Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Aug 17 2016

The Ghost Money Index (GMI)

Upon crossing the bridge this afternoon and being confronted with a huge ghost-money fire in front of a spectacularly bad, yet inordinately expensive restaurant there, I realized that there is a massively useful metric for telling whether a given company’s products will suck or not. In retrospect it seems obvious; I’m surprised nobody has thought of it before. Simply put:

The amount of ghost money a company burns is inversely proportional to the quality of its products and services.

There are many reasons why burning ghost money is bad, bad for public health, bad for the environment, bad for safety reasons, etc. But just concentrating on the business aspect, we can see why this particular relationship cannot be denied:

  1. A business that burns a lot of ghost money is willing to spend money on something of no practical use. This speaks volumes about its budgetary priorities, especially failing businesses or small businesses that really can’t afford to literally burn money. What does it tell you that they would rather spend their limited budget on a mountain of ghost money rather than better equipment or training? Such a company is more likely to engage in slip-shod, half-assed, temporary stop-gap measures to cover up problems rather than making effective changes to resolve issues.
  2. The business doesn’t care about its employees or its patrons. The decision to force employees as well as customers to inhale the fumes from toxic fires casts serious doubt over any aspirations of the employers to take even the most basic care of their staff and environment. So why should they care about their products or post-sales service? If they’re willing to compromise their sanitary standards in this fashion, allowing ask and other dangerous chemicals in their environment, do you think they will care about other safety and health standards in their workplace?
  3. The business is not willing to make concrete efforts to improve its situation. If the company is utilizing this method to fix its problems, it’s obviously either not serious about improving or is so incompetent that its products are most likely to be full of problems they didn’t care about fixing or were simply unable to fix. You can tell the entire mindset of a Taiwanese business by how it conducts itself in this fashion.
  4. The business isn’t really thinking about what it’s doing or its future, merely going along with established norms without thinking about it. If those running the business were truly interested in innovation and breaking the mold, they would have realized that a scam burning ghost money is, and would be spending their precious time and efforts on improving their products and services. Otherwise, they obviously aren’t looking ahead, but are simply going along with current business trends and following others’ leads without taking the initiative. Do you want to invest in a company that is only capable of bowing to peer pressure and slavishly copying others?
  5. The business is not green, sustainable or in any way interested in protecting the environment. Being “green” and “sustainable” have become catchphrases in Taiwan lately, but you can tell which company is serious about these areas just by looking at the amount of ghost money they burn. Small industry has ruined much of Taiwan’s pristine environment over the course of many decades, and the only ones worth supporting are those that have made real commitment to sustainability and the environment.

Therefore, I propose the formulation of a Ghost Money Index (GMI), where not just the general public but interested investors, would-be customers, employees and patrons can access this information directly. Businesses and other groups would be required to disclose accurate information (which would be directly observable in any case), while investors could see immediately which companies are the most forward-looking, innovative, and thoughtful, while job-seekers could pick out those companies that have their best interests at heart. Environmental Protection Agency personnel would have an easy time telling through such algorithms which companies are inherently likely to commit large-scale acts of environmental damage. Smartphone apps could show travellers which restaurants have better food, which recreational facilities are safer, which parks are cleaner. Schools and universities could use the data to track business trends and improve the general economy. Even real estate forums could establish a database of homes located further away from high-GMI areas for those who value their health and comfort. Resale values of homes and other buildings could be more accurately estimated based on whether or not their surroundings are high-GMI or not. Hospitals in low-GMI areas could even tout the fact in their descriptions.

The best part of the GMI is that the data isn’t buried in confusing statistics and hard-to-understand graphs; though a scientific system of measurement allowing for the precise ratio still needs to be developed, the basic principle is right out there on the street for everyone to see.

Start using the GMI today!

posted by Poagao at 7:48 pm  
Jun 15 2016

SF Final

Technically I wasn’t leaving until 1:20 a.m. on the 14th, but I wanted to get to the airport early enough to snag a decent seat from Eva Air this time. Still, I had all day; I took my time packing my one suitcase and getting everything charged before Ken called me a Lyft over to Joe’s place. The Lyft driver was named Elizabeth, and she expressed not only great interest in street photography, but also great dismay that she had missed the festival. I told her some sites to visit and people to contact.

