Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Mar 02 2015

A return to work, post-dream

Today is the beginning of Proper Work, after the Chinese New Year and 2/28 Holidays. I spent the break with the flu, drunk on medicine, half in a dream state. I spent last night battling desperate nightmares, the kind that last until you’re convinced they are real, more real than the life you’re actually living. Now it’s cold and windy, and the streets are deserted, as though nobody’s really in the mood to start up again. I know I’m not.

Friday morning, however, the sun was out, and I thought it would be a good idea to take the crazy bike out for a spin, though the wind was taking things seriously. I went down to the basement, took the dust covers off the seat, and hauled my red ride up to street level to pump the tires before setting off, north as always (there are no paths south, not really). Riding was nice, though tinged with an eerie feeling that comes when the wind is at one’s back; I was pedaling but I didn’t feel any real motion. The riverside parks were crowded with holiday-makers enjoying the fine weather, so I wasn’t going that fast anyway.

At one point I swerved onto a divergent path to avoid crashing into another bicycle, and found myself looking at a massive array of men with cameras sporting huge lenses, spread out in a u-shape in front of an oddly shaped log and a bunch of grass. There must have been 50 or 100 of them, all staring intently through their finders, their motors whirring away at dizzying frames-per-second speeds. Many were decked out in full camouflage, including their huge 600mm lenses. It was quite the spectacle, and I really wanted a photo of them all, but when I edged towards the front of them on the side, several of them waved me off, even though I was dozens of meters away from the log they were photographing. I crept behind the trees behind the log, and even more of them shouted at me to get the hell out of their shots, even though there was no physically possible way I could have been in any of their shots.

“Didn’t you see the bird?” One of them asked me as I returned to the group, most of whom were glaring at me with the utmost distaste, this yokel who was RUINING THEIR WORK. I managed not to wonder aloud how, after spending untold fortunes on equipment, anyone could possibly remain so ignorant of the concept of depth of focus. Instead I managed to grin like an idiot and ask them about the bird. What kind of bird was it? “It’s an Angry Bird!” I was told, i.e. one of those little red birds made famous by the game.

“But how did it get here?” I asked.

“It, uh…escaped!” one of the photographers said.

“Really.” I stared at him. He looked nervous.


“It just ‘escaped’ on its own, eh?” Without having its wings clipped and tossed out onto a log in the park so that all of these frauds could “discover” it in a “natural state” so they could sell the prints to magazines for vast sums they could use to buy even longer lenses, no doubt. Amazing, but not surprising.

I left them to their fun and continued riding up the river, eventually passing the “Water Taxi” docks that proclaimed that the three times the boats left were all in the late afternoon due to the holidays, and up to the Dahan River, where I explored the new Crescent Moon pedestrian bridge, which is very nice, providing access to the old street and temples near Xinzhuang MRT station, a historic area that has witnessed a great deal of inter-tribal strife over the years.

I’d forgotten to bring lights for the crazy bike for night-time riding, so I decided to head back, against the wind to the comfort of home. I’d also forgotten sunscreen, which was unbeknownst to me etching a tan line where I wore my do-rag across my forehead. The wind and clouds made the trip back a low-key affair. The crowds of photographers were still snapping away at their “prize”, several hours later when I passed them on my way home.

Back at the Water Curtain Cave, I quailed at the idea of another night at home. So I called up Chenbl, who was spending the day in Gongguan, to meet up for dinner at the steak house on the second floor of Taipei train station. We’ve gone there many times, and while the service level goes up and down, the streak’s usually good. Also, they have the best creme brule this side of Paris. People staring (more than usual) at me on the subway alerted me to the dual-toned nature of my face after the day’s riding in the sun.

That was Friday. On Saturday, I met up with Xiao Guo and Chenbl at Dapinglin to take the bus to Longtan, the town where Chenbl’s mother grew up. Traffic was bad, as a cold front was threatening the last day of the holiday, and everyone was on the road trying to take advantage of the remaining hours of sun. But eventually we disembarked in downtown Longtan, which Chenbl says looks nothing like it did when he was little and the place was an idyllic farming town with potable water and buildings still not covered with billboards. One of these building’s outrageously awful design was apparently despite the billboards. When I wondered what the hell was up with it, Chenbl said, “Oh, that was designed by children on a whim.”

“Really? Isn’t that somewhat…irresponsible?” I said.

