Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Jan 03 2011

Show stopping

My photo exhibit at 127 Dihua Street wrapped up yesterday. Chenbl and I met some friends of ours there around noon and took them to Bolero, the original Western restaurant in Taipei, where we had some delicious steak in the place’s 60’s-era atmosphere. Seriously, if Xiao Guo hadn’t been playing with his iPhone, the illusion that it was still 1965 would have been complete.

After lunch we walked back to the gallery, where the other members of the Muddy Basin Ramblers were assembling for some practice before our 4pm show. We had an audience out back in the courtyard, so it was kind of a show in itself, though we kept stopping and correcting things, and played some songs for the first time ever. It was good to be playing again with the old crowd, though Conor’s back in Blighty at the mo. In his absence, we had a couple of musicians filling in; I taught one of them how to play the washtub bass for the horn songs.

I’d been wondering what to do with the photos after the exhibition ended, and the owner of the café behind the gallery provided me with an answer; he said he wanted to display them on the walls there. Neat.

A lot of people came for the last day. I have to say that the whole experience has been extremely gratifying, especially being able to observe people’s reactions to and discussion of the photos, rather than just reading the occasional “Nice capture!” on Flickr. The large prints really let the details of the photos come across, and the combination of being able to see such details at the same time as the entire composition impressed me with its impact relative to viewing on a computer monitor. A professor from the Arts University in Guandu even asked me last night if I would like to give a photography lecture for the students there, and some publishers have talked to me about books.

But even when nobody was there, say on cold, rainy weekdays, I found it immensely comforting to just sit in the gallery on my lunch break and listen to the music and sounds of the surroundings. It’s just a great space in a fascinating old area, and we also hope to practice and play there more in the future.

We decided to move out to the street front for our 4pm show, and the response was tremendous. We attracted a large crowd immediately, and there were literally people dancing in the street. We invited the dancers to dance in front of us to avoid an accident. Our CDs sold out halfway through the show. It was truly a rip-roaring good time, something I really needed to help knock me out of the cold rift in which I was stuck.

We ended up at Yipin on Minsheng West Road for a dinner of beef rolls and yummy fried rice, and then it was back to 127 for a party in the upstairs gallery to celebrate the success of the exhibit. All of the artists involved were there, and we gave each other gifts and talked about the experiences. David, Slim and some of the other musicians started playing some tunes, and I joined in on bass while the other listened and talked.

I was loath to leave as things wound down that evening. I waved goodbye to David, Slim and the others as they hauled their instruments up Dihua Street towards the subway, and the others were busy pulling things down. I took a last stroll around the downstairs galleries, sitting in the giant onion for a spell. I was exhausted but happy. It’s been a great experience with a great group of people, and I hope we can do more together in the future.

posted by Poagao at 12:23 pm  
Dec 12 2010

Poagao’s first exhibition

Yesterday was the grand opening of my first formal photography exhibition at an art gallery on Dihua Street, a traditional area of old Taipei lined with fascinating restored buildings from back in the days when goods came down the river to unload there. The gallery is next door to some of the only original three-story buildings on the street, so my guess is that was the center of things during the area’s heydays almost a hundred years ago.

Chenbl and I had spent hours hanging the photos and putting up lights, etc. the night before, so I was fairly exhausted by the time I hauled all my instruments onto the MRT and off again at the new Daqiaotou Station, which is nearest to Dihua Street. Lots of people were already there, including several artists hastily working on last-minute adjustments to their exhibits downstairs. My show is on the second floor, and I found Chenbl sitting on one of the stools, traditional Taiwanese music playing on a small MP3 player. The effect was very nice.

I’d forgotten that the stick I used to play washtub bass was still at Bobwundaye’s, so David Chen and I walked over to a shop on the next street over, and found a shovel handle that the owner was happy to drill a hole in. NT$80. Behold, the wonderfully cheap accessibility to washtub bass materials. Make your own! Back at the gallery, we set up in the courtyard out back. Several of my friends from Taipei’s bear community showed up in support, which was nice to see, and some folks from Forumosa, flickr and Facebook came as well. It was all very gratifying.

The Muddy Basin Ramblers were in our element playing unplugged in the courtyard, free to move around and interact with the crowd. It was a lot of fun, though I’m a bit rusty after not playing for so long (I missed the Blues Bash due to a scheduling mixup that was entirely my fault…I was in Hong Kong at the time).

People seemed to enjoy the photos; more importantly, I was pleased to see people, strangers I didn’t know, pointing and discussing various elements of the photos. It will be up for a month, so if you have time, go take a look. The gallery closes at 5 p.m. however.

