Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

May 20 2009

My grandparents’ houses

The Google Streetview cars have been venturing further and further afield recently, making forays even into small-town Oklahoma, so I did a little searching and was able to find the places I visited on holidays as a child after long rides in the back seats of huge Buicks, to houses with old people, cigarette smoke, pecans and dripping-oil china sets.

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First up is the house of my great grandparents, whom I only remember vaguely as being very well-dressed and dapper (as far as I could tell from ankle-height). We visited my great-grandfather Will at the rest home once, but I don’t recall much about him. After they died, we went through their house and retrieved, among other things I’m sure, a very comfortable rocking chair. In the garage out back was a classic vintage 1950’s two-tone Buick.

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Next is my maternal grandparents’ place, the one constant location of my childhood as we moved here and there across the country in the steps of my father’s aerospace career. It was here that my grandfather beheaded a mole with a hoe in front of me, shocking my mother. My parents and my grandparents would argue a lot, which didn’t understand as it involved inheritances and wills (I still don’t understand it, actually). At one point my grandparents had a waterbed that a lot of fun to bounce on, but if you were sleeping in the room that used to be the garage, as I always did, there were no bathrooms to use until the grown-ups got up in the morning, resulting in me waking everyone up by setting off the burglar alarm when I tried to go outside to find a bush to pee in. The garage/guestroom did, however, have a Steinway piano and an organ with all kinds of funky sounds available by pressing down colored tabs labeled “bosanova” and “waltz”. As there were no kids my age to play with, I would borrow a bicycle that was too big for me and ride east, up Main Street, which looks pretty much as sad and empty as it did in the early 1970’s.

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Finally, my paternal grandparent’s house. I never knew my grandfather, as he died when I was very little, so this house was to me, my grandmother’s house. My grandfather had been a carpenter and had built and designed not only the house but much of the furniture. The house itself was an odd, ramshackle thing, mostly garage downstairs with a narrow living room and kitchen, and no actual doors, just curtains hanging in the frames. My grandmother drove a dull gold 60’s Nash Rambler that still bore her husband’s initials on the doors. I remember wondering at the blue flames shooting out of the gas stove and the tepid skim milk served with breakfast. One thing I don’t recall there is arguments, as my grandmother seemed pretty upbeat and happy. The backyard was long and thin as well due to the unusually sized lot. I’m not sure if I ever actually made it to the end, but I do recall vegetable gardens and hanging plants here and there. It seems a sad, rundown place now, though.

posted by Poagao at 4:32 pm  
Apr 14 2009


I was up in the Minsheng Community area returning an old Yashica Lynx to Brian Q. Webb this morning. The last time I was there a few weeks ago, I strolled around my old neighborhood, past the buildings on Minsheng East Road and Xinzhong Street where I used to live so many years ago. It was eerie, part of a different life, a different existence and yet still there.

This time I walked over to G’Day Cafe for lunch. This was a mistake. Don’t get me wrong: the food was delicious and the service great, but going there dredged up a bunch of memories I’ve been shoving aside for a good while now. In general that whole area tends to bring around such thoughts, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise. But that particular restaurant, more than any except possibly Hooters (but I’m not going to test that hypothesis), made me feel a strange combination of nostalgia and awful over what happened between me and one of the best friends I ever had, the person who used to be known here as Mindcrime.

I won’t get into all that now; suffice it to say that we used to eat there a lot. This was back when we rode motorcycles everywhere, seemingly an age ago, and…

Oh, fuck it. I don’t feel like going over all the stupid shit we did, so I’ll just get to the point: I miss him.

posted by Poagao at 2:21 pm  
Jan 16 2009

In between

I met an old college friend, Xiao Bing, for a lunch of beef noodles in an alley off Chongqing South Road earlier today. The cold temperatures of the last week had relented to the sunshine, and Taipei seemed somehow cleaner for it. Fewer people out on the streets, walking more quickly because of the cold, hands in pockets less likely to discard trash, perhaps.