“How so?”

“I mean, aren’t there construction regulations, safety…uh, things?”

“Oh, well…that was a long time ago.”

We walked over and noted the awful construction techniques, the rotting wooden beams encased in concrete, the purposeless minarets and turrets, the trees growing through the structure. It was amazing it hadn’t collapsed yet. Nobody officially lived there, though there were signs of a previous restaurant and some farmers still using it.

We walked through abandoned fields and up old streets, Chenbl talking about How Things Used To Be when he was a little kid exploring the alleys four decades ago. As he told the tragic story of one of his neighbors being hit by a train, a man walked up who turned out to be the unfortunate neighbor’s father. “Geez, I hope he didn’t hear me talking about his son,” Chenbl whispered after we escaped the awkward conversation.

We ended up buying lottery tickets next door to the temple, which is now protected from the elements by a giant white sail contraption that looks as if the whole thing is about to take flight. The old parts of the town looked like they might have been nice places to live back in the day, or at least they did in my drug-addled imagination.

A very good lunch was had at a traditional Hakka restaurant while the staff gossiped about us at the next table. We then made our way out to the park surrounding the town’s eponymous water feature, where Chenbl’s aunt sings for passersby as a professional street performer. She’s very good. Chenbl is a very good singer himself, but his aunt is in another league altogether. We sat and listened for a bit as the sun warmed the lake and everyone around it. Chenbl’s aunt kept trying to get us to come down and sing something, and eventually Chenbl got me on stage to sing a Taiwanese song, Hai-bo-long, in a duo with his aunt. It was a lot of fun.

The weather had other plans, however, wiping the sun away just as we decided to take a walk around the lake. The sun vanished, the temperature dropping several degrees. By the time we arrived back at the stage, a lovely summer day had become dark and cold. Chenbl’s aunt bravely kept the crowd warm with music, and even got Chenbl up to sing. She also got a couple to come up and perform, the woman singing and the man playing a copper-colored trumpet with some decent amount of skill considering the plummeting temperatures. But rain was falling now, and we abandoned the show to board a bus to Xinpu. Chenbl and Xiao Guo had going on all day about getting some bantiao noodles there, but we were too late; everyone was trying to get back home now that the good weather was gone. The bus driver informed us that traffic was backed up to an incredible degree; we’d never make Xinpu. He let us off in Guanxi, where we were turned away from one popular restaurant before we managed to have some decent noodles (“Though not as good as Xinpu,” Chenbl kept saying). Mist was falling, and most of the stores were resolutely closed. Aided by friendly Hakka residents who let us dash into their bathroom for a quick piss, we managed to board another bus back to Taipei. Fortunately by that time traffic wasn’t too bad, with only a few red streaks on Google Traffic marring the route on my iPad, and in only a couple of hours we were marveling once again at the towering high-rises of New Taipei City (I still can’t stand that name; it is the cause of endless confusion in headlines to this day). Xiao Guo jumped off in the middle of Banqiao for some reason, and we caught the subway from the West Gate.

The trip made me feel I should spend more time exploring the area around Guanxi and Xinpu. Some other time, I suppose. There’s nothing like exploring a new place to jump start flagging dream states.



posted by Poagao at 1:11 pm  
Sep 15 2014

Lindyhopping and a crazy bike ride

We were due in Danshui at around 6 on Saturday for a dancing gig that night, so I spent the day mostly at home before gathering up my instruments and heading out to the coast, hauling my cart. It was supposed to be a “black and white” affair. I didn’t really have any white shirts, so I just wore black: My black baggy worker pants from Osaka. Black T-shirt. Black jacket. Black Indonesian felt hat. Black shoes. Black glasses. At least my socks were white.

Sandman was sitting in the square outside the station, and soon other Ramblers began to turn up. Conor was last, of course. David and Mojo had already gone ahead, so we chose a Wish for a taxi, and were rather surprised when the driver didn’t seem very interested in taking us. It was as if he had just come across the concept of driving a taxi and couldn’t quite come to grips with it. He threw our stuff into the back and took off in a jerky, indignant rush, though we hadn’t said we were in a hurry. When we got to the cruise-ship-like hotel near the wharf, he claimed he couldn’t write a receipt because he didn’t have a pen, and he couldn’t give us change because he didn’t have NT$30 on him. Neither objection was sustained.

