Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Sep 22 2021

So far so good

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

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

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

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

posted by Poagao at 10:59 am  
Aug 17 2021

First shot

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

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

There followed a long series of lines, some sitting, some standing, none with real social distancing, all gradually crossing the length of the gym. I wore goggles and two masks, and tried to stay out of the vicinity of other people’s exhalations as much as possible. I sat/stood and waited, concentrating on my breath and hearing the comforting voice of Ofosu, who narrates my meditation app, in my mind. I tried to take some photos but the Q took one look at the weird gymnasium light and said “nope.” I wasn’t really in the mood anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

posted by Poagao at 11:39 am  
Jul 23 2021

Photography and Personing

Are you into photography? Do you like to person? Do you like to do both at the same time?

When I say “into” photography, I don’t mean someone who has/desires a great deal of gear, or someone who knows all the best places to find the best birds/orangutans/fire escapes, nor am I talking about dudes who take thousands of photos of women models in studios and random parks. I’m talking about people who are afflicted with the condition where they can’t not see photographs everywhere they go, even if they don’t have a camera at hand.

Another group I’m not talking about: Those who “got into” photography when it became the hot thing with the popular kids a few years ago (featuring skateboarders, that oft-used demographic every large corporation knows is perfect for bringing “the youth” into the fold for effective consumerism). I won’t waste my time because soon enough you’ll be saying things like “I just haven’t had time to go out shooting” and “There’s just nothing going on here” when something else comes along. Whenever I hear those phrases, I recall my ophthalmologist’s advice that I really need to stop rolling my eyes. Just admit it: You are not really into photography. But hold up: That’s great! It’s not an insult; it’s a compliment. Congratulations, because, as it turns out, being really into photography (as opposed to being a professional photographer, which is often a different thing), can be rough.

What could I possibly mean by this? Isn’t “everyone a photographer” these days? Don’t most people have a capable camera in their phone or around their neck? How do these people people, as it were?

Let’s say you are with other people. It doesn’t matter if you’re walking, eating, in a car, on a bus, in a meeting, having sex, or paragliding, or all of those at the same time (which admittedly sounds like one hell of a party). Do you remain committed to maintaining your interaction with them, or do you remain open to all of the potential photos happening around you?

Most normal people opt for the former. Obviously. Even in the unlikely event that you can engage with your companions as well as paying sufficient attention to your surroundings, what happens when a photograph become apparent to you? Do you maintain eye contact? Try and keep the conversation going? Think up an excuse to leave suddenly?

Again, for most people, the conversation is their literal focus. Most non-photographers, regardless of the photographic machinery they may have on hand, aren’t even looking. Of those who are looking, most ignore it. Of those who can’t ignore it, most watch helplessly as the photograph disappears while they try to keep their attention on the other people. Of those who make an attempt to socially disengage in order to make the photograph, most will be too late as well as flustered from resisting the ancient DNA-level code of Not Being an Asshole to one’s tribe. And those who just go take the damn picture are of course rude, self-centered malcontents who think their so-called “art” is more important than the actually important matters their companions are earnestly discussing with them at the time of the aforementioned abscondment.

“But TC,” you say, “I’ve found the Perfect Friends/Significant Other who is perfectly fine with me shooting anything I want at any time!”

That’s great! I’m sure they’re very nice, lovely, accommodating people who are really into you, and willing to put up with this behavior in order to be around you. I’m jealous, truly I am. Perhaps they even point out little scenes they think you’d be interested in, even though you aren’t because they can’t actually know what you see, and by the time you’ve followed their pointing finger and excited, slightly patronizing tone that of course has alerted the denizens of said scene to your attention, it has vanished. But I’ll bet a reasonable amount of money that they in fact hide their dismay when you display in a most abrupt fashion how much more devoted you are to some imagined, phantom scene than you are to really being truly “with” them.

