Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

May 26 2015

Vietnam 5

We got up early to catch the good light, and before it got too hot, walking down through downtown Saigon to the river where boats of all sizes and shapes were plying the broad brown waters. On the banks, a woman knelt in prayer as she released some fish that had been captured for that express purpose. I suppose one’s responsibility for such actions doesn’t quite resonate past the personal level all the time.

We walked to the bridge designed by the Eifel of Tower fame, the steps of which reeked of trash and urine. Nearby a field of young Vietnamese men practiced formation in a very languid fashion. On the other side of the bridge a TV or film production was ongoing, with the crew positioning a complex array of mirrors and filters to make the editors job less of a hell as the sun came and went. The director and his assistant huddled on the steps not far away, looking at the monitor.

Breakfast was had on a street nearby, and we talked with the owner in Chinese as she was, as seems fairly common here, of Cantonese ancestry. Unfortunately, though the food was good, we lingered too long, and when the cops came to, uh, collect their shakedown fees or whatever, they were unable to escape fast enough and got caught in the net.

We examined an interesting mixed Hindu/Buddhist temple down the street before walking back through a market to the tallest building in the city, which features an observation deck. As it costs money to go up, it wasn’t crowded, and they offer free wifi and water in addition to free dots and substandard, wavy glass that screws with your photos. I wonder if they also light it up at night from the inside as well. Perhaps someday I’ll come back and find out.

But the daytime view was fine, and really let me get a grasp on the layout of the city. Perhaps I should have gone up there at first to get my bearings, instead of leading Prince Roy on a merry, tiring chase around the city. But I didn’t, so, well, sorry about that, my liege.

From up top, I did managed to pinpoint our next destination: Across the river was a large, densely packed area of what looked like older houses, punctuated by a pagoda. We got one of the staff to write the neighborhood’s name down (it turns out he takes the bus past there every day), and we caught a cab out there.

It turns out that the pagoda is new, and built next to the smashed ruins of the old temple. Little shards of porcelain gods lay in the mud, but two were intact and placed lovingly on one of the concrete pillars. I wonder what that is all about. We were invited inside by a monk, who showed us around and took pictures of us in front of the altar.

After that we walked back into the alleys of the densely packed neighborhood behind the temple. It was fascinating and fun, and we were greeted by almost everyone. It is in District 4, one of the poorer parts of town as I understand, but the houses were mostly neat and clean, some of them quite nice. Nice little parks dotted the area.

We made our way towards the canal bank, where things got very industrial very fast. A guard waved me away from the actual waterfront, and we walked in a large U back to where we’d started. Lunch was delicious beef pho at an electronics repair shop.

After taxiing back to PR’s place and showering up, we bade his Highness farewell and caught a cab to the airport, this time making sure the driver used his meter. At the airport we barely had time for a small snack before boarding our 777 to Hanoi. The good news is that we got emergency row seats. The bad news is that the seats had no windows, so I had wedge my head into the space between the seat and the fuselage to see the wonderful cloud formations outside. Our stewardess gave me a talking to about filming in the aircraft after I shot video of her pointedly refusing to help passengers with their luggage. I’m sure she’ll enjoy the Youtube video ;)

The flight had left in a downpour, but the weather in Hanoi was much nicer. We had to take buses into the airport, but it wasn’t that bad. We then got on a bus into town, which is a long trip. It was just after sunset, the rice fields glowing under massive electric billboards and the lights from lonely motorcyclists.

Things got seedier as we approached the city, and then nicer again. It was nighttime when we forced our way through the touts and caught another cab to our hotel, the Merci. I suspect the driver understands Chinese, because after Chenbl mentioned a less-than-wonderful tip, we seemed to be travelling in circles for a while.

We checked in and then went out for dinner, and suddenly the world was a big frat party. The streets were full of Western kids. We sat next to a table of young Americans who were debating the merits of locking people up forever with no reason. The dinner was ok, as was the a/c, as the weather is evern muggier up here than in Saigon. The crowds outside were just out of hand.

Tomorrow, hopefully, we’re going to catch a ride to Halong Bay and get on a boat. We’ll see.

 

posted by Poagao at 12:26 am  
May 24 2015

Vietnam 4

We had breakfast at a steakhouse this morning. The steak was a little on the chewy side, but the French bread was good. After that we walked over to the bus station, where middle-aged men crowded around the opening doors of newly arrived buses in an effort to get some business. We boarded a bus and headed out to the Chinatown area, where we walked through a street market and through a more substantial goods market, and then through some alleys bordered by neat old two-story houses. Many of the residents spoke at least basic Mandarin, so we chatted with some of them about their families and how they’d come to Vietnam, etc.

We also visited a series of temples, some more like those of Taiwan, some different. They tend to use the central door here rather than leaving it only for the gods’ use as they do in Taiwan. Across the street from one of the temples was a good ice cream place.

The last temple was a multi-story affair, and Chenbl got dizzy inside due to all the bad energy there. Even Prince Roy and I felt it; we didn’t feel welcome by the practicioners, who were upstairs chanting in front of giant statues. Of course, they might have been unhappy with the chatting Western tourists that came in behind us, but I suspect they weren’t a very happy bunch in any case.

We were tired and hot by this time, and I was on my last battery, so we took a taxi back, PR chatting with the driver in Vietnamese. I felt bad about dragging PR all over town during the hottest part of the day; Chenbl and I headed out by ourselves for another loop around the area while there was still light, but I think we should have followed PR’s example and just took a break in the A/C because my feet were aching by the time we got back. We did see quite a few Western tourists around town, young men with beards and glasses (and one with a conical hat?) and young women with ponytails. There are far more Western tourists here than in Taipei.

