If you ever feel that business talks can’t be honest and open, or that profound thoughts on literature can’t be close to life or remotely interesting, you are mistaken. Remarks made by the foreign writers in Taiwan during the July 19 book discussion and signing such as “this book will not tell you how to set up a successful business, but how to successfully set up a business” or “reading fiction is, in itself, an act of empathy” left the audience wondering and wanting for more.
Four foreign writers living in Taiwan–Elias Ek from Sweden, Farrah Furtado from Canada, Trista di Genova from the U.S., and Jonathan Hemmings from South Africa–joined hands and held a book discussion and signing event at APEX bookstore, a welcoming bookstore on the second floor in the bustling Taipei Main Station area. This multicultural event attracted both local and foreign audience, and all participants enjoyed vigorous discussions with the writers after each author gave a fifteen-minute speech on their books and reflected on the themes and issues they care about.
Elias Ek is an immigrant entrepreneur who has been living in Taiwan for more than 14 years. He is the author of business guidebook “How to Start a Business in Taiwan”. The book has, since its publication, helped numerous foreign/immigrant entrepreneurs make their dreams become reality. We heard many stories on how the book helped them save time, understand obscure regulations, and facilitate their businesses. Farrah Furtado lives in Kaohsiung with her husband Charlie, and her book “Her Apparitions and Other Human Longings” deals with self-growth and explores the value and depth of living. Trista di Genova and Jonathan Hemmings have multiple publications of their own and they both devote their time to creative writing and running their publishing businesses. Jonathan’s book “Panthera” is set in his beloved home South Africa, where his passion for environment and animals take deep roots. The book centers on werewolves and the Zulu culture, and its fierce cover and exotic themes caught the attention of many attendees.
Being the first speaker, Elias initiated the discussion on his decades-long passion: entrepreneurship and business. He talked about the motivation behind publishing “How to Start a Business in Taiwan”. During a layover at the Bangkok International Airport he saw a shelf of books on starting a business in Thailand. Immediately he thought of the bookstores at Taoyuan International Airport and their highly disappointing collection of English books, not to mention any English books about Taiwan. “If no one else will write one, I will,” he thought. Even with the help of interns and many friends, it still took him two years to complete the book. It has now sold about 1,000 copies and been shipped all over the world.
Farrah, coming up as the second speaker, gave a speech that was entirely different from Elias’ focus. She shared her experience of being a yoga instructor in Kaohsiung and witnessing the beautiful transformation of her students. Seeing how love has the power to bring miracles to people coming from broken families, she truly believes that deep caring from the heart changes lives. This testimony wonderfully echoes her book, “Her Apparitions and Other Human Longings”, in which the protagonist Fatima desperately tries to seek love, even through extreme measures such as self-destruction. Farrah also said after being a full-time vegetarian, she feels a deeper connection to her surroundings, and she can truly feel the oneness that is between her and all other beings on earth.
Trista gave her thoughts on why Taiwan is the Paris of the East. Being a foreigner in Taiwan, she experiences utter freeness. The foreign community is, in a sense, overlooked by the mostly homogenous Taiwan society, and she confessed that she enjoys the marginalization. “The Great Scroll of Banciao” is a thriller fiction set in Baociao, New Taipei City, where she lived for many years. She jokingly compared Banciao to New York City, saying she absolutely hates New York City and feels “Baociao” has more of a human touch than the international metropolis. She referenced this to one of her poems titled “Why I Hate New York”. Finding the comparison debatable, laughters coming from the audience strongly suggested they feel otherwise, but Trista’s personal care-free style certainly entertained the readers to a great extent.
Jonathan brought a resonating end to the speeches with an intriguing note on the correlation between reading fiction and empathy. He elaborated on the idea, saying the act of reading and enjoying fiction is the act of empathy itself. A book of fiction has no smell or taste, no sound or any impressive 3D effects, but black ink on white paper. It’s only by reading the words that readers visualize and construct a character in his head, an intimate part that nobody has access to but the reader himself. As the story develops, readers come to understand the characters’ motives, feelings, and their responses. The ability to imagine and to understand the feelings of others is exactly how empathy is defined, and thus, effectively and beautifully cultivated through reading fiction. Referring to Game of Thrones, Jonathan confessed he killed one main character in the end, not because as the author he wants to be intentionally cruel, but to let the readers feel the heart-ripping loss that comes along with feeling with the characters, the epitome of empathy.
Zeno, the owner of APEX bookstore, gave a closing remark that responds directly to Jonathan’s calling; that people should and should be encouraged to continue the habit of reading, a habit that gives us new perspectives and a habit that explores our lives in depth and makes them more interesting. He also expressed great honor in hosting such an event for the writers and in selling their books. So if you want to read a book by a foreign writer living in Taiwan, APEX with its expanding collection is the place to be. The writers receive recognition and the bookstore boasts an increase in diversity; a win-win arrangement.