Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Nov 16 2020

15 Years in Bitan

Fifteen years ago this month, I purchased and moved into my current residence, aka The Water Curtain Cave. Looking back at pictures I took then, it hasn’t really changed that much. Shortly after I moved in I changed the curtains and painted it, and then bought the low-res Sharp LCD TV I use to this day. My old PC on which I edited the movie has long been dispatched in favor of a couple of iMacs, the place now features natural gas lines instead of relying on canisters, the wifi is probably faster(?), I have a washer/dryer combo so I no longer have to use the laundry room downstairs, and that’s about it. The water still gurgles through the pipes, and the shouting neighbor couple have become quieter after the elderly husband died last year. Oh, and 15 years ago I might have been mildly surprised to know that I’d be able to ask verbal questions and get answers from various devices in there.

But 15 years is significantly over twice as long as I’ve lived anywhere else (the second closest was Florida, where I went to junior high and high school, but that was only around six years), and I remain happy with it and thankful for the opportunity to live where I do. Though occasionally I wonder what it would be like to live downtown again, and am sometimes tempted by fantasies of getting a place on Dihua Street with big windows and high ceilings with wooden beams and tea cabinets that could only manifest by winning a lottery or two, nothing comes close to crossing that bridge and looking out at the mountains at whose feet I sleep every night.

The neighborhood has changed a bit over the time I’ve lived there as well. Most notably, some friends have moved away, and others have moved in. The nice shady area around the stream that feeds into Bitan is being “greenified” which apparently means cutting down all the trees there and pouring concrete all over the area. The convenience store downstairs became a pharmacy, but we now have three other convenience stores. A church moved in under the police station. Favorite cafes such as Pancho and 1974 have come and gone. Livia’s Kitchen still serves a tasty weekend brunch one can enjoy in the company of friendly dogs, and good pizza is now available at the other end of the bridge from The Shack. A new mini mall is opening at the metro station building (“Coming Soon”, it will have a grocery, a Muji, a coffee shop and 17 hot pot places), and of course we have the usual compliment of Starbucks/Louisa/KFC/Formosa Chang over there, but not on my side of the bridge. Until recently, neither Food Panda nor Uber Eats delivered here, but I think at least one of them does now. Likewise, scooter-sharing services such as Wemo and Goshare draw the line at the river, declining to serve us heathens.

But civilization is just a bridge away. I get the feeling that things have been like this for a while. Most people in Taipei see Xindian as this far-flung, hard-to-get-to wilderness, a decimated mess leftover from Taipei County days. Further out than places like Danshui or Beitou, even. And before that, it was literally the wilderness, indigenous territory not to be ventured into. Now it’s a 20-minute trip on the subway to Xindian from Taipei Main Station. But it’s hard to change people’s minds.

Granted, that might not be a bad thing. “It’s very…local down there isn’t it?” one long-term expat asked me with a great show of concern around 2003 when I first moved to Xindian. He lived in Tienmu and only spoke basic Mandarin after living in Taiwan longer than I’d been alive at that point. I didn’t know how to answer him, but I did realize it’s probably far better for everyone concerned if expats of that sort just stay in Tianmu, so I nodded.


posted by Poagao at 12:17 pm  
Feb 12 2008


Things got worse after I posted my entry last night. My nose and throat really started bothering me, and I spent the night huddled and sweating into the blankets. I felt a bit better in the morning, however. Checkout was at 10am, so I gathered up all my things from the little room I’ve lived in for the past 12 days, and walked to the Skyliner train station in Ueno to buy a ticket and store my bag while I took a last look around.

last dayI walked up past Ueno Park to a nice traditional neighborhood behind a temple, and then around to the bridge over the train tracks. It was cold and rainy, and I didn’t feel much like spending much time out in it. I had some tempura at a little place underneath the railroad tracks and bought some throat lozenges at a drug store. “Throat medicine?” I asked the woman behind the counter. She got some for me. “Suck?” I asked, and she made a sucking motion with her mouth. I suppose if I were straight this would have seemed really sexy.

It was time to catch my train to the airport. Looking out over Tokyo’s suburbs in that weather make me think of Taiwan, though the differences are huge. The houses in Japan mostly have pitched roofs and are individual units. The biggest difference is the care people in Japan put into their abode’s appearance, though Japan is dirtier and less orderly than was my impression 17 years ago. I kept falling asleep on the train, my interest in the view out the window fighting with my urge to pass out.

