Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Aug 20 2017

Weekend dichotomy

Saturday was spent sitting in a cafe by the window brainstorming on ideas for the upcoming semester’s photography class. Despite my best efforts, the number of students continues to grow, and it’s becoming more difficult to find ways to give each and every student the time and attention they deserve, but I think we can handle it. Chenbl is an excellent organizer, for one thing, and he also tends to remind me of things I’ve overlooked. It was a productive but somewhat frustrating day in any case.

Today, Sunday, I got up and took the MRT to the NTU Hospital Station (you know, the one in 2/28 Park that is not named 2/28 Park Station but after a hospital that is a block away thanks to the law that metro stations must if at all possible incorporate any nearby hospital in its name) to practice tai-chi. I’ve been making an effort to get back into shape, and in addition to picking up badminton again, I’ve been resuming my efforts to practice tai-chi and tuishou with Little Qin and my other old tai-chi brothers. Today I grappled with UPS Guy, whom you may recall from the days of yore in my tai-chi blog (which I will not be updating because I plan to redo the website and incorporate all my blogs into one gigantic mess for your further reading confusion). All things considered, including near 100-degree heat, I did pretty well. He still has a tendency to move too quickly and get ahead of himself, something I tried (and mostly failed) to take advantage of by taking his movement and encouraging him to go too far. After that I pushed with Little Qin, who, being somewhat less portly than he used to be, is easier to grab as he now has angles, kind of. I also enjoy talking politics with  Little Qin and getting his take on the events of the day. I still miss studying with Teacher X, though.

My friends at the indigenous protest were planning an afternoon of concerts and other activities, so I helped them set things up before hauling my instruments over to CKS Hall for a quick bite at Mos Burger. Even though I was nearly 45 minutes early, I found Thumper sitting in the sun. It was good I arrived early, my food took long enough to make me late to our 2:30 start time, but we’re nearly always late so it didn’t really matter. Sylvain was there apparently to steal all of my solos (I kid, I kid…I get paid the same no matter how many solos I have). We went through some old songs in the runup to next weekend’s Jazz Festival gig. Between songs I got Cristina to give me a few hints about my violin homework.

After practice, while the others talked about going to get pizza, I hauled my stuff back to the park, where the concert was in full swing. I walked around listening to the music and taking a few photos, feeling quietly happy and at ease as I tend to do in that crowd. I walked through the park, past the old temple that was playing recorded temple music to a swastika-adorned ghost money boat, and over to what I think of as the Protest MosBurger, as I tend to end up eating there while attending protests, before returning to the concert. They did actually serve food there, but I don’t like to take from them at all if I can help it.

The last act was an electric guitar/bongo drum  duo that rocked, but I had to leave. Work tomorrow, as well as violin class and more preparing not only for my class but the upcoming workshop and other photo events for the Dadaocheng Arts Festival. Back to it, in other words. But it was a nice Sunday away.

posted by Poagao at 10:51 pm  
Dec 11 2016

Of Rights and Rambles

This weekend has gone non-stop. It started Friday night when I piled my instruments onto the 650 bus to Liuzhangli so I could make a gig with the ramblers at Bob’s. And not just the Muddy Basin Ramblers, but famed bluesman Rambling Steve Gardner as well, who flew in from Tokyo for the Tiger Mountain Ramble on Saturday. We met Steve at the Yokohama Jug Band Festival a couple of years back, and we’ve stayed in touch, always prodding him to make a trip over. The gig was a riot, and Kat served up tasty meat pies, potatoes and pizza afterwards.

After hauling my ass out of bed Saturday morning, I put on some Rambler-approved clothes and again hauled my instruments out and took the subway to Ximen, where I stashed them so that I could proceed unhindered to the Marriage Equality event on Ketagalan Blvd. Even though it was just starting, huge streams of people were joining from all directions. It was difficult to get into the crowd; I haven’t seen that many people there since the Sunflower protest, so I mostly just walked around the periphery. Suming gave a short speech and sang, and there were other performers with the MCs on the stage.

It was heartening to see so much love, hope and idealism, a real contrast from the previous anti-marriage-equality protests, which were mostly driven by hate and spite as well as stacks of cash from American Christian groups. For one thing, the anti-equality protests were much smaller than reported, even though the churches bussed entire congregations up to Taipei, and populated mostly by middle-aged people; so many of them were dressed in white and wearing masks that it was alarmingly similar to a Klan rally in all but name; “Straight Power” was pretty much the theme, and people there would throw their hands up in front of their masked faces when I raised my camera to take a shot. A good 10-20% of the protesters were actual Christian clergy, priests and nuns in full garb. One tall Western priest stood by one of the “praying” priests, and I managed to not enunciate my hope that he would get deported for taking part in the protest.

