Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Jan 17 2022

Keelung jaunt

As it looked like a nice day on Saturday, I met up with Chenbl at Songshan Station to hop on a train to Keelung to scout potential photography walks with students if next semester happens. Only this time we didn’t go all the way to Keelung, but got off one stop early, at Sankeng, a narrow station in the valley the train follows before it opens up into the city. The weather in Keelung was cloudy, but at least it wasn’t raining, as it often is there. We took the fenced-in walkway towards the city and found ourselves at a railway crossing bordered by two alleys, one creepily dark with shadowy figures moving around inside, and another, leading back towards the station. We took the latter and passed several small rooms, pink fluorescent light spilling out into the alley, each inhabited by an apparently young woman; it was a red light district, but nobody spoke to us or called out.

After some tasty egg-based snacks at a restaurant that claimed to have been opened in 1938, the same year both of our fathers were born, we walked across the tracks and up the hill, passing an abandoned Catholic church, mold growing on the cross on the metal gate. Inside I spotted the discarded box of a synthesizer among the detritus. I wonder how long it’s been abandoned, and what happened to the people who founded it. A religious statue had been built along the street nearby. Most of the houses on the hillside seemed to be abandoned as well, but from the little gardens and terraces it seemed that someone had once seen great potential in living there, though the place seemed quite humid, and the smoke and noise from the old trains constantly passing back in the day would seem to have been unpleasant at best.

We came back down the hill as there was no way on except for mountain paths, and found a Japanese-era tunnel, along the length of which were mounted old photographs of the Japanese military base that had been located in the area in the early 1900s. Closely shorn soldiers stared from the pictures as they stood in their barracks doing various tasks. The ceiling of the tunnel was less than six feet high, and I kept having to duck as we traversed its length.

Dense alleyways lay on the other side of the tunnel as we approached the city. I’d never really explored this part of Keelung before, and it’s quite interesting. We passed under the massive highway bridge, which used to be home to a large market but is now full of people playing sports, and though another street market as we skirted the hillside through the alleys.

An interestingly shaped old building in Keelung

An old building in Keelung

Dusk was falling as we passed by a the huge, Hong Kong-esque Guanghua housing complex and arrived at the river, covered by a highway branch, that we’d seen from a bus on a previous trip. I’ve always been interested in how rivers interact with urban environments, and this was a rather sad example as rivers are too often ignored here, cemented away and forgotten about. Cats abounded, which Chenbl says is a sign of decay while dogs represent prosperity, but as I like cats in general I couldn’t complain; indeed I greeted every one as I usually do, and most were quite gracious about it. I feel like I should keep some cat treats on me though.

We approached an unusually shaped building that seemed to be literally falling apart, featuring several interesting shades of light and a market downstairs, rusted rebar poking out of the frames. People still lived there, though. We then followed the underground stream through the neighborhoods, picking up its traces every so often as it reappeared here and there, often frequented by birds and rats, occasioned by temples, streams of wastewater pouring in from showers, laundromats, kitchens and who knows what else. Every time I’m in Keelung I wonder what living there would be like on a day-to-day basis. Commuting would be a pain, though, at least until they run a subway line out there. It’s a special place, no doubt.

Hungry and tired, we made our way to the Miaokou market, where a guard monitoring the crowds sprayed disinfectant on my hands and camera lens just for good measure. Inside, we lumbered up a flight of steep stairs for a meal of dry noodles, spinach and hot pork soup. It was nice to sit down after a day of walking and climbing, but the throngs of people at the market unsettled me considering the looming prospect of Omicron. I’ve been wearing K94 masks lately for their greater coverage, but it seems more and more people, especially smokers and older people, are just not bothering any more.

After dinner we had some bitter tea from a stand. “Don’t give that to him!” the stand operator scolded Chenbl as he handed me my drink, but I just drank it while staring blankly at the operator.

“It’s ok, he’s fine with it,” Chenbl explained, needlessly. We then walked back towards the harbor, to the new train station. The site of the old station is still swathed in construction; I have no idea what they’re doing to do with it. If it were up to me I’d build a recreation of the old Japanese-era station and make it a tourism/cultural center. That’s just me though.

posted by Poagao at 12:08 pm  
Jan 13 2022

Movie Sign!

