Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

May 29 2014

Tense subway

About a week ago, a college student stabbed a bunch of people on the MRT, killing four and injuring 21. He managed to kill the people he attacked first, as they were asleep and had no time to react, but fortunately once people were onto him the fatalities were at an end. Still, scary stuff. Aside from hating the guy for being a murderer, I have to admit I also hate him for screwing with the MRT, which I have always liked a lot, kind of in the same way that I also hated the 9/11 terrorists for adding those connotations to such a wonderful thing as air travel.

The atmosphere in the trains has changed: People are more alert. Fewer sleep. Fewer have headphones on. For the first few days after the attack, the trains were nearly silent, especially as the trains entered a tunnel under a river, for that was where the killer chose to begin his attack, as that gave him the most time between stops. He also wore a red shirt, most likely in order to hide the inevitable blood stains that would alert others to his activities (as if holding a couple of knives didn’t clue people in). Any kind of exclamation or unusual noise would get everyone looking instantly at its source. The media, of course, went insane. That’s what the media here does. The parents of the killer were hounded by the press so much that the mayor of Xinbei City told them to cut it out. Priests were called in to exorcize the train cars. Mountains of flowers piled up outside the station where the train stopped and the killer was caught.

Slowly, things are returning to normal as reports of “copycats” subside. For a while SWAT teams roamed the subways with semi-automatic weapons at their sides. Now, ordinary police officers have replaced them, and substitute national servicemen will most likely follow. People are beginning to sleep in their seats again, wear headphones, talk, etc.

Still, reinforced umbrellas have been selling like hotcakes inĀ  recent days, and self-defense courses are suddenly popular. It was inevitable that something would happen on the MRT eventually, given its popularity and the number of people who take it every day; it’s a shame it had to be this, but Taipei is a big city, with a big heart, and hopefully this terrible incident won’t change that.

posted by Poagao at 5:13 pm  
Aug 02 2007

CKS Hall Station antics

“Dumbledore never told you what happened to your father,” Voldemort hissed in his high, clear voice, reaching out to Harry, who clung to the high castle railing, his severed wrist throbbing in pain. Anger flashed through him at the thought of his old mentor.

“He told me enough!” He shouted above the storm. “He told me you killed him!”

For a moment Voldemort seemed lost in thought as lightning flickered through the shadows of his face. Then his slitted gaze fixed itself upon Harry once again. “No, Harry. I…”*

Entranced as I am with the finale to the Harry Potter series, I have to put the book down, as the subway train is pulling into CKS Hall Station.

CKS MRTOf all the stations on the MRT, CKS Hall is my favorite, and no, it’s not just because it’s named after one of the last centuries’ more inept military figures. Mainly it’s because the high ceilings and multiple levels make it feel more like a genuine train station than any other stop, more even than the real train station platforms at Taipei Main Station. The lack of an upper balcony over the trains makes a huge difference, as do the shiny gold station name plaques set at intervals along the tracks. It’s the kind of station where a huge chandelier wouldn’t go amiss, nor a portly uniformed man with a pocket watch dodging the steam blasts of a locomotive.

Another source of endless entertainment at CKS Hall Station is the chaotic race across the platform you can witness if you’re lucky enough to stop just as the train from West Gate Station is pulling in. You can see the anticipation in the faces of the people in the other train as it draws to an excruciatingly slow stop. Will the train wait? How long will I have to make it? Oh, what will I ever do if I have to wait another five minutes for the next one!

After a maddening wait the doors slide open, and students, businessmen and office ladies are thrown aside as the champions of muscling through Taiwanese crowds, i.e. short, squat, middle-aged women with frizzy hair and Mister Donut bags stuffed with market vegetables, charge headlong across the platform to the waiting train, their feet barely touching the ground. Occasionally I’ve seen people in their way actually become airborne as a result of the ensuing collisions.

