Changing Planet

Hip-hop, Trash & Taipei: The Video

I spend a lot of time thinking about how people perceive trash.

Adjectives like “dirty,” “gross,” and even, “whatever,” top the list. But I rarely hear the word “resource.”

‘Waste’ begins as a resource and transforms into a product. We then use and dispose of it. This linear “take-make-dispose” method is followed almost unconsciously; in fact, it took me close to 23 years to realize that I was blindly participating in this process. (Read the story of how my love of milk tea almost destroyed the environment.)

some people point to “inertia in the system.” things are the way they are because they just are. we simply accept them, so nothing changes.

Others point to the challenge of “perceptions of scale–” in order to influence more people, you need to increase your marketing. For example, if you want people to view banana peels as a source of energy (instead of a post-snack nuisance), you need to promote the idea over and over and over again. The message must be pumped up and out on a large scale for there to be any conscious change in the social perception of that object.

Taking this into consideration, I thought about the two worlds I’m in–the environmental world and the dance world. What if I could leverage the dopeness of dance to transform people’s perceptions of trash?

 

Hip Hop, Trash & Taipei

This music video is my attempt to do just that.

The Facts:

  • Almost 100% of the sounds were recorded from Taipei City’s waste management system.
  • Track is produced by “w/u.” He took the sounds and created the magic you hear in the video.
  • The film features three prominent Taiwanese dancers–Alex Hsiung, Wen-Lin Wang, and CE Liu.
  • One-person team: I took all the footage and edited the video.

 

Vision for a Clean Environment

“Dan Shui” 淡水 (or “Tam Shui” in Hanyu pinyin) means fresh water in Chinese. It is also the name of a northern district on the outskirts of Taipei City known for its river landscape. The river was once severely polluted as a result of growing industry, but became the focus of the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) and received funding for a major clean-up.

In October 2017, Minister Lee of Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Administration shared his vision for Taiwan with me:
“Clean air, blue sky, green landscape. a healthy environment, a beautiful environment, is not so difficult. If we can achieve this, it can not only make us feel comfortable, but it can strengthen our sense of community.
“My vision is to improve the quality of life for people. Every month, I tell my colleagues: envision, in ten years, what we will leave behind for our children or grandchildren; they will appreciate whatever we have been doing to achieve a healthier, cleaner environment.”
Minister Lee (center), me, and EPA waste management officials.
 

The Producer’s Intention

w/u. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Gene)

Track creator “w/u,” also known as Francis Tongpalad, is a medical student, break-dancer, and artist. At the end of 2017, I I recorded a series of sounds from Taipei’s waste management system. He then took the sounds and created “淡水.”

“I wanted to kind of mirror what recycling does in a physical sense musically.” – w/u

“The sounds made me think of the importance of silence,” he shared with me. “We go through the day constantly stimulated by the things most immediately relevant to our daily routine. The sounds remind me that there is value in being silent and appreciating the subtle sounds that occur around us each day regardless of if we pay them much mind or not. 

“But in a sense those sounds have something to say and by making the track I wanted to give them a platform to speak and tell their story. 

“Tamshui was the name of that district in Taipei, where I had many special memories when I visited, and it’s by the water so I knew I was going to name the track that for a long time. 

The song reminds me of just being at peace with yourself and taking the time to listen in silence to the world around you. Mindfulness in a sense. Just slowing down and listening.”

 

My Goal

The video aims to capture the essence of Taipei City and transform people’s perceptions of trash from something disposable to something valuable through an audio/visual portal.

Taking what Francis said, I wanted to mirror what recycling does in a visual sense through movement, motion, and art. Recycling is simply the process of taking something and reusing it for something else–repurposing it, recognizing its potential for continued use.

Of course, there is a time and place for both the creation and subsequent decomposition of things; such is the nature of earth’s biological systems. But trash doesn’t exactly follow this rule, especially with the way most people currently dispose waste.

While we can look away from trash, we can’t Ignore the sound. And if we can enjoy the sounds of the trash we produce, then there’s hope that we can change the way we interact with it.

A clean environment strengthens the sense of community. Likewise, music strengthens a sense of community through shared listening.

My hope is that by challenging these common perceptions, we can change the way we deal with waste, and in doing so, change the way we perceive our role and responsibility within this system and on Earth.

Wen-Lin Wang and Alex Hsiung. Two of the dancers in the “Dan Shui” MV. (Photo Credit: Lillygol Sedaghat)

 

Just the Track – Dive in and listen

Sounds Collection: Waste Noises Used in “淡水”
  • Sound of water filling up a water bottle
  • Crumpling sounds of those small green plastic bags you get in the supermarket to put fruit / veggies in
  • Ripping paper
  • Bottle caps being dropped
  • Opening up of a plastic bag before it becomes the lining for a trash can
  • Knocking plastic bottles against one another
  • The sound of opening a plastic wrapper
  • Crumpling of plastic bag
For more of w/u’s work, check out:
Lillygol Sedaghat is a multi-media environmental journalist and speaker focusing on the intersection among science, systems, and people. Previously, she was a Fulbright–National Geographic Digital Storyteller documenting Taiwan’s waste management system, plastics recycling and circular economy initiatives. She is an active contributor to National Geographic's Planet or Plastic? global campaign and creates music videos, info-graphics, and maps to transform people's perceptions of trash from something disposable to something valuable. Lillygol has spoken at UN World Environment Day, Influence Nation Summit DC, and National Geographic on her research. She completed a B.A. in Political Economy from the University of California, Berkeley and was named 5 Under 25: Leaders in U.S.-China Relations.

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