Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Feb 19 2018

Vancouver

It has been a day. Even though I spent large parts of the last several days packing in a vain attempt to avoid last-minute panicking, I still managed to only just finish before I had to head out to meet Chenbl and his parents at Taipei Main Station for lunch. After we bid them farewell, we walked over to the airport MRT and boarded the express to Taoyuan. The weather went quickly from brilliant to gloomy as we descended from the heights of Nankan to disembark under Terminal 2, where we found a counter lady who hadn’t heard of her own damn airlines’ contract with the Star Alliance.

Chenbl is a great believer in getting to the airport in plenty of time to spare, so I sat in a movie-themed lounge watching clips from old kung-fu flicks over and over again until I had not only memorized the sequences, but the continuity mistakes.

Eventually we boarded a brand-new 787 bound for Vancouver. I’d never been to Canada before, so this would be a trip with several firsts. The plane was packed, and I had a hard time sleeping in between watching movies and playing with the polarized windows. I’ve been feeling ambivalent about this trip for a while now, and it still hadn’t really sunk in, even though I was looking at snow-covered mountains and fields as we descended.

Regardless of how I felt or didn’t feel about it, we arrived in Vancouver at around noon, and the moment we walked out into the cold wind I thought, hmm, this might be a problem. Really? Canada in the middle of winter, you say?

Shut up.

We took the subway into town and walked to our old hostel, put our stuff down and went out to walk around in the cold. The disappearing light was nice, and we followed it down to the waterfront, where helicopters were taking off and ferries were running across the bay. After the sun set, the temps dived further, and we searched in vain for a public bathroom before finding one such establishment underground in a nearby park. We then escaped the cold for a while in a large cathedral, hiding in the midst of a large Catholic congregation during a Spanish-language church service.

Later we met a longtime online friend of mine, photographer John Goldsmith, at a nice ramen place, and we spent the rest of the night engaged in great conversation. After arriving back at the hostel, however, Chenbl decided he needed a second dinner, which was donair-related and delicious. The weather was bitterly cold, however, the sidewalks in front of the sex shops and pizza parlors and bars was sparsely populated. The remnants of yesterday’s snowfall are everywhere, and even locals are surprised at the coldness of the weather.

The cold’s not so bad as long as indoor spaces are heated, unlike in Taiwan where, if it’s cold, it’s cold everywhere. The hostel’s floors creak and tremble whenever anyone in the building takes a step; I guess I’m sensitive after being used to concrete structures.

I don’t know what we’re going to do tomorrow, except for catch the overnight flight to Havana.

posted by Poagao at 3:48 pm  
Feb 01 2018

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posted by Poagao at 2:29 pm  
Dec 11 2017

Not an easy weekend

Another crazy weekend with this year’s Tiger Mountain Ramble coinciding with cold, wet weather. I headed over to Bobwundaye on Friday night to reunite with our dear friend Steve Gardner for some serious jamming, and we made the acquaintance of another fine musician who came along for the gig: Jett Edwards, also a long-term American ex-pat in Tokyo. Jett plays a mean bass, and has seemingly endless energy in front of a crowd while being quite laid-back in person. Jett, Katrina and I were talking during a break about expats in general, and he mentioned that he’d encountered westerners in Japan who seemed to have “gone native” to the extent that they refused to speak English to him, only stammering confusedly in Japanese when he tried to talk to them. “Would these individuals happen to all be white dudes?” I asked him, and he gave me a knowing look.

“Of course,” he said, adding that in his experience, Black people don’t go native, at least not in that fashion. I was surprised to hear it; I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like that, and though I’ve gone through times when I avoided the company of westerners in general, particularly early on when I was studying Chinese, I’ve never gone to such extremes.

We played several sets, during which the thundering headache I’d had all day gradually subsided, but I felt a cold coming on, so I shared a cab with Cristina and Zach back to Xindian. I really should visit their new abode down there, it sounds very cool. Redman has apparently also secured a mountain lair…somewhere. I suppose he can’t be a very good spy if everyone knows where he lives. Oops, did I say “spy”? I meant “accountant”.

