Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Jun 20 2011

A full weekend

I’d thought that the Muddy Basin Ramblers were meeting up at the Red House Theater in the West Gate District at 1:30 in the afternoon before our 2:05 show at a benefit concert for Japanese tsunami orphans, and I therefore proceeded to enjoy a leisurely morning at home, slowly getting my things together, before realizing that we’d actually arranged to meet at 12:30. One mad dash and a NT$300 taxi ride later, I was behind the theater going through a quick practice with the band, minus Conor who was already on stage with another band.

The show went well, but it was over too quickly. It seemed like we’d barely started before we were playing our last song as the hosts came up on stage. I was taking apart the washtub bass when one of the hosts, a woman, grabbed the tub and held it up for the audience to see. “This is what he’s been playing, if you didn’t notice!” she said. She then asked for a quick demonstration. Now there’s a sentence to boost my search ratings.

We were going out to celebrate David’s birthday that night, so I hung around and listened to the other bands, which included a Japanese family of ukulele players who performed some hits from Miyazaki movie themes like Spirited Away and Totoro. Adorable, if somewhat out of tune. One of the younger kids lost the beat halfway through one song, and within two measures the rest of the family switched to accommodate him. We had planned to find a spot near the Chungshan Hall for a little street performance, but Sandy and Thumper bailed early. A South American group got on stage and played such wonderful mariachi-style tunes I wanted to jump on stage and play along, but I refrained.

Eventually I tired of the booming sound, however, and walked out to the square where the old roundabout and park used to be before they made a boring intersection out of it, and stood in the same spot for about half an hour, just looking at people and things. Everyone had a camera, everyone was taking photos except me. The Golden Melody Awards, which I attended with Chalaw a few years ago (we didn’t win, but he won the next year), were taking place that evening, and one of my favorite bands as well as a friend, Matzka, was up for several awards. I knew from previous experience that he and his band were probably walking down the red carpet at the venue as I stood watching people in the square. Matzka would win the best group award that night. Not bad.

Night fell over the Red House Theater as all the bars and clubs fired up and filled with bears and other demographics. We walked over to the Calcutta. Slim was sloshedly vociferous the whole way. The food wasn’t bad, better than Tandoor, I felt, though I’m not a particular connoisseur of Indian food. David and Robin told tales of their recent honeymoon in Paris, of all the wonderful sights and sounds I missed when I was there, such as Belleville and the bars where Django Reinhardt and Stephan Grapelli played. The Leica Forum is going on there at the moment, attended by many a wealthy photographer (and probably some good ones, too, he said, trying not to sound too bitter).

The others were heading to Bobwundaye after dinner for some jamming, but I had an early start coming up on Sunday, so I reluctantly declined even though I was itching to play some more.

I was awake at 7:20 a.m. the next morning, grabbing the Invincible Rabbit and heading out into the already-brilliant sunshine, across the bridge and onto the subway to Taipei Train Station, where I met up with Chenbl, Terry, Lulu, Sean, his girlfriend Lily and her cousin, who were visiting from Hong Kong. Sean just got his master’s degree from Qinghua University in Disney Studies.

We caught the train to Keelung, traveling along the various construction sites and through the industry, through the mountain range and into the port city in about 40 minutes. Chenbl just failed to catch the bus out to Peace Island, so we waited in the hot sun, shooting irritated-looking passengers. Terry had an even more formidable beast than the Rabbit, a 1Ds, while Lulu, I think, had a 50D. A new liner was docked in the harbor, the Star Aquarius, bigger and nicer than the Star Libra I took to Okinawa. I wondered where it was bound for..Singapore? Hong Kong? Across from it was the Cosco Star that we took to Xiamen a few months ago. It looked small and dirty next to the Aquarius.

We caught the next bus out to Peace Island, which is located across a short bridge up near the mouth of the river. The area by the entrance is still under construction, as it was this time last year when I last saw it. The sun was glaring off the newly laid concrete, and a guard languished deep inside the shade of his shelter at the gate of a military base. We walked out to the rocky coast, where some messy picnickers were lighting fires and consuming bottles of tea. I climbed up on the rocks to get close to the sea, delighted to hear the wonderful sound of the water sluicing through the various crevices.

We walked up the coast and inland to a small group of houses whose occupants no doubt rely on hot, sweaty tourists for their livelihood. A group of aboriginal children surrounded us, trying and failing to guess who among us was Taiwanese and who wasn’t. “You’re the only real Taiwanese here,” I told them. The kids were apparently big fans of the hit TV show Rookie’s Diary, and weren’t entirely convinced that I knew Ye Da-tong, Lai Hu, Luo Gang, and Yang Hai-sheng, and I thought it was a shame that my friend Fu Zi-cun, who played Yang Hai-sheng and who is not a bad photographer himself, didn’t come along this time. He’s busy filming a new series down south though, and couldn’t make it.

