Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Apr 14 2021

Revival song

Spring is usually difficult as the temperatures fluctuate so wildly…usually the weather varies between sun and rain, but this year we’re getting precious little rain. Regardless, it tends to put me in a foul mood.

I was all ready to just go back to the Water Curtain Cave and just fall into bed after work today, but one of my students has an exhibition in the space above NOW Coffee on Yanping South Road, so I headed that way to take a look, stopping at my favorite lunch place sandwiched in between two historic buildings near the North Gate.

As I was looking at the exhibition, a raucous chorus of horns and firecrackers announced the approach of a temple procession. I went downstairs to watch it pass, and as they’d neglected to stop traffic on the street, the procession was stop and go. So I decided to hang out. Some scantily clad women danced on top of various vehicles, surrounded by men with cameras, and people in god costumes and people bearing palanquins and banners strode around, stopping at each stoplight.

“Come on, give it a shot!” one of the temple horn players said, thrusting one of the instruments at me. I took it and gave a few blasts, which they seemed to enjoy. I drew the line at the offer to try out one of the god costumes, though. My mood was much improved.

Chenbl called, saying he wanted to meet after he got off work to give me some tea we’d decided to try, which meant spending all afternoon in town.

I decided to more or less follow the temple procession, drifting off when something else caught my interest. I spent a half hour amid the unbelievable Donki Store crowds looking at cheap Japanese produce, then followed the temple procession noise to the Tianhou Temple, and then deeper into Ximending. Luckily I had ear plugs because the firecrackers were quite loud, not to mention the brass band and drums.

The procession made a large loop of the area, ending up at a temple on Luoyang Street. I went back over to the exhibition to sign the guest book and found my student there with some other photographers. But I couldn’t stay long; I had to meet Chenbl at Houshanpi Station for noodles and to get the tea.

After dinner, on the 270 bus back to Ximen to catch the train, I listened to Blues in C Sharp Minor by Teddy Wilson, a perfect song for old Taipei at night.

posted by Poagao at 8:56 pm  
Mar 15 2021

Feeling a way

Been in and out of various moods lately. Who hasn’t? It’s 2021, the world has changed, is still changing. Nobody knows where things will end up. Reassessing priorities has been the name of the game.

We here in Taiwan, of course, have been fortunate to be living under responsible governance, which makes for conflicting emotions when we see the vaccines we don’t have access to being so widely spread in countries where people felt free to ignore competent advice. They need it more, obviously. But remember, please, why they need it more.

Last weekend revolved around a St. Patrick’s Day gig at Bobwundaye. I don’t particularly care about St. Patrick’s Day, but we hadn’t played at Bob’s in a minute, so it was a long-overdue show. Cristina is getting ready to have Baby Paradise, so it was her last show before the big event. I saw some familiar faces, which was nice and got me back into a more social mood than I’ve been in lately. The show went well, and I shared a late-night/early morning taxi with Slim back to Xindian afterwards.

Sunday was spent recovering. In the morning I chatted with some folks in VR, meeting a fellow from Maitland, Florida, where I grew up, reminiscing about various landmarks. Later I walked down to the area just downstream from the Bitan traffic bridge, where they’re revamping the catchment infrastructure to allow fish to traverse it. I talked with some of people fishing in the river there for a bit before returning to the Water Curtain Cave for a dinner of questionable pasta leftover from my pandemic-induced shopping spree last year. Verdict: Ew.

I’ve been getting on Clubhouse chats lately…it’s a kind of mixture of talk radio, podcasts and chatrooms, with moderated talks where listeners can participate. It’s Apple-product only so far, which has added to its aura of exclusivity for some reason. Rammy, ABC and I founded a Street Photography club on there, and have had a few interesting sessions so far. Quite a few other SP clubs have cropped up, some of which do discussions almost on the daily, but we’ve elected for a quality-over-quantity approach. Still, who knows how this thing will develop.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve also been working, slowly, on a photography book. My floor and walls remain covered in prints, but the work is now largely a matter of presentation. Of course it changes every time I get new advice, but slowly it seems to be taking form. It’s difficult as I am so close to the subject matter and the photos, and objectivity is hard to find sometimes. Also time is more of an issue these days as the semester has started up again. Again with the violin, although I feel I’m stuck at my current level, most likely as I am loathe to practice.