My cold was present and accounted for on Saturday, so I basically slept all day until it was time to head over to Tiger Mountain. I’d left in plenty of time to get there, but for some reason, after I exited Xiangshan Station, I could. not. find. a. cab. Several taxis drove by without stopping. One even stopped for a western couple standing not far away. I wondered if they too were heading to Tiger Mountain, and silently hoped they slipped in the mud and had costly dry-cleaning bills.

When I finally flagged down a cab, I told the driver about my difficulties. “Well, it’s no surprise,” he said, shrugging uncomfortably. “I mean, just look at you, dressed all in black, carrying a staff, standing on the corner there scowling at everyone…you looked like trouble. I wouldn’t blame anyone for electing to skip that fare for their own personal safety.” Well, at least he was honest; and I can’t find the lie.

The Tiger Mountain Ramble, which we’ve played every year since its inception, is always strange for me, centered around an abandoned temple into which some rather shifty local spirits have moved. It would be intimidating enough on its own, but fill it with hundreds of foreign devils, a technicolor stage truck, and several food stalls with rather expensive western foods, and it becomes surreal to say the least. The rain had stopped at least, though the ground will still muddy. I took some artsy mud shots with my phone. As one does.

Our show began after an excruciatingly long soundcheck. The sound people seemed to have little clue what was going on, and we eventually just said screw it, let’s start. Various instruments appeared and disappeared from the mix throughout the show, but the volume was painfully loud on stage. It’s a shame, because we all love playing gigs with our friends from Japan.

My ears and I all needed to rest after that, so I slipped out, luxuriating in the silence of the walk back down the mountain, though part of that silence was probably (hopefully) temporary deafness from the show.

As much as I wanted to rest on Sunday, I had to meet up with my photography students for class in the morning, followed by a trip out to Sanxia in the afternoon. We’d come up with a plan to take a bus from Ximen, and while that might have worked on paper, in practice it was rather trying. Though the light was nice, and there was a lot to shoot both on the bus and outside it along the way, the effort to remain standing on a crowded bus for over two hours as the driver stomped on his gas and brake pedals with the eagerness of a teenage Dance Dance Revolution aficionado was considerable. It was late afternoon by the time we staggered off the bus, and we headed over to the riverside for some peace. A small group of men were cooking under the bridge while another brought up some freshly caught fish for a meal.

We walked towards the main temple, which was packed with Pokemon-seeking zombies, providing a rather surreal foreground to the place, and then headed into the alleys. A few nice places have been built/renovated along the stream there, though a few pitiful remains of once-lovely structures remain. It’s a shame the owners lack the resources to fix them up; they could make a mint if they did so.

We took another bus on a thankfully much-shorter trip to the Shanjia train station, a station I recall from my army days as featuring a nice little stream running through it. The stream has largely covered by the new station, alas, but I did manage to get some photos, Nick Turpin-style, of passengers on the trains at the platform. Felt a little one-sided and fishbarrelesque.

I really would have appreciated a weekend to rest up from my weekend, but that’s just not the way things work, alas. I need to begin to work on our semester-end photobook, which means reviewing hundreds of shots from the past few months, and violin class again tonight has me thinking I probably should have practiced at some point during the week.

posted by Poagao at 12:15 pm  
Dec 04 2017

Exilations

Ideally, yesterday I would have taken full advantage of my day off, getting up early to go practice tai-chi in the park, having lunch with Chenbl’s family, reading photography books at Eslite in the afternoon, dinner with Eddie, our far-rambling pianist, and many other fellow musicians, followed by a late-night jam at Sappho and in bed by midnight.

