Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Jun 11 2018

Back from San Francisco

Ken drove me back downtown on Wednesday morning to the Leica store, where I met and had a nice chat with Jeff Mermelstein, who was starting his own workshop that day. People say he’s the anti-Gilden, and I can see why.

I met Andy in the lobby of his hotel, and we caught an uber to the airport, where we got off at our separate terminals, his domestic and mine international. Then all that lay between me and my 12-hour flight was the pathetic TSA demonstration of ignorance and paranoia. That over with, I bought an extravagantly expensive turkey sandwich to eat while I waited for boarding.

A window seat awaited me on the plane, and fortunately no one in the middle seat so I could stretch out, but my cold didn’t make any part of the flight pleasant. Back in Taipei, I went to an ENT clinic to get something for it before going back to my comfy Water Curtain Cave and passing out.

So I’m back, but due to my cold-induced fogginess I never really experienced arriving, putting me in a rather surreal state of mind.

posted by Poagao at 11:10 am  
Jun 06 2018

San Francisco, Part 5

After the bus I thought was taking me to the ferry building unexpectedly veered off onto a side street, I got off and hurried over to meet Andy before we walked over to where our students were waiting. We discussed a few things before sending them off to shoot. Then Andy, Harvey and I took a circuitous route through downtown in the general direction of Glass Key, where we were meeting everyone for afternoon discussions and final reviews. I was gratified to see that most everyone seemed to show significant improvement, and were happy with their progress. My friend Ben Molina arrived as we were finishing up; I introduced him to Andy, and we walked back down towards Andy’s hotel, stopping along the way to shoot some nicely lit corners. After hamburgers for dinner, we went over to Cameraworks to meet up with some old friends, including Tyler and Skyid, and new ones such as Fadi. I wish I had more time to meet the other guys, but alas, I’m coming down with a cold, and my flight back to Taipei is tomorrow.

It’s been interesting, and kind of bizarre. San Francisco always seems a little bizarre to me, and that seems magnified in the photography scene, and more so in the local street photography scene, which is full of drama and intrigue and passion that seems incommensurate with what actually gets produced. Perhaps it’s simply the character of the city, but I’m not entirely sure I could ever be comfortable in such a place, physically or mentally.

posted by Poagao at 1:25 pm  
Jun 05 2018

San Francisco, Episode IV

The second day of the workshop was quite fruitful. Some of the students were already showing quite a difference as they tried new things and new approaches. We met at the Hyatt lobby and talked about the previous day’s work and set challenges for each student based on what they needed to work on, and they went off on their various missions while Andy, Harvey and I walked around Union Square amid the tourists, touts and of course the ubiquitous mentally ill homeless people that are such a prominent feature of this burg.

Later we all walked over to Glass Key photo, where I gave a small presentation on some thoughts I’ve had on the subject of motives in street photography, and we went over some of the students’ work. There was a little pushback, but that’s to be expected. There were also surprises. All in all it was a promising session.

Andy was giving a talk that night at the Harvey Milk Center, so we Ubered over there in a Dodge Challenger whose driver was playing an oldies rap station we were all digging. After Andy’s talk we listened to another by Michelle Groskopf presenting her wonderfully intimate flash work.

Tired and hungry after the long day, Andy, Harvey, and I were joined by Andy’s old college roommate, who is now a world-class yo-yo practitioner, and an aspiring community college photography teacher who had many questions for me, for pizza nearby.

posted by Poagao at 9:47 pm  
Jun 04 2018

San Francisco, Part 3

Ken and I went over to one of the photo spaces on Market on Saturday to attend the “Ethics of Street Photography” talk they were giving. There was very little of either in the talk, but I did meet Pei Ketron again, as she was one of the organizers of the thing, as well as a photowalk afterward. Pei came to one of my solo exhibitions in Taipei years ago. After the photowalkers had left, Ken, Joe, Jake and I put up some photos, soon joined by Andy, who had just gotten in the night before. Then we went out to shoot and chat as the light was nice downtown with lots of reflections from all the glass buildings. We had some good ramen at a place where they actually give you a whole egg instead of half of one as they do in Japan and Taiwan…American portion growth over the past twenty years continues to baffle me. After the others left, Andy and I had some drinks at the jazz bar on the second floor of his hotel, the Mystic, which seems like a great name for a hotel.

