Another year, almost over. People ask me what’s up these days, and my answer is always some variation on the theme of “same as always.” Movie still not out, books still unpublished. Working two and a half jobs, day after day, and my best vacation in recent memory dates to 2008. I do a bit of wandering when I can, but there’s precious little time for that any more; every day is full of sand, and there’s no room for the golf balls, as the meme goes. I don’t even go see movies any more, not really.
The enjoyable things I do manage to fit in these days, aside from the occasional aimless stroll during my lunch break when the weather’s nice, are badminton, music and photography. Badminton with Bears is every Thursday night. I enjoy it as I can keep up with most of them, as most everyone’s about the same level as I am, and they’re fun to hang around. And it’s bears playing badminton; that’s just fun.
As for music, the Muddy Basin Ramblers are working on our second album, and I enjoy our practices down at Bob’s each weekend…music, drink, friends and the occasional tasty treat. Katrina’s chicken pies are frequent guests in my freezer these days. Our next gig is New Year’s Eve at the Taipei Artists Village: Black and white theme, tuxes optional. Should be a fairly raucous affair.
I’ve been working on producing a photography book for a while now, whittling down thousands of photos to hundreds, and then down to a good selection on my theme, by spreading prints all over my apartment floor and slowly mixing and matching them up into a sequence that I can feel emotionally. I then used Lightroom’s book module to make a dummy, and then showed it to some people. With their input, I made another dummy, etc. I think I’m getting close to an edit I can show to publishers with confidence, but it probably won’t be to local publishers.
Why not? As I’ve mentioned before here, I’ve made a few contacts in the local photography scene, but from what I’ve seen, it’s in a pretty miserable state. Every time I uncovered another aspect of the circles, I would think to myself: This is awful, but surely there is a genuine effort to practice, edit and display good photography elsewhere in Taiwan. Yet so far I’ve only been disappointed. A lot of it is cultural; if you really want to see decent shots, go see the results of a widely known photographic competition and look at the ones that got prizes like “honorable mention” and the like. These are the ones from photographers who don’t have the connections to take the big prizes, yet are talented enough to place.
I’m not going to rant (much more) about the state of the photography scene in Taiwan; there’s too much ranting online already, and it seldom does anyone any good. I’m not into photography for awards and praise; I do it because I can’t stop.
On a related note, I’ve been invited to speak for two hours on the subject of street photography in April, to a local audience at a space near Dihua Street. The organizer, Mr. Ye Lun-hui, is a well-known historical tour guide. Chenbl and I attended one of his tours last Saturday in Wanhua, following the small group through Longshan Temple, where Mr. Ye commented on the construction details, and through the alleys surrounding Snake Alley, including a 50′s-era hostel I’d never seen before, and then to the West Gate District. It was quite entertaining, and Mr. Ye seems to know a lot about the city’s history. Occasionally we would stop at some shop and the vendor would tell us a story of the area’s past. I’d like to go on more of his tours, especially of the old walled city of Taipei, which I find particularly fascinating. Every day I walk through Taipei New Park, which is called the 2/28 Peace Park these days, and wonder how much of it has changed since it was constructed over a hundred years ago by the Japanese.
I’d gotten a call from Katrina down at Bob’s on Friday night; she said a bunch of people were fighting over my photos there, so I went over to find, not an actual fight, but a Swiss woman named Zarah, who was interested in buying three of my photos that were hanging there. Some other people were also interested, and they were arguing over it. I told Zarah I had more works hanging at the Milla Bear cafe off Dihua Street, so Chenbl and I met her there on Sunday morning. Mr. Chen, the owner, was exuberant as always, introducing me to each and every customer with great fanfare. I think Zarah was a little overwhelmed at the display.
Mr. Chen brought all my photos out to the courtyard for us to examine, and I told Zarah about how each one was taken. We chatted for hours, as the weather was very pleasant, and Mr. Chen provided sandwiches at various intervals. Mr. Ye showed up as well, and it turns out that he and Mr. Chen know each other. I guess that makes sense. We also met a man whose family used to own the lovely old building next door, which is mostly rented out to foreigners these days. It looks like it has a neat little garden between it and the elaborate frontage on Dihua Street, and I can’t help but think that it would make a wonderful Bed and Breakfast if someone took the trouble to restore it. The man said the structure was sound, and he is making efforts to try and repurchase it. I wish him luck. The whole Dihua Street area has come a long way since I was there last, with lots of interestingly restored stores. I’ve always loved the atmosphere of the place, and I’m glad to see all of the restoration work coming to fruition.
In any case, we’ve supposedly survived the Mayan apocalypse, and are now facing down 2013. Ten years since the Muddy Basin Ramblers formed. Ten years since I published the Chinese version of my book. Ten years since we filmed Clay Soldiers. I’ve done what I could on those fronts. Now all I want to do is book a train ticket to Istanbul.