Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Aug 25 2014

Enter Title Here

My weekend was spent turning the Water Curtain Cave upside-down in search of the warranty for my washing machine, which refused to surrender my clothes the last time I washed anything. I suspect it also hid the warranty, as I can almost hear it chuckling out there on the balcony. However, though there is as yet no sign of that particular document, I did managed to go through a bunch of other stuff, and threw out three large garbage bags of various things I didn’t need. This is one of the perils of buying a place and living in it for a long time without moving; stuff builds up, and without moving there’s no reason to get rid of it. But I need to. I’d also like to get rid of a bunch of clothes and books. My DVD collection will go when I can put them all on a thumb drive, which, according to Moore’s Law, will be possible around *looks at watch* Thursday.  My old PC needs to be donated for parts, and even my “new” iMac is getting a bit long in the tooth at the ripe old age of five. It still works, but very slowly, and my view is mostly occupied by the swirling rainbow.

Being back at my old office is still rather surreal. People, staff members who remember me from Back in The Day hail me in the hallways, which is awkward as I’m terrible with names. And faces. And, well, people. Which is unfortunate because I’m working with people; my boss is only a couple of cubicles away, so I’m really going to have to cut down on the LARPing. Instead of the old clunky PC I used for roughly a decade, I’m now using an old clunky laptop with a yellow screen. I tell myself that this will help my eyesight, but my eyes are having none of it. Luckily my cubicle wall only covers half the window next to me, so I can see a bit of sky outside through the blinds.

In other news, the Xingtian Temple, one of Taipei’s most venerated temples, is going green; no more incense, no more tables full of awful junk food meant as offerings. And right in the middle of Ghost Month, too! Personally I think ghost money burning is far worse a problem than incense, but it’s a step in the right direction. Hopefully the trend will catch on.

Theoretically I should be planning my trip to Tokyo next week. Chenbl has been urging me to have a detail plan, hour-by-hour, with subway charges and meals all planned out. He says this because that is the only way he ever travels, and is horrified when he hears that I basically just show up in whatever city and wing it. This time, I’d like to meet some old friends, and possibly with some publishers, but other than that, I don’t really know.

 

I’m not really sure where I’m going lately, with photography, writing, filmmaking, etc. Mostly because I can finish projects but am allergic to self promotion, so things are done and then just…lie there. But when I look back at my earlier entries, I feel like I’ve really slacked off lately. It would be easy to blame certain other parties for this, but I really should take the responsibility myself, and try to live in a way that is at least worth blogging (and that’s a low bar if I ever saw one), and making my own mistakes, because embarrassing failures are much more interesting to read about than surrogate success.

posted by Poagao at 2:19 pm  
Aug 18 2014

School concert

The concert, such as it was, went ok, I guess. Managing to miss the downpours, I arrived at the school at around 4pm on Saturday so that I could video Chenbl’s flute group, which turned out to be larger than I’d anticipated. I was forced to set up the camera further back to get all 17 of them in, as they were spread across the “stage”. This, however, didn’t work out so well in the actual performance department, as nobody could hear anyone else, and the sound guy was a bit touchy whenever anyone point out any flaw in his microphone arrangement. “If you don’t like it, why are you playing here?” he asked.

Our trio was later, so we went to the basement to practice a bit, and Chenbl’s niece showed up to help video us later. They laughed at me sliding around the room in my socks while the others practiced. It was muggy and hot outside, and I was surprised so many people showed up. It seemed most of them were local elderly folks who lived nearby and had no choice but to witness the cacophony, and they figured they might as well do it right. Kudos for that, anyway.

I set up the camera in the area in front of the stage, and after watching Chenbl try to keep his sheet music from flying off his stand by using an elbow, I dashed in for the third song, “Summertime”. The people seemed to like it. Afterwards we had dinner at a nearby Japanese joint with Chenbl’s parents joining us. Chenbl’s mother grilled the waitress on her braces, while Chenbl asked me if he’s finally ready for the big time, by which he meant playing charity gigs, and I said, “not quite”. It’s impressive what he’s managed to learn in such a short time, but he still has a long way to go.