The dance club was empty as yet, though a tall Western fellow who was obviously in charge directed us inside to the storage room. We did a sound check and had just settled down to our boxed dinners when he told us that people might see us eating there and we’d better make ourselves scarce.

It was a lindy dance convention, it turned out, and boy do those folks take it seriously. I felt as if I were privy to the inner sanctum of some secret society. Everyone was dressed to the nines, but as the club’s AC didn’t work so well, most people had downgraded to around 6 before long. I was sweating profusely in my felt cap and jacket under the stage lights within minutes of starting our first set. A few songs in, and I had to take off my jacket. Unfortunately, I needed two hands to do this, and I lost my grip on the washtub bass stick, which clattered to the floor, eliciting a comment from David, who was trying to explain the next number to the audience. I threw my jacket to the side, bent down to pick up the stick, and then proceeded to put my foot through the tub.

Well. I’ve had tubs break, crack, or whatever, before, but never have I seen a tub disintegrate with such explosive force. Perhaps it was because it was the only green tub I’d ever bought (I got it in Kaohsiung when I was playing with the Heineken Band in ’09…perhaps five years is a considerable span of time for a tub after all. In any case, splinters of green plastic flew everywhere while the CRUNCH! reverberated through the room. I looked down at the destroyed tub, wondering what the hell I was going to do now.

Fortunately, David had spotted another tub in the club’s bathroom. So, while the rest of the band played something bassless, I “appropriated” it and created a hole with a screwdriver I’d heated with a lighter. Five minutes later we had our new tub.

We played until after midnight, two sets in total. My ears were ringing as the sound, which was good enough, was also very loud, and I was glad to get outside, back to the quiet, non-screaming dancer-filled world. The bus back to Taipei Main Station left around 1:15 after backing over some barriers. Thumper, Sandman and myself were on it. I had no idea what happened to the others; I just wanted my bed. At the station we caught a taxi deeper south, as we all live in the wilds of Xindian. I fell into bed around 3.

Sunday was bright and hot when I came to. Thumper had spent much of the previous evening regaling us with tales of the open road, so I decided the haul out the Crazy Bike, which hasn’t seen the light of day in a while. Of course the tires were flat and the frame coated with dust, but after a trip to the local scooter shop it rode just fine.

I took the riverside path north, thrilled to be out on my bike again on a brilliant, albeit hot day. At some point north of the Xiulang Bridge, however, I began to detect a certain odor coming from the river. Unbidden words came to my head from PDQ Bach’s cantata Iphigenia In Brooklyn:


“And lo, she found herself within a market, and all around her fish were dying; and yet their stench did live on.”


“Dying, and yet in death alive.”

I continued riding, not daring to stop and eat the snack I’d brought, which was, unfortunately, a tuna rice triangle. At one point I spotted a crane and several city workers working to relieve a canal of what seemed like several thousand dead fish. Occasionally they scooped out a bird as well, one of which was actually still alive. I sidled up to some of the workers and said in a conversational tone, “So…lot of dead fish ya got there.”

“Ya think?”

“Any idea what killed them?” The worker grimaced.

“Weather…could be a reason,” he started.

“Not the only reason!” Another worker called over.

“Chemicals? Factory waste water?” I suggested.

“Can’t help it,” he told me, followed by the usual excuses about making money and this is Taiwan and that’s just the way things are, etc. It was depressing.

When I walked over to the city officials standing a ways off making notes, I asked the same question. “It’s the weather. Recent temperature fluctuations have taken all the oxygen out of the river water,” a woman with a badge told me.

“So, no possibility of chemicals in the water?” I said, eyeing the green sludge six feet away. She shook head.

“Definitely not. We tested.”

So that was that. I continued north, not letting the stench interfere with my happiness at just being on my bike on the riverside again. The paths had developed considerably since my last ride. I could now cross the intersection of the three rivers on a path hung precariously below the traffic bridge. The wind, thanks to an approaching typhoon, nearly blew me off at several points, but it was fun, and I snapped panoramas of the view. Small water buses plied the waters, which is a new and welcome sight. Taipei needs to engage its rivers more, in my opinion.

On the other wide was Sanchong, and instead of traveling up the Erchong Flood plain, I proceeded up the Danshui River on paths I’d never ridden before. It was fascinating. There is a lot of new development there, rows of huge luxury apartments with floor-length windows just waiting to be stacked with boxes and laundry. The new airport MRT line will go through there if it ever gets finished.

