Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Jun 02 2009

Dragonboat Holiday

When the dragonboat festival came around in years past, I would always take advantage of my location to simply stroll down to Bitan to watch, but this year some photography friends were going to the big official races at Dazhi, so I decided to have a look at how the other half paddles. I met Chenbl at the Zhongshan Middle School MRT stop, and we took a taxi to the riverside, though it is easily walkable if you know where you are going. The river, looking rather manufactured, lay underneath somber grey skies and the large Dazhi bridge. Tents lined the bare banks, with few trees in sight.

The Dazhi races seemed to be mostly populated by foreigners from all kinds of places, all wearing life vests and towing lines of small, blonde children who kept getting lost, resulting in loudspeaker announcements. We found the photo group huddled by the starting point, all taking pictures of the boats with large zoom lenses. I’d borrowed a 70-200 f2.8IS from Thumper for the occasion; a huge, ungainly gray lens that came in handy capturing the faraway boats and paddlers, it’s known as “Little White” in Chinese.

It didn’t take me long to come to the conclusion that Bitan is a far better place for dragonboat photography, for many reasons. First of all, you can get much closer to the racers from either bank or on the suspension bridge. Also, the background is much nicer, with dark green foliage instead of dull concrete walls festered with advertisements. The color of the water at Bitan is a nice shade of green, unlike the muddy Keelung River’s odiferous sludge that looks and smells like something straight out of a factory’s sewage gate. The Bitan races don’t require the racers to wear lifevests, letting them show off their tanned, muscled physiques and a plethora of tattoos.

We took some pictures of the finishing line, practicing getting the timing right until the morning’s races were over. The others were going up to the Shilin Villa to take pictures of birds, but we decided to cross the bridge and walk over to the Martyr’s Shrine, which I haven’t been to in ages. We watched the changing of the guard amidst a crowd of tourists from Japan and China, all snapping pictures of the guards’ shiny helmets and goose-stepping gait.

It was afternoon by the time we caught up with the photo group at the Shilin Villa. They’d been there all afternoon, all set up by a particular nest where a “Five Color Bird” was flitting about, bringing food to its young. I took some practice shots of it flying into and out of its nest with the telephoto, but it got pretty boring. Some of the photographers there were really into taking pictures of birds; they had huge, expensive lens setups and tripods, and were themselves decked out in camos and safari hats. They sell the pictures to magazines.

We walked around Shilin for a bit, having a bite of mutton rice by the night market temple, before parting ways. The subway took me back to Bitan, where I feasted on zongzi with Ray, Gordon, Jojo and Sandy Wee at the Sandcastle. We chatted until quite late.

I’d planned on going down to Tainan the next morning, but I couldn’t miss taking at least some dragonboat pictures at Bitan, so I decided to postpone the trip and spend the morning by the river. As I’d guessed, the experience was much better; a more comfortable, lively scene without the fussy international officialdom of Dazhi. Kids splashed each other on the pebbly outcrop and cheered on their parents paddling by in the boats, while loud stage performances, including a tai-chi group, failed to distract anyone from the races. The suspension bridge would tilt from one dangerous angle to another as the boats passed by underneath and everyone ran from one side to the other. At one point a boat overturned, the spectators on the bridge yelling and cursing the rescue boats for not responding fast enough. “They’re tired, they can’t just wait for your slow-ass rescues!” They shouted. “There might be people trapped under the boat! Come ON!” It was ok, though; three rescue crafts pulled all of the bobbing paddlers to safety. They huddled together on the shore afterwards, looking rather abashed.

I took a lot of pictures, of course, but it will take me a while to wade through the pile. It’s strange; I didn’t used to need so much time to get photos up, but these days the backlog just keeps getting deeper and deeper. I suppose I just need to be pickier about what I put up instead of just throwing everything into the mix.

posted by Poagao at 10:47 am  
Oct 16 2008

Town meeting

Last week I attended an open meeting concerning future renovation plans for the Bitan area, where I live, at the culture center near the city government building. A few dozen people attended, including a few familiar faces such as the short-shorts guy who runs the restaurant near the bridge and some other residents and vendors, as well as some county and city government representatives.

A hefty, bespectacled engineer with long hair gave a presentation on the plan, which mainly entails repaving the streets and painting a few walls. There were a couple of good ideas mentioned, such as simplifying the intersection of Guangming Street and Beixin Road, and adding more trees to barren areas. On the whole, however, it was generally useless additions to the streets, such as “portable trees” and replacing the old ugly signs with new ugly signs.

Predictably, some of the government officials got up and stumped for votes by appealing to the lowest common denominator. “We can’t ask the illegal chicken abattoir to become a coffee shop!” they said, in effect. “That would be a waste of money!”