Xiao Bing works for the post office and has for the past 17 years or so. He told me that they had used stick-on posters that read “Taiwan Post” on their little green trucks when the DPP changed the name from Chunghua Post, as they knew it would probably be changed back soon. I told him that I had finally sold the motorcycle I bought from him so many years ago, and he didn’t believe that it was still working after all this time. The motorcycle, like our friendship, is about 20 years old, and I remember when he got it, brand-new. He was too short to ride it properly and sold it to me. “Xiao Bing” means “Little Soldier” -the nickname resulting from the fact that his gun was nearly as tall as he was when he did his army service. His son, in junior high school, is already taller than he is.

I’m feeling somewhat in between things these days; I’ve come down off the movie thing, I think, but I haven’t quite set things up for the next stage, whatever it turns out to be. I’ve got some new trappings, a new camera, possibly a new computer around the corner, but nothing seems set. As for what’s next: Working more on photography, rewriting my book, more video projects (much smaller, of course)…beyond that it’s hard to say. It might be simply because this is the strange time in between Christmas and the Chinese New Year holidays, the transitory nature of which I’ve only managed to exascerbate by planning two long vacations on either end. After I return, perhaps I’ll feel more ready to start into this new year and all that it holds.

posted by Poagao at 5:42 am  
Oct 02 2008

Biscayne Blvd

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Google’s street view has recently been extended to include another one of the places I grew up: our house in El Lago, Texas, seen above.

I spent six long years in Texas in the late 70’s, from 2nd grade at Edward H. White Elementary through 6th at the hellish Seabrook Intermediate School (Home of the Spartans, where we had to wear purple gym outfits). I had been quite happy in Orlando prior to the move, but it seemed that my parents viewed their time in the Houston area prior to my birth as a kind of golden age they hoped to repeat. Also, my dad’s job as an aerospace engineer required it.

History was not to repeat itself, at least not as far as I was concerned. Houston, and America in general in the late 70s, was apparently a far cry from the heyday of Space-based optimism and good taste of the 60’s. I was yanked out of 1st grade at Dommrich Elementary halfway through the year and put into a dismal, dark, violent school in Texas where being the new kid just meant fresh meat for the other students. We moved first into a small house a block from the bay of Houston, but after nearly being flooded out during a hurricane (thanks to which our ’73 Pinto “Squire” Wagon rusted out enough that it didn’t end up being my first car) we moved to the two-story house, built in 1960, on Biscayne Blvd. shown above. We’d been looking at a dreary place across the street for some reason, as I recall, when we noticed the for sale sign. It was painted dark brown, with a red door. After we moved in we painted it mustard yellow, re-roofed it and eventually did something with the foundation that I never understood. The back yard was huge and full of trees as well as a semicircular garden, a portion of railed wooden fence and a tool shed. In the living room we put down puke-green carpet (a fortunate color as our Cairn Terrier Bobby often puked on it), with yellow linoleum in the kitchen, later replace with fake brick linoleum. The den, of course, was covered in wood, with a rope carpet coiled in front of our giant Zenith.

My brother Kevin and I shared one of the upstairs bedrooms at first (the upper window on the right), but after our sister left for college at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacadoches, I got her old room (the one on the left), which was next to the attic over the garage and painted excessively blue. I’d have wondered if that had an influence on my personality or predilection for early blues, but Texas was more than enough of a reason all by itself.

Whereas in Florida I’d managed to make a few friends and had a pretty positive outlook on life, I was instantly and spectacularly unpopular in Texas. Uncaring teachers turned a blind eye to most of the fights I got into, and I got into plenty. I destroyed my lunchboxes by kicking them down the hall. I explored storm sewers and old graveyards with my Husky “Bandit” bmx bike during rainstorms. I failed English in 5th grade after my teacher, Mrs. Van Artsdalen, who was always sporting some kind of racquetball injury, seemed to have assumed that I had done a project that I actually hadn’t done, and I was disinclined to disabuse her of the notion, so I just went along. Not an ideal strategy. In fact, most of my strategies didn’t work out at the time. My strategy for losing a fight was to refuse to give in even though my attacker was straddling my head and beating my face, thus prolonging said beating.

At the end of one year at Ed White, I was ambushed by a group of kids who scattered my belongings over the adjacent field. As I was running around trying to gather the papers flying in the wind, an older man approached. When I explained what had happened, he cussed me out for making him think there was some kind of emergency. The ambush point was a sidewalk bottleneck in the neighborhood, the only way to get from one half of the neighborhood to the other. It was the point past which, if I could make it in time, I knew I’d be reasonably safe from, say, Russell Puchinski’s fists.