The kids were playing around on a laundry rack comprised of a bamboo stick on two poles as we talked to them, and suddenly the bamboo stick, which was obviously quite old and moldy, broke. Almost immediately an old man in a white shirt came rushing up, yelling at this travesty, and the kids scattered. The old man took off his shoe and threw it at the kids several times, cursing them. At one point he actually got his hand on one of them and raised a heavy club to hit him with, but Terry stopped him, saying, “There’s no need for that.” I wondered if we would see that old man in the Apple Daily some day.

We walked down to the nearest bus stop and, 15 sweaty minutes later, caught a bus back to the train station, where we’d arranged to meet up with the Taiwan Photo Club, or at least part of it. Craig and Selina were there, of course, as well as Josh Ellis, Gillian Benjamin and a few others. They were waiting at the Starbucks on the harbor, and we had a quick lunch at the Burger King next door, enticed by the free ice cream sundaes, before boarding another bus out to the Fairy Cave.

I don’t think I’d ever been to the Fairy Cave before. Flocks of birds swarmed around the cliff face above the cave’s entrance, which was accompanied by ever-shy monks and a great deal of religious paraphernalia as the cave contains several temples. It was cool and misty inside, and several side caves branched out from the main one. One of the side branches became quite narrow, and some people came back claiming it was impossible to get through. I tried it, and though I had to crouch over and turn sideways, both the rabbit and I managed to get through fairly unscathed, though my shoulders were scrapped and muddy. Inside was another altar enveloped in a heavy mix of mist and incense that an ancient fan in the corner failed to alleviate.

We explored the neighborhood around the cave, waking up dogs and cats and a strange kind of wasp that attacked Josh because it really didn’t want to be on Facebook. Then Chenbl led us on a long trek across the valley and up another hill to a nice view of the sea right next to a power plant. As we recovered from the climb, which included the toxic fumes of a house painted entirely in tar the owner probably won in a game of majhong and didn’t want to waste, a lone paraglider sailed over the smokestacks of the powerplant, his shadow flitting across the field overlooking the sea.

The walk back down was much easier, and we luxuriated in the air conditioning of the rickety bus back downtown. Terry, Lulu, Sean, Lily and Lily’s cousin had to leave; the rest of us crossed the bridge over the other side of the tracks. A couple of aesthetic homeless men populated the bridge, lit by the late-afternoon sun in a way that even I couldn’t resist taking a shot, though I generally don’t like to take too many such shots. Craig was taking phone pictures the whole time, unburdened by a heavy DSLR. Probably a smart move considering the heat and all the hills we were climbing that day.

We wound our way through the steep alleys and stairs, passing and occasionally photographing the local residents. One man sitting on his scooter smoking glared at me as I took his shot. “Sorry,” he said, pointing to his cigarette. I refrained from pointing out that he would look just as thuggish without the cigarette, and walked on.

The whole of Keelung was laid out in the light of the approaching sunset as we reached the big KEELUNG sign, whereupon the mosquitoes decided that Chenbl was the only really delicious person on the site. Everyone except Craig and Selina climbed up to the top of the hill for an even better view. Josh and I stood atop the summit, on a circle of an old structure, noting the approaching clouds and thunder that meant it was surely raining in Taipei. The Aquarius had departed, off to wherever it was headed, a voyage of good food, swimming pools and gambling. The Cosco Star would be heading out later that evening.

Rain began to fall as we descended the hill, often going in circles as Chenbl tried to make the walk more interesting. We recrossed the bridge, noting that the homeless men had changed positions, and walked over to the Miaokou Night Market, which was mostly closed due to construction work. I didn’t see anything I liked. The harbor city was taking on its nocturnal form, its nights darker than those of other cities, its streets and alleys closer, wetter. I was game for more exploration, but I could feel the group’s gravitation towards the train station and our comfortable homes, so I went along, telling myself, another time: Keelung will still be there.

posted by Poagao at 12:01 pm  
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  
Jun 16 2008

Hippiefest ’08

I really didn’t feel like venturing out into the deluge for the Hoping for Hoping music festival, but we’d been invited, and it had been pleasant in past years. I was sure it wasn’t going to do my persistant cough any good, though. Sandman picked me up in front of the 7-Eleven downstairs, and we drove to pick up David, who was recovering from a cold, and then Slim, who was recovering from a fierce hangover. Following instructions from the Internet, we made it down to Longtan with no problems, but when we arrived at the Kunlun Gardens, we found that we were no longer allowed to drive up to the site, and had to wait for the van. We waited for a long time as other people who had been waiting longer were shuttled up, including a group of aborigine kids who played drums.

muddy feetFinally, we got a place in the van, but when we arrived, we found that Peacefest had become a series of tents pitched in a sea of mud. Most of the hippies, and there were many, were going barefoot. I imagined there were all kinds of dangerous objects, natural and man-made, buried beneath the surface. We found a mud-covered Lynn Miles inside the local temple.

We were on at 4pm, so we had a little practice session on the second-floor stairway of the temple before we went on. I wasn’t quite awake yet, so I had to go grab a quick whisky coke as the rest of the band took the stage.

