Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

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  
Sep 26 2016

Afternoon at Losheng

I took my photography students to Xinzhuang yesterday, exiting the new-to-me Huilong MRT station and walking up to the Losheng leprosarium. I hadn’t been up there in a couple of years, and it seemed an interesting and suitable place to take a look at. The skies had been cloudy when I set out from Bitan, but the sun was shining as we crossed the footbridge over to the old complex.

Or at least what was left of it. Much as the disease chipped away at the bodies of its residents, various parties have chipped away at the community over the years, destroying invaluable old buildings to make way for an MRT facility. There were large-scale protests a dozen or so years ago, and most of the patients were transferred, some against their will, to a rather soulless new hospital building adjacent to the site.

I told the students a bit about the history and the importance of respecting the residents, and then went back across the bridge to use the bathroom. There I got a call from our class leader, who said that some authorities had shown up insisting that photography in the area was prohibited. I sent Chenbl over to deal with it, and when I finally got back to the community, everyone was walking around, taking photos as normal. “What happened?” I asked Chenbl, but he just shrugged and said whoever it was had gone away.

We walked up to visit some residents we knew from previous visits, old men who live in the old wooden buildings. The baby rabbits we’d seen on our last visit had all been raised and eaten, and we talked about how things had been there recently. Some other students went up to visit the old lady who has a particularly good relationship with the local cats.

As we were talking, mostly in Taiwanese mixed in with some Mandarin, a security guard came over and said we couldn’t photograph. “We’re just visiting friends,” Chenbl replied.

“Ok, but don’t take any photos,” the guard said.

“Why not?”

The guard had no answer. He glared and said, “I’ll tell our leader.” Chenbl shrugged.

“Tell your leader to look me up any time,” he said, showing him our college teacher IDs. The guard grimaced and stalked away.

As it turns out, we found after talking with the residents, that the area has recently become not only a big deal in Pokemon-catching circles, but some young men have apparently been telling their girlfriends that it’s “haunted” and showing them around at night, no doubt arm in arm, “protecting them” from the “ghosts”. I’ve seen the same phenomenon at Bitan, with these vaporous little gollums taking girls up the mountain to the “haunted amusement park” for the same purposes. As a result, the security people have gotten pretty tense about visitors. But it should have been plain to them that we were seeking neither ghosts nor Pokemon.

Our conversation turned to the history of the place. “If those students hadn’t told everyone what was going on,” one of the older men who had lived there for over half a century, said, “they would have torn this entire place down.” They talked about the old days there, including the local band. One of the men had played the trumpet.

“Me too! Do you still have it?” I asked. He said he had two, and went to fetch them. The valves of the first one were frozen from lack of oil, but the second one worked fine. Neither had any kind of branding of any kind. Were they hand-made? The man declined to play the horn himself, telling me to give it a go, so I took it and played “Wang Chun Feng” for them. They loved it, most of them singing along. I wondered how long it had been since they’d had any live music up there. I then played “Dance Age”, which they’d never heard, despite it being a similarly old tune. The horn was actually well-made, with a sweet tone.

We took group pictures and listened to another fellow who had constructed scale replicas of the complex’s buildings in wood. Chenbl is going to make prints, and we’ll take the photos back up there to give them. I was thinking we might even bring some instruments and play a little for them.

We’re looking down the maw of the third major typhoon this summer, which, unlike the previous two storms, is arriving mid-week instead of ruining yet another weekend. Every weekend is chock full these days, between Muddy Basin Rambler shows and photo class activities, without having typhoons throwing a monkey wrench into the works as well.

posted by Poagao at 11:37 am  
Jun 13 2016

SF4

Friday, June 10th
I woke early to a clear sky outside, the sun forcing its way into my room around 7 a.m. Still no wifi, and I was checking out that morning. Downstairs at the donut breakfast, the manager lamented that they were losing all kinds of reservations due to the lack of Internet. What a disaster.