But I screwed most of it up. I didn’t get out of bed in time to make going to the park for tai-chi practice a viable plan, so I went directly to the restaurant for lunch with Chenbl’s family to celebrate his father’s birthday. The food was delicious; it’s a new place, but we’ve been going to that place at its old location for years, and the cuisine fortunately survived the move. An immaculately dressed wedding engagement party had taken over most of the new place, which is bigger and brighter than the old one, though somewhat less cozy.

After lunch Chenbl and I took a bus over to Eslite’s Xinyi branch, where he went to look at travel books and I sat down and devoured not only Chang Chien-chi’s Jet Lag, but also Koudelka: The Making of Exiles by Michel Frizot. Chang’s latest book paints a rather disconcerting picture of his life in recent years, lugging himself all over the world and hardly sleeping, inflicting a state of fraught hyper-reality to his work, as if the camera was infused with a mixture of caffeine and sleep medicine. It’s not a pleasant read, but it wasn’t meant to be; rather, it’s a hint of his experiences during that time. I realized while reading the text that the last time I met him was during that time, and it goes far in explaining the mood in which I found him at that point.

The Koudelka book was fascinating; I’m going to have to go back and read it again, if not buy it because I’m a cheap bastard and I already have too many books, including, of course, Exiles itself. It goes into mesmerizing detail concerning the photographer’s life and principles, as well as the conflict between him and more mainstream photographers, particularly at Magnum, who took assignments and had more conventional lives. Koudelka is a hero of mine, not just for his photographic work, but just the way he has managed to live his life. A bit of an exile myself in many ways, I could identify with much of what he was trying to describe, and over the years it has actually helped me deal with some of my feelings and issues on the subject.  Or, if not deal, at least appreciate his explorations of this most personal subject. In any case, it’s obvious that he has done a much better job.

The sun set over the city outside the floor-length windows as I read, sitting on the floor with the books on my lap. It was the best I’d felt in a long time, the most engaged, even though I was alone…or possibly because I was alone. I used to go to the original Eslite on Dunhua South Road all the time, staying up until all hours, of after a night on the town in those days of my feckless youth, to just sit and read, cello pieces playing softly on the store speakers. It’s gratifying that, especially after the demise of other bookstores such as the once-wonderful Page One, Eslite not only survives but thrives as a haven for those of us who need to escape for a short time.

 

But I couldn’t linger and read all night; I had to go meet up with the others for dinner near CKS Hall. It was good to see Eddie again, as well as the others. I lied to myself about going home early to get some sleep for work the next day; I might have gone to the jam at Sappho, gotten home at midnight and slept better than I ended up sleeping…or perhaps it would have been the same; in any case, something from the day was flying around, keeping me awake; I only got a few hours of sleep before dawn.

posted by Poagao at 12:31 pm  
Nov 29 2017

Lately

We played a rather strange gig at a university down south a week or so ago. While well-paying, it was odd; the campus buildings were plastered with ads for the institution, in addition to large posters of various white men saying inspirational sayings. The buildings themselves looked rather new, and the campus is located out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by fields. We were in the middle of soundcheck on the outdoor stage when a battalion of gas-powered grass-cutters descended upon the large field in front, which was occupied by dozens of tables and chairs for the dinner that night. Apparently it didn’t occur to them to cut the grass before setting up the tables, chairs and tents. Nor did it occur to them that the noise might interfere in the soundcheck. When we asked them if they could wait a few minutes, they said, “It’s ok, your playing won’t interfere with our mowing, go ahead!”

The Important Older White People they’d invited to the academic conference were not only far fewer than expected, it seemed from the many empty tables and the achingly uneaten buffet (we were served lunchboxes in a backroom), they weren’t terribly into music either. I hoped that the indigenous singing/dancing group they’d hired were getting paid handsomely as well, but I doubted it. Halfway through our show they stopped for a highly orchestrated “flash mob"which was actually a kick-ass breakdancing group.