The show started out great; the audience was dancing and bobbing to our beat, and you never would have guessed we hadn’t had a real rehearsal in months. The sound guys did a great job, and we were hot. We’d only played a few songs, however, when we got the signal to wrap it up. WTF? But apparently there was some kind of scheduling problem, so we played “Riverside” and left the stage.

The aborigine kids’ group played for a while, accompanied by a mostly naked firebreather who happens be the chief of the Dream Community, followed by some foreign bands. Each of these played for what seemed like hours. One song went on longer than our entire set. I was driving back, so I wasn’t having any more drinks. I stood chatting with the guy I have a small crush on, wondering how cool he must be to not be creeped out by that embarrassing fact.

A giant peace sign was lit on fire, and then another. A giant inflatable chicken bobbed around the area. People shot off fireworks, and the Peace Circle began with some chanting. We were still talking off to the side, and got some hostile glares from the Circle for our insolence. There didn’t seem to be any focus to the event.

The rain never really stopped; there was no place to sit down. Everything was covered in mud. We’d done our tiny bit, but as night fell the line for the van going back down the hill was too long to consider. We grabbed some sub-par hamburgers at a stand and extricated ourselves from the situation, hauling our gear back down the mountain on foot in the dark. I wore the tub on my head as a makeshift umbrella. Back at the bottom of the hill, we met some Japanese musicians, one of whom, Syusaku Kanda, was also a washtub bass player. I set up the bass so he could play it, and he seemed impressed. I was sorry I hadn’t heard his group play.

The whole experience, however, was rather disappointing. If I’d known about the no-car policy, even for bands with heavy equipment, as well as our only being allowed to play a handful of songs while other bands went on as long as they liked, I’d have rather just skipped the whole mess.

The drive back was uneventful, and I ended up at Darrell’s and Judy’s for his 40th birthday party. There were many people there I knew vaguely, and I’m afraid I spent a bit too much time talking shop with Paul and Darrell instead of chatting with other guests. But it was fun, and the food was good. Judy insisted on offering me a huge slab of birthday cake to take home, which I found a little embarrassing (but too good to refuse).

Sunday was spent editing and coughing, mostly at the same time. This morning I went to see the doctor, who said I had acute bronchitis and tonsilitis, so now I’m on the loopy pills for a few days. The rain hasn’t let up, either. Every time I think full-on summer is here, I’m wrong.

posted by Poagao at 11:05 am  
Feb 07 2008

Asakusa and the river cruise

Lovely weather out today. The people at the reception desk downstairs call me by my name with its Japanese pronunciation: Hayashi Mijiyaki-san! Hai!

It being such a nice day, I decided to go to Asakusa, but when I got to the subway station I accidentally ended up on the wrong platform. I told the guy at the window, and he issued me an “I am an idiot who cannot read plain signs” tag to take around to the correct platform. There I boarded a train and sat next to two heavy (in that entitled-due-to-excessive mass kind of way) Korean girls with identical Olympus mini DSLRs.

At Asakusa, once I managed to find my way out of the warren of shops and stores surrounding the station underground, I headed for the bridge over the Sumida River for a look. A mass of surprisingly unkempt old junks lined one bank, and on top of a tall glass building on the other side was to all appearances a gigantic, golden turd. I’m guessing Godzilla’s been drinking late at night again.

bowI turned around and made my way to the Shoji shrine/shopping complex, avoiding the main thoroughfare and taking side alleys to the shrine itself, which was swamped with tourists from all nations, though only the Japanese dared take the rickshaws for rental rides. The urn in the center of the square was surrounded by tourists trying to wave the smoke in their direction for good luck. I found this amusing because, whenever I am near smoke, it naturally blows my way, and so it was today: wherever I walked, the smoke followed me. I think the more devoted of the tourists were a bit jealous.

I walked around the rather neglected bell tower, which looked like a nice place to live, and then around to the rear of the temple, where workers were carting leftover snow and spreading it around to melt. Otherwise the area was deserted, but I felt that the shadows of the trees and the puddles left by the melting snow, mined by pigeons, were far more photogenic than anything in the busy front end.

basketcaseI left the complex and walked around the neighborhood. Once, when I was taking a picture of some colorful garbage left in front of a shop, a man walked by chuckling at, I can only assume, my choice of subject matter. So I took a picture of him. I am finding the hot packets quite useful for gloveless shooting in the cold, by the way.

Later, I came across a shop displaying shiny suits of all colors and velvet lapels. “Too small for you!” the owner told me. Probably a good thing, as I was eying the maroon number.

After lunch at a counter-style curry place, I walked back to the river and bought a round-trip ticket on the river cruise to Hinode Pier and back. With me on the flat, glass-ceilinged boat were dozens of schoolchildren who were doing some kind of school project that apparently involved shrieking and jumping up and down. It wasn’t terribly relaxing.

boat viewBut the view was nice, and I could rest my legs as I watched the city slide by. We went under bridge after bridge, but the woman describing them on the microphone at the front of the boat stood no chance against the students’ noise.