I spent most of my years on Biscayne Blvd alone, except for the occasional company of a small asthmatic boy named Richard Koester who laughed at my jokes. Both my parents worked, and soon enough my brother went to Texas A&M. I had a key to let myself in after school.

My years in Texas had an effect on my personality. I’d say they were the biggest influence, actually. I had become withdrawn and suspicious, disinclined to respond to other people. I figured that if I was to have no friends, I would just learn how to enjoy being alone. My parents even sent me in for counseling at the University of Houston, which produced nothing except a report detailing the fact that I liked riding by myself in the back of the Pinto. I hated having to wear cowboy boots and large belt buckles, I hated the mandatory square dance classes in gym, the sadistic coaches, the occasional suspensions and the visits to Principal Haas.

There were some good things, though, I have to admit, small things like my shiny “astronaut” jacket, and when the Shuttle Enterprise flew over our schoolyard on the back of a 747. Our cat, which bore the unimaginative moniker “Grey Kitty”. Christmas concerts at Jones Hall downtown, followed by hot cider at the old houses downtown. Reading Gone-away Lake while eating sandwiches in the backyard fort. Picking and eating berries by the field when I was able to get away from the bullies. Buying gum and MAD magazines at the U-Totem or the Stop-N-Go. Going down to the yacht sales yard with my dad and pretending that we were going to buy a huge boat. Saving up $1.29 for a new Matchbox car from Lack’s that I would lose in the mud of the foundation work around the house. Whenever I hear the song “The Things We Do for Love,” I’m brought back to a more ideal version of that time.

But these things were few and far between. The general reality, the day-to-day mean nature of the people around me just wore me down. The boys across the street ran over my sister’s kitten with a car, on purpose. My parents quarreled with her and my brother, both of whom were too much older than I to really be friends, and with our grandparents when they came to visit. I couldn’t get away from the bullies at school during the day, and I listened to my AM radio in bed at night. I read a lot and made recordings of TV show themes onto cassette tapes.

In fifth grade I was relentlessly bullied and then suddenly, mysteriously befriended by two kids, Steve Smith and Mike Kopel. But our strange friendship only lasted a few months, during which I never overcame my suspicion that it was all going to turn out to be a big joke; after sixth grade ended we moved back to Florida (I never told my new friends I was leaving; I just disappeared), a move I had been yearning for for what seemed like an eternity.

We moved back to Florida in 1981, which I saw as a dream come true. At that point, Florida had become a paradise in my mind, a place where I had had friends and good weather, not to mention Disney World. But things weren’t that simple. I wasn’t the same kid that had left Orlando in first grade. Though I didn’t get into nearly as many fights, I found myself having trouble making friends again. It wasn’t the paradise I had envisioned. The people there hadn’t changed; I had.

I suppose I should be happy that we did eventually move away. Who knows how I would have turned out if we had stayed. But then again maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference; after all, the damage had already been done.

posted by Poagao at 6:48 am  
Jun 19 2008

Gillis Court

Google Maps has been steadily updating its street view. I found one of the places where I grew up on it yesterday:

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This is our house in Maitland, Florida, where I lived from 1981 more or less up until I came to Taiwan. I went to Maitland Junior High and Winter Park High School while living here, departed for trips with bands, orchestras and the boy scouts from that driveway. I drove my ’77 Datsun up it, wobbling from an encounter with a street racer, resulting in a huge fight with my dad. I played with our cat, Henrietta, mowed that lawn and lugged the garbage out to that curb. They planted those trees by the street, part of a neighborhood program, when I was in high school. The window on the far right was my bedroom after my brother left for college. The reason there’s a hedge on one side but not the other is because my dad hacked the other side down and then realized it was a bad idea, so he left the other one up. Originally there was a huge Christmas tree in the middle of the yard that was uglier than the hedge, but for some reason it stayed.