Dinner was a delicious affair at a rooftop restaurant called the Secret Garden, in an old building that someone stole the elevator from at some point.

Tomorrow we’re going to try and get some more sightseeing in before our flight to Hanoi, but we’ll see how that works out, I guess.

posted by Poagao at 11:19 pm  
May 23 2015

Vietnam 3

Today was brilliant. Breakfast was some more delicious pho, beef this time, at another place Prince Roy knew of, a few blocks from his place. The blue decor looked to be from pretty much the same era as the place we went last night, but the breakfast crowd was more active. A huge screen showing security cam footage was hung on the wall in between the heads of various animals.

Next on our itenerary was the war museum, which features a bunch of leftover U.S. military equipment such as airplanes, helicopters and tanks. Chenbl and I then walked around town a bit, stopping by a couple of temples, before walking back to Prince Roy’s palace, where we met a couple of Vietnamese women who were going to take us around town on the backs of their scooters in search of the best and most sanitary street food this town has to offer.

It was wonderful, a great way to see more of the city and sample a lot of great food. Being Taiwanese, of course we weren’t daunted by the scooter traffic, but…well, ok, the traffic is a bit daunting. But we soon learned to ignore it and just enjoy the ride. We stopped in five places for various meals, but it was paced well so that we didn’t get too full, and we learned a lot about all the dishes, all the way to a range of desserts. I noticed that, though the skies are full of huge bundles of electrical wires, people here leave their balconies in unfettered glory, rather than blocking them out as they do in Taiwan. It makes a huge difference in the mien of the city. I also love the huge trees lining the avenues, like something out of a Miyazaki movie.

We got back to Prince Roy’s place after 5pm, and went out again at night to shop for jackets. After that PR took us to a great little microbrew bar, where we sampled a bunch of beers in the second story of an old building on one of the city’s main old streets. We also had delicious chicken and shrimps dishes before picking our way through sidewalks crowded with evening diners (whoever sells those little red plastic stools must be making a killing) back to PR’s place.

What a great day!

posted by Poagao at 11:14 pm  
May 23 2015

Vietnam 2

I slept soundly at the Victory Hotel, probably due to the lack of the helicopters that featured so prominently in the advertising, but the musty, slightly less sucky room we ended up with also lacked hot water in the shower.

The hotel breakfast wasn’t bad; we sucked up some beef pho while a river of scooters flowed by, occasionally reaching up the sidewalk. A man who was apparently the late Isaac Asimov sat just behind me, and I couldn’t bring myself to ask Chenbl on exactly which plane the man existed. He was having toast.

It was muggy outside, muggy even by Taiwanese standards, when we set out, heading by the old presidential building and eventually across the street up to the cathedral. I say eventually because we spent a lot of time standing on the corner studying just how to cross a street here. It’s really an art; you have to pace yourself and appear unconcerned as you stride directly into the path of a hundred charging scooters, who (hopefully) all move around you. It’s a kind of potentially murderous ballet.

Various tour groups milled around the cathedral and the adjacent old post office, which was architectually quite neat, and is apparently still a functioning post office, as well as a tourist market. A wedding photographer placed his subjects out into the street for a photo, but though he may have been hoping to sell a shot of a car accident, nothing untoward happened until an older European gentleman embarassed his wife by running up for a picture with the ride.

We walked down towards the river, intermittently passing and being passed by a group of Aussie retirees. A large construction site promised a working subway by 2018. The old buildings are shaded by lovely old trees, but the tone of the area got distinctly seedy as we approached the river, which I found surprising. Surely the river is the life of a city? But when we reached the banks of the Mekong, the city just kind of…ended. Nothing was on the other side but empty fields. I don’t  get it, is it haunted or something? I shall have to look more into this curious phenomenon.

We walked back up towards the hotel, as we had to check out, but first stopping so I could sample some of the local Dunkin Donuts and get a drink (I know, I’m terrible, but the donuts weren’t bad, actually; better than the Taipei version that so deservedly failed), and to be told by the official Sony store that they don’t sell battery chargers.

Back at the Victory, we doused ourselves with cold water from the shower, as the day had become really hot, and checked out just in time to be told that the water we drank from the fridg was actually taxed in such a convoluted way that they hotel staff had to spend a couple of minutes figuring out how much to charge us. Then we sat in the lobby while I emailed Prince Roy to see if he’d landed yet. When he replied in the affirmative, we proceeded to walk over to his place. This would have been about a 5-minute walk, but Chenbl had mistaken one end of the street for the other, so we walked the entire length of the street twice before actually finding the place.

Prince Roy has a very nice place, I have to say. He took us out walking around the city, showing us some of the sights. We went to a sprawling market or two looking for jackets, and eventually ended up having some delicious chicken pho at an interesting old restaurant decorated with 50s-era tiles and mirrors.

posted by Poagao at 7:55 am  
May 22 2015

Vietnam 1

I really was not feeling it this morning when I got up, packed some things and headed to the airport with Chenbl. We were going to Vietnam, I knew intellectually, but I just couldn’t get it into my head. It was a grey, cool day, not at all like summer. The copies of my book hadn’t yet arrived, so I couldn’t bring one to Prince Roy as I’d said I would. I also forgot a bunch of stuff. I was a mess in all kinds of ways.

The airline, Cathay Pacific, formerly one of my favorites, was also kind of a mess. We got shafted to the back parking lot in Hong Kong, having to go up and down those presidential-style waving ramps, and the Popeyes Chicken failed to revive my spirits. On the way out of HK, we were put in a holding pen obviously designed for people destined for Southeast Asian countries, dim lighting and concrete. You wouldn’t take a flight to Japan from that place.

