Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

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  
Jun 12 2017

Enter Post Here

It’s been a weird spring. Lots of rain after the Dragonboat festival, which is strange enough. The whole world seems to have gone awry. Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe things are normal for everyone else.

Chenbl and I led a photowalk on Saturday along Dihua Street, a kind of warm-up to this fall’s event. The students have become a large, friendly group, though they still have some bad shooting habits I’ve been trying to wean them out of. Still, lots of improvement. We looked at some promising exhibition/workshop locations there. The photography scene here is still so underdeveloped, it’s difficult to get people to see the value in such activities; baby steps are still steps. The gentrification of the area is spreading apace, into the alleys and northward towards the less-developed sections. This is a much better sign than these old buildings being torn down. As is usually the case in Taiwan, a bunch of people had to do it first, prove it was profitable, before anyone else joined in.

After the photowalk we went to City Hall, where the Stage show was being held. The Ramblers were mostly assembled in our tent behind the stage, awaiting our Red man as usual. The sky had been darkening into a threatening grey-black all afternoon. Chenbl got a message on his phone that our friend Chi Bo-lin had died in a helicopter crash. We told another mutual friend, Shen Chao-liang, who said he’d also just heard. The Stage show is Chao-liang’s idea, along with his schoolmate. The skies got darker still as the half-naked women mounted the jeeps and swung around on metal poles as lightning flashed, tempting fate.

The rain began as we waited for the other bands to finish, pelting down in large drops and creating a small river running through the tent. The downpour made it through our dual-stage stage as we went through the soundcheck, spraying us and the instruments and the electrical wiring. The world was water. So we waited for it to stop.

It took its damn time. I sat back in the tent, my feet up on a chair as the water rushed underneath, halfway listening to everyone around me talking about things I didn’t care anything about. I was already tired from the hot sun of the morning.

Eventually the rain let up a little, and we went on the stage to salvage our gear and play. The audience was enthusiastic. The people who would dance to anything danced to us; a conga line infiltrated the crowd. I was in the middle of a solo when I saw stage crew running towards something to my left, but I couldn’t turn from the mic to see what it was. Was someone trying to rush the stage? Was Sandman doing something untowardly? But when I could turn, I saw smoke and fire as the crew pulled a heavy electrical cord from the wet ground.

Fortunately it was our last number. No encores. I heard that they were planning to light up all the stages at once at 7 p.m. but this turned out to be a lie. Chenbl and I waited in front of city hall until after 8 p.m. before deciding to leave the thumping, soggy scene. We found refuge from the humidity and our hunger at the ancient McDonalds near Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, wolfing down salty burgers and pseudo-chicken.

I wanted to rest on Sunday, but I had to get my hair cut. It’s past time. I could have just shaved my head, as I tend to do in the summer anyway, but instead we decided to splurge, going up to Shilin to pay for Auntie #2 to massage our heads for half an hour amid the various forbidden delicacies on display. Lunch was Vietnamese, served by the boy we’d seen grow up over years that seemed like minutes.

The skies were threatening rain again as we went back to Chenbl’s to pick up my instruments, so I took a nap on the sofa. The news of Chi Bo-lin’s untimely demise had taken over the news, on repeat, with all the grisly, awful details, including suspicions of shenanigans. He exposed huge corporations’ constant and continuous rape of the land, and he was making a sequel. But yeah, it was probably just an accident.

I wanted to take the subway over the the music hall where we were practicing, but Chenbl said a bus would be quicker. I hate buses. I hate that I have to wait and hail one down, haul my stuff on board and be jerked around with abrupt starts and stops. I hate people looking at me flailing around on the bars. I hate the smell of fresh piss on the floor.

But I did get there on time. Practice was enlivened by the presence of a traditional Chinese instrument player. He could recreate the Mario theme on his sheng. I was playing too softly, and had to break out that awful marching-band blare, which left me vented and somewhat empty; I just wanted to go home, but what would I do there? Sleep has been uneasy lately. The whole world is a water curtain cave.

posted by Poagao at 12:52 pm  
Jun 02 2017

Day 100 on Katagelan

It’s been a long day for quite a few people in this town.