Joe and I walked around the neighborhood, stopping only for some mint iced coffee and to attempt to resurrect a small dead bird on the sidewalk with incessant flashing (It didn’t work). The light was excellent, and I don’t wonder why we see so many such shots in the HCSP queue. Joe had to go to a shoot in the afternoon, so I headed into a mall to look for some neat-o stuff to bring back to Taiwan. As I was walking into the basement level, I ran into Vineet, who was with his family. Our interaction was both brief and awkward. I emerged in back of the mall to find a Target where I could get some goodies, and I walked around both sides of Market while waiting for Joe to return; we met back up by the trolley cars at five, right near a Muslim man all in white was holding a sign reading “I come in peace.” A couple of white men had approached him at one point in a way that made me think there might be trouble, but either their intentions were honorable or the Muslim brother won them over.

Dinner was at a Vietnamese place, after which Joe. Just. Could. Not. Get. A. Ride. Drivers kept cancelling; one even claimed he’d already picked us up and dropped us off, without us ever even seeing the car. Eventually we got an Uber back to Joe’s place, where I picked up my stuff, and we headed out; Joe to the theater to see the latest X-men movie, and me to the Bart Station to catch a subway to the airport. In the station was a very good violin player, good enough to make me wonder if Joshua Bell was moonlighting again. But I couldn’t linger; I had to get out to SFO. I couldn’t help but feel, however, that I was just getting used to the place, not to mention the timezone, and now I had to leave.

The sun hadn’t set when I stepped off the subway at the international terminal, even though it was 8 p.m. Nobody was at the Eva counter, so I sat and charged stuff until a small crowd had gathered. When I got to the gate, I found that the only seat left was an exit-aisle window seat. That would do, though I’d prefer to have an actual window. Don and Gene were also at the airport at the time, but they were at one of the domestic terminals.

I again took my time, wandering over to the TSA line, dispassionately watching the somewhat desperate people in policesque uniforms trying to convince everyone that they had an important job to do, even though it was blatantly obvious that the whole thing was a big show. They even played a video for the people in line showing normal people going about their day and suddenly getting shot dead. The spot concerned human trafficking, but that was beside the point; they obviously want people to be as nervous and afraid as possible. Let people relax and think, and it won’t be long before they realize what a farce the whole thing is.

I opted out of the rapiscan machine, as usual. And, as usual, the short, squat woman in “uniform” called out, loudly and repeatedly, “MALE OPT OUT OVER HERE!” It took a while for someone to come, but I wasn’t in a hurry. I watched as some people were herded into the rapiscan machines, while others simply walked through the X-ray machine. “Can I do that?” I asked, pointing. “I was given a choice between a pat-down and the rapingscanning thingy, but it seems like lots of people are just going through the X-ray only.” Of course she ignored me; any answer would have implied some kind of safety concern was involved.

When the officer finally got around to groping, I almost thanked him for the massage. The moment did seem to call for a little levity, so when he told me to spread my arms, palms upward, I said in my best Jerry Seinfeld impression, “Ladies and gentlemen….I implore you!”

The officer was not amused. “Too old a reference?” I asked.

“That doesn’t happen,” he said. Ok.

I still had plenty of time before my flight, so I bought a sandwich and some yoghurt and sat at the gate listening to music. I hadn’t listened to music in a while, so it was even nice and more relaxing than usual.

Then boarding, squeezing into my seat, followed by 13 hours of watching animated movies, eating and sleeping. Too quickly, I am back in Taipei. I went straight to work, but I’ve been loopy all day. I just want to sleep, but I know that if I do, I’ll wake up at 2 a.m. and not get any more sleep. It’s weird to be back; it feels like the last week was all just a dream by now.