The flight to Hanoi was ok. A bunch of loud Australians sat behind us, but it wasn’t any more irksome than loud mainland Chinese. We did fly past a truly magnificent thundercell, flashes of lightning strobing through the sunset.

Hanoi’s international airport is brand spanking new, but when we took the bus to the domestic airport, we found what appeared to be an old Chinese train station. I was surprised to see they had wifi.

The flight to Ho Chi Minh City was pretty empty. The Vietnamese passengers did pretty much whatever they wanted, seats back, shoes off, lying across aisles. Chenbl swore one guy was smoking a cigarette, but the stewardesses didn’t seem bothered at any of it.

After we touched down and changed money, we then proceeded to get swindled out of a large amount of money by a taxi driver, just as the guidebook says. Then the hotel we booked, the “Victory”, tried to give us an awful room. We went down to the desk and demanded a slightly less awful room. Yay us. We’re pretty much going to assume everyone we don’t know here is trying to cheat us, I guess.

posted by Poagao at 2:23 am  
Apr 14 2015

How not to be a good president

I was thinking the other day: If I were the president, due to step down in the near-ish future and with little hope of my party winning, I’d just start doing whatever the hell I thought was a good idea but never pushed before due to lack of public acceptance or local politics. What can you lose at this point? You’re already sunk. Why not throw shit at the wall and see what sticks? Of course, I’d probably be the most unpopular president Taiwan has ever had (and that, my friends, is saying something), but who knows? A few years down the road people might wise up and see that some of those stupid things might have actually been a good idea. Like when Chiang Ching-kuo was promoting an eight-lane north-south freeway but was forced to cut it down to four lanes due to opposition from such people as Hsu Hsin-liang. Now, of course, we all wonder why the first highway was so small, and we’ve spent billions trying to fix it. Oh, those were wacky times!

So let’s rant! Here for your fantastic whimsical consideration are some awful ideas that would make me not only un-electable but probably the target for an angry, pitchfork-waving mob or two, but which I think might just make things better down the road:

1. I might levy a heavy tax on ghost money, but I would probably just outright ban the stuff. Modern ghosts probably don’t use the stuff anyway, and we’re losing all of our god-damn trees as well as creating pollution. Ghosts probably use the Internet anyway. Go make your offerings on guipal.com if you feel the need, but don’t fuck up our air based on your superstitions. Moderate amounts of incense would be tolerable, but the ghost money thing…that’s right out.

2. Romanization: Hanyu Pinyin. Everywhere. For everything, including company names, personal names on passports, pet names, etc. Existing major city names would stay as is, and maybe include a hyphen between the given name characters, but otherwise, the spelling would all be according to Hanyu Pinyin. Your name is your fucking name, you don’t get to change it around on a whim. There’s a process for that. Include a system for romanizing Aboriginal names as well, of course, but for Chinese names, Hanyu Pinyin or GTFO.

3. Pump up the electric scooter infrastructure (get it? Pump up….oh forget it), allow imports to compete on the market, and ban two-stroke scooters outright. If you have a two-stroke scooter, you get a discount on your new electric scooter. Congratulations.

4. Hello service industry people! Tired of hiding behind the counter whenever someone of a different race walks in because you fear they might speak another language? I’m here to solve your problem: From now on, no matter who your customer is, the first words out of your mouth will be in a local language. If they complain, tell them I said it was ok. If said customer fails to understand that, then figure something out. I guarantee you it won’t be as much of a problem as you think it will be, and even when it is, it’s not your problem, it’s theirs. Speak your own fucking language; they’re the visitors here, not you. To our police friends: If the white dude on the scooter without a license doesn’t understand you, again: Not your problem. You got his info, you issue a ticket. After that it’s his problem. Have some fucking self respect.

5. Ships. Hey, did you know that we’re on an ISLAND? With lots of rivers? Look at any map from the Japanese era, and you’ll see a spaghetti plate of lines connecting Taiwan to lots of other places. Kind of sad that everyone’s so afraid of water that we’re all hiding behind huge concrete walls with soldiers and barbed wire on top, isn’t it? So STOP IT! Coming soon: Not only mandatory swimming classes in schools, but also ferry services between Taipei, Ilan, Hualien, Taitung, Kaohsiung, and Kending. Actual ferries across the Danshui/Dahan/Xindian river system. A new flood-containment system that doesn’t require huge concrete barriers. Let the river be part of the city again. You’ll be surprised at the difference it makes.

6. Old buildings. Work out a system of reimbursement for historical structures so that the owners won’t be left with a rotting hulk on their hands, lest they tear the things down in the dark of night and exclaim in mock surprise the next morning: “Oh my, I wonder what happened to my house?” We will prepare a pool holding all the discarded alligators from Da-an Park just for you.

7. New buildings. Residences can only stay empty for a certain amount of time, whereupon Mr. Tax man will be visiting. Want to fend him off? Cut your losses and sell it for cheap. You can’t guarantee you’ll be able to sell most of the apartments in that building you’re building? Perhaps you should have taken a clue from the seven completely empty buildings next door. *WHOMP goes the stamp* Denied.

8. Bar-free windows. If you insist on barring up your windows, that nice, strapping Fireman will not be able to rescue your sorry ass from the fire you started when you were trying to burn ghost money in your god-damn hallway. Enjoy the view, and stop worrying that thieves will make away with your moldy black sofa. The thing’s awful to sit on anyway.

9. Inspectors get changed out. Inspectors, no matter how honest they may start out, will inevitably be co-opted into the corrupt system. Change them out every so often to avoid this.

