MY MEMORIES OF BEN
By Dafydd Fell (Director, Centre of Taiwan Studies, SOAS, University of London)
It was with great sadness that I heard of the sudden passing away of my former student Benjamin Hlavaty (1978–2016). When I first saw the post on Facebook my immediate thought was I hoped this was some kind of sick joke, but soon after it was clear this was for real. I have taught so many students over the years but Ben was one of those that had a special place in my heart. I suppose I could see some similarities with my own life story. Having lived in Taiwan, we had both fallen in love with the place and its people, and then we wanted to study Taiwan in great detail. Few students I have met have embraced Taiwanese culture to the degree that Ben Hlavaty did.
I first got to know Ben when took his MA in Taiwan Studies at SOAS in 2006–2007. In fact, Ben and Maki Hosoda were the first people to graduate from this programme after we introduced it. Even today I have very vivid memories of his time at SOAS. From our correspondence before he had arrived in London, I had already been impressed by his boundless enthusiasm for studying Taiwan. It was a challenging year for Ben, as on top of his academic pressures he became a father during his year in London. I still have clear memories of his complaints in class about the quality of maternity care in the British National Health Service.
Ben was a joy to teach for all those on the Taiwan teaching team. Over the year I, Chang Bi-yu and Professor Robert Ash become very fond of Ben. What especially impressed us was his dissertation research on the music of Chen Ming-chang. He returned to Taiwan to do fieldwork with Chen and ended up producing an outstanding distinction grade dissertation. We were thus delighted when he was accepted to present at the first ever MA Panel at the EATS Conference in Stockholm in 2007. Having worked with Ben for that year, we were sad to see him leave London, but were optimistic that he had a bright future ahead of him.
After he returned to Taiwan I kept in touch with Ben. One of the greatest joys for a teacher is to see that your graduates are able to use what you have taught them in their subsequent careers. Thus I was delighted to see Ben working at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy and the efficient way he handled his work there. I should say it was a shock to see Ben with short hair and a suit. Having worked with Ben on a couple of projects, it was sad to see him being pushed out of the foundation. Many of us are aware of this story, but what especially struck me was how even years after leaving the foundation Ben was still extremely angry and bitter about his treatment.
Of course Ben’s real passion was not in Taiwanese politics but in Taiwanese music. So I was delighted to see how he continued his studies with Chen Ming-chang after graduating. He became an accomplished player and there are numerous YouTube clips showing the quality of his performances. My impression was that along with his love for his son Isaac, his music was something that helped Ben to get through very hard times.
I should say though that in more recent times Ben seemed to have recovered and both in our email communication and when we met in Taiwan he seemed in fine spirits. He was involved in a number of Taiwan Studies related projects, including an important study about publications based on EATS conference papers.
Those that met Ben were invariably overwhelmed by his passion for Taiwan and he will be sadly missed by all of us in the Taiwan Studies community.
By Bi-yu Chang (Deputy Director, Centre of Taiwan Studies, SOAS, University of London)
Ben was a student of mine. I remember the long conversations we had in SOAS office years ago, talking about music, family, and Taiwan’s politics. For me, he was the embodiment of rock and roll, and an independent free soul. His was a short life, but nonetheless, an exciting and fulfilling one.
Ben loved life, and he tried to live it to the full.
Ben loved his son, who had made Ben a new and fulfilled man.
Ben loved music, and he lived for it.
Ben loved Taiwan, and was dedicated to the place.
We miss you, Ben, forever a rocker. Without you, the world is a bit gloomier.
BEN’S JOURNEY WITH EATS
By Ann Heylen (EATS Treasurer, 2010–present & Director of the International Taiwan Studies Center, National Taiwan Normal University)
In hindsight, Ben has been with EATS since about the early start. In 2007, while convening in Stockholm, EATS initiated the MA panels, featuring Ben with a stage act of Chen Min-chang’s songs on his yueqin. It truly so accompanied his master thesis presentation. A year later, in 2008, when I took up my position at NTNU, Ben remained within the EATS sphere of influence through his appointment at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD). It became the start of regular contacts with the TFD invited scholars and guest-researchers, a fair number of them who had been presenting at EATS conferences or even served on the Board. It was not until 2010 in Tubingen when the EATS and TFD liaison gained currency, leading to keynote appearances and special panel organisation, which to this date as one of the annual EATS activities is still ongoing. These were the years when TFD was organising regular public lectures and conferences, which helped consolidate the EATS networking by introducing new members and researchers sympathetic to our organisation.
Ben’s position at TFD did not last, and the period 2011 through 2013 were dark years. Nonetheless, the setback did not deter him to stay positive about the opportunities the world of academic networking could offer. He made sure to stay in touch with the SOAS alumni, and some of us met up with Ben again at the First World Congress of Taiwan Studies, held at Academia Sinica in April 2012. In step with the expansion of EATS and the Board’s decision to publish EATS News, Ben was taken on as our intern. Initially, he set out to work in contacting EATS members and presenters for collecting publication data and helping with the editing of the newsletter. Once we had our website up and running, Ben stepped in again and worked on the EATS database membership list. Precisely come the year 2016, Ben’s professional life journey seemed to take him to more stable places again, and we circulated a call for a new intern, taking over where Ben left, and sadly so, within four months, Ben suddenly left us for good, far too early and far too soon.
MY ENCOUNTER WITH BEN
By Ming-Yeh T. Rawnsley (Secretary-General of EATS, 2012–present)
EATS launched a project in 2014 to investigate and compile a list of formal publications as a result of EATS annual conferences from 2004. Ben was appointed as a research assistant to work on the project under the supervision of Dr Ann Heylen at NTNU. I began having email exchanges with Ben because of the project and was delighted to receive his first formal report in February 2015. However, I didn’t meet Ben in person until Summer 2015 when I returned to Taiwan. We met at the Taipei Main Station. I learned that Ben had the first degree in English and was very impressed by his knowledge and passion for literature and music. He was writing a novel at the time, which was a reflection on his varied experiences in Taiwan. Intrigued by the fact that Ben chose the ghost genre, I encouraged him to publish a summary of the story for EATS News so that more of us may read about his life and work. Unfortunately, the summary was never written.
Ben filed two more project reports for EATS in 2016. When I returned to Taiwan once again in Summer 2016, I met Ben briefly in August and told him how much we appreciated his final report, which enabled us to conclude the EATS project in a timely fashion. Ben looked well and happy then. He was going to be involved in a new research project and his enthusiasm was infectious. It was a complete shock when I returned to the UK in September and heard of Ben’s sudden departure.
Life is mysterious and precious. I feel privileged to know Ben, a talented young man with an old soul, albeit my encounter with Ben was extremely brief. Wherever you are now, Ben, rest in peace. We will be thinking of you.