Breathless, the previous occupants of the other train rush into ours. But the show’s not over yet. At the sound of the door-closing signal, everyone begins making mental bets on who will make it and who won’t, wondering if they’ll get to see that rare and hilarious sight of someone stuck in the door. Those champions who rush through just as the doors are snapping at their heels are greeted as minor heroes, while a slight contempt is held for those who draw up short.

Alas, nobody gets stuck in the doors this time, though there are some satisfying thumps as would-be passengers fail to stop in time and hit the closed doors. Their disappointed faces slide backwards as the train leaves. The show is over, and I return to my book.

“No!” Harry cried, incredulous. “That’s impossible…”

*Please don’t take this seriously, Harry Potter fans.

posted by Poagao at 3:08 am  
Jul 30 2007

Ruse on the subway

On the way to work today a woman sat down next to me on the subway train. At a peripheral glance she seemed about 20. Long black hair, heavy makeup, a tight black skirt and a gold blouse with transparent black sleeves. Shiny black high heels with golden bows on top. A little gaudy, but nothing particularly out of the ordinary.

A few moments later, however, I became aware of a heavy stench. I assumed the seat behind me was recently occupied by a sweaty construction worker who had spent all day repairing blocked sewer lines, but a glance around made me realize it was coming from the woman sitting beside me. Taking care not to stare openly, I took another look, and was surprised to see that her bare legs were covered with blue veins, her feet wrinkled and dry. Her hands, holding a shiny black purse, looked like the hands of an old woman.

A number of people got off at Kuting Station, and I switched seats to avoid the smell. From there I could see the woman’s face, and sure enough, under the makeup the face of an older woman, possibly about 60, showed through. She sat upright, her gaze kept slightly down, not looking at anyone but seemingly aware that her disguise might not be holding up as well as she had hoped. I wondered what the point of the act was. Was it for her job? Did she work in an office, living in fear of being forced to retire? But her attire suggested something more along the lines of a karaoke bar, one from several years ago. Did she perhaps sell betelnuts? From a distance, viewed through the dirty windshield of a little blue truck after a long day’s driving, she might seem alluring to a tired trucker. Or was she someone’s grandmother, with no means of support, raised in the rice fields but now forced to come to the big city and play the part of a much younger woman in order to feed her family?

I got off a Taipei Main Station, but the woman continued on, out towards Danshui and her date with the target of her mysterious ruse.

posted by Poagao at 11:19 am  
May 29 2007

On the Internet, everyone knows you’re a dog

I was late to a lunch date today. As I rode the subway into town, I thought about how this day would go if it were a couple of years down the road, and technology had kept up its current rate of development. My guess is my friends would look my position up on their GPS phones, see that I was still in Bitan, in my apartment, at noon. They’d see me leave, walk down the street, and then turn back to my apartment. My Twitter 2.0 service would flash “forgot my damn umbrella” and a real-time weather bureau layer would confirm that it was now pissing rain in my neighborhood. They’d watch me cross the bridge, just miss one train and wait for another, and then see me go one stop too far. T2.0 message: I’m tired of getting off at Taipei Main Station all the time. Then the little dot labeled “Poagao” on their screens, should they check it during their already-proceeding meal, would wander through some alleys in the vague direction of the restaurant, and (I’d like to think) they would make space for me at the table just before I walked in the door.

The rain in Bitan was incredible, I should add. I could see the heavy rain approaching and leaving, the white froth advancing in a line across the bridge at a good clip. My feet and legs were soaked, and it was a good test of my semi-waterproof shoes (verdict: kinda). To the north, the city was bathed in sunlight. The rain missed it completely.

But what I’m curious about is this: If everyone has access to our whereabouts, paths, even our hitherto-private musings typed into a wide-distribution services, will it make us more allowing for human nature? Before, we’d just come up with an excuse: “Traffic was bad” or “There was a sale on gold bullion” or “I was attacked by monkeys” or something that may or may not have happened. When it gets to the point where everyone can see what’s happening, and we all witness the chicanery that we all do and don’t tell anyone, will such shenanigans cease to be the social faux-pas that they currently are? Or will everyone just know, and not even bother mentioning them?