But that would never have happened, as the Christians (who claim homosexuality is a “foreign influence, oblivious to the fact that Christianity is much more of a foreign influence than homosexuality ever was), carted in an Australian woman who has some kind of personal vendetta against her parents, Katy Faust, to actually address the Legislature on what she clearly knows nothing about. The appropriately named Faust has no expertise on either homosexuality or Taiwan, yet not a single lawmaker saw the obvious violations of the actual law that her visit incurred. The media hasn’t really been on board with Reality either, e.g. articles like this from Focus Taiwan, which calls the event a “concert” that only “thousands” attended, even though official estimates run from a quarter million and up, and highlights claims of “bullying” of Christians on the subject.

As I was wandering around the East Gate and up the road toward the Presidential Office, it occurred to me that these people, not just the people at the marriage-equality protest, but other similar groups like the Sunflowers, et al, are the very people who were targeted by government forces during the White Terror period. Forward-looking people, people with inspiration and ideas for the future. In the awful times after 2/28, all of us would have been on those lists.

And who would have been writing those lists? The people who showed up in white robes and masks to protest equal rights.

I would have liked to have stayed longer, but I had to go retrieve my instruments and head over to the Tiger Mountain Ramble, where we were playing in the late afternoon. The mountain road was apparently so difficult to navigate that my cabbie shushed me when I tried to tell him where the place was. “Don’t talk to me!” he said. “I’m trying to concentrate on these GPS coordinates!” He found the place despite this.

The ramble was a little behind schedule when I got there, putting my stuff away and greeting friends. The cloudy skies threatened rain, and someone had started a bonfire. Steve presented me with a lovely gift: His photobook, from his days as a photojournalist on the theme of the American South, specifically the people of Mississippi, entitled Rambling Mind. It is a beautifully printed, large-sized book, one of only a handful left from the print run. The photos inside are wonderful as well…it’s a real treat, and I’m so happy to be able to add it to my collection.

It started to rain as we climbed the metal steps of the mobile stage and began our gig. It was a raucous affair, and most everything went right. There was much dancing in spite of the rain, which got heavier as we played. Afterwards we had to slog through the mud to get back to the storeroom, and everyone was huddled around the former temple for shelter. I was tired after a day of walking around as well as the show, so I packed up and headed down the mountain on foot, pulling my cart behind me. I met one of the other bands on the way, and they said some very nice things about our show, and I returned their compliments.

This morning (Sunday) I had to head out again, this time to lead my photography students on a walk around Keelung. We met up in front of the train station at 10 a.m. to find a large gathering of Indonesians, including dancers, martial artists and singers, as well as stalls selling food and attire, and a stage. It was all very festive; I bought three nice new hats, but we couldn’t stay long; we had to catch a train to Keelung.

Of course it was raining, because Keelung. We got off at the brand-new train station, which is worlds nicer than the awful old station, which itself was…much more awful than the old Japanese station. Some people were a bit peckish, so we had some food at a breakfast shop where the owner told us how to get to the big KEELUNG sign at the top of the hill. “You go up,” he said helpfully.

So we went up, following alleys, complimenting one household in particular on their delicious-smelling curry rice and dodging the scooters that would occasionally charge up the steep slope. One of these was a Gogoro electric scooter, with no less than two people on it. Impressive.

We paused at the big KEELUNG and then proceeded up to the platform at the top of the hill, caught our breath, and then went back down again, this time taking a different, more circuitous route. Eventually we found ourselves back to the main road behind the station. We crossed over the old blue pedestrian bridge that’s been there forever, and walked towards the Miaokou market, where vendors were hauling their stalls out into the rainy streets. It’s always difficult to lead these photowalks because I remain a firm believer in the benefits of solitary ventures. “I’m just showing you this place and some of the possibilities,” I often find myself saying. “You can come back on your own sometime and really see it!” It might seem odd for me to be telling this to native Taiwanese people, but they almost always have never really been to the places I take them, or, even if they have, they never really noticed what was there. I think it works; several of them have come a really long way in their photography, which makes me happy. And after this rather fucked-up year, I appreciate such things more than ever.

posted by Poagao at 9:39 pm  
Dec 14 2015

Retirement community gig

Yesterday afternoon I met up with Chenbl and his fellow floutists at the Danshui MRT. We’ve done a couple of shows in the past with them on flute and me on trumpet; somehow word got out, and a retirement community out there invited us to play for their residents. One of their people met us at the station and took us up the hillside, past Tamkang University, to the hillside establishment. The lobby was a mixture of hotel and hospital, flanked by an atrium with large windows facing the ocean and the setting sun.