10. Politicians clean up their messes: Stepping down to “take responsibility” for something won’t be acceptable. You want to step down? Fine. FIX YOUR SHIT and then leave. We’ll be happy to show you the door after you stop the streets of your city from exploding. Thank you very much, and by the way, once you step down, you stay the fuck down. We don’t want to see your name on the ballot next month. Or ever.

11. The military. Sure, the draft is ending, but if you want a real professional military, changes are going to have to be made.  You can’t run a volunteer army the way you ran a conscript army, and you’re working against decades of bad memories for most of the people here. The first step is to pay a decent wage, make it a viable career, etc. But you need to market yourself to people who are into this kind of thing, by which I mean actual soldiering, not just lazy students or whomever you’re trying to impress with comfy barracks with Hello Kitty wifi spots or whatever the hell you’re offering. Offer adventure. Offer challenges. Leave out the amenities.

12. Chinese tourists. Hey, don’t we all love Chinese tourists? Or at least their money? But you know what? There are other countries in the world! Instead of participating in a race to the bottom, I think you’ll find that, with the above policies, people from other countries might just want to visit as well!

13. Freedom of speech. You hear a lot about how “free” Taiwan is. But there are a few niggling problems with that. The public insult laws need to go. Slander and libel are of course actual Things, but public insult is just a fact of life, and if you can’t handle being given the finger in traffic, you need to STFU and deal.

14. Public photography. In a decade or two, if things keep going the way they’re going, the only way we’ll ever know that places like Hungary exist will be reading questionable Wikipedia texts. Taiwan is ALREADY practically invisible in the international scene, and you want to prohibit photographers from showing it to the world? Fuck that. If you’re in a public place with no reasonable expectation of privacy, we don’t care if someone shot you picking your nose or scratching your ass.

15. Actual fucking media. This is becoming a problem worldwide, but it’s pretty awful here as well. In order to call yourself a news source, you will need to offer real, actual journalism. You start in with this 24-hour “infotainment” shit and you’re out. You mix your op/ed with your actual news? There’s the door. You opine on shit you have no right to opine on? Good-bye. On your way out, feel free to look up Walter Fucking Cronkite and school your ignorant ass.

16.  The street is the street. It is not your living room. We will paint a line where the street goes, and another where the sidewalk goes. You will not put your shit in the street. You put it there, and it becomes ours. Or a deserving charity’s. But not yours.

17. Intersections. Automatic bollards will pop up at red lights. Emergency vehicles will be able to disable them, but your gas pedal will not. You want to run a red light? Talk to the bollard. Anyone injured by running into a properly functioning bollard will be required to take all the responsibility for all the damage caused.

18. Marijuana. Allow it, regulate it. There’s no real reason not to. America may have a stick up its ass about this, but the opium wars ended a long time ago. Sure, it’s a drug, but we allow tobacco and alcohol, under certain conditions.

19. Marriage equality. Again, no reason not to. Many reasons to do it. We’ll be in the spotlight as a bastion of human rights in a region where such things are rare. There’s literally no downside to it. You even get to piss off crazy right-wing Christian hypocrites, which is just gravy.

20. Immigration: Create a reasonable system of immigration that treats everyone the same. You don’t want foreigners to be allowed to keep their other citizenship, Mr. ABC? Fine, then you’ll have to do it too. Same rules for everyone, regardless of race.

21. Judges will be selected by a rigorous examination after decades of experience in the legal system, not as a graduation present from mommy and daddy along with a fake Versace bag from a night market. The bag is more convincing.

22. Stop worshiping English. No, the whole world doesn’t speak it. It’s not a sign of how “fashion” you are. Sure, if your job involves negotiating government treaties face-to-face with U.S. congressmen, then of course you need to possess a good command of the English language. If you run a bubble tea shop and are worried that some day you might be tasked with negotiating government treaties, I’d say don’t worry so much about the English lessons and more about the shit chemicals people are trying to put in your tea.

23. You put poison into food? You go to jail for a long time. People die or get sick from the shit you put in your food? You get tried for murder and/or attempted murder. In any case, your company disappears.

24. Raise utility prices. “Hmm, we have to somehow restrict usage on these valuable items, but everyone is using them because they’re so cheap? WHO CAN SOLVE THIS UNSOLVABLE CONUNDRUM?” Yeah, you could write some hokey slogans about being a good citizen and saving these precious resources out of the goodness of your precious widdle heart. Or you could do something effective, like raises water and electricity rates to levels that aren’t some of the cheapest in the entire world. It’s crazy, but it just might work!

25. Language schools (and everyone else, but especially language schools): Don’t want to hire someone because of their race? Sure, go ahead! And then go to fucking jail, because that shit is lame.

I guess that’s it for now. I didn’t put a great deal of thought into these, but go ahead and sharpen those pitchforks, because everyone knows that some random blog post is legally binding and everyone will be forced to think exactly the same way as I do.

 

posted by Poagao at 12:14 pm  
Apr 12 2015

Yokohama!

We were flying to Yokohama on Friday, but not out of Taoyuan. Instead, we were departing from Songshan Airport, whose unfortunate call letters are “TSA”. I was able to catch the subway from Xindian all the way to the airport with only one transfer. I hadn’t been to the airport since it’s refurbishing, and it looks cool in a faux-retro kind of way. Either that or it’s actually the original furnishings, just taken out of the cupboard where they were tossed at the dawn of the Age of Crap and dusted off. Our baggage included two tubs and a wooden stick, all boxed and labeled “fragile”.

Another surprised lay in store for us after we cleared customs, where the lines were so short none of us even thought of using the machines that do it automatically: Instead of some dumpy old airplane, we boarded one of ANA’s new Boeing 787s. I admit I didn’t realize it was a 787 until I’d boarded, put my stuff away, settled down and realized that there was seemingly no way to pull the window shade down (the windows are darkened with a polarization thingamabob). Only then did I notice the slightly taller windows and raised wings. When I related this exciting information to Thumper, he also became very excited, going so far as to actually shrug.