When it came time for public opinion, there were various rants and complaints that all the tourists went to Danshui instead of Bitan, and those that did simply walked across the bridge and then came back without visiting anything. One idiot of a woman even took issue with the utterly bewildering “Please don’t linger on the bridge (which is the main attraction and the entire reason anyone would come down to Bitan in the first place)” signs. “Those signs aren’t enough; people are still lingering on the bridge!” she cried, oblivious to the contradiction in her words.

When it was my turn, I took the microphone, walked up on the stage and pointed to a photograph from the presentation on the screen, a shot of the stairs leading to the suspension bridge with some computer-generated bushes. “The composition of this shot is interesting,” I said, “in that just out of frame on the right side is a giant trash dump.”

“More signs, repaving the streets, none of this means anything,” I told them. “The reason people go to Danshui is because the government up there has the guts to tear down illegal decrepit buildings and make it a neat, interesting place people want to go. If you want visitors, you’ve got to do the same thing. If you don’t have the balls to clean up the mess, don’t go around crying that nobody wants to come visit.”

“Why do people stop and turn around on the other side of the bridge? Are you blind?” I asked, hoping that there weren’t any actual blind people in the audience. “On one side, where there should be a beautiful mountainside, is a row of buildings of which only the front three feet are legal, but the government can’t do anything but put up a metal wall inside and call it fixed. On the other, where a park is supposed to be, are a bunch of rundown squatter’s buildings inhabited by people who have twice taken compensation money and simply refuse to leave, dragging down the property values and attractiveness of the entire area. Who, besides the squatters, wants to see that?”

There was a scattering of polite clapping as I took my seat, probably more of the “oh my god it can talk” variety than from people who actually agreed with me. As some of the squatters themselves were in the audience, I was half expecting some kind of outcry, but they probably didn’t take me seriously.

Afterwards was a presentation on the development plans for the Hemei Mountain paths, which was much more promising, as it involves improving the hiking paths on the hill and the inclusion of viewing platforms along the way, LED lights at night, and non-slip wooden stairs.

After the meeting several people came up to me and said they agreed with what I’d said on stage. Surprisingly, some of the vendors were among them. We gathered outside and vented about the situation for a while. “So who’s going to run for office so they can do something about this mess?” I asked them.

They pointed at me. Ha, right, I thought. Things must be even more desperate than I thought. In the end nothing much will happen; the plan will go ahead, money will be spent on stupid things that don’t work, and another stupid plan will follow in order to “fix” all the things that were wrong with the previous plan. Wash, rinse, recycle.

But Bitan still has its charm, despite all of this. At least that shouldn’t change (too much).

posted by Poagao at 2:22 am  
Jun 06 2008

Exploring Bitan’s past

A while ago, Sandman told me of a fascinating large-scale photograph of Bitan from years ago on display at the Cardinal Tien Hospital in Xindian. “You should see it, ” he told me, “and take another one today from the same place.”

When I did get around to visiting the hospital, however, the exhibit was long gone. I asked the people at the help desk what happened to the photos, and they put me in contact with the photographer, Huang Jin-fa of Alpha Photography. I called him up and arranged to meet him at his studio in Xindian a few days later.

Alfa photogHuang used to work for a newspaper as a photojournalist until the paper shut down. Alpha is basically his garage, converted into a studio, the walls covered with huge prints of his photos, including the one Sandman had mentioned seeing. Many are taken from helicopters, a testament to Huang’s standing as a photographer, and the stages of Bitan’s development as seen from the air are fascinating. The picture Sandman saw was taken from the expressway bridge before it was open to traffic, so reproducing it would be difficult without a car. Many other photos he’s taken and collected over the years show views of Bitan I hadn’t seen before. One shows his daughter in front of the old Xindian Bus Station, the site of the present MRT station. Others show the various suspension bridges throughout the Japanese period and since. Besides the bridge, the Bi-ting pavilion is another constant throughout the pictures; that little place is ancient.

The riverfront was just rocks up until relatively recently, forcing people interesting in taking a spin in one of the huge-wheeled paddle boats of the time to pick their way down from the top of the riverbed across rocks of all sizes. “US servicemen on leave from Vietnam used to come down here to swim all the time,” Huang said. The catchment under the traffic bridge was originally much more fragile, being swept away with every strong storm and drastically lowering the water levels. The original bridge, built by the Japanese, was a single-lane plank construction, with heavy cement planks that could take the weight of vehicles and animals. The second bridge was divided into two lanes and was of a lighter construction. I remember the second bridge from my early days in Taiwan. The current version is again one lane, with a lighter construction method.

old bitanThe road on which I live now was apparently a tiny alley before they widened it, bordered by what looked like a wooden shantytown on both sides. In fact, a plan has been on the books for years to tear down the ugly 70’s-era tile buildings that now fill the triangle between my building and the shore, as it is government land, in order to build a park. The people who live and work there have fought to keep things the way they are, however, and the plans stay languishing on the books. In a way, it’s good, as I could never have afforded my place if they had improved that space. Property values would be double what they are today.