That was Saturday. On Sunday I spent most of the day at home putting some final touches on a couple of photo books I’ve been working on, so that I can get some samples printed for people both here and in Japan. Re-thinking the sequencing to conform to some concrete ideas and themes rather than going purely by feeling alone seemed to help. Also helpful was reading and looking at a book I borrowed from my friend Brian WebbTales of Tono by Daido Moriyama, the text of which seemed to have been written by a long-lost twin, especially the parts where Moriyama expresses his joy at setting out for the hinterlands after a long period of stewing in Tokyo. In the meantime, my book has five reviews on amazon.com now, mostly positive. I haven’t asked anyone to review it, or promised free copies or anything. I’m sure my lack of SEO awareness is not a good thing in this case, but perhaps things will be different when the print version comes out.

Dinner was at Evan’s Burger on Dunhua. I’d never been there, so I dragged Chenbl there to give it a try, for which he got revenge by telling me things like, “You can’t help but like the food you ate before you were 19. You will only like that food more and more as you get older. It’s biology.” This was his way of saying he doesn’t like hamburgers. He had fish and chips.

posted by Poagao at 12:20 am  
Aug 15 2014

Return

I’ve been looking back at some of my older entries, and I have to admit I’m rather shocked at how much I wrote back in the day. And when I say “back in the day,” I mean before around 2008. After that, I mostly spent my time tooling around on Facebook, etc. and feeling sorry for myself.

But Facebook isn’t terribly good at looking back, and it feels a little cheap and mean. I kind of miss babbling on about my day on here, just me and maybe a couple of readers. They say blogging’s dead, but my keyboard still works. So here goes:

So my job is moving again. I’ve spent the last couple of years at a particular office that reminds me of an old, slightly seedy hotel that was once grand. Chipped wooden doors, musty old carpets, formerly high ceilings now covered with tiles, tarnished brass fittings, faded lacquer…that kind of thing. I’ve enjoyed it, as my friend Guo-xi is in the next cubicle, and it’s fun to chat about stuff sometimes. Also, we’re on the first floor, and there are nice things like trees and birds just outside the tall, barred windows. There are also not-so-nice things, like when the cleaners brush up all the dust in the carpets, or another co-worker’s daily fight with the printer.

But now we’re moving back to our former digs, more or less. In fact, everyone who’s going has already gone. I’m the only one left, because my computer, an ancient PC dating from the Bush years if carbon tests can be believed, isn’t going with me. Who knows what awaits me there? I’ve been in this position for over ten years now, so perhaps a little variety wouldn’t hurt. Fortunately there is lots of wood around here to knock on as I say this.

In addition to becoming tired of Facebook, I’m also getting a little tired of Flickr. I’ve administered HCSP for years now, and I have to admit I’m somewhat frustrated with the whole thing. It’s repetitive, dealing with wave after wave of people coming in to knock down some Aged Pillar of the Street Photography they’ve imagined is Blocking Progress by Not Recognizing Their Genius or something. It’s just a flickr group, after all, and to be honest I was never actually solid in my commitment to street photography, which I personally think is not even a real thing, or shouldn’t be, as all of the definitions of it that mean anything describe what it’s not. It’s mostly become an excuse for bad photography for the great majority of its practitioners.

In any case, I’ve made most of my photos private, and I’ve parred down the groups I belong to as well. Too often I feel, in the context of “real” photographers I encounter there and on FB, that I am just faking it. I’m not really a photographer, because I can’t bring myself to be interested in most of what they’re talking about. I enjoy good photography. I enjoy the emotions I have when I see good photography, and I enjoy taking photos. That’s about it. Everything else just seems…extraneous lately.

Or perhaps I’m just tired; it’s just been a long, hot, muggy summer full of record temperatures and seemingly frequent disasters, including plane crashes and exploding cities. I need a break. Fortunately, I will be doing just that at the end of this month, embarking on a trip to Tokyo for a week. Why, you ask? To be in Tokyo for a week. To do what? To be in Tokyo. That’s it. Oh, I’ll walk around, and perhaps take a photo or two if I see anything, but mostly just to see what it’s like in warm weather. Oh, and I also plan to meet some people I know there, such as my old film school classmate Yas, my friend Louis, and some other friends I met who are in the publishing business there, and possibly Daido Moriyama, if he’s around and up for it. I wish my attempts to pick up some Japanese had stuck, alas.