The flight was smooth and quick, aided by a healthy tailwind, and we were soon descending through the clouds over Haneda Airport, Tokyo’s “local” airport, which is ever so much more impressive than any airport in Taiwan. We got off and gazed out at the 787, upon which Slim realized that he had neglected to bring his bag with him off the plane. We waited while he went back to fetch it. This would become somewhat of a theme throughout our trip.

After deciphering the plate of multicolored spaghetti that is Tokyo’s subway map, we managed to find the train to Yokohama. When we got there, instead of figuring out exactly where we should head to get to the hotel, we stood around ogling a poster for the Yokohama Jug Band Festival, where we were a featured act. We later regretted this neglect when we found it was raining outside and we had to walk a bit more in the rain than we would have if we’d just looked at a goddamn map.

poster

But we found the hotel, the Hotel Plumm, which features daring shades of purple and green. Our room also had a lot of Shocking Pink. But it was indoors and they had hot water, so all was good.

We’d been invited to a pre-festival party a few stops down the line that evening, so we grabbed some instruments and headed out into the rain again, this time to a lovely little bar called the Blue Corn Cafe, where many talented Japanese musicians were putting on a show. We sat down and listened to some really great pieces, and met some of them as well as the organizers of the festival, including Mooney, Speedy and Tomo. Mooney is the head organizer as well as a musician, and Speedy is one of the best bassists I’ve ever seen. He lives and breathes the songs, and the double bass he plays is like part of him. Tomo hasn’t cut his hair in three years. We sat and ate burgers (though I didn’t seen any actual blue corn on the menu) and drank as we enjoyed the music. It was supremely comfortable, though Japanese people still insist on smoking in restaurants even in this day and age. At one point Mooney saw my trumpet and motioned for me to come up on stage. They were playing a version of “Everybody Loves My Baby” but it had a strange minor section I’d never heard before. “Do you know this song?” Mooney asked. I nodded noncommittally.

“I know…a version of it?” I said, but he was already going, so I did what I could. People seemed to like it, anyway. Conor gave some ripping solos, and Sandman played a bit as well. It was great fun.

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The subway was shutting down at 12:30 or so, so Tomo led us back to the station so we could hop on the last train back to Yokohama Station, along with 89 businessmen, two of them in each other’s laps. We cooled down in David’s room for a bit before heading off to sleep.

Breakfast the next day was downstairs from the hotel and next door at a Dennys-esque restaurant called “Jonathan”, with booths and newspapers and decent eggs. There was a Mandatory Jug Band “meeting” at the venue at 11am, but we had no idea what it was all about, so we just grabbed our instruments and showed up, only to find that it was an actual meeting, all in Japanese, and besides being introduced, there wasn’t much for us to do. It was odd seeing so many jug bands in one place, over 60 in all, with accompanying paraphernalia such as buttons, T-shirts, posters, etc.

We had some time, so I walked around the area a bit, along the canals, across some bridges and back. Another performance space lay under a large bridge nearby. An elderly man ventured out of his tiny old building to do laundry on the porch. Trains came and went. I love trains, bridges, and walking around such places, so I was very happy with it all. I browsed cameras at the BIC camera store, where an employee took way too much time connecting power to the cameras, but at least they let you try them, unlike shops back home in Taipei. I got a good feel for cameras I’d only read about, such as the Panasonic LX100 (good features but poor handling) and the Fuji X100T (very nice, lovely optical viewfinder), and the Sony A7II (too big and heavy, I still prefer the small and light A7r).

As I was meandering down a street, wondering what I was doing for lunch, I heard someone calling my name. It was Mojo. She, Eddie and David were in line for noodles at a popular shop across the street, so I joined them. The noodles, when we were finally seated, were very good, somehow emitting a smoked, barbeque flavor, albeit a bit salty. I redecorated my necktie with soup, so it wasn’t too bad. It seemed to be a family business, and it ran like clockwork. I wouldn’t want to be a new employee there. I wouldn’t be surprised if they make you sit and watch for a month before they let you into the kitchen.

Our afternoon show was approaching, so we walked back to the stage, which was on a sloping platform over a canal. We soon noticed that, despite its name, we hadn’t seen any actual jugs being played. Slim felt he might be the only actual jug player at a jug band festival, which would be strange. I also noticed that none of the washtub basses seemed to be able to hit actual notes with any kind of accuracy. A few were ok, but mostly seemed to be used as percussive instruments rather than melodic ones.

It was time to get ready, but as we pulled out our instruments in preparation, Sandman discovered that he had brought the wrong saxophone. It wasn’t a big deal as far as the afternoon show went, but he’d need to find something before the evening show. The sound on the canal stage seemed kind of tinny, and when I told them to put the microphone under the tub, they seemed shocked, as if nobody had ever thought to do that before. But they caught on, and before we knew it, we were playing, several women in geisha outfits, complete with green bottles of sake, dancing next to the stage as we played.

outsidestage

The sun came out in response to Mojo’s bright yellow earrings, welcome after all of the rain and gloom. We put our stuff away after the show, and I walked around some more, enjoying just being in Yokohama. The cherry trees were in blossom, lit up by streetlights as dusk fell and uniformed persons shouted at pedestrians. I ducked into a curry place for an unremarkable dinner before catching another show under the bridge.

They were having a “washtub bass summit” when I returned to the venue. About a dozen makeshift washtub bassists were there, and they were all surprised to find that I was using a chopstick to pluck the string. They all used their hands, some gloved, some bare, on metal of nylon strings. The biggest innovation I saw was one guy who had a notched stick that could be used as a washboard in an emergency.