I noticed a collection of old lenses on a shelf in Huang’s office where he was showing me the old pictures, along with a Canon 20D. I asked him about these, and he said that it was very easy to plop on an adapter ring to use any old lens on the 20D body. He demonstrated with an old Leica lens. I took a few test shots and was impressed with the effect. You have to focus manually, and the viewfinder is too dark, especially if you close the aperture too much. With good old lenses going for dirt cheap at camera stores as people rush to more modern offerings, however, I might just go see what I can find on Camera Street in the old downtown area. “Young people aren’t interested in these old lenses,” he said. “They want immediate gratification; it used to be that you composed a shot. Now you take a million and hope for some accidental goodness from the camera’s AI.”

I told Huang that he should set up a Flickr account, but he waved his hand, saying, “I don’t understand these Internet things.” His son and son-in-law were more savvy and set up the company website, but they don’t seem to see photography in quite the same way as their father. When I told Huang about the feeling of regret I get when I pass up potential shots, his eyes lit up. “That’s just the way I was when I was younger,” he said.

posted by Poagao at 6:13 am  
Apr 01 2008

¿A México?

I was notified today that I’m actually eligible for a Mexican passport, though I haven’t set foot in Mexico in 39 years. The catch is that I can’t get it here, as Mexico has no formal embassy in Taiwan, so I would have to actually make a trip there to pick it up. I would like to have a second passport besides my ROC one, and it seems the US is not in a very generous mood when it comes to handing out green cards these days. Plus, I do have a couple of friends in Mexico, including a fellow student from film school who keeps urging me to go there to make films with him.

I really don’t think I could afford such a trip any time soon, though, not to mention taking that much vacation time. Also, my Spanish is crap. If I did go, I’d probably run out of money and have to rely on El Mono Severo to win food money in the wrestling ring. Still, “Mexican-Taiwanese” has an interesting ring to it, and I’m already pretty much used to curious stares at airports. Then again, there’s my future political career here to consider. Will voters in the 2016 polls care that I was once not only a US citizen, but a Mexican citizen as well? It might be the one thing that will let Vincent Siew and Su Zhen-chang get the upper hand over a potential Poagao presidency.

I’d thought that Spring was upon us, but these past few days, Winter has returned for a parting shot. The workers down on the shores of Bitan had better get a move on, or all their work will be washed away by the first typhoon if they’re not ready for it. At least it’s good sleeping weather; I’m usually woken up around 8am by the various streams surrounding the Water Curtain Cave, but when they subside I then go back to sleep until at least 11. Yeah, it’s a hard life.

Oh, and btw happy April Fool’s Day, damnit.

posted by Poagao at 5:02 am  
Mar 10 2008

Another Saturday

After Tai-chi practice on Saturday at CKS Hall, I called up Prince Roy to see what he was up to. As is his wont, he was planning to visit a couple of political rallies later, so after a particularly delicious lunch at the Yongkang Sababa, we walked back towards Hangzhou Road to see the DPP’s Women’s Day rally. On our way, however, we saw a bunch of people staring at a building. “What’s going on?” I asked some women peering out of a nearby shop.

“We don’t know,” they said. “We saw some people looking, so we’re looking, too.” Just then a motorcade pulled up to the building, and none other than Ma Ying-jeou stepped out and walked into the building. PR was hot on his heels, no doubt looking for another handshake picture to add to his collection. I followed the crowd down to the packed meeting room in the basement where Ma was speaking. Encouraging slogans were being shouted under a giant portrait of Sun Yat-sen. I spotted PR’s colorful hat near the middle of the room. Having gotten his picture, he was ready to leave.

We continued walking up the road to the Zhongxiao East Road intersection, where the Women’s Day rally was being held. Though most of the seats were empty, music was blasting out of huge speakers, and dancers were on the stage. Tables full of stuffed dolls and other figurines resembling Frank Hsieh and Su Tseng-chang had been set up nearby, as well as two rows of port-a-potties that were the exact shade of aquamarine the DPP has chosen as its campaign color.

protestPR and I walked up to the stage and watched the singing and dancing for a while as various groups from around Taiwan arrived and filled the seats. The crowd was mostly older women, and the line for the row of port-a-potties grew quite long. Yeh Chu-lan gave a speech, and I wondered if she felt at all disappointed that she didn’t get the VP candidate slot. In the crowd, old men who looked like they’d never seen a diploma held signs protesting the recognition of any such documents issued by Chinese universities.