A week or so ago I watched a movie in a theater for the first time in literally years. Chenbl had a couple of free tickets, so after work I met up with him for a lunch of questionable quality at the chicken place next to the previous location of the Vie Show Sun theater, which has sadly been torn down. It’s particularly sad because it was an IMAX theater, and now we have to go elsewhere, such as all the way out to the Miramar Cinemas for IMAX movies. Fortunately for us, the free tickets weren’t for the demolished Vie Show, but the Shin Kong theater in the old Lion Plaza building, that golden monstrosity on the corner of Xining and Wuchang Roads. The escalators up past the first few floors of little shops weren’t working, so we took the small, blue-lit elevator up to the completely empty lobby. The theater was big enough, but the projection and sound weren’t great. The movie was Spider-man: No Way Home, which was…fine. I mean, it was fun and entertaining, and the extended cameos were fun (though sadly missing my favorite version of Spider-man), but it became more about them than about the current Spidey’s character arc, which really only the first Tom Holland movie explored to any degree. I enjoyed the nostalgia, just as I also enjoyed The Matrix: Resurrections and Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Encanto is the best movie I’ve seen so far this year, though). But the whole time I was thinking: I’d rather be watching this at home. Note: I do not have a terribly big-screen TV, just a 16-year-old 37″ 720P set that cost a pretty penny in 2006 but now just emits static in one speaker whenever I watch Star Trek due to the ship’s engine rumble, so I tend to watch things on my iMac. But the point remains: I wonder if the age of theaters is on the wane, due to be something only old people remember.

My views on the future of theaters and public gatherings in general are perhaps biased by the steadily growing number of Omicron cases pouring in from everywhere but mostly the U.S. Americans seem to have just given up on any preventative measures and are just watching case numbers explode. Some Americans in Taiwan, well, white dudes in particular, it seems, think that Taiwan should just roll with it as well, pooh-poohing any attempt at controlling spread of the disease. But I’ve noticed an interesting, or perhaps obvious correlation: The expats who feel the most entitled to a consequence-free lifestyle here are the ones who rail the most against any kind of COVID-based regulations. “I can’t take another months-long lockdown!” I heard one such dude say, apparently unaware that we’ve never had a real lockdown, let alone one that lasted months. Most people just go along with it, but to him, it’s an egregious affront to the “freedom” to which he feels entitled.

Fortunately Omicron has yet to overwhelm our system, though it’s being sorely tested as so many incoming passengers have it these days. It has inspired more people to get vaccinated, though, and the government has changed the previous 5-month time between 2nd and 3rd shots to 12 weeks, meaning I can likely get a booster next month. Older people seem to be the holdouts, for the most part. It remains to be seen how the government and the CDC will alter their protocols to deal with the nature of this latest wave. We’ve scheduled the photography course to resume next semester, but we’ll have to see how things develop and where we are by March. One thing that helps immensely in planning photo-related excursions is the partial return of Google Maps’ 3D capability; this is wonderful for getting a feel for an area before actually going out to the area in question, I’m glad it’s back and I hope it is expanded more around Taiwan in the future.

I took advantage of the pre-Omicron state of affairs to finally meet up in person with Alexander Synaptic of Spectral Codex last week at a cafe in Xindian’s Dapinglin. I have long appreciated the wealth of information encapsulated in Xander’s online exploration pieces, and he has helped me out a lot with website advice, but we had never actually met IRL. He showed me an old map that showed that my old army base used to be an even older Japanese landing strip, which explains how the area “Big Flat Top” might have gotten its name in the first place.

In other news, I’ve been asked to perform in an ensemble paying tribute to the late Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five group. This is both an honor and a challenge, as I consider Satchmo to be the GOAT. I will need to put in some real work to get ready for that level of syncopation, range and just cool-ass 20’s jazz. Again, nobody knows where we’ll be by March; we’ll just have to see.

posted by Poagao at 11:18 am  
Jan 03 2022

This Old Blog

So, I realize that this site may seem stuck pinned to circa-2003 design, but it’s kinda grown on me over the decades. However, despite a mid-run refresh a la my friend Mark of the now-defunct Doubting To Shuo, it has over the intervening years become rather run-down and broken, code-wise, and my provider kept asking for more money to update it with new, more expensive packages. I did a bit of research and found that I was paying about three times more than I needed to to keep the site up and running. An online friend of mine generously offered to whip it into some kind of shape for the mere pittance of a cup of coffee, a copy of my book, and my somewhat-less-than-august presence, Covidian social conventions permitting. Now the basic house-cleaning is pretty much done, so allow me to go over some of what’s new under the hood, so to speak.