There was a meeting of the gallery folk, who were discussing a project for Treasure Hill, some kind of lighting thing, so I missed dinner with the rest of the band, unfortunately. I tried to hang around and talk to people. Many were surprised that so many of the shots were taken with compact cameras; the GF1 is well-represented, and some were even taken with the tiny LX3.

I shared a cab with David and Robyn. Back in Bitan again. What a day. Thanks to everyone who came.

posted by Poagao at 9:27 am  
Sep 19 2010

Looking back

I’m just finishing up the last edit of the English-language version of my book detailing my time in the army, so I thought it would be appropriate to go down to the place where I spent the majority of my military career, Da Ping Ding in Miaoli, to take a look around. Chenbl and I set out on a 9 a.m. train; the once-mighty Ziqiang Express seemed old-fashioned and lackadaisical in comparison with the ultra-modern bullet train system, but the bullet train does not stop in Miaoli. A typhoon was on its way, but I was banking that Saturday would be tolerable, weather-wise.

We got off at the station, which seems to be at the edge of town, far off from the little downtown area. Miaoli is comprised basically of two parallel streets. Back in the day, the Miaoli buses heading up the mountain towards Sanyi left frequently, but now only the Hsinchu buses seem to leave with any regularity. We got on one and creaked across town; it was just the two of us until we stopped at the bus station in the real downtown to pick up passengers.

Up the mountain, to Shangnanshi. The base, though long abandoned, was still standing and covered with dense foliage. The last time I was up there civilian guards had been posted at the gates, with motion sensors set up inside, so after getting off the bus we headed for the East Base’s back gate, where I knew of a few places one could sneak in. The holes in the perimeter were still there, but the areas just inside were so overgrown that we had to hack our way through some pretty thick trees and vines to get to the main base road.

Once inside, I was momentarily disoriented at the sight of the shell of a building, all the windows gone and the ceiling tiles hanging down. Then I realized that it was the old Guard Company mess hall, and that I’d even had my picture taken standing in front of it. Just behind it was the cliff from which I’d enjoyed the view over the valley below when I got a break from washing dishes after meals.

I was wary of guards and stray dogs, often stopping to shush Chenbl’s usual incessant commentary; he was convinced nobody was around, but I wasn’t so sure. We walked past familiar buildings and signs to the Guard Company barracks, the quads in between buildings covered in dense, jungle-like overgrowth, the windows gone and the rooms empty. I found the place I’d lived in so long ago and sat on the spot where my old bunk was, remembering what it was like to sleep there, with only ceiling fans to keep cool in the summer heat. We’d spent the onslaught of Typhoon Herb there, and back then I wondered what the base would look like after it had been abandoned. Now I know.

The Guard Company faced the East Base’s parade grounds, which is now waist-high in weeds. We walked over to the Division HQ building that spooked me out on several occasions when I had to stand guard there at night and listen to the ghosts. Chenbl, ever sensitive to such things, said he felt dizzy and insisted on apologizing to any spirits who might be offended at our presence.

After making a round of the entire East Base, I began to suspect that there was actually nobody around. We passed female officers’ quarters, something that I’d never encountered when I was there. Back at the Guard Company, I kept noticing places where various things had happened; I felt like I was in a time travel novel, visiting ancient ruins where I once lived.

We snuck out a hold near the side gate where I’d waited in line so many time to get in and out of the base, and then across the road to the West Base, where we fought through another mass of brambles and thorns to the main armory. Some dogs noticed us and began barking, and though nobody appeared, I walked quickly ahead to the rear part of the base where the Regiment HQ was located. A seemingly flightless white pigeon strutted up and down the leaf-covered road as black clouds began to cover the sky. The silence and emptiness were eerie. Vines and bushes had invaded some of the buildings. Even the motion sensors were gone, though the plastic shells of some could still be seen here and there.

I showed Chenbl the RHQ barracks and the base karaoke that I’d managed. The floor I’d spent so much time mopping was covered with dirt, as is the spider-infested bar where I’d picked laserdiscs of songs for various officers to sing. Rain began to pelt down, and we took refuge in the RHQ rec room while we got our umbrellas out, and then followed the base ring road to the main gate, which felt a little strange in that we usually ran around it going the other way. When I turned around, it seemed much more familiar. There used to be an old guy manning the main gate, but I figured it wouldn’t matter by that time if we got thrown out.

