last night, a small group of revelers occupied the little paved area in front of ciCakian, my house ‘Atolan. It was the birthday of a young woman from the urban West who has caught the “Dulan Virus” and has tried to figure out how to make a living in Taitung. She has been active in a local dance troupe and works part time at one of the community’s commercial enterprises and has no shortage of friends around here. A group of them came over for bbq and drinks
Around ten pm or so, we were fishing about for a game. I volunteered “thumper,” a drinking game popular on college campuses in the United States a “few” years ago
“A few years ago,” says one of the 30 somethings around the table, “A-Te, by what factor are you skipping years?”
“He was counting one year to five” said another
Our jokes about which number system might make 20 odd years just a few aside, I set into the task of teaching the game, which involves signaling to people across the table an individual gesture; when one sees one’s own gesture, one repeats one’s personal gesture then passes the game to another person at the table by performing their gesture, after which they perform their gesture followed by someone else’s. Like most drinking games, it is pretty simple but effective: people either forget the gestures, perform out of turn, or miss their cue with some regularity. The point of the game is to keep it going long enough to have flow, but not too long that no one drinks. I have played the game in Lukang but not here in ‘Atolan
The thing about a game like “thumper”–renamed by my ‘Atolan ‘Amis friends as mofang, or imitate–is that it requires a steady pulse in order to produce flow. a break in this pulse, in fact, often feels like enough of a break in the flow to incur a penalty. When I’ve played the game on the other side of the Pacific or the other side of the Central Mountain Range the game tends to feel a bit jerky in tempo, with players signaling quickly and not always in synch with the tapping rhythm. It was thus not so surprising that the game took on a very different feel here. We were afraid to tap on the table for fear of disturbing our neighbors, but the game nonetheless had a pulse that everyone playing had to feel. The gestures my friends selected were also precise. One could be penalized for the wrong angle of hands, wrong sidedness, and the wrong “feel” of the gesture. In fact, they perceived the signals not as hand signs but as dance gestures employing the entire body in play. Moreover, movement from one gesture to another had to be more like a continuous flow from one’s own sign to that of someone else at the table. The aesthetics of how to move from one gesture to the next was equally important. Finally, while one could increase the tempo, one was also bound by the specific rhythm of the gesture within or against the pulse. Some of the gestures were syncopated, and that mattered, too!
Once again, I began to feel my awkwardness amidst a people who admire dance
But more interestingly, this encounter between a frat boy drinking game and ‘Amis aesthetics suggests that we take into account elements of bodily habitus when thinking about how diffusion happens