Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Aug 20 2019

East Coast journal ’19

The mood wasn’t quite as ebullient as usual when we met up at our usual spot at Taipei Main Station before heading to Taitung. For one thing, it was too hot to sit outside as we usually do; we instead huddled around one of the entrance hall pillars. All of the convenience stores were boarded up for some reason. It felt like moving day, even more so because of all the travelers with luggage passing through. But mainly it was because we all recalled the last time we’d gone to Taitung.

We made the train easily, though Conor was late and Thumper had to ride a lightning cab down the mountain to make it in time. I’d gotten some lunch at Mosburger and waited until the train emerged from the tunnel to reveal the somewhat distressed landscape of northeast Xinbei to partake of my meal, listening to Thumper describe his life as a hardcore bicycle enthusiast.

Our destination this time wasn’t Taitung but Yuli, where we were picked up by a couple of vehicles driven by organizers to take us to Chenggong where the show was. The guards at the venue originally insisted on guiding us to the parking lot before the sight of the huge orange tub confirmed that we were indeed one of the bands playing on the large grassy slope between the mountains and the sea. I originally thought that we should be playing facing the sea, as that would be the logical fengshui, but as dusk fell and the mountains glowed with clouds, their arrangement began to make sense. As we sat on the marble benches looking out at the sea waiting for our soundcheck, one of the staff tried to shoo us away until we told them we were playing. After such a long hiatus, perhaps we no longer look like a band. It’s been months, after all.

The show went without a hitch, though none of us could see the audience, me especially as I was wearing my usual sunglasses in the glare of the stage lights. We could hear them, though, and what we heard was encouraging. We told them they could dance, but when people tried to dance, the show videographers told them not to block their shots. Oh, well.

The moon rose up through layers of clouds out to sea behind the stage during the next band’s show, which was magical; the audience took out their mobile phones with lights on the screens, today’s version of lighters, I suppose, looking like artificial life had sprung up on the meadow. I wandered around, not really connected with anyone or anything. I tried to sit on the grass and watch the moon, but one of the staff told me it wasn’t allowed. So I went up to the sea waste recycling museum and took in the exhibits. Old flip-flops, nets, PET bottles made into art. And air conditioning.

After the last band, a heavy metal group, it was time to go to our hotel outside of Taitung, though Thumper and Conor decided to go stay with their Swiss friend Urs. Slim, Cristina and I hopped in our ride, which was a tricked-out Japanese car on low-profile wheels, dual sunroofs, an LED light system and a dope sound system whose sub-woofer rattled nearby windows. It was driven by a lithe, tattooed young man who disdained shirts. As we drove along the coastal highway, he mixed and matched and DJ’d, showering our ears with various hip-hop classics. He also took requests, and at various points we were singing along to Snoop Dogg, MC Hammer and even Green Day, rolling down the windows and sinking down in our seats as we proceeded to wake up everyone in the vicinity. When we stopped at a 7-eleven, David, who took another car, stuck his head out the window to stare at us. His ride was quiet and contemplative.

The hotel was out of the city, quiet at that hour. Slim played the piano in the lobby. “It wants to be played quietly,” he said, and then played it so loudly that the lone clerk told him to cut it out. David went to bed, while Cristina, Slim and I were joined by one of the organizers in lounge chairs on the front patio, where we chatted a little. I wasn’t drinking; I’d learned my lesson on the last trip. I was exhausted, though, and soon went up to sleep.

The next day, after the much-appreciated hotel breakfast, we piled in the van that the organizers had hired to take us back to Taipei. This was because they’d failed to procure train tickets back, which meant a long, long ride back up the coast. But first we drove up to Dulan, where David, Conor and Cristina wanted to go swimming. Thumper was out somewhere river tracing with Urs, and Slim settled down on the curb outside our friend Red Eye’s coconut hat stand/LP music factory. I’d been hankering for some coffee, so I walked through the town, eventually ending up at the same place I’d had coffee the last time we were in Dulan. I always like walking through that town.

The last time we were in Dulan, we’d been joined by my old newspaper comrade-in-arms Brian Kennedy. He’d been in fine form then, but not long after he was felled by a stroke and passed away. So a shadow lay over this trip. Even the table by the road where Brian, David and I had sat up talking and drinking had been cleared away, as if they knew what it meant to us and removed it to spare us that particular twist of recollection. But I also think this trip was a kind of way of dealing with the last one, perhaps even a private tribute of sorts. I’d like to think so, anyway.

We managed to set off north early in the afternoon. We wanted to break the long trip up, making plans to have a nice seafood dinner in Ilan, but I had my doubts and filled up on fish and chips before we left. Chenbl had been warning of thunderstorms and landslides on that treacherous route that has claimed many lives over the decades. A safer, smoother bypass route has been hamstrung by politics for years. But the trains and planes were booked, and no one wanted to drive to Kaohsiung to take the bullet train north, so the east coast road it was.