At the airport, the line at the ticket counter stretched about a mile, and there was no line for no checked baggage, so I asked about it and was let through. It’s a good thing, too, because the line was moving so slowly I definitely would have missed my flight. Then security, immigration, spending the last of my Japanese change on duty-free water and things.

The rain outside the embarkation lobby was heavy, and planes on the runway shot huge clouds of mist behind them on takeoff, while those landing seemd to have collected clouds on their wings. We spent a lot of time in line to take off, but finally we made it up through the clouds and into the permanent blue. Other than an annoying kid kicking the back of my seat and the fact that my screen didn’t work, it was a good enough flight. I noticed a chink of paint gouged out of the wing, which looked pretty unsightly. Since I was all stuffed up, my ears nearly exploded on the descent part of the trip. I kept holding my nose and blowing, and eventually managed to relieve some of the pressure.

Taipei, I found when I stepped out of the terminal, seems every bit as cold as Tokyo, though the difference in humidity is noticeable. I took the bus in, expecting to cringe at the sights of Sanchong and Nankan on the way, but instead I found myself happy to be back in my own country. Next to the spaghetti-like entanglements involved in taking the Tokyo Metro, Taipei’s MRT seemed ludicrously simple, the simple child’s version. It was good to understand what everyone around me was saying, and I was happy to get back to the Water Curtain Cave, messy as it is.

And that’s my account of my 12 days in Tokyo. Thanks for reading; I’ll start working on the photos and video of the trip, but be warned; it will take a while because I got a lot of stuff there, and also because my cold is back. I thought it was gone, but no; it was just lying in wait. Clever things, colds. Clever, but cruel.

posted by Poagao at 10:31 am  
Nov 13 2007

Tidying up

The Water Curtain Cave is mostly tidied up, except for the bathroom, which is full of bags of stuff I’ve accumulated over the years and will probably need to throw out. I spent all day Sunday cleaning, sorting, unpacking, etc. I went through a bunch of old floppy disks full of old porn, ancient links and journals to remind me just how desperate the 90s seemed to me at the time.

Now all the place needs is curtains, which I’m going to get on Friday, and rugs, which are at the cleaners. With the new paint and posters up, it’s back to being the comfy little cave I remember.

On Saturday night I met up with denizens of the Little Bear Village at a hotpot place behind Sogo, located in a U-shaped building I’d walked past every day going to and from work when I lived in the Sogo Locker. There was a good turnout, 20 or so bears and cubs of varying descriptions. I’ve lost weight recently and thought they might not let me in, but it seems I’m still ok, at least just hairy enough to get me in the door. A lot of meat was eaten and spirited discussions held, and afterwards I rode on the back of a scooter to Base, a karaoke bear club off Zhongshan North Road near the Combat Zone. My ride’s owner, btw, was Porco, aka “Snowball” because he likes to wear white.

The place filled up quickly after we arrived, but I had to catch a cab over to The Source to meet with Joe, Marty and Micheal at 11:30, as Marty wanted to introduce me to some movie industry friends of his. The taxi driver was a maniac; I was left standing on the steps of the Central Bank 15 minutes early, so I sat in one of the building’s alcoves and ate a chocolate bar while watching the traffic on Roosevelt Road. A large rat startled me before I remembered that I don’t really mind rats as much as cockroaches.

Eventually I crossed the road and found Marty and Joe in the bar, as well as my fellow Bitanian Greg. The movie people were sitting outside chatting with some folks from the Berlin Film Festival, but after they were done Marty introduced me to them, including Eric, whose English is near perfect. I’d brought a copy of Clay Soldiers along and gave it to them as well as my card. It turned out that they had read my book.

Michael showed up, and I spent the rest of the night talking with him and everyone else, before taking a walk down Roosevelt with Michael before catching a cab home. I think I also caught a chill, because my throat started to hurt the next day, and now I’ve come down with a cold, the first one I’ve had, it seems, in years.