I packed up my one piece of luggage and headed down Market towards the waterfront, checking for wifi along the way. There was one point in between two Starbucks I could manage a short Line conversation with Chenbl, which mostly consisted of “I can’t hear you” and “What?” But I couldn’t linger, as I was heading to Pier 24 again, this time with Don, Gene, Blake, Joe and others.

It’s a nice exhibition, but I was all about that Eggleston…just lovely. Afterwards some of us walked along the waterfront and back up Market; Joe knew of a good Vietnamese place; we were in the mood for pho. Don and Gene graciously stored my luggage in their rental car.

We met Tyler and Skyid on the way up Market; they were making their way down, but as the street was so fabulously lit, there were having trouble justifying their usual flash.

Everyone met up at Turtle Tower, a restaurant where they apparently cannot separate their cilantro from their green onions, resulting my raw beef pho being just meat and broth because I told them no cilantro. It was still good. The Thai-style tea caused a small sensation at our table.

After lunch, we caught a bus out to the inner Richmond to take a look at the Green Apple’s photobook offerings, which were very nice. I could have stayed longer, but Blake was itching to return to the streets, so Joe and I caught an uber to the place he’s staying, which is near the Joe Goode annex. I got the opportunity to meet Icarus, Joe’s famous cat, who was friendly and laid-back, as well as Matt Gomes, whom I’ve known for a while online but had never met in person. This trip is full of that kind of thing, and I love it. I wish I could do more of it.

We headed over to Joe Goode in the evening; they were having some trouble with video, so Don gave his talk on his background first, and then I gave my talk on my Sunflower experiences, and then we did the BME panel, unfortunately lacking Andy and Simon, who had thought they could come but couldn’t because of various extenuating circumstances. Still, I thought it went pretty well. A lot of people came up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed the presentation, which was extremely gratifying.

After another presentation on the drought in California by a very talented young photojournalist, we headed out to the Mexican place again. I had an enormous burrito. I’m not kidding, and neither were they; it was huge. You could knock a man unconscious with that thing. I really don’t know what the hell is up with American portions these days.

Ken Walton, the hard-working organizer of the event, was gracious enough to let me stay at his lovely place near Golden Gate park for the remainder of my stay here, so I left with him instead of going out with the others. It’s just as well; I was exhausted.

posted by Poagao at 1:04 am  
Jun 13 2016

SF 2

Wednesday, June 8th
I spent most of the morning after waking up in my hotel room figuring out over Facebook what everyone else was doing. The Aida’s Hotel Breakfast consists mainly of a big box of donuts from the place across the street, but it’s hard to argue against a big box of donuts from just about anywhere. Fortunately my old-fashioned room has a nice view of the rooftops next door, though the sunrise was hidden by cloud cover. In typical San Francisco fashion, though, the sun had come out by the time I made it out onto Market Street to navigate the crazy homeless people on my way to meet Joe Aguirre down by the cable cars. As I waited, I took photos of a guy hanging colored lanterns in the trees to the monotone tunes of a man playing harmonica.

After Joe arrived, we walked over to a burger joint near the overpass and met Jared Iorio, whom I’ve known online for years but had never met in person. It turns out that this would be kind of a theme with this trip, as it was in London and Paris. Jared had dragged one of his friends and co-workers on a long drive out from LA, and we talked over lunch while workmen jumped up and down from a truck parked outside.

We met up with Jack Simon to go to the Pier 24 show, which had a few interesting pieces. Jared and I gossiped about the Hardcore Street Photography group that he is also an administer of (though he rarely visits these days), and other things.

The Rayko Center, where our BME show was opening, is an old warehouse and apparently a well-known venue in SF. Our show was bigger in scale than I’d imagined, the images almost too numerous. People started trickling in through the afternoon as jet lag began to fog my brain. I nearly fell asleep on the sofa, not exactly the thing you want to see upon entering any venue, but was rescued by a large cup of Pepsi.

All kinds of people showed up, including some I knew, like Richard Bram, and some I hadn’t met before, such as Stephen McLaren. We talked and looked and milled and mingled until late in the evening; it was a great time, and great seeing old friends like Don and Jack, both of whom were accompanied by their wives.