Today is the 100th day of the indigenous land rights protest site on Katagelan Blvd. Over the last three months and change, a lovely little village developed on the sidewalk and part of the wide boulevard, led mainly by Panai, Nabu and Mayao. A long, orderly row of tents grew on the sidewalk, with larger pavilions for gatherings, a kitchen with a stove and tables, shelves of food, books and music, and all decorated with aboriginal themed art. Towers of bamboo adorned the space, and the Sun Moon Lake tribe donated two lovely wooden canoes. Educational talks and symposia were held, as well as a wide variety of musical performances. Panai even recorded a very nice album there, with my friend and fellow musician David Chen contributing his guitar skills to the mix.

I’ve been spending a bit of time there as well, whenever I get some time…sometimes talking with people, sometimes helping out with this or that, and sometimes just sitting quietly. It’s been a quiet, friendly space when I needed it over the past few months, and I’ve learned a bit about a few things and made a few new friends there. I showed my friend and old classmate DJ Hatfield around it just yesterday, which was great because he’s been spending his summers in Dulan for the last few years, has learned the Amis language, and is well-liked among the people there.

Today I was planning to go over to spend Day 100 at the village and see how they were dealing with the record downpour that was causing all kinds of flooding in northern Taiwan, but before I’d departed work, a terse Facebook alert from Mayao appeared on my screen: “They’re tearing it all down.” Another friend’s live feed showed hundreds of police officers swarming the village and beginning to tear things down. Mayao and Banai were overcome by dozens of officers, and Nabu wheeled away in his wheelchair (he has difficulty walking). Mayao just had cataract surgery; police attacks were probably not what the doctor ordered.

When I rushed out of my office to walk over to Katagelan, the skies were dumping rain at an alarming rate. Even though I had my big-ass umbrella, my shoes and pants were soaked instantly. The news was full of reports of flash flooding all around the city. Just how, I wondered, could the police spare hundreds of officers to dismantle a completely peaceful protest site under such circumstances?

But it was true, I saw when arrived. Literally hundreds of officers swarmed over the site. All the protesters had been physically removed, and heavy cranes were violently tearing down all the tents, towers, shelters…everything. All of the kitchen supplies, the artwork, the furniture, even a large portrait of President Tsai was dumped into a heap on the pavement, crushed, shoveled with a loader into the back of a large truck and hauled away as we watched helplessly from behind the barriers and police, who had set up a large megaphone system that was spewing patent nonsense like “There is low visibility due to the rain! For your safety, please leave the area!” The atmosphere felt like it was straight out of mainland China. The most bizarre thing was the presence of Environmental Protection Department officials. In a nation notorious for morally bankrupt factories spewing hazardous pollution into the air and the rivers, the EPA always claims that it is understaffed, underfunded and unable to monitor these blatant breaches of law. Yet they apparently have plenty of time and personnel to dismantle a peaceful protest that is completely green and sustainable.

Mayao was standing on a stool continuing his live broadcast as the destruction continued, while Panai and Nabu sat forlornly on the corner in front of the Taipei Guesthouse gate. I circled around the scene, switching between my Leica M6 and my phone depending on the circumstances. Fortunately the Samsung S7 I use is water resistant, and the Leica is virtually indestructible. I missed my Sony, but it’s in the shop yet again being fixed, so I had to make due with what I had.

Just about everything had been hauled away when a New Power Party legislator showed up, followed by another one I recognized, Freddy Lim. By that point the destruction of the village had been going on for several hours, and I wondered what took them so damn long to get there. Still, nobody from either the DPP nor the KMT showed up at all, so there’s that. The legislators had a furious chat with the police on the site, who refused to yield, so the legislators held a little press conference in which they criticized the police’s actions. I guess that’s all they could do.

