Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Oct 27 2016

From Granada to Sevilla

A couple of good nights’ sleep has me feeling better, or perhaps I just like Granada. Despite the sub-par Alhambra experience, I still have warm fuzzy feelings for this city. Even though I can’t claim I really know it at all.

The weather was a bit cloudy as we checked our bags at the hotel and set out in search of breakfast. We ended up at the cafe where Ray, Gordon and I ate seven years ago, just as the sun broke out in full, blasting our table with lovely light and making the meal full of wincing, and not just because the waiter accidentally spilled Ewan’s coffee all over the table. Another waiter rushed over to help, but the first one just shouted at him. I assume there’s some kind of ongoing argument between them. The food was good when it came, however, and I managed to take a panorama without anyone having two heads for once.

After breakfast we split up, the girls and Ewan going shopping or something, while Carlos, Chenbl and I caught a bus up the hill opposite Alhambra. We got off halfway up and walked the rest of the way up to the observation deck, where a small band was playing and a group of schoolchildren were lined up on a wall, reading. Alhambra lay across the valley, shrouded in mist so that little more than its silhouette was visible. We bought some castanuelas and got instructions back down the hill.

The stream that runs down the valley is lovely indeed, and if I were to move to Granada, I’d definitely consider something in that area. We got some pomegranate juice and met up with the others in front of the cathedral before settling down in one of the many squares in the belltower’s shadow for some delicious paella. The restaurant was called “El Doseo” and the manager couldn’t have been nicer.

The walk back to the hotel helped some with our digestion, and I found myself, as I usually do when I’m about to leave Granada, that I’d like to stay. Perhaps someday I will.

But not this time. Instead, I got on a bus with the others and went to the bus station, where we switched to a long-haul vehicle for the trip to Sevilla. This was a surprisingly strict process, and I wondered if they have a serious problem with people getting on buses they haven’t bought tickets for.

On our way through the town, I could see that Granada is not just the old town, the suburbs are far less entertaining, which is no suprise. I passed the time taking photos of the truck drivers we passed on the highway and looking out at the scenery, rough landscapes gradually becoming tamer as we went. The driver had neglected to tell us what the wifi password was, and there was a sign over him that read “Do Not Talk To Driver,” so we were stuck enjoying the trip the old-fashioned way, something that was made more difficult due to the nonstop static-y radio that played the whole time.

When we arrived in Sevilla, we were first told there was no bus from the bus station to the train station except for the airport bus, which makes no sense at all. Then we found that there was a bus, but it went a bit out of the way. None of this constituted a good first impression.

When we finally got to the area where our hotel is located, I was reminded more of southern China than Spain: Blocks of apartments, tiled sidewalks…I even caught a whiff of stinky tofu, but I think I might have simply walked through someone’s sneeze.

We took a bus into the old part of town, but we hadn’t gone far when the driver pulled over, hopped out and ran over to a police van. He brought the cops over, and they escorted a guy off the bus. After talking with him for a while, they told us to go get another bus, so I assume the bus itself was guilty of some crime and needed to be interrogated. Carlos said that this kind of thing was a common occurance in his native Guatemala. When we got to the old part of town, we went in search of a restaurant someone had heard of online, but when we found it, the waiter/manager yelled at Carlos to get the hell out. I suppose they really must be making too much money, and we decided to help them out of this predicament by not only not eating there, but leaving our impressions on various online sites as well. We did manage to find a decent place in yet another square. We’d gotten halfway though our meal when a cello and guitar group set up on the sidewalk, played a tune rather badly, and then the guitarist went around with a hat for donations. When he came to our table Chenbl just stared at him. “No? Fine,” the guitarists said in a huff as the cellist struggled through arpeggios.

When we told the restaurant manager out our troubles at the previous place, he actually gave us free drinks. So there’s that.

 

 

posted by Poagao at 7:07 am  
Oct 24 2016

In Spain

Heavy rain greeted us in the morning in Shanghai at the Hotel With the Mysteriously Uneven Floors. Breakfast was a meager lineup of food in metal canisters, eaten to the Australian twang of the tourists at the next table. They were complaining that they had no choice of hotel, but please, if anyone had a choice they wouldn’t choose that one. Command economy FTW.