The first day of the workshop (Sunday) went well. I walked over to the Harvey Milk Center in the morning, dodging skateboarders and scooters, admiring the open windows and detailed architecture of the houses here. At the Center, which is located close to the Castro up the street, I met our assistant, who is conveniently if uncannily named Harvey Castro. It’s as if he was named just for this workshop, but he insisted that this is in fact his real name.

Some of the students were sitting on a bench outside, and we chatted a bit while I ate the bagged breakfast I’d bought at a corner store on the way. Andy had arrived but was out shooting, but we all congregated in the classroom at 11. One of the students who had had an email mixup decided he wasn’t interested at the last minute. Something about not really being into having his photos reviewed. Ok.

Andy and I introduced the workshop and ourselves, and we proceeded to review the works the students had brought; there was some very nice stuff, and we were able to figure out more or less what areas they needed to work on. Later, we boarded a train downtown and took the students shooting, meeting up at intervals and doing some individual guidance as we went. As evening approached and the students departed, Andy, Harvey and I climbed the stops above the tunnel and had some drinks at the Tunnel Top bar before catching an uber out to a Korean barbecue restaurant to meet up with Joe, Rob and Rob’s wife. The food was excellent, and I ate way too much as I hadn’t had any lunch.

I am now staying at Ken’s place as the basement I was previously staying at is otherwise occupied, but it’s all good. I’m sitting in his dining room right now typing this early on Monday morning before anyone else is up. Today we’re meeting the students in the lobby of the Hyatt downtown, and Andy says if they try to throw us out he’ll whip out his Hyatt Member Card, but hopefully it won’t come to such drastic measures.

posted by Poagao at 9:59 pm  
Jun 02 2018

San Francisco, part 2

It’s been a busy couple of days. Yesterday I got up and went over to Ken’s for a breakfast of bagels and cream cheese, olive bread and conversation in his kitchen, after which I set out for Joe’s place on Hyde Street. The walk took me longer than I’d thought it would, and I ended up being rather late. We walked over to Union Square to meet his friend Jake, and we spent more or less the rest of the day walking around downtown, often encountering other photographers walking up and down Market Street. We walked down to the waterfront, had a snack, and then out onto a pier lined with elderly Asian fishermen. At one point we spent quite a lot of time at the trolly turnaround area, the others talking with a friend of theirs. As the sun set, we went to a market for fixings, and then returned to Joe’s apartment, where we witnessed a truly excruciating attempt by a dude in a Mazda Miata to parallel park. Tacos ensued.

Jake had to go, and I caught a bus back to the Panhandle area where I’m staying, stopping at Target to have a look around before walking back.

This morning I awoke with a headache, so after breakfast and some Aleve, I returned to bed until the pain was more or less receding. Then I took a bus down to Market and walked over to the Best Buy on Harrison to look at speakers. While I was there, a grey-bearded man with a cart strode in, loudly proclaiming, “BEST BUY RUINED MY LIFE!” A clerk hurried over and spoke with him for a minute about his grievance, and then he strode out again, shouting just as loudly, “IT’S OK IT WAS JUST A MISUNDERSTANDING, NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT!”

I wandered over to the camera section to have a look at the new Sonys, and the sales dude came over to ask if I had any questions. “How fast does this wake up?” I said, pointing to the A7rIII.

“Point-six milliseconds,” he said.

“Really.”

“Well, maybe half a second,” he said. I picked up the camera, held down the shutter and switched it on. We both waited until the shutter activated.

“So, a little over a second?” I suggested.

“But there’s literally no situation where you’d need it to do that,” he said quickly, and I couldn’t, try as I might, to suppress a laugh.

“Are…are you a photographer?”