It was after 10 p.m. When we left the Rayko and walked over to a bustling bar. The group got strung out between the traffic lights, but I could tell they were ahead by all the distant flashes from their cameras as photographers dueled with each other. At the bar I ordered a Cuban sandwich that I knew would be good because the menu demanded no changes to the recipe, and I was right. Then it was back to the Aida, only to find that the wifi had gone out. The staff claimed it wasn’t their fault, but a hotel without wifi these days is like a hotel without running water.

posted by Poagao at 12:35 am  
Jan 04 2016

Recent stories

My usual shoe cobbler disappeared some time ago. He was an older fellow with bristly white hair, always smiling as he pounded people’s leather foot coverings back into shape at his stall in an alley off Nanyang Street. He’d been there for decades, as long as I could remember. I brought him hot drinks sometimes in the winter. But then I stopped frequenting the area as much due to an employment change, and the last time I went, he was gone. None of the neighboring shops knew anything about him. “He must have taken ill,” one said, shrugging.

So I went in search of another cobbler to patch up my old Nikes. I know what you’re thinking: Just buy another pair! But when I happen across a pair of comfy shoes, I like to make them last as long as possible, and I’ve found that even cheap sneakers can be made to last a bit longer with some glue and stitching. I recalled seeing a shoe shop next to the old Futai Mansion on Yanping, just south of the North Gate, so there I went. Sure enough, the older fellow was willing to take on the job. We talked about the area as he fixed my shoes, appropriately, on a foot pedal-driven machine.

“We used to live right up there,” he said, pointing towards the intersection of Zhongxiao West and Zhonghua roads. “Right by the railroad tracks.” I nodded. I remember those tracks, and the Chunghwa Market that had been built next to them. Both were gone by the early 1990’s.

“When I picked my lot in the army, I found I’d been sent to an outer island base,” he continued. “Back then, you couldn’t tell anyone you were being sent to one of those places, not even your family. When we set out from Taipei Train Station down south to catch a ship, as luck would have it, there was an accident on the road, and my train stopped right next to my house. I could look out the window and see my family going about their business, but I couldn’t call out to them., even though I wouldn’t see them again for years.” He shook his head at the memory, sighed, and then gave me my shoes. “That’ll be NT$300.”

As I was crossing the bridge on my way home, I spotted a cat prowling around the swan boat docks, looking over the edges into the water for fish. Its orange and white coat was conspicuous among the largely blue hulls, and its striped tail waved to and fro as it snatched perfect balance from thin air even as it leaped across the water in pursuit of a small bird it had no hope of catching. Some small children at the ticket stand on the shore shouted at it, beckoning with loud MEOWs, but it simply stared, shrugged, and moved onto more serious pursuits. We had been dismissed.

Further along the bridge, I took some photos of the makeshift ferries plying the still-muddy waters, carrying debris from the destruction of the lone house on the hillside. “They’re tearing it down because the Forestry Bureau doesn’t need it any more,” said the bridge guard, apparently worried that I was a spy. “It’s an illegal construction now.”

“And those illegal constructions?” I said, pointing to the row of far more accessible and actually dangerous buildings on the hillside just past the bridge, also on national land. The guard waved dismissively.

“Those aren’t our concern. We’re only concerned with national matters,” he said. I just stared, shrugged, and moved on.

posted by Poagao at 3:26 pm  
Sep 05 2015

In Oklahoma

Leslie, her husband Keith and I had breakfast at the Diner before they took me over to the train station. I’d gotten tickets online, which was fortunate, as I don’t think the station technically even needs to be there any more. It’s something more like an art space, and only one woman showed up to tell people trains still stopped there. I didn’t see anywhere one could actually buy a ticket.

A few people were waiting there, including one white guy with a confederate flag on the back of his shirt. The handful of black passengers-to-be ignored him, but I can’t believe they didn’t notice it. Perhaps they’re used to such things, but it put a damper on my mood.