The bus back to the airport was nicer than the one from the airport, but the scene that greeted us as we forged our way into customs was utter chaos. Immigration was insanely crowded, but the security line was a huge crowd of people stuck in what passed for a line, with Chinese people cutting in line left and right, occasionally being shouted at by the officers. Chenbl’s luggage fell over and scared a small Chinese girl, who immediately went into hysterics mode. The whole thing was the most impressive display of incompetence I’ve seen at an airport, and that, sir, is saying something.

Thankfully we’d arrived at the airport three hours ahead of schedule, so we were on time when we took the escalator downstairs from the semi-civilized airport lounges into the cattle pen that held everyone not deemed good enough to board their planes directly from the gates. A bus took us out to the tarmac and dumped us into inches of water in the pouring rain, leaving us to fend for ourselves on the way to the stairs, which weren’t even covered, though several other covered stairways stood by a little ways away, unused.

The plane was nicer at least. I watched a long series of movies as we flew over Russia’s flyover country (in this case all of it), trying to stay awake so I could defeat jetlag in Madrid. Towards the end of the flight I was nodding off, though.

Customs and immigration in Madrid were quick and easy. We met Carlos at the airport and got on the subway into town, against Carlos’ better judgement because the station near our hotel was closed. This turned out to be a bad idea, as it was raining hard in Madrid as well. The whole world, it seems lately, is undergoing a deluge of biblical proportions. Taipei, Shanghai, Madrid…it doesn’t matter where we go, it’s always soaking, sopping wet.

I wanted to go right to bed, but Chenbl had other ideas, so we all went out and walked around the neighborhood. I was dragging my feet, nodding stupidly at any inquiries made in my direction, and there was no way I could have written a journal entry, so I just passed out instead.

That was yesterday. Today we awoke early in the morning to….more heavy rain. We headed out anyway, having breakfast at a 24-hour joint across the street where they have nice donuts and ham sandwiches. Then we stopped into an old church, and then visited a large flea market where the stall owners were kept busy trying to keep the rain from collapsing their tents. A marathon was being run nearby, the police keeping things in order; one pedestrian tried to cross illegally, and was escorted by an officer right back to where he’d been.

Then we took a bus to Segovia. A nice bus, and after going through a tunnel and over some mountains, actual sun came out. We spent some time on logistical bs before making our way downtown to see the big aqueduct, and then climbing up to see the big cathedral and the castle. It was quite impressive. When the tour guide mentioned Queen Isabella giving Christopher Columbus a bunch of money for his trip, I added, “…so he could begin hundreds of years of exploitation, slavery and genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.”

“The bitch,” Carlos added helpfully. The birds there have calls that sound like laser guns. Having skipped lunch, we feasted on ham and cheese with a whole damn pig before rushing back to get the bus back to Madrid. We were stuck in traffic for two hours, but I spent it asleep.

There are many more details about the day that I’ve forgotten because we’ve been rushing around and I didn’t have the chance to write them down. Just FYI, it’s that kind of vacation, so don’t expect too much from this account.

posted by Poagao at 6:01 am  
Aug 17 2016

The Ghost Money Index (GMI)

Upon crossing the bridge this afternoon and being confronted with a huge ghost-money fire in front of a spectacularly bad, yet inordinately expensive restaurant there, I realized that there is a massively useful metric for telling whether a given company’s products will suck or not. In retrospect it seems obvious; I’m surprised nobody has thought of it before. Simply put:

The amount of ghost money a company burns is inversely proportional to the quality of its products and services.