We all went out on stage, where Tomo was sitting with a banjo. He played a simple melody, and the dozen-odd washtub basses lurched into a rumbling accompaniment. It was a mess to hear. They gave everyone a measure to play individually, but that was fairly meaningless as well. I went through the motions of strumming, devoting most of my energy to avoiding rolling-eye strain, but I guess it was cool to at least see a bunch of washtub basses in the same room.

Steve Gardner was playing before us, and he invited us on stage to play on his last song. It was fun, but the key was a bit odd. I managed somehow, and then it was our turn.

thumbsup

Our show was great, to put it simply. The sound, the audience (except one large woman in the front row who seemed to have fallen asleep or passed out), the energy, the lights, everything was great. The stage was in a bar called the Thumbs Up. Some more bands played after us, but we had the prime spot, and we all got up on stage for a raucous, righteous jam at the end before retiring to the table for beer and sake and plates of food. We donated the tub and stick to an earnest young Japanese washtub bass player named JJ, who seemed to be trying to emulate Johnny Depp’s character in Alice. He was very happy. Everyone was very happy. I can’t remember when I’ve had such a wonderful time. Even though I was exhausted, I took the long way back to the Plumm, not wanting the day to end. Some of the others took this feeling a bit more seriously, as they went out to another place for food and only returned to the hotel at 4 a.m.

We got up a couple of hours later, around 6, in order to make our flight back to Taipei. The day was lovely, brilliant, sunny and warm. I wished very hard that I could stay in Yokohama, visions of playing gigs, studying Japanese and living in a tiny room somewhere around there dancing in my stupid little head, but we had to go. For a moment we thought we might miss our flight when Conor thought mistakenly that he’d left his phone at the hotel, even going back to get it before realizing it was in his bag all along (I told you this kind of thing would happen again). We made the train, however, and though I was told be the rear-train conductor to stop taking pictures of her hands (I wasn’t; I was taking video of her hands), we made it to the airport in one piece.

I spent as much of my remaining Yen as I could on a sandwich, and then it was on the 787 back to Taipei. Flying into Songshan is even more surreal than flying out of it; usually with Taoyuan there is that buffer period between the Outside World and Taiwan, in the form of a dusty, creaking bus, but this sudden transition via the subway was a little unsettling. Thumper took off, as well as Mojo, at the airport. David and Conor headed off back to Muzha. Slim got off at Qizhang, and Sandman at Xindian District Office Station. Then it was just me, hauling my luggage back across the bridge to the Water Curtain Cave.

Most of my stuff is unpacked, the handful of photos and videos copied. And now this account is written. The trip is done. It will take a while to sink in, however. It was one of those trips, a trip I didn’t know how much I needed. Time may tell how much.

 

posted by Poagao at 10:07 pm  
Mar 27 2015

BRAVE NEW SOCIAL MEDIA

Is Facebook old-fashioned? Duh! Of course it is, because now all the cool kids are parents, and having your parents checking up on you on Facebook is, like, the uncoolist thing EVAR.

Ok, sorry, that’s the chocolate-filled coffee I just drank talking. It speaks in a sticky-sweet voice and I can’t stop listening.

But seriously, Facebook has actually never been cool, though it can be a useful tool at times. Recently I was turned on to Vine by the work of Thomas Sanders, who makes (mostly) funny six-second videos with an amazing amount of creativity. I’d heard of Vine before, but at that point I just scoffed in the fashion of an elderly white gentleman sipping tea in a puffy armchair while grumbling about “the masses.” Now, years later, I can see the error of my presumption, because Vines can be pretty damn neat. The work of Sanders was a gateway to many other users of the service, and I am now a fan, basically because I like the idea of making a video almost instantly after I come up with the idea to make a video. I suspect this might be a consequence of having spent ten years making a single feature film; I want these things DONE. NOW. And they are. I still suck at making Vines of my own, but it doesn’t matter; I’ll never be one of the A-list there, which is fine because I don’t need that kind of pressure (he said nonchalantly while secretly entertaining fantasies of attending huge Vine Meetups in NYC and LA and hanging out with Egyptian DJs who raise rabbits and wear their hats backwards).

Another social media service I was turned on to via Vine is Snapchat (For some reason I keep typing Snapshat, which I assume is a completely different service). I’d also heard of Snapchat before, which I’d also dismissed in a similarly raised-pinkie fashion, but again, I think there’s something to it. The photos/chats/videos disappear after a certain number of viewings/amount of time. What’s the good of that? You ask. To me, it’s an attempt to regain the feeling of real-world interaction, a backlash against endlessly permanent interactions whose nature is changed because considerations of their permanence. With Snapchat, whatever you say is over and unrecorded (but possibly screenshot, alas) once it’s out you pretty little mouth. People feel less inhibited, say more of whatever nonsense they really think, and it’s over and out; you’re free to move on afterwards because there are fewer consequences. In my case, there are literally no consequences because exactly zero people have ever seen anything I’ve posted on Snapchat. I assume this is because you really need to become well-known on another service like Instagram (which I have reluctantly rejoined, though I’m not terribly active) or Vine before you can entice people over to Snapchat to revel in your fabulous everyday life, real-time, instead of talking with the person sitting next to them on the subway. The nice thing about this is that I can spout any damn nonsense that comes into my fatuous head, something I do anyway, but now I can record myself doing it! There’s no possible use for it that I can imagine.

And now, of course, we have Periscope, launched today by Twitter, which lets everyone broadcast everything all the time. AKA Chaos, mass hysteria, pet co-habitation, etc.

Cool.