The train arrived right on time, and the conductor scanned people’s tickets before letting us on the train. They’d said we’d need picture ID, but nobody asked me for it. That was just as well, as I’m sure my Taiwanese passport would have resulted in more questions than answers for them. Instead, I got on, stowed my suitcase downstairs, and walked up a flight of steps to the upper level, where there were plenty of big, empty seats, complete with electrical outlets and wifi. I waved at Leslie and Keith as the train departed, blowing its horn in what I’m guessing is an attempt to avoid lawsuits should it hit anyone on the tracks. Few people realize that trains can sneak up on you, but they totally can.

It was a really nice trip, gliding southwards towards and through the Arbuckle Mountains, stopping only a couple of times and not seeing anyone else get on or off the train. Fields, cows, red rivers and stone cliffs, an occasional factory, all flashing by. I love travel by train. I’d like to do more of it. I wish the American people were more into trains, it would be better for many people if they’d just realize it.

My parents were just pulling up to the station when I got off, and they took me to their house. On the way we passed a man in a white pick-up truck who was installing a huge confederate flag on the back of his truck, place, apparently un-ironically, next to the U.S. flag.

Over the next week I got a lot of much-needed rest, as they take a lot of naps and watch whodunnits in the evening on Netflix before turning in at around 9 p.m. Ordinary television has become almost unwatchable in the U.S., full of “news” anchors shouting at viewers about whatever threats are the order of the day, occasionally interrupted by “medical” ads shouting at viewers in a threatening fashion about whatever symptoms will let them sue someone. Scaremongering and appeals to idiocy, mostly; I don’t know how anyone can stand it.

Occasionally, tired of the constant televised haranguing, I would take walks around the neighborhood. One day I decided to walk down to where my grandparents used to live, in the house my grandfather built. I had to walk by the side of the road most of the time, as nobody had bothered building sidewalks. I can see why; nobody there seems to walk anywhere, and anyone who does is viewed with suspicion. Just how much suspicion I quickly found out.

I was used to hearing cars approaching and passing by, many of them slowing down for a better gawk at me as they passed, but as I walking towards a convenience store I heard a car drive up and stop just behind me. I turned around and saw not one, but two police cruisers behind me. One officer was quickly out and calling loudly, “You want to tell me what you’re doing?” I could almost hear the mental …boy? at the end.

I was surprised, to say the least. I knew Americans are paranoid these days, but I never imagined how paranoid, or that it seems to be increasing for no reason. “I’m, uh…walking around?” The policeman approached me and told me they had gotten calls, reports of someone “taking pictures.” I wanted to ask if that was my crime or was it just walking around, but I held my tongue. Too many images of recent police violence were running through my head; it wouldn’t take too much imagination on their part for me to become some foreign-looking insurgent on a surveillance mission or whatever they chose to believe. The cops were both stocky young white men, and another cruiser pulled up almost immediately, this one producing a white woman officer. Three police cruisers and officers, all for little old me. I would have been impressed if it hadn’t been so depressing. I wondered how long they’d been looking for me. An hour?

“You have any ID we can see?” the cop asked. I didn’t; I hadn’t imagined I’d need any, but at the same time I was glad I didn’t think to bring my passport, which surely would have raised entirely too many questions. I did show him my Taiwanese driver’s license, but he just shook his head in incomprehension at the Chinese text and handed it back to me. I could see this wasn’t going well, and told him what I could of my family history in Ardmore, that I was visiting my elderly parents, I wanted to see my grandparents’ house, etc. “So you’re taking pictures?” the cop said, looking at the camera hanging on my side. His blonde hair was in a short crew cut.

“Yeah,” I said, and adding, because I couldn’t resist, “…I like to take pictures…but I’m not from Google Streetview or anything like that.”

Thankfully the cop didn’t take this the wrong way. I’m not entirely sure he even understood what Google Streetview is, or else he would have seen the irony of people reporting someone “taking pictures” in their neighborhood to the police. The police went over and called in the information I’d given them in. Perhaps they were looking up my grandmother. Whatever it was, eventually they came back and told me that, even though I didn’t have a real ID, they weren’t going to arrest me. I had the idea that had my skin been even a shade or two darker, things would have gone very differently; it was a close call as it was.