There are many reasons why burning ghost money is bad, bad for public health, bad for the environment, bad for safety reasons, etc. But just concentrating on the business aspect, we can see why this particular relationship cannot be denied:

  1. A business that burns a lot of ghost money is willing to spend money on something of no practical use. This speaks volumes about its budgetary priorities, especially failing businesses or small businesses that really can’t afford to literally burn money. What does it tell you that they would rather spend their limited budget on a mountain of ghost money rather than better equipment or training? Such a company is more likely to engage in slip-shod, half-assed, temporary stop-gap measures to cover up problems rather than making effective changes to resolve issues.
  2. The business doesn’t care about its employees or its patrons. The decision to force employees as well as customers to inhale the fumes from toxic fires casts serious doubt over any aspirations of the employers to take even the most basic care of their staff and environment. So why should they care about their products or post-sales service? If they’re willing to compromise their sanitary standards in this fashion, allowing ask and other dangerous chemicals in their environment, do you think they will care about other safety and health standards in their workplace?
  3. The business is not willing to make concrete efforts to improve its situation. If the company is utilizing this method to fix its problems, it’s obviously either not serious about improving or is so incompetent that its products are most likely to be full of problems they didn’t care about fixing or were simply unable to fix. You can tell the entire mindset of a Taiwanese business by how it conducts itself in this fashion.
  4. The business isn’t really thinking about what it’s doing or its future, merely going along with established norms without thinking about it. If those running the business were truly interested in innovation and breaking the mold, they would have realized that a scam burning ghost money is, and would be spending their precious time and efforts on improving their products and services. Otherwise, they obviously aren’t looking ahead, but are simply going along with current business trends and following others’ leads without taking the initiative. Do you want to invest in a company that is only capable of bowing to peer pressure and slavishly copying others?
  5. The business is not green, sustainable or in any way interested in protecting the environment. Being “green” and “sustainable” have become catchphrases in Taiwan lately, but you can tell which company is serious about these areas just by looking at the amount of ghost money they burn. Small industry has ruined much of Taiwan’s pristine environment over the course of many decades, and the only ones worth supporting are those that have made real commitment to sustainability and the environment.

Therefore, I propose the formulation of a Ghost Money Index (GMI), where not just the general public but interested investors, would-be customers, employees and patrons can access this information directly. Businesses and other groups would be required to disclose accurate information (which would be directly observable in any case), while investors could see immediately which companies are the most forward-looking, innovative, and thoughtful, while job-seekers could pick out those companies that have their best interests at heart. Environmental Protection Agency personnel would have an easy time telling through such algorithms which companies are inherently likely to commit large-scale acts of environmental damage. Smartphone apps could show travellers which restaurants have better food, which recreational facilities are safer, which parks are cleaner. Schools and universities could use the data to track business trends and improve the general economy. Even real estate forums could establish a database of homes located further away from high-GMI areas for those who value their health and comfort. Resale values of homes and other buildings could be more accurately estimated based on whether or not their surroundings are high-GMI or not. Hospitals in low-GMI areas could even tout the fact in their descriptions.

The best part of the GMI is that the data isn’t buried in confusing statistics and hard-to-understand graphs; though a scientific system of measurement allowing for the precise ratio still needs to be developed, the basic principle is right out there on the street for everyone to see.

Start using the GMI today!

posted by Poagao at 7:48 pm  
Jun 14 2016

SF6

Yesterday was brilliant again. I was determined to join at least one photo walk this time, so after a nice breakfast at a nearby crepe place, I walked over to the golden gate park to meet up with the group at the Deyoung museum. After quickly browsing the tiny Davidson show there, we headed off through the park. The breeze coming in off the ocean was brisk, and for once I was glad that I’d brought my heavy police jacket. The drum circle was rather than usual, they said, but the hippies were there in force, as were the roller skating people. We ended up at the Haight street fair, where everyone pretty much disbanded, though we bumped into James and a few others on the way through. I don’t generally like event photography, but there was one guy there with two Olympuses (Olympi?) around his neck, so I figure it was covered.

After that, Ken drove us down to Joe’s work, where I chatted with him and others for a bit before taking a short tour around the area while the wonderful light lasted. The sound of a bottle breaking just behind me made me wonder once again about the general level of sanity in that neighborhood. Down at the town hall, the colors of the homeless people lying on the lawn matched the flags flying above.

After Joe had locked up, we caught a Lyft down to meet Ken at a sushi place, We Be Sushi, which was delicious and fresh. Our non-Japanese waitress was still learning the terms and pronunciation; it was cute. We talked until late and then headed home.

posted by Poagao at 3:16 am  
Jun 08 2016

SF1

I’m sitting in my little room at the Aida Hotel, listening to police sirens going up and down Market Street. Today is apparently the big California primary or something, but I’m not sure if that has anything to do with it.