That they’re willing to go through that for you is admirable. But perhaps, just perhaps, they’ll eventually get to wondering exactly why you can’t deny yourself this stupid photography shit in order to be with them. It’s not like you’re exactly famous or really any good at it. Which is most likely true, because in their eyes you can’t be good until you’re famous, and becoming a Famous Photographer is not only nearly impossible, it almost by definition disallows continuing to be into photography, because you need to person. If they don’t want you to give up photography for them, they will almost certainly try to steer you into a more lucrative,”useful” form of it. Again with the personing, extreme personing in this context, because lucrative photography is generally more about the lucrative part than the photography part. Can you schmooze? I mean, are you really good at it? Here, I’ll just take that camera; you won’t be needing it. Your attention is elsewhere. Go person.

This condition, of being disconnected enough from the tangled skeins of social obligation in which most people are ensconced that you are able to readily observe the things around you, can wear you down if you let it. Someone is always in the way, if not physically then mentally, assuming that you are engaged in the conversation or whatever else that may going on. People see you as off in the clouds somewhere when you are actually as present in the world as they are, just in a different way. They don’t notice the man quietly sobbing in the corner, the cat perched precariously on the railing, the estranged couple maintaining an awkward distance in the park, or the factory lazily polluting the river. And you don’t notice the latest gossip, that thing we have next week, or that horrible insult someone said that might mean something else. You’re there, but not in the”right” way. Not for personing.

Some extremely talented photographers in the past have obviously been the kind of “difficult” individuals I’m talking about, but by definition and due to survivor bias, the ones we know of are the ones who had special ways to deal with it. Many, such as Cartier-bresson and Eggleston, were independently wealthy when they started out, and just DNGAF. Others like Robert Frank, Eugene Smith and Garry Winogrand failed spectacularly at maintaining the relationships in their lives.

Of course there are many successful photographers who are friendly, engaging, well-adjusted individuals with happy friends and families. That’s great. I’m happy for them…mystified, but happy. The rest of us are left with a sense of not quite belonging to the world we are so intent on observing because, were we capable of belonging, we would no longer see it. Some of the photos resulting from this state might happen to be interesting, but nobody will know or care because we cannot person*.

So what can we do? Don’t worry; all is not lost. While we may not be able to ignore the draw of photography, we might be able to control how much we care about superficialities, things that are on the surface at least tangentially related to this Thing We Must Do, but in reality just drag us down, things like social media addiction to likes and favs, trying to be noticed and published, things like gear obsession and one-upmanship. Take that time and use it better; instead of clinging to the impossibility of being universally adored, try to make friends with a few like-minded souls instead of just anyone you think will advance your social status. Recognize, explore and embrace your own instincts and inclinations. Be there for yourself. Person for yourself.

If we simply value being as open and genuine as possible, we might stand a chance of getting through all this with some semblance of sanity. And maybe, just maybe, collect a few good shots along the way.

*Of course, if you’re lucky, after you’ve died someone might buy your photos at an auction and “discover” you, now that your difficult ass is safely beyond having to deal with.

posted by Poagao at 8:18 pm  
Jul 19 2021

Level 3: possibly ending?

Despite my misgivings about the number of people out and about these days, COVID case numbers are still officially declining, back into the single digits. This seems miraculous, especially when you look at the numbers of other countries like Thailand and Malaysia, where the situation is spiraling out of control. I look on my IG stories to see people out in the streets of Bangkok, maskless, protesting, and huge numbers of infections a day. The unvaccinated pockets in the U.S., mostly Republican strongholds, are undergoing yet another surge, even as they decry the current administration’s efforts to get them vaccinated. This is far from over, it seems.