The living room with a pink sofa and blue carpet was home to a grandfather clock but was never really used; we watched TV in the family room. My parents added a sunroom in the back where the porch was. The main reason we bought that house instead of nicer ones in nicer neighborhoods, I think, was the pool that took up most of the back yard, leaving room only for a small patch of grass and a grapefruit tree that provided breakfast on many a Winter morning. I, at least, insisted on a pool, as it is, after all, Florida, and we’d had one at our other Floridian house we’d had before the long, dark years of schoolyard fights and general loneliness that exemplified my time in Texas. But that’s a story for when Street View catches up with El Lago.

UPDATE: I just found out that they’re going to tear down Dommerich Elementary and Maitland Junior High to create a combined new school. So many memories, it makes me a little sad that I won’t ever get to go back there to have a look around the old place.

posted by Poagao at 4:26 am  
May 05 2008

Taichung Trip

luce chapelPrince Roy and I set out for Taichung in the bright, cool morning on Saturday. Driving a car up the on-ramp of a highway on such a morning is inordinately refreshing. PR is a good driver, but the further south we got, the more erratic and senseless the drivers seemed to get. Also, good radio stations were hard to find, and every time we’d get a good Taiwanese Nakashi cha-cha going on, it would vanish into static minutes later.

A few hours later, we were approaching the Chungkang Rd. Exit, which led up towards Tunghai University, where PR and I first met while studying there some two decades ago. The time of day, the angle of the light, and most of the view reminded me of the first time I approached the area, on a bus full of foreigners after a week or two in Taipei after my first arrival here. Looking back, I wish I’d taken the train on that trip, as I never got to leave from the old Taipei Train Station.

We drove up to the Utopia subdivision, where Daniel had already met up with our hosts, Reinhard and Xiao Mao, at their cafe just off Art Street. They were waiting for us at a sandwich shop, so we had lunch on the veranda. The area’s become quite nice over the years, with tree-lined lanes, interesting shops and restaurants. After the meal, we walked over to the Tunghai Campus, entering from the side gate by the auditorium and walking down through the campus.

The trees were the biggest difference, followed by all the new structures. The square where students erected a sympathetic Goddess of Liberty to copy the one in Tienanmen Square at the time is now shaded by a canopy of large trees that hadn’t even been planted when we were there. We walked down the slope between the oldest parts of the campus, flanked by the old Tang Dynasty-style buildings. I felt it was odd that, in 1955, people would be interested in building what appeared to be a Japanese-style university, but there’s probably a lot more to the story than I know. PR found the bell-tower not just incongruous, but downright ugly. I was trying to restrict my picture-taking. It’s just out of hand.

language centerWe found the old language center, from which we both fled after a short time to take regular university courses. All but one wing has been completely redone, causing PR to misidentify the location of the old classrooms and offices. Daniel took our picture in front of the non-restored bit, and I reenacted my dramatic exit from the department for my friend’s entertainment. We then purposely avoided the convenient new road to the dorms, choosing instead to cross the “Female Ghost Bridge” that had been the only route to the dorms from the main campus in the old days.

The old dorms that caused me so much dismay when I first laid eyes on them are still there, and only mildly refurbished. They are still all cement-floored, six-student rooms with no a/c and wooden slats for bunk beds. PR was a bit hazy on his experiences, but I immediately found all three of the rooms I’d lived in at the time. Now, of course, much better dorms have been constructed nearby, looking more like luxury hotels than anything else. I wonder how the students choose who gets to live where these days.

As we walked over to the local cafeteria, the site of some of the worst food either of us had encountered, it occurred to me that most of the current students probably hadn’t even been born when we were there. I told PR we should have a reunion; he said that we were. True enough, I guess; I didn’t hang out with many foreigners at the time, just PR sometimes, and Boogie, who was from Washington & Lee as well.

We walked down to the school store to find some Tunghai paraphernalia, but they didn’t have much. It seems that Taiwanese students don’t really get into the whole college paraphernalia thing. PR sees a huge market in this, but I think maybe they are tired of being forced to wear school insignia throughout their childhood and don’t want anything to do with such things after they can start choosing their own clothes.

A Farming-themed expo was being held by the gymnasium, and above the doors a banner had been hung that read: “Dances With Farmers”. We walked by the tennis courts, where PR spent a lot of time playing with the women’s team. He was taking short videos of various things and introducing the sights to his camera. I find it difficult to do that when I’m with other people.