Packing was a mad, last-minute scramble, as usual. I wasn’t really in the mood for a trip, actually, but here I found myself entering that world of travel, step-by-step, from station to station, whereupon one surrenders ones local identity and becomes A Traveller. Afraid of being late, I took the HSR to Taoyuan and a bus to the airport, but I needn’t have worried; Eva Air, I was told, had sold all the good seat a year ago already. While I doubt this was true, I still ended up in a middle seat from Taipei to San Francisco. Granted, it was exit row, but that just meant that I could have my stuff with me, with nowhere to stow it. The woman next to me watched the same episode of Downton Abbey over and over throughout the flight. She also ate spicy crisps and filed her nails. The. Whole. Time.

But it was nice not to have to change airplanes. When I got to SFO I purposely avoided white immigration and customs officers, and thankfully everything went smoothly this time. Lines were long,  the Bart took forever, but eventually I found my way to my hotel. It should do.

There are photo events happening here and there throughout the week. We’ll see how it goes.

posted by Poagao at 2:46 pm  
Dec 14 2015

VR

I’ve been interested in the prospect of virtual reality for some time now, but only recently have I been able to actually experience it for myself. The first opportunity I had to try it out was at one of the stores on the ground floor of the new tech shopping mall next to the Guanghua electronics market. They had an Oculus Rift Development Kit 2 rig set up there, where one could experience a roller coaster ride as well as a solar system demo. As it was my first experience with VR, it was bound to be impressive. I gripped the stool with one hand and tried to right myself as well as I could while the roller coaster tossed and turned, climbed and dove. I could look around, which was novel. I’ve always been interested in the little corners of video game environments that nobody else paid any attention to, and VR provides the potential for people like me to explore those corners better than any previous system has been able to so far. I like the exploring part of these environments far better than the shooting part. I’d turn on the god mode of FPS games just so I wouldn’t be distracted by all the killing and playovers, letting me just walk around and look at things. That was one of the main reasons I preferred PC gaming to console units back in the day.

The solar system demo was also impressive, sitting in a little cart jetting around based on eye movements, but somehow too abstract to convey the real experience. I found myself thinking, if I could just see some more detail in these massive things, I’d have a better idea of their size.

But what the Oculus DK2 set provided was just a glimpse of what VR could offer. The main feature was the low latency; at no point did I feel sick or dizzy, though I’d think providing chairs with actual backs wouldn’t be a bad idea for people trying out VR for the first time. What it didn’t provide, what it was sorely lacking in fact, was sufficient resolution to really make the view believe that they are seeing these things for real. Also, it felt limiting to be constricted to sitting in one spot and be led around by the program. It’s not the way we operate in reality, so it feels somewhat at odds with the concept of virtual reality. There’s movement, but you don’t feel it with your body; there’s no inertia to be overcome, no real sense of the movement involved. Also (and this is not an inherent fault of the Oculus), after being tried by so many people, the DK2 headset was kind of ratty and smudged. It felt very much like wearing dirty goggles.

My next opportunity with this technology came at a recent Taipei tech show, where I was able to try out HTC’s Vive setup. This meant waiting in line for a period of time before being ushered into a black room with a solitary chair. I put on the headset and found myself in a large white space. The controllers on the virtual floor matched their actual position at my feet so exactly that bending over and picking them up was completely natural. “Ok, we’re going to start the first demo,” the HTC people told me through the headset’s speaker.

And immediately I was on the deck of a sunken ship. Yeah, I’ve read about this demo, but it really can’t be described. The Youtube videos of it don’t come close to matching the experience. It’s really…almost…like you’re there. Unlike with the Oculus, I could walk around, to a limited extent. I walked over to peer over the side of the ship, down to the bottom, and the handlers said, “Be careful, you’re about to run into a wall.” The detail was far better than that of the Oculus DK2, as was the field of view.

This! I thought. This, I’ve got to have. But maybe not; in the first quarter of 2016, not only will the Vive arrive on shelves, but the new Oculus, which has better resolution, etc. as well as Sony’s Morpheus, which plays with an updated version of the PS4 called the Playstation VR, and Samsung’s Gear VR, which can be used with your phone (Your phone, not mine. I’m still using an old iPhone 4, which is pathetically unable to handle such things).