The one consistent part of this site from the beginning has been the blog, which was previously separated into several different blogs on Blogger and then WordPress. These have all been integrated into one main blog, which is now the landing page, with category options should a reader have an interest in, say, my attempts to engage in tuishou, or our little film projects, or my Chinese-language journal entries, etc. You can also explore various categories, such as entries involving exploits with the Ramblers, for instance, or musings/interactions with photography. I’ve also cautiously opened up the comments function again, though I doubt many people read these, if indeed many ever did…the thing these days seems to be the email newsletter, but in the end content is content, and I don’t do this for an audience or profit, but rather just to record various things I’m doing or thinking about.

The links on the sidebar, long-neglected, had become a litany of 404 pages and a sad reminder of just how interesting and wonderfully individualistic the internet was back then, so I had to update that, and will try to keep it current. The photos link, which previously went to a page of snaps, then to my flickr, now points to my main Instagram account, which is more current even though the photos are still just tiny facsimiles of the shots. I don’t really write fake news stories any more, as the “real” news these days is just so literally incredible that 1) my stories might potentially be taken for genuine news, and 2) the impact isn’t there in any case. So I dumped the old ones into a tumblr for historic purposes, but I might just get rid of them entirely if and when I redo the site from the ground up.

I don’t have the list of “accomplishments”, publications, exhibitions, awards and the like…I figure if someone’s interested they can Google me, and also: Does anyone really enjoy reading those? Do people go to someone’s site and eagerly look for how many articles someone has gotten into SuperiorTaste magazine/website, or how many times they were featured on BokehDrool dot com? I have, to this day, precisely zero blue checks, and it actually feels kinda good. If you’re the type of person to be awed by such things, well, there’s the internet for you (gestures).

In the end, as in the beginning, this is just a blog, with very few bells and whistles. It works a little better now, thanks to my online friend who has said he prefers to remain anonymous. I’ve enjoyed penning my various thoughts and deeds in there for the last 21 years, and I hope y’all have enjoyed the ride so far.

posted by Poagao at 11:38 am  
Jan 02 2022

New Year

So, it’s 2022 now. On the 31st I met up with Chenbl and some of my students at the City Hall bus station for a long-delayed outing. I got there first despite thinking I’d be late again, so I walked around and tried out some allegedly blueberry-flavored bread from the 7-Eleven there. The results of the analysis showed no evidence of blueberry flavor, alas. We caught a bus out to Badouzi and walked eastward along the coast, to the scenic railway platform facing the rocks on which fishermen braved the cold wind, splashed by the largish waves. I hopped down onto the tracks at the end, where I could see that trains weren’t using as they were covered in grass, but still, for those playing at home, I must stress the importance of not straying onto active train tracks for photography or any other purposes, really, basically because trains are huge, silent and deadly things, particularly if you’re not on them but around them.

We kept walking over to our destination, the photography exhibit on coal miners by Chang Chao-tang at the HOHO Base, a complex made largely of cargo containers that is operated by photographer Ching-tai Ho. The entrance to the exhibit was fraught with potential lawsuits as far as physical dangers went, perhaps to get visitors in the right frame of mind to appreciate the photos inside depicting the dangerous conditions under which the miners operated before the 80’s. There weren’t many photos, it being a small space, with quite a few repeating scenes, but it was a nice exhibit. The villages in the area tend to be populated by cats, and, true to form, one cat watched us approach through a window. When we eschewed the neighboring restaurant, out of which snaked a long line of people, for the HOHO art space/restaurant, we found a well-fed grey cat sitting on a bench near the cashier/chef, who was none other than Ching-tai Ho himself. I sat down to pet the cat, and she jumped onto my lap and sat down to be petted, which was probably the best thing that happened to me that day. It’s been too long since I had a contented cat sitting on my lap.

Brunch, had in the container upstairs, was delicious; they use good stock for their recipes, and the cinnamon tea and carrot cake filled up the corners nicely, all while looking out at the seascape opposite. I wish it were more convenient to get to; I can only imagine how he stays busy on weekdays.

We had planned to take the bus over to Keelung, but it had begun to drizzle, so we took the train to Ruifang and walked around there for a while before heading back to Taipei. Nobody was interested in fighting the NYE crowds, so it was good to get back to the Water Curtain Cave and get to bed just as the fireworks were dying down.