It wasn’t an unpleasant trip. With Thumper staying on in Taitung, it was just the five of us in the large, brand-new VW van. The driver, Mr. Wu, hailed from Ilan and obviously knew his business. We played songs on the portable speaker I’d brought. David and I talked about art, and the similarities between communicating with music and photography, the creative process, etc.

We stopped along the beach in front of the Hualian Air Force base. It was starting to rain. By the time night fell, we were threading the tall cliffs, the downpour lashing the top of the van, and quick glimpses of tiny fishing harbors far below us were the only indication of our height. Chenbl called periodically whenever there was a signal, wondering where we were. I watched the lights outside the rain-streaked window, and put on some old Japanese tunes. Somehow rainy nights call for old Japanese music.

Dinner in Ilan was not to be; the restaurant was closed by the time we made it that far up the coast, so we had some quick snacks at a roadside 7-Eleven before heading to the Xuesui Tunnel and Big Bad Taipei.

Mr. Wu dropped us off at TaiPower Building, and such was the mental space of that journey that I completely forgot my speaker as we piled into a cab that took us back to our respective abodes.

posted by Poagao at 12:32 pm  
Dec 03 2018

Dulan, etc.

I was watching the clock all Friday morning, as I had to set out for the train station at noon on the dot so that I wouldn’t be late for our Puyuma Express to Taitung. Fortunately I made it, but it seems that pre-trip trepidation is worse than it used to be.

We gathered in front of the station and spent a few minutes rebuffing the overtures of a lady selling gum before heading down to the train. The journey was lovely; the east coast is so picturesque; the three-hour trip passed quickly thanks to a window seat and conversation. Then it was taxis to the Railyard Village where we were playing. The area’s cool, artsy vibe has increased in the years since we played there last. Soundcheck was thorough and professional, and after a lone dinner at the standalone Mosburger, we took the stage and played a very tight, thrilling show. It was one of our better shows, if I may say myself. Everyone was listening to each other, playing off each other; it was tight and fast, just the way our music should be, and the audience at it up. Our old friend and my old co-worker Brian Kennedy showed up for the show, and we hung out afterwards.

As the night wore on, we piled into taxis out to Dulan, where Tim and Conor headed out camping, Slim and Cristina headed to one hostel, and David and I to another. The next morning I got up first and found some breakfast at a local place, and then wandered around the town for a bit. I followed the sound of loud music to the temple, in front of which an aborigine wedding was taking place. I took some photos and texted my old college roommate DJ, who is familiar with Dulan as he stays there when he’s in Taiwan. It turned out, no doubt to the surprise of no one, that DJ knew the happy couple as well as many other people there, and I talked to many of them, including Suming, the singer. It was a lovely, warm atmosphere, so much so that I had to leave at one point to get my bearings, have some coffee and walk around some more on my own, talking with some people I met.

By the time I returned, the party was over; a few people remained taking down the settings, but they soon piled into a truck and left. Suming sent me a message on Line that they were at the groom’s house, though he had to leave for another gig. I walked over the bridge and to the groom’s house, where the party was in full swing, with joyful, coordinated dancing that was so much more fulfilling to watch than the usual tourist dances that they always seem compelled to do.

But we had another show to play, so I walked back to the hostel and got my things to take to the Sugar Factory. It was kind of strange leaving the aboriginal wedding group and entering the backpacker/expat sphere that is another component of the town. We played a one-mic show and it was again a wonderful performance. I drank rather a lot of mead, and afterwards we talked into the night while sitting on benches by the highway, accompanied by a very nice cat.

Our train back to Taipei on Sunday wasn’t until evening, so after some nice pho with David, he and the others all headed out on various ventures, some went river tracing, others to the beach. Slim and Brian sat around the Sugar Factory talking with the two couples who sell coconuts and quiche, respectively. Unfortunately, some of the conversation brought back some of the BS that I’d wanted to escape recently, so I went for another walk around town. I walked to the junior high school, empty on Sunday except for a few students, and then up towards the mountains for a bit. Then I walked back down through town again, to the sea, where I watched the waves. A miniature expat drum circle provided unwelcome musical accompaniment to the waves, but the light was very pleasant.

Then it was back to the factory, where we’d gathered up to go back to Taitung, onto the train, and back to Taipei.

posted by Poagao at 11:36 am  
Jul 05 2018

Not really back, but off again soon

Things never really got back to normal around here since I got back from San Francisco. They just kept being strange. Oh, I kept going to work and teaching classes and returning to the Water Curtain Cave at night, but the surreal feeling I’ve had ever since I got back never lost its edge. I’ve been delving into Wiki articles about Erik Satie and how he and Debussy used to hang out in Montmarte and at Le Chat Noir and what that world must have been like. Wiki articles tend to leave out moments and details like smells and feelings while walking down a street or crossing a bridge.

So when I found myself at Jiantan Station with nothing to do for two hours before a gig at the American Club last weekend, I figured I’d just wander in the general direction, hauling my instruments behind me. I walked along the former riverside before they changed the waterway’s course, wondering exactly where the exit to Chiang Kai-shek’s Emergency Fun Slide was. I really, really, didn’t want to enter the American Club earlier than I needed to, so I sat down in the armory park next door, the one dedicated to a couple of large guns that helped defend our outer islands against Chinese attacks in the late 50’s, and sat and thought and listened to the cicadas. But mostly I enjoyed not doing anything in particular, apart from scratching the occasional mosquito bite. Eventually I was joined by Slim, and then it was time to go do the deed.