Eventually we arrived at the Tokyo Port. I had no idea where I was, so I asked when the last boat back to Asakusa was. “5pm,” the guy at the counter said. I had an hour and a half, so I walked across the road, under the highway, over a bridge and up a street until I reached a downtown-like area. A sign for an observation deck caught my eye, so I followed it to the Hamamatsucho World Trade Center. A ticket to the 40th-floor observatory costs 630 yen, so I thought I’d go up take a look.

observatoryI practically had the place to myself. Yet the view was wonderful, even better than the city government building, I thought, though it could have been the light. The sun was inching towards the horizon, and the whole area was spectacularly lit. I would have liked to have stayed until the city below lit up, but I would have missed the last boat back to Asakusa, and I was meeting Arnd later in Ueno. I guessed, however, that they would keep the lights on inside, spoiling any chance at good night shots.

Back at the dock, I noted a genuine vintage Airstream trailer made into a food stand sitting unattended on the dock as I boarded the ferry. This time there were only a few people on board, and the city was slowly lighting up as the sun went down. Navigating back up the river proved very relaxing and much more enjoyable than the trip down had been. I wondered if the people sitting behind me were inserting English words in their conversation for my benefit, as people in Taiwan often do. Japanese, however, has so many English words in it that I really couldn’t tell.

Back in Asakusa, I started walking in a roughly westward direction towards Ueno, somehow ending up on a street full of motorcycle shops. There is the perfect amount of motorcycles in Tokyo; they are common enough that people know how to drive around them, but they aren’t nearly as crushingly ubiquitous as they are in Taiwan. I saw some really sweet, low-slung models, too.

I thought as I walked how much effort people here have put into making life more convenient. From the little restaurants everywhere to the pictures of food, the vending machines, the ticket-based economy to the public restrooms and useful maps; everything seems taken care of. It’s a little frightening, but then again, I’m used to living in what amounts to a working anarchy, where things are left to solve themselves most of the time. Some would frame the contrast in terms of Buddhist vs. Taoist philosophies, but I’m sure there’s more to it than that. I’m still getting used to standing on the left side of the escalator.

A road sign read: “If the parks or schools in your neighborhood are not safe, please take refuse in the area indicated on the map.” The indicated area, shown below on the sign, was Ueno Park.

I reached Ueno Station early, so I sat down next to the escalator by the Hard Rock Cafe to wait. Unbeknownst to me, Arnd arrived about the same time, waiting just behind a column around the corner. We both sat in our spots for roughly 20 minutes, each wondering where the other was. Eventually I stood up, walked a few steps and saw Arnd and his friends, many from Flickr.

flickritesWe crossed the road and walked to Za Watami, a third-floor restaurant near the train tracks, the kind where you take off your shoes, put them in a little wooden box and sit with your legs in a depression around a table, and ordered beer and snacks. As soon as we sat down, out came the cameras, with everyone snapping away at each other while we waited for the food to arrive. Besides me and Arnd, flickrites Hiromy, Jimmy, Grumpy Old Man and Un Gato Nipon were there.

Over the course of the next few hours we talked about Japan, Taiwan, travel, photography, technology, and many other interesting things. It was good to meet up with the group; I had a lot of fun. I’ve now filled up my 4gb card on my big camera and have just 6 minutes of video left on my little camera.

Tomorrow I am going to visit the Ghibli Museum. I have no idea where it is or how to get there, but I’m sure I can figure it out. Much of this trip has involved figuring things out as I go, and it’s worked so far.

posted by Poagao at 12:09 pm  
Jan 23 2008

Wei-ya Dinner

The streets are filled with people carrying packages home these days, prizes they won at their companies’ year-end dinners. I hadn’t won anything for three years straight, so I didn’t expect much last night when I walked into the Formosa Regent Hotel ballroom, the same ballroom where my friend Azuma got married a while back, and now the site of our company’s year-end dinner. In order to spend as little time as possible sitting awkwardly at a table full of strangers who all knew each other listening to speeches about the company’s financial performance, I lingered outside watching co-workers play a Wii game featuring a cartoon character standing on one leg. When they were done, I took pictures of the silverware in the hallway.

silverwareEventually I was corralled by a group of co-workers who saw me outside, and herded into a seat just as the speeches began. The food arrived, but as a consequence of my late arrival, I’d managed to obtain the seat next to where the server uses to serve the food, so most of the dinner was spent leaning to one side while various goopy substances were ladled out. At one point a small roach scurried across one of the plates; the server whisked it away quickly and acted as if nothing had happened. I did manage to win a small-ish prize, the second smallest on the list, which was heartening in that it was enough money to make a dent in my bills but not enough to arouse too much animosity amongst my co-workers.

After the ceremony I was talking to one of my bosses about the sad news concerning the demise of the company’s badminton club* when another guy walked up and addressed my boss: “Say, this guy doesn’t happen to have a flickr account, does he?” he asked excitedly. My boss pointed at me.

“You know, you could just ask him; he’s standing right here,” he said. My boss is cool.

The new guy then turned to me. “Are you….” he began, apparently nervous. “Are you….Poagao?”

“Uh, yeah,” I said.

“THE Poagao? The photographer?”

