Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Dec 12 2007

Jiayi Rambling

The train station was busy on Saturday morning, when we had arranged to meet up for the trip. Slim was outside leaning against a wall when I arrived, and Thumper’s wife Christina waved from inside the station entrance. David and Conor showed up not long after, but Sandman was nowhere to be seen even as our departure time approached. Not wanting to miss our bullet train south, we descended into the bowels of the massive structure, loaded down with instruments and luggage, and boarded while David scouted Sandman out via the latest in phone tag technology.

It was my second trip on the high speed rail, and Jiayi would be the furthest I’d ever gone on one of the new trains. I once again pondered the wisdom of traveling the short distance from Taipei to Banqiao on such a train, but soon enough we emerged from the tunnel system onto the arrow-straight elevated track, where we accelerated to almost 300kph. It didn’t feel that fast; the distance to the ground made it seem a much more reasonable speed unless you looked at the small size of the things on the ground. I tried using my phone’s GPS to track us, but we were going too fast for the relatively weak 2G signal; Google Maps couldn’t quite download satellite images fast enough to keep up with the little blue dot that was us.

rearviewWe were in Jiayi in less than an hour. No mess, no fuss, though I nearly broke the train doors getting all my gear in and out. The Jiayi HSR station is a rocket launchpad in the middle of green farmland. We caught a handful of taxis, assisted by Ah-bing, and were taken to the Songyou Hostel in Zhongpu, where we’d booked a few sunny, peaceful rooms on the second floor. The hostel, as are so many buildings in Taiwan, was built with an almost gluttonous excess of concrete, but it was on a quiet street and had a garden with tables and chairs next to farmland and greenhouses.

I slid the three mats, which had been huddled in one corner of the room, apart as we got settled in. Afterwards, a delicious lunch was had in the garden across the street. Christina even hopped onto the karaoke machine while we ate.

temple courtyard at nightOur first show was at 7:30 at the Sanzhu temple in Shuishang, and the soundcheck was at 4pm. The stage was set up at one side of the parking lot in front of the temple, with a rainbow balloon bridge on the other side and a scattering of white plastic chairs in between. Our greenroom was actually a blue tent with red chairs on the lawn behind the massive stage.

The sound guys were surprisingly competent. I’d say it was one of the best sound jobs I’ve seen (or heard). They brought out a little flat mic shaped like a landmine for the washtub bass that boomed down into registers most mics couldn’t dream of reproducing. Afterwards we wandered in the golden hour as the sun set behind the temple. I found Christina chatting with the owner of a shanty shop across the street.
great faceHe had an interesting face, so I took a picture. Turns out he’s also a village official. He said there was a DPP campaign rally that night so not many people would show up at the show.

As showtime neared, the Ramblers reappeared out of the nooks and crannies of the temple and woods. The mood in the air was a little strange. The stage was too big. No foreign band had ever performed there before. The audience was there but had no idea what to expect. I felt a strange lack of motivation during the show, possibly due to eating too many almond cookies beforehand. But we were also too far away from each other, too disconnected, and it felt like we weren’t really playing together at many points. Despite the strange canned applause being broadcast over the speakers, the audience seemed to enjoy us, though I didn’t see any dancing going on, as is usually seen when we play. After the show I didn’t feel like talking to anyone, and sat inside the tent on one of the red chairs waiting to leave.

photojamMy mood improved considerably back at the hostel, however, after everyone changed back into civvies and adjourned to the garden for a long night of drinking, music, chatting and photography. Almas John and Thumper spent a disturbingly large amount of time lifting each other into the air, while I borrowed the latter’s new 30D, accompanied by very nice L-series lenses, to prowl around the area looking for interesting night shots. The revelry lasted into the wee hours of the morning, ending on the balcony of our room, passing a bag of potato chips between us.

Conor’s snoring woke me up the next morning. Well, that and the harsh whisper of Slim saying “Stop snoring!” over and over again. I sat up and threw a slipper at Conor, who did in fact stop snoring. But I was up already, and an outdoor kitchen was being set up downstairs, so I got dressed and hiked up the main road to look for some breakfast. Down the road I found a breakfast place that was still open. “I’d like a danbing,” I said. The woman behind the greasy counter pointed at a small yellow lump on the tray and said, “We’ve got one left.”