I had to go back to Bitan by that point, though; the Muddy Basin Ramblers have a show next Friday at Bliss, so we needed a practice. The weather was nice enough that we could hold forth on the riverside, though only on our side of the river as the other side’s completely torn up. Getting home, putting my things away and gathering up my instruments seemed to take forever, and it was getting dark by the time I joined the other Ramblers down by the horseshoe. It was good to be jamming again, and David introduced some nice new tunes for us to chew on. Even at such an isolated spot we managed to draw small groups of people, some of whom took out their phones and called their friends: “Hey, you’ll never guess what I found by the riverside in Bitan! Foreigners! And they’re playing music! Yeah, I KNOW!”

“Could you speak up?” Thumper told the excited girl who was yapping on her phone two feet away. “I can’t quite hear everything you’re saying over the music.”

Later, we all went to Athula’s for our traditional post-jam rottis. Alas, he was again out of tuna. Oh, well; more fried rice at home, then. Still plowing through the endless gigabytes of Tokyo photos. Hopefully soon they’ll all be up, and the video done and posted too, and maybe then I’ll feel a little less behind with everything.

posted by Poagao at 3:49 am  
Jan 14 2008

A full schedule

101 circusThursday was the going-away party for Forumosa’s Stray Dog, aka Sean, so I decided to take the opportunity to check out the new Alleycat’s on Songren Road. It was quite a walk from the City Hall MRT Station, but I took some interesting shots over the wall of some construction nearby with Taipei 101 in the background. Thankfully nobody saw me sticking my camera over the metal enclosure.

The Songren Alleycat’s is nice. It was officially the Forumosa.com Happy Happy Dance Dance Hour, but I wasn’t really in the mood for socializing and spent most of my dinner eating alone and reading. Afterwards, I thought I’d make my way, aided by GPS, through the alleys to Liuzhangli Station instead of walking back the way I came. Guided by the Google Maps app on my phone, I found my way through the maze very easily, and got some more interesting shots in the process.

I’d gotten a call from Thumper late Wednesday night. He was in Da-an Park with a group of guys who were playing country music. “They need a washtub bass player to fill in for theirs on Friday,” he told me. He said he was going to play with them there at Bliss as well, and Slim was going to come, so I thought I’d go and check it out. After dinner on Friday in Gongguan at a hot-pocket stand and picking up a new backpack, I went back to Bitan to retrieve my tub and stick, and took the MRT to Da-an Station, where I got another call from Thumper, this time informing that their bass player had decided to show up anyway. But I was practically there, so I figured I’d go anyway.

The band consisted of three guys, all enthusiastic young foreigners, one on guitar, another on banjo, and one playing his bass, which was a metal soup pot with a steel wire attached to a plank. It wasn’t as deep or resonant as my plastic tub, and the action of the stick was a lot more sensitive to the slightest movement. I tried to play it a little and managed to get some notes out of it, but I prefer my tub.

The band said that it was their third public performance. They were nervous before taking the stage. As for the show…well, let me put it this way: the highlight of the evening, music-wise, was when we all stopped playing at the same time at the end of one song. I know it sounds strange for a member of a band highly lacking in the polish department to call another band “unpolished”, but there you have it: They need work. During the show the band members were supposed to tell jokes in between songs. The banjo player decided to make me the subject of his, which was a story that included me wishing to a talking frog for a beautiful princess. I didn’t know which part of that combination was less likely, but before I could think of something clever to say another guy yelled out, “Maybe he’d wish for a prince instead!”

“Nah, he’s a guy, he’d wish for a princess; come on, let me tell the joke!” the banjo player complained, and went on with the joke.

Afterwards, I was ready to go home and go to bed, for it had been a long, tiring day, but Thumper and Slim were going to hang out at a local park for a bit, so I nabbed some fried rice from a convenience store and joined them. As always, it turned out to be a lot of fun, and we stayed up until the wee hours and the not-so-wee hours talking. The sky was getting light when a group of old ladies swept across the park, picking through our trash for recyclables. The city was coming to life around us, and suddenly the park wasn’t the private enclave it had been during the night, so we bade Thumper farewell and grabbed a taxi back south.

Saturday was election day for the legislature. Our voting post was located in the old Bitan KTV Club. The voting went smoothly. As usual, nobody had a problem or even raised an eyebrow when I showed up with my voting notice, though I got scolded for taking pictures from the street. I skipped the referendums because I don’t agree with using them for election campaigning instead of on real, meaningful issues. Afterwards, it turned out that about 75% of voters agreed with me.

