Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Sep 06 2014

Tokyo ’14, final

Checkout was at 10 a.m. After breakfast, I gathered up my things, shoved everything into my one rolling suitcase, a token of my time at Ogilvy & Mather, and left it at the desk while I went out to take a last stroll around the area. I walked down to Akihabara, turned east, crossed under the highway, and circled around. On the way I found a slightly depressed covered market called Satake, surrounded by older houses similar to the kind of old houses you find occasionally in Taipei, or at least until they’re all torn down.

Lunch was some fried pork chop with rice at the shop with the rude (for Japanese) waitresses, and then I headed back to the hotel. On the way I happened on an interesting second-hand camera store, but I didn’t have time to check out the lovely Leica M4s in the window; I had to catch the Skyliner out to the airport.

Oddly enough, the woman at the counter said all the aisle and window seats were taken. When I asked for an emergency exit seat, she checked, and found me an aisle seat that had miraculously appeared. When I got on the plane, the economy class was indeed booked solid. The business class was completely empty.

In any case, I had to follow the world outside the plane though the monitor screen, which was fairly entertaining.

Now I’m back at the Water Curtain Cave, transferring the few photos and videos I managed to take on this trip to my hard drives, and sorting dirty laundry, etc. The security guy downstairs is raising a kitten he found nearby. I’m fairly sure it is related to Rusty, the kitten I found for Chris Ly when she lived here years ago.

I’m not sure if this trip resolved anything in particular. It was mostly just me wandering around. I suspect my soul needed something like that, but 1) the benefits of such things are rarely immediately apparent, and 2) it’s a drop in a well. I’m glad I went, though. I got out from under things for a short time, managed to, as Winogrand put it, “not exist for a short while.” Fortunately it is the mid-autumn festival this weekend, so no work until Tuesday. I’ll worry about all that then. Or maybe I won’t.

posted by Poagao at 11:39 pm  
Sep 06 2014

Tokyo ’14 part 7

I needed something to lift me out of yesterday’s doldrums, so I took the subway to Asakusa and bought a one-way river cruise ticket. Sure enough, once we cast off and were plying the Sumida, my spirits rose. Canals, apartment buildings, offices, bridges, all slid past. Even the weather improved; it had been cloudy, but when we finally docked at Hinode pier, the sun was out in a brilliant blue sky. I spent a few minutes photographing the riveting of the old airstream parked there while passengers lined up for a dinner cruise next door, and then set off inland to the World Trade Center building that I visited years ago. This time, instead of going up to the observation deck, I wandered around the streets I’d photographed back then, as I’d wished to do, and indeed have surrepticiously done via Google street view while in the office from time to time. I was happy again by this point, almost giddy even, or at least as giddy as I am capable of being. It was lunchtime and the bright sidewalks were crowded with office workers, the bright sun causing their white dress shirts to shine and glow. I walked through a hulking black shrine complex to Tokyo Tower, which I’d never been up before. So I bought a ticket to the top platform to have a look around.

It occurred to me that Tokyo is at its most wonderful when I am not trying to accomplish anything, not having meetings or bringing things here or there. It’s a society that for the most part leaves me to my own devices, while providing a certain amount of impersonally convenient infrastructure for the loner. I also get the feeling of being a solid outsider, increasing my isolation in a way I don’t experience in many other countries. It’s a great place to think and wonder and wander for that very reason.

After the tower I walked to Roppongi, recalling the last time I strode up the balconies of the Mori Tower it was snowing there. The light was reflecting off the office towers  into the streets as I returned to Tokyo Tower via another route, past a high school  where kids were shouting and hitting baseballs against the netting.

Louis had told me about a particularly interesting bookstore called the Komiyama, near Jimbocho Station. They had many lovely photobooks. Unfortunately, they also closed at seven, so I was out on the streets again in far too short an order. I was about to have some gorilla curry when Louis called and invited me for sushi in Tsukiji. We met in front of the Hongan Shrine, and walked past a few restaurants, one featuring a man playing a Japanese flute for the customers sitting on the sidewalk, before finding a place to eat. It was quite good, and dessert was had at a Denny’s just across the river. I hadn’t been to a Denny’s in decades.