Back here, they’re talking about ending Level 3, which I suppose would mean restaurants opening back up, but I imagine, or hope, that people will take it slowly. This last scare really should have educated us as to how important these measure are. I’ve continued my daily sojourns down by the riverside…there’s not really anywhere else to go that doesn’t require a subway ride, but I find that there’s quite a lot of little streets and alleys that I haven’t really explored, places that are technically in the flood zone, and therefore illegal. I know I must look sus walking around down there, but fortunately people aren’t really talking with each other and I usually get a wide berth. The other day a lot of people were gathering under the traffic bridge to pick up masks, seemingly heedless of the irony involved in the situation. I’ve also noticed the canine couple I’ve known for years to wander around Bitan, likes to lie on the cool stone seats under that bridge after sunset. They’re inseparable friends, and whenever I happen to see one without the other I ask where the other is. I imagine they have their routines after all this time, though. Another day I was walking around the community behind Taiping Temple and I saw a cat sitting on a rooftop watching the sunset. I called and it walked over to talk with me a bit through the barbed wire, a beautiful brown cat with green eyes, a young cat with a clipped ear. The old guys who sit in front of the mom and pop store have returned, now sitting on the playground equipment that’s festooned with “KEEP AWAY” police tape. Whoever makes that tape is making out like a bandit these days; I should have invested in whatever company makes it. But nearly all of my photography these days happens in Bitan or thereabouts. It’s actually an interesting exploration of sorts. It makes me wonder how things would have worked out had I rented that old house in that neighborhood, by the freeway overpass. Not ideal, I’d think. I’m far happier in an apartment complex, though the lack of pool service this year has been annoying. First-world problems and all that, I know. But I can’t help but be a bit envious of the Bitan swimmers I photograph from the bridge.

Chenbl and I have both signed up with the reservation system to be vaccinated, but so far we don’t have a date set. It might be another month or two, alas. This is going to be a tricky time for all of us, especially as things open up again. A lot depends on how well we can fend off the Delta variant before we get enough people vaccinated. I think we’re at 20% now, with fairly good rates. Donated vaccines are coming in, so far all AZ or Moderna. Originally most people were choosing Moderna due to it’s supposed higher efficacy and fewer side effects, but I’m not sure that that’s entirely accurate. Beliefs are changing, however, and more people are going with either one now.

Annoyed by his long hair, Chenbl decided to go get a haircut at our usual place in Shilin yesterday. I personally think he would look great if he pulled it back into a Sumo-style topknot, but he doesn’t agree (he dislikes my facial hair, but I disagree, so, fair). I told him I would accompany him but I wouldn’t be hanging around in the barbershop. Instead I walked around the neighborhood while he was inside, and afterwards we took a circuitous route back through Shilin. The ultra-modern performing arts center is almost done, it seems, after a long hiatus. Still glad I didn’t take that photography gig; it would have been a nightmare. It was nice to be in another neighborhood for once, and just walking and chatting on the street. We walked through the night market area, avoid other people, which wasn’t hard as there weren’t many out, before catching a bus back downtown. While it’s nicer for photography, I dislike buses in general, and especially during a pandemic as it’s more of an enclosed space than the metro, but Chenbl likes them and this one was taking him right home. I got off near Zhongshan Station and, as the light was nice, climbed up the pedestrian overpass and took pictures of scooters and their long shadows cast by the setting sun. After taking the metro home, I’d just walked into the Water Curtain Cave when I got a text from Cristina and Zach, who were down by the riverside with their daughter Scarlett Danger Paradise, as well as Conor and Sandman, so I rented a Youbike and rode over to meet them. It was the most comprehensive Rambler meetup we’ve had in many a month. Scarlett I’d never seen before; she’s cute, as babies tend to be I guess. Talkative and likes to dance and stare at trees. Sandman left and David showed up a bit later, and it was nice. I tried to stay upwind and not too close, especially when certain other people, ahem, failed to keep their masks on.

But I need to be careful on weekends, especially. Bitan has been getting more crowded again on weekends, alas. I went temporarily insane last weekend and actually went inside RT Mart on Sunday, and it was so crowded I had to leave before I had a panic attack. But not before picking up some sushi, because of the whole temporarily insane thing. It was, of course, disappointing, but hey, at least no food poisoning! I’ve been doing mostly Food Panda for dinner, picking up lunchboxes for lunch. Breakfast I just skip altogether, as I’ve been hearing good things about time-limited eating, so I basically don’t eat from 8 p.m. to 1 or 2 p.m. the next day. Adding that to walking a bit and intense workouts in VR games such as Beat Saber, Pistol Whip, Eleven etc. and hopefully I’m not in too terrible a shape.