The local staff inside the complex walls was being wrangled by a heavy blonde man with a German accent. There were lots of stands with the names of various foods and states and football teams or something. One stand, staffed by two people, emphasized the fact that Americans Can Vote Anywhere. It was very hot, and we shuttled between the very hot stage and the very cold ready room upstairs for most of the afternoon and into the evening for the Independence Day event. Every so often aircraft would pass over after taking off from Songshan Airport next door, and a vision flashed unbidden into my mind, of the local staff looking up at the military planes carrying the last of the U.S. staff off the island as the club lay abandoned due to a Chinese invasion and Politics As Usual. These thoughts thrust me into an even stranger state of mind. Unlike previous incantations, we were allowed access to all the stalls and people at the event, though it was sparsely attended. We played three long, lumpy sets, and everyone was hot and exhausted afterwards. I scored a couple of cupcakes as they were too sweet for the local staff and nobody else seemed to want cupcakes. Packing up amid the emptying complex, hauling our stuff down darkened halls and through empty gates, we took some cabs to Yuanshan Station, where some of the band was hanging out, but I was spooked and had to leave.

More surreality awaited me as I attended an event at Taipei Main Station, in the atrium no less, held by the publication for which I work, on tourism in Taiwan. Several bigwigs talked on the subject, including Premiere Lai, who was sitting once again a couple rows away. I talked with writer friend Joshua Samuel Brown and Stephanie Huffman, who were also there. Joshua mentioned something that had escaped my notice: The invitations had been sent out in English, many to foreign nationals, yet there were no English translations; the entire event took place in Chinese. It was a jarring disconnect from the messages being given lip service to at the event itself. Why, again, are we doing this? The location was selected “because everyone sets out from the train station” yet I wondered if these people knew that this exact spot was usually inhabited by Southeast Asian laborers on their day off.

My photography class’s last class was on Tuesday, and Chenbl and I worked hard to finish the accompanying photobook. These books have gotten better and thicker each semester, and this one is no exception. Some, if not most of my students have improved beyond recognition, and it’s a wonder to see them finding their individual styles and reveling in the practice of photography, a world they didn’t know existed before. We’ve become quite the big family over the years, and about a dozen of them are actually coming to Bangkok with us.

Bangkok? Oh yes, didn’t I say? Even though I’m still recovering from my trip to San Francisco, Chenbl and I are flying to Bangkok on Saturday to spend a week or so there. The reason for this is that, in addition to being a judge for the Bangkok Street Photography competition, I’m going to be teaching a workshop there with Rammy Narula and Barry Talis from Israel. Oddly enough, I’ve never been to Thailand before, only catching glimpses of it from across the river in Vientiane years ago when I visited Prince Roy there. People always exclaim in disbelief when I say I’ve never been to Thailand, which puzzles me, and, to be honest, is probably one of the reasons I’ve never gone, just because it was somehow expected of me, and things being expected of me nearly always pisses me off because it’s often because of the stupidest of reasons. But I’m happy to be proven wrong, and hopefully this will be one of those times.

So I’ve spent the last few days since the end of our class trying to rest up and recover and get my mind right. This has involved afternoon naps, copious amounts of tea, and watching every single A Tribe Called Quest video  – Rest in Power, Phife –  intermixed with early seasons of Star Trek: Voyager. Also Little Debbie Snack Cakes (“Zebra Cakes” for you Philistine kids who know not from whence you came). Am I showing my age yet? Today I had to go to the local government office to pay my housing tax, get my household registration for a gig we’re playing in Hong Kong this fall, as well as have some passport-sized photos made for said gig. Late-40’s passport photos usually tell a sobering tale, but I’m ok just being along for the ride so far.

 

 

posted by Poagao at 5:38 pm  
May 16 2018

Books, photography, albums, etc.

While it’s nice and all that my book Barbarian at the Gate: From the American Suburbs to the Taiwanese Army has been listed on Taiwaneseamerican.org’s 50 Books for Your Taiwanese American Library, their description of the book’s content is not quite accurate. But I suppose I’ll let any potential readers out there find that out for themselves. Coincidentally, also listed as well as shown in the lead image of the page is Francie Lin’s The Foreigner, which features one of my photographs as the cover art.