As darkness fell, the police removed the barriers and opened the street up to traffic again. The rain, which had lessened around sunset, returned as the cops formed lines around the area. Some of them surrounded Panai and Nabu, still in his wheelchair, and shouted insults, not letting them move, and when they did, following them around. The police chief came over and started issuing orders: “If they set up any tents, take them down!” he shouted. “No cars are allowed to stop in this area, period!” It was as if he had decided he was a mini legislature of his own, spewing out laws at a whim. I thought of all the people in the city in need of police assistance, wondering where all the cops had gone. When some people brought over folding chairs for some of the older protesters, who were huddled under umbrellas on the wet sidewalk, the police started pointing and shouting, saying “Those aren’t allowed! Those are illegal!”

It was past dinner time, and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. I’d also run out of film and my phone was dying, so I left the site in the evening, soaked and tired, but still in better shape than most of the protesters, who are still, as far as I know, huddled on that corner under the pouring rain, surrounded by shouting, sneering police.

I hope they can bounce back from this. I don’t know if Day 100 was their target day to remove the protest site once and for all, or if they decided to take advantage of the extreme weather to do it. In either case, I have to say it was an extremely shitty thing to do. I’ve been disappointed that the government has managed to ignore this issue this long, but going to these lengths smacks of tactics this administration really should know better than to engage in.

EDIT: The police apparently executed their own law and bodily forced people to leave the area early Saturday morning, shouting “We’re doing this for your protection!” Not a single peep from the presidential office.

posted by Poagao at 9:23 pm  
May 08 2017

Return from Fukuoka

We had to wake up early to catch the bus to the airport. I slurped down some (delicious) coffee jelly before we hit the completely empty Sunday-morning streets of Fukuoka. The Tenjin Bus Station counter was abandoned, but we got tickets from the machine; Chenbl shopped at the tourist shop while I took photos of a man sleeping on the stairway railing. He woke up, saw me, and went back to sleep again. Must have been a late night, or else he couldn’t afford a taxi (not surprising considering how expensive taxis are in Japan).

The bus headed leisurely down the ramp and past the intersection we’d just crossed, stopping at every stop regardless of whether anyone was getting on or off, the driver politely stopping for any and all pedestrians. This would have been maddening if we were in a rush, but the airport is located near the city.

There was a rather long line at “security” (this is always the biggest bottleneck at airports), but fortunately the Japanese haven’t gone full-on aggrostupid as U.S. airports have, and we were through in a timely fashion in one piece. Getting on the plane meant walking across the now-sunny tarmac an up a ramp, 1960’s tourism-ad style. The flight was mercifully free of ear-related complaints, though I accidentally spilled some of the tuna from the rice triangles Chenbl had bought for breakfast into the innards of the seat belt mechanism. I wonder how long it will take them to locate the source of that smell.

I’d barely shed any tears rewatching Moana before we were circling down to Taoyuan; the flight was a tad bumpy, especially as we were in the back to the plane, but I was surprised to see a woman collapsed on the terminal floor afterwards, apparently overcome by motion sickness.  Immigration and customs were walk-through, we returned the handy wifi box Chenbl had rented, and getting on the Airport MRT was a refreshing change from the dirty old bus (though I still find the design of the cars strange). I barely had time to unpack before heading out again to CKS Hall for band practice/recording, stopping by the concert at the Katagelan Village for the concert that was going on there. Wonderful music in both cases.

So, that was the trip. It was good to get out for a bit.

 

posted by Poagao at 10:53 am  
May 06 2017

Last Day in Fukuoka

Our last full day in Fukuoka dawned cloudy and misty, so we brought umbrellas and rain gear when we headed out this morning. We stopped into the Bic Camera to browse a bit, letting me sample some more of that lovely X-Pro2 shutter action. In addition to letting you try out cameras, something that isn’t really done in Taiwan except for spaces like the tech center next to Guanghua Market, they also let you try out earphones, which is practically unheard of (get it?) in Taiwan. Thus I was able to ascertain that a particular pair of Sony earphones sounded pretty damn awesome, and reaffirmed that I really don’t like Audio-Technica earphones.