The students were asking about next semester’s class and if we were going to resume…all I could tell them was that we’d see where we were regarding the COVID situation at the time. I still expect that Omicron will eventually make its way into the general population here, and how the government will react is a question. Fortunately a good portion of the population has been vaccinated, but if we’re going to keep to a zero-covid strategy I’m not sure how that will work. The past weekend has seen record crowds out and about, not just here in Bitan but all over the country, it seems, and I wonder if everyone is thinking the same thing: Get out now before the shit hits the fan. But then again I’m fairly cynical about these things. And also it seems that other countries, at least the Western ones, seem to be rolling over and giving up. No masks, no mandates, parties galore, everyone just saying Fuck it and then claiming surprise at record infection numbers.

So what’s the plan for this year? The usual: No plan, really. Do things and hope things get done. Good things, anyway.


posted by Poagao at 8:16 pm  
Dec 10 2021

National Concert Hall shows

My co-workers were reminded that I play in a band last Friday when I hauled all my instruments, including my trumpet, euphonium and washtub bass stick, with me to work in the morning. The reason was that the Muddy Basin Ramblers were embarking on a two-day run at the National Concert Hall, which is kind of a big deal here. I stopped for a salmon sandwich on the way over, getting there around 2. Though we had rehearsed there before to get all the sound stuff right, we were going through the whole shebang again in the afternoon. It wasn’t easy, playing effectively two shows in a row. I went over to the Mos Burger under the parking ramp for a coffee and chocolate boost, and found that they were selling several different flavors of Tim Tams, an Australian chocolate treat I’ve been a fan of since my trip there in 2001. I bought a package of caramel ones.

Chenbl showed up that afternoon to help sell CDs and merchandise at a table in the lobby. We then had some nice healthy bento dinners. The staff at the NCH were very professional and took care of everything. A bit before the show, David was asking if anyone had any chocolate, so I gave him a Tim Tam, and then offered them to everyone else there. I could tell he was nervous about the show as he even took a sip of whiskey before we walked on stage to a packed house. I wondered if the concert hall staff,  who were surely more accustomed to classical music aficionados, were used to the raucous nature of our usual audience, but they seemed to take it in stride.

The combination of whiskey and caramel Tim Tams wasn’t great for David’s voice at the start, but he soon overcame it, and the show was a roaring success. I had been holding back during the rehearsal because I know I only have so much playing in me for one day, and had enough left for the show. I think I might have even smiled a couple of time. Our musical friend Ric 荒山亮 added a lot to the show with his Taiwanese Hokkien rendition of Dance Age. Chenbl did a bang-up job in the lobby, selling most of the CDs and merch, and we signed a bunch of things afterward in the main lobby. Some of my photography students even showed up.

Saturday morning I experimented on ordering a big breakfast on Food Panda, which might not have been a great decision as I wasn’t in the mood for lunch by the time I showed up back at the NCH for our second show. We didn’t go through the entire show on Saturday, but I was tired from the previous day despite a burger, chocolate and more coffee from Mos Burger, not to mention another good bento dinner. The second show was…fine. For sure, Steve and Cadence danced up a storm on stage, the house was packed again, I saw some more friends and students in the audience, and David’s voice was much better due to his abstinence from chocolate and whiskey; I just wasn’t really playing at the top of my game…nothing horrible, just sloppy here and there. Chenbl couldn’t make it on Saturday either, but we managed to sell some CDs and other merchandise anyway, and signed more stuff out in the lobby after the show. Then it was back inside to clear out our things, and back out to the parking lot, past the crowds of fans of the other classical concert that had been taking place in the other auditorium, and sitting on the bench by the smoking section and drink machines where we hung out while recording Hold That Tiger years ago. The other Ramblers were buzzing from the show and talking with friends, mostly foreigners, who had come to see us. I sat by myself for a few minutes and then went home.

Chenbl woke me up on Sunday morning, calling to say they were heading out to the Fuzhong area in Banqiao, so I took the subway over and followed his geolocation dot on my phone to the market where he and his mother were looking at this and that. Chenbl’s mother often says she hates walking, but in markets she can walk forever, it seems. I stood in the middle of the street, greedily soaking up the sunshine I’ve long been missing and occasionally snapping a picture, while they shopped. I also picked up a nifty Lucky Beckoning Cat doormat (Last one in the shop! For a pittance! You know how it goes). We met up with Chenbl’s father at the temple after lunch at a place near the market, and then walked over to Banqiao Station to look at the Christmas displays there. We sat down near some Lego setups and talked…well,  Chenbl’s father talked and I listened, mostly. He has a deep, extensive knowledge of many things, particularly politics and engineering, which was his profession before he retired. Originally from Tainan, his Mandarin has a strong Taiwanese accent; he is also a great resource for Taiwanese questions I have, which is quite a lot as my Taiwanese could be a lot better.