I don’t have a powerful PC set up, but I have been thinking of getting a console, so it might be that the Morpheus and a PS4 would work better for me. If the Vive plays well with my iMac, I might go that way. If the Oculus lets me move around, maybe that. Who knows? Nobody knows, at least for the moment; it’s a free-for-all, and it might not go anywhere if the developers don’t over the problem of integrating physical motion in games. Many, if not most of the proposed game demos feel like ordinary games forced into a VR medium, and don’t really take advantage of anything VR has to offer. Who wants to be in a cart the whole time? I’ve seen rigs with a guy standing on a movable plate and harnessed into a ring around their waists, but that seems half-assed to me. What would be better? I  have no idea, but I have to admit the idea of making my living room into a VR space just for games, where I am free to move about in a roughly five-square-meter area, appeals to me. The games would have to be specially designed to fit these limitations, though. How would that work? Would all of the rooms be of that size or smaller? Would you have to turn around at each door? Will longer distances necessarily be done on little hoverboards, etc.? Could a special chair be made to simulate motions in the game? Shouldn’t the controllers be more like gloves and have force feedback inside? For now, it seems they’ve got the head motion tracking part down, including binaural audio feeds. Improvements from here on out will be in resolution and field of view, as well as the mechanics of physical motion in the games.

How well will MMORPGs work with VR? Who wouldn’t love to simply wander about the Enterprise, or Mos Eisley spaceport, or the bath house from Spirited Away, or Hogwarts? Even if there were nobody to fight, no challenges or anything, just spending time in those worlds would be fascinating.

Interesting times lie ahead. But I can’t help but wonder how much of their lives people will invest in these environments. Surely within a few short years they will become perceptibly indistinguishable from reality, and if we can choose to inhabit crafted worlds, what happens to our ability to deal with the actual physical world? What happens if the populations of more affluent nations are mostly immersed in these worlds, while everyone else has to deal with reality? What happens if there’s a point where everyone is in these worlds, and not in this one? Will it be mandatory? Will reality become unpopular, or even illegal to experience, or both? Will there be a backlash? If so, will anyone care? I suspect we’re going to find out.

posted by Poagao at 1:05 pm  
May 28 2015

Vietnam 7

The other ships in the harbor where we docked were still lit up when I got up this morning at around 5 a.m. They’d doused their lights by the time I got up on the sundeck to watch the sunrise. One other passenger was there taking shots with his phone. The sunrise was much nicer this morning than yesterday, with an actual sun-shaped sun rising up into the sky rather than just a general lightening of clouds. I stayed on top of the ship as the engines turned on noiselessly and we began to move through the water towards the same place we’d moved the day before. Several other ships followed, and we dropped anchor in the same place, with the same hawkers, and the same bad tai-chi. Today, however, we were taken over to a very large, impressive system of caves called Hang Sung Sot. It felt like something out of the Lord of the Rings, except sprinkled with signs saying STOP and THIS WAY and NO SMOKING and CUT THAT OUT. Bats hung from the roof, swaying, chirping and shitting on the floor. The group moved faster than I could take photos, so I only got a few shots. We were the first group in and damn if we weren’t going to be the first group out! Such is tourism.

caveThen it was back to the ship, a nice big breakfast. By the time I’d showered and packed, the ship was part of an armada of Paradise ships heading back to port. After we docked we were taken to yet another lounge, where we were fed and sung to before embarking on the grueling 3-hour drive back to Hanoi. I say grueling but it was merely a little uncomfortable due to 45-degree heat that the crowded van’s a/c just wasn’t up to dealing with. I felt far more sorry for the people laying boiling asphalt in that weather, covered head-to-toe in clothes for protection.

Back in Hanoi, we were the last of our group to be dropped off at our hotel, the Golden Sun Moment. This was possibly in order to spare us any embarrassment, as everyone else seemed to be staying at really nice joints. Thoughtful, that.