Been feeling stuck in many areas recently. Last week after work I took train out to Keelung to walk around and say good-bye to the old pedestrian overpass by the harbor. Usually walking around with no particular agenda helps me get out of my head and reconnect with the world around me, but it was rough going for some reason. I walked over to where the Taima Ferry docks, and while I was walking away the ship entered the harbor and docked. It was something I would have liked to see, but I missed it. Then, after I walked back over to see the ship and was walking away again, it departed…another thing I would have liked to see and missed. It felt like a metaphor for life lately. I keep missing things. Perhaps it’s time for a reset.

 

 

posted by Poagao at 12:05 pm  
Sep 07 2020

A gig in Hsinchu

This last Saturday we went down to Hsinchu for a gig. Our van driver was the ever-reliable Mr. Gao, with his hair arranged in a Japanese-style topknot, and traffic was mostly smooth. Cristina had pulled a muscle in her back and was on pain medication. The weather was fine, Hsinchu’s famous breeze kept things cool…fall came with the arrival of September this year, quite punctually. The air has lost its core heat, and suddenly breezes have an actual cooling effect. Being outside without instantly breaking into a sweat feels quite novel. Chenbl predicts that this means the winter will be especially cold. I don’t think anyone is looking forward to Winter 2020 and the threat of recurring virus waves; all we can do is keep our guard up and trust those in charge know what they’re doing. Which is more than a lot of countries seem able to do, unfortunately.

We arrived at Hsinchu Park on time and did our soundcheck, but they hadn’t arranged lunch, so I went across the street to get ice coffee and a cinnamon bun. Just after I’d ordered, David called and said the organizers had moved things up and we had to go back early.

Alas, I was not back early. Which turned out to be fine as we started on time anyway, but it did become a kind of theme for the day. We did a thing where we played while walking up to the stage, bringing back memories of marching band, and then we had three hours to kill before the main show.

The park was becoming crowded, with too few people wearing masks for my comfort, so I went for a walk around town, first over to the railroad tracks, taking photos of scooters and shadows in the underpass, then over to the train station, where the light on the platforms was exquisite. It was too bad that I couldn’t get on them. I mulled using my Easycard to get on the platforms and then just leaving, but I decided against it and kept walking, taking the tunnel under the tracks and back towards the park, passing the corpses of ancient trees by the rear entrance.

I skirted the park again, heading through nearby neighborhoods, happy to be just out and walking on my own for a bit, when I stumbled across a raised canal running through the apartment complexes. It must have been used for irrigation at one point, but now it was a pleasant little river, with hardly any odor. A man was taking pictures of an orange-and-white street cat while a few feet away a rather large pig snuffled through the hedges. I followed the canal towards a pleasant park filled with artificial wetland bogs, elderly people sitting around with caretakers, a dog and another street cat that had appropriated one of the benches. The canal continued into the back of Chiao Tung University’s Boai campus, but I couldn’t follow it much further as I had to get back. I passed through some older one-story house communities and brand-new buildings with wraparound balconies that would surely be closed off. Developers here seem to think Taiwanese people will love balconies and use them for enjoyment, but hardly anyone ever does. People like the idea of balconies, in that they see themselves as the type of people who would enjoy a balcony if they just had one, but that’s not the way it works out in practice. They most often end up enclosed and/or full of boxes and other detritus.

Showtime had been moved up, of course, so it’s good that I got back to the park early. The show went well, or at least I assume it did as the lights were so bright I couldn’t really see the audience. The Thai chicken boxed meals were delicious and the drive back smooth, but it had been a long day; when Mr. Gao dropped us off at Xindian Station nobody thought of hanging out by the river as we often do.

 

posted by Poagao at 11:41 am  
Jun 05 2020

An afternoon

I didn’t get off work until after 1 p.m. today. I took the subway to TaiPower Building and had a quick but delicious lunch at Sababa, where they know what I want before I order as I always order the same thing there. Then it was off to check out a Black Lives Matter Taiwan event held near the NTU dorms. There, in between the large buildings, was a small group of young people, mostly white, several holding small cardboard signs. A Black woman and an Asian woman were leading the group in singing “We Shall Overcome” followed by “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. People stared at their phones, searching for the lyrics. The leaders spoke and took questions, we knelt for five minutes in silence for George Floyd, and some slogans were shouted before they took a group photo and disbanded. I’d gotten there late and apparently missed the start. Most people left, but some broke up into little groups to talk. My friend Casey says there are more activities planned, but he was busy today and wasn’t able to make it. I felt awkward and apart, as I usually do in groups of foreigners, standing off to the side and listening.