Though our show might have been a little underappreciated by the intended audience, when we broke out one of our new songs for the next album, “Temple Blues”, the indigenous group and the breakdancers came out and danced together to it. It was the highlight of the entire trip, and we stretched the song out so everyone could enjoy it more.

Then, afterwards, the organizers forgot that they were supposed to call us taxis so that we could get back to Taipei before midnight. We managed anyway.

My photography course is more or less back on track after the Dadaocheng events. Since we’ve been irking the janitorial staff by staying late after the night classes, I’ve decided to move some of the indoor instruction and review of shots to our outside photography days on weekends, and we now meet at Chenbl’s empty office meeting room in the mornings before going out to shoot in the afternoons/evenings. This last time we took the train out to Zhongli, where we then took a bus out to see a nice green mosque and nearby markets, before marching through empty rice fields to a recently refurbished old military village. My friend Josh Ellis buzzed in on his swank new Gogoro2, impressing the hell out of every single cat in the area, and took us to an interesting restaurant in the city. The place was on the second floor; the first floor was full of cobweb-covered antiques, and you’d never guess that there is a restaurant on the second floor. It was quite tasty. Zhongli is an interesting city, and I can understand Josh’s frustration that many in the expat community seem to look down on the place. Their new mayor is apparently a real mover and shaker as well, implementing the nation’s most generous subsidies for electric vehicles for one thing. I’ll have to make some more trips down there, which is even easier now that recently completed airport MRT goes there.

posted by Poagao at 12:19 pm  
Nov 19 2017

Photography never died

Lately the photography sphere has been inundated, not with the gazillions of photos everyone is talking about, but with article after article proclaiming that photography is dead/over/irrelevant/trash.

The questionable assumption here is that it was ever alive in the first place, but what puzzles me most is how this status has been defined. And it is about status in the end, because the reasons given for photography’s untimely (or exceedingly timely, depending on the source) demise are invariably centered around the rise of social media, short attention spans, instant sharing and, inevitably, cat pictures.

Yes, you.

However, in a world where so many photographer bios begin with “I began documenting the meaningful moments of my existence with my iPhone in 2009,” I wonder if some context is missing from this argument. The so-called “life” of photography referred to in these articles arose from the concurrent rise of digital cameras and the Internet in the 2000’s, resulting in an army of technology-minded dudes buying the latest megapixel box they’d seen get a gold star on dpreview so they could make sure every pixel was sharp before Photoshopping the living hell out of it (using the handy Living Hell slider), uploading it to Flickr or 500px and watching the Faves roll in.

Ok, so I’m exaggerating. A bit. Obviously, a few of these people were, and remain, serious photographers with serious work. But the driving force behind this boom, this zombie “life”, was mainly hippishly whitebread men who worked in IT buying rather large cameras and showing their files to each other on rather small screens. Numbers ruled this phase of the game: numbers of faves/likes, numbers of followers, numbers of shots, no matter how awful the photos. One such dude in San Francisco (because of course it was some dude in San Francisco), made his only goal taking a million (completely unremarkable) shots, and he got quite a lot of attention from his considerable fandom.

I can’t remember his name for some reason.

During this time, the dedicated photographers who had been working quietly and being ignored for decades before the boom, continued working quietly and being ignored, though a handful got caught up in the storm and propelled to Internet stardom. Magnum, sitting suddenly up in its comfy chair and remembering its illustrious history, returned belatedly to the fore when they realized that their website needed an upgrade; they began changing their reporting and recruitment styles to suite the “life” of this new reality.  Skateboarding also factored in there somehow, because of course any old thing being subjected to rejuvenation must by law involve skateboarding.

I’ma let you finish, Henri, but…

So for a time, everyone was All About Photography, particularly “street” photography, which is the easiest to practice because it doesn’t require anything in the way of studios, sets, models, lights, conscious thought or, from looking at most of it, talent. Bloggers featured their friends in “The (insert number here)-best photographers RIGHT NOW”-type listicles, some of which became actual books. Publishers pole-vaulted onto this suddenly relevant bandwagon, and groups on Flickr appeared and thrived on the drama of clashes between personalities.