It’s hot and muggy out; everyone is waiting for the plum rains, but the weather just doesn’t seem interested this year. As the water flowing under the Bitan bridge assumes more of a coffee hue from the lack of rain, no doubt drought will be announced soon. I’ve been scanning old negatives at home while listening to podcasts, and am constantly amazed at how poorly the original photo labs printed these shots, cropping out significant portions of the photos and seemingly making exposure decisions at random. I’ve also been busy with my photography course, leading students around various part of northern Taiwan and covering material in the classroom, as well as planning for the upcoming BME street photography workshop in San Francisco that I’m teaching along with Andy Kochanowski. I’m looking forward to seeing the SF crowd again…if I make it into the country that is; I’ve successfully applied for the visa waiver program, but I’ve still got my fingers crossed that I’ll get a decent immigration officer. The Muddy Basin Ramblers’ third album is slowly coming to fruition; the two riverside listening tests we’ve held so far have been promising. Other members of the band have predicted that this one’s going to be big…we’ll see. I’m just enjoying the ride, and regardless of how well it’s received, I’m happy to have been part of it.

Riverside testing our new album.

The catchword for 2018 so far has been “surreal”…everything feels like a loaded plate balanced at the very edge of a table, and half of us just want to see it fall. The transition from winter to summer is usually the most volatile, atmospherically speaking. China has increased its efforts to erase Taiwan from everyone’s awareness, and for all of their crowing about democracy and freedom, businesses, governments and media all around the world seem perfectly happy to go along with the charade. For our part, our precious leadership here in Taiwan, which has become infamous for the many things it hasn’t done since it came to power, has decided that screwing up our air quality is no big deal as long as they don’t have to face any criticism from raising our laughably low utility prices. And the U.S. is…well, you know. Plate. Table. Shrug.

But hey, happy thoughts! I should remember that I have a great deal to be grateful for, many opportunities in the four+ decades I’ve been on this particular rock. I’m lucky enough to have a great place to live, a good employment situation, health and friends. So, as the great Joe Walsh once said, “I can’t complain (but sometimes I still do).”

posted by Poagao at 11:34 am  
Mar 26 2018

Another world

Saturday was the Calla Lily Festival in Taoyuan, and the Muddy Basin Ramblers were playing. Though the event wasn’t far from the high speed rail station, we took a van from the Xindian metro station, listening to tunes on the portable speaker I’d gotten in Vancouver along the way as the driver navigated the traffic both on and off the freeway.

The event went well enough, though there was no cover on the stage; the sun was strong and poor Redman was without sunscreen for the two 45-minute sets. The audience was enthusiastic and the kids were (IMHO) properly ignoring the red cordon around the stage and dancing to the music. After we got back to Xindian everyone split except Redman, Slim and I; we headed over to the river to hang out for a bit listening to the swooning sax music and reflect on the day before heading back to our respective abodes.

On Sunday, I took my photography students on a walk around Linkou. We met at Taipei Station and basically commandeered a bus as it was the first stop and we basically filled the vehicle. The trip out was smooth and fast, up the highway through the valley lined with metal-roofed factories and now impossibly high roadways, past the metro stop to the Zhulin Mountain Buddhist Temple, the next-to-last stop. I figured the wide-open courtyard in front of the temple, with a good flow of people coming and going, would be a good place to go over the basics with our new students, this being the first outside activity of the semester. A few mechanical problems such as buttons stopping working and batteries refusing to come out of cameras had me wondering if we should have informed the temple gods what we were up to beforehand, but thankfully nothing too serious (None of my students use film cameras, alas, even though I’ve suggested that it’s a viable option, and I would welcome such experimentation).

After we were done at the temple, we walked over to the touristy old street for some lunch (beef noodles), and as we were heading out again we bumped into Bin-hou, one of our classmates from violin class. He lives in the area, but it was a neat coincidence. He’s also studying trumpet, and is currently in possession of my old Arban’s book of exercises, which happens to include traditional Chinese text for some reason. When I first bought it around 1981, I had no idea why that was the case, but now I know.

We continued walking towards the highway, and an old, half-demolished rowhouse caught my eye, so I went over to have a look. Behind it we found an old tea farmer just finishing up work in the fields. He enjoyed the attention and took us on a tour of the remaining half of his old house, which was built in the 1930’s, and then invited us to his shop for tea. As it turns out, he’s 90 years old, and apparently lives alone with only a Filipina caregiver named Annie. The teas he served got cheaper and more delicious as we went, by design I’m sure, just to prove that expensive tea isn’t necessarily better. If you’re interested in dropping by for a chat and some excellent tea, the place is called Hongyuan Tea, near the corner of Zhongzheng and Jialin Roads in Linkou. Just look for the half of a house.

As we continued to walk, the older buildings were replaced more and more by huge, modern apartment complexes and vast, empty parks; fewer and fewer people were to be found on the streets despite the pleasant weather. We ended up in front of the Mitsui Outlet Park mall, and although class had officially ended hours earlier, most of the students were still hanging out with us. The afternoon was waning, though, so we officially disbanded, and Chenbl and I went over to the outlet mall to take a look.

The mall is basically a Western mall in virtually every respect, surrounded by huge apartment blocks fronted with floor-length glass windows and nary a rack of metal bars to be seen. Occasionally we would see an ROC flag hanging from a luxury balcony. “Foreigners, most likely,” Chenbl commented.