Nobody was there. Chenbl took my picture in front of the rapid response unit barracks as well as at the main gate guard post where I’d stood guard. The old Chiang Kai-shek statue is still there, with the old green man waving his hat and smiling at the empty, unmanned gate in front of the overgrown parade grounds. After I got my fill of pictures and just standing around lost in various reveries, we walked out the gate and down the road to catch the bus to Tongluo, where we had some unimpressive Hakka noodles for lunch. Chenbl asked an old woman if there was anything interesting around, but after I took her picture, she yelled, “I give you directions and then you take unflattering pictures of me? How dare you?” But we were already walking away, past thick green rice fields waving in the wind like a big bedspread. We stopped to walk with a woman hurriedly harvesting a small garden before the storm hit, and then visited an old hospital from the Japanese area, a two-story wooden building with blue trimming. The original doctor’s son lives there now, by himself, and he came out to tell us a bit around the place.

We took the electric train back to Miaoli Station. By that time it was around 5:30 p.m. which was normally about the time I would get there when I had leave and wanted to go up to Taipei, so I experienced a little willing cognitive dissonance, imagining that it was still 1996 and I’d just come down from the base, ready for a weekend on the town. Then I pulled out my iPhone and ruined the atmosphere.

We got back to Taipei around 8 p.m. and proceeded to the Taipei Artists Village, where Thumper was holding his 20th arriversary, i.e. 20 years since he came to Taiwan. We were the first to show up; Jason was setting up the barbeque, and I fashioned a string for the washtub bass from one of the bar decorations. Other people began showing up, and as usual, the more people inhabit a room, the less I feel like talking. I walked between people, taking pictures and munching on the excellent food (except for the undercooked potatoes), until my upstairs neighbor Brent started the evening’s musical entertainment. The bass lasted about two songs before the string broke, but I wasn’t in much of a mood for the bass anyway and declined David’s offer of fiber-optic wire as a replacement (it was too slippery and cut my hand when I tried to tie it). The pocket trumpet called to me, however, although not many of the songs really suited it, though Conor rope me into a 12-bar blues set.

By around 2 or 3 a.m. many people had already gone; only a few of us were left. I shuffled around the edges of the room, playing freestyle licks here and there. Rodney was doing something on the drums, and Lany was playing around with some guitar stuff. Somehow, we all just synced up and Lo! a pretty cool jam ensued. But I was tired, and when Brent said he was leaving, I took him up on his offer of a ride back through the growing storm. It would save me a trip across the galloping Bitan bridge, anyway.

posted by Poagao at 10:19 pm  
Aug 10 2010

Hengchun trip

We met up at the train station once again on Saturday morning, tickets in hand for a high-speed trip south to Kaohsiung. I always enjoy the bullet train. Once there we boarded a van that would take us out to Hengchun for the folk music festival where we were to play at 5 that afternoon. The driver was, uh, a bit capricious with his lane-changing, but he got us there in a reasonable amount of time.

We disembarked at the old city gate featured in the film Cape No. 7 to find a large stage erected in the middle of the square. As we approached this natural target, the guys setting it up told us, “It’s not for you. This is for the Father’s Day show.” One of them pointed at a small area by the old city wall. “Yours is over there.” It seemed that the organizers wanted approximately 27 bands to play, all at the same time, all around the city.

Shrugs all around. We’re used to it. A trip to the nearest 7-Eleven (located quickly with Google Maps) later, we were sitting under the mosquito-infested trees while a fat, bald girl in a pink jumpsuit scolded Sandy Wee for spilling his drink all over the table. Slim thought she must be some kind of all-knowing medium. Conor climbed the rocks by the park, and an old man stared at us from his electric barcalounger.

The weather was fine, interesting clouds rushing overhead thanks to a tropical depression forming out in the ocean to the west. Our stage was directly behind a row of beeping pachinko machines. Our quick soundcheck melded into the start of the show, as only one young woman was really involved in managing the show, and the crowd consisted of several people sitting on scooters by the side of the road, and the bald medium girl, now in a green jumpsuit.

As we played, occasional squalls of rain came and went. Our music mixed with the pachinko machines as well as the band over at the Father’s Day stage. I was feeling alright, mellow and into the groove of things. It was good to get out of Taipei, and I was with my friends, doing what I liked to do.

After six the rain picked up, the Father’s Day Orchestra threatened to overwhelm us, and David’s voice was flagging. We’d done our show, and that was it; we disbanded, and Slim and Thumper disappeared. As they do.

The capricious van driver took the rest of us to a restaurant on the outskirts of town, a regular-looking place that could have been someone’s house, including alter and living room. The food was good, though, featuring local yam leaves, vermicelli and fried rice. A couple of other foreigners joined us, including Jason Green and his wife.

I was waiting for some more delicious vermicelli when the driver got itchy and wanted to leave; he’d eaten and wanted to go. Now. So I stuffed my face with whatever was left on the table, and we proceeded on, crossing dark fields to our hotel on the coast. Or hotels, I should say; David, Robyn, Sandy, Jojo and Sandy Wee were at one place, while I was next door, and Conor and Kat were at yet another place, all located within a small community across the road from the beach.