We walked down towards the farming part of the campus, stopping at a store that used to be tiny and is now a Wellcome Market. I used to walk around that area quite a bit as a student, listening to Zhao Chuan songs on my Walkman and eating O’Smile peanut cookies from the tiny store.

magic gatePR wanted to catch the sunset from Taichung Harbor, so we walked back up the campus, pausing by the still-barbed-wire-encircled Women’s Dorms, the music department where I took many classes, and Luce Chapel, which is looking rather run-down these days. We then climbed the steps in front of the library, where I, PR and another students named Mitch used to park our motorcycles before class at the night school department in the morning. “Let’s go to Bieshu for dinner,” I said. We weren’t going to do that, but I just liked to say it, as it was something we were always saying back then. We walked up the broad path by the polluted stream between the campus and the industrial area next door. I was thinking it would be an interesting movie plot to have a portal somewhere on the campus that would take us back to, say, 1989. “I’m not sure I’d like to take that portal,” PR said. I had to agree.

The back gate is just just as magical now as it was then, though, at least to me. The first time I stepped through from the quiet, empty forest into the chaos of that street, I thought it miraculous. It still seems that way. Many of the old restaurants have since been replaced by fashionable clothing shops, but the spirit is the same.

On the way back to the cafe, we passed a curious collection of large plastic fish that looked like they had been used to decorate the ceilings of seafood restaurants throughout the city. The view down the hill was largely unchanged from that viewpoint, though the campus is now surrounded by high-priced apartment buildings.

We piled into PR’s Honda and drove down the mountain towards the sea, racing to catch the setting sun. Providence University, which was bare as a desert twenty years ago, is now covered in trees. The new Highway 3 overpass surprised me. Otherwise, everything seemed the same as when I took my first ride on the new-to-me 135cc Honda motorcycle down to the harbor, where I was warned by soldiers not to take pictures.

on the beachThe harbor proved elusive, however. We drove and drove, nagged by the annoying woman’s voice issuing from Daniel’s GPS device to slow down. The sun dipped behind impenetrable clouds as we pulled into the parking lot by the fishing port at Wuchi. By the time we had walked to the shore and climbed up and over the wall of sand, it was gone. We sat for a while, taking pictures of each other and ducking to avoid huge, cumbersome flying insects, before walking back to the harbor, where a loudspeaker cranked to full volume blasted the area with frenetically annoying music that gave rise to homicidal urges. Perhaps it was so loud to cover up the high-pitched squealing of the pigs behind the restaurant, but the smell was so obvious I’m pretty sure people couldn’t miss them.

We walked through the unremarkable market, and then drove back up the hill to a restaurant for dinner. The waiter serving us looked about 15 years old, and the service was a bit addled. Still, the food, particularly the soup dumplings that Reinhard recommended, was all quite good. I was eager to try their sesame baozi, but found them not up to the quality of the kind we used to eat in the army. Then again, I’m biased.

After dinner we drove down Chungkang Road into town, a trip I used to make many times on my motorcycle, to meet up with Michael Turton and Sean Reilly at a bar called Bollywood. I ordered a green apple drink that tasted exactly like a gin and tonic. Michael had to leave a bit early, and Sean divvied up some delicious brownies before he, too, had to leave. It seems Taichung closes down a lot earlier than Taipei, or maybe it was just that area.

netroomBack at the cafe, Reinhard and Xiao Mao allocated us three places to sleep. PR got the room upstairs, and Daniel got the old traditional Chinese bed in the shop, and I slept in the back room. The a/c was very loud, but I had to have it on because the room was pretty hot. I ended up sleeping for a couple of hours at a time, waking up, and then sleeping for another couple of hours. Needless to say, I was somewhat less than rested when morning came and the singing from the church next door overpowered even the noise from the a/c. After some delicious egg-cakes Reinhard bought nearby for breakfast, I went upstairs and took a good nap. When I came downstairs, a new visitor had arrived: Carol, a pregnant British woman who lives in Beijing. We chatted for a while, occasionally diving beneath the table to take pictures of Suancai (sauerkraut), Reinhard’s and Xiao Mao’s flat-faced cat.

