藝術家駐留週記《阿拉斯加》2

藝術家馮捲雪參與阿拉斯加州 Island Institute 舉辦的駐留計劃 ,獲邀請到阿拉斯加州東南部進駐創作,並與一眾藝術家交流、探索自然、生活、文化與歷史。

關於馮捲雪

2016年4月4-10日

第二個星期的駐村,我們開始到處漫遊。第一站Wrangell,這個以前是伐木的小鎮。在六十年代,Wrangell曾經興盛,居民有三千人,當中六分之一依賴木業維生。自千禧年代木廠倒閉以後,這裏的經濟開始衰落,現在居民剩下兩千餘。

許多居民一輩子沒有離開過這個鎮,不少離開家鄉上大學的孩子,因為思鄉情深,紛紛都選擇回家,有的是畢業後決定回家落地生根,有的是受不了外面的世界,乾脆回家。

星期二晚上是我們為這個小鎮表演。地點是在市中心邊緣的一個小島上的原住民祭典所,這棟有七十多年歷史的建築物,是Tlingit族人進行重要儀式的地方。小島的兩旁是美不勝收的海港,我看著這座活著的歷史,心想為什麼住了加拿大這麼多年,對北美原住民之文化認識少之又少?

對於我來說,當晚節目的高潮一定是原住民的歌舞表演,其實他們在迎賓多於表演,他們用自己的方式語言把我們包容在社區其中。我只在華盛頓省看過原住民歌舞表演一次,那是讓遊客嚐一嚐經過濾的原住民文化,是一個純經濟的交易。我付了鈔票,回報是娛樂性豐富的歡愉,不需要深入的了解,不需要跨文化的橋樑。

下一站是Ketchikan,人口八千,是我們目前為止來過最大規模的市鎮。我聽說當阿拉斯加失去它的木業時,每個地方以不同的方法活興經濟,而Ketchikan的策略是郵輪。這市基本上依山臨海而建,和許多阿拉斯加西南部的市鎮一樣都是得天獨厚。在市中心散步的時候,會看見長長的碼頭,預備天氣暖的時候每天四艘郵輪的遊客蜂擁而至。現在是四月,郵輪季節還未開始,市中心百分之九十的店乾脆休息,反正他們主要的收入來自夏天能花得起錢的客人,於是本來的酒吧都變成了珠寶店。

星期三的表演在離市中心十分鐘車程的Saxmen Village Tribal House舉行,這和Wrangell的祭典所相類似。一連兩個晚上在別人的文化聖屋分享我們的故事,實在是一個難忘的經歷。今晚村長還親自上台領辭歡迎我們。在原住民的村落我學會時間的另類定義,節目應該在晚上七點開始,七點四十五分村長徐徐上台的時候,台下的觀眾肅然起敬,沒有絲毫不悅的神色,到節目進行得火熱的時候,我眼角掃一下觀眾席,似乎沒有人記得那四十五分鐘。

離開Ketchikan,我們到達Kake,一條只有五百五十人的原住民村莊。阿拉斯加的輪船本來就稀少,許多原住民的村落更是沒有輪船服務。這個連酒店都沒有的地方,一星期只有一班船。剛剛這週末是他們一年一度的村際籃球比賽。球賽還沒開始,四周的房子已經傳來響亮的音樂,大家都在熱烈迎接這件盛事,以及晚上派對的狂歡。午飯時間,我和其一長老閒聊,從前這地方有一千多人,可是為了生計,不少年輕人都出外闖。除此以外,單是去年,便有六人去世,長老淡淡地說,有的是年老的,有的是年輕的。年輕的是死於什麼?我不禁問。酗酒。

我沒有再問。 酗酒和北美殖民歷史緊緊相勾,在十六世紀,來到新大陸的歐洲人為了想得到珍貴的皮草,開始教原住民喝威士忌,以培養他們對金錢的慾望,就像是十八世紀英國人為了中國茶葉、絲綢、瓷器把大量鴉片輸入中國一樣。

Kake這個地方非常非常美,依林環海。由於位置偏遠,百物騰貴。(這裏一包薯片要六塊美金。)居民主要吃的是都不是買的,春天割筍,夏天摘果,秋天出海,冬天打鹿,還有三文魚,八爪魚,海蜆鮑魚,非不得已才會在商店補充補充。長老說,有一年一個做生意的女人聽說這裏的藍莓是全國數一數二的,出價三塊美金一磅。長老對全村宣報,結果摘了一萬三千磅,可想這裏如何物資豐富。

旅程已經來到第二個星期的尾聲,大家開始有疲態。上文講過,阿拉斯加的輪船服務稀少,於是我們常常在清晨半夜時份啟程,也讓身體沒法長期適應一個地方。我在想,我們已經是以最舒適的方上路,現今的都市人實在都被寵壞了。


 

Invited by Island Institute in Alaska, Michelle Kuen Suet Fung participates in an overseas artist residency program in Northeast Alaska, to explore the nature and for cultural exchange with other artists.