So now I’m back at my hotel. Tomorrow I’m flying back to Taipei, to start my regular life again. But for now, I’m still living in my little fantasy vacationland, so I’m not going to dwell on those depressing details just yet.

posted by Poagao at 12:26 am  
Sep 05 2014

Tokyo ’14, part 6

On the subway this morning, I watched a man with a shirt two sizes too small struggled into a pair of equally tiny socks. I was on my way to Shinjuku, to the park. It was cloudy. Why is it always cloudy when I go to Shinjuku this time around? I wondered. It was sunny when I left the hotel.

Anyway, I walked back from the park to more busy areas, through the construction that seems to have been going on for roughly a decade on the south side of the station, and then took another subway to Harajuku. From there I walked to Shibuya, home of Strange People with Cameras, and met Louis. We then headed to a photo fair near Daikanyama.

When we got there, a number of distinguished Japanese photographers were milling about the lobby. One of these was Eikoh Hosoe. They had given a talk, which we’d missed, but it was all in Japanese so I would have missed it in any case. We talked to some publishers. One of them was really into outrigger canoeing, and Louis was an instant convert. We also talked a bit about photography and photography books.

Afterwards, Louis had to go visit his sick dog in the dog hospital. I wandered aimlessly, feeling lost, but not the kind of lost I’d hoped to be when I came here this time. It was still cloudy. On many levels. So many levels that I found myself buying cinnamon buns, but that was rather a rather desperate measure.

So I walked, and walked. Up to Harajuku, over Omotesando, up the Ginza Line, until it was dark and my feet were sore. Then it was back to the hotel and a lie down before Louis called and said he’d be over for dinner.

I had wanted to find the little traditional Japanese restaurant where I’d often dined during my visit in ’08, but I couldn’t find it, so we settled on a yakitori place that had interesting meat and took 30 minutes to make canned spaghetti. It wasn’t bad. Later we had some crushed ice, and then Louis took his leave. It was almost midnight, and he had to catch a train.

posted by Poagao at 12:04 am  
Sep 03 2014

Tokyo ’14, part V

After the thrill of touring the Nippon Maru, I couldn’t get visions of the Hikawa Maru out of my head. Not just another ship, an old passenger liner from one of my favorite eras, the last of her kind still around…how could I pass that up? I’d be kicking myself all the way back to Taipei.

So, after experimenting with the hotel’s pancakes this morning at breakfast (verdict: Meh), I once again went to the JR station nearby and boarded a train bound for Yokohama. The trains were much more crowded this time, and it took a few before I could find a car that wasn’t bursting with people, all of them looking at their phones, except the ones looking at girlie mags. I managed, in turn, to retain possession of my hat.

Back at the last stop on the Minato-mirai line, which is for some reason buried a dozen stories underground, I emerged again to find cartloads of children being pushed around the park for some reason. Happily, the Hikawa Maru was open, and I boarded, bought a ticket, and then spent the next few hours wandering around in a 30′s-era reverie. The decor was pure Art Deco, and they were even playing period jazz songs, including the Japanese version of the St. Louis Blues, in the 1st-class dining room. The lounges, the smoking rooms, the cabins, everything made me want to spend two weeks crossing the Pacific in such a magnificent craft, not today’s cruiseliners, but a real, honest-to-goodness ship. Of course, I might change my mind if presented with the real life waves of the northern Pacific, but still. In the captain’s cabin I discovered the origin of the design, color and even the smell of my 1977 Datsun 810. Someone at Nissan ordered those exact hues and odors based on some fond memories; there can be no doubt. I can’t believe it’s a coincidence. Those shades of purple and brown simply don’t happen by accident.