“I’m pretty sure I am.” I was becoming a bit concerned about his reaction. But it turns out that he’s just naturally exuberant and has been following me on flickr.com for a while. He had no idea that we were actually co-workers and was more excited by the coincidence than anything I can take credit for.

He told me that the company actually has a photo club. I’d talked to the official dinner photographer, a young guy who had just purchased a new Canon 5D along with a 24-105L lens as his first DSLR to learn about taking pictures, as well as an older guy who also had a 5D with a battery grip, and they said I might try coming to a meeting some time. I just might, if only to drool over all the nice cameras they have.

So the evening ended on a good note, though I spent most of the dinner drawing cartoons on the back of my lottery tickets. Afterwards I walked past the old US embassy to the MRT station and took the train home.

The Ramblers play SapphoThis weekend is going to be another busy one; the Muddy Basin Ramblers are going to play at the 70’s Discotheque Sappho de Base, which is located on Anhe Road’s Lane 102 in the basement of #1, on Saturday night starting at about 10:30. After spending months playing the same songs over and over for the album, we’ve recently been practicing a few hot new numbers, and it should be interesting to see how they go in a public setting.

Otherwise, I will hopefully be doing looping/ADR sessions with some actors for the film. The rest of the time should be spent editing, among other things.

*The demise of the badminton club is bad news, because it was good to play with people who actually take it seriously. I say this because there’s been an addition to the pug-nosed women I play with on Monday nights. Yes, dear readers, it’s true: Whiny Woman is back.

It’s not the same woman, but it might as well be. She’s in her mid-to-late 40’s but seems to think that she’s really only 11, except it’s more of an I’m-on-Japanese-TV kind of 11. This includes talking in an excruciatingly cute approximation of a child’s voice and walking with her knees bent inwards and hands in the air. Her laugh, if it can be described thus, can cause birds within a 100-foot radius to relieve themselves in mid-air. I find myself missing the days when it was just me and the pug-nosed women.

posted by Poagao at 4:14 am  
Jan 01 2008


Here we are in the much-anticipated year of 2008. In a way it seems too soon, but 2007 was wearing on me, and the new year seems to bring with it a sense of motion I’ve been missing as of late. Last night I met Harry at the Kunyang MRT station after work. We then cabbed it over to Bret and Alan’s Nangang apartment, where they had set up not only a delicious banquet featuring ham, but also a Dance Dance Revolution game on the big rear projection TV. It wasn’t as big a group as in years past. I’d hoped to talk to my Dominican friend Lorenzo about possibly spending Chinese New Year in Kyoto this year, but he wasn’t able to come this time. We toasted the new year with champagne and watched Taipei 101 consumed by fireworks on TV. It looked quite impressive, but I was glad I wasn’t out in the cold.

One of Bret’s friends drove us back downtown, through amazingly dense crowds to the intersection of Zhongxiao East and Dunhua South Roads. The streets were filled with cars, scooters and mostly young people, more than even rush-hour traffic before a holiday. Harry and I took one look at the long lines waiting to board the MRT and set off walking west along Zhongxiao. It was after 2am, and the streets were filled with people, and though most of the shops were closed, the few that were open were doing brisk business.

We walked to the Zhongxia0-Xinsheng MRT station and joined the long lines on the platform. Train after train, all filled with passengers, came and left with hardly any time between them. Eventually we managed to squeeze onto one and took it to the West Gate Station, where we planned to check out the activities at the Red House Theater Square. Many other people got off there as well; apparently it was a happening place to be on New Year’s Eve.

The atmosphere in the square behind the Red House Theater, however, was unnerving. There seemed to be a lot of “tourists” instead of the usual crowd, and there was a strange tension in the air. A group of loud foreigners walked past, one of them hitting me with his shoulder. Trash littered the ground, and trucks hauling things away shined their headlines across the scattered tables. I didn’t feel like staying; it wasn’t the same place. Harry picked up on it as well, and said he was going home.

Back at the subway station, I got a message from Eric that he was at The Source, so I stopped by there. When I sat down at the bar, I noticed a guy with his head in his hands. It was my neighbor Greg, who had apparently drunken himself into a stupor. Eric and I chatted, mostly about movies, and drank tequila until 5am.

The MRT was running 24 hours that night, so I walked down to the Kuting Station, buying some fruit on the way. McDonald’s was crowded with people, and traffic was still heavy in the pre-dawn chill. Back to Bitan, where I finally made it to bed sometime after 7am. It had been a long time since I’d stayed up to see the sunrise, but there wasn’t much of one this first day of the new year. Instead, it was cloudy and grey.

Still, I’m glad it’s 2008; it feels like this year has a great capacity for change, not just for me, but for the world in general. Presidential election in both Taiwan and the US are pivotal for both countries. Add to that the Beijing Olympics and several other global concerns. On a more personal level, it is my hope that I will be able to see the finished movie in a theater at some point this year, as well as the English-language version of my book in bookstores. While I’m at it, I’d like to spend some time traipsing the streets of cities like Paris and Prague, taking pictures to my heart’s content.