I walked away before they could change their minds, as the fellow in customs in San Francisco had done, heading towards the convenience store to get out of their line of sight. Once inside, I felt more like a person again, and bought a candy bar to calm my nerves. I kept the wrapper to remind me that, though America is full of open spaces, it is also full of walls, most of them invisible, and far more damaging for it.

I didn’t stray far on my subsequent walks. I guess that’s the idea.

posted by Poagao at 10:29 pm  
Aug 10 2015

Weekend storm

Typhoon Soudelor crossed Taiwan on Saturday. Some were hoping for a day off on Friday, but aside from a bit of wind and rain it wasn’t too bad that day. I bought a big bottle of water as well as some bread, fruit and sandwiches on my way home from work to prepare. The typhoons in recent years, aside from Morakot a few years back, haven’t been much to talk about. Nari also caused a lot of flooding with massive rainfall, but those two storms were particularly damaging due to the length of time they stalled over Taiwan rather than outright fierceness.

Soudelor, however, was projected to pass over the island quickly, and although it was strong, it was supposed to be over quickly, and the central mountain range tends to scrape the bottom from under such systems quickly enough to render them fairly toothless by the time they reach the more populated west coast of the island. I figured we’d get some interesting weather on Saturday and that would be it.

The wind and rain picked up on Friday night, and the storm’s eye made landfall early Saturday morning. The rainfall was impressive, but the wind was truly alarming. Though the Water Curtain Cave is located in a relatively wind-free part of the building, my balcony was still a mess, and my ears were popping when the gusts shook the building. We’re talking about a large, 19-story concrete building, so that’s not a small thing. I went up to the top floor to get a view of the river, which was as high as I’ve seen it in years, but fortunately not threatening to spill over the flood walls or threaten the restaurants on the other side. I spent most of the day finishing up my Vietnam photos and uploading them, but I did venture out in the afternoon. It was still raining, but I knew an umbrella would be useless due to the wind, so I wore my trusty TVBS raingear that has proven to keep my dry in the fiercest of storms.

The wind, I must say, was impressive. I had to duck into the fruit shop to avoid being blown down the street by a particularly strong gust, but I made it over to the bridge, which was not only bucking, as it tends to do in high winds, but actually bending sideways, which I hadn’t really seen it do before. I ventured out onto the bridge for a short time, but the wind was just crazy strong, tree branches were flying around in a manner completely unbecoming for such large pieces of wood, so I retreated.

And the wind did not die down, but kept its intensity as the storm took a slanted path southwest across the island. The Central Mountain Range was apparently slacking off, because Souledor emerged into the Taiwan Strait nearly as strong as it had been when it landed, and then turned promptly north again, as if it missed us and wanted to come back. The wind blew on and on, into the night, hours and hours. We lost electricity for a couple of fractions of seconds, resetting everything in the apartment, but the building’s backup power systems kept everything going for the most part. When I went back out in search of something hot for dinner, I noticed that besides my building and the two other high-rises next to it, the entire area was blacked out. Fortunately the vegetarian place downstairs was open for business.

I went to sleep on Saturday night to the sound of the shrieking wind, but it had died down by Sunday morning, though the weather was still grey. The state of the park downtown where I usually go to practice tai-chi was no doubt unsuitable for practice, so I headed out along the riverside, taking pictures as I went. Just north of the highway bridge, a man in a blue poncho was grabbing tiny fish from underneath a devastated cable TV box, despite warnings from a security guard. Other men fished in the muddy, torrential waters of the river. The paths were covered with mud and dead fish. The dead fish stank, but the aroma of freshly broken foliage was able to overcome most of the stench.

xizhoufloodingI walked northwards to the Xizhou Community, home to many aborigine residents. The upper part of the little village was ok, but the lower part had been completely inundated. Trucks and other earth-moving equipment were digging out metric tons of mud, and stacks of ruined furniture and other things were piled on corners. “Careful walking in the mud!” One of them called to me. I was treading carefully, mindful that the mud could be hiding anything from broken glass to snakes. My sandals made sucking noises as I pulled them out of the ankle-deep muck with each step with an effort, but they held up as I made my way across the village, avoiding the places where the mud was soft enough to really sink into.