Amid all this, it must be admitted, some photographers did actually get to know about other photographers and enjoy each other’s work. Several collectives emerged from the chaos, e.g. in-Public, Burn My Eye, and Observe. Of course, many others promptly disappeared when they found out that ego clashes are far less entertaining when you’re actually trying to work together in some fashion.

“I’m sick of your excessive use of Photoshop sliders, Larry!”

But then Facebook and Instagram arrived on the scene, along with decent mobile phone cameras. These burgeoning businesses quickly realized that what the vast majority of people wanted out of all this was not actually photography, but rather that short sharp injection of dopamine that came with simply seeing something new. Clicks, but not those of the shutter variety. Eyeballs, but not through viewfinders or at exhibitions. Photography itself didn’t particularly matter to these industries; it never had. It was a means to an end, which inevitably means an end to the means.

Digital camera performance plateaued as manufacturers tried to make them more like mobile phones, cramming things like wifi, video and touchscreens into their machines and then wondering why nobody was buying their larger, heavier boxes. Computational mobile photography came to the fore, the camera boom waned; the party began to lose steam. Video was supposed to take over, but nobody could figure out the fundamental difference between the two media.

In any case, most people discovered they could get all their ego-driven drama needs from Facebook, and all their dopamine hits from Instagram, effectively severing the connection of conversation and photography that had been the accidentally advantageous side-effect of sites like Flickr, where you could do both, but not with the same rabid intensity. Some people tried to lure young would-be photographers into thinking they could “make it big” through competitions that they could only participate in after paying for the honor of consideration by their illustrious jury of people they’d never heard of. But then the world quickly learned that photography, like the cake, was a lie after it was found that many entrants in these contests were the result of applying a bit too much of the “Asshattery slider” in Photoshop.

The relationship between actual photography and social media was fraying; some would-be serious photographers desperate to hold onto these heady days tried spamming all their contacts about Kickstarter campaigns to fund their photo books. Precious few were any good. But then, truly good photo books have always been 1) few and far between and 2) generally ignored by most people.

And then, photography was dead, lying on the metaphorical sidewalk in a pool of its own metaphorical blood. You read it in an article by some famous Internet person with an impressive-sounding name. And then you read it again. And again. Dead. Over. Kaput.

Help! I’ve fallen out of favor with trendsetting demographics!

But what died, exactly? The techie crowd had become bored with these particular machines, moving on to newer, shinier gadgets, and young people, like most young people, just wanted to hook up. Nothing wrong with either, and certainly nothing new. The dedicated photographers who had been working quietly and being ignored likewise continued in this fashion, and will keep doing so even while everyone else is using brain implants to beam live VR experiences featuring their cats.

Yay?

In short, the “death of photography” these articles lament is actually the loss of the veneer of popularity photography momentarily enjoyed when it was caught up in the perfect storm of technological progress and social media. The three were conflated so closely for a time that most people assumed that, when the latter two moved on, photography would be rendered meaningless. But that is a false narrative; the essence of photography hasn’t changed; it has always been, at its core, a small, largely ignored niche. Not something for everyone, nor the grand new universal language once promised to us. Photography’s unique and quirky nature of stopping time and conveying complex emotion in one small frame was one of the things that drew me to it when I was growing up, and it occurs to me that perhaps we should just let it be what it actually is, without all the trappings, the bells and whistles of social trends.

Put your glasses back on, photography. Lose the makeover. Put on those comfortable shoes. And welcome back.

Photography is dead? Good. Long live photography.

posted by Poagao at 12:38 pm  
Oct 24 2017

An extremely busy month

The second and final symposium of the Dadaocheng photography event was last Saturday, bringing to close the main events of this month. It has been a whirlwind of activity, with Chenbl and I arranging a three-gallery exhibition, a three-day international workshop with Burn My Eye, and the two symposiums, of course with the help of several dedicated student volunteers. I had no time for anything else, missing several shows with the Muddy Basin Ramblers as well as all my violin classes. My own community college photography classes were also put on hold, and I had to take some time off from work. I even neglected to visit my friends at the aborigine protest site as well as other friends I should have visited.