We went into full-on Mall Mode, looking through the shops where everything seemed to be at least 60% off (of highly inflated prices, no doubt); I even bought some baggy jeans as the jeans in every other store I’ve seen are skinny and I can’t stand skinny jeans. Dinner completed the Western Mall fantasy with an actual, genuine god-damned avocado burger that made me feel both intestinally and morally compromised. Half of the mall is exposed to the open air, and the roof is covered with grass; a musical group surrounded by kids was playing the courtyard, under a roof that is apparently meant to collect rainwater. Next to the mall is an enormous parking garage, because of course there is; there are also superfluous pools and fountains. It was all quite surreal.

Night had fallen by this point. Feeling depleted, we walked out the main gate, past the entrance fountains, and along the wide avenues lined with huge, gleaming apartment blocks adorned with art-deco LED trimmings that shot up into the night towards the airliners that flew over every few minutes. “Everything is so big,” Chenbl exclaimed.

“It’s like Banqiao,” I offered, but he shook his head. Banqiao is apparently child’s play compared to Linkou on Chenbl’s scale of Surreal Western Enclavities.

Maybe it was the avocado burger, but the surreal experience of the mall and just the feeling of just not being in Taiwan for a period of time made me look forward to getting on the metro home. As we waited on the elevated platform among the gleaming buildings, though, I couldn’t help but noticed a father yelling at his son while his daughter watched. The kid was playing on the ground, and the father made a sort of twirl, lifting his foot and actually catching, seemingly by accident, the kid’s head with his foot. The boy didn’t say anything, just looking up at his father, but I thought it odd. Then, just before the train arrived, the man lifted a foot and violently stomped on the boy’s toy car, prompting an outburst from his son that the father refused to acknowledge.

As I was looking over at the scene, Chenbl warned, “Don’t stare.” It did seem that the man probably had violent tendencies. I wondered if they lived in the area. What kind of life would that be? All I know is that, if that boy survives his childhood, that man will have a very lonely old age, provided he survives that long either.

A group of loud foreigners in shorts and baseball caps who had gotten on the train with us preceded us at the terminal station in Taipei, so we took our time walking to the MRT station. I was exhausted after two consecutive days full of events; all I wanted was some time in my comfy bed before facing another week of work and classes.

 

 

posted by Poagao at 12:06 pm  
Mar 19 2018

Sunday

I needed to choose one of two things to do on Sunday morning. I usually like to go down to Taipei New Park and practice taichi/tuishou with the fellas; it’s good to move around, get some exercise, sun, and chat about recent news. But I also needed to practice violin, as I’ve fallen behind after not picking it up a single time during the winter break. Originally I’d thought I could do both, and after breakfast I took out the violin and began practicing with the full intent of just doing some brushing up and then heading out to the park.

Before I knew it, it was well after noon and I was still playing. I’m slowly getting the hang of changing positions; it makes more sense to me than it did when my teacher first introduced the idea, and feels more natural. Though my neighbors no doubt disagree, I actually found practicing enjoyable. But taichi was out, so I had a tasty lunch at the Pancho Cafe downstairs and then crossed the bridge to hang with my friend Casey, who’s got his hands on an interesting apartment on the other side of the river. It’s in the back of a building on a slope, for one thing, and it’s full of junk nobody else wants. Casey hauled out a bunch of moldy old cameras for me to look at…they’re probably hopeless, but I took a couple off his hands to take to the shop so they can have a look. Casey’s also into taichi, so we pushed hands for a while and I didn’t feel as guilty about missing the park.

The day had started out sunny, but it was cloudy as I made my way back across the crowded bridge to put the cameras away before heading out again. I hate crossing the bridge in the evenings these days, as Bitan is doing its inane fountain festival thing, which is basically a few water spouts on the paddle-boat docks going off while huge speakers boom out “Time to Say Good-bye” and the theme to Pirates of the Caribbean every half hour. This somewhat-less-than-spectacular display manages to attract roughly half of Taipei to see it, and the bridge strains and bucks under their weight. To make matter worse, I forgot my phone and had to make the arduous trip twice, cursing as I did so.

The reason I was heading out to the city instead of spending a comfy evening scanning old negatives and listening to podcasts at the Water Curtain Cave was that David Chen had invited me to see the last show of the Gypsy Jazz Festival at the Eslite Spectrum theater. I took the subway to the City Hall station and got a bite of pork rice before heading up to the bookstore to read more about the background of Koudelka’s Exiles before heading to the theater to meet David and Vincent, who organized the whole thing.

The concert was amazing. It was a simple setup, with Tcha Limberger on violin and vocals, Antoine Boyer and Denis Chang on guitar, and Kumiko Imakyurei on double bass, and the resulting music was ethereal, like a dream. They played many Django Reinhardt tunes, including a version of the little-performed Pour Que Ma Vie Demeure that is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. I looked it up later but couldn’t find a version that came close to the one they played. Tcha’s violin sang and wept with him, and Antoine, who is amazingly accomplished for his age, played as if he was possessed. Virtually every song was mesmerizing, and at the end they had all of their workshop students come up and play a phrase during an extra-long version of the Tchavolo Swing. Some were better than others, but all of them were good. Vincent has done a great job organizing this thing, and I look forward to seeing where it goes in the future.