Dinner was braised pork rice at a nice restaurant in Snake Alley; the place was hopping, in stark contrast to how empty the area was during the outbreak in cases there over the summer. It’s good to see it coming back, and the food was delicious. I was feeling much better.

Tomorrow we’re back at it with two more gigs in one day (!)…out in Nangang in the afternoon and then Tiger Mountain in the evening. Unfortunately Taiwan saw it’s first local case of Covid in a while yesterday in the Nangang area, so despite being fully vaxxed I think it would be best to play it safe and stay masked up when possible. The predilection of most people here to stay masked has been one of the many reasons we’ve managed this so well so far, despite the anti-mask conspiracy theorist white dudes ranting and raving on f.com and the FB expat groups. Omicron will get here eventually as well, but hopefully our vaccination rates will continue to rise enough to keep the impact manageable.

posted by Poagao at 12:01 pm  
Dec 09 2021


Late last month I gave a talk to some students at Shih Hsin University, known for its journalism program. The invitation came about in a rather unusual fashion: I was walking down by the river a few months ago, as I have been wont to do in lieu of wandering the streets of the city due to Covidian caution these past few months, when a Western dude in inline skates zoomed past, stopped and then came back to ask me if I was, well, me. Surprised that he recognized me at all, much less in my mask, I just stammered that I was in fact me. He introduced himself as Luke and said he was a fan on my book, and just wanted to tell me, which was nice. Afraid I hadn’t left a very good impression as I had been off in my own little world at the time, I wrote an apology on Facebook, which he saw and responded to. It turned out that Luke, an American, teaches a composition class at Shih Hsin and he invited me to give a talk there.

So one sunny day in late November I went over to Jingmei, meeting Chenbl at the station. We had some tasty Vietnamese food at one of the many such restaurants in the market there, an old-fashioned, cobblestone tub, shirts-hiked-up-around-stomachs kind of place, and then stopped by a Family Mart so I could inject some coffee and chocolate into my system before walking over to the university. Shih Hsin is an interesting place, geographically speaking, set by the river in a little mountain valley accessed by a long tunnel. The class, however, was in a building along the road, so we didn’t get to traverse the tunnel. Chenbl had some trouble with the school’s interface and his venerable notebook, but we fixed it eventually.

Luke gave me a nice introduction; he had told me that he usually uses a mix of Chinese and English in class, so I kept it that way, reminding myself to switch languages every so often depending on which language was more suited to whatever I was talking about. I am usually hesitant to do this as I’m not used to switching back and forth; my interactions tend to be either purely in Chinese, such as if I’m talking with Chenbl or my co-workers, or in English, such as when I’m hanging out with the Ramblers. When I go back and forth, both languages tend to suffer. Still, I made do. There was too much to cover in two hours and I skipped quite a lot in the end, but the students seemed to enjoy it and even gave me a signed card afterward. I wish that we’d had time for Q&A at the end, as the state of Taiwan’s media is quite precarious to say the least, and I was interested to hear their views on that.

It was deep twilight when Chenbl and I walked back out onto the road outside the campus, through the streets of Jingmei, which, I keep having to remind myself, is actually an interesting area though I whoosh underneath it twice a day on the subway. We found a nice Japanese restaurant and enjoyed some tasty sushi. I was relieved that the speech was concluded; I’m never quite sure exactly what to talk about when people ask me to talk about myself. I’d rather hear about them. It’s like the aux cord on a road trip: I’ve already heard my favorite music; I’d rather discover new stuff from other people’s favs.