The DPP was completely routed, of course. Chen Shui-bian, as predicted, stepped down from the party chairmanship to let Frank Hsieh emerge from his cocoon and start campaigning with as little stigma from the election loss as possible. If there’s one thing the DPP knows, it’s how to run an election campaign, I’ll give them that. I see the results more as a vote against the DPP than for the KMT, and I hope the latter doesn’t let it go to their heads or take it to mean that everything they stand for is hunky dorey with everyone. I’m still waiting for the usual bizarre turn of events that precedes every election here. I’m thinking it will happen in March, but I could be wrong.

After voting, I went to Darrell’s for some looping with Graham, who was back in town on vacation before returning to Singapore. Dow Jones is moving him to Tokyo in late February, and a long chain of foreigners sitting in the various musical chairs related to the job are all moving around correspondingly; it seems I know quite a few of them.

b/w bitan and skySunday morning I had just awakened to the sound of jackhammers pounding away at the Bitan riverfront steps when I got a call from Harry, who was on his way to the Dimu temple in Wantan with his religious friends. I dressed and walked across the bridge and down the “niaoley” (the piss-covered alley) between the buildings to the ferry dock. On the way over I chatted with the ferryman, who told me some unsettling news. According to him, some legal knot has been resolved, and they’re planning to develop the lovely rural fields of Wantan with ugly high-rises. He told me they were even planning to build a 12-meter-wide bridge from Bitan over to Wantan. I had thought that there was no development on Wantan because it was a water preservation site, but it seems that even that’s not enough to stand in the way of developers with their eyes on the money they could make from such developments. It would be a great loss, as I love to walk through that area.

At the Dimu temple, Harry and his group, some of whom were dressed all in Temple Yellow sweat suits, did their thing while I sat by quietly, listening to the things going on around me. I like going there to just sit. It’s not really meditation, as I’m not disciplined enough for that. It’s just sitting and being quiet. Spacing out.

colorviewThat afternoon Slim and I took a cab up to Conor’s lofty Muzha mountaintop pad for some MBR practice, including some dangerously racy songs about Jesus. Conor’s pad has the usual foreigner-pad style from the rugs hanging on the walls to the various instruments from a plethora of cultures. Outside, rainclouds hung over a great view of the city; the weather had become typical winter fare, cold and wet with just enough rain to make you miserable without actually raining hard enough to make an umbrella worth the trouble.

posted by Poagao at 11:44 am  
Aug 14 2007

Police station removal protest

meetingI saw on a notice posted in the elevator of my building that a meeting was being held for area residents, government officials and police personnel to “explain” why the only police station in the area is scheduled to be removed. I have some amount of sympathy for this cause and had the morning free, so I hopped on the free shuttle bus along with 30 or so other residents and walked to the activity center off Ankang Road where the meeting was being held.

I was told to sign my name, and was issued a booklet containing the details of the situation, which I browsed through after sitting down to wait for the meeting to start. Apparently the police station has been around since 1973, when less than two thousand people lived in the area. Today we have over 11,000 residents, a number that will certainly rise when the new complex over the MRT opens. I know that there used to be a police station next to the old Xindian Train Station, located where the MRT terminal is today, but nowadays the nearest police station on that side of the river is way up Beixin Road.

I noticed that nobody was sitting in the front row of folding metal chairs, so I moved up and sat there, surrounded by three tables’ worth of various officials, including several country council people, city council people, borough chiefs and a couple of legislators. A glaringly empty seat in the center of it all was reserved for the police representative.

This absence was the subject of much scorn when the meeting was called to order. “I didn’t just tell the chief of police about this meeting yesterday, you know,” the County Councilman Tseng Cheng-ho said. “I told him about it on August 1st. He said he could come, and if he couldn’t come, he’d send his second-in-charge.”

One by one, the officials spoke out against the removal of the police office. Most of the complaints centered around public safety. Some people mentioned that Bitan is a major tourist attraction and that a police presence was necessary. The “Six-Star Healthy Community” plan from a couple of years ago was trotted out and quoted. Some of the speakers were boring, but a couple of guys really got into the protester spirit and whipped the audience’s indignation into a near frenzy.

Then it was time for comments from residents. Most of the people there were older residents who didn’t have day jobs, but they could still shout quite loudly. Many accusations of the police only caring about promotions at the expense of The People were hurled about. I wondered if anyone would ask me to speak, and mentally prepared a few points just in case, including the popularity of the Bitan Suspension Bridge for would-be suicide cases, and the opening of the new complex above the MRT terminus. I wondered how much Taiwanese I should use. Most of the speakers began in Mandarin and only switched to Taiwanese when they wanted to express a more emotional plea.

Luckily, nobody called on me. It was just as well, as the police representative had finally shown up, an older smiling man who seemed to be the assistant chief of police.