The bathtub-ring-like line of detritus on the shores showed clearly how far the water had risen, below which the grass was swept and brown. Older people in ponchos and straw hats combed the banks for things they could salvage. I was becoming very hot and thirsty from trudging through the mud, berating myself for not bringing any water with me.

I passed the failed temple by the highway, blocked up by parked buses, and through another sea of mud to the Yangguang Sports Park, or rather, the large field of mud where the Yangguang Sports Park used to be. Thankfully I was able to buy some water there while I was waiting for an elderly gentleman to wash the mud off his bicycle. I then washed as much of the mud off my feet and sandals as I could before continuing over the pedestrian bridge. Helicopters were flying constantly back and forth from Xindian to Wulai, airlifting supplies to stranded communities there.

As I crossed the bridge, I noticed a man in a yellow shirt with a white bag, from which he was dumping something into the river. He then trudged back towards some puddles along the riverside and bent down, grabbing something from them. I watched him for a while, curious as to what he was doing. Eventually I realized that he was rescuing fish that had been trapped in the puddles during the flooding, putting them in the bag and releasing them back into the river.

rescueThe sight warmed my heart. What a contrast to those supposed “Buddhists” who buy fish and fowl that have been trapped just for that purpose to “release” in order to “do good deeds.” This man, I figured, was the real deal.

On the other side of the river, hardcore cyclists were struggling to push their bikes through the mud. I walked through the neighborhood of Xiao Bitan, circling downed trees that had crushed the occasional parked car. Men with chainsaws were out, reducing each felled tree to a pile of wood stacked neatly on the corner. Shops and restaurants were already back in business. One in particular smelled very good, but the prices on the menu stopped me at the door.

The glass doors to the smoking room outside the Xiao Bitan MRT station had been blown in, but fortunately remained unshattered. I took the subway to Gongguan, where I had a nice lunch at Sababa as I usually do on Sundays. Then I took a bus out to Banqiao to meet Chenbl, who is taking a summer massage course out there. I’ve taken that bus, no. 311, twice, and each time it has impressed me with how reckless and unprofessional the driver has been. Sudden starts and stops, breathtaking acceleration, rapid lane changes, and a refusal, every. single. time. to stop at the stop where I want to get off. No matter when I push the button, the bus just sails on to the next stop. I hate buses in general, give me a train or a boat any day, but the 311 gives me cause to hate them even more.

On my way to the school I took a wrong turn and found myself in a dead-end alley that reminded me not a little of Nocture Alley from Harry Potter. A woman who apparently worked in the area asked me in a rude tone, “Who are you here to see?”

“I’m just looking for a place, not a person,” I replied to her accusing stare.

Chenbl had just gotten out of class, and the assistant teacher gave me a nice head massage as I had the beginnings of a headache, probably from dehydration. Though it was cloudy, the day was hot and muggy. We walked west from the school, crossing though a mean, lonely industrial area, then under an overpass and into an interesting neighborhood around an old restaurant in front of a temple. The place felt friendly and open compared to the sooty darkness under the overpass, where I imagined dwelt all kinds of shady characters, even though rats ran up and down behind the restaurant. Beyond the temple were hillside cemeteries, but we didn’t proceed that way as Chenbl felt dizzy from all the ghosts there.

The sun was setting as we walked by a school, getting directions from some of the students playing basketball there, and then up Minxiang Street to the Global Mall. Which was packed. The day before, 8/8, was supposed to be Father’s Day, but due to the typhoon nobody had gone out. They were now making up for it and how; every restaurant in the place was packed. We managed to find a table in the food court to partake of some mediocre Japanese fare, but my head was throbbing and I just wanted to get home. Fortunately there was a shuttle bus from the mall to Banqiao Station, from which we took the subway back, Chenbl to his home downtown, and me back to Xindian.

posted by Poagao at 12:21 pm  
Jun 30 2015

101ity

I went over to the Page One bookstore in Taipei 101 this afternoon, or rather what’s left of it. When Page One opened in the new mall complex that formed the base of what was then the world’s tallest building, it filled an entire floor with rows upon towering rows of books on every subject, featuring vast literature and fiction sections, a healthy art and photography selection, and the whole place was filled with that wonderful new-book smell. There was a huge Sony Store opposite with all kinds of cool gadgets, and the Jason’s supermarket downstairs was filled with tasty treats from all over the world, including Keebler Fudge Sticks.

