Posted in Education & Technology

A Bit of Paper Culture Nostalgia

First, I will admit that I printed out all 48 pages of one of my class readings to read. Gasps, “don’t tell my teacher,” hopefully she might miss this one. Anyway, this led me to think about one of my earlier blogs or comment on a classmate’s blog regarding this matter. As I look back at this beautifully stapled, printed article, I thought…yeah, okay my carbon footprint isn’t the greatest here, but I needed to do it for my sanity.

I find myself looking at my highlights, note-writings on the sides; not to mention, how I can flip back and forth and around to find different things to talk about. My learning style is multimodal with kinesthetic as one of them; thus the need for this tangible read. I feel with a digital screen, learning pad, or even phone, I don’t have that ease yet with reading on these devices. The last thing I need right now are obstacles to get to my learning.

Let it be known that I’ve opened the online article, on my desktop, multiple times and would skipped through it. Eventually, I said oh forgot it, just do what you gotta do; so that you read it to be able to tweet, follow along in class, and write a blog. My lack in a digital skill, through my frustration, became prominent to me, particularly to read on digital devices efficiently, know how to navigate and make reading notations more tangible to myself. I am just getting myself to archive online. So, baby steps here for me.

It’s also extremely different reading from paper to screen. I guess that’s another thing for me. I can’t describe it or seem to pinpoint what it is…but there’s something about that difference for me. Does my love for paper have anything to do with it? You see, my maternal grandparents owned a paper factory, the kind that makes it the old fashion way.

The video below is a traditional paper factory in Puli (where my mother is originally from), one of just six in Taiwan that still makes paper by hand. It’s also the workplace for this national treasure, a local paper maker.

The man in the video above is the son of my grandfather’s brother; yes, he is essentially my uncle. Why didn’t I just say that? I wanted to show that he wasn’t directly blood related, in the sense that he wasn’t one of my mom’s sibling. You see, my uncle (the only one from my mom’s side) took over the paper factory when my grandfather died; and when my uncle passed, none of his two sons wanted to take over the business for the very reasons mentioned in the video, automation and high labor costs. Too add, one of them works in some sort of computer technology and the other is a teacher.

Anyway, I miss the paper factory that I grew up running through every summer. When you entered the factory, you imediately smelled that drying paper carefully picked up by a piece stick and waved like a flag, unrolled with the stick, then quickly brushed as if each piece, thin as silk, was literally being ironed out in less than 10 seconds. If you’re interested, this drying process can be seen below starting at 1:15.

Then, as I would run further back of the factory, I would be fascinated by what I call the “stack of tofus”; I could mindlessly watch them work this process over and over. The liquid pouring over the screen is literally tissue-paper thin, and if you didn’t distribute that liquid pour with balance, then you’d have to redo this step; and if your “tofu stack” got messed up for water ever reason (like a naughty child pressing/poking their finger at a stack), then this was a gonner as well. This process is shown within the first minute of the video directly above.

Finally, reaching the end of the factory to play with tadpoles by the pond, I could see my grandmother and aunt sitting on ground stools, working in the “pulp” section, picking and sorting through the rinsed pulp. Although the factory my grandfather owned no longer exists, I am thrilled that my uncle (not immediate one), of a second generation in the paper making industry, has found innovative ways to keep his prosperous, and more importantly, continue to keep a piece of cultural heritage alive.

This is a very special and rare industry which should be preserved. Papers is one of the original materials that culture is dependent upon, but survival is a struggle…A very important concept is to guide this product and not be content focusing on the range of it’s use. It should become more of an artistic process. -translated quote from my uncle in an interview

Anyway, I thought that this piece of cultural nostalgia might be interesting to share, as it’s personal to me. Think of it as a break from all that technology stuff. I find it so ironic that I’m blogging about it and not writing about it on paper. What can I say, I appreciate stationeries and beautiful penmanship. Okay, I welcome my classmates to reel me back to the digital world anytime now.

On a side note: When I am in my mother’s hometown, I would insist my mother to take me to my uncle’s factory daily (even if she doesn’t feel that connected to that side of the family). My aunt and uncle would designate a special area for me (away from the tourists’ DIY stations) to make as much paper as I want, using all the traditional methods, and working every process from building my “tofu stack” to drying each piece to making a booklet, on a smaller scale.

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4 thoughts on “A Bit of Paper Culture Nostalgia

  1. Wow, this is fascinating! Thanks for sharing this story of your own life/memories and culture. You make an interesting point here; as we become more and more digitalized, we use less and less paper, which seems like a great thing. However, there are people out there whose lives depend on creating paper and make it not just as a job, but as a cultural tradition. We have the always keep in mind the far reaching effects of the changes we make, both good and bad.

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    1. Your comment made my day! You definitely got a glimpse of “my yellow lens” perspective which is naturally straying away from techie stuff. Anyway, I thought you summed it perfectly “…whose lives depend on…it not just as a job, but as a cultural tradition.” Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  2. This is a gorgeous post. Thanks so much for the care you took in writing it. This handcrafting of paper is a treasure. I’m sitting in a coffee shop right now and there is a rack of beautiful handmade note cards nearby and the textures and inks and colors are fascinating and beautiful and I lament the decline of work like this.

    I love that many of us are becoming more conscious of how we read — that it’s memory and physicality and spatial and kinesthetic. Over time, I’ve drawn clear lines between how I read fiction for pleasure and how I read my academic texts. I now honestly smile a little when I see the logo for the iAnnotate app that I use for all my PDFs because beneath that logo are so many great ideas that I’ve been learning from. I’ve developed a pretty personal system of annotating and tagging within that app, and I pull text between those articles and the writing I’m doing (In Google Docs) when I read something wonderful on the bus. It took me time to work out my systems. “control f” where I can search to find exactly that thought I’m trying to come back to.

    There’s nothing green about the materials in these devices or the energy it takes to run them, so it’s good to be doing careful thinking about how we learn, about the footprints we leave, about how we share.

    And it’s so important to always be thinking about what we stand in danger of losing.

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    1. Your comment was such a pleasant read as well; I wish I can comment like this, a bit of everything (recognition, summary of own thoughts and reflections, and best of all, knowledge to share!) The way you described how you read digitally is definitely a point that I would like to get to eventually (and hopefully soon). I might as well invest in the time to be proficient in reading “digitally” since it’s just as time consuming having to copy & paste texts, flip pages to print on back side w/ older printers, change font size to save printing costs & wastes. I’ve never heard of the iAnnotate app, and will definitely have to look into this.

      A random side note that occurred to me as I began to read your comment was the “theme” choice that I changed (earlier in the quarter) to use as my blog site seriously couldn’t have been more fitting. After spending hours looking at the various “themes,” ironically I chose this… pencil / highlighter / pen (it changes) and stationery background (post-it notes, legal pad paper, notebook paper, paper envelope).

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