It was another beautiful day up on the hill, but it got a bit hot when we drove down into the city for lunch at a restaurant called Fatty’s. The kitchen smelled wonderful. We sat at a table on the sidewalk in the mugginess. I ordered the Sicily pizza, which the waitress assured me was not at all spicy. Apparently “not at all spicy” is some sort of Sicilian code for “very spicy” as I could only have a couple of slices when it came. Even PR agreed that it was pretty spicy, and he’s no lightweight. I sampled other people’s meals instead. When the waitress came back, I mentioned the level of spiciness in the allegedly non-spicy pizza, she just shrugged, as if it just hadn’t occurred to her, and really didn’t matter anyway.

gatheringWe considered driving out to Miaoli to some gardens there, but it seems that they stopped allowing people in at 4pm, so instead we walked around the area a bit, looking at the old two-story houses and yards. We ended up in one such place, which has been make into a somewhat modern teahouse. We all sat on the floor upstairs, which was occasionally frequented by cats, talking about the pros and cons of having an online presence, whether we are different IRL from how we appear online, etc. It was very pleasant. Taichung is very pleasant, actually. The pace is slower, and even on a weekend afternoon it seems halfway shut down, but it is nice. The appearance of the city may have changed a lot over the past two decades, but the spirit is much the same, and I like it. It’s too bad that they don’t have an MRT system, though.

But it was time to hit the road, as we were planning on having dinner at a Mexican place in Zhongli, so PR, Daniel and I saddled up and joined the long stream of cars heading towards the highway. As we drove, I began to wish I’d bought one of those gadgets that lets you broadcast your iPod to a nearby radio, as we had the same poor choice of music stations, and every time we found a good song, it was followed by 40 minutes of blather/advertising. Traffic was terrible, and it was after 8pm before we finally reached Zhongli. The restaurant, Sabroso, was packed with students, not surprising as it’s right by Zhongyuan University. At first I was afraid the service would be bad, as it took the woefully undermanned staff, which consisted of a couple of guys, to seat us. Also, I had a migraine coming on, so I wasn’t in the best of moods. I’d spent the past half hour with my eyes closed to avoid the flashing lights in my field of vision.

The meal made things much better. First of all, it came within a reasonable amount of time, but more importantly, it was really good. I ordered beef tacos and chicken tostados. The tacos were real tacos, soft triangles with toppings, not the rigid tacos gringos most people are familiar with. The tostados were even more delicious. PR was happy with the spiciness of his meal as well as the taste. I ate too much, and am still paying for it, but I’m glad I got to sample at least a few of the dishes there.

After dinner we dropped Daniel off and made our way back to the highway, and back to Taipei. This city always seems a little different every time you leave it, so it was good to get away for a bit. Now I’m back at home, amidst the native calls of the local jackhammers. Back to work.

posted by Poagao at 1:01 am  
Apr 25 2008

7 Years

A few days ago this account marked seven years of mindless blather since my first post on April 22, 2001. I completely forgot, of course, but now at least I have an excuse to make an individual post about it instead of lumping it in with all the other boring minutae of my life.

Seven years! Even then, I was wondering where all the time went. Back then, I was living in a room in someone else’s apartment on Xinsheng South Road and working at Ogilvy & Mather. The world of my early 30s seems like a different world from today in my late 30s. I moved an average of once a year since then, though I’ve only worked at two other jobs during the same time….but I’m not in the mood for a nostalgia-fest at the moment. Things were good then; they’re even better now.

I am kind of curious if anyone had been reading this thing continuously from the beginning. As I managed to completely alienate the one friend who inspired me to create this site (ironically, the site was a major factor in said alienation), I doubt it. Actually, I’m pretty sure I lost most of my followers when O&M moved offices and took away my proximity to Whiny Woman. Sure, it saved my sanity, but it also killed my ratings. Ah, well.

posted by Poagao at 5:24 am  
Dec 27 2006

Back in the day

I’d planned to renew my long-since-expired motorcycle registration this afternoon before work, but when I got to the DMV I was told that, since I was changing the color of the bike, I’d need to get it inspected. My present registration says “black” as the bike’s color, though it was black and red, the traditional RZR colors. So I’m going to have to wait until it’s all fixed up before I can go get it re-registered.