After settling in (I had one small room, which was nice, but…small. Good enough for one though), we went down to the dark beach, where Sandy and Conor decided to go for a swim. I walked up the beach a bit, letting my eyes get used to the darkness, as the star-filled skies were clear enough to see the Milky Way. Venus, or possibly Jupiter, was brilliant, outshining all the other points of light by a good margin. It was magical.

Magic of another sort was happening up at the beach, as Kat caught Sandy and a quite-naked Conor in various compromising poses with her camera, no doubt planning an expose in the next Apple Daily.

Later on, after the others went prudently to bed, Conor, Kat and I walked down the road to Jonathan’s, where Slim was recuperating from the day. Jonathan rents the place for a pittance. We sat outside in front chatting. Well, others chatted. Slim was in full stream-of-consciousness mode. Conor told me that Thumper had missed the last train and was sleeping at the station. The news made me tired, and we walked back over the bridge making waterdrop noises to amuse the various ghosts. “I want to do something outrageous!” Kat said. But she didn’t. Or maybe she did, when nobody could see.

I was awoken the next morning by the chirping of a gecko above my bed. The air conditioning was aimed directly at my head, which didn’t make for the best of nights. The pillow was also too high, and there was hardly any water pressure in the shower. I was glad to see the gecko, though; I suspect it was on duty eating various insects all night.

Outside, the others hadn’t woken up, so I plodded up the hill looking at the rest of the little community. I came across an old lady sitting in the shade. She was old enough that she didn’t really do Mandarin, so we spoke in Minnan. She said she’d lived there all her life, before then-President Chiang Ching-kuo decided to construct the group of villas for the fishermen of the nearby village.

Eventually the cries of Sandy Wee alerted us to the fact that breakfast was imminent. A kiwi smoothie accompanied my omelet and toast; delicious. David was decompressing after a long, hard week of feature-writing, and all of us luxuriated in not having anything specific to do that day.

After breakfast we wandered down to the beach for a dip. Easy dipping was off the schedule, however; delighted surfers, mostly well-built young men, told us that, due to the tropical depression, recent rainfall and other conditions, the waves that day were spectacularly big. They all rushed out to take advantage of this bounty, while we just swam around being walloped repeatedly by enormous walls of water. They seemed to come in threes or fours and were a lot of fun, but tiring after a while. I swallowed so much salt water it made me thirsty.

I walked over to the river mouth and found the water there unpleasantly warm. Dark clouds were rolling in by that point, and we began to think about the trip back. The driver this time was far more professional and efficient, taking a series of detours that included a stop for gas and tasty sesame baozi, as we traversed gloomy fields and orchards trying to avoid the weekend crush of Kaohsiung-bound traffic. The raindrops squiggled across the windshield, pushed by the wind into movement resembling microscopic organisms.

The bullet trains were completely booked, but we got open seating tickets and, after purchasing food from various sources, we got seats on a train back for Taipei. Conor was a bright, alarming shade of flaming pink, and David complained of sunburned shoulders. The trip was a swish and a click back to Taipei, and I crossed the bridge at Bitan just before they closed it off for repairs.

posted by Poagao at 5:48 pm  
Jul 12 2010

LuvFest 2010

For the first time in a good while, the Muddy Basin Ramblers converged once again for a show, this time down in the wilds of Taichung County, at the ruins of the Dongshan Amusement Park, which was abandoned after the huge 9/21/1999 earthquake.

Usually Conor is the last to show up, but this time I was the last to arrive at the south exit of the train station where we’d arranged to meet, thanks to just missing a subway train. David rushed off to get tickets for the band and Chenbl, who was along for the ride. We caught the 12:36 bullet train, arriving at the Wurih Station in Taichung, where we eschewed the smaller taxis in favor of larger station wagons that could carry us in the fashion to which we, and by we I mean Sandy and his bottle of whiskey, are accustomed.

The Dongshan Amusement Park reminds me not a little of the old Xingfu Fun Fair at Bitan, before they tore the remains down several years ago: Vines, dull, flaking paint barely covering rusting, skeletal rides. A sad place. I kept thinking about the last day of the park’s operation, what everyone who worked there and played there felt and did. A few young foreigners were about setting up tents, as well as Landis, the organizer, who had hauled Conor as well as our gear out there in the back of his jeep.

The “stage” turned out to be the edge of a drained pool. The local wasp community took obvious umbrage at the encroachment on their territory (as well as their name) by the newcomers, and a large spider scrambled out of the stiflingly hot green room as we put our gear down.Outside, one of the pools held a mudlike concoction that was about 30% dead leaves, 40% water and 30% hippies.