By this time it was getting on towards noon, and we hadn’t even had breakfast, so we embarked on a long search for katsu-don, eventually ending up at a place that was actually near Bic Camera. Though a couple was able to cut in line in front of us by being Unnecessarily Cute, the food was actually quite good. The sun even came out while we were eating. I noticed that Japanese don’t seem to have a problem sticking their chopsticks in their rice. I suppose that’s because they don’t burn incense. I hope some day that people in Taiwan don’t have a problem with it either.

Our next stop was a huge bookstore with an ok selection of Japanese photobooks. The books ranged from complete abstraction to complete fixation, with little in the sweet spot. In this context, you can better understand the appeal Daido Moriyama has had over the years.

We then spent an inordinate amount of time looking at stuff in the 100-yen store. The light outside was now very nice, but for some reason we had to be inside looking at plastic things.

Eventually we did manage to get outside, walking across the little island at the middle of the city and having noodles at a narrow shop, before visiting a lovely temple nearby. As the temple was closing down, a bar across the street was opening up, a woman taking down the curtains from the upper floor and the bartender opening the windows downstairs. I noticed that many of the cars in Japan are breadbox-shaped, models that aren’t seen outside the country.

We saw a bunch of temple areas on the map, something which the guidebooks had neglected to mention, and we soon found out why; they’re huge cemeteries. So we beat a retreat and headed towards Hakata Station, which I still find impressive. It’s like a little bit of Tokyo, lifted straight from Shinjuku.

Alas, the station is also home to another 100-yen store, so we browsed that for a certain amount of time before exiting into the night in search of dinner. I managed to eat most of my beef rice, but spilled most of my miso soup. Oh, well. We then walked through the Canal City Wonder Mall or whatever it’s called, picking up some Yichiran instant noodles. Then we walked over the river towards our hotel, stopping at another noodle place whose products had a distinctly unpleasant flavor to it. I wonder how the neighbors stand it.

Back at the hotel, we discovered that there is a public bath on the top floor, which we took advantage of before packing up our loot so we can head out early tomorrow for the airport.

It’s been an interesting trip; I’ve seen quite a few places I’d like to revisit when I have more time and freedom to explore them. But we’ll just have to see.

posted by Poagao at 11:18 pm  
May 05 2017

Back to Kyushu

Though Yahoo weather still forecasted rain, the day dawned clear and brilliant. It was nice staying in a higher-end hotel, even though it was purely because we couldn’t find any other hotel with rooms on that date. The Google Maps walking route was a farce, however; the hotel wasn’t really that far from downtown. It just seemed that way, we found as we walked over to Kokura’s castle, which is actually a replica of the original castle built there in 16-something. It was actually built in the 1950’s. Still, it was interesting, with a rather silly video presentation, and the grounds were lovely in the bright daylight. I watched several men trying out the plastic samurai swords in the gift shop, mockingly threatening to cut down their girlfriends, while Chenbl shopped for cat-themed washcloths. We then caught an elderly woman rifling through our bags for some reason (nothing was missing).

After we were done with the castle, we walked over to the river, where a full-on German-themed beer festival was underway in the summer-like heat. An older white man was blowing the saxophone in a way that caused me to momentarily wonder if Sandman had stowed away in my luggage, but no, he was part of an expat band. The Ramblers really should look into that gig.

Chenbl and I got some sausages and clams, and paid a 1,000-yen deposit on a glass of mango beer (“Otherwise, I’d lose all my glasses,” the white dude at the stall said), and sat down by the river to eat it. It wasn’t bad. We then walked across another bridge to the city’s old market, which is located along a canal. Most of the shops are actually over the canal, and the light coming into the rear windows was nearly lovely enough to make me just walk into the backrooms of the stores, but I refrained. The neighboring alleys were home to many restaurants that were currently closed. I was liking Kokura quite a lot more in the light of day than I had the night before.