So it was a good day. I’d needed a good day.

 

 

 

posted by Poagao at 10:58 am  
Dec 11 2017

Not an easy weekend

Another crazy weekend with this year’s Tiger Mountain Ramble coinciding with cold, wet weather. I headed over to Bobwundaye on Friday night to reunite with our dear friend Steve Gardner for some serious jamming, and we made the acquaintance of another fine musician who came along for the gig: Jett Edwards, also a long-term American ex-pat in Tokyo. Jett plays a mean bass, and has seemingly endless energy in front of a crowd while being quite laid-back in person. Jett, Katrina and I were talking during a break about expats in general, and he mentioned that he’d encountered westerners in Japan who seemed to have “gone native” to the extent that they refused to speak English to him, only stammering confusedly in Japanese when he tried to talk to them. “Would these individuals happen to all be white dudes?” I asked him, and he gave me a knowing look.

“Of course,” he said, adding that in his experience, Black people don’t go native, at least not in that fashion. I was surprised to hear it; I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like that, and though I’ve gone through times when I avoided the company of westerners in general, particularly early on when I was studying Chinese, I’ve never gone to such extremes.

We played several sets, during which the thundering headache I’d had all day gradually subsided, but I felt a cold coming on, so I shared a cab with Cristina and Zach back to Xindian. I really should visit their new abode down there, it sounds very cool. Redman has apparently also secured a mountain lair…somewhere. I suppose he can’t be a very good spy if everyone knows where he lives. Oops, did I say “spy”? I meant “accountant”.

My cold was present and accounted for on Saturday, so I basically slept all day until it was time to head over to Tiger Mountain. I’d left in plenty of time to get there, but for some reason, after I exited Xiangshan Station, I could. not. find. a. cab. Several taxis drove by without stopping. One even stopped for a western couple standing not far away. I wondered if they too were heading to Tiger Mountain, and silently hoped they slipped in the mud and had costly dry-cleaning bills.

When I finally flagged down a cab, I told the driver about my difficulties. “Well, it’s no surprise,” he said, shrugging uncomfortably. “I mean, just look at you, dressed all in black, carrying a staff, standing on the corner there scowling at everyone…you looked like trouble. I wouldn’t blame anyone for electing to skip that fare for their own personal safety.” Well, at least he was honest; and I can’t find the lie.

The Tiger Mountain Ramble, which we’ve played every year since its inception, is always strange for me, centered around an abandoned temple into which some rather shifty local spirits have moved. It would be intimidating enough on its own, but fill it with hundreds of foreign devils, a technicolor stage truck, and several food stalls with rather expensive western foods, and it becomes surreal to say the least. The rain had stopped at least, though the ground will still muddy. I took some artsy mud shots with my phone. As one does.

Our show began after an excruciatingly long soundcheck. The sound people seemed to have little clue what was going on, and we eventually just said screw it, let’s start. Various instruments appeared and disappeared from the mix throughout the show, but the volume was painfully loud on stage. It’s a shame, because we all love playing gigs with our friends from Japan.

My ears and I all needed to rest after that, so I slipped out, luxuriating in the silence of the walk back down the mountain, though part of that silence was probably (hopefully) temporary deafness from the show.

As much as I wanted to rest on Sunday, I had to meet up with my photography students for class in the morning, followed by a trip out to Sanxia in the afternoon. We’d come up with a plan to take a bus from Ximen, and while that might have worked on paper, in practice it was rather trying. Though the light was nice, and there was a lot to shoot both on the bus and outside it along the way, the effort to remain standing on a crowded bus for over two hours as the driver stomped on his gas and brake pedals with the eagerness of a teenage Dance Dance Revolution aficionado was considerable. It was late afternoon by the time we staggered off the bus, and we headed over to the riverside for some peace. A small group of men were cooking under the bridge while another brought up some freshly caught fish for a meal.

We walked towards the main temple, which was packed with Pokemon-seeking zombies, providing a rather surreal foreground to the place, and then headed into the alleys. A few nice places have been built/renovated along the stream there, though a few pitiful remains of once-lovely structures remain. It’s a shame the owners lack the resources to fix them up; they could make a mint if they did so.

We took another bus on a thankfully much-shorter trip to the Shanjia train station, a station I recall from my army days as featuring a nice little stream running through it. The stream has largely covered by the new station, alas, but I did manage to get some photos, Nick Turpin-style, of passengers on the trains at the platform. Felt a little one-sided and fishbarrelesque.

I really would have appreciated a weekend to rest up from my weekend, but that’s just not the way things work, alas. I need to begin to work on our semester-end photobook, which means reviewing hundreds of shots from the past few months, and violin class again tonight has me thinking I probably should have practiced at some point during the week.

posted by Poagao at 12:15 pm  
Aug 20 2017

Weekend dichotomy

Saturday was spent sitting in a cafe by the window brainstorming on ideas for the upcoming semester’s photography class. Despite my best efforts, the number of students continues to grow, and it’s becoming more difficult to find ways to give each and every student the time and attention they deserve, but I think we can handle it. Chenbl is an excellent organizer, for one thing, and he also tends to remind me of things I’ve overlooked. It was a productive but somewhat frustrating day in any case.