Over the years, however, things have changed in the area. More buildings have gone up, mostly luxury apartments no normal person could ever hope to afford. More useful stores, such as electronics outlets and interesting restaurants, gave way to more and more top-end fashion accessory brands. The supermarket was left mostly devoid of Western goodies, settling down into more of a large-ish Wellcome grocery at three times the price. As this happened, Page One closed off one section after another, slowly shrinking until it could only be entered through an exit stairway door.

Now it’s scheduled to close in the near future. Most of the unsold books have been brought to the front of the store, including the children’s book section, which I found kind of sad. The whole thing is kind of sad, not just Page One but the entire area, although Page One seems like an apt metaphor for what’s happened, i.e. money chasing out culture. But I suppose it’s better to build that area up than to simply tear the old parts of the city down, which is happening, but not at the rate it might have had no land been available out at the east edge of the city.

After purchasing, somewhat out of a sense of guilt, a Star Wars notebook, I walked around the area a bit, remembering when it was mostly empty, and how happy I’d been when the Warner Village theaters were built. They’re still there, of course, along with a long series of expensive Mitsukoshi Department Stores. I stopped in the Gogoro Scooter shop and was impressed with the electric scooters dotting the showroom floor, though for me a city scooter is solving a problem that has been solved effectively with the arrival of the MRT and the YouBike system. If I were to buy another two-wheeler, it would an electric motorcycle with enough range to get me into and back out of the mountains for a day or so.

But the area around 101 has become markedly less interesting. The real action is happening, as it seems to always have done, in the alleys of Taipei as young entrepreneurs open up more interesting shops with their own vibe and audience. Perhaps the vacuous culture-suck that surrounds 101 is a useful lightning rod, drawing clueless rich tourists and spoiled rich locals away from places where they could do a lot more harm. The real soul of this city still lies elsewhere.

I took the big movie poster over to the new DV8 the other night. I figure that that is the most suitable place for it, rather than just sitting amid the clutter of the Water Curtain Cave. For one thing, the first scene we shot was at the original DV8, and Gary, who runs the place these days, also acted in the film (in a scene shot at Peshawar, which has long since been torn down). I’d never been to the new DV8, which is now on Fuxing South Road near the rear entrance to NTU, not far from one of my former haunts, actually. I should get a DVD to Gary, I suppose, though Dean said he would work on a Blu-ray version.

In other news, Maoman, Taffy et al are setting up a book party/signing for me on July 18th, a Saturday. They’re looking at Vinyl Decisions, which is near the old Bob’s (My, there are a lot of old/new places in that area). I imagine it will be a small affair, but I’ll post the details either here or on Facebook when I know more. Hopefully the print version will be available on amazon soon; they require a certain amount of time, but it’s been a while, so hopefully by that time it will be up. Currently the print version is available at Camphor Press’s site. If you buy one and somehow randomly encounter me on the street when I’m not in too foul a mood, I’ll probably even agree to sign it for you.

posted by Poagao at 10:51 pm  
May 30 2015

Vietnam 8

wiresHanoi seems to be in the middle of replacing the entirety of its considerable airborne wiring. Every few streets we saw a bevy of repairmen balancing precariously on the black masses of wiring in between poles.