I looked at the unbroken eggs on the counter and then at the hot grill, and wondered if I should broach the possibility of making a fresh one. I decided that anyone who considered the possibility of eating a cold danbing wasn’t the kind of person who should be making one, so I said no thanks and went a couple of doors down to another breakfast shop where they were happy to make a fresh one for me. I chatted with the staff a little, and one woman asked me, “When did you get here?”

“Last night,” I said between mouthfuls. She looked shocked.

“Wow, really? Your Taiwanese is amazing!”

Zhongpu canalAfter breakfast I walked back and past the hostel, stopping here and there to take pictures. The weather was great, clear and cool. I walked through the fields past a nice new ranch-style house being built in the middle of some fields. A family of four, from the city by the look of them, exited as I walked by, piling into a small green VW and driving off. I waited until they were out of sight before peeking in the windows.

Past the house were more fields and a canal with a bridge, on which I decided I could go through my tai-chi forms while listening to the insects and tumbling water below.

The other Ramblers roused themselves around noon, reanimation via coffee and sunlight commenced. Slim and I took a walk down the road, exploring old Japanese-style houses and wondering at the sense of space and quiet. As we walked across a deserted intersection, I turned my head to look down the intersecting road and was surprised to see it vanish into the horizon, something I seldom see in Taipei. That and the empty old wooden buildings reminded me vaguely of Oklahoma.

zhongpuOur show that night was at 7pm at the Zhongpu Township Hall. David and I were in the last car, and the sun was low in the sky as Ah-bing drove us over. It turned out that the stage was actually the portico in front of the imposing stone building’s front entrance, and umpteen microphones were crowded like a flock of black storks on the red carpet in between the pillars. The area seemed deserted, and I wondered if anyone would show up. Sure, a few faithful friends were there, but who else would seek out this desolate location?

Turns out I needn’t have worried. Soon after we began playing the seat filled up, and the crowd was soon roaring with pleasure. My confidence was restored, though the bass was booming off the portico and smothering the sound. After the show we sat at a table and signed CDs for a while, which I’d never done before.

Getting all of our gear as well as ourselves into three taxis back to the HSR station turned out to be an engineering challenge worthy of a Mythbusters episode, but we managed, and soon enough were speeding along the highway. Ahead of us, in the distance, a bullet train streaked across the horizon towards the station.

b/w hsrConor got a warning whistle when he walked too close to the edge of the ultra-modern platform. A few minutes later we found out why when a train blew past only inches away from us at a startling speed. The ride back was just as quick and smooth, aided by celebratory wine, and seemed even more like magic in the dark, as the sense of speed was diminished even further. Before we knew it, Sandman, Slim and I were on the MRT, heading south and home.

posted by Poagao at 5:39 am  

7 Comments

  1. Thank you.

    Comment by sandman — December 13, 2007 @ 3:12 am

  2. You’re welcome.

    Comment by Poagao — December 13, 2007 @ 3:40 am

  3. hey, where’s my signed CD?

    Comment by Prince Roy — December 13, 2007 @ 11:44 am

  4. Oops, I still need to get that for you. You shoulda stuck around at the release party and gotten it then!

    Comment by Poagao — December 14, 2007 @ 2:13 pm

  5. would’ve done so gladly were it not for our 0330 wakeup the next day…

    Comment by Prince Roy — December 15, 2007 @ 3:22 am

  6. that “landmine” mic was a PZM and a weird choice for acoustic bass. i normally use them for recording cymbals or acoustic guitar, and almost never in a live mix because they are hemispheric and hard to control. interesting! i hope you get a chance to experience the success that being a rock star is. it’s pretty cool (putting it mildly). great article.

    Comment by MJ Klein — January 6, 2008 @ 9:22 am

  7. It was placed underneath the tub, so I suppose it was more controllable. It worked very well, I thought.

    Comment by Poagao — January 6, 2008 @ 9:43 am

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