Thumper raged about the sound guys, who were managing some impressively coordinated standing around as we went through a sound check that consisted mostly of ear-splitting feedback and the lead sound guy telling David how to turn the mic button on. Everything was loud and tinny except the bass, which…wasn’t.”Which way should I turn the mic, away from the speakers, I guess?” I asked one of them. “Whatever you like; it doesn’t matter,” he told me before another blast of feedback caused everyone to jump.

But there was no time for such niceties by that point; the show was beginning with a local band called “AWESOME SHIT.” It takes balls to call your band “AWESOME SHIT.” That, and maybe a burning need to compensate.

We held a little practice session of our own by the large gorilla, in front of the small carousel, and then split up to explore and get away from the incredibly loud sound of AWESOME SHIT. The park borders a small stream with a rickety suspension bridge. Partially submerged boats floated in moss-filled water, and a rusting monorail snaked though the branches above. Bats filled the skies, dodging at invisible prey, as, only a few feet above them, an apparently home-made white airplane flew, often sideways, over the park. An ROC flag was painted on its tail, and each pass was lower and slower, until it stopped. I didn’t hear a crash, so I assume whoever it was made it down in one piece.

Chenbl and I decided to get some burgers for dinner, but this turned out to be problematic: the guy working the huge grill was having a minor breakdown as orders mounted. We ended waiting for over half an hour for our burgers, which turned out to be the “nearly impossible to eat” size that is so popular these days. When I was growing up, I remember burgers being much more manageable in size.You could hold a hamburger in your hands, and bite into it without straining your jaw muscles. And it was good. Damn, but I miss Steak ‘n Shake. Later on, Thumper and Slim reported that the burger guy had just given up and stopped serving people altogether.

We were on at 7pm. The number of young westerners wandering the park increased as night fell and tents went up in various nooks and crannies. As we took the stage, the lights came up, nearly blinding us. I quickly ran back to get some sunglasses, but they only provided a small amount of protection against the brilliance projected straight into my eyes. The audience was effectively invisible; it was like playing into a closet door.

When we started up our first song, Viola Lee, I was surprised to hear that Sandy wasn’t playing his usual part. In fact, I wasn’t sure just what he was playing; he did seem to be having an inordinately good time, jumping around the stage regardless of mic positions and rubbing up against David like an attention-starved cat.

Fortunately the sound situation had improved somewhat; I could hear the bass, anyway, and there was scattered applause from the closet. I had to keep on my toes throughout the show due to various, er, whiskey-induced missing of elements, to put it technically, but things turned out alright, if a bit sloppy. Ok, things were very sloppy. But it was ok; the closet seemed happy, and we haven’t played a gig in a while.

After the show, the Ramblers scattered again. Slim disappeared into the Vagina Monologues Hut where he did some free-style scatting. Daring young foreigners pedaled along the rusty monorail above our heads, past the Pirates o’ Sodomy attraction while Sandy sat on a curb whining around hippies. Chenbl had sold only one CD due to the rampant poverty that no doubt ensued from buying too much beer.

We stayed to listen to Two Acres Plowed, which was improved immeasurably since their drum-machine days with the addition of a smokin’ hot fiddle, but we had to catch the train back up to Taipei.40 cramped, sweaty minutes later we were at the HSR station McDonalds slurping down ice cream and french fries before the smooth ride back to the Basin. I nodded off into a caramel-induced slumber on the train while Conor expounded on the meaning of economics-based employment, and before I knew it we’d arrived. Thumper, Conor, Chenbl and David bade farewell, while Sandy, Slim and I caught the subway.

“What do you do with that?” a Saudi Arabian woman asked me, pointing to the tub as we slid southwards.

“I’ll show you,” I said, setting up the bass and playing a few riffs, much to Slim’s amusement. Then I got out my trumpet, muted of course (I’m not an animal, you know) and played around to pass the time as Sandy waved to and fro to the motion of the car. Then it was the usual walk across the bridge and back to the Water Curtain Cave, where I fell asleep almost immediately.

posted by Poagao at 12:22 pm  
Jul 13 2009

A rather frantic weekend

I had to catch a bullet train down to Chiayi on Saturday afternoon for a gig with the Muddy Basin Ramblers that night. I was the first person on the platform at Taipei Main Station, even though the train was leaving in 15 minutes, leading me to wonder if I’d have to run through a wall or something to reach the real platform, but soon enough other passengers began to appear, the other Ramblers among them. Chenble, who was along for the ride, got sandwiches for the trip, which was quick and smooth as always. With the exception of Taipei, the stations are all nice, modern, gleaning examples of what I love about airports, though they are just glorified train stations. They’re simply swank where no swankiness was expected, which in my opinion is the best kind of swank.