We managed to get a room somewhat unlike the one we booked, which has been a constant theme in Vietnam, and then we headed out to walk around. We went down to the lake and around to the old cathedral as the late afternoon sun lit up the streets. A man in black with a taped-up rangefinder had staked out a nice spot to catch people walking through the light on the other side of the road, but when I approached he scattered. “Just wait until you submit your stuff to HCSP,” I didn’t call after him. “I will be condescendingly arrogant with pop-culture references! Ooh, feel the burn!”

Behind the cathedral several boys were kicking a ball at the rear windows, against a backdrop of the wise men pointing at weeds. When they saw us they kicked the ball at us, but we managed to dodge in time (Chenbl can move surprisingly quickly if he needs to). Later we had dry noodles at a place one of the Americans on the ship had recommended. It wasn’t terribly good. Rather, it was both full of Westerners and really expensive.

I’ll be honest here, so far I really dislike Hanoi. Or at least the Old District. It’s busy and wary and fearful, it feels as if no Vietnamese live here, and the ones who do aren’t happy about the fact. But perhaps I’ll get a better impression tomorrow.

posted by Poagao at 10:09 pm  
Nov 15 2013

Osaka, part 1

I haven’t written anything so far on my trip to Osaka because we’ve been busy running around every day, rain or shine, and only now have I had any time to write. And I don’t have much time at the moment either. I didn’t even have enough time to take many notes, so this account will be sparse. Oh, well.

My traveling companions this time include Chenbl, his co-worker Xiao Guo, and Chenbl’s Guatemalan friend Carlos, who is visiting. I was running late getting out the door, only to find Xiao Guo eating an ice cream cone at the Xindian MRT where we’d arranged to meet. Xiao Guo loves ice cream and is always posting pictures of himself making funny faces at various kinds of ice cream on Facebook.

We had plenty of time, though, and the flight to Osaka was delayed, so we could sit and contemplate the wonderful weather we were leaving from the departure lounge, amusing ourselves with some old pictures of Xiao Guo from when he was considerably larger.

The flight was fine; we took the long subway train into Osaka as Chenbl issued reams of various coupons for travel and sightseeing purposes. When we got to the Toyoko Inn Higashi where we had reservations, we learned not only that they had screwed up our reservations and only booked one room instead of two, but every other hotel in the tri-city area was completely booked solid as well. We blame Autumn. They managed to find another room for me and Xiao Guo for a few days, but for the next couple of days, we will all be staying in one tiny room.

It was raining when we left the hotel the next morning after an ok hotel breakfast. We took the subway out to Universal Studios, which was packed solid due to a Halloween event. I personally can’t be bothered with Halloween, but Chenbl seemed to think it was worth dealing with the crowds for. The way the Japanese arrange and rearrange the line ropes is an art unto itself. Despite the Game of Lines, however, the crowds were just too much, in addition to the rain. We lined up for incredibly long lines, though a cheap fast pass would have made it much easier to bear. We tried to see a Shrek 4D show, but misread the poster and instead were dealt a Sesame Street show. After another line supposedly for The Mummy ride, all we got was a lame walk in the dark with employees jumping out from behind curtains. I was in no mood for this. Next was the longest line yet, for the admittedly impressive Spider-man ride, though it apparently broke down for a bit in the middle. After that was the Back to the Future Which Cannot Utilize Micheal J. Fox In Any Way Due To Contract Issues ride, but the console dash screen was so bright the huge image that was supposed to reflect reality was dim and murky, and as all the rides were in Japanese, we had no idea what was going on.

We had some pizza standing up, as there were no seats, and made our way through the shivering-yet-smiling-gamely parade participants to the Jurassic Park ride, which featured “Zhenzi”, a character from a famous Japanese ghost movie who is supposed to be scary. She is dressed in white and has long black hair hanging over her face. All the TVs in the park seemed to be playing clips of her, and she would be standing near paths looking creepy. When our boat went by her standing on a rock during the Jurassic Park ride I shouted, “Get a haircut, ya hippie!” which somewhat ruined her Startling Lurch(c), but honestly, she was getting rather annoying.

