalist and filmmaker Tobie Openshaw, who is a Board member and on Sunday gave a presentation about his documentary film on Taiwan Indigenous issues.

“Red Room is that rare social group that actually stays true to its founding principles, and builds upon them, as a space – a space where you can come and be heard if you want to be heard, and just listen if not. A little break from cynicism and despair at the world out there.”, says Tobie.

As to why the space is an important bridge between the expat and local communities, Tobie says,

“As expats, we sometimes build little enclaves for ourselves – culturally and creatively.  Red Room is that very rare space where there is actual crossover – where expat, local, and indigenous creatives meet on a peer level, and find a connection. Plus, since the place used to be a military headquarters, I kind of like the whole ‘swords into ploughshares’ vibe of the place.”

Now run by the Ministry of Culture and Arts, elements of the area’s military past are still present. According to Ping, the distinction is quite useful in that it both “connects the past with the future and, being government property protects the overall area from getting overdeveloped, keeping it for cultural usage.”

So despite missing out on the sea-turtle swim, being stuck in Taipei this weekend isn’t a totally bad thing, as it’ll allow me another opportunity to mingle with Taipei’s creatives at a truly magical space. If you’re in the greater Taipei area, why not show up yourself? Click here to find out about the events scheduled for the second half of the two weekend spanning event. And even in you miss the birthday bash, click over to their  general website to learn what’s going on in general. It’s definitely off the beaten tourist path, and a good spot to investigate different sides of the cultural experience to be had in Taiwan.

Of course, it’s a great spot to meet people. And in the end, isn’t that what life’s all about?

 Watch this space  for our interview with Red Room co-founder Ping Chu next week!