 

 

 

posted by Poagao at 6:52 pm  
Jun 14 2016

SF6

Yesterday was brilliant again. I was determined to join at least one photo walk this time, so after a nice breakfast at a nearby crepe place, I walked over to the golden gate park to meet up with the group at the Deyoung museum. After quickly browsing the tiny Davidson show there, we headed off through the park. The breeze coming in off the ocean was brisk, and for once I was glad that I’d brought my heavy police jacket. The drum circle was rather than usual, they said, but the hippies were there in force, as were the roller skating people. We ended up at the Haight street fair, where everyone pretty much disbanded, though we bumped into James and a few others on the way through. I don’t generally like event photography, but there was one guy there with two Olympuses (Olympi?) around his neck, so I figure it was covered.

After that, Ken drove us down to Joe’s work, where I chatted with him and others for a bit before taking a short tour around the area while the wonderful light lasted. The sound of a bottle breaking just behind me made me wonder once again about the general level of sanity in that neighborhood. Down at the town hall, the colors of the homeless people lying on the lawn matched the flags flying above.

After Joe had locked up, we caught a Lyft down to meet Ken at a sushi place, We Be Sushi, which was delicious and fresh. Our non-Japanese waitress was still learning the terms and pronunciation; it was cute. We talked until late and then headed home.

posted by Poagao at 3:16 am  
Jun 13 2016

SF5

Saturday, June 11th

It is so dry here! I prefer a bit of humidity, and this dryness has me drinking gallons of water all day.

I woke up before sunrise, for some reason, and watched from my window in Ken’s apartment as the city came to light. We’re on a light rail line, so every so often a streetcar will whoosh by. Ken says he’s used to it, but I’d quickly get tired of having to pause movies every time it happened.

Ken was going to Jack’s workshop, so I tagged along, and probably pissed off some people with my various interjections as Jack spoke calmly and deliberately about his subject. When the group left the classroom to go out shooting, I kept my distance, looking at where they went, what they shot, etc. It was interesting, and not unlike my experiences teaching in Taipei.

I’d wanted to join at least one of the StreetFoto photo walks, so I left the group at 11:30 and headed towards Chinatown. My stomach then took the opportunity to remind me that I had only eaten one slick of toast so far that day, so I had a bite before heading over to the meeting point. Unfortunately, I was late; the group had already left. So I wandered around the area on my own instead, eventually bumping into JC, a photographer who wanted my advice on his photography. We arranged to meet later near the Cuppola building, and I continued down towards the harbor, approaching it though the second floor of an empty mall. I could only imagine how bustling and alive the area had been in the past.

I caught a ride with JC, his wife and his daughter over to Joe Goode, which is fortunate as I wasn’t looking forward to that long walk just then. We got some food at a nearby market, which of course was far too much for one person to eat, and I looked through JC’s book and gave him my thoughts.

They were making a video about the event, and so I missed most of Vineet’s talk, unfortunately, but I was able to enjoy Ken Light’s stories about his career, as well as Richard’s talk about his background and his work. After they announced the winners of the contest, we wrapped it up and headed over to a nearby place for dinner and conversation. There was a snag when we found you had to show picture ID to get in, and my Taiwanese ID apparently wasn’t cutting it (It ain’t my fault the bouncer couldn’t read Chinese). I managed to get in with my passport, but some of the other attendees weren’t able to enter, which was unfortunate.

We ate and talked and enjoyed each other’s company well into the wee hours; it had the atmosphere of conclusion as people said good-bye and left through the chain-link gate, back out into streets.

I’m sitting at Ken’s table writing this; it’s the morning after, and he’s gone to help Jack with the second and final day of his workshop. Don and Gene have continued on their 40th anniversary tour of the area, though they might go back to the Rayko Center before they leave. There’s one more photo walk today, staring at the Deyoung Museum in the park, where they have a Bruce Davidson exhibit, apparently, so I will try and make that. I’m leaving tomorrow night…well, technically in the early hours of the 14th, but I have to be at the airport on Monday night.

It’s another beautiful day. God it’s dry though.

posted by Poagao at 1:33 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 3

Thursday, June 9th
The maid hadn’t set foot in my room the day before, so I was working with previous-day towels and bedsheets, but I managed. I’d actually met the maid, who is from Guangdong, the day before, but apparently she only sweeps by once a day, and if you miss her, too bad.