He took umbrage at this. How dare I insinuate that he was not a photographer. “I am a photographer, as a matter of fact.” Challenging glare, arms folded. Ok. I didn’t want to get into it, so I thanked him for his time and left. I know I shouldn’t have been so mean; I’m sure he’s a lovely photographer.

Joe and Rob picked me up in front of the store, but not before I made the elderly white man standing there clutching a printer extremely nervous. Everyone here seems unreasonably nervous, for some reason, like they’re all waiting for something awful to happen.

We drove back to Joe’s place, tried to walk his dog, but the dog, Miller, wasn’t having it. So we left Miller there and headed out again, this time for sushi with Ann, whom I’d met two years ago. We’d expected a wait but were able to head right in. The sushi was good, fresh and not cheap. Fortunately Rob is a CIA agent so he was able to make the check “go away”. Then he drove me back to the panhandle, telling me stories of various famous photographers he’s met.

I walked up to the Lucky grocery store to get some snacks and gifts, but I had to use the restroom first. I walked back to where they were located, and saw a middle-aged white woman kneeling on the floor fussing with her bag. As I walked to the restroom door she started and yelled at me, “What are you doing here?!” in a panicked voice.

Confused, I pointed at the restroom door, saying, obviously I thought, “I want to use the restroom.” But she was shaking her head, and saying she knew what I was up to, no, I couldn’t fool her. I was a sexual predator, apparently, sneaking up on her with the most nefarious of schemes.

Upon seeing my expression, she said, “Oh, and I’m the crazy one? Ha!” I ignored her and tried the handle of the restroom, but there was a keycode because everyone in America is paranoid and narrow-minded. When I gave up and began walking to the register to ask for the code, the woman said snidely, “Oh, I guess you’ve decided not to use the restroom, huh? I know what you’re up to, you pervert!”

I ignored her, went to get the code, used the restroom, picked up my snacks, and headed to the counter, where the woman was just finishing her checkout. As I waited in line, looking at my phone, she chatted with the clerk, looking for all the world like a normal person. I guess that’s the most frightening thing about all of this.

The photo activities are ramping up tomorrow, so that should be interesting.

posted by Poagao at 2:46 pm  
May 31 2018

San Francisco, part 1

Even though I’ve known about this trip for ages, it was the usual mad rush to get ready to go. Why do I do this to myself? Chenbl saw me to the airport MRT, and some of my anxiety began to dissolve at the sight of the lovely rice fields passing by, glinting in the afternoon sun. The airport was similarly lit, but by the time I’d made a request for a seat that wasn’t a middle seat on the long flight over the Pacific, the sun had set and the place seemed dark and forbidding.

I felt a bit more at ease when I’d gotten through the security check and to the gate, where I learned I’d been reassigned to a security row seat. So, plenty of legroom but no actual window. No matter because it would be dark most of the way. The people in the row behind us seemed to be either new to flying or just completely DGAF, or both. One of the men conducted stretching exercises on the bar that would release the emergency door until a stewardess suggested that he stop endangering all of our lives. I watched Black Panther again as well as Black Lightning, ignoring the screaming baby a few seats away, and then slept a little before we arrived in San Francisco.

Customs and immigration was smooth with the exception of three older white people, two men and a woman, who decided to cut half the line. When someone called them on it, saying “Hey, you can’t just cut through half the line!” one of the men said, belligerently, “Why?” Western History in a nutshell, folks. There were a few mutterings, including a few curses in Chinese from other other, mostly brown passengers in the immigration line, but nobody dared make a fuss. I guess the merry trio blanche knew that.