Yesterday I sold my last L-series lens, a Canon 24-105 f/4L IS USM, and picked up a Sigma 17-70 f/2.8-4.5 DC macro for about a third of the Canon’s resale price, as I just wasn’t using the Canon that much since it wasn’t wide enough to use as a walkaround lens on the cropped frame 20D, and I doubt I’ll be rolling in enough dough to justify spending NT$75,000 on a 5D body any time soon. Even a brand-new 40D is about half the cost of a 5D. Also, I like doing macro shots, so the Sigma makes more sense for me. We’ll see if it works out.

The solid grey weather of last week, ever since I moved, has now broken into bright, sunny days. The sunlight on my face feels good.

posted by Poagao at 6:59 am  
Oct 31 2007

Yes, again.

If you recall this post from last June, I’ve been living in a rented apartment while renting out the apartment I actually own to a friend for the last year and a half or so. A couple of nights ago I packed said friend, who was quite drunk, into a taxi headed for the airport at 3am so that she could return to California.

So I’m moving. Again.

The last couple of days has been a scramble to arrange things; I had painters over last night, and the noxious smell wafting from my door led to an introduction to my new neighbor, a French guy who didn’t particularly care for the odor. I can’t blame him; it was foul indeed, and lingers disturbingly enough to make me consider staying at a sauna for the next few nights. I mopped the floors this morning, and I’ve also been trying to arrange my things into a somewhat movable state. Steven the Mover is on his way over as I type this to help me accomplish this decidedly unpleasant task.

It will be strange transferring my flag back to the Water Curtain Cave (as Winter approaches, I don’t like the wet, damp image that name suggests so upon moving in this time I’m thinking of rechristening it). I’ve grown accustomed to the light, spacious airy feel of the rented place, though I could never bring myself to come up with an inventive name for it. The Muddy Basin Ramblers recorded the lion’s share of our upcoming album here. The sun shines in in the morning and afternoon, and a nice cross-breeze can be enjoyed with windows on both sides open. But there is the fact that I’m occasionally forced to listen to piano practice, as well as the proximity to Bitan firework activity, and I suppose it’s also living a bit beyond my means, and I didn’t want to have to deal with being a landlord any more. My own place is nice enough, especially if what the watchman downstairs told him about the loud elderly couple spending a lot more time living at their children’s house is true. If not, I’ll have to put some money into soundproofing. And some new blinds.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, Steven’s knocking on my door.

UPDATE: It’s dark out now. Everything’s moved over to the Cave, everything except for my computer, that is. I’m sitting in my computer room, surrounded by echoey white walls bathed in glaring white fluorescent light, as well as detritus left over from the move. For some reason I feel reluctant to leave. If I don’t turn my head, I can pretend that everything is normal.

But I guess it’s time to get to it, though, to unplug the computer and Internet, pack the speakers on the desk and roll it on over to the new/old place. The garbage truck’s playing its melody downstairs, and mosquitoes are flying in the slot left by the removal of the air conditioner. Time to go.

posted by Poagao at 4:33 am  
Mar 18 2007

Unavoidable Piano Lessons

My apartment is usually nice and quiet. Once or twice the people downstairs cranked up their 60-million-watt Karaoke system, apparently to attract aliens from far-flung planets, but after I had a word with them they stopped.

Recently, however, I’ve been hearing a piano. Playing the same melody over and over again, it sounds nearby. Yet when I went around to all my neighbors, nobody admitted to having a piano. Some people had heard it, but nobody knew who the culprit was. I crept along with my ear to the hallway walls, listening for some clue. Was the building haunted?

On a whim, I went up two floors, but no piano. Then I went down two floors from my place. Ah-ha! It turned out to be the apartment two floors below me, though the people in the apartment below me, the alien-hunters, claimed to have never heard the piano. I can only assume that they’re actually deaf from all of the karaoke…either that or some strange construction fluke transmits sound around some apartments and into others.

It’s a student, I’m guessing. The parent or husband (I’m guessing, as I never actually saw the piano player) said they would stop playing in the mornings and waking me up. The problem is that they play during reasonable hours, when I can’t really raise any objections. But the constant sound of piano practice in my apartment is really, really distracting. I can’t have cover-up music on all the time. The torturing soul plays all weekend, when I’m home trying to edit. The same tune, over and over. The next time someone tries to impress me with their piano-playing skills, I’ll wonder how many of their neighbors went insane so that they could play “Imagine” whilst looking wistful for their friends.

posted by Poagao at 1:06 pm