We got ready and warmed up in the place’s library, and I sat next to the side door of the small stage while the other groups played old Mandarin and Minnan favorites to the large group of elderly people, many in wheelchairs, caregivers feeding them small pieces of cake by hand. The retirees hummed and even sang along to the old songs; it was actually kind of touching.

renfuThough our performance went well, musically speaking, the people handling the technical part of the event weren’t quite with the program, cutting off “Rose Rose I love You” halfway through the song. Then the MC said “And next is ‘Summertime’, a song frequently played at funerals!” Chenbl and I both stared in horror as he said this, but the MC seemed to think it was perfectly ok, so we shrugged and kept playing. Hopefully our rendition of the song managed to avoid any kind of funereal intimations.

After the show, the audience trickled out slowly, back to their games of chess and mahjong in the building’s atrium. A couple of them told me they really enjoyed the show, which was nice. We took a bus back down the hill, and a long subway ride back to the city.


posted by Poagao at 12:00 pm  
Apr 12 2015


We were flying to Yokohama on Friday, but not out of Taoyuan. Instead, we were departing from Songshan Airport, whose unfortunate call letters are “TSA”. I was able to catch the subway from Xindian all the way to the airport with only one transfer. I hadn’t been to the airport since it’s refurbishing, and it looks cool in a faux-retro kind of way. Either that or it’s actually the original furnishings, just taken out of the cupboard where they were tossed at the dawn of the Age of Crap and dusted off. Our baggage included two tubs and a wooden stick, all boxed and labeled “fragile”.

Another surprised lay in store for us after we cleared customs, where the lines were so short none of us even thought of using the machines that do it automatically: Instead of some dumpy old airplane, we boarded one of ANA’s new Boeing 787s. I admit I didn’t realize it was a 787 until I’d boarded, put my stuff away, settled down and realized that there was seemingly no way to pull the window shade down (the windows are darkened with a polarization thingamabob). Only then did I notice the slightly taller windows and raised wings. When I related this exciting information to Thumper, he also became very excited, going so far as to actually shrug.

The flight was smooth and quick, aided by a healthy tailwind, and we were soon descending through the clouds over Haneda Airport, Tokyo’s “local” airport, which is ever so much more impressive than any airport in Taiwan. We got off and gazed out at the 787, upon which Slim realized that he had neglected to bring his bag with him off the plane. We waited while he went back to fetch it. This would become somewhat of a theme throughout our trip.

After deciphering the plate of multicolored spaghetti that is Tokyo’s subway map, we managed to find the train to Yokohama. When we got there, instead of figuring out exactly where we should head to get to the hotel, we stood around ogling a poster for the Yokohama Jug Band Festival, where we were a featured act. We later regretted this neglect when we found it was raining outside and we had to walk a bit more in the rain than we would have if we’d just looked at a goddamn map.


But we found the hotel, the Hotel Plumm, which features daring shades of purple and green. Our room also had a lot of Shocking Pink. But it was indoors and they had hot water, so all was good.

We’d been invited to a pre-festival party a few stops down the line that evening, so we grabbed some instruments and headed out into the rain again, this time to a lovely little bar called the Blue Corn Cafe, where many talented Japanese musicians were putting on a show. We sat down and listened to some really great pieces, and met some of them as well as the organizers of the festival, including Mooney, Speedy and Tomo. Mooney is the head organizer as well as a musician, and Speedy is one of the best bassists I’ve ever seen. He lives and breathes the songs, and the double bass he plays is like part of him. Tomo hasn’t cut his hair in three years. We sat and ate burgers (though I didn’t seen any actual blue corn on the menu) and drank as we enjoyed the music. It was supremely comfortable, though Japanese people still insist on smoking in restaurants even in this day and age. At one point Mooney saw my trumpet and motioned for me to come up on stage. They were playing a version of “Everybody Loves My Baby” but it had a strange minor section I’d never heard before. “Do you know this song?” Mooney asked. I nodded noncommittally.

“I know…a version of it?” I said, but he was already going, so I did what I could. People seemed to like it, anyway. Conor gave some ripping solos, and Sandman played a bit as well. It was great fun.


The subway was shutting down at 12:30 or so, so Tomo led us back to the station so we could hop on the last train back to Yokohama Station, along with 89 businessmen, two of them in each other’s laps. We cooled down in David’s room for a bit before heading off to sleep.