In other news, the site is now on the new host, and the links are mostly fixed. I’ve updated the links on the sidebar as most of the old ones no longer exist. It’s a bit frightening to look back at how much the internet has changed since this site’s inception, and not much for the better. All of those quirky, interesting sites are history, and now everyone’s just being awful to each other on Twitter and Facebook. It’s depressing. Blogs have largely gone away, somewhat replaced by subscription email lists I guess. One bright spot I’ve recently come across it Craig Mod, an American man who combines his love of Japan, walking, photography and writing into a kind of coalescent platform on his site. Alas, I lack such skill in organizing all of these things, but it’s still an interesting model and has given me some ideas for the evolution of this site going forward.

posted by Poagao at 11:12 am  
Nov 15 2021

2nd shot

Last week I was notified that I could get my second vaccination shot, so I made an appointment for Thursday afternoon at the Hong-En Clinic on Renai Road. I could have done the big-hospital scenario that I did for the first shot, but I wanted to see what the small clinic experience was like, and if possible avoid the huge crowds and long lines that marked my first shot. Thursday was a lovely day, weather-wise, and I took a series of buses, walking along Renai as it’s a nice road to walk down, but for all my delaying tactics, I was still an hour early for my 3 o’clock appointment. So I continued down Renai, past the site of the first Burger King where I used to enjoy their special lemon pies when they’d just arrived in Taiwan, and over to the forested traffic medians of Dunhua near the traffic circle. There I sat on a stone bench and watched the workmen across the road tearing down the building that had housed the wonderful Eslite Bookstore where I’d spent many a late night browsing books, sitting on the floor enjoying the classical music that they would play there.

Around 3 I took a circuitous route back to the clinic, half expecting a long line, but there was none. Immediately upon entering I was asked what my vaccine choice was, and was directed to a nearby chair, where I filled out a form, got the shot, and was told to wait upstairs for 10 minutes, whereupon I could go. This time I actually felt the shot, unlike the first one, but it wasn’t painful. Perhaps it was because this time I was actually paying attention.

After about 15 minutes of waiting I took my leave, walking in the general direction of the subway, stopping at a Family Mart for some water as the nurse had told me to drink a lot of water, before hopping on the MRT back home.

The next day I felt exhausted but still went to work. That afternoon I took a bus out to Sanchong to participate in another radio interview with singer Tsai Cheng-nan on his show. David Chen was nice enough to invite me, but I wasn’t terribly talkative, and went straight home to rest afterward. Saturday I had a low fever and slept a lot, but Sunday I was feeling well enough to go to practice for our upcoming Ramblers show at the National Concert Hall at the beginning of December. The side effects of the second vaccine were definitely stronger than the first, but still not too bad, and in a week or so I’ll be considered fully vaccinated, possibly even more so as I waited nearly three months between shots. At least until we need boosters.

The government has announced that people who got Medigen vaccines could get more widely recognized vaccines if they need to travel in the near future, as Medigen has yet to be very widely accepted for travel. Taipei has nearly complete first-shot coverage and almost 50% full vaccination at this point; hopefully the rate will continue, as I suspect we will have to open up our borders eventually. I’m ok with staying on the cautious side until that point, however.

Naturally the international media have continued their weird “reporting” on Taiwan, with the notable exception of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight piece. It was surreal to see the media reporting on Oliver’s piece utilizing the very questionable practices he was mocking them for, seemingly completely unaware of how unprofessional it made them look. Even foreign reporters actually stationed in Taiwan have been doing it, and protesting when called on it. I hate to see it.

In other news, this ancient site is undergoing a bit of a much-needed overhaul thanks to the generosity of a friend of mine who for now will remain nameless. It may not seem apparent now but things should be more stable with fewer broken links and weird behavior, and I have some ideas for further improvements down the road. To all of you who have been with me here for the last 20-odd years, I appreciate you and look forward to what comes next.

posted by Poagao at 12:21 pm  
Sep 22 2021

So far so good

We just concluded the four-day Mid Autumn Festival holiday. The news has been reporting on crowded tourist destinations all over the country, which is worrying, but things have been slow in Taipei. Even Bitan hasn’t been that crowded the past few days. I imagine most people took the opportunity to travel down south. Restaurants are open, covid cases are few. Chenbl’s parents are scheduled to get their second vaccine doses afternoon. My second dose will hopefully not be too long after, possibly in October. Chenbl has yet to even be notified for his first dose, but I don’t know how it could be much longer.

Of course, if there is any unknown community spread happening, especially of the Delta variant, we’ll know in about a week or so if this whole holiday travel free-for-all spree has resulted in disaster. The situation should be clearer by Double Ten, our national day, the celebration of which they’re already preparing for over in front of the Presidential Office down the street. At least most of the holiday-makers seem to have been wearing masks, but all it takes is a few maskless, infected people to rekindle the fire we’ve spent the past few months stamping out. Other countries, even countries that successfully battled the first waves of the virus, are wallowing in subsequent crises, and with China breathing down our necks we can’t really afford to take a wrong steps. But this weekend has been one long release from restrictions, it seems. We might get through it, but it seems ill-advised. I’d rather the government was a bit more pro-active about taking precautions. The gaggles of white dudebros here screaming their anti-vax, anti-mask conspiracy theories just makes me more convinced in the other direction. A friend of mine here, a Black woman, was physically accosted and verbally violated recently by some older white dude in a shop, over his not wearing a mask. So basically: avoid, for your own safety.