I also discovered exactly what they were doing yesterday that required them to close the ship: painting. I got white paint on my hands when descending the ladders in the engine room, which is also truly magnificent to behold. A much better engine room than anything I’ve ever seen on Star Trek.

My appetite for 30′s-era ships somewhat sated, I had some lunch and then took a train back to Tokyo, listening to the soundtrack to Paprika as I did so. It made for a rather surreal experience. The Japanese music and songs come across differently in Japan. Context. I then sat through the entire length of the Ginza Line to Asakusa, where I disembarked and asked one of the staff what train I should take to the Skytree, feeling somewhat satisfied that I managed the whole conversation in Japanese. It turned out I could walk it, so I did, crossing the Sumida River by the giant Godzilla Turd, which is looking less golden with age these days, and up a tributary, through a rather rough neighborhood by Tokyo standards, to the towering monstrosity that is Tokyo Skytree as the sky clouded over.

Tokyo Skytree charges extra for access to the upper levels, so I just paid for the basic level, which was enough. They have carefully arranged the top level to not let anyone sit down, in order to move them to lower levels. It’s quite clever. I loafed around as the city lights began to come on, thinking I’d really rather be down in it all, not up above everything. After night had fallen, I went down and had some very salty noodles at a nearby shop, and then walked back to Ueno. It was a long walk, but I like walking here, and I could pick my own pace and dodge into alleys for the occasional photo without having to make any excuses for anyone. Very nice.

Tomorrow I’ll be visiting a photobook thing in Ebisu.

posted by Poagao at 9:56 pm  
Sep 02 2014

Tokyo ’14, part I dunno, Tuesday?

Sunny! As if to make up for yesterday’s torrents, today the sky was a solid blue, with nary a cloud in sight. After breakfast I boarded a JR train bound for Yokohama…which turned out to be the wrong train. I did manage to get there, without my hat, which I left on the train accidentally. Every station seemed to have a plethora of connecting lines, and I felt like I was in a huge spider web.

I took the subway out to the end of the line, and went to Chinatown to buy a new hat. For some reason, none of the proprietors there actually spoke Chinese. I got a couple of hats anyway, and headed to see the ship I’d so wanted to see last time I was in Yokohama, five years ago, the Hikawa Maru. It had been a Monday then, so it was closed. But today was Tuesday!

But it was still closed. The sign actually read, “The ship is not open to visitors today because fuck you.” Or something like that. Or maybe that was me. After a round of solid cursing, I walked back through town, because I like walking through Yokohama. It’s very pleasant, with wide, tree-lined streets and old buildings. One of these was hosting some election activity, with lots of men in suits coming and going and bowing to each other.

I walked through the city to the Nippon Maru, my second-favorite old ship in Yokohama. Fortunately, not only was it open, they were having a deal on cheap tickets that included access ot the nearby museum. The Nippon Maru is a sailing ship, with multiple masts, built in 1930. Touring it was fascinating, and really made me wonder what life at sea was like back then. I would have climbed the rigging had they let me, the spoilsports.

After some lunch and wifi at Starbucks, I caught a fast train back to Tokyo, landing at Shibuya just in time for the beginning of rush hour. Or, rather, Western Street Photographer rush hour, as the famous intersection was teeming with various doughy males with Fuji X100s. One guy was making a time-lapse shot from the Official Shibuya Crossing Time Lapse Corner(tm). Several interviews were taking place, discussing, I imagine, deep questions like “Why do you think there are so many interviews being held in this particular place?”

It was getting a little odd, not to mention claustrophobic with all the people and even more giant screens competing to see who is the most annoying, so I returned to my hotel in Ueno, took a shower to the sounds of the nearby temple’s bell, and then headed out to the Ginza to meet Louis for dinner. The entire Ginza line seems a step above in terms of quality of people. I wonder if it’s just that higher class people take the line, or does the opulance of the lines cause people to behave better while riding it, or both? The golden hues of the seats and other accents really matches the golden nature of the name. The Ginza itself is kept better than other parts of the city, with nicer buildings and more even sidewalks, wider and sparkling clean. The only uncouth thing about the Ginza was the loud Chinese tourists.