Today, Sunday, I got up and took the MRT to the NTU Hospital Station (you know, the one in 2/28 Park that is not named 2/28 Park Station but after a hospital that is a block away thanks to the law that metro stations must if at all possible incorporate any nearby hospital in its name) to practice tai-chi. I’ve been making an effort to get back into shape, and in addition to picking up badminton again, I’ve been resuming my efforts to practice tai-chi and tuishou with Little Qin and my other old tai-chi brothers. Today I grappled with UPS Guy, whom you may recall from the days of yore in my tai-chi blog (which I will not be updating because I plan to redo the website and incorporate all my blogs into one gigantic mess for your further reading confusion). All things considered, including near 100-degree heat, I did pretty well. He still has a tendency to move too quickly and get ahead of himself, something I tried (and mostly failed) to take advantage of by taking his movement and encouraging him to go too far. After that I pushed with Little Qin, who, being somewhat less portly than he used to be, is easier to grab as he now has angles, kind of. I also enjoy talking politics with  Little Qin and getting his take on the events of the day. I still miss studying with Teacher X, though.

My friends at the indigenous protest were planning an afternoon of concerts and other activities, so I helped them set things up before hauling my instruments over to CKS Hall for a quick bite at Mos Burger. Even though I was nearly 45 minutes early, I found Thumper sitting in the sun. It was good I arrived early, my food took long enough to make me late to our 2:30 start time, but we’re nearly always late so it didn’t really matter. Sylvain was there apparently to steal all of my solos (I kid, I kid…I get paid the same no matter how many solos I have). We went through some old songs in the runup to next weekend’s Jazz Festival gig. Between songs I got Cristina to give me a few hints about my violin homework.

After practice, while the others talked about going to get pizza, I hauled my stuff back to the park, where the concert was in full swing. I walked around listening to the music and taking a few photos, feeling quietly happy and at ease as I tend to do in that crowd. I walked through the park, past the old temple that was playing recorded temple music to a swastika-adorned ghost money boat, and over to what I think of as the Protest MosBurger, as I tend to end up eating there while attending protests, before returning to the concert. They did actually serve food there, but I don’t like to take from them at all if I can help it.

The last act was an electric guitar/bongo drum  duo that rocked, but I had to leave. Work tomorrow, as well as violin class and more preparing not only for my class but the upcoming workshop and other photo events for the Dadaocheng Arts Festival. Back to it, in other words. But it was a nice Sunday away.

posted by Poagao at 10:51 pm  
Dec 11 2016

Of Rights and Rambles

This weekend has gone non-stop. It started Friday night when I piled my instruments onto the 650 bus to Liuzhangli so I could make a gig with the ramblers at Bob’s. And not just the Muddy Basin Ramblers, but famed bluesman Rambling Steve Gardner as well, who flew in from Tokyo for the Tiger Mountain Ramble on Saturday. We met Steve at the Yokohama Jug Band Festival a couple of years back, and we’ve stayed in touch, always prodding him to make a trip over. The gig was a riot, and Kat served up tasty meat pies, potatoes and pizza afterwards.

After hauling my ass out of bed Saturday morning, I put on some Rambler-approved clothes and again hauled my instruments out and took the subway to Ximen, where I stashed them so that I could proceed unhindered to the Marriage Equality event on Ketagalan Blvd. Even though it was just starting, huge streams of people were joining from all directions. It was difficult to get into the crowd; I haven’t seen that many people there since the Sunflower protest, so I mostly just walked around the periphery. Suming gave a short speech and sang, and there were other performers with the MCs on the stage.

It was heartening to see so much love, hope and idealism, a real contrast from the previous anti-marriage-equality protests, which were mostly driven by hate and spite as well as stacks of cash from American Christian groups. For one thing, the anti-equality protests were much smaller than reported, even though the churches bussed entire congregations up to Taipei, and populated mostly by middle-aged people; so many of them were dressed in white and wearing masks that it was alarmingly similar to a Klan rally in all but name; “Straight Power” was pretty much the theme, and people there would throw their hands up in front of their masked faces when I raised my camera to take a shot. A good 10-20% of the protesters were actual Christian clergy, priests and nuns in full garb. One tall Western priest stood by one of the “praying” priests, and I managed to not enunciate my hope that he would get deported for taking part in the protest.

But that would never have happened, as the Christians (who claim homosexuality is a “foreign influence, oblivious to the fact that Christianity is much more of a foreign influence than homosexuality ever was), carted in an Australian woman who has some kind of personal vendetta against her parents, Katy Faust, to actually address the Legislature on what she clearly knows nothing about. The appropriately named Faust has no expertise on either homosexuality or Taiwan, yet not a single lawmaker saw the obvious violations of the actual law that her visit incurred. The media hasn’t really been on board with Reality either, e.g. articles like this from Focus Taiwan, which calls the event a “concert” that only “thousands” attended, even though official estimates run from a quarter million and up, and highlights claims of “bullying” of Christians on the subject.