I’m also going to Paris in November, but that will be more business stuff, because we’ve been invited to exhibit at Paris Photo. We’ve also been invited to the MAP festival in Toulouse as well as the Brighton Biennial, but I only have so much time off, so Paris it is. Also, Chenbl and Ewan are tagging along, so it’s probably going to be a crazy ride full of touristy travails a la our last trip to Osaka. Also, it will be cold.

The Ramblers are once again on the scene after David came back from his six-month-long journey around the world, so we’ve been busy with shows lately. It’s good to get back into that scene; I was getting a little tired of just playing along to Spotify playlists at home, worrying that my neighbors would complain. In fact, Chenbl’s been inspired to take up not only the flute but also violin, and I’ll be accompanying him and a fellow student this weekend for one of their student concerts. The venue is a horribly echo-ey school atrium area, and it’s bound to be both swelteringly hot and cacophonous, but, well, it’s just another one of those things I never talked about. Until now.

posted by Poagao at 4:57 pm  
Jul 02 2014

Yeh Ching-fang

Lately I’ve been spending my afternoon breaks over at the Futai Mansion near the North Gate, looking at all of the photography books on display there before the exhibition ends at the end of July. It’s an impressive collection, larger than I’ve found at bookstores here or at the library. There are chairs to sit in, and it’s usually quiet with only the occasional passerby glancing in. Typically I can get through a book a day, though some of the more interesting ones have taken a couple of days to really appreciate. Others I get through very quickly, for reasons I will explain below.

I’ve found is that there is no relationship between the quality and size of the books to the quality of the images within. Large, well-bound tomes with hundreds of large prints contain the most dreadfully boring photos, while coming across truly interesting Taiwanese photography seems to be a matter of chancing upon a small mention of someone in a random collection, with smaller, poorly edited selections that require the reader to seek other mentions in other books, which is often in vain.

Photography in Taiwan seem to have more or less always been stuck in such a rut, leaving anyone seeking to develop outside the Confucian system of “master photographers” out in the cold, unsupported and all-too-often foundering without any objective reviews or guidance from the community. The only commentary one could level at the “masters” was praise if you wanted to get anywhere, and anyone else wasn’t worth the time to even denigrate; ignoring them completely was a far more destructive weapon. Ironically, Taiwan itself would come to be largely ignored by the rest of the world due to political concerns.

The deleterious effects of this “system” are obvious in looking at the work being celebrated up until the 1990′s or so. For a long time, any photography was good photography, simply because a camera cost as much as a house, to nothing of film and developing costs, and photography was therefore even more rare and precious than it was in Western nations at the time. Of the renowned “Three Musketeers” of old, namely Chang Tsai, Deng Nan-guang and Lee Ming-tiao, only Lee, the longest-surviving of the three, had a solid sense of composition and emotion, while the others were more or less famous for their resistance to the attraction of the “salon” school of studio photography that was the rage at the time rather than the quality of their work. One of the most promising photographers of the 60′s, Huang Po-chi, virtually gave up photography to concentrate on his job as a doctor. It makes me wonder how many other photographers gave up their dreams in the face of such barriers over the decades.

A wave of “new school” photographers came on the scene following the lifting of martial law, coinciding, as it happens, with my arrival on our fair island, but the quality of their work was erratic and often either abstract for abstraction’s sake or poor shadows of documentary. There was seemingly no way of reviewing their own work. One particularly revealing collection I examined contained the works of Liu Chen-hsiang, Lian Hui-lin, Yeh Ching-fang, Hou Tsung-hui, Kao Chung-li, Chien Yong-pin, Pan Hsiao-hsia, Liang Cheng-chu and, of course, Chang Chao-tang. I know some of these photographers, but there was one photographer in the bunch whose work stuck out, and that was Yeh Ching-fang. His photos are not only well-composed, they aren’t boring. He was able to capture the essence and gravitas of everyday scenes with elegance and emotion. He didn’t seem to be photographing out of a sense of obligation, just because he could, but because he saw differently, he saw well.