Breakfast the next day was downstairs from the hotel and next door at a Dennys-esque restaurant called “Jonathan”, with booths and newspapers and decent eggs. There was a Mandatory Jug Band “meeting” at the venue at 11am, but we had no idea what it was all about, so we just grabbed our instruments and showed up, only to find that it was an actual meeting, all in Japanese, and besides being introduced, there wasn’t much for us to do. It was odd seeing so many jug bands in one place, over 60 in all, with accompanying paraphernalia such as buttons, T-shirts, posters, etc.

We had some time, so I walked around the area a bit, along the canals, across some bridges and back. Another performance space lay under a large bridge nearby. An elderly man ventured out of his tiny old building to do laundry on the porch. Trains came and went. I love trains, bridges, and walking around such places, so I was very happy with it all. I browsed cameras at the BIC camera store, where an employee took way too much time connecting power to the cameras, but at least they let you try them, unlike shops back home in Taipei. I got a good feel for cameras I’d only read about, such as the Panasonic LX100 (good features but poor handling) and the Fuji X100T (very nice, lovely optical viewfinder), and the Sony A7II (too big and heavy, I still prefer the small and light A7r).

As I was meandering down a street, wondering what I was doing for lunch, I heard someone calling my name. It was Mojo. She, Eddie and David were in line for noodles at a popular shop across the street, so I joined them. The noodles, when we were finally seated, were very good, somehow emitting a smoked, barbeque flavor, albeit a bit salty. I redecorated my necktie with soup, so it wasn’t too bad. It seemed to be a family business, and it ran like clockwork. I wouldn’t want to be a new employee there. I wouldn’t be surprised if they make you sit and watch for a month before they let you into the kitchen.

Our afternoon show was approaching, so we walked back to the stage, which was on a sloping platform over a canal. We soon noticed that, despite its name, we hadn’t seen any actual jugs being played. Slim felt he might be the only actual jug player at a jug band festival, which would be strange. I also noticed that none of the washtub basses seemed to be able to hit actual notes with any kind of accuracy. A few were ok, but mostly seemed to be used as percussive instruments rather than melodic ones.

It was time to get ready, but as we pulled out our instruments in preparation, Sandman discovered that he had brought the wrong saxophone. It wasn’t a big deal as far as the afternoon show went, but he’d need to find something before the evening show. The sound on the canal stage seemed kind of tinny, and when I told them to put the microphone under the tub, they seemed shocked, as if nobody had ever thought to do that before. But they caught on, and before we knew it, we were playing, several women in geisha outfits, complete with green bottles of sake, dancing next to the stage as we played.


The sun came out in response to Mojo’s bright yellow earrings, welcome after all of the rain and gloom. We put our stuff away after the show, and I walked around some more, enjoying just being in Yokohama. The cherry trees were in blossom, lit up by streetlights as dusk fell and uniformed persons shouted at pedestrians. I ducked into a curry place for an unremarkable dinner before catching another show under the bridge.

They were having a “washtub bass summit” when I returned to the venue. About a dozen makeshift washtub bassists were there, and they were all surprised to find that I was using a chopstick to pluck the string. They all used their hands, some gloved, some bare, on metal of nylon strings. The biggest innovation I saw was one guy who had a notched stick that could be used as a washboard in an emergency.

We all went out on stage, where Tomo was sitting with a banjo. He played a simple melody, and the dozen-odd washtub basses lurched into a rumbling accompaniment. It was a mess to hear. They gave everyone a measure to play individually, but that was fairly meaningless as well. I went through the motions of strumming, devoting most of my energy to avoiding rolling-eye strain, but I guess it was cool to at least see a bunch of washtub basses in the same room.

Steve Gardner was playing before us, and he invited us on stage to play on his last song. It was fun, but the key was a bit odd. I managed somehow, and then it was our turn.


Our show was great, to put it simply. The sound, the audience (except one large woman in the front row who seemed to have fallen asleep or passed out), the energy, the lights, everything was great. The stage was in a bar called the Thumbs Up. Some more bands played after us, but we had the prime spot, and we all got up on stage for a raucous, righteous jam at the end before retiring to the table for beer and sake and plates of food. We donated the tub and stick to an earnest young Japanese washtub bass player named JJ, who seemed to be trying to emulate Johnny Depp’s character in Alice. He was very happy. Everyone was very happy. I can’t remember when I’ve had such a wonderful time. Even though I was exhausted, I took the long way back to the Plumm, not wanting the day to end. Some of the others took this feeling a bit more seriously, as they went out to another place for food and only returned to the hotel at 4 a.m.