I basically did nothing during the holiday…resting up, watching Community, which is rather wonderful (Troy and Abed: Cutest Couple EVAR), a bit of wandering down by the river, working on the book, listening to podcasts/Clubhouse rooms, getting together with folks I know on VR, which is relaxing and fun. There was even a Mid-Autumn Festival room in Altspace the other night; the others were talking, but I mostly just sat in a chair and enjoyed being there. Yesterday Chenbl and I went to the Xingtian Temple; there was a long line of people waiting to get in, and the crowd was well controlled, but I didn’t feel the sense of peace and communication that I usually do when I’m there discussing things in my mind with the array of gods inside. It was good to get out, and nice to be walking around the city during twilight, my favorite time. I got some nifty Japanese fortune cat-themed house slippers, and we dined on oyster omelets before taking our respective subway lines home.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t look at any photos during the month of August, and that was ok, but I think I really need to make it a longer period. I used to go months and months without looking at anything I’d taken, but now that I’m spending more time at home it’s harder to resist downloading and looking at more recent stuff. This isn’t good, so I’m going to try and go at least until the end of the year, barring any unforeseen circumstances. Another project, based around my environs, has been taking shape, and I look forward to seeing what that turns into. I actually have several projects that could move forward with, I just need to navigate this whole “world” thing somehow.

posted by Poagao at 10:59 am  
Aug 17 2021

First shot

I was notified recently that I could make an appointment to get my first dose of the covid vaccine. Chenbl is still waiting for his notification, though he’s only a few months younger than I am. I can’t pretend to understand all of the considerations they make, but hopefully he will get his soon. I made an appointment at NTUH, figuring they’d be more likely to know what they were doing, for last Thursday afternoon. I tried to not eat too poorly and get enough sleep the night before, but I was a bit nervous as I’ve heard a few horror stories about the aftereffects of the vaccine.

Still, nothing to do but get the thing, so I took the bus over to Hangzhou South Road after work on Thursday and walked over to the NTU Hospital gymnasium where the vaccinations were being give. A small crowd of people milled around outside, and I was dismayed to see precious little social distancing in the several lines of people here and there under the tents outside the door. I asked an assistant how to line up, and she asked me for my clinic number, which I did not know; there was no clinic number in the notification. She took my health insurance card and somehow found which line I was supposed to be in, which was mercifully a short one. An older white man kept staring at me, which was odd. Perhaps he knew me or knew of me, but I wasn’t down for conversation. He apparently didn’t understand Chinese and the assistants were kept busy explaining everything to him throughout the process. I was a bit of a panic at having to be in such a dense crowd of people in any case, and it wasn’t exactly making me chatty. And if he was one of those foreigners who think they are entitled to be greeted or whatever, he could fuck right the hell off; I was not in the mood.

There followed a long series of lines, some sitting, some standing, none with real social distancing, all gradually crossing the length of the gym. I wore goggles and two masks, and tried to stay out of the vicinity of other people’s exhalations as much as possible. I sat/stood and waited, concentrating on my breath and hearing the comforting voice of Ofosu, who narrates my meditation app, in my mind. I tried to take some photos but the Q took one look at the weird gymnasium light and said “nope.”

Eventually I reached the row of seats where the vaccination actually takes place. I rolled up my right sleeve instead of my left as most of the others were doing. “I’m a lefty,” I explained to the surprised nurse who was administering the shot. “Just relax,” I told myself.

“Yes, that’s right,” the nurse said, and before I knew it she had administered the shot. I hardly felt anything, just a light brushing sensation. “Go sit over there for 15-20 minutes, and if you feel alright, you can leave,” she said.

I sat in the post-shot area, which faced some large windows with a view of basketball courts and Hangzhou South Road outside, and continued thinking about my breath. Not really thinking of anything in particular. I had a slight headache but nothing else, so after a time I got up, took a photograph of the other people recovering from their shots, and walked back out onto the street, feeling slightly odd, conscious of the bit of tape and cotton on my shoulder. Chenbl said I should be drinking lots of water, so I bought a bottle and drank it while standing on the street near a construction site, noticing how many people were sitting inside a swank new Starbucks. I’m still getting used to the sight of people in restaurants.