But we didn’t linger, though I would have liked to. Maybe I’ll come back someday for some real exploration. Instead, we went to the rocket-ship-esque main station and caught a train back out to Mojiko, where we toured some of the old buildings. One of them’s claim to fame was the fact that a young Albert Einstein and his wife stayed there in 1922. Half of the second floor was dedicated to Things Einstein Had Done Things In. Everyone was walking around carrying their shoes in plastic bags due to The Rules.

We walked over by the harbour, and I sat outside talking to an old Japanese man while Chenbl shopped and the daylight faded. It was getting cool as we walked up into the more pedestrian part of town, looking at the old empty houses that lined some of the alleys. Then it was time to leave; Chenbl went to buy tickets while I went down to the seaside to say goodbye to the place.

We caught a train back to Fukuoka, and promptly fell asleep on the train before realizing that we needed to transfer to a faster train at Moji Station. Of course, we didn’t, and as a result stayed on the slow train that stopped. At. Every. Damn. Stop, making what would have been a half-hour trip more like two hours long. So I slept, took photos of other passengers and the conductor, and updated my Instagram a bit. It was late by the time we pulled into Fukuoka Station, and after a subway ride and time spent buying stuff, the only thing open for dinner was the food stands. Unfortunately, we were served food with rather unpleasant seasonings. But beggars can’t be choosers. We’re at our hotel now, not a great hotel, but not poorly located. Again, no idea what we’re going to do tomorrow, which is our last full day here.

posted by Poagao at 11:43 pm  
May 04 2017

On Honshu

I woke up in Junku’s house to the sounds of various insects and other animals, as well as the fresh countryside air flowing naturally through the structure. Over a delicious breakfast, Chenbl and I tried to use Google Translate to have a conversation of sorts with Junku’s mother, but I’m not entirely sure it went smoothly. There’s just no way to tell.

After breakfast, we took Junku’s wife to the train station so she could go see her parents for the holiday, and then we set off up into the mountains to find the “Taiwan Village” Junku had heard about. It turned out to be a rather haphazard collection of structures in a field, but no actual Taiwanese were there (until Chenbl and I got there, I guess). We did find the son of the Taiwanese-Japanese couple who run the place, though. He just joined Japan’s self-defense forces a couple of months ago, though I personally wonder how that could be because his hair is far too long. After I accidentally let three cats into his shack on the assumption that nobody wouldn’t want cats in their place, he promptly tossed them out.

Junku then drove us down the mountain and up another to a forested park area. “Who’s hungry?” he asked. “I’m hungry.” I had no idea where food could be had until we climbed up to find a series of steel tables astride a small stream. There was no kitchen or food in sight, but it turned out that if you liked, noodles would magically appear in the stream of water flowing down little canals in the tables. You would then fish the noodles out of the stream with chopsticks and eat them with wasabi. I sat on the wrong side of the table for left-handed noodle fishing, however, so it was a bit awkward…supremely awesome though. I really wasn’t expecting noodles, and yet there were noodles. Which is the best way to have noodles.

Our next stop was a freshwater trout farm, where customers were fishing in concrete pools of crystal clear water, to be bagged and taken in to the adjacent restaurant for their choice of cooking, or even served raw as sashimi. We helped Junku fill several containers with spring water, which he said was the best water in Japan.

After a lunch of pork chop rice, we drove to Akiyoshido Cave, which was packed with tourists. We got a discount with our passports, but Junku wanted to pick us up on the other side of the cave, so he didn’t go in. The scenery went from a Miyazaki film to Lord of the Rings as we approached the huge entrance, which has a river flowing out of it. The interior was magnificent, but I had to keep my wits about me and not get too wrapped up in the splendor due to the fact that the floor was wet and slippery, and there were several points where one could conceivably just fall into oblivion. I wonder how the first people to explore the place felt. At the end was a long man-made tunnel back to the surface, the sides of which were adorned with a painted depiction of the ascent of man from lowly reptiles to literal happy anime campers.