Once free of immigration-related worries, I sat in the airport for a while figuring out how to install the sim card I’d got in Taiwan that would let me use my phone here, and then how to get into the city on the subway. I used my old Bart card and was significantly overdrawn when I tried to exit at Market. The lovely lady in the ticket box, upon finding out that I only had two dollar bills and a fifty, kindly let me go with the words, “Well, I can’t wring milk from a turnip, so go ahead.” Then it was up into the cold air (yes, cold, dammit. It’s in the upper 30s C in Taipei and my body is used to that) and the bus out to Ken’s, where I met with him, Casper, Mike and CJ who were all busy mounting photos for the exhibition. I was useless and probably would have screwed up anything I did as I was exhausted, but I didn’t want to go to bed too early and give in to jet lag. So we talked late into the night before I retired to the low-ceiling room in the basement under Ken’s girlfriend’s place, where I’m going to be staying on this trip.

posted by Poagao at 2:53 pm  
Mar 07 2018

3/3: Vancouver

The weather was nice again today, sunny and not as bone-chillingly cold, so we took the subway to Waterfront and then lined up for the ferry across to North Vancouver. I snapped a picture of two guards, one Filipino and one older white dude. Of course the old white dude had a problem. “Why did you take my picture?” He demanded.

“Because you’re a great-looking dude!” I lied.

“You have to ask me before you can take my picture, you can’t just take it without asking me,” he said.

“My bad,” I said, before walking away.

The ferry trip was nice, smooth, as if the ferry was on rails. I imagine many people use it to commute on weekdays. On the other side, we walked through the inevitable market with the inevitable seagulls and the inevitable lecture on the intimate relations of bees. We then got on a bus up to the Capilano Bridge, which Chenbl wanted me to see. “Excuse me,” I started to ask the driver, but he cut me off.

“Wait til I sit down,” he ordered. I stood and waited until he had arranged himself in his seat. When he was done, he said grumpily, as if he expected a litany of problems, “Ok, what’s your trouble, sir?”

“Is this the bus to Capilano Bridge?”

“Yes.”

“Thanks.”

It was a nice drive up, through pleasant neighborhoods. The Capilano Bridge itself is a large suspension bridge and a system of walkways through the forest canopy…it’s quite impressive, and the air was very fresh, if still uncomfortably cold. Some of the walkways are transparent, and I from their reaction, I’m guessing some of the people were afraid of heights. At least no kids were jumping up and down on the thing like they do in Bitan.

After we were forested out, we got on the free shuttle bus back to Waterfront, which featured a driver with a radio announcer’s voice. Then we took the subway out to what we’d suspected was a mall near the airport. It was disappointing, and we went back to Metrotown to pick up some electronics at Best Buy. Dinner was Vietnamese near our hostel.

Tomorrow we’re going back to Taiwan. I really wish I’d met this city under better circumstances.

posted by Poagao at 12:11 pm  
Mar 07 2018

3/2: Vancouver

The place where we’re staying is home to a family of cats. We spent some time this morning after breakfast playing with them and talking to the two Mexican assistants, Ozcar and Pamela, who are a couple. They’re bright young people, hoping to see the world. The flight to Vancouver was their first time on an airplane. They have no days off and are very tired.

It was grey and rainy, so we took the subway to a large mall at Metrotown. Before we could get there, the announcer said there was a “medical situation” at the station, so we waited on the tracks for a while before proceeding.

I got my mall fix done and done at Metrotown. So done. All the little fountains, all the shops, the tepid food court…all of it. We did find a bookstore called Chapters, where I picked up Stuart Franklin’s “The Documentary Impulse”. Chenbl and I caused a little scene when we were carefully measuring out cough medicine from the bottle to my water bottle’s cap, causing a few stares and a visit by the manager. “You guys doing ok?” he asked nervously, eyeing our suspect behavior.

“We’re doing fine,” I said, staring at him. His smile faltered and he left.

I still feel awful. I’m on vacation in Vancouver, and all I want to be doing is lazing around home watching Miyazaki movies in my pajamas.

Vancouver is quite international but not terribly diverse. Lots of Asians and Middle Easterners but hardly any Black or Latino people. There’s a strange kind of tension in the air here, a kind of desperation I can’t put my finger on. Perhaps if I lived here I might be able to pin it down, but I really don’t want to live here. It’s probably just because it’s winter and I feel like shit. But still.

