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June 29, 2017

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Youth dances in deity outfit for love of Taiwan

By Grace Soong--In February of 2011, with a few flags of the Republic of China (R.O.C.) on its back, a giant puppet of Nalakuvara — also known as Nezha (哪吒), a Taoist deity from Chinese Buddhist mythology with the given title of "Third Lotus Prince" — danced to modern techno music in the streets of India, attracting glances here and there. After dancing through six different Indian cities, the puppet from Taiwan made it big in a local newspaper.

The same deity puppet made appearances in Egypt, Kenya, and Thailand in August 2011, impressing the local people with its colorful clothing, fancy shuffle dance steps, and fuming passion, under the hot equatorial sun.

From January to February 2012, the puppet left its footprints across South America and in the memories of those who took part in the annual Brazilian Carnival. It even briefly showed up in the basketball courts of New York City, cheering "fellow Taiwanese" Jeremy Lin on.

Beneath the 14-kilogram outfit is 24-year-old Wu Jian-heng (吳建衡), a student at the National Taipei University Department of Recreational Sport Management, whose dream is to make Taiwan known to the world.

I Come from Taiwan

Wu has always longed to travel abroad, and the chance came when he was 19. As he backpacked through New York, not only did he witness the power of culture, but he also realized how little Taiwan's international recognition was.

"Many foreigners either have never heard about Taiwan, or they too frequently mistook Taiwan for Thailand," he said, wondering what had happened to the impression of Taiwan as "Formosa," i.e. "beautiful island," the name which Europeans used to describe it in the 16th century.

In 2008, Wu traveled to Singapore for an international video game competition. As the flag holder of the Taiwanese delegation, the 20-year-old felt anger welling up in him as he was requested to replace the R.O.C. flag with a white competition organizer flag. Finding no use in arguing with the event organizer, he quietly replaced the national flag as the other 15 delegations from countries around the world watched on.

It was then and there that Wu vowed to make the land where he grew up in known to the world. In 2011, he decided to use one of the most local and recognizable elements of Taiwan, the deity Nalakuvara, as the main attraction of his journey around the world. He would dance to popular Taiwanese techno music while dressed up in the Nalakuvara puppet outfit. He would then invite people across 60 different nations to dance along and shout "Taiwan!" while recording the events on video, compiling it all into a movie designed to touch the world.

Dreaming and Traveling

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