Anyway, these things come and go, as those of us who have reached our 40s more or less intact can attest, and I’m sure something new and more interesting will replace the New Things. It keeps things fresh, or at least a welcome distraction from…uh…China’s political hegemony? Tupperware? Eerily anthropomorphic depictions of Elmer the Bull? Voles in general? I can’t remember.

posted by Poagao at 11:54 am  
Mar 21 2015

Full Friday

Yesterday was an interesting day. It was Friday, which meant office work and wrapping up various tasks before noon. There was no room for delay, because I’d been asked by my old friend Chalaw to appear on a TV program with him in the afternoon. Also, the Ramblers had a gig at Cheng-chih University that night, so I had to suit up and bring all my gear with me in the morning.

Fortunately everything went smoothly; I caught the subway over to Houshanpi Station and got in a taxi with Chenbl and Xiao Guo, who were helping me out with all my stuff in exchange for getting to watch a TV taping live. Not a great deal for them, but I appreciated their help carrying all that stuff. The guard at the TV studios could have been Chenbl’s twin brother, a fact which both of them found quite amusing.

Chalaw greeted us in the makeup room, and we chatted for a bit before going into the studio for rehearsal. Some really good backup musicians were there, so we got to perform with awesome slide guitar, drum, bass and keyboard backup. After rehearsing once or twice, we recorded a song, and then another. It was quite cold, but hopefully I wasn’t too off-key.

I’m positive that I was off-key for the interview portion of the show, though. I’m terrible at interviews, always doing and saying the wrong things and looking at the wrong people, stammering my answers out and shaking my microphone. The editors certainly have their job cut out for them, is all I can say. Still, Chalaw and the hosts were very nice and accomodating.

We had to leave a bit early, so we could get over to Cheng-chih University for our soundcheck at 4:15. The cab took us over the bridge of the Jingmei Stream, through the campus gate and up the hill to the Arts Center, where the gig was being held in honor of photographer Shen Chao-liang’s exhibition on the topic of highly decorated, mobile stages in Taiwan. The Ramblers were to play on just such a stage ourselves, something we’d been looking forward to for a long time, as it is just so our style. Shen Chao-liang greeted me as we got out of the cab. He’s only a little older than I am, and has created several wonderful photographic works. He’s one of the best Taiwanese photographers out there, and it was great to talk with him. The prints at the exhibition were large and lovely.

Mosquitos were consuming Xiao Guo’s arm, so we booked it into the building and over to the rear veranda overlooking the river and the city beyond. The truck had already been set up in front of the empty stands. Due to space restrictions, the audience was being limited to 300 people via online registration. We went through the soundcheck with the very professional sound people, whom I duly added on Facebook later.

Chenbl had flute class that night and couldn’t stay, but Xiao Guo and I feasted on boxed dinners along with the rest of the Ramblers and the Lion Dancing troupe who were going to open for us. They put on a splendid show, though afterwards I heard one of them say ruefully, “I knew I shouldn’t have eaten before the show.”

Our show was next, and it was wonderful, even though I had a headache and kept wincing. The place was packed, the stands full and the audience spilling over both sides of the stage. The crowd was very enthusiastic about all the music, and virtually exploded when we started to play our version of the old standard Wang Chun Feng. In between songs we would raffle prizes and sell our “medicine”, students lining up in front of the stage. It was great.

After the show was another show, i.e. the folding up of the huge stage into a little blue truck. Everyone watched raptly as the various parts enfolded into each other, almost seeming to swallow the man who was operating the hydraulics. At the end he got almost as much applause as we’d gotten.

Most everyone had left by the time we got back out front to catch cabs back home, but after David and some others had taken the first cab, the second cabbie demanded NT$500 just for our luggage. He knew he had us in a tough spot, but we refused to give him the satisfaction and sent him packing without any fare. Of course, this meant that we had to hitch a ride back down the mountain, where we could catch a cab, but fortunately one of the group volunteered for shuttle duty. Finding a cab wasn’t difficult out in front of the campus, though Slim decided to go his own way.

So, all in all, a great day, made better by the fact that it’s now the weekend.

posted by Poagao at 10:58 am  
Mar 19 2015

Taitung, etc.

So we headed down to Taitung on Saturday morning. It was bright and sunny, the perfect day for a train ride. This particular train ride, however, was four hours long despite the fact that it was Puyuma Express. No matter, we were with friends and our spirits were high. Also, I’d arrived early so that I could pick up some decent grub to munch on while watching that beautiful east-coast scenery.

The journey went smoothly, though we had to keep an eye on Sandy, who kept testing the limits of just how long each stop was by getting off each time and standing on the platform until the conductor shooed him on board again. This situation was not helped by Conor, who simply made up a length of time for Sandy.

The Tropics were waiting when we stepped off the train in Taitung, the warm wind especially welcome at this time of year for Taipeiens such as ourselves. We caught some expensive taxis over to the old train station, which is now an art space, and set up on the small stage there. Some street performers were playing on the sidewalk, and an older man was playing a leaf. Soundcheck was smooth thanks to the crew, which included one of the Betelnut Bros., so they really knew their business. The only flaw became apparent when the breeze shifted so that we smelled the bathrooms next to the stage.