So how did it all go? In a word, swimmingly, with only a few snags. After wrestling with some rather non-professional printers in the run-up to the exhibition, we finally found a guy who did a great job for not a lot of money. He was very helpful as well, showing up and helping us hang the prints. The exhibition opening on the 1st was great; the venue was packed, and we enjoyed a few nice speeches before leading everyone to the second gallery and ending up at the third one, the BME exhibit at Le Zinc, in time for a nice evening get-together. Our exhibition space was later enriched by the presence of a sound art piece overseen by David Chen, made by Nigel Brown, Alice Chang and Yannick Dauby, providing a lovely audio experience to match the photos of the area. If, like me, you’re into ASMR, it’s even more interesting to listen to.

Next up was our workshop: I’d been a little worried about this because I’d never run such a large, international workshop before. Fortunately, fellow BME member Andy Kochanowski flew out early, arriving on the evening of the 3rd to get the lay of the land, and we spent hours walking around the area and mapping out a general direction for the various parts of the workshop over the next several days. Our other BME instructor, Junku Nishimura, flew in from Japan at noon on the 6th, followed by Rammy Narula from Thailand that evening, and we all got together for hotpot in Ximending that night. Both Andy and Junku were rocking film, Andy with his rare black Contax and Junku with his Leica M6, while Rammy sported the new M10. My old Sony, dinged and banged up so that it’s largely held together with duct tape at this point, definitely felt a little ragged in that crowd.

The workshop itself was a blast. I’d been praying for good weather, and we were fortunate to see all kinds of weather and light over the course of three days, from bright sunlight to misty rain to windy, almost typhoon-like conditions. The students were also able to see four very different styles of street photography between us, and though a little subdued in class as most Taiwanese students tend to be, were quite enthusiastic. We also had students from the U.S., Canada and Scotland, so it was quite an interesting mix of styles and commentary. Andy tended to do the most talking in the classroom, preferring to send students out on missions for outside work, whereas Rammy was a bit more hands-on outside. Junku was always around and offering advice, but he has always been a little shy, unless he is currently drinking you under the table at a karaoke bar. I was dividing my time between running the workshop, making sure no one got lost (in a bad way), watching students shoot and offering my opinions and suggestions when I felt it was necessary. After three days, we were happy to see impressive improvement from all of the students, and everyone seemed to have a great time. It was a great experience, and has made me more interested in doing more workshops in the future. A good third to half of BME’s current membership was actually involved in workshops in October, not just in Taipei but in Brussels and Barcelona as well.

The first of our symposiums was a talk by my friend Chang Liang-I, a longtime photojournalist, and the second was by another friend of mine, Ethan Chiang, who runs a popular street photography blog. Both were well-attended and full of useful advice and insights. Members of the audience had many questions, and the back-and-forth was fascinating at both gatherings.

So I count this event a great success, one that has hopefully raised awareness and appreciation for the idea and practices of street photography as well as photography in general in Taiwan, both on the part of the students as well as the instructors who were able to sample photography on the streets of this town I call home.

One thing I can’t stress enough is that I couldn’t have done all of this without the help of Chenbl and my student volunteers. Even after all of this, Chenbl went straight to another event with his company, with no break in between. I don’t know how he does it; that man is incredible. You can tell this from the fortitude with which he faced a snail crawling up his leg during the workshop, as photographed by Andy.

For myself, I’ve been taking it slow these few days; the weather seems to have decided it’s time for us all to wrap up and go inside, and the recent death of a friend has given these days a more serious tone as well. Our lives go on, in any case, until they don’t. But that’s all the more reason to do what we can while we’re here.