After that I walked over to the NTU gates and up through the campus, wishing I could take a dip in the campus swimming pool due to the heat, and then over to the neighborhood where I used to live in the early 90’s after I graduated from college. There, at the old abandoned Military Police station, I saw two women on a scooter looking at one of the basement windows. Inside was a mewing grey-striped kitten with a smudged nose and grey eyes, one of them half open; they were trying to get it to come out through the grate. They had put some nuts on the ledge to entice it, but it wasn’t having it. “They sell tuna in cans at the 7-Eleven over there,” I said, pointing across the intersection. So they went off to buy tuna while I sat with the kitten on the side of the derelict building. So I told it a story:

“You know, little cat,” I said. “I was once in a bit of a fix myself here, long before you were born. It was 1991 or so, and I’d just lost my first job. I had no money and had never lost a job before. I didn’t know what to do. So I walked over to this spot, which was then a fully operational Military Police installations, in the middle of the night. It must have been 3 or 4 in the morning, and there was a single guard on duty outside. He couldn’t have been much older than I was.” The kitten meowed, so I continued.

“I told him I was feeling down, that things weren’t going so great. Here I’d thought things were going pretty well, even though I was struggling to work on a native-level position with less-than-native-level Chinese and even worse Taiwanese. But I’d failed, it was my first big failure, and a disaster in my mind. I would find another job, but I didn’t know that then. But just being able to talk about it with someone was an enormous relief, you know?”

The kitten didn’t say anything.

“So now I see you here in a jam, all alone up here on that ledge. It could be that your family isn’t around any more, and you’re on your own. Maybe you need someone to talk to as well? Oh, I know you need more than that, but it’s all I got for now. I hope you can have a good life, but it’s likely that if you get through this there will be even greater challenges in the future waiting for you. People will try to help you, but you have to accept their help, so please take a few steps and have something to eat, ok?”

The kitten turned around and meowed. I blinked slowly at it, and it slow-blinked back. It seemed drowsy. Maybe it was exhausted. The women on the scooter came back with the tuna, and they placed some on the ledge, but the kitten didn’t move. A young woman walked by and suggested that we were scaring the kitten. “Well, we tried!” the women on the scooter said, and took off. I sat down with the little furball for a while, but it wouldn’t come near the grate, so I pushed the tuna as far as I could towards it. “Good luck, little cat, I wish you well,” I said.

I checked out my old residence nearby, a tiny room I’d rented for NT$3,500 a month, recalling the haphazardly put-together Wolf 125cc motorcycle I’d been riding at the time (the one on which I’d scared my friend and roommate Boogie into never riding another motorcycle again). Walking alongside the school where the old shanty town used to be, an older man hailed me in English. After I responded in Chinese and we’d exchanged a few sentences, he suddenly realized he had someplace else to be.

I walked up to Heping East Road, where I was passing a cafe when a young man stood up and called me over; it seemed he’d seen a recent interview I’d done, and we sat down to chat on the sidewalk for a bit. It was very pleasant. He wore a white Tiananmen baseball cap and seemed well-travelled. But I couldn’t stay long, as I was meeting Chenbl and his parents at the Surviving Eslite near City Hall. Chenbl’d spotted a good deal on some Bluetooth headphones, and as my phone’s port has been annoying me, I needed some.

Later, on my way back across the bridge to the Water Curtain Cave, I spotted the misty full moon, and wondered how people were doing. It pains me to see what’s going on in the U.S. these days. It’s pained me for a long time, the needless slaughter and indifference. I speak up when I can, but it’s hard to cut through the noise. We can’t stop trying, though.

posted by Poagao at 10:39 pm  
Dec 03 2018

Dulan, etc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

posted by Poagao at 11:36 am  
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  
Mar 26 2018

Another world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

posted by Poagao at 12:06 pm  
Mar 07 2018

2/25: Havana

We woke to birdsong this morning due to the continued lack of A/C. It’s not that hot at night here so it wasn’t that bad. Since our host Fefa was out already, we had to awaken Eric in order to arrange a guide for tomorrow, our last full day in Cuba.

