Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

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  
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  
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