So here’s to the next thing: May it go well.

 

posted by Poagao at 12:59 pm  
Aug 20 2017

Weekend dichotomy

Saturday was spent sitting in a cafe by the window brainstorming on ideas for the upcoming semester’s photography class. Despite my best efforts, the number of students continues to grow, and it’s becoming more difficult to find ways to give each and every student the time and attention they deserve, but I think we can handle it. Chenbl is an excellent organizer, for one thing, and he also tends to remind me of things I’ve overlooked. It was a productive but somewhat frustrating day in any case.

Today, Sunday, I got up and took the MRT to the NTU Hospital Station (you know, the one in 2/28 Park that is not named 2/28 Park Station but after a hospital that is a block away thanks to the law that metro stations must if at all possible incorporate any nearby hospital in its name) to practice tai-chi. I’ve been making an effort to get back into shape, and in addition to picking up badminton again, I’ve been resuming my efforts to practice tai-chi and tuishou with Little Qin and my other old tai-chi brothers. Today I grappled with UPS Guy, whom you may recall from the days of yore in my tai-chi blog (which I will not be updating because I plan to redo the website and incorporate all my blogs into one gigantic mess for your further reading confusion). All things considered, including near 100-degree heat, I did pretty well. He still has a tendency to move too quickly and get ahead of himself, something I tried (and mostly failed) to take advantage of by taking his movement and encouraging him to go too far. After that I pushed with Little Qin, who, being somewhat less portly than he used to be, is easier to grab as he now has angles, kind of. I also enjoy talking politics with  Little Qin and getting his take on the events of the day. I still miss studying with Teacher X, though.

My friends at the indigenous protest were planning an afternoon of concerts and other activities, so I helped them set things up before hauling my instruments over to CKS Hall for a quick bite at Mos Burger. Even though I was nearly 45 minutes early, I found Thumper sitting in the sun. It was good I arrived early, my food took long enough to make me late to our 2:30 start time, but we’re nearly always late so it didn’t really matter. Sylvain was there apparently to steal all of my solos (I kid, I kid…I get paid the same no matter how many solos I have). We went through some old songs in the runup to next weekend’s Jazz Festival gig. Between songs I got Cristina to give me a few hints about my violin homework.

After practice, while the others talked about going to get pizza, I hauled my stuff back to the park, where the concert was in full swing. I walked around listening to the music and taking a few photos, feeling quietly happy and at ease as I tend to do in that crowd. I walked through the park, past the old temple that was playing recorded temple music to a swastika-adorned ghost money boat, and over to what I think of as the Protest MosBurger, as I tend to end up eating there while attending protests, before returning to the concert. They did actually serve food there, but I don’t like to take from them at all if I can help it.

The last act was an electric guitar/bongo drum  duo that rocked, but I had to leave. Work tomorrow, as well as violin class and more preparing not only for my class but the upcoming workshop and other photo events for the Dadaocheng Arts Festival. Back to it, in other words. But it was a nice Sunday away.

posted by Poagao at 10:51 pm  
Jul 10 2017

The rude restaurant is gone.

Over the last few years when I have business in Neihu in the afternoon, I’ve gotten into the habit of taking the metro to the end of the Green Line at Songshan Train Station. Before I hop on a bus on out to Neihu from there, I usually have lunch at Songshan, usually at the Doutor restaurant in the first-floor mall there.

Doutor, you might know, is a large chain, so why would I go to that particular one again and again? I can tell you it wasn’t because of the service. The woman behind the counter seemed to be actively trying to keep me from eating there. One day I’d be told that the sandwich I’d become accustomed to having would take half an hour to make (It never took that long in reality), and the next day the sandwich was “sold out.” Then it wasn’t on the menu any more, so I switched to another sandwich. Every time I walked in I swear the woman was trying not to roll her eyes at my appearance. Her “Can I help you?” was always uttered in the same tone as “You again?”