Being without wifi, I was cut off from everyone’s plans. After my donut breakfast, I walked down to the nearest Starbucks, a small, gritty edition on Market, where I sat eating a salad and croissant while checking my messages. Next to me, a woman chatted on her phone about some meeting, and after she stopped, I heard her say, “I guess you must hate all the noise I’ve been making.”

I assumed she was still on the phone, and ignored her, but when I looked up, I saw she was looking at me. I started and stammered, “Uh…what? No! Why would I? This is a Starbucks!” I left the FFS unspoken. Was she coming on to me? Why else would she say something like that? This is a strange city, I concluded as I walked up to Union Square, where I’d lay out on the lawn in the sun a quarter century ago while visiting. They’ve redone it so that there’s no lawn to lay on; instead it’s now all concrete and awful street paintings. I then walked over to the Apple Store, which impressive; the Top Security People standing ominously by the door and the green-shirted Geniuses bustling around. Classes were being held on iTune on the second-floor mezzanine.
I walked up the street past more crazy homeless people to the restaurant were Joe works. On the way I spotted a large older fellow with an iPhone on a tripod, which he moved lazily around a street corner taking shots. He wasn’t looking at anyone. I approached him, questions on my mind, but he radiated fear. I retreated.

Up the street, I found Joe bustling around, chatting up customers and getting drinks, a little tattooed ball of energy with an on-point coif. I don’t know how he does it. I sat and chatted with Chris, a fellow from the UK who is a DJ and record collected, about the sad state of the music industry, and how iTunes sucks. Joe gave me a white-chocolate/caramel cookie that should be illegal to go with my ice coffee.

It was SFMOMA day in the StreetFoto schedule, so I bade Joe and Chris farewell and walked back through a new set of crazy homeless people back to Market and Third, and on to the museum. Inside I found Richard and Jared and some other folks I knew. They’d been there a while, so I took off on my own to see the photographs, some of which were worth looking at. An original Stephen Shore, recently printed, made me realize what he meant when he said the “vintage” feel people attach to him is really inappropriate, only a product of old prints aging naturally. The real scenes from the 70s look far more like what I remember being true in the day, though I was just a kid then. I also saw some Winogrand, and there was an Arbus show upstairs. I took a shot of a woman whose hair matched one of the paintings almost exactly. One of the museum guard told me in a confidential fashion that the “black hole” on the 5th floor would “blow my mind.” It didn’t. In fact, much of the exhibit seemed overly precious, and some of the descriptions had small errors such as misquotes of Henri Cartier-Bresson. But the architecture of the place was impressive, drawing me up staircase after tilted staircase. I wondered if they chose the guards based on their interesting appearance. They are part of the design, aren’t they? Either way, it works.

I got so caught up in the whole thing, standing on the upper balcony looking out of the city, which was magnificently lit by the afternoon sun, that I was late in setting out for the Joe Goode Annex, which was the site of the evening’s activities. I walked through a park and up Market back to my hotel, which was still without wifi, and then continued on. And on. And on, eventually arriving at the venue just as the photo talks were kicking off with a talk by the laconic Ben Molina. I loved it because Ben gave concise answers to many bullshit questions, and I knew exactly what he meant.

Most of the talks were interesting, particularly the one by Koci Hernandez about his photographic search for a man in a hat representing his absent father. Joe was particularly active in asking questions, but I wondered if perhaps they should have let the speaker decide the pace of the slides. I’m talking there on the 10th, along with Don, Joe and the rest of the BME people in attendance. I guess we’ll see.

After the show winded down, Blake Andrews and Tyler Simpson joined Joe and me and a few others to a nearby taqueria, which was delicious. Then we went to a bar where they played magnificent 70s music, and chatted while Joe printed out shots from his Instax. We caught an Uber with a driver named Lorenzo back to our neighborhood (Blake is staying at the Goode Hotel, just around the corner) around 2 a.m. I walked the rest of the way back to my still wifi-less hotel, took a shower and slept. Another good day.

posted by Poagao at 12:36 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  
Jun 08 2016

SF1

I’m sitting in my little room at the Aida Hotel, listening to police sirens going up and down Market Street. Today is apparently the big California primary or something, but I’m not sure if that has anything to do with it.