The police rep explained that the removal of the station was part of a greater plan that would supposedly increase general coverage and more police on the street. “Because when criminals see police officers,” he said helpfully, “they won’t engage in crime.” So nice that criminals only think about committing crimes when they see police officers, I thought. I suppose they don’t have a problem committing crimes in a neighborhood near a police station. The representative also mentioned a lack of manpower and funding, charges the legislators and council people said could be dealt with. Cries of “OBJECTION!” flew from the residents. The woman behind me was especially bent on having her say, starting in on a tirade about how the police were “keeping her down.” The police rep ignored them. He did go on to say that a station would be built inside the new complex over the MRT station, which would answer at least one of my own objections.

The meeting lasted until after 11am, with nothing really resolved. The legislators said they would take the “results” of the meeting back to the Legislature, and the council people said they would report back to the council. Hopefully someone will be able to do something concrete, but the police administration seems to have made up its mind on the matter.

As for me, I hope the station stays. If the city and county government really want to develop Bitan into a proper tourist destination (not necessarily a good thing, in actual fact, as that would only increase the number of mouth-breathers crowding the bridge every weekend) as they say they do, then you’d think they’d want to ensure its reputation as relatively crime-free. They’ve ordered the destruction of the riverside restaurants, including our beloved Rendezvous, in the name of this objective, after all. So why remove the police station? It just doesn’t make sense. Are they going to implement a “Come See Our Lovely Crime Scenes” tourist campaign? They could sell “Gangster of the Month” calendars and have a chart posted by the bridge where you can bet not only on the number of suicides that month, but also on the number that managed to take out a swanboat or two as well.

The problem might have something to do with the current budget issue. Originally, Taipei City and Kaohsiung City got about 40% of the budget subsidies, while the other cities and counties got the other 60%. Then a draft law was passed elevating Taipei County, due to its huge population, to roughly the status of the two largest cities, meaning that it would receive part of the 40% to make up for the difference in funding. Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin was not happy about this, of course, but it really pissed off Chen Chu, who, despite the fact that her election as mayor of Kaohsiung was annulled by a district court, is still apparently playing the part. She threatened to withdraw her support for the DPP candidates in the upcoming elections if Kaohsiung didn’t get a li’l sumtin extra, so the Cabinet dolled out several billion to its darling political powerbase o’ the south, reducing Taipei County’s budget to a couple of billion more than it had when it was just another county. Upon witnessing this act, both Hau and Taipei County Magistrate Chou Hsi-wei got up and walked out of the Cabinet meeting.

It’s possible that during the Legislature’s review of the budget subsidy allocation that someone will try to do something about the issue, but it seems most cities and counties are ambivalent about other cities and counties. All we can do is wait and see, and hope that someone farsighted enough to realize that more money will be lost due to lack of business due to a rise in the crime rate than would be saved by removing the police station. We might have a long time to wait.

posted by Poagao at 3:24 am  
Aug 12 2007

Movies, MBR recording y El Mono Severo

(Due to some complaints about the readability of this site, I’ve made the text slightly darker. Let me know if it’s too dark or if you any better ideas.)

I went to see Ratatouille on Friday after work, having forgotten that Prince Roy was going to see The Simpsons Movie until the last minute. It was the best movie I’ve seen in a while, and refreshing after so many sequels (the evil food critic was particularly good, voiced by Peter O’Toole). They also managed the dicey job of telling the story from two different points of view. As for the sequels: Spider-man 3 made me embarrassed for Sam Raimi (we just watched Peter Parker deal successfully with Great Power, and now suddenly he can’t? Huh?), Shrek the Third, while funny, was not up to the standards of the first two movies, and Harry Potter 5 seemed thin on plot and character in comparison with its predecessors, and the Chinese translation of the title mistranslated “order” as the kind you give instead of a group. Die Hard 4.0, while pretty good especially considering how long it’s been since Bruce Willis began the series, sometimes felt like a long Nokia advertisement. I was also disappointed that they didn’t get a single Mac/PC joke in Justin Long’s dialog.

Last week I also saw I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, the Chinese title of which is quite clever in that it copies a children’s song “When We’re Together” but includes the Chinese word for “fake” which, read in Minnan, is pronounced “gay”. Chinese title-related cleverness aside, it’s pretty much a typical Adam Sandler movie, with the usual stereotypes thrown in. The movie lost me when Ving Rhames adopts a lisp.

As an aside, is it just me, or is IMDB letting anyone post anything (in English at least) to their database now? It used to be that an IMDB listing denoted a certain level of professional filmmaking, but more and more I’m seeing cheap porn and student projects listed as well. It may be only a matter of time before they start listing Youtube videos. This is all sour grapes, of course, because they refuse to list Clay Soldiers because the documents proving it was aired multiple times nationwide are in Chinese. Heaven forfend a film is made in another country and includes, god help us, another language. Not entirely cricket, you know.

