Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Nov 06 2016


The next day, our last in Barcelona, dawned clear and bright; the girls went to see museums, while Carlos, Chenbl and I took the subway downtown and walked around a food market. Outside the door was a duo playing 1920’s jazz, with old Pepe on the trumpet and Russian Mikhail on the stand-up piano. Both were very good, and we bought one of their CDs before sitting down to have lunch while listening to the music. Pepe’s trumpet was a very old Schilke, the original silver plating gone, revealing the brass. “We played at a beach for a while,” said Pepe. “That was when that happened. I used to have a Conn, but it was stolen. This is just as good.” I asked him if I could have a go on it, but he would only let me play if I’d brought my own mouthpiece, which I hadn’t. “It would be like letting you kiss my wife,” he said. Fair enough. The group also included a banjo player, but their permit for the market space was only for two musicians. After their allotted time was up, they packed up and left, Mikhail shoving the piano down the street. The next act was a heavily tattooed duo who played the same song twice. It included a lot of shouting, so we kept walking over to La Rambla, where I saw a black man being pulled over by police. Thankfully he wasn’t shot or beaten as might have been the case in the U.S.

The girls Lined us and said they were going to see the Picasso exhibit, so we tagged along. It was located in the old family palace of the Aguilars (I think?), and was nice except that it jumped over four decades of Picasso’s work. I was interested in seeing his progression from a formal artist into a far more abstract and surreal one, but the jump from 1917 to 1957 was abrupt and somewhat disappointing. Afterwards we walked to the nearest train station, where you could apparently just walk onto a train. I thought this might mean trouble when we tried to exit at our destination, and sure enough, the Filipina manager there took personal offense at our transgression, and detained us for a far longer time than it should take for people at a train station to find out the price of a train ride.

We packed up our stuff at the hotel, which was actually pretty nice, and boarded the high-speed rail back to Madrid. Chenbl watched the Phantom of the Opera on his tablet while I dealt with more ear pressure problems. I’d caught a cold earlier on the trip and was all stopped up.

The best thing about our hotel in Madrid, the “Sleep ‘N”, was that it was quite near the train station. Somewhat worse was the fact that they disregard requests for double beds and just give you whatever they have. “It’s just the way we do it,” the clerk said. I suppose, then, that giving bad reviews to such behavior on online review sites is just the way I do it. The rooms were also tiny, the wifi unworkable, and the walls paper-thin.

Chenbl, Carlos and I had a big breakfast the next morning at a corner cafe with a classic boomerang-shaped counter. It was good but salty. After that we saw Carlos off at the airport bus station. I was dizzy from cold medicine, so we resorted once again to the tourist bus, riding around the route three times before I spotted a sign familiar from my childhood: Steak ‘n Shake! When we got off the bus and entered the store, however, we were disappointed to find that the kitchen was broken, and all they had were shakes. We went to the Five Guys burger joint on Gran Via instead, and I counted far more than five guys in there. It was good, but I was expecting a bit more after watching the “Oh My Dayum” video.

The tour bus people had said that service stopped at six, but the bus just ordered everyone off at a random point on the tour at around 5:40, so we had to take the subway back. The airport bus was late, of course, this being Spain. But traffic was light, and we arrived in plenty of time. When we tried to get a tax refund that everyone had told us could be done at the airport with receipts, they told us that they needed special paperwork from all the vendors, so…Spain again. The China Eastern flight was late again as well, of course, and the plane was full of rather rustic types who propped their bare feet up on the seats, shoved their way into bathrooms ahead of people who had been waiting, and planned excursions to sneak into first-class for the night. The cold medicine helped me sleep, however, so I didn’t really care about any of that. When we got to Shanghai, the other passengers rushed the bus to the terminal like it was the last flight out of Saigon. We had time to take the subway into Shanghai to walk along the Bund and turn down many offers of fake watches. Dinner was at Yershari, a Mongolian affair with lots of lamb. The subway ride back was interminable, and I kept nodding off. Before we retired, we had a midnight snack at a roadside stall off the highway. Fried noodles, at last.

The next day was the last of our trip, but our flight wasn’t until the afternoon, so we caught cabs to the subway. Our driver, a plumb middle-aged woman, couldn’t figure out how to put the Volkswagen Passat into reverse, which was slightly alarming, but she got us there in one piece. The sun was out, but the smog cast a pall over everything. On the subway, we stood and watched as any available seat was snagged immediately.