So, all in all, thing seem to be looking up, for now. Stay tuned.

posted by Poagao at 11:10 am  
Jul 01 2021

Level 3, still

So far, despite my misgivings about more and more people being out on the streets these days, the case numbers have been gradually decreasing, though the Delta Variant has made its way into the country thanks to a grandmother who returned from Peru and decided to dictate her own terms of what “quarantine” means.

Though more people are out and about, most noticably on the subway to and from work, things are still technically semi-locked down; no eating in restaurants, no public gatherings. Everything is online/takeout. I’ve become accustomed to ordering Food Panda and occasionally Uber Eats if it’s the only thing with available cuisine. Uber Eats features rider tipping, whereas Food Panda does not. I wonder if their wages reflect this. We still wait for the afternoon briefings of the CECC to get the numbers and the latest news. The current Level 3 is supposed to last until the middle of this month. I made the mistake of checking forumosa for information, but all the covid threads have of course been taken over by right-wing white dudes ranting about “lockdowns” and “vaccines don’t work” and the like, right next to the threads about how evil CRT is indoctrinating teh youth and cancel culture….oh, I don’t know, whatever BS they’re on these days.

It’s July, and that means the end of the semester for the photography class. It’s been difficult since the semi-lockdown; all classes are online, and students aren’t out there shooting. With the glacial pace of the vaccine roll out, under which Chenbl and I will only be eligible to get our first shots some time in the fall, I don’t see how schools will be able to open in September, though Chenbl’s parents are scheduled to get their first Moderna shots on Monday. He’s going to stay home with them and make sure they’re ok. In any case, the class is a September problem; right now we have to concentrate on wrapping this semester up as best as we can.

After a long time fiddling around, I sent out brochures for my photobook to all the publishers most likely to ignore me. I figured I’d start with them, give myself a break while I’m waiting for them to not respond, and then send it out for more silence. I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that I don’t understand how these things work.

Lately, in addition to watching the sunset from my rooftop, I’ve been taking walks down by the riverside. I’ve been noticing how the setting sun shines in under the traffic bridge, throwing shadows on the pillars, outlining the occasional solitary fisherman there. Joggers and bike riders glance at my camera as they go by, as if I’m some sort of spy. I made the mistake of sitting down and was rewarded with an annoying insect bite last week. But the view across the river is pleasant, the bunches of buildings built on the sides of the green mountains. Sometimes I rent a Youbike and ride up the river; it’s been too long since I took the Crazy Bike out for a spin…I’ve had that thing for 15 years now…would be nice to add an electric wheel hub motor to it for the occasional hill. Riding along the river usually puts me in a better mood; things have been too dark lately.

posted by Poagao at 11:32 am  
Jun 02 2021

Level 3 Part 2

I’ve been staying at home when I can…classes are all online and all of our gigs have been cancelled, but as my job still requires me to go into the office and do things I could totally do online, I still going out every day. Navigating the subway and even just walking around outside can be a nerve-wracking experience, as there’s always the heedless old people and the smokers, often both, standing on the sidewalk coughing and looking surprised that everyone else is giving them a wide berth. I try to take routes where I can be assured of more personal space, but sometimes it’s difficult, especially with the afternoon thundershowers we’ve been having (don’t get me wrong; we desperately need the rain).

For the first week or two of the Level 3 conditions, Taipei and New Taipei were ghost towns, with hardly anyone on the streets. Case numbers, accordingly, have just recently begun to level out and have even fallen a bit the past few days. Now, however, more people are out and about, as if the problem has just gone away or something. It’s concerning but hardly surprising in a place where a “crackdown” on something usually only lasts a short time, after which people simply go back to doing what they did before. But the result of this will, also accordingly, be seen only in a week or so, when everyone will be “surprised” at a new surge in cases. The news, I’m sure will be full of broadcasters uttering that so oft-used phrase 沒想到! The only other option will be for us to go to an actual lockdown, i.e Level 4. And you know that the authorities will have their hands full trying to enforce that.