Rather than take the MRT directly back to the office, I decided instead to walk up Ba-de Road, and after a couple of blocks I found myself looking up at the building on whose rooftop I once practiced Kung-fu on a daily basis. The old sign on the building’s side was gone or covered up, but a faded green placard still adorned the top. I walked past the lobby, outside which I used to park my Honda during practice. The last time I exited that door I was gasping in pain and leaning on a classmate’s shoulder.

In 1991-1992, I was up there all the time. Life then was good, if poor. I was working as a camera assistant at the Kuangchi Programming Service, making NT$15,000 a month, NT$4000 of which I used for the rent on a decent room on Minsheng East Road. At night when I got off work early enough I would ride my motorcycle to the Kung-fu center on Ba-de Road for practice. Our teacher was a short, stocky guy surnamed Chen, and I was learning the Chang-hong style, empty-handed and stick forms. The training was tough, but I was in good shape and making decent progress. In all respects, I was living the life I’d envisioned for myself.

Then, one night, I was in the middle of a series of flying kicks when I came down wrong and seriously injured my left knee. I couldn’t walk for a while and lost my job. My landlady didn’t appreciate me being home all the time and kicked me out. I had no job, no place to live and I couldn’t walk well, much less continue training. I decided to leave Taiwan and take a position as a shoe inspector in China.

Living in the same city for a long time can play tricks with one’s perception of time, making it seem like it’s not really flowing as fast as it is. But as I stood looking up at that building, I suddenly felt the solid presence of the decade and a half between me and that life, that version of myself.

My life since has been interesting, no doubt, but I can’t help wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t injured myself that night. Due to the more violent nature of that particular martial art, an injury was probably going to happen sooner or later. I’ve been involved in movies on and off in the time since, and I’ve gotten back into martial arts, albeit softer, more internal forms these days. Perhaps I would have ended up the same, just without the detour to China. Or perhaps I would still be on top of that building. I could wonder forever and still not know.

After standing there for several minutes with these thoughts running through my head, I turned and walked on to Dunhua South Road, where, coincidentally, I lived after coming back from China, in a fire-damaged walk-up room with particle-board walls for NT$4500 a month. There was a bridge in front of the building then, running over the train tracks. I was just starting out at a small TV station called TVBS, which occupied a couple of floors in a small building near Jinshan Road.

Aside from the railway bridge being gone, the area hasn’t changed all that much. I would have loved to have had access to the MRT back then, but I had to rely on the then-new-to-me Gendoyun to get around. The MRT has changed the city in countless ways, not the least of which is the way it reduces the city to disconnected points rather than the urban stream one takes in from the seat of a motorcycle. Much like living in the same spot and watching the flow of time as opposed to moving around and living life in a series of disconnects.

posted by Poagao at 9:37 am  
Nov 30 2006

Xingfu Amusement Park, then and now

As I was filming a scene for the movie in the old abandoned police station just off Bitan Road a few weeks ago, I noticed among the old mysteriously abandoned photo albums and other paperwork stacks of what looked like money on the sagging shelves inside. It turned out to be stacks of old brochures for the old Xingfu Amusement Park that was located on top of the hill. Indeed, the complex had replaced the top of the hill, carving it completely into terraces to support the rides, the monorail and the giant ferris wheel that was visible from anywhere in Taipei.

The park’s heyday was back in the 80’s as far as I can tell. I remember seeing the ferris wheel on my first trip to Bitan, back when the suspension bridge was still the two-lane version. But the place was shut down in the 90’s. Sandman tells me that he and Thumper witnessed the workers breaking it down, and one crane operator was killed when the ferris wheel fell on him. Since then, the place has acquired a reputation as being haunted (????). Young men apparently like to take their easily-scared girlfriends to the old place and watch them get all weak in the knees, if you know what I mean.

There’s not much left of the place to haunt these days, though. They tore down the pavilions about a year ago, and the only building left is the one on which the ferris wheel stood, plus a monorail tunnel just above it. I have no recollection of what the place was like at the time, so the brochures, seemingly brand-new and heavily adorned in Disneyesque characters, were a real find. I decided to take my camera up there along with a brochure and see if I could figure out just where the brochure pictures were taken and then take present-day versions, if possible.

The gate looks pretty much like it did in the brochure, though a tree has grown in front of the park sign, which is pretty dilapidated. Trees have grown up in front of the temple in the background as well.