In Shanghai we got off at the Qinghua University stop and met one of the girls’ friends, an old classmate apparently. She took around looking at the old houses of the foreign concession quarter from old colonial times. It’s now very ritzy. I thought that I’d spotted the same foreigner, a middle-aged skinny white dude with a beard, several times before I realized that that area is (once again) mostly foreigners. It’s more Tianmu than Tianmu ever was. Rich, affluent businesspeople, trendy joggers in shorts and sunglasses. Fast walkers discussing stock options and answering each other in loud, clipped declarations while their golden lab sleeps on the sidewalk beside a salad dish of filtered water.

It was interesting, but I would have rather sought out any of the few remaining old hutongs and wandered around there. But perhaps those have vanished as well; they were being torn down right and left the last time I wandered around the city in 2006.

That afternoon at the airport, the Chinese immigration officer asked if I was mixed. I said yes, not wanting to include the fact that I am not actually ethnically Chinese. It was good enough for her, anyway. Although my ears were giving me hell on the flight back, I was delighted to see the lights of the Taiwanese coast appear on the horizon. This trip has been eventful, but I am quite glad to be back home.


posted by Poagao at 1:35 pm  
Nov 02 2016

A Day in Girona

I wasn’t in the best of moods when we left the hotel this morning. Oh, the weather was fine, and Beatriz and hubby had picked out a place for us to visit for the day, but something was just off, and I was irritable and moody…at least more than I usually am. Which is saying  something.

We got onto the big double-decker train that would end up in Paris in six hours, and got off at Girona, north of Barcelona and near the French border. The pleasant square in front of the station cheered me up a bit, and my mood improved more when we came across an entire construction wall covered with the characters from my namesake and favorite childhood cartoon, Top Cat. I took a selfie with the original TC and kept walking.

I was making a silly video on a bridge when I spotted someone who almost certainly another street photographer, from the way he held his small Olympus EM-10 on its wrist strap. He came over and asked me if I was me, which, it turns out, I was. He turned out to be one of my Facebook photographer friends, Jordi Simon. He had somehow recognized me, and we chatted a bit, mostly with me speaking in Chinese to Beatriz, who translated to Spanish for Jordi, and vice versa. It was a nice coincidence.

We proceeded into town and I spotted more street photographers. One guy had stationed himself at the foot of the red bridge with a long lens, which I thought strange. Another was taking mirror-in-windowshop-reflection shots a la Friedlander, and yet another was stalking a tall clown downtown.

What is going on? I thought to myself. Am I about to see a bunch of Girona shots in the HCSP queue? Sure, the light was nice, but nice light is found in many places, and is often a trap in any case.

We kept walking, and I turned a corner to find none other than Gueorgui Pinkhassov sitting outside a cafe, in the midst of ordering a creme brûlée. He and I have had conversations on Facebook before, but we’d never met in person, so this was an extraordinary coincidence. It also explained the plethora of SP activity in the town that day. We chatted for a bit about various things before I let him get back to the workshop he was teaching; at least some of his students were also seated around the table. I told him that I’d originally planned to take his workshop in Tokyo a while ago, but had submitted too late. He invited me to sit in on this one, but I thanked him and declined, feeling that it wouldn’t be fair to the students who actually got their submissions in on time and paid a great deal of time and effort to be there.

img_1967We continued walking up the hill to the obligatory cathedral, and then back down some more alleys to find a restaurant with extremely slow service, so slow that we had to rush back to the station to catch our train back to Barcelona. We could have taken our time as the train was very late, and this being Spain I had to piss like a racehorse once on the train due to the lack of public facilities.

The reason we had to be back in town was that we had tickets at the Palau de la Música Catalana, a lovely old concert hall, to see an organ concert played to the 1926 silent film Faust. The screen was a bit small, but the magnificence of the theater’s interior and the wonderful organ performance made up for it. After the show, we tried to take a look at the third floor balcony, but appparently it’s a secret, so don’t tell anyone.

After the show we walked over to the 4cats restaurant, where Picasso hung out as a moody teen, for a delicious dinner that was a bit more expensive than we could really afford. The servers were very good, and there was a mediocre live band that consisted of piano, double bass and a singer. Carlos and I both guessed that they were moonlighting students.

posted by Poagao at 8:16 am  
Nov 01 2016

Where were we again?

Sorry for the delay…been running ourselves ragged as usual, too tired at the end of the day to post. It’s after 1 a.m. now, but I’m too far behind.

