I met Prince Roy yesterday afternoon at the best Sababa in Taiwan, the one near Yongkang Street, for lunch and conversation on the veranda. I’d brought my trumpet because David Chen and I were going to play at Chalaw’s CD release party in Gongguan later that night. Neither of us had to work as it was a national holiday to commemorate the 2/28 Incident of 1947. It was also one of the DPP’s last chances for publicity before the presidential election next month, and many events were scheduled. PR had arranged to meet up with several other bloggers at CKS Hall, where the DPP was holding an event and marching from there to the Songshan Soccer Stadium, so I thought I’d tag along. I didn’t feel like going all the way back to Bitan, and it was just a short walk from Yongkang Street.
A large stage was set up for a symphony performance in front of the actual hall, but the actual event was being held by the gate. PR and I were both reminded what a poor job the designers had done with the new inscription, which looks like it was drawn by four different people and then photoshopped together by drunken lemurs. Ok, maybe it’s not that bad, but lord, it ain’t good. At least they didn’t tear down the walls, as they had threatened to at one point.
Due to the importance of the event and the lovely weather, I was expecting a huge crowd, but there weren’t that many people there, less than had witnessed the changing of the inscription. President Chen showed up and walked around a bodyguard-controlled corridor shaking hands. PR and I were just standing around and somehow got within a foot of him; PR even shook his hand. I saw the symbol of irony that is the Minister of Education, Tu Cheng-sheng, posing for pictures. We also saw Craig Ferguson and spotted David Reid, who, having had his cheek stamped with a DPP stamp, got a good spot amongst the wall of TV cameras and wasn’t going to budge. I also saw Darren there. Later, Wayne and Mark showed up, but it wasn’t clear exactly what was going to happen. The small crowd seemed lackluster and muted.
As the sun dipped towards the horizon the weather got substantially cooler. Large flocks of birds flew around between the gate and nearby trees. Eventually some marchers who had been making their way on foot up the island showed up with flags, along with some loudspeaker trucks, and people began to move off towards the street. Wayne and Mark followed, while the rest of us headed for the subway. David and Craig were going to take the MRT up to Zhongshan to get ahead of the marchers, while PR, wallowing in indecision, said he was going home.
I met up with Chalaw, Honghao, Doug and the others at a noodle shop next to the Riverside and Kafka by the Sea for some dumplings. There was also a guy I hadn’t met, a Spanish guitar player named Ramses who is in Taiwan studying Chinese. He’s hoping to switch to a kind of musician’s visa soon, he told me. After we’d eaten we went up to the cafe and drank some rice wine Honghao had thoughtfully provided. It tasted like those little Yakult yogurt drinks you see everywhere here in lunch boxes.
I was a bit nervous as I hadn’t played the songs from the album in months, and I hadn’t even picked up my trumpet since well before the new year. I’d forgotten the pieces I’d learned for the album, but I was able to follow along and accompany well enough. As we were running through a few of the songs from the album, a heavyset young man with long dreadlocks walked in. Later he played a few songs with Chalaw, including a couple of Cui Jian covers as well as his own works. I was impressed with his voice as well as his songs, but most of all the way the music seemed to move him. His name is Matzka, from the Paiwan tribe, and he’s just starting out.
I glanced out the window and saw a long line of people waiting to get into Riverside downstairs. Apparently the drummer from Matzka’s group was playing down there. We finished up and moved our stuff so that people would have a place to sit while they opened the doors.
The crowd wasn’t huge, but they were enthusiastic. David and I got off stage after we’d finished the songs we played on. I sat at a table in the back, by the window, watching the show and traffic outside. The original band members’ voices mixed well, the harmonies tighter and better than before. David had pointed out that Honghao was still wearing his shiny black police shoes, and I wondered if he might be on standby in case of a 2/28-related incident.
During the break later, fans ran around getting people from the band to sign their CDs. It didn’t seem fair that so many people wanted Ramses’ signature, even though he didn’t play on the album; the excellent slide guitar work on the actual album is actually David Chen’s doing.
Matzka, at least, knew this, and was impressed by David’s slide guitar work on the album, he told me in the smoking room towards the end of the show. These days he plays at a dive in Bali on Tuesday nights with two other guys playing bass and drums. His songs have a kind of reggae/ska vibe and could some more instrumentation, I think.
The show ended late, after 11pm. I said good-bye to everyone who remained (David, quite drunk, had departed with Robyn already), and went to a nearby KFC for a snack. I was reading one of Asimov’s robot novels when I looked up to see Wayne and Mark staring hungrily through the window at my fries. They’d lost interest in the DPP march halfway through and gone for dinner with Prince Roy instead. We chatted a bit before they, too, headed home.
I took the MRT back, reaching Bitan after midnight and dreading the view of the desolation along the riverbank. All of the buildings have been torn down on both sides of the water, save for the public restrooms, leaving a only huge swath of debris where once we lounged, talked, ate and played. It’s a truly depressing sight, somehow even worse in the emptiness of the night.