I put on A Tribe Called Quest’s latest album, We’ll Take it From Here, for hip-hop fan Junku as we drove through mountain fields of strange pointy rocks, followed by Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN as we drove down to Nobase, Junku’s favorite fishing village, where we sat on the dock watching hawks dive into the water looking for dead fish. “There aren’t any big fish!” one of the fishermen told us. So we drove to another port town where pink and blue boats ferried people to and from nearby islands. A rather pitiful marathon was underway nearby, and as we walked the otherwise empty streets, ice cream cones in our hands, people wearing skin-tight pants and numbers would walk by, panting. Junku told me that the name “godzilla” is a combination of “gorilla” and “gochira” which means whale in Japanese. So the next time someone asks where godzilla came from, you can reply starting, “Well, when a gorilla and a whale love each other very much…”

We arrived at downtown Mine just as the sun was setting. It was a ghost town; it really felt as if everyone had abandoned it. The few restaurants, however, were all full. We tried several before finding seats at a place that served not only sake and plum wine, but food as well.

But we eventually were done with food-related things, and retired to a karaoke bar that was most likely in style in 1963. There was one other customer, an old bald man who had obviously seen better days. We began drinking, and Chenbl stunned everyone when he started belting out a series of Teresa Teng hits. Junku was in tears, and everyone clapped during every break. I sang a few songs, and even the old guy got into the act, the bar’s owner propping him up to keep him from falling over. The owner used to run a brothel full of Filipinas, Junku said. That was in the 80s.

We drank and sang late into the night, as the owner called us a taxi when it got time to go back. The taxi driver, it turned out, was a relative of Junku’s, so he got a discount.

The next morning, this morning, Chenbl and I got up around 8 a.m., dressed quietly, and went for a stroll around the lovely village, down the perfectly paved roads, across babbling brooks, past newly planted rice fields and old wooden houses adorned with just the right amount of flowers. It truly is a lovely place. Eventually Junku appeared to water his seedlings, accompanied by his frisky cat Rice, who jumped and ran and played in the grass, but came when called. I’ve never seen a cat do that.

But we had to go. Junku was going to take us back to Asa Station, but he decided to take us all the way to Shimonoseki instead, which was nice of him. He wanted to walk around town with us, but he couldn’t find any parking. In any other country you could get away with parking on the street, but not Japan. Even stopping to let us out was risky. I was said to say good-bye to Junku; he is the real deal, living his photography, and I look forward to great work from him in the future.

We walked up the coast towards the giant bridge from Kyushu to Honshu, stopping at a small harbor with the obligatory shrine. Massive cargo ships were dwarfed by the bridge as they sailed through the strait. We then took a bus back to the fish market for some fresh sashimi, which we consumed sitting on boxes by the harbor. Periodically a rogue wave would adorn our meal (and us) with salt.

After visiting the old trading company building again, we headed to Chuo-fu, up the coast. Chuo-fu is home to some (mostly scary) shrines, and some very nice houses along a lovely canal. Most of the famous houses were closed. We wanted to ride the nearby gondola up the mountain, but it had closed at 5 p.m., so we ended up taking the bus to Shimonoseki station just to see what was up there.

Not much was up there. We met a young guy from Hong Kong, who accompanied us on the bus trip, but said good-bye at the station. He’s traveling alone around the area, which seemed to awe Chenbl for some reason.

Night was falling, so we took a bus back to the ferry and got on a boat to Mojiko. Water sprayed us as we sat on the roof of the ferry, but the lights of both coasts as well as the cars on the bridge were entrancing. We walked around the town a bit, stumbling on a fair which featured fireworks and a snack of tough beef kabobs that were not really worth the price.

Then it was the train to Kokura, which is bigger than I’d imagined. The station is impressive, the monorail sticking out of the building like the contemporary hotel at Disney World. Our hotel, however, is far from the station, necessitating a long walk in the dark. But now we’re here, and I’m sitting in our room looking out over the lights of the city.

It’s supposed to rain tomorrow. Don’t know what we’re going to do, exactly. I suppose we’ll think of something.

posted by Poagao at 11:47 pm  
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