We got up early once again (I suppose that’s a given by now), and Chenbl, Carlos, Ewan and I took the metro to the bus station, where we had some breakfast downstairs before going up to join the long line for the buses to Toledo. The line moved fairly quickly, however, and not long after we were on our way. The weather was fine until we headed up in to the hills, when it turned cloudy so quickly I thought there must be a large fire nearby.

I’d decided I wanted to see the city after viewing the countours on Google Maps 3D, and if you’ve been there you know what I mean; Toledo is located on a big hill surrounded mostly by a winding river, and I’ve always loved 3D cities. Though it was cloudy when we arrived, the sun came out again as we rode a series of escalators up the hill into town. The altitude did nothing to hide the stink of piss, however. If only there were some way to provide people in public with a place to relieve themselves…but I suppose only the geniuses of the future will have an answer to that age-old question. At least the Spanish urologists must be doing a brisk business.

We stopped into a soap shop, which is a terrible idea if you want to do anything else for the next hour or so. Chenbl ended up giving the shopkeepers massages and a bottle of Chinese massage oil; he should have done that before the bill was settled, alas. The light outside was lovely but deceptive; nothing worked, photographically speaking. I swear, I have not taken more shots on this trip than any other I can recall.

We took a little “train” tram around the city, sitting with a group of smarmy blonde German kids who rolled their eyes at the slightest provocation, and then walked around, encountering many interesting renaissance instruments. One of the musicians, a middle-aged woman, had hidden a speaker under her dress, I suspected, as the bass line simply couldn’t have been coming from her violin. Or could it? I have no idea. The effect was quite nice, though.

We walked around some cathedrals, etc. The town was no longer a town, I realized. It was empty of everyone but tourists, a mere shell of its former self, which lent it a rather sad feeling. We did pass a wedding ongoing in a chapel. Chenbl had walked right in on the ceremony, not understanding the sign outside, gaining glares from the participants.

The sun had set by this point, and we caught a taxi back to the bus station, and an old, smelly bus back to Madrid. Dinner was had in the same square that I’d visited on my last trip, but where it was cold and empty then, it was now full of revelers; Madrid was celebrating Halloween, it seemed, and police were everywhere. Helicopters hovered overhead while we ate, and occasionally police convoys would speed through the square, lights flashing. This would be a good night to get in early, I thought. But it was late once again when we finally got back to the hotel.

Due to daylight savings time, our originally horribly early wake-up time of 5 a.m. became 4 a.m. in effect. So after only a few hours of sleep, we were up again to catch the 6:20 a.m. (really 5:20 a.m.) train to Barcelona. Why so early? No idea. Just the way these things go.

For some reason, the air pressure difference on the train was even worse than that of an airplane flight. What the hell? My ears were stopped up most of the way. I know Madrid is higher in elevation than seaside Barcelona, but damn. We traveled through some fog, but Barcelona was sunny when we exited the station.

We met our friend Beatriz at the hotel, and we walked over to a round mall that turned out to be a former bullfighting ring. It was converted after bullfighting was prohibited, but I swear you can still smell beef. The view from the top was nice, even in the haze. Tourists stared at us from a neighboring rooftop pool.

Walking past a massive cosplay event, we walked up to a kind of museum with a massive fountain in front, and Chenbl made a beeline to the vendors selling scarves and fold-out baskets that were surely made in China.

Our next stop was La Rambla, famous site of many thefts and mugging over the decades. We actually stayed here last time, and I’m glad I didn’t know then what I know about it now. Thankfully nothing untoward occurred this time. We went down to the harbor, and I greeted the Mediterranean once again, laughing at the fact that the Columbus Tower in Chinese sounds more like “Colon Puta”.

We stopped by the cathedral, the old Gothic one with the horrible pan flute player out front, and decided it wasn’t work the seven euros to go inside. Then it was a subway to another restaurant (why is everyone on the subway so well-lit? It’s like a studio on there) with good food while Beatriz went off to take care of some business.

Beatriz showed up with her husband, and we all walked along the harbor amid the skaters and young thieves. Dinner was eventually had at a fancy place called Mussol, where they forgot about us, let others ahead of us, and finally let us sit down after a fair bit of haranguing. The food was worth it, though, in that it was good and we were hungry.  Still, I’ve found that the Spanish brand of rudeness is rather special, tinged with arrogance in a way I haven’t seen in too many other places.

The next morning we embarked on a Day of Gaudi. First we went to the big-ass cathedral he spent most of his life working on. I have the feeling that if he were to come back and take a look at it today, he would just shake his head in disbelief. It is too big a project, has taken too long, and been mixed with too many other visions. The details of the original place are brilliant, but the entirety is just a mess.