It’s a shame that Yeh Ching-fang led such a destructive lifestyle that eventually killed him in 2005, because he is the best Taiwanese photographer I have ever come across.

I scoured the collection for more of Yeh’s work, but aside from a couple of small books there was precious little of it, though large volumes had been dedicated to someone’s mediocre snaps, or cows, or orchids, or whatever. One would think that the situation would be different today, and had Yeh lived, his work would now be recognized and supported by the outside world via the Internet, and he might have been able to reveal Taiwan and our society to the world.

posted by Poagao at 5:01 pm  
Jun 24 2014

Quarter

This anniversary felt different than the one just five years ago. The weather’s different, for one thing; it was grey and moody when I got out of the office around six, cooler and wetter than that hot summer night so long ago. I walked through the park to Chongqing South Road as the sun peeked out from under the clouds, illuminating the traffic on Zhongxiao West Road, before it sank into the hills of Linkou to the west of the city.

I felt time as a cycle, somehow, and that everything had come full circle. “I’ll be arriving by bus from CKS at around 7:30,” I thought to myself as the city darkened, the neon lights springing to life. This, I felt, was the city before my arrival that day, a perfectly normal day. A work day.

I strolled over to where Zhang Cai had had his photography studio, back in the day. He’d still been alive when I arrived. Li Ming-diao as well. So many people…but I couldn’t go down that alley. The city was dark; it started to rain. I walked back to Chongqing, now the site of a massive construction site, to roughly where I’d gotten off the bus. I’d been encumbered with two heavy suitcases. Dr. Hill had led Boogie and me off towards Zhongxiao, up and down the now-absent pedestrian bridges. I followed our original route more or less, and the scenery that I see almost every day was transposed on a thin film bridging the decades. Here, on this corner, we’d stopped for some reason. I’d forgotten that until today. What was it? Boogie was lagging behind, I seem to recall…we waited for him to catch up. It was my first sight of Taiwan, really. The sights, sounds, smells, right on that corner while we waited.

I went to the Y, where we’d stayed, took the elevator up to room 507. The sound of the TV came from inside. Had I arrived yet? I guessed I had. I couldn’t knock, of course. Instead, I put my hand on the doorknob, and then took the elevator back down to the lobby.

The past stayed with me, though I’d meant to leave them at the hotel. It followed me to the Japanese ramen place nearby, to the park, even on the subway, which hadn’t existed back then. Only when I crossed the bridge at Bitan did I retake my place in the present. That bridge has always been powerful, and I needed it tonight.

posted by Poagao at 11:48 pm  
May 29 2014

Tense subway

About a week ago, a college student stabbed a bunch of people on the MRT, killing four and injuring 21. He managed to kill the people he attacked first, as they were asleep and had no time to react, but fortunately once people were onto him the fatalities were at an end. Still, scary stuff. Aside from hating the guy for being a murderer, I have to admit I also hate him for screwing with the MRT, which I have always liked a lot, kind of in the same way that I also hated the 9/11 terrorists for adding those connotations to such a wonderful thing as air travel.

The atmosphere in the trains has changed: People are more alert. Fewer sleep. Fewer have headphones on. For the first few days after the attack, the trains were nearly silent, especially as the trains entered a tunnel under a river, for that was where the killer chose to begin his attack, as that gave him the most time between stops. He also wore a red shirt, most likely in order to hide the inevitable blood stains that would alert others to his activities (as if holding a couple of knives didn’t clue people in). Any kind of exclamation or unusual noise would get everyone looking instantly at its source. The media, of course, went insane. That’s what the media here does. The parents of the killer were hounded by the press so much that the mayor of Xinbei City told them to cut it out. Priests were called in to exorcize the train cars. Mountains of flowers piled up outside the station where the train stopped and the killer was caught.

Slowly, things are returning to normal as reports of “copycats” subside. For a while SWAT teams roamed the subways with semi-automatic weapons at their sides. Now, ordinary police officers have replaced them, and substitute national servicemen will most likely follow. People are beginning to sleep in their seats again, wear headphones, talk, etc.