Some people from the music festival were waiting for us at Chiayi Station, and we crammed all our stuff into a new VW van (It’s amazing that VWs still smell the same; every Volkswagen I’ve encountered since the 1970’s has had that same distinctive smell). We drove out to the coastal village of Budai, followed closely by dark clouds though the sun was still shining, and dropped our stuff off at the wharf where we were going to be playing later. After the careful consumption of some very fresh sushi, it was time to explore the surroundings, which consisted mainly of a fish market and a 7-Eleven.

Thumper and I happened upon a go-kart track and decided to give it a go. An employee dragged out what looked like a prototype for a miniature version of Mad Max for Thumper’s larger frame, while I managed to fit in one of the regular cars, and we were off. For a while we traded places, but every time Thumper pulled ahead of me I was choking on the cloud of smoke and bits of rubber his car was emitting, so I gave up all pretenses of sportsmanlike behavior and stayed ahead of him for the rest of the 10 minutes. I found that I really didn’t have to touch the brake pedal, which was wrapped about my ankle due to bad planning; all I had to do to slow down was turn the wheel enough that the front wheels began sliding.

Lightning was flashing on the horizon as the time for our show approached. The organizer, a woman whose hairstyle suggested she had already encountered some form of electrical discharge, said that we’d be playing until 8:45, though I’d been promised that we’d be done at 8:30, because I had to scram by then to make my gig with Heineken in Kaohsiung later that night.

The show itself went pretty well, considering our lack of practice in recent weeks. At a couple of points some official would jump on stage in between numbers to make a speech or hold a raffle. I began to think that it was more of a raffle featuring music than a real concert. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have minded this, but time was short and I had to go. As I resisted the thought of tackling said official and thus ending their speech, David asked me if I wanted to leave early, but I said I’d stick around until we were done.

After the show, I felt a little guilty about jumping off the stage straight into the waiting car without a word to anyone else, but I had a train to catch. Luckily the driver was a local who knew the back roads well enough to get me to the station in 15 minutes instead of the 40 minutes we’d been told the trip would take, and we caught the 9:30 to Kaohsiung with enough time to spare to grab some dinner at a Mos Burger.

The Heineken gig was at Kaohsiung’s Pig & Whistle, near the harbor. I was led upstairs by Small Eyes, an intern for the group, to find the band lazing around the green room, already nicely sauced for the show if the amount of empty glasses and pitches of various liquors on the table was anything to go by. I’d changed into my green outfit on the train, so I was good to go.

Or so I thought. It turned out that some changes to the program had been made, so I got a new setlist from Small Eye. When I got on stage for my first trumpet song, I found that my mic wasn’t working. I tapped it: nothing. I tapped it again, and it fell to the floor. I picked it up and tried to reattach it, and the clip fell in two pieces. All on stage, during the piece, as Ah-ji and Ah-zheng laughed behind me. Since my part was coming up and I had no amplification over the other electric guitars, drums and keyboard in a loud bar, I forgot about the mic and just blasted it as loud as I could, marching-band stadium style. It seemed to work, but damn, it’s been a while since I’ve had to do that.

Later in the set, Noname launched into Zhang Zhenyue’s “Freedom” much earlier in the show, just after a song I played trumpet for, so I decided to play along, though I usually don’t play on that song. This also seemed to work. It was hard to say as I couldn’t really hear myself.

It was early morning before we finished, as usual. Noname had hired a bus to take us back to Taipei, but it wouldn’t be arriving until 3 a.m., meaning getting back to Taipei around 9 a.m. This prospect didn’t appeal to me very much, and I intended to attend Henry Westheim’s studio opening in Taichung the following evening, so I decided to stay in a hotel in Kaohsiung instead. Chenble had a contact at the King Town or something near the train station, so we got the last room available, a small niche with no windows just above the buffet room.

Brunch the next day was free, but it took forever as Chenble seemed to want to eat the entire thing. By the time we managed to leave the hotel, it was early afternoon and raining outside. A ride on the KRT later we were at one of the stations with waterfalls complementing the surrounding downpour. As we waited for it to stop, I took a few pictures of the place, mostly in black and white. I don’t particularly care for the colors of the Panasonic LX3, and find myself using the black & white function most of the time.

We walked over the Love River and got tickets for a river cruise just as a bus full of tourists pulled up, dozens of people pouring over into the line. Several boats motored over from underneath a nearby bridge, where they had been huddling during the rain. the sun came out in full force until brilliant blue skies, and it was a pleasant enough ride, but far too short; I don’t know why they don’t go further up the river; perhaps things don’t smell as good up there.