It was only when I went down to the museum underneath the cathedral did one of the staff yell at me to take off my hat, which I found amusing as during the two hours I’d spent in the cathedral itself nobody had mentioned it. Also, it seems really arbitrary; why a hat? Is wearing a scarf ok? Why? Does it matter if you can come up with some bullshit reason for it? I wanted to point to the photos of the pope on his visit and say, “Well, that guy wore a hat in here…make up your minds!”

Our next stop was a building Gaudi had renovated, followed by an apartment complex he built, and while they were gorgeous in the details, I don’t think I could live there. For one thing, there are no right angles in the places, and I would just get turned around. But my real concern would be that Gaudi’s architecture seems downright dangerous, which no thought for safety in the face of his curious designs. They say that he never didn’t anything without a purpose, so perhaps he just had it in for clumsy people.

We had to wait in line for one of the places; the tickets specified that we get there at 2 p.m., but that was apparently a little joke at our expense by the ticket people (“Oh, you thought there would be a TIME? Oh, dear lord, you ARE naive, aren’t you, precious?”). As we waited, a professional beggar woman moaned and wailed until someone gave her some money, after which she would pipe down until that person had moved a few feet away, whereupon she would start up again. I thought I saw what might have been her handler giving her signals to turn on the waterworks when a likely mark was spotted, but I couldn’t be sure. From what I hear, they’re collected into a van at the end of the day with all their earnings.

After the last Gaudi house (the sunset on the rood was brilliant), we went down and sat on the corner of the broad avenue waiting for Beatriz. Although Chenbl was muttering, “Where is she?” every few minutes, I was glad for a pause in our hectic routine, for once not rushing off to some place, or waiting for someone to catch up, etc. I just sat and watched the people walking, the bicycles and cars, the old man who sat near us for a while before his wife arrived. I wondered who else had sat on that bench. Perhaps even Gaudi himself had sat there at some point. It was pleasant, just sitting and watching and thinking…possibly the most pleasant part of the trip so far. I could have sat there much longer, but Beatriz arrived, and we were off again, into the rush of shopping and dinner and distractions.


posted by Poagao at 8:53 am  
Oct 29 2016

Back to Madrid

Chenbl, Carlos and I elected to seek out our breakfast at one of the little shops on the street rather than partaking of the hotel’s breakfast, which wasn’t included in the room price. We found a decent restaurant and sat at the bar while the gangster-esque boss tossed our plates at us. After we returned to the hotel, we sat around the pool in the back talking about earthquakes and looking at the planes overhead. Iris undertook an elaborate photo shoot of a pomegranate’s journey around the pool.

Our train to Madrid was at 12:45, so we got some lunch to go at the station. When we departed, we noticed that we were again facing backwards for some reason. Also, the sun refused to touch the western part of the sky even though it was well after noon. I suppose we must have been travelling more east than north for most of the trip. The train provided some nice jazz music accessible through the seat jacks, but no USB or wifi.

We retrieved our luggage from the lockers at the station in Madrid and headed out to our hotel, and then, once we’d rested up for a good five minutes, headed out again to the museum, supposedly the third largest in the world after the Lourvre and the British museum. It was impressive, but as we’d only arrived after 6 p.m. and it closed at 8pm, we didn’t see most of it. I was impressed, however, at just how much martyrdom went on back in the day.

Dinner was some delicious Greek food at an upscale food court, and then a taxi back to the hotel.  During the ride I heard Carlos speak more than I’d ever heard him speak before as he waxed lyrical about his beloved bamboo to the taxi driver.

posted by Poagao at 5:03 am  
Oct 28 2016

A day in Seville

We had to pick up our tickets, so we decided to have breakfast at the train station; this turned out to be a good idea, as even though the place we picked apparently only had two people running it, the sandwiches were quite good. After spending too much time seething over missed shots in the lovely light while waiting for the 32 Bus into the old town, we boarded the crowded vehicle.

The old part of Sevilla kind of reminds me, this time around anyway, of the Old Quarter of Hanoi in Vietnam. This is not a compliment. I mostly missed Sevilla during my last visit due to a stomach illness requiring me to be bed-ridden for three days, subsisting on cherries. This time I got a better feel for the place, and I came away kind of wanting to wash my hands.