We got up a couple of hours later, around 6, in order to make our flight back to Taipei. The day was lovely, brilliant, sunny and warm. I wished very hard that I could stay in Yokohama, visions of playing gigs, studying Japanese and living in a tiny room somewhere around there dancing in my stupid little head, but we had to go. For a moment we thought we might miss our flight when Conor thought mistakenly that he’d left his phone at the hotel, even going back to get it before realizing it was in his bag all along (I told you this kind of thing would happen again). We made the train, however, and though I was told be the rear-train conductor to stop taking pictures of her hands (I wasn’t; I was taking video of her hands), we made it to the airport in one piece.

I spent as much of my remaining Yen as I could on a sandwich, and then it was on the 787 back to Taipei. Flying into Songshan is even more surreal than flying out of it; usually with Taoyuan there is that buffer period between the Outside World and Taiwan, in the form of a dusty, creaking bus, but this sudden transition via the subway was a little unsettling. Thumper took off, as well as Mojo, at the airport. David and Conor headed off back to Muzha. Slim got off at Qizhang, and Sandman at Xindian District Office Station. Then it was just me, hauling my luggage back across the bridge to the Water Curtain Cave.

Most of my stuff is unpacked, the handful of photos and videos copied. And now this account is written. The trip is done. It will take a while to sink in, however. It was one of those trips, a trip I didn’t know how much I needed. Time may tell how much.


posted by Poagao at 10:07 pm  
Mar 21 2015

Full Friday

Yesterday was an interesting day. It was Friday, which meant office work and wrapping up various tasks before noon. There was no room for delay, because I’d been asked by my old friend Chalaw to appear on a TV program with him in the afternoon. Also, the Ramblers had a gig at Cheng-chih University that night, so I had to suit up and bring all my gear with me in the morning.

Fortunately everything went smoothly; I caught the subway over to Houshanpi Station and got in a taxi with Chenbl and Xiao Guo, who were helping me out with all my stuff in exchange for getting to watch a TV taping live. Not a great deal for them, but I appreciated their help carrying all that stuff. The guard at the TV studios could have been Chenbl’s twin brother, a fact which both of them found quite amusing.

Chalaw greeted us in the makeup room, and we chatted for a bit before going into the studio for rehearsal. Some really good backup musicians were there, so we got to perform with awesome slide guitar, drum, bass and keyboard backup. After rehearsing once or twice, we recorded a song, and then another. It was quite cold, but hopefully I wasn’t too off-key.

I’m positive that I was off-key for the interview portion of the show, though. I’m terrible at interviews, always doing and saying the wrong things and looking at the wrong people, stammering my answers out and shaking my microphone. The editors certainly have their job cut out for them, is all I can say. Still, Chalaw and the hosts were very nice and accomodating.

We had to leave a bit early, so we could get over to Cheng-chih University for our soundcheck at 4:15. The cab took us over the bridge of the Jingmei Stream, through the campus gate and up the hill to the Arts Center, where the gig was being held in honor of photographer Shen Chao-liang’s exhibition on the topic of highly decorated, mobile stages in Taiwan. The Ramblers were to play on just such a stage ourselves, something we’d been looking forward to for a long time, as it is just so our style. Shen Chao-liang greeted me as we got out of the cab. He’s only a little older than I am, and has created several wonderful photographic works. He’s one of the best Taiwanese photographers out there, and it was great to talk with him. The prints at the exhibition were large and lovely.

Mosquitos were consuming Xiao Guo’s arm, so we booked it into the building and over to the rear veranda overlooking the river and the city beyond. The truck had already been set up in front of the empty stands. Due to space restrictions, the audience was being limited to 300 people via online registration. We went through the soundcheck with the very professional sound people, whom I duly added on Facebook later.

Chenbl had flute class that night and couldn’t stay, but Xiao Guo and I feasted on boxed dinners along with the rest of the Ramblers and the Lion Dancing troupe who were going to open for us. They put on a splendid show, though afterwards I heard one of them say ruefully, “I knew I shouldn’t have eaten before the show.”

Our show was next, and it was wonderful, even though I had a headache and kept wincing. The place was packed, the stands full and the audience spilling over both sides of the stage. The crowd was very enthusiastic about all the music, and virtually exploded when we started to play our version of the old standard Wang Chun Feng. In between songs we would raffle prizes and sell our “medicine”, students lining up in front of the stage. It was great.

After the show was another show, i.e. the folding up of the huge stage into a little blue truck. Everyone watched raptly as the various parts enfolded into each other, almost seeming to swallow the man who was operating the hydraulics. At the end he got almost as much applause as we’d gotten.