The scale of our vaccine shortage is also becoming clear to more people these days; the government announced that it would be announcing a plan, which is good, I guess? I would have hoped that President Tsai would have been vaccinated by now, but apparently she’s still hoping to make a show of receiving a local vaccine, for which they’ve applied for emergency allowance to skip phase III trials and just go into production. When the time comes (they’ve said they’re aiming for 60% of the population having gotten their first shot only by fucking November, FFS), we won’t get a choice of vaccine; it will apparently be luck of the draw. It’s a little difficult seeing clueless Americans online pooh-poohing vaccination efforts. I’m glad they’ve got such easy access; thanks to inept policies and politics we now have even more deadly variants from the UK and India, et al, but the U.S. has entered its reopening stage and nobody can tell them nothing.

Back in the actual world, I’ve signed up for all the food-delivery services, and have had mixed results so far. One issue is that Xindian, particularly the corner where the Water Curtain Cave is located, is, despite its geographical proximity to everything, very far away, at least in people’s minds. Sure, it’s only 20 minutes from Taipei Main Station, and our neighborhood is, just like the crowded suburbs of Yonghe, Xinzhuang, Banqiao and Sanchong, just across a bridge, but it would seem that the old mentality of Xindian being part of the untamed wilderness subsists even today. The scooter share programs Goshare and Wemo won’t come near us, and the food delivery services only recently and seemingly begrudgingly added us to their list, but restaurants and drivers are rather hesitant to venture over a single a bridge, deep, deep, like a three-minute-drive deep into the wild jungles of Bitan.

I know what you’re thinking: But TC, why don’t you just learn how to cook? You can spend all your time hobnobbing with all the old people at the markets! And make dishes that you, a single person living alone, cannot hope to finish! And watch all the veggies and meats in your refrigerator good bad! Yeah, I know, food delivery services are also a thing if they see fit to brave the wilds of Bitan. It’s a good idea; I am just such a lazy mofo about these things.

Speaking of throwing shade at myself: Theoretically I should be working hard on my photo book, and I have been, having gone through several dummies and opinions of experts and friends. Now I just have to push the thing out there to publishers, which of course means facing another round of rejections and reinforcement of various insecurities. Might as well get it over with, I know, but I’m always suckered into the idea that I can just make it a little better by doing this, that or a third, and perhaps it needs some time before I can properly judge it, etc. etc. ad nauseum. Then I look at what is being published and I often think, “This? This, got published? How?” and realize that I really have no idea what is going on.

Then again, what’s new?

posted by Poagao at 10:54 am  
May 24 2021

Level 3, Week 1

We’ve been at Level 3, which is kinda lockdown-ish in that people are encouraged to stay at home, no in-restaurant dining, that kind of thing, for a week or so now. There’s still hundreds of new cases a day, but so far truly frightening exponential growth hasn’t been apparent…that might be due to the low number of tests being done, though. In any case, people were especially encouraged to not go out during the weekend, and we won’t see the results of that until next week, when we decide whether to continue with Level 3 or do a true lockdown with Level 4, the highest level. The 28th is supposed to be the day that is decided. Will this work? We’ll see.

I did go out over the weekend, as I have yet to master L’art du Food Panda, but I stayed away from other people as much as possible. This was easy, as Bitan was nearly empty of the usual tourists as well as most of the locals. The one glaring omission was, of course, the groups of older men gathering, unmasked, to sit together all day, be it down on the river bank fishing or up at the shop beyond the temple, sitting on the playground equipment that is now festooned with yellow tape, chatting away, blissfully endangering lives because they truly DGAF about other people. If you look at the districts where spread is rampant, it’s obvious to anyone who knows this city that those districts tend to be places with older-type neighborhoods, markets and corners where older people tend to just hang out. And older people are more likely to be seriously affected by it.

So, it seems that the asshats that were out here in these streets back during SARS are still here, minus the ones that died of it back then. The thing is, SARS, while a more deadly disease, was not as easily transmissible as Covid. I’ve long wondered how much of our good fortune that lasted up until recently was due to luck, and how much was good governance. Now it’s come to light that a certain legislator with no background in medical science pushed to let airline pilots get away with only a few days in quarantine, as the behest of the pilots union. This person should get jail time at the very least, IMO.