Packing was a mad, last-minute scramble, as usual. I wasn’t really in the mood for a trip, actually, but here I found myself entering that world of travel, step-by-step, from station to station, whereupon one surrenders ones local identity and becomes A Traveller. Afraid of being late, I took the HSR to Taoyuan and a bus to the airport, but I needn’t have worried; Eva Air, I was told, had sold all the good seat a year ago already. While I doubt this was true, I still ended up in a middle seat from Taipei to San Francisco. Granted, it was exit row, but that just meant that I could have my stuff with me, with nowhere to stow it. The woman next to me watched the same episode of Downton Abbey over and over throughout the flight. She also ate spicy crisps and filed her nails. The. Whole. Time.

But it was nice not to have to change airplanes. When I got to SFO I purposely avoided white immigration and customs officers, and thankfully everything went smoothly this time. Lines were long,  the Bart took forever, but eventually I found my way to my hotel. It should do.

There are photo events happening here and there throughout the week. We’ll see how it goes.

posted by Poagao at 2:46 pm  
Jun 02 2016

Enter Player Here

I went over to the SynTrend Building to attend a VR/AR “Show-n-tell” gathering hosted by the Taiwan Start-up Stadium. I’d been told about it by Holly Harrington, who works there, and she has been very busy lately. It was on the 11th floor, welcomely air-conditioned after a long hot day. Stylish people were milling around the snack bar and a few headset setups. I met a co-worker of mine who is soon being sent to New York; she didn’t know anything about VR/AR, but her future boss had told her to study up on it, which is interesting.

The conference room where the show-n-tell presentations were held was packed, standing-room only, though the adjacent room where the meeting was being broadcast on a large screen was empty. I stood for a while at the back of the room being bumped by the photographer, who was none too subtle about changing lenses and using flash, before retiring to the other room to sit down.

One of the VR teams had an idea about creating and manipulating music in VR, which was interesting. The other seven teams seemed to only be shoehorning VR into existing procedures such as interior design and online shopping. Also, the videos nearly never worked at first, which was troubling. Someone introduced a 360-degree camera. But these things have never interested me that much. Is it 3D? How could it be with only one lens? It’s all just wallpaper, not a world.

Afterwards I chatted a bit with Justin Hendrix, who heads up the NYC Media Lab, and he seemed to agree with my conjecture that we’re currently in a similar phase with VR that movies were when they were new, and all anyone did was plop a camera in front of a stage play and call it a movie. They didn’t realize the potential of the new technology yet, “movies” didn’t really come into their own until they decided to throw out all of their stage-play constrictions and work in the new medium. Justin then told me that he’d heard of people in the nascent VR world referring to traditional movies as “flatties”, which I find fascinating, in that they’re already ready to move on…but to what? He hinted that the next generation of VR devices would most likely not only improve on resolution, refresh rate and viewing angle, but they’d become untethered as well, which would be huge. “2018 is the year everything will come together,” he predicted.

As far as Taiwan’s participation goes, however, I have my doubts about the content side. It’s wonderful that we’re trying to grow a start-up culture, something that is sorely lacking in this Confucian nightmare of Office Politics, but we have a long way to go before a truly innovative employee can easily gain the attention he or she deserves. Valve made a wise choice in choosing HTC for their hardware, but I haven’t really seen anything on the software side that could be termed revolutionary.

Then again, what do I know? Mssr. Hendrix is immersed in this stuff 24/7, and has been for years. I’ve only sampled a few VR experiences, and everyone’s different. That said, I still think that the trick to immersion will be making the player feel like a part of the world, not just physically, but also mentally and interactively, which means strong predictive AI. As much as I’d just gush over being able to wander around Hogwarts castle or the Enterprise, it’s going to be the interaction with other people and the characters that will being people into the world. No forced framing or close-ups; the environment will have to accomodate an almost-infinite number of paths. Forcing film-like narratives into a VR experience seems counterintuitive, and Jason got me thinking when he suggested that perhaps going back to the idea of stage plays, where every performance was live and therefore different, could be one way of thinking about it.

posted by Poagao at 11:21 pm  
May 19 2016

History Eve

I walked over to the Presidential Office today after work. Tomorrow is the Big Event, the presidential inauguration of Tsai Ying-wen, so today was the full rehearsal, minus Tsai herself. Or maybe she was there in disguise, watching everything from the safety of a giant gecko costume or something. That’s what I would do, anyway.