We had dinner at a Taiwanese restaurant because it was there.

posted by Poagao at 12:06 pm  
Mar 07 2018

3/1: Vancouver

I was feeling slightly better but still in a haze this morning as we walked down to the water and along the banks to Granville Island, which I’m assuming once meant having to cross some kind of water to access, what with the name and all. On the way we passed an encampment of homeless people, one of them pissing on a tree in the chill air, and then we were walking through an elementary school’s recess yard. Some workmen later on asked us if we worked there, “there” meaning the construction site where we were currently trespassing, and politely told us to get lost when we answered in the negative. I keep feeling like I’m always doing the wrong thing here, in the wrong place, with the wrong goals, etc. Out of sync in a way I didn’t feel even when I was in Cuba. Chenbl, however, is happy; he loves Canada, and has been here five times.

Lunch was some tasty shepherd’s pie at the Granville Market. Then we took the tiny ferry across the water and walked up to Stanley Park. Vancouver looks like the fantasy of someone who really likes blue-green glass towers, composed of immaculate little glass boxes full of trendily sparse furniture that is completely unable to reflect an actual life. Dudes threw sticks into the chill waters so that their shivering dogs would have to go fetch them. We walked over to the array of old totem poles, situated facing their modern counterparts covering Vancouver.

Ten years ago I was in Tokyo, and as happy as I’ve ever been. It was cold then, too.

A man in a business suit was bragging into his Bluetooth: “Yeah, of course we’re on the radar as you’d expect.”

“I dunno,” I said loudly to Chenbl as we walked by the marina among the pretentious people and their tiny dogs. “Do you really think we need another yacht? Isn’t 12 enough?”

“Stop it,” Chenbl said. He knows when I’m in a snippy mood. The full moon was rising over the docks as we approached the subway station at Waterfront. We took the subway to the bus/train station to ask about the bus/ferry to Victoria. The area was empty and spooky, and a man was shouting obscenities in traffic. We could have taken the subway but, but I wasn’t as desperately tired as I could have been, so we walked. It took roughly forever, and my cold was not happy.

posted by Poagao at 12:03 pm  
Mar 07 2018

2/27: Havana – Toronto – Vancouver

I’d had a bad night. My head hurt, my nose was blocked, and my cold was running full tilt when I finally got up in the morning on the day we had to leave Havana. We walked over to 5th and 8th to the Catedral Café for a nice breakfast. At the next table, a middle-aged white dude talked condescendingly at a couple of black Cuban guys. Back at our place, an 80-year-old man basked in the sun on the porch of the ruined house in front while a three-year-old girl played beside him. Our taxi to the airport was, of course, a green 50’s American car with bouncy seats to compensate for the lack of bounce in the shocks. From what I understand, the reason all of these cars have retained their original colors is that the color of a car is one of the main things you can’t change without government permission. Other things can be changed, from LED lights to Toyota steering wheels, but the color must stay the same.

At the airport, the Air Canada check-in system was down, and the long line didn’t move for an hour until they fixed it, while even the Aeroflot line next to us moved swiftly. That’s gotta hurt.

My sinuses did not like the flight to Toronto. There we got in the wrong line and nearly got involved in the U.S. fuckery that pervades even non-U.S. airports for some reason. You could tell it was the particular U.S. brand of fuckery because the agents at the gates in their little glass shed were all young blonde people dressed in full battle gear, standing in sleek black booths festooned with intimidating machinery. Fortunately we escaped the area to find an actual Canadian immigration officer, a pudgy Sikh bear who smiled warmly when he said, “It’s good to travel with your best friend.” But our misstep made dinner a hasty burger before the flight.

My sinuses, still reeling from the last flight, hated the flight to Vancouver. Although we were lucky to have a whole row to ourselves, my nose and ears were afire most of the time from the pressure changes. By the time we stepped into the cold Canadian air, I could barely hear from my right ear, and I felt like shit. I wanted to go right to bed, but Chenbl had shopping to do, so I shuffled vacantly around the store periodically waking up from and returning to my stupor until we were done and could return to our place, which is a nice old house in a residential neighborhood near city hall.

posted by Poagao at 11:53 am  
Next Page »