One of the first things we saw upon disembarking was a huge, long, vast line of mostly young women in line for free make-up at a cosmetics store. The second was a large, raucous protest by people in medical garb demanding more hospitals. We made our way to the big cathedral from which that bastard Christopher Columbus embarked on his genocidal journey, and where he finally ended up. Or his body did, anyway. There was a long line, of course, and there were protests when we joined Chenbl, who had saved us a space. It turned out, however, that Chenbl, who has a cold and a runny nose, had ducked into a pharmacy and bought some cold medicine that was so strong it nearly knocked him out. So while the others toured the cathedral, I sat by a sleeping Chenbl on a bench in the atrium making sure he didn’t get robbed blind.

The cathedral, at least what I saw of it, was magnificent of course. It was also partially under reconstruction, and the workers glared at me when I took their pictures instead of the gilding on the altar. Classical music was being piped in from somewhere. In one of the chambers, an older man decked out in the latest, most fashionable attire (his leather bag was “The Bridge” and his pant legs were folded up to his pasty white calves) used one of his two digital Leicas to take snaps of the jewelry on display. Though a shame, it was actually rather appropriate. The other tourists cast quizzical gazes at me when I took a shot of the Leica Man. Sorry, Ted from Wisconsin…I just couldn’t help it. As we left the cathedral, fat women in scarves tried to give us leaves. I knew better than to accept anything of this sort and had to issue a severe glare and a sharp “No!” to stop the “Chico! Chico!” Carlos forgot himself and took one of the leaves, and I could hear behind me the woman insisting that he pay her for the leaf. Carlos turned around and said GRACIAS in a tone that shut her up.

Chenbl was still under the influence of the cold medicine, so we elected to take a horse cart tour around the city. This was fairly pleasant, the driver telling Carlos about the history of the city, Carlos translating it for me, and me translating it for Chenbl. With all of the translation going on, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chenbl didn’t end up thinking Seville was founded by Martians, especially in his state of mind.

After the horse cart ride, we boarded one of the open-topped tourist buses. Chenbl promptly went to sleep again, but I listened to a recording of a bored English woman tell me about the various landmarks we passed. This was actually a good way to see more of the real Seville, especially the parts across the river. Some of the descriptions of the rusting, derelict displays left over from the “Five Centuries of Oppression” celebration in 1992 were sad and pathetic, but I suppose it’s at least good that they’re on the tour.

What is it with women walking dogs in Spain? Why are there so many?

We got off at Plaza de Espana and walked around looking for a bathroom. Public bathrooms are pretty scarce on the ground here, it seems. When we approached the staff of the Citroen Bar as they were preparing to close, they flatly refused to let us borrow their restrooms, so we ended up at a nearby food fair. There we had some sausages, beef, rice and noodles, before looking for a bus back to the hotel. Chenbl was feeling better by this point, however, so we looked up a flamenco place someone had heard of. We nearly missed it, but when Carlos questioned a large, burly bald man in a suit at a door, it turned out that that was indeed the place.

The vibe inside was weird, to be honest. Water dripped from the ceiling onto the wooden tables, colored lights straight out of a dorm room flashed on and off; the bartender yelled at Carlos for some reason. We chose seats by a wall and waited for the show to start. When it did, the performers were barely visible behind a tall woman who was determined to avoid using her own eyes to gaze upon the show, looking at it through her cellphone instead. I liked what I saw of it, more than any other of the total of one flamenco shows I’ve seen. The kitchen staff seemed eager to get in on the act, bashing pans around and breaking ice at a volume greater than that of the performers. Some of the Asian members of the audience seemed to be trying to clap along, unsuccessfully.

But Chenbl was tired again, so we left and made our way back to the main road, where a large crowd was eating outside a restaurant. There we caught a bus and, accompanied by a loud, overly friendly drunk passenger, traveled back to our remote hotel location.

posted by Poagao at 6:24 am  
Oct 26 2016

Day in Granada

Thankfully, it wasn’t raining in Granada when we set out from the hotel this morning. A bit cloudy, but clear enough and warm enough. We walked down the main road towards Alhambra, stopping to buy stamps (I know, who buys stamps these days? But my travelling companions are apparently in that demographic), and stopping into a busy restaurant for a breakfast of ham and cheese on bread eaten while standing at the counter. The place had the air of customers who come every day for years. The older man who shoved our juice at us took apparent umbrage at our misplacement of the olive oil bottle after using it. “Look at you, you’re making such a MESS!” I scolded Carlos in a mocking tone. Then we ate lemon pie.