I walked the length of the street on both sides in time to meet Louis outside the Mitsukoshi door, and he took me to an adjacent neighborhood full of small restaurants. We had French food while sitting outside the tiny place, eating foi gras and crepes, and talking about photography. Louis said he thinks of photography in terms of molecules, and suggested I move towards entire animals in terms of projects. It bears thinking about. After dinner we walked to where Louis had parked his bicycle, near Tsukiji, and I took the subway home, after photographing some construction sights.

posted by Poagao at 11:26 pm  
Sep 01 2014

Tokyo 2014, part 3

Rain. And more rain. That was today. It was raining when I got up. My hopes lifted at breakfast downstairs when it let up a little and people on the sidewalk stopped carrying umbrellas, but by the time I was ready to go out, it was raining again. I got in touch my with old classmate from film school, Yas, and we arranged to meet at 4 at his shop.

The museums being closed, I decided I’d head to Shinjuku for a bit, managing to understand the subway staff’s instructions on how to use the card I’d kept from Osaka. I was looking for signs to the Marunouchi Line from the Ginza Line when an American woman pulling a large piece of luggage asked me just that. “I, uh…” I stammered, as I didn’t know. She stared at me, and then shrugged dismissively.

“No help? Fine. Ok.” she said, as if I had snubbed her.

I did manage to fine the right platform. And so did she. It’s not hard if you just follow the signs.

In Shinjuku I walked over and through the Golden Gai, where I’d first met and photographed Daido Moriyama years ago. All the little shops were closed, of course. After lunch I visited the shrine that had been under construction the last time I was staying in the area. Rain once again began to pelt the ground as I walked back towards the train station. Dozens of stories above, window washers were no doubt saying to themselves, “Well,  shit.”

I found a Starbucks near a Krispy Kreme whose empty, silent assembly line bore quiet testament to the fact that Krispy Kreme isn’t nearly as popular as it was before they changed the recipes. I’d been told that all Starbucks offered free wifi, but the sign-up process requires that you register at home first. So much for that. In fact, in the year 2014, Japan, which is so advanced in so many other ways, takes a positively medieval view of wifi. It is almost never offered, and when it is, it’s with prohibitively complicated requirements.

Outside, people were struggling with their umbrellas as the wind picked up, adding to the general nastiness of the day. I took the train out to Asagaya Minami, where Yas’ shop is, and completely failed to find it until Yas actually came out and grabbed me from the sidewalk. We spent the next few hours talking about his new career as a VJ, movies, etc. It was good to catch up. I showed him some clips from The Kiss of Lady X, and he was astounded that we did what we did for such a small amount of money. He also suggested I watch The Castle of Caglioso, an early Miyazaki work.

I took the train back around 9 pm. The rain continued, unabated. The wind wasn’t helping, either. I had some katsu-don at a nearby place Louis had recommended, which had surprisingly rude (for Japan) waitresses, and then it was back to the hotel  to dry out my things and take a hot shower. Hopefully the weather will be better tomorrow.

posted by Poagao at 10:16 pm  
Aug 31 2014

Tokyo 2014, part 2

The sky was grey when I got up this morning and went down for breakfast at the hotel restaurant, where I had a hot dog and a salad while looking out at the people walking by. The hotel people said they could put me up on a higher floor in a room with a view, so I had to pack up and leave my luggage with them before heading out.

I headed to Ueno Park, where what I thought was a sewer outlet turned out to be water issuing from a well guarded by a huge crow. A light drizzle began as I observed a baseball game, causing the homeless fellows busy sleeping on adjacent benches to sit up. The park is full of cicadas and fresh air, which some of the visitors try to deal with by talking loudly and smoking.

I walked by the Filipino Fair and the art university, which has little glass rooms overlooking trees, presumably for art students to veg out in. The ground trembled every time a subway train ran underneath. At a school next to a shrine the sound of a concert band issued through the windows, and I wondered why they were practicing on a Sunday. Mothers and children on motorized bicycles zoomed around the streets of a temple-laden neighborhood.