The sun was getting low in the sky, so I turned around near a small earth god temple from which issued the sounds of karaoke, and headed back to a water bus port I’d passed on the way there. The water buses, though very limited in scope, are a lot of fun and dirt cheap: NT$15 a trip, including bicycle, and you can use your Easycard. I only wish they had a wharf in Xindian. Fish were jumping out of the river as we headed south again. Was the water in that bad a shape? I wondered. At least it didn’t smell so much now. I Lined Chenbl and showed him the scenery from the boat. Line does not yet feature smells, but I’m sure they’re working on it.

I got off at the Huajiang Wharf and pedaled south, eyeing the flashes of a storm boiling up over the mountains beyond Xindian as I rode. Sure enough, drizzle began to splatter me as I crossed under the Xiulang Bridge. I sped up, as I hadn’t brought rain gear and my only defense against getting soaked was ineffectual cursing. The rain actually felt good after being in the hot sun all day, however. Night had fallen by the time I got back to the Water Curtain Cave, where I partook of a cold shower and a veggie dinner from the shop downstairs.

All in all, a good weekend. Tiring, but good.

posted by Poagao at 3:56 pm  
Apr 29 2008

Weekend, etc.

First of all, before I start blathering on about my weekend, watch this video. Now, I used to tell people that everyone should visit New York City at least once, but I’m beginning to think I should change my advice. That person being arrested? It’s you.

After Tai-chi practice on Saturday, I joined Daniel and Prince Roy for a nice lunch at the Yongkang Sababa. The weather was perfect for lounging and eating pitas on the veranda. We then went to check out the progress of our favorite teahouse, Wistaria. Unfortunately, not only was the old structure still closed for renovation, the opening was delayed until June. We walked up Xinsheng to its other location, in a quiet alley, and sat next to the front window, which looks out onto the small garden.

tree windowUnfortunately for us, peace and quiet was not to be had, due to a woman loudly “educating” a couple of foreigners at a table on the other side of the room. The foreigners were apparently still jetlagged from their trip. “THE TEA CEREMONY IS A CENTRAL PART OF OUR SPIRITUAL LIVES,” the woman orated. “IT IS SOMETHING WE PARTAKE OF EVERY DAY.” I fought the urge to shout, “ANCIENT CHINESE SECRET, HUH?” at her.

Despite the noise, the tea was very good. We got our favorite Iron Bodhisattva tea and some snacks and spent the next couple of hours chatting above the din. After night fell, we walked over to Chicago Pizza off Jianguo and took a couple of pizzas over to the Da-an Park amphitheater to eat as we watched workmen take down scaffolding from that night’s show. In the distance we could hear a constant drumming. I wondered how they could keep going without tiring out. After the pizza was gone, we walked over to take a look, and found a group of people doing Brazilian dance-fighting to a drumbeat.

crazy bike on bridgeThe next day, Sunday, I decided to dust off the Crazy Bike, which had laid dormant in the bowels of my building all winter, and take a ride. I told myself it would be just a short ride, as I’d planned to get the Tokyo video done that day. The weather was just too nice, and it had been too long since I’d ridden. When I reached the confluence of the Xindian and Dahan Rivers, I turned west up the latter stream and crossed to the other side on the Xinhai Bridge. Then I began to wonder if they can extended the path. I told myself that I had come that far, and I might as well find out. The path ran between the train tracks and the river as I passed through Shulin, where I found that it had indeed been extended. I continued along the riverside, and found myself in downtown Yingge, across from the ceramics center. I’d set out at 1pm, and it was only 4pm, so I felt I could be back in Bitan by 7pm.

other endI was wrong. On the way back I began to get tired, and my knees began to ache. I stopped to chat with some drunken aborigines who having a party under a bridge, sharing a drink with them and plying them for hat-related information. I stopped on the bridge back to take pictures, and then at the site of the construction of a bridge across the meeting of the three rivers for still more pictures. At Gongguan I parked on the wooden walkway and laid on a bench to watch the stars for a bit.