The people of this city seem quite purposeful in their stride, or perhaps it was just mostly people going to work, but I sensed a bit of impatience in people making their way around us on the sidewalk. I noted a lot of dapper older men in swank hats and fashionably elderly ladies walking around with dogs. Perhaps Granada is kind of cut off from the rest of Spain? It kind of feels that way. It’s certainly cleaner, trendier and more grafitti-free than it was before.

We took a peek inside the big cathedral, decided against paying money to see the rest of it, and then ducked into a neighboring church that was free. Then we passed a young man playing metal drums in the style of Phillip Glass. We stopped and bought his album to show support, and he let us have a go on the drums.

The bus took us up the mountain to Alhambra, first carrying an elderly nun and then, after she got off, a group of muslims. It was a good thing we had reserved tickets, because that day’s tickets were all sold out, we heard people inquiring at the gate. Inside we followed a babbling brook up to the Generalife Gardens, tasting the water of the fountains as we went, and then down to the main part of Alhambra. We took in the hotel, formerly a Franciscan monk hangout, and then waited in line, dodging French would-be line-cutters, for the interior of Alhambra.

The last time I was here, in 2009, I was amazed at how eloquent and amazing this place was. But management has changed. The lovely audio guide telling the stories of Alhambra’s every corner has gone away, and the staff are no longer friendly, but rather imperious. Much of the interior is under construction as well. One self-important tourist was trying to boss everyone around. “Don’t touch that!” she yelled at Chenbl after he brushed against a wall. “Wear your bag on the front!” She yelled at me.

“But your bag is on your back,” I said.

“That’s my purse,” she said, though her purse was as big as a backpack. “It’s different.”

“Ah yes, arbitrary definitions; the spice of life,” I said. I was about to ask her why she really wanted to work as a nanny at Alhambra, but she’d moved on to yelling at other tourists, Spanish tourists who were much better equipped to tell her to fuck off in their own language.

The church was dark and boring, and the ramparts had closed once we were done fucking around and wasting time, so we made our way past the free-roaming cats, down through the magnificent gate and onto a bus back down the hill to downtown where the fountain was lit up.

We enjoyed a street flamenco performance, and then stuffed ourselves with hot and cold running tapas at a nearby restaurant, snatching a table from under the noses of a henpecked British couple.

We walked down the tourist streets looking at stupid shops and digesting the tapas. I bought some slippers, and got a snazzy hat for Carlos so he doesn’t have to wear that baseball cap any more. Then it was back to the hotel. I’ve enjoyed Granada again this time, though the experience at Alhambra was sorely disappointing after treasuring the memory of my first visit there for the last seven years.


posted by Poagao at 5:27 am  
Oct 25 2016

Still in Spain

Up at four in the god-damn morning today, so we could check out and haul our asses to the train station, where we stored some of our luggage in lockers utilizing a clever Jenga-inspired approach to stuffing things in other things. Ewan had to piss, but he decided for some reason not to wait until we were on the train, electing instead to run back to the hotel to do the deed. But eventually we all got on the train, and soon enough we were heading seemingly backwards down south, eating some of the delicious Guatemalan biscuits Carlos had brought.

It was pitch black outside, rain streaking the windows all the way down. The sky didn’t make itself noticeable until after 8 a.m., and of course it was pouring as we pulled into the station at Cordoba. We shouldered our way through the downpour to get on a bus that took us out to the Roman bridge, which we crossed to go see the cathedral. “No hats,” said the the guard as we entered.

“Ok, ” I said. “Can I have something to keep my head warm? Like a slightly stiff piece of cloth or something?” Apparently I couldn’t. But the cathedral was impressive, even more so when I got an audio guide to tell me about all of its history, being passed back and forth between Christianity and Islamic forces.

Afterward we had some “tortillas” at a place just outside the compound, though the chunks of potato were the farthest from the word “tortilla” I could think of. The pigeons liked it though.

After walking down some alleys, we chanced upon what appeared to be Roman ruins, which turned out to be home for many stray cats. Down at the riverbank, I noticed a bleating/clanging sound, and I noted to Chenbl and the others that there was a large herd of sheep charging across the opposite bank. It took a bit of convincing the others that this was actually happening, but eventually I got through, and we rushed over the bridge to observe the phenomenon.