The last straw was the Backdraft show, which I was looking foward to as it supposedly contained flames, and I needed to dry off from the rain and being splashed on the Jurassic Park ride. Yet after another knee-achingly long line, we learned that, not only could we not sit down for it, but it too had been completely co-opted by Zhenzi, with the stages remaining sadly flame-free, while the staff turned the lights off and on. At one point the lights came up and Zhenzi was standing right next to me, but all I could do was glare at her with all the distaste I could muster as Chenbl grabbed me, screaming like an eight-year-old girl.

We eventually saw Shrek 4D, which involved a lot of donkey spit, before we headed back to the exit. The whole fake atmosphere of the placed weighed on me, and I mentally dared any of the “zombies” roaming the street to try something. So much for Universal Studios.

posted by Poagao at 9:59 am  
Sep 17 2012

My weekend, let me tell you about it

Back-to-back gigs made for a wonderfully strange weekend to coincide with the first hints of fall in the form of cool rain/misty non-heat/whatever you want to call it. The kind of weather that makes people turn off their air conditioners, realize that the air conditioners were covering all the noise from their neighbors playing Mahjong, and then promptly turn the air conditioners on again.

The Muddy Basin Ramblers were on the list to play at the old abandoned bottle-cap factory in Nangang on Saturday afternoon as part of a rock festival, aimed at the city’s youth, called the Black Town Music Festival by the art group URS 13 that did the Dihua Street exhibit where we played and I exhibited some photos a while back.

I’d never disembarked at that particular station before, and got lost  a few times in the labyrinthine connection between the MRT and train stations on the way, but eventually I emerged close enough to follow the sound of heavy metal screeching to the factory, which turned out to be comprised of the graffiti-covered shells of several large buildings, stripped of everything, the floors and walls sporting interestingly shaped protrusions leftover from the process of making bottle caps.

I managed to get within about 50 meters of the stage before the noise drove me back. Judging from the dozen or so people braving proximity to the band, the booming, echoing acoustics were not working in their favor. I wasn’t sure if there was any applause; the ringing in my ears might have cancelled it out.

You might ask: What the hell was a jug band doing at a rock concert? I suppose they were going for a certain amount of variety, and they knew us from the Dihua Street activities. In any case, after a lengthy sound check on stage, we were sure of one thing: They were into us. Even during the sound check a large crowd had gathered, applause breaking out even for short bits of music to test the microphone setup. Once the actual show began, the huge factory space filled to capacity, though it was hard to tell with all the lights on the stage. The sound guys had done a great job, testing each instrument individually and then the band as a whole.

The show went well, with the exception of one very odd key mishap, and everyone was happy. For our final song, David told the crowd, “This is a Taiwanese song we learned recently; you might have heard of it. Sing along if you know the words!” We then played the intro to “Wang Chun Feng” in a schmaltzy Nakishi style, and delighted screams erupted from the crowd.

Thumper and Sandy had to leave after the show, and Conor had another gig, but David, Slim and I hung out. Well, Slim and I hung out on the steps in front of one of the old buildings, on which is inscribed what TC actually stands for, and chatted while we waited for David to bring us back the Most Delicious Chicken Rice Bentos in Nangang or Possibly the World. Even Slim took more than two bites, and that’s as ringing a declaration of Goodness as there is. The rain came and went, people came and went, the sounds of subsequent bands wafting over to us on the wind. Strange things happened. I think a panda was seen at some point.

Sunday was the day of the Blues Queens Cruise, our second performance aboard the riverboat that plies the Danshui. Chenbl and I wandered from the metro station onto the wide plain of grass along the riverside that was recently added, confounded by the addition and the obvious lack of a riverboat in the vicinity, but it was further down the river a ways, docked amidst several smaller vessels. For a moment, in the cool mist, I could imagine walking down that path in some past decade, ticket in hand, and boarding a steamer bound for Japan.

This feeling was reinforced when we got on board after pushing the last few tickets on the dock with a show accompanied by a fellow in a wheelchair who could summon goat-dogs with his teeth: Japanese was the lingua franca of the boat, as most of the passengers as well as the other musicians were from that island nation to the north. The cruise was a benefit for Orchid Island, which was damaged heavily in the last couple of typhoons.