Still, reinforced umbrellas have been selling like hotcakes in  recent days, and self-defense courses are suddenly popular. It was inevitable that something would happen on the MRT eventually, given its popularity and the number of people who take it every day; it’s a shame it had to be this, but Taipei is a big city, with a big heart, and hopefully this terrible incident won’t change that.

posted by Poagao at 5:13 pm  
May 11 2014

Hangzhou final

There was an interesting design choice at the gallery: The gate to the area folded in at the bottom, and people would periodically trip over it. Nobody threatened to sue or even really complained about it; they just took it for granted that something like that would happen.

It was foggy on the morning of our departure. The driver of our car to the airport explained the various rules of the road, including how different license plate numbered cars are allowed on the roads on different days. That might explain why every single taxi driver I’ve seen here has a face different from their own on the car’s license on the dashboard, but apparently taxis are exempt from the license-plate rules. So it must be something else.

We got to the airport in plenty of time despite having to leave the airport expressway for a large portion of the journey. It had simply been closed off for no particular reason that anyone knew; grass grew wild on the empty parts. Similarly, our plane took a surprisingly roundabout route to and from Taiwan, making a huge “S” out into the ocean and then back down, almost the way it came, to Taiwan. It did the same thing on the way to Hangzhou. It must have cost us at least double the time and fuel, so perhaps “direct flights” is a bit of a euphemism. When we arrived back in Taoyuan I again couldn’t help but be reminded at how much not having an airport metro line hurts Taiwan’s image. Just the act of having to take either a taxi or a decrepit bus into town seems to diminish any kind of good first impressions one might have. Perhaps I am overthinking things, but I’ll be glad when the thing finally goes online.

So that was the trip. A lot of it was exhausting, but we saw a lot of places, and the exhibition was very well done and deserves its success. Some people from the festivals in Pingyao and Dali said they’d like me to exhibit there as well, so we’ll see what happens with those.

posted by Poagao at 10:52 pm  
May 09 2014

Hangzhou 8

Hangzhou was foggy this morning as we headed back to the gallery. It seems that everyone here has a DSLR around their neck, always with the kit lens. From little old ladies and old men, all the way down to kids, the DSLR is king here, in stark contrast to Japan, where everyone seemed to sport a micro-four-thirds camera.

Fu Yong-jun, the main organizer of the exhibit as well as a talented photographer in his own right, was taking people through the gallery. One of them, I was told, had won a Pulitzer Prize, but I didn’t recognize him. Another guest was a tall, thin Chinese man whom I was informed was an American-born Chinese. When he met me, he said, in accented English, “They told me you were fun. You don’t seem very fun.” He had a quick look at the photos, and shrugged dismissively. I did get a lot of interest from the media as well as the organizers of other photography festivals in China, however.

We had planned on leaving at 4 p.m. to go explore a neighborhood recommended by the woman whose exhibit was next door, but there was a sudden influx of visitors wanting to know about certain photos and taking pictures with me, so it was closer to 5 by the time we left, and it was starting to rain outside. We caught a ride with one of the friends of the organizers to the area, called Mantou Hill, where the emperor of the Southern Song Dynasty supposedly had his palace, but digging it up would be too expensive, so the government just lets the residents stay there, and the area has consequently become one of the less-developed and therefore more interesting parts of the city as a result.

The rain was coming down in earnest, however, so we eventually caught a cab back to the hotel, which, incidentally, sports “-1″ and “-2″ floors instead of “B1″ and “B2″. This seems to be true everywhere I’ve been in China. I learned that the reason there are no gasoline-powered scooters is that motorcycles are illegal in Hangzhou. Electric scooters count as bicycles, need no license or helmets or anything, however, so all the scooters are electric.

Tomorrow and Sunday, being the weekend, are supposed to see huge crowds at the gallery, and there will be discussions and other activities. I’m going to have to miss those, however, because the long-awaited premiere of our movie is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon in Taipei, so we’re going to have to be up once again at the crack of dawn in order to make our morning flight back.

posted by Poagao at 8:55 pm  
May 08 2014

Hangzhou 7

The exhibit was supposed to officially open at 1:00 this afternoon, but the official opening was contingent on the arrival of a particular public official, who was delayed, so the official opening only happened at around 3:30. People began trickling in beforehand in any case, and as usual it was a pleasure to see people viewing and discussing the photos, even though the air conditioning was frigid. The exhibition was well done and pleasantly laid out. I was interviewed for a couple of TV stations, and the Shanghai Daily is doing an email interview later.