I guess we’re about to find out.

posted by Poagao at 2:57 am  
May 29 2007

On the Internet, everyone knows you’re a dog

I was late to a lunch date today. As I rode the subway into town, I thought about how this day would go if it were a couple of years down the road, and technology had kept up its current rate of development. My guess is my friends would look my position up on their GPS phones, see that I was still in Bitan, in my apartment, at noon. They’d see me leave, walk down the street, and then turn back to my apartment. My Twitter 2.0 service would flash “forgot my damn umbrella” and a real-time weather bureau layer would confirm that it was now pissing rain in my neighborhood. They’d watch me cross the bridge, just miss one train and wait for another, and then see me go one stop too far. T2.0 message: I’m tired of getting off at Taipei Main Station all the time. Then the little dot labeled “Poagao” on their screens, should they check it during their already-proceeding meal, would wander through some alleys in the vague direction of the restaurant, and (I’d like to think) they would make space for me at the table just before I walked in the door.

The rain in Bitan was incredible, I should add. I could see the heavy rain approaching and leaving, the white froth advancing in a line across the bridge at a good clip. My feet and legs were soaked, and it was a good test of my semi-waterproof shoes (verdict: kinda). To the north, the city was bathed in sunlight. The rain missed it completely.

But what I’m curious about is this: If everyone has access to our whereabouts, paths, even our hitherto-private musings typed into a wide-distribution services, will it make us more allowing for human nature? Before, we’d just come up with an excuse: “Traffic was bad” or “There was a sale on gold bullion” or “I was attacked by monkeys” or something that may or may not have happened. When it gets to the point where everyone can see what’s happening, and we all witness the chicanery that we all do and don’t tell anyone, will such shenanigans cease to be the social faux-pas that they currently are? Or will everyone just know, and not even bother mentioning them?

I guess we’re about to find out.

posted by Poagao at 2:57 am  
Mar 27 2007

To the largish woman in black

To the largish woman in black who made an attempt to force her way onto the subway a couple of days ago:

I feel I should inform you that in general society, letting people get off before you get on is generally preferred. That way, you see, there is more room for the people getting on. I know the image of potentially empty seats, rightfully yours of course, is rather tantalizing, but try to resist the urge for just a little while. The train isn’t going to leave right away, so a few seconds more won’t have a great impact on your busy schedule.

As to your ending up on your prodigious ass, I’m afraid that, despite your protests to the contrary, that brutal bitch we call physics was the main reason for your less-than-graceful downfall. That, and psychology, for when you assume that everyone will immediately get out of your way and allow you to barge onto the train before anyone can get off, you might neglect to consider that someone might not so readily acquiesce to your desires. Particularly if that someone is (a) larger than your not-inconsiderable personage, (b) listening to music on headphones and (c) doesn’t happen to be facing you directly as you approach from the side to avoid that pesky line of people who were so naive as to think they could get on before you (I know: the nerve).

In short, that person in this case happened to be me. I am no stranger to such instances, and while the rather spectacular nature of your rebound did earn a backward glance on my part, I felt the performance just a bit too operatic for my tastes, and not quite worthy of a tasteful clapping as one would find on, say, a golf course after someone quotes Woody Allen.

I have no doubt, however, that others will be on the receiving end of your attempts to board other trains in the future. Perhaps they will be so lacking in mass and structure that you will feel confident in your ability to make them cower in the vastness of your presence, but should you fall victim to the slightest doubt, and happen to recall that ache in your backside from our chance encounter, you might do worse than to reconsider, and gracefully withdraw. No one will think the worse of you if you appear to be joining the common folk in their quaint fashions, no matter how mightily they confuse your no-doubt expansive worldview. I am sure that one glance at the name-brand markings on your various accouterments will assure them of your lofty status.

posted by Poagao at 2:08 pm