On the negative side, I experienced a wholesale failure of the technology that I had brought with me to use and evaluate. My smartphones gave up the ghost. Also, I found that Aikuma malfunctioned on the particular phones I was using. At the time I wasn't bothered too much because it seemed all the other things were more important, the traditional challenges of linguistic fieldwork. Meeting new people, recording details of speakers, learning what works so that you can begin work and the whole universe of social interactions in a different culture. What I did do was record video, quite a lot of it. I did it because my camera was reliably brilliant, the microphone was excellent, and because I had a plan to use these videos to demonstrate what I was doing as part of a snowball effort to build engagement with the project. I painstakingly explained the annoying university consent forms and plain language statements. I meticulously took down details of family relationships, short life history, Saisiyat and Chinese names and so on. All on paper, all very traditional. So when I lost the majority of those notes as a typhoon broke the window and soaked my desk, it was a pretty major loss. Here was I, digital man, coming here with new fangled technology and none of that worked, and I couldn't even do pen and paper right.
Still, another win was meeting up with a Saisiyat lady Lalo, who is quite experienced in transcribing Saisiyat. I fed all of my primary data into SayMore, painstakingly attempting to reconstruct the lost metadata in the digital domain. I met up with Lalo in a convenience store (which is convenience in that it's air-conditioned and is dry), gave her some simple training on how to use SayMore to transcribe. I handed over the entire folder of SayMore data so she could look at the videos also, even if she had to transcribe the audio exclusively. We agreed an estimation of time and I paid her up front because it was going to be too hard to figure out how to send money to Taiwan from Australia. As I write this, the work still hasn't been done but I think it shall be. It's now on my list of things to do, follow up with her to get a time scale for having this work completed. I'm pretty happy with what she did so far and it already delivered some interesting insights. How do we deal with code-switching? How do we deal with multiple participants? Presently I consider that the data should be underlying a corpus which preserves speaker turns and languages, but a transformation of that data into, say, subtitles for videos, may represent a subset of that. A key thing I'm thinking about now is that I need a little bit more than what SayMore does, but I don't want to go towards horribly complex software like Elan. In fact, I really want to be able to do all of this via the web but there is no system for doing that right now. I now realise that if I had time to build anything, I should focus on that. E.g. a collaborative version of SayMore web app.
Some highlights of this trip: I made a particularly good friend, bo:ong, who is a perhaps a little older than me and takes a very active role in Saisiyat activities. He lives right next to an office/classroom building which is used for Saisiyat maintenance/revitalisation. Next time I go, I'll go straight to this village and stay with bo:ong. I can't overstate how helpful it will be to be able to head straight to the region of interest and begin working. So many small things I've learned that I wont need to next time. A guy who runs the scooter repair joint in Nanzhuang will rent me a scooter. So I don't have to engage in those epic 100km rat runs out of Taipei with all of my gear. I can just jump on a bus to Nanzhuang and rent one locally instead!
That classroom will also be the focus of where I work, so rather than working one-on-one (distinctly not-scalable!) I will aim to do precisely the work that didn't get off the ground during this trip. Multiple people there using laptops and mobile phones at, say, weekly workshop events. I even managed to organise some laptops I can borrow for this job. I also made a bunch of friends in Taipei that have semi-aligned interests. Many of them have helped me out already such as giving me an intro tour to northern Saisiyat land, arranging for the use of laptops for next time, coming down to the region to translate harder things, translating some of my documents and social posts into 'nice' Chinese. These are all things I didn't know I needed until I was there.
As expected, my research goals didn't quite align with the reality on the ground. I crafted a substantial document that set out the research agenda for my PhD as part of my confirmation process at UniMelb. This document is almost uncomfortable to read because it shows the degree I minimized significant challenges with a bit of hand waving. In particular, I'm struck by my focus on the expanding the quantity of data in a corpus. That remains a goal but I sidestepped the major issue of why participants will want to record large amounts of material. For what purpose? I had visualised a documentary project as a monolithic thing with one overriding agenda. I just assumed the general output would be suitable for a variety of stakeholders, e.g. revitalisation, ethnography, linguistic description and so on. I now realise that there must be people within a project in charge of directing the collection of suitable materials and setting appropriate requirements for enriching primary data, e.g. does it need to be transcribed and translated?
So now I shall sit down and re-craft that document with knowledge of what I think is achievable and with a fresh eye on what technology, mobile devices and the social web can do to help facilitate the Saisiyat documentary project.