The mist lifted as the boat left the dock, pushing out into the river and heading towards the ocean, the sun glinting across the far-off waves of the open sea beyond the river mouth. The Japanese band played on the top deck first, and the sun dove slowly towards the horizon through various stages of clouds as the ship turned this way and that, until it was a cherry pop dipping into the ocean.

Various other craft were passing to and fro as we marched to the edge of the larger ocean waves before turning around, and we took the stage as night fell, the lights on the shores of either side blinking and flashing, the outlines of the mountains beyond fading in the darkness. Our sound was crackly and jazzy; it was a good show again. How could it not be? We were on a riverboat, playing our music as night fell in a cool breeze.

The boat docked once again at Danshui, and we walked to the old street to look for taxis, but the taxis were having none of this. They hesitated to appear, and once they did, the did not like the looks of us. David sat on the corner and played a tune, and the dancers danced, and the photographers photographed. A mainland Chinese couple yelled at us for “taking too long to decide” and promptly jumped in a cab that had been considering whether we would be worth the risk. Someone called a taxi service, and more cabs appeared. I motioned for one driver to roll down his window. “Where are you going?” he asked. I showed him the address, and his face fell.

“I have something to do now,” he decided.

Eventually we managed to find taxis over to Mudskippers, a bar on the river near Guandu, where David promptly launched into the epic “Ballad of the Chinese Tourists Who Stole My Taxi”. Conor and I accompanied.

As the other Ramblers contemplated my varied and important secrets, dinner was served: Chowder, caprese, spaghetti and fruit. All delicious, thanks to one of our band’s most loyal and longstanding fans, Jaye. You know Jaye.

We played, talked, danced and sang until the threat of the last train back to the basin called us to our senses. Then we talked, danced and sang on the subway back through the wee hours left before the week ahead.

posted by Poagao at 12:24 pm  
May 28 2012

London trip, part 1: Shanghai

It was supposed to be a leisurely morning, as our flight was in the afternoon, but that didn’t stop me from rushing out the door, late at 11. The weather was fine, and I halfway wished I had the weekend free. But no, I had better plans. I was off to the airport, to catch a flight to Shanghai.

After Chenbl’s customary scolding over my predilection for tardiness, we caught the airport bus and arrived in due time despite some congestion caused by construction. Window seats were gladfully approved after noting some similarities between the check-in woman and Lin Chi-ling, and lunch was had at a swank airport lounge overlooking a departing Singapore Airliner pulling away from the terminal as we consumed sandwiches and listened to airport announcements. It was very 1963.

Our flight was normal; we descended into the white mist of Shanghai over glassy waters and groups of shiny-roofed houses. The woman at immigration was sharp and angry. “Get over here! Now! Do you have an ROC passport? Well, don’t just stand there, show it to me! What was your flight number? What do you mean you don’t remember? Look at your ticket stub! Oh, for heaven’s sake!”

We hoisted our stuff up to the airport hotel. Well, “hoisted” is a bit of a stretch, as we’re traveling light. This is the first trip in years on which I haven’t bought a big camera with me. Yes, the Invincible Rabbit is sitting this one out, and I’m using a compact camera instead. We’ll see how it works, though so far I foresee battery life will be a significant problem. The Rabbit would go forever on one battery; this one runs out after only a few hours.

We were meeting up with John Pasden of Sinosplice fame at a restaurant off the Bund at 7pm. Unfortunately, I’d lost the address, and nobody seemed to have heard of the restaurant; The taxi driver certainly didn’t. We got out and walked around for a bit, periodically being accosted by touts asking if we wanted girls/sex/massages/digital watches, until I finally got John on the phone, and he told me the address. Turned out it was just around the corner.

We joined John and his wife at a trendy place called Lost Heaven, where we had a delicious meal and a great conversation. Afterwards we walked down the Bund to the old Waldorf-Astoria, full of ghosts from the 1930s. We sat and talked until midnight in one of the old building’s coves overlooking the street outside. It was great, but I was tired and nearly fell asleep in the taxi back to the airport hotel.  The taxi driver had no idea how to actually get to the hotel, and let us out on the highway to find the entrance for ourselves. Nice.

Tomorrow we’re flying to London. I’ve never been, and our hotel is located in a reportedly alarming place, but we’ll see, I guess.

posted by Poagao at 5:57 am  
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