For  today, we decided to walk down to the ocean on Paseo Avenue. The area is quiet and full of large, nicer houses and the occasional embassy. Both the motorcycle cops and the man they caught in his grey Lada seemed embarrassed to be there.

Down on the oceanfront were a couple of hotels, including the Riviera. Which means tourists. I’ve noticed that Cubans seem to whistle a lot to call each other (they also yell). An older couple, most likely American, sat at the table next to us during breakfast. The paunchy white dude had a brand-new red-starred Che Guevara hat to match his Adidas shoes and Reebok backpack. He used sign language a lot with the waitress. Occasionally a large Cuban woman in a lovely head-dress would breeze by, offering to exchange U.S. dollars.

The light had been quite nice when we arrived. Fifty yards away, an old green Packard was parked by the ocean in a very alluring fashion, but by the time we’d finished breakfast both it and the nice light were gone. We walked out to the oceanfront walk and watched fishermen, some swimming with some kind of motor and some in boats, moving around in the water. A man in a Mariachi outfit that was much too hot for this weather came striding over from the direction of the hotel, singing as he went, and we retreated to the main road.

I find Cuban men with bellies very reassuring. They don’t try to hide them; their shirts are as tight as ever, and many even go shirtless. Another thing I love about Cuba is not just the old cars, but the colors of the old cars, as well as the buildings. Where did these colors go, these bright greens, blues, oranges, reds, and even purples? You can only find them on Matchbox cars these days. Now everything is drab and boring, auto palette-wise.

We went to a mini mall in front of the hotels. I don’t know why, so don’t ask. The bathrooms had a woman in front to make sure that nobody could go to the bathroom without paying, which would have made some amount of sense had the bathrooms been working. The mini mall did feature garbage cans instead of random piles of garbage, which is something. We’d thought of going into the store, but there was a long list of things they told us we couldn’t bring into the store, including fhones(sic), computers, tablets, and of course, money. “How can you buy anything in the store without money?” we asked, but it was moot because when Chenbl tried to ask for assistance at the counter inside, he was told everyone was out eating. Later we found that the list was apparently things you couldn’t leave in your bag to be checked before entering the store, which actually makes sense.

Later, we took a random bus on a random road. It drove west, through a tunnel, and that was the end of the line, so we walked around the area. It was a mix of nice houses and dilapidated houses, with a couple of restaurants and hostels. It was hard to tell if things were getting better or worse. Over by the ocean, Chenbl walked into an official-looking building. When I tried to follow a few minutes later, a man in white stopped me, saying that it was a military base and I wasn’t allowed. “And you’re security?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Ok, well, let me just call my friend, who is also a foreigner, the one you just let walk in with no problem just now, and we’ll leave,” I said, motioning to Chenbl, who was across the room no doubt browsing important military documents. Perhaps they just assumed he was Kim Jung-un. That is some haircut.

We passed a large building that looked for all the world like a 60’s department store, but with “Karl Marx” written in luscious script on the front as if Marx had a line of luxury furniture, and followed a group of boys towards a section of waterfront between the remains of two abandoned apartment blocks. The waterfront was guarded by a large hole, which we deftly avoided. Once out on the dangerously slippery dock, we took pictures of the boys jumping into the water for a bit before continuing to walk along the water to another largely empty mini mall, which at least had pseudo-pizza and what I think were supposed to be hot dogs. They also had knock-off soft drinks.

After that we walked on, admiring the large vulture-like birds circling in the air (which might have actually been vultures, I’m not sure…they had red things on their heads, so possibly…this is what happens when you get to rely too much on Wikipedia and suddenly lose all Internet access). Down on the beach, a family was getting ready for a picnic, the dad gathering firewood and the two sons killing a chicken.

It was rather hot by the time we got on another random bus to town. You’d think just getting on random buses would fail eventually, and you’d be right. This one took us further and further into the countryside, until the last stop, a rather desolate area. The ride’s soundtrack was provided by the boys sitting behind us, who were taking turns rapping, singing, clapping and shouting.