My headache persisted annoyingly for the next couple of days, and I felt a few chills and aches. My arm was quite sore and I couldn’t raise it much the first couple of days, but it got better after that. I was basically fine by the weekend. According to what I’ve read the first shot doesn’t really take effect until about two weeks afterwards, so I won’t be even partially protected until that point. Still, it’s somewhat of a relief to at least be on my way. At this point some 40% of our population has had their first shots, and only like 2-3% are fully vaccinated. Those numbers are quite a bit higher for Greater Taipei, but we still have a ways to go. The next few months will be key as we continue to fight to keep the Delta variant at bay at the border. So far we’ve not experienced the abject stupidity that is surging in the U.S., apart from the proudly ignorant white expats who are still railing against vaccines and masks on alt-right hate sites like forumosa and the expat groups on Facebook. Those sites are doing active harm in the community, but of course they don’t care. The cruelty is the point, for them.

I am continuing to be cautious, not really going out much, taking precautions when I do. Still spending time around the trio of bridges where I live, exploring the different natures of the crossings of the Xindian River, including the flashy old suspension bridge, frequented by tourists and looked up at by the old men swimming underneath, the high and mighty freeway bridge under which people fish and lovers cuddle, spotlit at night, issuing its constant roar from on high, its giant curves and X’s dominating the entire river valley, and the eminently practical and unremarkable traffic bridge, from which actual people just wanting to go to work and back home gaze at the scenery along the way.

posted by Poagao at 11:39 am  
Jul 23 2021

Level 3 to end

They announced this afternoon that Level 3 would end on the 26th, in a few days’ time. Of course, this is going to be a gradual relaxation, and the pessimist inside me predicts that cases will go back up and we’ll be back at Level 3 again before this is over. But I could be wrong. For those of us who are still not fully vaccinated, this presents a worrying situation. Companies are calling all their employees to come back so they can pretend to work at the office instead of actually working at home. Productivity will be the same, of course, but bosses here love love love it when they see someone fake “running” with tiny steps down the hallway carrying a bunch of papers that are most likely whatever report they had on hand when they got up. “They’re so busy!” the boss thinks, dimly. “I must be a good boss! I deserve a raise!”

But we’ll see, I guess. The typhoon that was headed in our direction balked when it bounced against our territorial waters, as if Taiwan’s version of William T. Riker had shouted “Shields up!” It spun indecisively for a day or two before shrinking northward, abashed. Now it’s probably going to beat up Shanghai in frustration. But for now, we’re seeing heavy rains on occasion due to its proximity. This afternoon after I came home from work and had lunch on my coffee table (a rare sandwich today, as I usually get a chicken lunchbox), and goofed off online for a few hours, I saw that there was sunshine outside, so I grabbed my cameras and an umbrella and headed down to the riverside as has been my wont during these non-urban-wandering times. The water level at Bitan was a bit high but nothing catastrophic. I walked down the river, under the bridges and by the golf range to see how the Xizhou Village was fairing. As I approached the gate, I could see one of those yellow warning ribbons slung across the road. As I watched, a taxi drove through it, breaking it and tossing it to the ground.

As I walked into the village, I quickly realized that most of it was no longer there. After a couple of shops, I saw a vast field of wreckage dotted with a couple of bulldozers and cranes. Apparently they’d been in the midst of tearing it all down when the typhoon approached, necessitating a ceasing of operations. I wandered around the area for a bit, taking a few photos of the few bits of buildings still standing, pieces of art in the wreckage, that kind of thing. It was kind of sad, though I realized that the entire village had moved up the hill to a newly built complex that wouldn’t be subject to flooding.

It began to rain as evening fell, and I began to walk back as I’d ordered dinner. Before long it became a torrential downpour, and was getting soaked despite my big umbrella. I covered my camera with my shirt to keep it from getting too wet. The high-rises across the river were just vague forms through the heavy rain as I slogged through flooded walkways back up the river. The lights were on but the sky was still visible, and everything was shiny and misty at the same time. It was exhilarating, but I was glad to get back to the blessedly dry Water Curtain Cave for dinner and Star Trek.

posted by Poagao at 8:39 pm  
« Previous PageNext Page »