It was well after 9pm by the time I got home, and after some spaghetti for dinner, all I wanted was a shower and bed. So much for productivity. Later I measured the distance I’d ridden with a map interface, which is probably not entirely accurate due to it’s straight-line distances, but it said I’d gone about 70 kilometers. It was a good ride, but I probably should have taken it a bit easier the first time out. Still, I now know that the path goes all the way to Yingge, so maybe next time I little exploring of that area would take the edge off the journey there and back.

posted by Poagao at 4:06 am  
Jun 19 2007

Back on the bike

end of the lineMy goal of taking a nice long ride on the Crazy Bike along the riverside over the Dragonboat holiday had been frustrated by rain on Saturday and Sunday, so on Monday I covered myself in sunscreen, pumped up the tires, and set off despite the ominous rumblings coming from the sky. Negotiating the mouthbreathers on the bridge was troublesome, but once I got on the path itself things went much more smoothly. It was great to be cruising along the river, looking at the views, the trees and sky, listening to the cicadas and feeling the wind. Since I last rode that path, new sections have been added, making previously twisty bits straighter and smoother. The massive highway bridge they’ve been building south of the Xiulang Bridge looks almost complete, and when it’s done another messy detour will vanish.

bridge constructionA huge stage was being set up along the river in Banqiao. The newly paved roads were smooth as silk. I made good time all the way up the Xindian River, along which they are building an elevated expressway that crosses the Danhan River where it and the Xindian converge to form the Danshui River. The construction site for the bridge alone is huge.

The sun came out as I rode westwards towards Tucheng, and the weather became very hot. I stopped to put on more sunscreen, and two other bikers remarked as they rode past, “Oh, right, we should have brought some of that!” Both the Crazy Bike and I got stares and remarks. It seemed most people noticed the bike before they noticed who was riding it. The path to Tucheng has been made into a scooter lane, so the bike path had been rerouted, but the riverbank is wide enough that it doesn’t really matter.puddle

A huge black cloud loomed over Tucheng, thunder booming distantly from it every so often. I reached the end of the path and turned around, away from the black wall of weather, following a group of slow kids and pausing to take pictures of things along the way. The fact that I hadn’t ridden the bike in a long time impressed itself upon me shortly afterwards, and while it was still enjoyable, I was pretty much tired out. The return trip took almost an hour longer than the trip out, partly because of the massive crowds that filled the riverbank near the stage they’d been setting up earlier. Another reason was the multitude of people who apparently want to kill their retarded family members. I’ll be riding along and when I approach some group of people traveling the opposite direction, usually a family or group of friends, someone will always remain completely oblivious to my presence despite the fact that I am an apparent foreigner riding a bright red dragster bicycle directly towards them. I can only conclude that they are mentally impaired in some fashion. However, the other family members/friends will notice me, grab the oblivious person and invariably shove them or pull them right into my path. Thankfully I managed to avoid hitting anyone, but there were quite a few close calls.

The sun was setting over the river, reflecting off of Taipei 101 and turning it into a bright white flame above the city. It must have been raining in the Xinyi District as a rainbow appeared just above it. Bitan seemed to be shrouded in mist as I approached; it seemed particularly inviting after a long, hot ride. I rode on, through clouds of small bugs that flew into my eyes, nose and mouth, causing me to spit every few seconds.

The area was still full of holiday revelers, mandating another game of hit-the-tourist crossing back. I would have loved to taken a nice long, cool shower and gone for a swim, but I had to go to Darrell’s for looping, so I ditched the bike and went straight over. After that, I went to badminton practice, which tired me out utterly and completely. When I finally did get home, the pool was closed, so I drew a bathtub full of cool water, plunked down in it and zoned out with a tattered copy of the Dao De Jing comic.bitan

My little brother Philip was in town on Sunday, so he came down to Bitan to have a look, as he’d never been here before. When I met him at the MRT station, he made the usual remarks about how fat I’d gotten, and we talked about his scuba dives in the Philippines as the source of his relatively svelte proportions. Bitan is a madhouse these days thanks to the Dragonboat Festival-related activities, so the bridge and surrounding streets were packed. Philip really liked the area and my place. I showed him Clay Soldiers, and he found it entertaining despite his feeling that there was a lack of chemistry between the actors.

We had dinner at the dumpling place downstairs and then took a walk along the hillside out back before going down to the river bank for the obligatory Bitan Photo Opportunity. It was nice to see him; he said he’d like to bring his wife and kids along next time.

posted by Poagao at 12:24 am