Then again, “winging it” has been part of this culture since time began, so I’m not terribly surprised, now that we’ve been caught up in this thing, that we’ve wasted a great deal of the head start we had. Soldiers are out spraying the streets, FFS, when it’s a well-known fact that surface transmission isn’t really a thing; it’s keeping people from infecting others via proximity/time that needs to be addressed. But for a nation that underwent 38 years of martial law, there is a hesitancy to bring down the hammer too hard, which is understandable (the KMT has its own disturbing ideas on the subject, unsurprisingly).

I’d prefer to work from home, but since mine is technically a government-adjacent position, I’ve been traveling to and from Ximen Station every weekday on the MRT, double masked and sitting by myself if possible. My office only has two other people in it, but who knows what is lurking on the corridors beyond our door. At least we have our own air conditioning unit. Lunch and dinner I take home (now I’m wishing I’d gotten a new TV, alas, but hindsight is 20/20). My computer screen is full of doom and gloom; the expat community, at least those that after over a year of covid-free life aren’t fucking back to their vaccinated homelands, are full of the usual fact-free opinions.

As I’ve said before, I’m willing to get the vaccine, preferably a Pfizer or Moderna, but I’d settle for AZ I guess, but the government needs to streamline the vaccination process with extreme prejudice. It’s far, far too complicated at this point, and the misinformation concerning vaccines here is off the charts, resulting in such hesitancy, and the government seems unable to procure even close to enough of them. They’re certainly not talking about it, and the media barely mentions the issue. My friend Brian Hioe over at New Bloom has been doing excellent work in issuing updates on the issue, as well as working to help the significant homeless community in Wanhua, where he lives. Wanhua was the epicenter of the current wave, as anyone who knows Wanhua would not be surprised to hear. Crowded, older buildings, older population, a certain laissez-faire attitude towards rules…it’s always been special, and those attributes make it especially vulnerable. It’s easy to feel a sense of helplessness in the face of preventable tragedies like this, but I suppose all we can do as individuals is just try to keep on keeping on, as it were.

In any case, Taiwan tried to warn everyone about covid, but nobody listened. Now that other countries have been ravaged and managed to get vaccines, we’re asking for help, but again, nobody’s listening. The U.S. is opening up, masks off, party party, and since U.S. media dominates the global conversation, covid has ceased to be the issue that it once was, even though an untold number of people are still getting it and dying of it. It’s become an “other people’s problem” issue, I’m afraid. Which is of course how it started, as well as how it has become so serious.

Every day at 2 p.m. the CDC has a press conference with the day’s infection numbers, and every day everyone is on edge waiting to see if the numbers are skyrocketing. Everyone, that is, except the groups of old men on the street corners.

posted by Poagao at 11:26 am  
May 14 2021

Echoes of 2003

I’ve been re-reading old entries in this account, scathing missives I wrote during the whole SARS thing, and I’d been thinking, did we really learn from it? Up until now I’d thought we had; Taiwan has managed covid surprisingly well up to this point. We all had something to be proud of.

And then it turned out that most people were unwilling to get vaccinated, using up only a portion of the still-woefully inadequate amount of vaccine the government had managed to appropriate, all AZ. Where did all of those quarantine-violators from the last time go, I began to wonder. Occasionally someone would show up on the news being heavily fined, and cellphone tracking tech is massively better these days. Perhaps we did learn.

And then of course, people just sort of stopped thinking it was a thing, and all it took was a few airline pilots to infect others not only with covid but with a sudden desire to visit every. single. part. of. Taiwan. on mass scourge tours. And boom: community spread. Suddenly vaccines are more popular, but those things take time.

We were so close to getting through this relatively unscathed! We still are, but it’s going to be a close thing. My fear is that, once we reach that stage, all of the idiot behaviors are going to return. Or perhaps they never went away.