MBR shotThe weather’s been cool and rainy-ish ever since the duel tropical storms departed our fair island last week. We hammered out the last of the recordings for the long-awaited Muddy Basin Ramblers album over the weekend, practicing at the Sandcastle on Saturday and then getting the last three songs in the can at my place this afternoon and tonight. I managed to turn in a passable performance, all things considered. The final mixing will tell, of course. Sandman managed to refrain from trashing my place too badly, and we took some commemorative pictures afterwards. I’m going to miss these sessions; it’s always fun having a few good friends over to hang out and make some music. The session was followed by much rejoicing and a slightly drunken waltz, accompanied by singing, down to Rendezvous Pizza for a last meal before they tear the place down in the name of Progress. The owner appeared a bit sad about the whole affair, and told us she hoped that they would eventually be allowed back at that location instead of being condemned to the crowded street behind them. We hope so, too.

El MonoThe rest of the weekend has been spent tidying up before practices, tidying up afterwards, film editing, tai-chi practice and taking pictures of El Mono Severo, who made a visit yesterday but had trouble moving my old, mildewed, concave mattress downstairs due to logistical issues involving elevatorial dimensions as well as a general lack of motivation. I’d given the “memory foam” mattress a fair shake, but after over a month I still wasn’t quite comfortable, so I sold it to a friend and bought a standard Ikea mattress to sleep on instead. Slim vowed to post El Mono Severo posters in odd locations all over the Taipei basin, but we’ll see if remembers his pledge in the morning, when tonight’s events are not quite as tangible. David thinks I should do an action comic series about El Mono Severo, with the Mattress Conundrum as Episode One. I have to say I am tempted. And that mattress isn’t going to move itself.

posted by Poagao at 11:22 am  
Jun 25 2007

Down by the riverside

Jewel-like drop on a tiny leafIn order to make up for having an extra day off last week for Dragon Boat Festival, we only had a one-day weekend this week. After a rough night trying to break in a new mattress, I gave up on sleeping late and set out on a hike up the hill out back and back down to the community on the other side. On weekdays the sound of the cicadas is only broken by the sound of housework within the various apartments, but on Sunday more people were out and about, kids on bikes, repairmen, and one guy selling incense door-to-door. I took some pictures of leaves in ponds, squinting at the monitor in the sunlight, before heading back up the hill. As I descended, I wondered what it would be like if I somehow found myself back at the time of the amusement park’s heyday in the 70’s. My building wouldn’t be there, for one thing. My money would be no good, nor my current ID. The subway wouldn’t exist, but I might be able to take the train back to downtown Taipei. If Back to the Future were filmed today, Marty would go back to 1977. Imagine that.

Back home, a dip in our cool, little-used swimming pool awaited. After lunch I tried another nap on the new mattress, but it wasn’t having any of it. I’m hoping I’ll get used to it soon, as I miss my old mattress when I’m trying to get to sleep.

The Ramblers, minus Sandman who sadly had to work even on Sunday, were getting together for a practice session down by the waterfront in Bitan, starting in the late afternoon. On my way across the crowded bridge, washtub in hand and marveling at the number of swanboats in the river below, I ran into David Reid, who recently moved down here. He was just walking around taking pictures, and decided to come along to the practice.

David Chen was waiting on the steps by the river with his guitar. A few minutes later Slim and Thumper sidled up. The afternoon was as perfect as you could ask for, with a cool breeze and interesting, non-threatening clouds dotting the sky. My college roomie DJ showed up, fresh from the old movie exhibit in Xin Beitou, looking extremely tired. Maestro Chen began strumming his National, and we fell into music the way we usually do. Conor showed up in the middle of a song, and David inserted a verse about how Conor is always late. We were playing in a kind of circle, with David, Slim and Conor on the steps, and me and occasionally Thumper facing them. At one point I looked behind me to find that we’d attracted a small crowd of listeners. Our practice had turned into a concert.

We played a few crowd-pleasers, and then continued practicing, but the crowd remained. We even learned and played a couple of new songs that David taught us right then and there, and they still enjoyed it. Some even danced.

The evening deepened as the sun set behind the hills. Gradually we scaled down the music until the crowd was mostly gone. DJ and David Reid had to go, as did Thumper, so we sat on the riverbank chatting for a bit longer before going up to Rendezvous Pizza for dinner. On our way there, we passed a group of musicians playing at another restaurant, a guitar, some bongo drums and a wicked flute player who really got into the Nakashi-type songs they were ripping through.

We got a table looking out over the river and ordered pizza, pesto, risotto, beer and wine. The moon illuminated spider webs of clouds in the night sky, and the swanboat lights twinkled like stars in the river. We were in the middle of our food when the Nakashi band guys came over and set up at the table next to us. This time they had two flutists and really went to town on the music. David grabbed his guitar and asked if he could play along, and I got my pocket trumpet out and tried to follow along as well. It was difficult, especially considering that they were all about a quarter step south of us, tuning-wise, but I liked the challenge. All I had to do was pull out my tuning slide and figure out the key.