It was a good show, though we started slow. Kids were dancing, albums were sold and signed. Between the sets I had some chicken fingers at the cafe opposite where I was able to enjoy the view. Afterwards we caught the same cabs that we’d taken there and booked it up to Dulan. And when I say booked, I mean booked. The driver spent an inordinate amount of time in the wrong lane at an inordinately high speed. Seats were gripped, oaths muttered, followed by sighs of relief when we arrived in downtown Dulan. We were staying at Barry’s hostel. Barry used to run some bars in Taipei before moving down to Dulan. We tossed our stuff on the bunks upstairs and made our way to the Sugar Factory teahouse, where some excellent music was being played by some very talented individuals, including the inimitable Redeye. One of the women on stage was playing an interesting old trumpet, so during the break I asked to look at it. It turned out to be a very old Bach model, probably around 50 years old, with no finish left and buttery valve action. I played a little bit, and they asked me to play along, so I did. Eventually, the Ramblers got on stage to play, but not quick enough for an older foreign gentleman sitting nearby, who kept shouting at us to “Fucking play something already!”

It was a fun show, though I was already tired after the show and the previous gig. I left early to go back to the hostel. My bed had bad fengshui, however, being near the stairs, and I didn’t get much sleep.

Sunday morning on the back veranda as soon as Mojo had woken up, eating danbing and sipping doujiang as we cast a weather eye over the Pacific, making plans to go to the beach. We piled into Barry’s van along with his three dogs, and set out, stopping by his property to admire his huts and ducklings before arriving at the expanse of grey sand that was the nearest good beach. Most of the others went swimming, but as I was still getting over my cold, I only took off my shoes and waded in ankle-deep. The sun vanished behind the clouds appearing over the high mountains to the west, and there was a smattering of rain. We talked and breathed and strolled. Sandy was magnificent in his pink underwear.

Back at the hostel, we were treated to a delicious five-star lunch of paella and goat balls, prefaced by spinach soup. It was amazing and surprising. Mojo had to leave early as she was headed back to Taichung. As the rest of the guys were dedicating themselves to an afternoon of sitting in front of the hostel, periodically crossing the street to the 7-Eleven for beer, I elected to walk over to the Sugar Factory in search of hats or whatever else I encountered.

The factory held no good hats for me, alas. However, I walked around to an interesting photo gallery and talked to the photographer’s assistant for a while. It turned out that she knew my college roommate DJ Hatfield, who is living in Dulan these days. That weekend he was in Lugang, so we didn’t get a chance to meet up. Then again, it’s a pretty small place and everyone knows everyone. She said she was impressed by foreigners who take the time to at least learn the language, and expressed a bit of dismay about the backpacker scene. She wasn’t the only one. The more people I talked to, the stronger an impression I got that many locals aren’t really in love with Western backpackers.

I walked west, back into the town. There weren’t many people around, only a few gathered in a few yards around barbeques. I heard a lot of Amis language, which DJ is studying. It felt different than your average Taiwanese town, at once more orderly and neat and more interesting. There was only one temple, but many churches. I managed to find some hats I would have been interested in buying, but the shop owner was out.

We got the taxis, which are apparently the only taxis in the region, back to Taitung, which seemed in comparison like a huge metropolis. Still full of paella and goat balls, I only got a couple pieces of bread for the 4-hour journey back to Taipei. There was much less talking this time, instead more sleeping. It was after midnight by the time we got back. I’d like to visit Taitung and Dulan again, though.

Monday was rough. This whole week has been a game of catch-up. I’m taking violin classes on Monday nights, and I’m playing badminton on Wednesday nights. Yesterday I had to go change out the strings on my rackets, so I walked across the CKS Memorial. A large tent was being set up in the middle of the square. I took a couple of pictures when a guy in a black rent-a-cop uniform waved me away. “What?” I asked.

“You can’t take photos of this,” he said.

“Why not?”

“It’s private.” I pointed to the tent.

“Sure, maybe that’s private, but not where I’m standing,” I said. Then came a shout from another black-clothed fellow standing by the opera house steps.

“NO PHOTOS!” He shouted.

“WHY NOT?” I shouted back.

“IT’S PRIVATE. IT’S NOT ALLOWED!”

“THAT’S PRIVATE,” I shouted, wondering why I had to explain this to them so many times, pointing at the tent. “THIS ISN’T,” and I pointed at where I was standing. The gall of the man, sitting on the steps where I’d sat for days and nights 25 years ago protesting for democracy, telling me I couldn’t photograph there.

“OK, TAKE YOUR PHOTOS,” he called.

“THANK YOU.”

“AND WE WILL ARREST YOU!” he continued.

“HAVE FUN WITH THAT!” I called back, laughing. Really, I should have been outraged by his audacity, but it was just so pathetic. I had no idea was in the the tents, nor did I care. I kept walking around the tent, noting that it was for a Volkswagen event, with the slogan “Because it’s Volkswagen” on the side. Oh, so that’s why they’re acting all fascist, I thought to myself. Nice of them to say. I kept taking pictures, but I could tell from conversations with the guards that they knew exactly where their authority ended, and they were only required to say this shit by their employers. None of their BS was remotely enforceable.

The new strings on my rackets took some getting used to, but it’s good to be exercising again; I’m really out of shape after the long winter break.

Yesterday was also the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the student occupation of the Legislature. I spent a lot of the day in the area, walking around among the various tents and groups. It felt sad in a way. I didn’t see many people I’d known from the event, but I did manage to meet Ian Rowen, who wrote a nice academic piece on it, and a few others. The events on the street felt more like a tribute band performance than the original band coming back. The spirit, the people even, just weren’t there. It was all fans, groupies, people who had wanted their voice magnified by the original event. But then again I’m a cynic; there have been many positive developments in the year since, and I shouldn’t ignore that. I have no doubt that, should the need arise, they’ll be back. In the meantime, I do hope that the historic significance of the occupation is recognized and given the proper credit, though it’s inevitable that the truth will be “adjusted” by various parties along the way.

Anyway, tomorrow is Friday. It’s going to be a very busy day. And hopefully a good one.

 

posted by Poagao at 10:42 pm  
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