But I guess we’ll see. Chenbl just called and predicted that things are going to get scary, and he is now reexamining his previous hesitancy on getting vaccinated, but I won’t repeat his reasoning here. And yesterday most of the nation experienced long blackouts due to an accident at a power plant down south, which isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring. We are still plagued with a culture where, if someone steps down from their office temporarily and people get bag out of it, then whatever happened just magically never happened, all good, problem solved.

So things are beginning to feel a bit too 2003-ish around here. Now all I need to do is make another episode of Lady X followed by riding Gendouyun down to the Shannon and we’ll be there.

posted by Poagao at 11:54 am  
Apr 22 2021

20 years

Twenty years ago today, after riding my motorcycle back from my job at an advertising company, I sat down in front of my big-ass CRT monitor in my shared apartment on Hsinsheng South Road and began writing this account.

A lot has happened over the past two decades, and hopefully at least some people have enjoyed the ride. Not many people still blog these days, but I still feel the urge to write in here now and then. We’ll see what happens.

posted by Poagao at 11:55 am  
Jul 25 2019

The master

I happened to be walking through the CKS Hall station rotunda the other day when I spotted the old blind man who often plays the violin in that particular spot, which amplifies the sound outwards, unfortunately in his case as his intonation is atrocious. On that day, however, he wasn’t sawing away, a fact for which my ears were most grateful. In fact, he was talking with a woman I know from my own violin class, as well as another woman I didn’t know.

Curious, I approached them and greeted my classmate, who is in a wheelchair. She seemed more subdued than usual but said hello. “Who is this? Your classmate?” the old man said.

“We study violin together,” I said, adding, “She’s very good, one of the best students in the class.” I wasn’t being polite; she is very good.

But the old man just said, “She’s terrible; she can barely play.”

I paused for a moment. Had he not heard her play? Though not a professional, she is certainly already a much better player than the old man. My classmate looked even more embarrassed, and it occurred to me that I had no clue just what was going on here. Still, I felt obligated to say something in her defense at this preposterous judgement by a man who was literally unable to play a single song in tune. “Oh, I think she’s quite good, she is diligent and one of the teacher’s favorites as far as I can tell.”

Throughout the conversation, the other woman, an older, somewhat pinched-looking individual, seemed to be getting more and more agitated, and it was at this point that she finally spoke out. “Master, you’re talking to her friend as if he were Taiwanese. I am telling you, he is not!”

“Oh?” said the old man.

“He actually is,” my classmate murmured.

“Why do you say I’m not Taiwanese?” I asked the woman.

“Yes, why do you say that?” the old man said, his brow furrowed.

“It’s obvious from your appearance!” she said, glaring at me malevolently for my obvious deception of the old man.

“Hmm, well, as a Chinese person, are you quite sure you know what a Taiwanese person is supposed to look like?” I said.

“I am not Chinese!” she said, indignant. “I’m Taiwanese!”

“Oh,” I said, shrugging innocently. “Sorry, but from looking at you I feel you must be Chinese.”

I noticed that my classmate seemed to want to disappear into the floor; I was not making any friends here, that much was certain. The “master” asked me to say a few choice words and phrases to him, and, sensing that I should try and play nice for my classmate’s sake at least, I obliged.

“He sounds Taiwanese to me,” he pronounced, as the older woman hovered uncomfortably close to the back of my shaven head. I looked around.

“Uh, just what are you doing?”

“Ah-HA!” she exclaimed. “Master, I can see that his hair on his head isn’t black, it’s brown! He must be a foreigner! He can’t be Taiwanese!”

“Hmm,” said the old man, who seemed already bored by all of this. So was I, to be honest. My classmate hadn’t said a word, and I was obviously unaware how deep this well of weirdness went, but I was pretty sure I did not want to find out.

“This is all very, uh, fascinating, but…I’ve got to meet someone,” I said. This much was true; I was meeting Chenbl for dinner just across the square. I wished he were there; he would have had some fun with the situation. But no, there was something too strange even for Chenbl here; most likely he would have pulled me out of there warning me to keep my mouth shut.

“See you in class!” I waved to my classmate as I walked away. She waved back, hesitantly.

God knows what they said about me after I left.

posted by Poagao at 9:08 pm  
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