We were due in Danshui at around 6 on Saturday for a dancing gig that night, so I spent the day mostly at home before gathering up my instruments and heading out to the coast, hauling my cart. It was supposed to be a “black and white” affair. I didn’t really have any white shirts, so I just wore black: My black baggy worker pants from Osaka. Black T-shirt. Black jacket. Black Indonesian felt hat. Black shoes. Black glasses. At least my socks were white.
Sandman was sitting in the square outside the station, and soon other Ramblers began to turn up. Conor was last, of course. David and Mojo had already gone ahead, so we chose a Wish for a taxi, and were rather surprised when the driver didn’t seem very interested in taking us. It was as if he had just come across the concept of driving a taxi and couldn’t quite come to grips with it. He threw our stuff into the back and took off in a jerky, indignant rush, though we hadn’t said we were in a hurry. When we got to the cruise-ship-like hotel near the wharf, he claimed he couldn’t write a receipt because he didn’t have a pen, and he couldn’t give us change because he didn’t have NT$30 on him. Neither objection was sustained.
The dance club was empty as yet, though a tall Western fellow who was obviously in charge directed us inside to the storage room. We did a sound check and had just settled down to our boxed dinners when he told us that people might see us eating there and we’d better make ourselves scarce.
It was a lindy dance convention, it turned out, and boy do those folks take it seriously. I felt as if I were privy to the inner sanctum of some secret society. Everyone was dressed to the nines, but as the club’s AC didn’t work so well, most people had downgraded to around 6 before long. I was sweating profusely in my felt cap and jacket under the stage lights within minutes of starting our first set. A few songs in, and I had to take off my jacket. Unfortunately, I needed two hands to do this, and I lost my grip on the washtub bass stick, which clattered to the floor, eliciting a comment from David, who was trying to explain the next number to the audience. I threw my jacket to the side, bent down to pick up the stick, and then proceeded to put my foot through the tub.
Well. I’ve had tubs break, crack, or whatever, before, but never have I seen a tub disintegrate with such explosive force. Perhaps it was because it was the only green tub I’d ever bought (I got it in Kaohsiung when I was playing with the Heineken Band in ’09…perhaps five years is a considerable span of time for a tub after all. In any case, splinters of green plastic flew everywhere while the CRUNCH! reverberated through the room. I looked down at the destroyed tub, wondering what the hell I was going to do now.
Fortunately, David had spotted another tub in the club’s bathroom. So, while the rest of the band played something bassless, I “appropriated” it and created a hole with a screwdriver I’d heated with a lighter. Five minutes later we had our new tub.
We played until after midnight, two sets in total. My ears were ringing as the sound, which was good enough, was also very loud, and I was glad to get outside, back to the quiet, non-screaming dancer-filled world. The bus back to Taipei Main Station left around 1:15 after backing over some barriers. Thumper, Sandman and myself were on it. I had no idea what happened to the others; I just wanted my bed. At the station we caught a taxi deeper south, as we all live in the wilds of Xindian. I fell into bed around 3.
Sunday was bright and hot when I came to. Thumper had spent much of the previous evening regaling us with tales of the open road, so I decided the haul out the Crazy Bike, which hasn’t seen the light of day in a while. Of course the tires were flat and the frame coated with dust, but after a trip to the local scooter shop it rode just fine.
I took the riverside path north, thrilled to be out on my bike again on a brilliant, albeit hot day. At some point north of the Xiulang Bridge, however, I began to detect a certain odor coming from the river. Unbidden words came to my head from PDQ Bach’s cantata Iphigenia In Brooklyn:
“And lo, she found herself within a market, and all around her fish were dying; and yet their stench did live on.”
“Dying, and yet in death alive.”
I continued riding, not daring to stop and eat the snack I’d brought, which was, unfortunately, a tuna rice triangle. At one point I spotted a crane and several city workers working to relieve a canal of what seemed like several thousand dead fish. Occasionally they scooped out a bird as well, one of which was actually still alive. I sidled up to some of the workers and said in a conversational tone, “So…lot of dead fish ya got there.”
“Any idea what killed them?” The worker grimaced.
“Weather…could be a reason,” he started.
“Not the only reason!” Another worker called over.
“Chemicals? Factory waste water?” I suggested.
“Can’t help it,” he told me, followed by the usual excuses about making money and this is Taiwan and that’s just the way things are, etc. It was depressing.
When I walked over to the city officials standing a ways off making notes, I asked the same question. “It’s the weather. Recent temperature fluctuations have taken all the oxygen out of the river water,” a woman with a badge told me.
“So, no possibility of chemicals in the water?” I said, eyeing the green sludge six feet away. She shook head.
“Definitely not. We tested.”
So that was that. I continued north, not letting the stench interfere with my happiness at just being on my bike on the riverside again. The paths had developed considerably since my last ride. I could now cross the intersection of the three rivers on a path hung precariously below the traffic bridge. The wind, thanks to an approaching typhoon, nearly blew me off at several points, but it was fun, and I snapped panoramas of the view. Small water buses plied the waters, which is a new and welcome sight. Taipei needs to engage its rivers more, in my opinion.
On the other wide was Sanchong, and instead of traveling up the Erchong Flood plain, I proceeded up the Danshui River on paths I’d never ridden before. It was fascinating. There is a lot of new development there, rows of huge luxury apartments with floor-length windows just waiting to be stacked with boxes and laundry. The new airport MRT line will go through there if it ever gets finished.
The sun was getting low in the sky, so I turned around near a small earth god temple from which issued the sounds of karaoke, and headed back to a water bus port I’d passed on the way there. The water buses, though very limited in scope, are a lot of fun and dirt cheap: NT$15 a trip, including bicycle, and you can use your Easycard. I only wish they had a wharf in Xindian. Fish were jumping out of the river as we headed south again. Was the water in that bad a shape? I wondered. At least it didn’t smell so much now. I Lined Chenbl and showed him the scenery from the boat. Line does not yet feature smells, but I’m sure they’re working on it.
I got off at the Huajiang Wharf and pedaled south, eyeing the flashes of a storm boiling up over the mountains beyond Xindian as I rode. Sure enough, drizzle began to splatter me as I crossed under the Xiulang Bridge. I sped up, as I hadn’t brought rain gear and my only defense against getting soaked was ineffectual cursing. The rain actually felt good after being in the hot sun all day, however. Night had fallen by the time I got back to the Water Curtain Cave, where I partook of a cold shower and a veggie dinner from the shop downstairs.
All in all, a good weekend. Tiring, but good.