The weather was nice and hot by the time we again crossed the Roman bridge. Tourists were everywhere. But we got on a bus back to the train station and another one to Granada. The ride was amazing, gorgeous, winding through ever more mountainous terrain with rolling fields of meticulously space olive trees and white-walled towns crowned with ancient castles and cathedrals as the sun cast longer shadows. Occasionally we would stop in a town to let someone off, the big bus maneuvering through tiny alleys with surprising alacrity. The sky was barely light by the time we pulled into the old grey bus station in Granada. A local bus ride later we were at our hotel, next to giant old city gate. It took a while, but we here now.

posted by Poagao at 5:53 am  
Oct 22 2016

On the way to Spain

Our flight wasn’t supposed to leave until 3pm, but Chenbl had us meet up at the Airport Bus Station (aka the “Yes We Can’t Believe the Airport MRT Isn’t Ready Yet Either Station) at 10am. This, he believed, would let us take it nice and slow. He had no idea.

We got to the airport by 11am, meeting up with Ewan, Iris (one of my photography students) and Iris’s friend Ms. Shao. So there’s five of us on this trip. We had lunch at Mosburger (Ewan had Burger King), and made our way towards our gate in a leisurely fashion. I ran into Zhao Chuan, and we chatted a bit. The last time I saw him was after our last gig at Sappho, when we were both rather drunk. I honestly don’t know what is up with us constantly running into aging rock stars at airports. I suppose the odds are just better there.

We waited at our gate for the plane to Shanghai. And waited. And waited. A Chinese man who had an app on his phone said the plane hadn’t even left Shanghai yet for some reason. So we waited some more. The room filled with mainland Chinese tourists, and the volume level rose in purportion.

The man with the app left suddenly, just before the announcement was made that our gate was being changed. Apparently his app told him. Everyone rushed to the gate next door, and there we waited some more. Eventually the plane arrived, and we got on, only to wait some more. And hour went by, and I entertained myself by broadcasting live on Facebook from the plane.  Another hour went by.

We didn’t take off until after 7pm, and any chance of tooling around Shanghai that day was dashed. It was raining when we arrived in any case, and by the time we had made our way through customs and immigration (we took the Chinese line as it was much shorter than the foreigner line), found the hotel agent and the (mandated by law) decrepit van to take us to the hotel, it was near 11. Nothing was open, so we ordered some dumplings from an app on Iris’ phone.

posted by Poagao at 12:03 am  
Jun 15 2016

SF Final

Technically I wasn’t leaving until 1:20 a.m. on the 14th, but I wanted to get to the airport early enough to snag a decent seat from Eva Air this time. Still, I had all day; I took my time packing my one suitcase and getting everything charged before Ken called me a Lyft over to Joe’s place. The Lyft driver was named Elizabeth, and she expressed not only great interest in street photography, but also great dismay that she had missed the festival. I told her some sites to visit and people to contact.

Joe and I walked around the neighborhood, stopping only for some mint iced coffee and to attempt to resurrect a small dead bird on the sidewalk with incessant flashing (It didn’t work). The light was excellent, and I don’t wonder why we see so many such shots in the HCSP queue. Joe had to go to a shoot in the afternoon, so I headed into a mall to look for some neat-o stuff to bring back to Taiwan. As I was walking into the basement level, I ran into Vineet, who was with his family. Our interaction was both brief and awkward. I emerged in back of the mall to find a Target where I could get some goodies, and I walked around both sides of Market while waiting for Joe to return; we met back up by the trolley cars at five, right near a Muslim man all in white was holding a sign reading “I come in peace.” A couple of white men had approached him at one point in a way that made me think there might be trouble, but either their intentions were honorable or the Muslim brother won them over.

Dinner was at a Vietnamese place, after which Joe. Just. Could. Not. Get. A. Ride. Drivers kept cancelling; one even claimed he’d already picked us up and dropped us off, without us ever even seeing the car. Eventually we got an Uber back to Joe’s place, where I picked up my stuff, and we headed out; Joe to the theater to see the latest X-men movie, and me to the Bart Station to catch a subway to the airport. In the station was a very good violin player, good enough to make me wonder if Joshua Bell was moonlighting again. But I couldn’t linger; I had to get out to SFO. I couldn’t help but feel, however, that I was just getting used to the place, not to mention the timezone, and now I had to leave.

The sun hadn’t set when I stepped off the subway at the international terminal, even though it was 8 p.m. Nobody was at the Eva counter, so I sat and charged stuff until a small crowd had gathered. When I got to the gate, I found that the only seat left was an exit-aisle window seat. That would do, though I’d prefer to have an actual window. Don and Gene were also at the airport at the time, but they were at one of the domestic terminals.