Upon a glance at new years past, however, it seems that all of the above goals are at least several years old. Each year I say I want to get the movie done, get my book published in English, and take a trip to Europe. It’s been so long. Should I even bother listing them any more? Still, I do feel that this year is going to be different. It has to be, for some reason I can’t put my finger on. Just a feeling.

We’ll see. I guess that’s the point.

posted by Poagao at 12:19 pm  
Dec 29 2007

A Shitty Christmas

Christmas sucked, for the most part. Sure, I had a nice Christmas dinner party on Sunday night with Darrell, Judy, Maurice and other friends at their friend Barrie’s incredibly long Banqiao apartment. We had delicious roast beef and huddled around the glowing TV screen, picking out Youtube favorites to show each other and chatting during the downloads. Judy baked me my favorite kind of cake, yellow with chocolate frosting, and Maurice brought wrapped gifts for everyone. I got a retro glass.

But Christmas Day, i.e. Tuesday, was a different story. My stomach was upset after eating the disasterous results of Webster’s turkey experiment at The Source the night before, and I sat in the office all day plowing through a sudden onslaught of monotonous extra work, shivering because the people in the meeting room next door mistook my air conditioning controls for theirs, and instead of figuring this out, decided to turn the thermostat to precisely 17 degrees in an effort to make the meeting room cooler in the face of the fierce December heat.

I finally got done some time after 8pm, and I had arranged to meet Prince Roy, Wayne and some others at Citizen Cain, which promised a genuine turkey dinner with all the trimmings. When I arrived, however, the waitress pointed to a long table in the back surrounded by a pack of people wearing santa hats. “They just came in and ordered 32 turkey dinners,” she told me. “We’re all out.” When I tried to order off the main menu, she told me they weren’t serving other dinners until after the Christmas Dinner period was over at 9.

I was in a foul mood as I sat watching Prince Roy chat with his friend Aaron, who greatly resembles Chandler Bing of Friends, about learning Chinese, for that is what Chandler is doing here. Wayne arrived with a lady friend, and we talked a bit about cameras just to bore PR for our own sadistic pleasure. Dinner, when it became available, was something with chicken.

Afterwards, Prince Roy walked me back through the nearly empty streets to the MRT station, and I sat on the three trains back to my little cave, where I turned on the Christmas lights on the balcony, watched them blink for a couple of minutes, then unplugged them and went to bed.

posted by Poagao at 4:27 am  
Nov 29 2007

Breath premiere

breathThe Taiwan premiere of Breath, a Korean film starring Chang Chen, was held at a West Gate District theater last night. I was waiting outside the lobby for Eric, who had the tickets, when I noticed a bunch of people with cameras were loitering purposely around a parked VW van with tinted windows. After a while a girl dressed in white with brown, ankle-length argyle socks got out and walked into the lobby, illuminated by the flashes of one of the photographers. I think she was sent out to test the waters, as all the other photographers ignored her and kept their sights on the van and whoever was in it.

Eric showed up and we shunned the crowded elevators, taking the stairs to the theater, where a press conference was being held. When we were finally let into the theater itself, we found that the row we were supposedly sitting was made up not of actual seats, but wide, furry divans of questionable taste. The numbers on the tickets didn’t match, so Eric went to find an usher while I stood around. The argyle girl was there with a similar quandary, complaining that she couldn’t find her seat. “I have the same problem,” I said, but she ignored me. Eric came back with a manager and we all ended up just sitting randomly and awkwardly in the divans.

A press guy made an announcement, and Chang Chen was called upon to make a speech. “Thanks for coming,” he said. “Uh, just watch the movie. I’m going to get something to eat.” The lights went down and we watched the film, which was about a Korean woman who might have been insane and her infatuation with a death-row prisoner (Chang Chen) who was kept in a cell with three other men and one sharp object, with which he kept trying to kill himself, nearly always spraying his roomies with blood in the process. There are some laugh-out-loud moments which quickly become sad when you realize what’s really going on, and the plot seems to challenge every idea you come up with to explain what you’re seeing as you go along. Director Ki-duk Kim filmed the movie in just 11 days, as is his style, keeping the locations and story quite simple. I have to say I was a bit jealous when I heard that.

After the movie we caught a taxi over to Chaochang, the very bar on Heping East Road where I attended the wrap party for Hayashi Kaisho’s Umihoozuki (coincidentally also title The Breath in English) way back in 1994, when the second-story venue was still called Fenchang, or “Cemetery”. When Eric told the cabbie the name of the bar, the driver said, “Oh, I know that place, it’s Jay Chou’s place, isn’t it?” In fact, it’s now partly owned by Chang Chen, but we didn’t correct him.

Inside, I chatted with Chang Chen, whom I met when we were both working on Mahjong, and he said he remembered me, though I wouldn’t be surprise if he didn’t as I’ve changed a lot since then. We talked about filming of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and he said the costumes were a royal pain. “But shitting in the middle of the desert,” he said, smiling, “now that is truly a pleasure.”