Most everyone had left by the time we got back out front to catch cabs back home, but after David and some others had taken the first cab, the second cabbie demanded NT$500 just for our luggage. He knew he had us in a tough spot, but we refused to give him the satisfaction and sent him packing without any fare. Of course, this meant that we had to hitch a ride back down the mountain, where we could catch a cab, but fortunately one of the group volunteered for shuttle duty. Finding a cab wasn’t difficult out in front of the campus, though Slim decided to go his own way.

So, all in all, a great day, made better by the fact that it’s now the weekend.

posted by Poagao at 10:58 am  
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  
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 Webb: Tales 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  
Apr 08 2013

Muddy Spring Scream Ramblings

I gave a talk on photography last Thursday at the Chenghuang Temple in Taipei. I was expecting few people to show up, as it was the first day of a four-day weekend, and it was raining. I was wrong; the place was packed. I didn’t promote the talk at all, so I can’t explain how so many people came. I had too much material to get through, so I didn’t get to a lot of what I wanted to say, but it seemed to go well. Nonetheless, I needed to get away afterwards, and Spring Scream, where the Muddy Basin Ramblers were schedule this year, was just the ticket.

Sandman and I took the bullet train south at noon on Friday, the second day of the Tomb-sweeping holiday. Sandman had had his doubts about the trip, but was feeling better once we were rolling and drinking and commenting on the scenery. Kaohsiung appeared in a flash of conversation, and the other Ramblers, sans Thumper, were waiting for us in a restaurant downstairs from the station. We were going to take a bus, but a man was hawking his van, which seemed reasonable at NT$2,500 until we realized that his “van” was actually a Toyota Wish. Somehow, we managed to cram all of our gear and all six of us into the small station wagon, David crammed in the back and me with the tub in my lap, before we set off.

It’s a couple of hours from Kaohsiung to Kenting, where Spring Scream was being held for the 19th year. I’d never been to Spring Scream, as it has always existed in that realm of older foreigners that I never partook of, along with old bars and other expat joints that I’d heard of but never visited. The Ramblers had never played at Spring Scream either, and we felt this was the year to change all that. I hadn’t been in Kenting for years, and I was surprised at all the new development: Hotels, b&bs, restaurants, go-kart tracks, etc. We spilled out of the Wish at the Uni-President Hotel, the only real hotel in walking distance of Oluanpi Lighthouse Park, where the music festival was being held. It was hot and muggy, and though the hotel pool beckoned, we had to trek down to the festival to check in. This involved showing ID, signing our names, and getting a forearm tattoo as well as a chip on a bracelet to pay for things with. This chip had to be bought, and adding money cost money, as well as refunding money. There’s nothing about this that doesn’t indicate it’s a racket.

Spring Scream consisted of two main areas, separated by a winding path lit with LED lights. The first area had a couple of stages and long rows of food/drink/tattoo/handicraft stands, a big screen for Urban Nomad films, etc., and the second area held several stages and a few stands for handicrafts and tattoos and beer. Most of the bands sounded the same, so I spent a bit of time in one area before getting bored and going to the other area. I had some pizza from the Alleycats Stand, and talked with some people. The beer was apparently supplied by Bear Beer, but I have to say the place was a bit bear-deficient. I only saw a handful of actual bears, one of them limping. At night our friend Louis got on the big screen with a Skype session and played some music at us, which was cool and tech-y. David and I trekked back up the path to the road to find a long line of taxis well after midnight, while Conor and Slim came back much later. Our room was a split-level affair, so everyone had a place to sleep, even if it was the floor in Slim’s case. A thunderstorm arose in the night, heavy rain and lightning pounding the window. I was grateful that I wasn’t one of those poor souls camping out in a tent.

It was still raining on Saturday morning, and I bought some sandals to wear as I was afraid of ruining my shoes in the inevitable sea of mud that was the festival grounds by this point. The hotel’s breakfast wasn’t bad, though they were closing down by the time we straggled down to the basement to partake of what was left. A small girl at the next table stared at Slim with an expression of utmost disappointment on her little face. She didn’t look at Conor or me, just at Slim, as if he was far from meeting her expectations. Conor and Slim returned to their slumbering, but we got up for an impromptu practice behind the hotel, bringing several staff members out, not to complain, but to say how much they liked the music. I can understand how desperate they are for good music, as the hotel tends to play elevator music in the halls all the time. Thumper showed up as we ground through the pieces, having rented a car and driven down from Kaohsiung with his wife. The thunderstorm had brought cooler weather, and the pool didn’t seem so inviting now.