I walked back to the park, resting a bit on a bench overlooking ducks and turtles, thinking it was nice to be here when it’s not cold for once. Lunch was at Subway. I’ve been trying to use what Japanese I have, with varied success. I am really, really not used to speaking it.

After lunch I headed south, stopping at a temple of a literary bent, where I took a family photo for some people. Back on the main road, I noted that one of the distinctive smells of Tokyo is a slight hint of diesel exhaust, probably from the subway. That and certain cooking smells.

I stopped at the Kanda Shrine, where statues of horses licking their feet adorn the entrance, and again at the Confucian Shrine, which was rather delapidated. An old man with a mask painted the scene in front…at least I think it was the scene in front. It wasn’t very much like the scene in front, to be honest.

A group of foreigners I passed back on the street were discussing what to do next. “I will talk to the driver,” their guide was saying. I couldn’t help but think to myself, happily, “I don’t have a driver! Ha!”

Just down the street was one of my favorite bits of Tokyo, namely the Shohei Bridge, where several subway lines criss-cross above and below, and a police boat sped by underneath just as I approached. A man was taking pictures on the bridge with the huge, ungainly Sigma Quattro.

I walked over to Akihabara, where the entire street had been closed to traffic. It was rather bizarre. I asked a policeman what time it started and stopped, and he said 1 to 6, and only on Sundays, before he dashed off to blow his whistle at some kids riding their bikes on the sidewalk.

I was really enjoying myself, walking on my own all around the area, stopping to write, or doubling back, or dashing over to take a shot of this or that. It was immensely satisfying, and the weather cooperated, the clouds dispersing, a brilliant afternoon sun illuminating the large white buildings.

I eventually made my way back to the hotel, where they gave me a room on the 11th floor. Sure, it’s next to the elevators, as well as the stairwell of the building next door, but at least it has a view of the outside. I took a shower and then met my friend Louis in the lobby. We headed out for dinner, and after a long walk that got me thoroughly lost, we ate at a Korean barbeque place while discussing politics and photography.

And now I’m back here, listening to the elevators. Fortunately, my apartment bedroom is next to the elevators as well, so it doesn’t particularly bother me.

posted by Poagao at 10:16 pm  
Aug 30 2014

Tokyo ’14 part 1

When I headed out my door this morning, all packed up, it was the first time in a long while that I’ve done so on my own. It was a bit unsettling, in fact. I allowed myself to feel cautiously happy, almost uneasily happy, on the bus to the airport. The weather in Taipei was brilliant and hot, and I wondered if it was raining in Tokyo.

The feeling of happiness grew stronger at the airport, where I lounged around while everyone else lined up to get on the plane. I was happy to be the last one. I’d gotten there in plenty of time, snagged myself a window seat at the rear of the 777, and settled in for a beautiful flight.

It was actually stunningly beautiful…white bits of clouds floating over the blue pacific, their dark blue shadows and white reflections visible in the water. A kid was crying, but it didn’t bother me.

I managed to catch the Skyliner into Tokyo this time, something that eluded me last time I was here, five years ago. Has it really been five years? Man. I was happy again when I walked out of the station into Ueno. I’m staying at the hotel I felt was most appropriately named: the Sardonyx. My window doesn’t do much right now because it’s too low and the building next door blocks any view, but they said they’d move me upwards tomorrow. After dinner at Yoshinoya (oddly one restaurant where the food is much better in the Taipei version), I walked around the area a bit. It’s cool but not unpleasant. So far, so good. No idea what I’m doing,  which, again, I’ve grown unused to, but I’ll think of something.

posted by Poagao at 9:51 pm  
Aug 25 2014

Enter Title Here

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

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

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

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


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

posted by Poagao at 2:19 pm  
Aug 18 2014

School concert

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

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

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

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

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

posted by Poagao at 12:20 am  
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