ChaochangI also met Jimmy, the artist whose illustrated books are published by the same publisher that published my book, Locus. Jimmy’s a small, thin man, with thick glasses and an easygoing manner. The bar was full of film people, producers, directors and many people who seemed to do many different things. I had an interesting conversation with Roger Huang, who produced Exit No. 6, Formula 17 and Betelnut Beauty. It turns out that, like with Chalaw, we are almost exactly the same age; he was born four days before I was. It was gratifying to talk with people who are passionate about the prospects of Taiwanese cinema.

As the night progressed, wine was handed out, and the guests became drunker. Shouting erupted occasionally from the more boisterous tables. I found myself talking to a certain member of the cast of Mahjong, who was quite drunk. “You remember me?” I said. He said he did, but seemed uncertain. I told him I was the one foreigner at the table who kept screwing up his lines by speaking them in Taiwanese* and his face lit up.

“Oh, yeah, right!” He leaned in drunkenly, and asked: “So when are you getting married?”

“Huh? Who told you I was getting married?” I said.

“You’re not getting married?”

“Uh, I don’t have any immediate plans, no.”

“Do you like girls or boys?” he said suddenly. This caught me by surprise. I’m not used to people being so blunt. Then again, I’m not in the habit of denying my identity either.


“Ah!” he said, and hugged me, and then stumbled off. It was a strange encounter. Eric had left by this point, and it was getting very late, so I said good-bye to Chang Chen and Roger and navigated the steep stairway down to Heping East road, where I caught a cab back to Bitan. An interesting night.

*Edward Yang had set things up in the movie so that all the Taiwanese would speak English to the foreigners, while all the foreigners would speak Mandarin to the Taiwanese, and there I was messing with the plan by speaking Taiwanese. This lasted for a few takes until Yu Wei-yan, the producer, came over to speak to me.

“TC, you’re not doing it right,” he said. “Do you know what you’re doing wrong?”

“I have a pretty good idea,” I said.

“Ok, then,” he said, and returned to the gaggle of crew at the other end of the room. I did my lines in Mandarin, and the shot went off without a further hitch.

posted by Poagao at 4:36 am  
Nov 25 2007

A day of eating

One of my college roommates, Yao Fu-wen, got married today. The banquet was held at a fancy Dunhua North Road restaurant starting at noon. He picked a nice day; the weather was bright and the air fresh, possibly due to the proximity of a late-season typhoon down in the Philippines. Once I’d handed in my red envelope and signed my name, I walked inside the elaborate hall and found three tables of Tunghai University classmates, some of whom I hadn’t seen in almost 20 years. Yu Long-tong, another roommate with who I got into fights with in the dorm for reasons I can’t recall except that he was completely insane, was there with his wife and children. We used to talk a lot about politics back then, and I learned to ride on his little red 100cc motorcycle in the cow pastures below the campus proper.

Also present was Cai Jian-shu, who was my friend Boogie’s roommate back then. Tong-ah, who is rather green, dabbled in political promotions for a while but is now doing research at Academia Sinica, and Jian-shu is teaching at a university in Kaohsiung. With the exception of the grey in Tong-ah’s hair, neither of them had changed that much. They said that I have, however, in that I look a lot more like a terrorist now.

The dinner started off with lights, music, bubbles and a parade of chefs with LED-lit trays. Before we could eat, we had to listen to various officials from the KMT (Fu-wen’s employer) give speeches about how good a worker Fu-wen is, and how perfect the happy couple are for each other, and what a good, useful-around-the-house kind of gal the new bride is. The food, when it came, was good and plentiful. We ate and chatted and gave toasts until about 3pm, when the food ran out, and we lined up to get candy from Fu-wen and his new bride.

Outside, we decided to go to a teahouse and catch up with each other, so we all piled into various cars and met up again at a place on Dongxing Road, not far from the old China News office. Tong-ah kept telling Jian-shu he should move back to Kinmen, where he’s from, but when Jian-shu asked Tong-ah why he hadn’t moved back to his old family home in Penghu, Tong-ah was silent. “Don’t think I haven’t considered it,” he finally said. We talked about marriage, politics, stocks, cars, the economy (Jian-shu got his PhD in economics), and many other things. It was a good time. We finished around 6pm, and walked out of the teahouse to find it was raining and blustery outside. Jian-shu had was going to catch a ride with another schoolmate back down to Kaohsiung, a long car ride. I said I’d visit him after Kaohsiung’s MRT system finally opens. It’s been delayed for a while, but I’m guessing they’ll do their best to get it open before the elections next year.

I said goodbye to the group and walked through the rain down Dongxing Road, recalling the days when I worked at the News office there and there was nothing to eat except biandangs from downstairs. The area’s changed a bit, though, with a lot of new buildings and even a Mister Donuts. I made my way to the City Hall MRT station to take a train back to Xindian, where my friends Gordon and Xian-rui were hosting a genuine, full-fledged Thanksgiving feast at their house at New Garden City. Gordon had truly outdone himself, and I found myself regretting having eaten so much earlier. Still, I managed to eat two servings of turkey, dressing, candied yams, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and string beans, as well as the chocolate mousse and mince pie afterwards. It was delicious. They had also invited Xiu-juan, a woman Xian-rui and I play badminton with, as well as her husband, a Filipina woman who exclaimed, “Your Mandarin is better than mine!” when she heard me talking, and a Canadian woman named Glennis (not sure how it’s spelled), so the dinner had an appropriately festive, semi-familial feel to it. There was also wine.