We got a rather later start than we’d intended to, but we were out on the streets by 8 a.m., after a mediocre breakfast downstairs. At first we tried to follow the purple path suggested by the tourist map, but other streets were too tempting. We found one of the old city gates, and some interesting markets once we left the tourist district. Chenbl spent a good 15 minutes chasing chickens in an alley while I photographed scooters piled high with plastic bottles edging through the narrow entrance. Walking north, we passed underneath the railway and, quite thirsty, looked for something to drink. When we approached a coconut stand as we’d done last night quite easily, the woman selling the coconuts demanded that we pay first. This was a bad sign, and we should have left then and there, but we were thirsty. Of course once she had our money, she pulled out her very worst coconut, the one she’d been saving for fools just as us, with a moldy black exterior and exactly one metric mouthful of juice. We should have made a bigger fuss than we did, but again, we were thirsty, and we had no idea that a Lotteria was just around the corner. Heated up with anger rather than cooled down by the coconut juice, we sat and drank lemon juice to cool off.

We spotted another lake nearby, Truc Bach lake, so we walked over to check it out. It turned out to be uninteresting, but the trip did serve one purpose: Chenbl finally found a way to cut his fingernails: He approached a trio of Vietnamese fellows on the bank of the lake and asked if he could borrow their nail clippers. They said ok, Chenbl’s nails were clipped, and we were on our merry way around the small promontory, separated from land by a truly awful canal.

We were wandering around without purpose, and this suited me fine. We passed by the luxurious Army Hotel, with bored Army guards outside, and walked down broad streets to a long park where I nearly fell on my face when I tripped on a fractured curb. I fell on Chenbl instead, who had the presence of mind not to fall over himself.

armyhotelWe walked around a round building in the middle of a roundabout that turned out to be Old, and then over to where the train tracks crossed over the street, following the tracks until we were hungry enough for lunch of beef pho sitting on the street. I haven’t had any pho here so far that hasn’t been  delicious.

We walked south, out of the tourist district completely this time, and our exodus engendered a sense of relief. People seemed like regular people, touts weren’t constantly approaching me, there were actual sidewalks and street crossings, and prices were half of what they were in the old district. It was like returning to civilization. We even saw a traffic accident where the drivers got out, glared at each other, got back into their cars and drove off, both completely ignoring the traffic cop at the intersection, who ignored them right back.

Further south, we came upon another lake, this one looking man-made, probably to cool off the neighborhood. After sitting and resting while a small boy slid down the stairs over and over again, we decided to walk west. Inside a nearby alley, an old barber was striking camp in the light of the sunset as a boy threatened me with a tree branch. Both lived just down the alley, near a small temple on the lake.

We walked to the railway tracks, where we were surprised to see far more people camped out on the tracks than we’d expected. I guess it must be cooler, and they all seem to know the train schedule, but it was still a bit unnerving considering how easily trains can slip up on one. We talked with one young bespectacled fellow who enquired about our cameras. I got his flickr handle so I can look at his work.

Continuing through long alleys punctuated with LED signs and little old shops, my spirits lifted even more. This was actual Vietnam, actual Hanoi. People were friendly and open, traffic moved smoothly. We had some delicious dry beef noodles at some random shop patronized by heavy, shirtless men and one very old woman. In the corner by the TV was a large glass bottle of something straight out of Severus Snape’s pantry.

We continued up the alley, which turned out to be very, very long, but it was interesting and the most fun we’ve had in Hanoi so far. We made attempts to chat with various people along the way, some older men smoking water cigars, some women cutting hair, some construction workers eating dinner, etc. We passed empty lots where the houses had been torn down, and eventually ended up on a major road, where we asked directions back to the old district. Everyone we asked said it was too far to walk, but when we pointed out that we had just walked from there, they just shrugged. Crazy foreigners, I guess. What can you do?

As we made our way back towards the hotel, showers of leaves would occasionally float down from the trees. We had some fresh juice at an intersection, but some air conditioning was in order, so we stopped in at a KFC. Chenbl noted that the chicken there was much thinner than it is in Taiwan. The women in front of us were apparently applying for several foreign visas along with their meal, as they had filled out several forms and provided bank statements with phone confirmations. Then every school in the vicinity let out, and the place was suddenly filled with screaming children. This prompted our escape.

Now we’re back at the hotel, where the broken fridge has been fixed. In order to compensate for this commendable act, neither the TV nor Internet is working, most likely due to the cutting of a few wrong wires today.

posted by Poagao at 10:11 am  
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