About Michelle Kuen Suet Fung

4 – 10 April 2016
We started our nomadic lives in the second week. Our first stop Wrangell used to be a logging town. It used to house three thousand people, one sixth of which worked at the local mill. When the industry eventually dwindled, the mill closed down in the early 2000s. With the mill, went all the jobs and one third of the population. Today the town has two thousand people.

Many residents here have never left Wrangell and have no desire to. My host Chris shared with me that many college kids are so homesick after their first term away from home that they decide that staying home is more important than finishing college. Many of them, however, do graduate and then decide home is the best place to settle down.

We performed for this town on Tuesday at the Chief Shakes Tribal House just on the outskirt of downtown. It is no ordinary house—it is the Tlingit tribe’s ceremonial house where they hold all important rituals. The location also befits its importance. The house sits on a tiny island surrounded by an incredible harbour view. I stared at the living history dumbfounded. Having lived in Canada for so many years, why do I have such poor understanding of the North American native culture?

For me the climax of the evening was definitely the Tlingit music and dance performances. Well, I felt like they were greeting their guests (us the speakers and the audiences) more than putting on a show. This is their way of saying, welcome, we are happy to have you here. I had seen a Native American dance show once in the Washington State. I remember the salmon feast and the show—a mere spectacle and cultural tourism. The movements and melodies were devoid of meanings. It was solely a monetary transaction. I give you cash. You give me entertainment.

Our next stop was Ketchikan. Going from Sitka and Wrangell, Ketchikan is a large town (population 8000.) I heard when Alaska lost its mill industry, each town had their own strategy to deal with the crisis. Ketchikan’s was the cruise ships.

Like all towns in the Alaskan Southeast, Ketchikan is well-endowed with natural beauty. The whole town is basically built along the waterfront right by the mountains. It is still too early for the cruise ship season, so the long stretch of docks is eerily empty. My stroll downtown was equally spooky. I heard bars gave way to jewelry stores and they weren’t even open. I mean, ninety percent of downtown is closed before the cruise ships arrive! I was practically walking in a living ghost town!

Our Wednesday performance told place at the Saxmen Village Tribal House, ten minutes west of downtown Ketchikan. This house is similar to the one we had just performed in Wrangell twenty-four hours ago. I’m not sure if I can convey the solemnity and gratitude to present in sacred houses from another culture. Tonight the village chief came onto stage to greet us formally. Time seems to take on a different meaning in Native villages. The event was supposed to start at seven. At seven forty-five, the chief strolled onto the stage and the audiences hushed. During the show, I glanced at the audiences. Everyone was absorbed by the performance, and I seemed to be the only person remembering the forty-five minutes.

We arrived at Kake, a Native village of five hundred and fifty people, on Saturday. The Alaskan ferry system is sparse and far between. Many Native American villages have limited or no ferry services. This weekend is Kake’s 34th annual inter-village basketball tournament. Hours before the tournament, the locals played loud music in their houses and were clearly ready for the big party night.

I had a long conversation with an elder and was told that this village used to have over one thousand people. Many left for jobs. Death is another reason for the low population. Just last year, six people passed away, some old and some young. What did the young people die of? I couldn’t help asking. Alcohol.

I stopped asking. During the 17th century, the Europeans lusted after the precious fur the Native Americans hunted in the new world. In order to create a demand, the newcomers introduced whisky to the locals, much like how the British sold the Chinese opium for our silk, tealeaves and porcelain.

Kake is drop-dead gorgeous. Outside the town, it has trees as far as one can see and the ocean just steps away. Because of the remote location, everything imported is incredibly expensive. (Here, one bag of chips costs six US dollars.) Most locals here rely on a subsistence lifestyle, supplemented by store-bought food. They hunt, deer and moose. They gather, berries and shoots. They fish, salmon and octopus. They harvest, clams and gumboots. The elder told me one year a businesswoman heard about their berries and was willing to pay three US dollars per pound for their wild blueberries. They picked 13,000 pounds.

The journey is approaching the end of the second week. Fatigue is creeping onto my fellow travelers’ faces. As mentioned, the ferry service is nothing like what we are used it in Hong Kong. We often get up before the sun rises or in the middle of the night and are on the road constantly. I thought, we are already traveling in style. We first-world people are really really too spoiled.

#tidelinesjourney

 

 

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