At the opening ceremony, the emcees invited some people to discuss their photos, with predictably hilarious results:
Emcee A: “In this photo we see a tree. Now, we see many trees every day. What makes this tree so special that it deserves to be in a photograph?”

Emcee B: “In this case, there are birds in the tree.”

Most of my conversations were fun and interesting. One pair of woman wanted me to review their photos on the back of their cameras.

The gallery closed at 5 p.m., so we met up with Chin Wei, the photographer from Hong Kong, and walked down the side of the lake to the Starbucks for some drinks. The trees, which were apparently upset at being festooned with fake birdnests disguising lights, sprayed us with evil pollen, making us choke and cough while soldiers ran up and down the waterfront.

After drinks we were informed that we were being picked up soon, so we went to the roadside and watched Chin Wei’s assistant’s phone, on which two dots approached each other, until the van appeared. This is apparently a function of Wechat that I haven’t seen used on other programs, though I’d think it an obvious function in retrospect.

We had dinner with the organizers near the hotel, and got back early. They’re holding a phone photography judging competition tomorrow, and I don’t envy the judges their jobs.

posted by Poagao at 11:08 pm  
May 07 2014

Hangzhou 6

The reason we got up early yet again on Tuesday morning in Hangzhou was because, in addition to the exhibition of around 50 of my photos taken in Taiwan, they also want to feature some photos I’ve taken in Hangzhou, which is a challenge for me as I am used to setting my photos aside for a period of some months before really being able to evaluate them. Also, I’d spent the past week out of Hangzhou touring seemingly every single ancient water town in the province, so I hadn’t taken many shots here.

We were met downstairs by a couple of older men who were part of the organizing group; we all piled into a taxi and headed to Xihu, which they said was interesting in the mornings.

Xihu is a large lake, surrounded by parkland, so many people in Hangzhou go there to exercise in the early morning. We walked past people doing taichi, running, biking, dancing, etc. One old man was hitting a wall with his back in a violent fashion. I asked him how many time he was doing this, and he said 87, which happens to also be his age. Further on, I couldn’t resist doing a little sword work with one group, but I managed to stay away from the tuishou practitioners, as they seemed a little rough.

We had some buns for breakfast near a large map of old Hangzhou before piling into another taxi to go to the old Wangjiangmen neighborhood we’d visited before. The near-misses in the taxi seemed less frightening after a while, which was frightening in itself.

The neighborhood is crowded during the day, the market street packed, so we explored alleys. We met Mr. Wang, who, it turns out, is much less enthusiastic when he is not drunk. He was friendly and remembered us, though, so there’s that, but there was no beer forthcoming in the morning. We gave him some pineapple cakes anyway.

Back at the hotel, we met up with some of the other invited exhibitors, including a photographer from Hong Kong and his entourage, for lunch at a nearby restaurant. After lunch we took a nap and then returned for one last look at Wangjiangmen, venturing into the touristy reconstituted bit. By that point I was so tired I stopped looking both ways before venturing into the street and was tapped by a motorcycle, but aside from some cursing on both sides, a bruised ankle and some spilled documents, nobody came out much worse. I would have liked to have gone right into the bathtub, but I had to process a handful of photos for the exhibit first.

This morning we finally had a chance to have breakfast at our new hotel, which is quite nice, even without air conditioning. I suspect they put us on a floor where the A/C is broken, and they made an excuse that the government won’t let them turn it on until it’s really, really hot outside.

The Hangzhou People’s Photography Festival or whatever it’s called, it being held in a large, interesting old building near Xihu. The printers did a really nice job, and some of the photos have been printed very large. We spent most of the day arranging and directing the installation, and then it was back the hotel. Tomorrow’s the grand opening, in the afternoon, so we can go make last-minute changes in the morning if necessary.

posted by Poagao at 10:57 pm  
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