We played on. Conor had to leave, and then David followed. Slim, who was rather inebriated by the time, and I sat at the other band’s table and played or sang along as best as we could late into the night. We also chatted with them and the restaurant staff in a mixture of Taiwanese and Mandarin. I left Slim singing and rapping and chortling along with every English-language hit the guitar player could think of when I left at around midnight to pursue an ultimately fruitless quest for a good night’s sleep on my new bed.

posted by Poagao at 12:03 pm  
Jun 19 2007

Back on the bike

end of the lineMy goal of taking a nice long ride on the Crazy Bike along the riverside over the Dragonboat holiday had been frustrated by rain on Saturday and Sunday, so on Monday I covered myself in sunscreen, pumped up the tires, and set off despite the ominous rumblings coming from the sky. Negotiating the mouthbreathers on the bridge was troublesome, but once I got on the path itself things went much more smoothly. It was great to be cruising along the river, looking at the views, the trees and sky, listening to the cicadas and feeling the wind. Since I last rode that path, new sections have been added, making previously twisty bits straighter and smoother. The massive highway bridge they’ve been building south of the Xiulang Bridge looks almost complete, and when it’s done another messy detour will vanish.

bridge constructionA huge stage was being set up along the river in Banqiao. The newly paved roads were smooth as silk. I made good time all the way up the Xindian River, along which they are building an elevated expressway that crosses the Danhan River where it and the Xindian converge to form the Danshui River. The construction site for the bridge alone is huge.

The sun came out as I rode westwards towards Tucheng, and the weather became very hot. I stopped to put on more sunscreen, and two other bikers remarked as they rode past, “Oh, right, we should have brought some of that!” Both the Crazy Bike and I got stares and remarks. It seemed most people noticed the bike before they noticed who was riding it. The path to Tucheng has been made into a scooter lane, so the bike path had been rerouted, but the riverbank is wide enough that it doesn’t really matter.puddle

A huge black cloud loomed over Tucheng, thunder booming distantly from it every so often. I reached the end of the path and turned around, away from the black wall of weather, following a group of slow kids and pausing to take pictures of things along the way. The fact that I hadn’t ridden the bike in a long time impressed itself upon me shortly afterwards, and while it was still enjoyable, I was pretty much tired out. The return trip took almost an hour longer than the trip out, partly because of the massive crowds that filled the riverbank near the stage they’d been setting up earlier. Another reason was the multitude of people who apparently want to kill their retarded family members. I’ll be riding along and when I approach some group of people traveling the opposite direction, usually a family or group of friends, someone will always remain completely oblivious to my presence despite the fact that I am an apparent foreigner riding a bright red dragster bicycle directly towards them. I can only conclude that they are mentally impaired in some fashion. However, the other family members/friends will notice me, grab the oblivious person and invariably shove them or pull them right into my path. Thankfully I managed to avoid hitting anyone, but there were quite a few close calls.

The sun was setting over the river, reflecting off of Taipei 101 and turning it into a bright white flame above the city. It must have been raining in the Xinyi District as a rainbow appeared just above it. Bitan seemed to be shrouded in mist as I approached; it seemed particularly inviting after a long, hot ride. I rode on, through clouds of small bugs that flew into my eyes, nose and mouth, causing me to spit every few seconds.

The area was still full of holiday revelers, mandating another game of hit-the-tourist crossing back. I would have loved to taken a nice long, cool shower and gone for a swim, but I had to go to Darrell’s for looping, so I ditched the bike and went straight over. After that, I went to badminton practice, which tired me out utterly and completely. When I finally did get home, the pool was closed, so I drew a bathtub full of cool water, plunked down in it and zoned out with a tattered copy of the Dao De Jing comic.bitan

My little brother Philip was in town on Sunday, so he came down to Bitan to have a look, as he’d never been here before. When I met him at the MRT station, he made the usual remarks about how fat I’d gotten, and we talked about his scuba dives in the Philippines as the source of his relatively svelte proportions. Bitan is a madhouse these days thanks to the Dragonboat Festival-related activities, so the bridge and surrounding streets were packed. Philip really liked the area and my place. I showed him Clay Soldiers, and he found it entertaining despite his feeling that there was a lack of chemistry between the actors.

We had dinner at the dumpling place downstairs and then took a walk along the hillside out back before going down to the river bank for the obligatory Bitan Photo Opportunity. It was nice to see him; he said he’d like to bring his wife and kids along next time.

posted by Poagao at 12:24 am  
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