But we had to be back down at the festival, with our instruments this time, as we were scheduled to play at five. There was no lying about on the grass this time, as everything was wet, and the path between the two areas was a river of mud. Our well-traveled friend Alita, who wrote so enthusiastically about our appearance at SS this year in the TT last weekend, was wearing her signature wings, which were rather damp. Everything was rather damp, but when we finally got on stage after the previous two bands went long, we made everyone forget it was raining. Or, at least until a large gust of storm reminded us. It was a great, high-energy show, and the audience was really into it, even dancing in the mud, somehow. Thumper was recording everything on the Go-pro camera mounted on his head.

The management signaled that we had five minutes, and everyone looked at their watches, puzzled, as we still had much more than that. However, they were apparently trying to get back on schedule by cutting down our time, even though we had more people listening to us than any other band had up to that point. It was not a little reminiscent of our last appearance at Peacefest, and there was a reason it was our last appearance. That was also a very muddy experience.

Still, it was a great show while it lasted. We were mobbed by people wanting to buy our album when we got off the stage, which was nice, and we all walked around in a little glow until we realized that it was still raining and colder still. David lent me a jacket, but I was still chilled and rather bored with walking back and forth between the two areas in my now-muddy sandals. I sat and watched a documentary on Jimmy Carter and the Oil Crisis until another deluge forced everyone to take cover. By around 10:30 I’d had enough and decided to go back to the hotel for a nap and a warm shower, taking the tub and stick with me. I intended to come back for a midnight jam, so I left my trumpet there, but after a nap and talking with Thumper in his room for a couple of hours, I decided I didn’t feel like facing that muddy path again that night. Apparently cops shut everything down at midnight, but that didn’t stop Conor and Slim from staying until 5 a.m.

Breakfast on Sunday morning was good, and though Slim was able, thanks to the magic of electrolytes, to come eat breakfast, Conor was unable to rouse himself to such lofty ambitions. Thumper had already eaten, so it was just David, Sandman, Slim and myself. The disappointed girl was not present; perhaps she’d seen the show and changed her mind.

We had all heard the horror tales of traffic back to Kaohsiung following Spring Scream, so we tried to get a somewhat early start. I rode in the back of Thumper’s rental, while the rest took a taxi. A gaggle of expensive sports cars was blocking traffic on the road north, driving very slowly so as to clear out traffic ahead of them for some miles, whereupon they would drive very fast on the empty roads they had created. It was an incredible display of asshattery, proving that it’s ok to crap on other people as long as you’re 1) rich and 2) together with other rich people.

Traffic richtrolling aside, the drive was smooth, and Thumper dropped me off in front of Pingtung Train Station. From there I walked around town a bit, having lunch at Mos Burger, visiting a few temples and chatting with an elderly couple about an old Japanese-era ruin that had once been a luxury residence by the river. Oddly enough, there was a pile of ten-NT coins on the ledge of one of the windows, and they couldn’t explain this, saying that it definitely wasn’t haunted, as couples often went there for wedding photos. I walked around the neighborhood behind the train station and back around to the front, where I bought a ticket to Xin Zuoying. I was glad to rest my tired feet while watching the scenery roll by as the daylight faded.

At Zuoying, I consulted my schedule and decided I had enough time for another stroll, so I walked down to the nearby lake and sat watching the lights of the city reflected on the water. It was very pleasant, and I was surprised at how low-rent the undoubtedly convenient area between the train/HSR/Metro station and the lake still seemed. Hardly anyone was about on the streets as I walked back to the massive station complex, which resembles a space station compared to the modest neighborhood around it. I had a sandwich and salad while charging my phone, and then headed upstairs and then down again to board my 8:30 train. The trip was spent dozing, mostly, and Thumper was waiting downstairs from the Water Curtain Cave with my instruments, which he had graciously offered to bring up in the car so I wouldn’t be burdened with them between trains.

The Ramblers are working on our second album these days, and it’s a project that will take us most of the summer, most likely, but we’ll have a few shows here and there as well. It was great to get out of town and get a change of scenery, especially after working hard on preparing and giving the photography talk last week, but it’s also good to be back.

posted by Poagao at 12:34 am  
Sep 17 2012

My weekend, let me tell you about it

Back-to-back gigs made for a wonderfully strange weekend to coincide with the first hints of fall in the form of cool rain/misty non-heat/whatever you want to call it. The kind of weather that makes people turn off their air conditioners, realize that the air conditioners were covering all the noise from their neighbors playing Mahjong, and then promptly turn the air conditioners on again.

The Muddy Basin Ramblers were on the list to play at the old abandoned bottle-cap factory in Nangang on Saturday afternoon as part of a rock festival, aimed at the city’s youth, called the Black Town Music Festival by the art group URS 13 that did the Dihua Street exhibit where we played and I exhibited some photos a while back.