After we’d all stuffed ourselves, we sat around talking and digesting while Amour, our hosts’ dog, explored the floor around the table in case anyone had dropped anything. The lights of Taipei glittered outside through the raindrops on the windows.

posted by Poagao at 12:05 pm  
Nov 18 2007

Still sick

It’s probably a bad idea to write under the influence of codeine, but here goes.

Friday after work I was out shooting with my new lens and decided to stop by the newly renovated second floor of the train station. It’s all done by the Breeze Mall people, and it’s a classy job. There are many good restaurants in there, including a spot for a future Sababa. Walking up from the scruffy, depressing first floor to the elaborate, warm second floor is like night and day. The restaurants on the inside of the square look out over the main hall and ticket windows, which is a cool 60’s lounge effect. Mister Donut is back near its original spot from years ago. It looks like my lunch options have opened up a lot with this new development.

I thought that my cold was over, but when I woke up on Saturday morning it was back, so I skipped tai-chi practice and instead had lunch with Eric and Daniel at the new Sababa near Yongkang Street. It’s impressive, not larger than the other stores but more nicely laid out with a nice balcony and a light, airy feel. The weather was perfect for sitting on the balcony; I was the only one in the place when I walked in just after 2pm, but in a matter of minutes it was full.

By dinnertime my cold was getting worse, and I went to bed early instead of contemplating attending the first day of the Blues Bash IV out in Xizhi. Nyquil aided my sleep, but when I got up on Sunday morning it was rainy and cold outside, and I was in no mood to go out of doors. Nonetheless, I dragged my stuff together, took a large swig of Liquid Brown Mixture that I’d been saving for just such an occasion, and headed out to catch a cab, picking up Slim on the way.

The Dream Community was nearly deserted when we arrived. David and Conor showed up shortly after we did, both looking worse for wear after the previous night. We eventually did our sound check, the technicians hooking up electrical outlets to the lights in the rain while standing on tall metal structures. The speakers, covered with plastic bags, crackled with sound.

After that, it was time for some delicious ribs and mashed potatoes, and then I found an empty table to sit down, put on my sunglasses and take a nap while everyone thought I was either meditating or purposely ignoring them.

The bands started up as the rain continued, and the temperatures continued to drop. Definitely not the best weather to have a cold in, I thought. I went into the office and found the Snowman sitting perplexed at the computer. “It won’t type English!” he was saying. We helped him switch it back from Chinese input.

The show went alright, though we had a hard time hearing each other. After it got dark we couldn’t see the audience, and nobody was standing directly in front of the stage due to the driving rain. But when we finished each song, applause would erupt from shadowy corners of the tents beyond the lights, from a phantom crowd. Playing without Thumper and Sandman was a challenge, but we got some help from outside musicians Nathan James and Bill from DC’s band, who graciously donated their time to cover for the missing Ramblers.

After the show I had some more ribs, stuffing myself pretty thoroughly, as well as some Japanese codeine-based cold medicine from Slim. Back in the office, a young Brazilian man with long dreadlocks was showing his left-handed trumpet, which had sticky valves. I offered him some of my valve oil, but he said he didn’t know how to apply it, so I did it for him. It turns out that he is just now trying to pick up the trumpet, being primarily a percussionist. I gave him a quick lesson and got him playing a C scale, which he seemed happy about.

Outside, we huddled around a portable heater chatting. I was amused to see the show resulting from three guys vying over the attentions of one girl. It was like watching a National Geographic special. “And now the male will attempt to impress the female by attempting to fit the only two Hungarian phrases he knows, i.e. ‘waiting room’ and ‘red wine’ into a normal conversation….and he’s done it! Let’s see how she reacts…”

DC Rapier was getting threats of violence from area residents, so they decided to pack it all up and head on over to Capones. I think this may be the last time the Blues Bash is held at the Dream Community; between the distance, lack of transportation options, and the death threats, it just doesn’t seem to be working out. My hope is that next year they’ll consider having it down at Bitan. On my way back to the office to get my things together, I ran into the guy who I have a small crush on, to whom I admitted at Daniel Pearl Day that I think he’s sexy, etc. I apologized for my behavior, but while I was doing so, I have to admit I was thinking: Damn, he’s sexy in that shirt.

Brent had driven his car to the bash, so Slim and I hooked a ride back to Bitan from him, which was much nicer than taking a taxi even if we did come perilously close to becoming lost in the more dismal parts of urban Xizhi (which is most of it, from what I can tell). I got in, turned on the lights, put on an album of old Christmas favorites, and began to type this out. Tomorrow: back to work.

posted by Poagao at 12:02 pm  
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