We walked along the river a little, but time got away from me, and before I knew it, it was time to go. I’d wanted to attend the studio opening, but by the time we returned to the hotel, gotten all my stuff, gotten back on the KRT to Zuoying, it was nearly 8 p.m. already. I was tired from the gigs and the walking, so I decided to just come straight back to Taipei instead.

posted by Poagao at 6:05 pm  
Dec 30 2008

And now…

I found David, Jez and Dana in the workshop on the 3rd floor of the Taipei Artists Village on Sunday afternoon, surrounded by some empty stools and a grand piano. Thumper showed up later, but Conor and Slim were out of the country, and Sandman couldn’t make it until later, so it was just us. I had no idea how a music workshop was supposed to work, and I don’t think many people there did either. So we just jammed on some tunes regardless of who was wandering by, and if anyone had any questions we would try to engage them. One family with small children enjoyed playing Thumper’s instruments for one song, and everyone seemed facinated by the washtub bass, which I’d placed on a piece of styrofoam so that it would make some sound on the carpet.

We took a break at one point, as nobody seemed to be coming in, and I started noodling around on the piano. A few minutes later I looked up to see about 30 people seated on the stools, all watching me. Oh shit, I thought; they think I’m actually doing something. I jumped up and went to get David back so we could play something that roughly corresponded to the literature about us spread out on the table by the door.

Eventually we had to stop for real, and took all of our stuff downstairs. I had a pizza at the cafe and waited for the shows to start. The first act was a percussion/digeridoo combo thing, mostly atmospheric music. Then Jez and Dana did a show. Sandman showed up, along with Jojo and Sandy Wee, and we took the stage. It was strange playing without Slim and Conor; the gaps they left were obvious, even though Jez and Dana did a great job helping fill them. It went well, but I was tired afterwards and went straight to bed after getting home afterwards.

I haven’t quite gotten back into the swing of things since I got back from Japan. I went to work this afternoon after over two weeks of time off, and had to resort to coffee to keep awake, though badminton last night perked me up somewhat. Work again tomorrow, and then four days off for the new year’s break. The days have been cloudy and full of rain, the kind of weather that makes staying inside all day an attractive prospect. Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, and though I’ve gotten some invitations, I’m not sure if I’ll be doing anything special. I have no clue about 2009. I knew that 2008 would see a lot of new things: The elections of Ma Ying-jeou and Barack Obama, the Olympics in Beijing, finishing (my part in) the film, two trips to Tokyo and Osaka. I won some photography contests and said goodbye to my trusty motorcycle this year. But 2009 is just a blank to me.

posted by Poagao at 11:16 am  
Dec 28 2008

Back in town

What if I were staying here, and not leaving, I thought as I looked out of the city from my hotel room yesterday morning. The light outside was brilliant again, and not cold as the day before. I decided that it would suck, as I’d have no job, friends or place to live. At breakfast I once again noted the ingenious nature of the butter/jelly packages that you simply fold, splitting the cover just so that the contents emerge cleanly in a perfect pattern onto whatever surface you desire. I’ve never seen it anywhere else, is it only patented in Japan?

I had to get to the airport, though, so I packed up my things and checked out, walked to Juso Station and took the subway across the river to Osaka Station, where I climbed and descended an annoyingly long series of stairs to wait on the platform for the airport express, taking pictures of the crowds and asking the conductor of each and every train that came by whether it was the airport train, just to make sure.

When the train finally came, I found a seat and watched the various towns pass by, some of them obviously quite poor, but fairly neat and well-kempt nonetheless. Just before we reached our destination I spotted what appeared to be a gothic cathedral in the middle of one of the town.

At the airport, after negotiating my way through a crowd of fans who were waiting for a Korean movie star to arrive, I found myself walking behind two Delta flight attendants, one younger white man and an older black man. The white attendant said he was getting out. “What are you going to do?” the other one said.

“Become a PI and follow your wife around,” the white attendant said, before talking about getting back into the health management business. When we came to the escalators, he insisted the black guy go first “to break my fall if I slip.”

I got a chocolate doughnut to eat while waiting for the plane, and finally found a usable wifi signal to twitter my impending departure, complete with a picture of the plane. Eventually they let us board, and I found my seat subject to an unsual odor, like glue, due to either the proximity of the seat to the restrooms or the guy next to me working at a glue factory.

The flight was uneventful. As we approached Taiwan, I saw a huge plume of smoke issuing from somewhere in Taoyuan County. We landed, and I spoke into my camera for the 109th and last time on the trip, saying “This is the end of our broadcast day. Thanks for watching.”

Now I’m back in town, re-engaging in this life here. It’s always interesting to see things from a slightly different perspective after a trip, even a short one. Last night I had a delicious Christmas Dinner with friends who live in a mountainside community nearby. Not only was the food good, we were treated to a show when Sandy Wee made a tribute to The Exorcist by regurgitating about 3.7 gallons of milk in a spectacular fashion. It really made the evening.