They’re really pulling out all the stops. Huge Macy-esque balloon figures floated around the square, including an aborigine, a Han Chinese complete with a rather puffy conical hat, and George MacKay, complete with a giant inflatable tooth he presumably just pulled from the giant balloon aborigine. The military was on hand with actual cannons that actually fired, military jets flew overhead smoking red white and blue smoke, and a host of bands, including my friends Lin Sheng-xiang and Toru Hayakawa, played Charge Forward, the theme to Rookie’s Journal, and of course Island Sunrise, which gave me goosebumps. The Sunflowers got their own float, portraying a large, headband-wearing student vaulting over little barbed-wire barriers. Even the Wild Lily Protest was commemorated with a large flower, though not quite as large as the original. “Those are two famous protests that were significant in Taiwan’s history,” an elderly man who said he was from Kaohsiung told me as the parade rehearsal proceeded past us. We’d been chatting a bit as we watched the spectacle.

“I know, I was at both of them,” I said. He gaped, then recovered. “Do you know what Tsai is going to say in her speech tomorrow?” This was a strange question. How could I possibly know that? And, were I in the position to know, how could I be so careless as to blab it to a total stranger?

“And, you know, China is threatening to attack if they don’t like what Tsai says tomorrow,” he continued when I didn’t answer. Now I was beginning to wonder if he was really from Kaohsiung.

“Yes, and they threatened to attack if Lee Teng-hui was elected in 1996,” I said. “I remember because I was in boot camp at the time.”

His subsequent gaping was interrupted by the approach of another elderly man, one who spoke a mixture of Mandarin, Minnan and Japanese. The first elderly man retreated, and I walked around taking photos. It was all very surreal, not just the exchange but the entire scene. I tried to gather my thoughts while I had a bite to eat at the Restricted Mos Burger up the street. I call it that because it’s the only Mos Burger in the restricted section around the Presidential Office, and I had lunch there often during the Sunflower Protests, on my way to or from the Legislature when the military police had blocked the streets off.

presi

This inauguration is not only different from all those before it by its very nature, being the first DPP president who has also won the Legislature…it will be fundamentally different from all of those before it in its content as well. For one thing, never have I seen such a diverse representation of Taiwan’s various cultures. But that won’t be the only difference: At one point, in the distance, I saw what looked to be performers dressed up as Chinese soldiers. “Those…those aren’t old PLA uniforms, are they?” I squinted as I asked a squat policeman who was lazily waving his hands in an attempt to direct imaginary traffic.

“No, those are old Nationalist uniforms!” he said, chuckling.

“Ah,” I said, watching as the people dressed as Chinese soldiers went through the motions of executing a line of civilians, shooting them dead while images of 2/28 flashed across the massive screen in front of the stage. The performers writhed on the asphalt.

This is different, I thought. Only two years ago students took over the Legislature. Over a quarter century ago we camped out at CKS Hall. Tomorrow…

San Taizi figures strode around waving their arms alongside barefoot Bunun aborigines. Arabian horses were being led down trailer ramps by men dressed in Ming Dynasty regalia and sunglasses. The dual-language announcers seemed to take a particular glee in reading the words “President Tsai” and “Ex-president Ma” when going through the exchange ceremony script.

If the rehearsal is anything to go by, the main event should be amazing, moving, memorable. As it should be. I couldn’t help but feel a little overcome by all the references I saw, not only to Taiwan’s history but also to my life up to this point, all in the same place for once. It will be historic. Of course, the cynic in me can’t help but wonder if the hard part is just beginning, but I suppose we’ll just have to find out.

For now, we celebrate.

posted by Poagao at 8:57 pm  
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