As I was wandering around the East Gate and up the road toward the Presidential Office, it occurred to me that these people, not just the people at the marriage-equality protest, but other similar groups like the Sunflowers, et al, are the very people who were targeted by government forces during the White Terror period. Forward-looking people, people with inspiration and ideas for the future. In the awful times after 2/28, all of us would have been on those lists.

And who would have been writing those lists? The people who showed up in white robes and masks to protest equal rights.

I would have liked to have stayed longer, but I had to go retrieve my instruments and head over to the Tiger Mountain Ramble, where we were playing in the late afternoon. The mountain road was apparently so difficult to navigate that my cabbie shushed me when I tried to tell him where the place was. “Don’t talk to me!” he said. “I’m trying to concentrate on these GPS coordinates!” He found the place despite this.

The ramble was a little behind schedule when I got there, putting my stuff away and greeting friends. The cloudy skies threatened rain, and someone had started a bonfire. Steve presented me with a lovely gift: His photobook, from his days as a photojournalist on the theme of the American South, specifically the people of Mississippi, entitled Rambling Mind. It is a beautifully printed, large-sized book, one of only a handful left from the print run. The photos inside are wonderful as well…it’s a real treat, and I’m so happy to be able to add it to my collection.

It started to rain as we climbed the metal steps of the mobile stage and began our gig. It was a raucous affair, and most everything went right. There was much dancing in spite of the rain, which got heavier as we played. Afterwards we had to slog through the mud to get back to the storeroom, and everyone was huddled around the former temple for shelter. I was tired after a day of walking around as well as the show, so I packed up and headed down the mountain on foot, pulling my cart behind me. I met one of the other bands on the way, and they said some very nice things about our show, and I returned their compliments.

This morning (Sunday) I had to head out again, this time to lead my photography students on a walk around Keelung. We met up in front of the train station at 10 a.m. to find a large gathering of Indonesians, including dancers, martial artists and singers, as well as stalls selling food and attire, and a stage. It was all very festive; I bought three nice new hats, but we couldn’t stay long; we had to catch a train to Keelung.

Of course it was raining, because Keelung. We got off at the brand-new train station, which is worlds nicer than the awful old station, which itself was…much more awful than the old Japanese station. Some people were a bit peckish, so we had some food at a breakfast shop where the owner told us how to get to the big KEELUNG sign at the top of the hill. “You go up,” he said helpfully.

So we went up, following alleys, complimenting one household in particular on their delicious-smelling curry rice and dodging the scooters that would occasionally charge up the steep slope. One of these was a Gogoro electric scooter, with no less than two people on it. Impressive.

We paused at the big KEELUNG and then proceeded up to the platform at the top of the hill, caught our breath, and then went back down again, this time taking a different, more circuitous route. Eventually we found ourselves back to the main road behind the station. We crossed over the old blue pedestrian bridge that’s been there forever, and walked towards the Miaokou market, where vendors were hauling their stalls out into the rainy streets. It’s always difficult to lead these photowalks because I remain a firm believer in the benefits of solitary ventures. “I’m just showing you this place and some of the possibilities,” I often find myself saying. “You can come back on your own sometime and really see it!” It might seem odd for me to be telling this to native Taiwanese people, but they almost always have never really been to the places I take them, or, even if they have, they never really noticed what was there. I think it works; several of them have come a really long way in their photography, which makes me happy. And after this rather fucked-up year, I appreciate such things more than ever.

posted by Poagao at 9:39 pm  
Dec 14 2015

Retirement community gig

Yesterday afternoon I met up with Chenbl and his fellow floutists at the Danshui MRT. We’ve done a couple of shows in the past with them on flute and me on trumpet; somehow word got out, and a retirement community out there invited us to play for their residents. One of their people met us at the station and took us up the hillside, past Tamkang University, to the hillside establishment. The lobby was a mixture of hotel and hospital, flanked by an atrium with large windows facing the ocean and the setting sun.

We got ready and warmed up in the place’s library, and I sat next to the side door of the small stage while the other groups played old Mandarin and Minnan favorites to the large group of elderly people, many in wheelchairs, caregivers feeding them small pieces of cake by hand. The retirees hummed and even sang along to the old songs; it was actually kind of touching.

renfuThough our performance went well, musically speaking, the people handling the technical part of the event weren’t quite with the program, cutting off “Rose Rose I love You” halfway through the song. Then the MC said “And next is ‘Summertime’, a song frequently played at funerals!” Chenbl and I both stared in horror as he said this, but the MC seemed to think it was perfectly ok, so we shrugged and kept playing. Hopefully our rendition of the song managed to avoid any kind of funereal intimations.

After the show, the audience trickled out slowly, back to their games of chess and mahjong in the building’s atrium. A couple of them told me they really enjoyed the show, which was nice. We took a bus back down the hill, and a long subway ride back to the city.

 

posted by Poagao at 12:00 pm  
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