I again took my time, wandering over to the TSA line, dispassionately watching the somewhat desperate people in policesque uniforms trying to convince everyone that they had an important job to do, even though it was blatantly obvious that the whole thing was a big show. They even played a video for the people in line showing normal people going about their day and suddenly getting shot dead. The spot concerned human trafficking, but that was beside the point; they obviously want people to be as nervous and afraid as possible. Let people relax and think, and it won’t be long before they realize what a farce the whole thing is.

I opted out of the rapiscan machine, as usual. And, as usual, the short, squat woman in “uniform” called out, loudly and repeatedly, “MALE OPT OUT OVER HERE!” It took a while for someone to come, but I wasn’t in a hurry. I watched as some people were herded into the rapiscan machines, while others simply walked through the X-ray machine. “Can I do that?” I asked, pointing. “I was given a choice between a pat-down and the rapingscanning thingy, but it seems like lots of people are just going through the X-ray only.” Of course she ignored me; any answer would have implied some kind of safety concern was involved.

When the officer finally got around to groping, I almost thanked him for the massage. The moment did seem to call for a little levity, so when he told me to spread my arms, palms upward, I said in my best Jerry Seinfeld impression, “Ladies and gentlemen….I implore you!”

The officer was not amused. “Too old a reference?” I asked.

“That doesn’t happen,” he said. Ok.

I still had plenty of time before my flight, so I bought a sandwich and some yoghurt and sat at the gate listening to music. I hadn’t listened to music in a while, so it was even nice and more relaxing than usual.

Then boarding, squeezing into my seat, followed by 13 hours of watching animated movies, eating and sleeping. Too quickly, I am back in Taipei. I went straight to work, but I’ve been loopy all day. I just want to sleep, but I know that if I do, I’ll wake up at 2 a.m. and not get any more sleep. It’s weird to be back; it feels like the last week was all just a dream by now.




posted by Poagao at 6:52 pm  
Jun 13 2016


Saturday, June 11th

It is so dry here! I prefer a bit of humidity, and this dryness has me drinking gallons of water all day.

I woke up before sunrise, for some reason, and watched from my window in Ken’s apartment as the city came to light. We’re on a light rail line, so every so often a streetcar will whoosh by. Ken says he’s used to it, but I’d quickly get tired of having to pause movies every time it happened.

Ken was going to Jack’s workshop, so I tagged along, and probably pissed off some people with my various interjections as Jack spoke calmly and deliberately about his subject. When the group left the classroom to go out shooting, I kept my distance, looking at where they went, what they shot, etc. It was interesting, and not unlike my experiences teaching in Taipei.

I’d wanted to join at least one of the StreetFoto photo walks, so I left the group at 11:30 and headed towards Chinatown. My stomach then took the opportunity to remind me that I had only eaten one slick of toast so far that day, so I had a bite before heading over to the meeting point. Unfortunately, I was late; the group had already left. So I wandered around the area on my own instead, eventually bumping into JC, a photographer who wanted my advice on his photography. We arranged to meet later near the Cuppola building, and I continued down towards the harbor, approaching it though the second floor of an empty mall. I could only imagine how bustling and alive the area had been in the past.

I caught a ride with JC, his wife and his daughter over to Joe Goode, which is fortunate as I wasn’t looking forward to that long walk just then. We got some food at a nearby market, which of course was far too much for one person to eat, and I looked through JC’s book and gave him my thoughts.

They were making a video about the event, and so I missed most of Vineet’s talk, unfortunately, but I was able to enjoy Ken Light’s stories about his career, as well as Richard’s talk about his background and his work. After they announced the winners of the contest, we wrapped it up and headed over to a nearby place for dinner and conversation. There was a snag when we found you had to show picture ID to get in, and my Taiwanese ID apparently wasn’t cutting it (It ain’t my fault the bouncer couldn’t read Chinese). I managed to get in with my passport, but some of the other attendees weren’t able to enter, which was unfortunate.

We ate and talked and enjoyed each other’s company well into the wee hours; it had the atmosphere of conclusion as people said good-bye and left through the chain-link gate, back out into streets.

I’m sitting at Ken’s table writing this; it’s the morning after, and he’s gone to help Jack with the second and final day of his workshop. Don and Gene have continued on their 40th anniversary tour of the area, though they might go back to the Rayko Center before they leave. There’s one more photo walk today, staring at the Deyoung Museum in the park, where they have a Bruce Davidson exhibit, apparently, so I will try and make that. I’m leaving tomorrow night…well, technically in the early hours of the 14th, but I have to be at the airport on Monday night.

It’s another beautiful day. God it’s dry though.

posted by Poagao at 1:33 am  
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