The bus manager at the depot asked us where we were going, and put us on another bus back into town, which was nice of him. It was good we got on at the depot, because the bus filled up almost immediately, as most buses here do. I’ve found that most buses have at least one dude with a beatbox on board. Most of the time this is a good thing. Sometimes there’s more than one, and a battle ensues.

The new bus took us on a circuitous route around the city again, but we ended up in the old quarter eventually, just in time to browse the dockside market before it closed at six. After that we walked back through the alleys to the square near Chinatown that has become our go-to place to catch random buses. It’s also popular with people wanting rides in old cars providing taxi services, and since the next bus took forever to arrive, I spent some time taking photos of the old cars. I could probably do that all night, and indeed it would probably take some time to understand the area and the pace of activities there well enough to get some really nice shots.

But a bus did finally arrive, and we got dinner at a place right by the stop that featured “beef” hamburgers before we walked back to our place in Vedado.

posted by Poagao at 11:45 am  
Jan 09 2017

Digging the city once again

I didn’t feel like going home today. After lunch at my usual buffet place in Ximending, I walked north, intending to visit the Golden Finger music shop on Zhongxiao West Road to inquire about a new euphonium case (the old one is disintegrating rapidly at this point). I stopped along the way to take some photos of the workers erecting the new bus stop, then went into the train station to get something to drink. On the other side, more workers were putting up another bus stop underneath Civic Blvd. I then circled back down Zhongshan to the Golden Finger.

Which wasn’t there. It’s gone, replaced by a music tutoring place called 0.3 for some reason. They referred me to another shop, and though I could have gone another day, I didn’t feel like going home. I was out in the city with no agenda, and I was feeling happier and more at ease than I’ve felt in a very long time. So I walked along Zhongxiao, over to Huashan, where I wandered among the little shops and theaters, and then sitting in an empty dog park thinking that if I lived on the park, my windows would be open to it.

The shop I’d been referred to turned out to be another tutor shop, but I did find another musical instrument place that said they’d look into seeing if they might be able to get their hands on a baritone case. They also said they might just be able to spruce up my aging Stradivarius. We’ll see. 35 years isn’t that old for a trumpet, is it? I can still remember how it looked brand new.

At this point I headed in the general direction of the Zhongxiao-Xinsheng MRT station, but all the alleys seemed so interesting, I just traversed back and forth, enjoying being in the moment. I wasn’t getting any particularly good shots, I was just feeling as if I needed to keep walking, looking, choosing random corners and alleys at a whim. I stopped in a park for a bit and listened to the kids shouts and their older minders ministrations. I passed what looked like an interesting bookstore, but when I walked in, a woman came up and told me that it would be NT$100 just to enter the place. I repressed the urge to either try and bargain her down or perhaps ask her loudly, “So all of these people (insert sweeping gesture) paid NT$100 just to browse?” No sir, I’m a class act; I just laughed scoffingly and left in a huff.

I was taking photos of scooter riders stopped at the traffic light on Xinsheng and Renai when Chenbl called. “Are you running amok again?” he asked.

“I am. You mad, bro?”

“No.” He knows me pretty well. Just then someone called my name. It was Maurice and Brian, who were walking up Xinsheng. We chatted a bit on our way to the subway stop, but I balked at the entrance…I just couldn’t let the day go. I was too into my state of mind, enjoying the city too much. So I made up an excuse and set out again, circling the alleys, craning my neck to watch the hazy moon appear over the high-rises as apartments began to light up within. Cooking smells began to waft out into the alleys. People getting off work coasted by on bicycles.

And I was getting hungry, and I had to piss, so I gave in to these mortal needs and, after one last lap through the area (Ooh, look, that old Japanese house is now a restaurant. I wonder if it’s any good. But there’s a line, so…), I descended into the subway station and boarded a train heading south.

Back in Bitan, I had some fairly good fried rice and spinach for dinner. Crossing the bridge to the water music show they’re doing in the evenings these days, looking up at my building, the Water Curtain Cave seemed so much more desirable and welcoming than usual. Was it the walking? Or was it whatever feeling led to the walking? I ain’t complaining; I’ll take it. I have no idea what it is, but I needed it.

posted by Poagao at 8:26 pm  
Dec 11 2016

Of Rights and Rambles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

posted by Poagao at 9:39 pm  
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