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.
“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.
“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.