The brochure included a bird’s-eye view of the park, obviously taken from the ferris wheel. I tried to replicate it by climbing up the mountain beyond the old site. From this photo it was a lot easier to see where things were, originally.

This was the building on which the ferris wheel was based. The outer rooms are gone, and the interior is full of graffiti. Trash is piled in front, including the remains of a few old go-karts and whirling teacups from the old rides.

The go-kart track is still traceable. From the picture, I needed to find a section of the track where it looped around on itself and was surrounded on both sides by tires. There was only one such section, so it wasn’t hard too hard to find.

The terminal of the go-kart track was just underneath the monorail, and I located it using the cupid statue I could just make out in the brochure. The cupid statue, though now legless and bent, still presides over a mosquito-ridden pool.

The rocket and helicopter rides are long gone, but I was able to triangulate where the brochure picture was taken, and superimpose it on the present-day site. Note the spaceships read “Apllo”.

The merry-go-round is also gone, but I managed to pull parts of the old horses from the thick grass. An older man in a farmer’s hat was cutting the grass in the area as I poked around, and when I showed him the brochure he was delighted. I gave it to him, as I’d run out of pictures to find, and in any case there were thousands more lying in the old police station.

While I find it fascinating to see the history of the park, I’m glad it’s not here today. The jungle has pretty much reclaimed the mountaintop, and it’s much more pleasant now. I’m also happy that we don’t have to deal with throngs of customers streaming through Bitan every weekend; I’m positive that the place was intolerably noisy as well. I much prefer the peace and quiet the abandonment has left us.

posted by Poagao at 4:23 pm  
Nov 28 2006

Gendouyun goes for a makeover

As I take the subway to and from work every day and rarely have time for care-free weekend jaunts into the mountains these days, Gendouyun has been sitting sadly, covered in a blue-and-white tarp, on the street behind my building, usually for weeks at a time. Another reason is that corroded front forks have ripped the shock seals, causing fluid to leak all over the front disk brake and making stopping a mere occasional occurance. A while back some asshat knocked it over, demolishing one of the rear-view mirrors and bending the fairing frame. Although the engine is still in fine shape, I was seriously considering selling it and going bike-less for the first time since I first arrived in Taiwan.

Jeremy of Bikefarm fame told me he’d take a look at it and tell me how much it would cost to fix up and how much I could get for it, so this last Saturday I went down, stowed the dirty tarp, and got ready for a long battle to start the engine. Unexpectedly, it started up on the first kick. My good fortune did not, however, extend to the throttle, which wouldn’t budge, or the front brake handle, which did not seem to be connected to anything.

Luckily, a bike shop was just down the hill, so I coasted down and left Gendouyun there for several hours while the various replacement parts were sent for and installed. That’s it, I thought. I’m selling this thing. I’m getting out.

When I got back on and twisted the smooth new throttle out into traffic, however, I realized just how much I missed riding a motorcycle. Though I’ve been seduced by the simplicity and convenience of the subway, there’s nothing like the feeling of blasting across a bridge or swooping into a mountain curve on a motorcycle, even (or especially, depending on where you’re coming from) a little crotch rocket like Gendouyun.

I’ve known that bike since 1990, when my friend Xiao Bing bought it from his friend, and I’ve owned it for nearly as long, as Xiao Bing soon realized he was too short to ride it and sold it to me. I’d wanted a 2-stroke racing bike since I had the opportunity to shoot down Taichung’s Zhonggang Road from Tunghai University to the sea on a 135cc Honda “Wangpai”. Eventually I would buy one, but it was rather gutless and tired. Xiao Bing’s model had a lot more pep, however. I remember proudly pointing out Yamaha RZR’s I saw on the streets of Hsinchu to Mindcrime, whom I’d just met, and saying, “That’s my ride!”

By the time I reached Bikefarm I was firmly hooked once again on the idea of continued bike-ownership. Jeremy was out running errands, but when he returned the shop and told me that not only could he fix the bike up with new forks, but he could also have it painted a luscious dark red for a few thousand NT, I couldn’t say no. Besides my sentimental attachment to the old bike (it’s a 1988 model, though with less than 50km on it), it’s also better than any other bike I could afford right now.

Now all I need is a better place to park it.

posted by Poagao at 7:46 am  
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