I’d never disembarked at that particular station before, and got lost  a few times in the labyrinthine connection between the MRT and train stations on the way, but eventually I emerged close enough to follow the sound of heavy metal screeching to the factory, which turned out to be comprised of the graffiti-covered shells of several large buildings, stripped of everything, the floors and walls sporting interestingly shaped protrusions leftover from the process of making bottle caps.

I managed to get within about 50 meters of the stage before the noise drove me back. Judging from the dozen or so people braving proximity to the band, the booming, echoing acoustics were not working in their favor. I wasn’t sure if there was any applause; the ringing in my ears might have cancelled it out.

You might ask: What the hell was a jug band doing at a rock concert? I suppose they were going for a certain amount of variety, and they knew us from the Dihua Street activities. In any case, after a lengthy sound check on stage, we were sure of one thing: They were into us. Even during the sound check a large crowd had gathered, applause breaking out even for short bits of music to test the microphone setup. Once the actual show began, the huge factory space filled to capacity, though it was hard to tell with all the lights on the stage. The sound guys had done a great job, testing each instrument individually and then the band as a whole.

The show went well, with the exception of one very odd key mishap, and everyone was happy. For our final song, David told the crowd, “This is a Taiwanese song we learned recently; you might have heard of it. Sing along if you know the words!” We then played the intro to “Wang Chun Feng” in a schmaltzy Nakishi style, and delighted screams erupted from the crowd.

Thumper and Sandy had to leave after the show, and Conor had another gig, but David, Slim and I hung out. Well, Slim and I hung out on the steps in front of one of the old buildings, on which is inscribed what TC actually stands for, and chatted while we waited for David to bring us back the Most Delicious Chicken Rice Bentos in Nangang or Possibly the World. Even Slim took more than two bites, and that’s as ringing a declaration of Goodness as there is. The rain came and went, people came and went, the sounds of subsequent bands wafting over to us on the wind. Strange things happened. I think a panda was seen at some point.

Sunday was the day of the Blues Queens Cruise, our second performance aboard the riverboat that plies the Danshui. Chenbl and I wandered from the metro station onto the wide plain of grass along the riverside that was recently added, confounded by the addition and the obvious lack of a riverboat in the vicinity, but it was further down the river a ways, docked amidst several smaller vessels. For a moment, in the cool mist, I could imagine walking down that path in some past decade, ticket in hand, and boarding a steamer bound for Japan.

This feeling was reinforced when we got on board after pushing the last few tickets on the dock with a show accompanied by a fellow in a wheelchair who could summon goat-dogs with his teeth: Japanese was the lingua franca of the boat, as most of the passengers as well as the other musicians were from that island nation to the north. The cruise was a benefit for Orchid Island, which was damaged heavily in the last couple of typhoons.

The mist lifted as the boat left the dock, pushing out into the river and heading towards the ocean, the sun glinting across the far-off waves of the open sea beyond the river mouth. The Japanese band played on the top deck first, and the sun dove slowly towards the horizon through various stages of clouds as the ship turned this way and that, until it was a cherry pop dipping into the ocean.

Various other craft were passing to and fro as we marched to the edge of the larger ocean waves before turning around, and we took the stage as night fell, the lights on the shores of either side blinking and flashing, the outlines of the mountains beyond fading in the darkness. Our sound was crackly and jazzy; it was a good show again. How could it not be? We were on a riverboat, playing our music as night fell in a cool breeze.

The boat docked once again at Danshui, and we walked to the old street to look for taxis, but the taxis were having none of this. They hesitated to appear, and once they did, the did not like the looks of us. David sat on the corner and played a tune, and the dancers danced, and the photographers photographed. A mainland Chinese couple yelled at us for “taking too long to decide” and promptly jumped in a cab that had been considering whether we would be worth the risk. Someone called a taxi service, and more cabs appeared. I motioned for one driver to roll down his window. “Where are you going?” he asked. I showed him the address, and his face fell.

“I have something to do now,” he decided.

Eventually we managed to find taxis over to Mudskippers, a bar on the river near Guandu, where David promptly launched into the epic “Ballad of the Chinese Tourists Who Stole My Taxi”. Conor and I accompanied.

As the other Ramblers contemplated my varied and important secrets, dinner was served: Chowder, caprese, spaghetti and fruit. All delicious, thanks to one of our band’s most loyal and longstanding fans, Jaye. You know Jaye.

We played, talked, danced and sang until the threat of the last train back to the basin called us to our senses. Then we talked, danced and sang on the subway back through the wee hours left before the week ahead.

posted by Poagao at 12:24 pm  
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