At one point not long ago I had misplaced my Kindle, and thought I might have left it there.  When I asked them about it, I was told, “Can’t you see we’re busy?” I found the Kindle elsewhere, but damn.

So why did I keep going there? It was, odd service experiences aside, a comfy little cafe with a nice view of the people walking by inside the mall and out on the sidewalk. The food was always fresh and good, especially the bread, and I was addicted to the sour salad dressing they used there.

But when I walked through the mall the afternoon, it was gone. In its place, under the large Doutor sign, was a huge billboard reading “Coming soon – Tomod’s Pharmacy.”

Though there’s plenty of other restaurants in the area, I’m going to miss that place, rudeness and all.

posted by Poagao at 3:40 pm  
Jun 27 2017

Distances

Panai, Nabu and Mayaw were planning a special “119” concert on the 119th day of their protest, and they invited me and David Chen to participate. Day 119 (“119” is the emergency number in Taiwan, just as “911” is in the U.S.) was a Wednesday, so I brought my trumpet to work in my gig bag, and waded through the sweltering heat of the day to the park, where they were setting up the performance space in the square in front of the 2/28 Museum. One by one, the groups did soundchecks in the reverse order of the performances. David and I came up with a couple of suitable songs for guitar and trumpet, one slow and one faster. Well, David did, I just listened and played where I thought I could add something.

People showed up to the square as the park fell into night. The performances ran the gamut from traditional indigenous nose flute to classical violin. There was even a smoke machine.

Mayaw was last before we had to leave the square. The show had to end before 10 p.m., and the remnants of the crowd flowed back to the metro exit protest site, where I saw Thomas Hu and Ah-zhi, the accordionist I played with back in ’09 when we toured Taiwan with the Heineken beer band. Panai and Nabu sang; it is always a joy to hear them sing, Nabu standing with his cane, at once chanting, singing, shouting, as Panai sits by his side, singing like the mother of our dreams. They’re strong people, but it’s hard to see how little attention their efforts are getting, especially by an administration that has professed to have their interests at heart.

The next Saturday I led a group of my students on a photowalk around Qingtian Street. Chenbl was busy with work, so I had to assume some of his duties, but it went well despite the heat. I used to live in that area back in my free days, back when I started this blog in fact. I’d thought I was struggling then, but it wasn’t real struggling. I’d find that out later. So much time has passed that I end up reminiscing about reminiscing, and that gets old fast. Now I make mental notes as I go, but don’t dwell on it. It’s just too much.

After we cooled off at the traditional iced fruit shop across from the NTU campus, I walked over to the Treasure Hill community with the remainder of the students to view the display of the remains of the Kategelan Village there. People had gone out to the empty, open lot out in Neihu where the police had dumped all of the people’s belongings and recovered most of the art, and made it into a display at the foot of Treasure Hill along with a wall of photos. I found one of my photos and one of the rocks I painted, though badly chipped from its journey.

I took the students around the area, noting where we had filmed our movie there so many years ago, how it’s now all art spaces. Again, meta-reminiscing. After the students left, tired from the day, I waited until all the protesters had left as well, and sat quietly staring at the space and remembering the village as it had been. It seemed appropriate.

I was walking back out towards Gongguan when I spotted Mayaw and some others waiting for their car to be liberated from the temple parking lot. I had planned to go home, but they invited me to the bakalan, a kind of celebration of accomplishment, at the metro station protest site, so I tagged along with them to find tables of food, people singing, playing guitars, people dancing, people playing badminton. I played a couple of sets. Panai was asking everyone, “Can you play badminton? I mean, are you any good?” Because she is actually very good. It’s been years since I’ve played, but I enjoyed it. Damn, I really need to get back into some kind of shape.

The gathering was comforting in a way I’d all but forgotten. There’s been so much distance in my life lately, it was nice to get close to something for a change.

But I had petty things to do. Always, the petty things.

posted by Poagao at 11:33 am  
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