This afternoon most of the Muddy Basin Ramblers are going to be giving a workshop at the Taipei Artists Village, followed by a show later on. I’ve got most of my stuff unpacked, but my place is a mess and needs cleaning. I’ve also got 446 photographs and the 109 videos to go through. Luckily, there’s always tomorrow.

posted by Poagao at 12:33 am  
Nov 20 2008

Dream #39

39A book was just published here called “1-100 Dreams” including small articles about 100 people, one for each age from 1 year old to 100 years old. I was selected for 39. I’d been under the impression that they had simply chosen 100 random people, but when I found the book at the big Eslite by city hall last night (the copy they mailed to me went to the wrong address), I was surprised to find quite a few actual celebrities inside. I suppose they had to sell it somehow.

In other news, Blues Bash V went pretty well. As the Dream Community (the manager is Dream #46 in the above list, btw) has a nice new building with two performance spaces, we did two shows, one outside and unplugged, and another inside a boomy bar space. There were several bands from Japan and Korea, though the Korean rock band had no actual blues to display. Former DPP Legislator Lin Chuo-shui showed up, stony faced in a crowd of happy faces, or at least until we started playing. Then he smiled: a real accomplishment, that.

Good music, good food, no police calls, no violence or complaints, and good weather. I’d still rather have BBVI in Bitan.

Now that real Winter has arrived, and my work on the film is wrapping up, my thoughts are turning to travel. I’ve taken so little time off this year that, even after subtracting the vacation I can exchange for money as well as the vacation I can transfer to next year’s total, I still have seven days I have to use before the end of the year, else I lose it. I’m thinking of a trip to southern Spain over the Chinese New Year break to see where Sergio Leone filmed his spaghetti westerns, but anything before that will have to be closer to home, Japan most likely, though preferably a part of that country I’ve never seen. I’ll post details once I’ve figured out what I’m doing exactly.

posted by Poagao at 3:35 am  
Sep 02 2008

And September

Yes, it’s been a whole month since my last entry here, though I’ve written a few times in my other blogs since then. Just not in the mood for writing lately, though things are still going on. Promptly on the first of the month, the weather became very Fall-ish, with cloudy skies and cool breezes. I’m sure this won’t last, though.

The Muddy Basin Ramblers had a great gig at Center Stage, aka the former Living Room, a couple of weeks ago before it closed down for good. It was short notice after a potentially well-paying gig in Kaohsiung was canceled at the last minute, and I was afraid nobody would come. Just before 10pm, when we were setting up, hardly anyone had shown up, but a short time later the place was packed, and we played two riotous sets, pounding away until 2am. Sandman and Conor had to split early, but David, Slim, Thumper and I made our way over to the 24-hour bagel place on Anhe Road for some early breakfast. Sitting there chatting about the show and other things over eggs and toast felt like we were on some tour somewhere. I wouldn’t mind doing that, actually.

In other news, a while ago I borrowed a couple of vintage film cameras from Thumper. I haven’t shot film since I sold my Nikon FM2 years ago, so it was an interesting experience. Thumper owns an old Zeiss Icon and a Leica M3, both with 50mm lenses, f2.8 and f2.0 respectively. I tried out the Leica first and shot two rolls with it. The camera has no light meter, so I was back to guessing the aperture and shutter speed based on long-ago experience after not having to worry about that kind of thing for years. Still, after I got the hang of the double wind and the various controls, the Leica turned out to be very nice. As for being more natural and unobtrusive, it’s better than a big DSLR, but about the same as using my compact DP1. I have to admit feeling a bit more trendy than usual, as if I should be sitting in a cafe writing travel notes in my Moleskine notebook before jumping into a vintage Mini to go hang out with people wearing berets. When I got the prints back from the 5 Color photo shop in Gongguan, I was surprised to see that I got the exposure and focus more or less right, most of the time. The guy at the photo shop has a collection of vintage cameras of his own, some of which he took out to show me.

After my positive experience with the Leica, I was looking forward to the Zeiss Icon, as it has an actual light meter as well as a clever aperture/shutter speed mechanism on the lens. I might have loaded the film wrong, however, because most of the film came out blank. I’m not really sure I like the feel of that camera or the sound of the shutter as much as the M3 in any case.

Speaking of pictures, an article of mine on Matsu, based on my trip there with Prince Roy a few months back and accompanied by pictures, is in the October issue of the Taiwan Review. One of my photos made the cover, but not before being mauled within an inch of its life by a designer using Photoshop to jam a fake sky into it. I told them that I not only could have done that myself, I would have done a better job if they’d just told me beforehand.

posted by Poagao at 6:02 am  
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