Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Mar 27 2023

‘New’ Video: W&L Days

A while ago I transferred some of my old collection of VHS videos onto DVDs, and probably not in the best way considering I’d need as much resolution as possible to make them watchable (that would require a more serious setup than I have access to). I let them sit for years, thinking I’d get around to the rest of them someday, but lately I came across them and figured I might as well make something of them now.

The first time I ever appeared on video was in 5th grade in Ms. Vanartsdalen’s English class at Ed White Elementary in El Lago, Texas. I was horribly shy and muttered a few words of introduction into the camera, and that’s all I remember. I already posted our high-school video projects we made for Mrs. Bell’s history class. The next time I had access to a video camera was during my first year of college at Washington & Lee University. I borrowed the school’s camera during one of the breaks I spent on an empty campus in lieu of returning to Florida, filming myself practicing in my room in the now-demolished Gilliam Dorm, or my friends at the now-demolished International House (Are you sensing a trend here? Yeah, W&L is all about maintaining the history it deems worthy, everything else can GFO). I hauled the camera up to the room of one of my few good friends at the time, Will Avery, who had a room to himself due to the fact that his original roommate refused to share a room with a Black student. Another W&L “tradition” I guess.

For some reason I can’t find any tapes from my sophomore year, when I filmed a silly movie for Professor deMaria’s media course I was taking at the time. It was called “Minks” and roasted the frat system, to nobody’s delight at the time. Then I came to Taiwan, only returning to Lexington to finished my senior year, but now with my own big-ass JVC camcorder in hand. I’d picked it up in Hong Kong over the Lunar New Year break in 1990, and subsequent videos I made with it at Tunghai University and when I was doing my army service in Miaoli should be forthcoming if I ever get around to putting those together.

In any case, my senior year at W&L was rather lonely. I missed Taiwan, and most everyone I’d befriended before I’d left had graduated, though Will was thankfully still around, as well as the other Black students living at Chavis House, and one of my suite-mates, Gary Hugh Green III, was cool and fun to talk to (He went on to get his law degree from Harvard; I stayed at Gary’s empty Redondo Beach house at the turn of the millennium after finishing film school in NYC, but we’ve since lost touch). I exchanged letters (yes, letters! Remember those?) with my friend Clar, who was a student at a nearby college, came to visit and made tabbouleh in our bathroom. I had my own room in a suite in the then-new Gaines Hall, due to the fact that a white student didn’t care to be sharing a suite with someone who was a quarter Black (tradition!). The Welcome sign I stuck on our outside door, written in Chinese, was ripped off, covered in racial epithets, and thrown on the hallway floor. But I’d made friends with the Taiwanese cadets at the neighboring Virginia Military Institute, where I was taking trumpet lessons from then-Captain Brodie.

It’s not a long video, just over 15 minutes, but it is a window into my time at that unfortunately (and perhaps aptly)-named institution some three and a half decades ago. Perhaps in the future AI will be able to recreate them in better resolution, but this will have to do for now.

posted by Poagao at 11:22 am  
Oct 13 2022

A newsletter? Really?

When I began writing online journal entries in early 2001, I simply wanted to share stories from my daily life with whomever might be interested. Stories of my life as an ex-American Taiwanese, of playing in a jug band, making films and engaging in photography, etc. Things a few family and friends might enjoy, perhaps. The blog, as such accounts came to be known, grew to encompass several topics as blogs became popular, and then, with the advent of Facebook/IG/et al, waned in popularity, returning to the realm of people who just enjoyed writing rather than using them to garner attention (photography seems to be following a similar track). In any case, this is my experiment with TinyLetter, part of my attempt to escape the confines of the social media algorithm and regain a semblance of pre-Facebook sanity, and a return to the simple, rambling stories I’ve always produced.

Another part of my escape plan includes another piece of retrofitting, i.e. a personal website just for my photography. This has been somewhat of a saga, as I had originally concluded that Squarespace would be the best way to present my work more or less as I desired it to be seen, rather than the hit-and-miss, mysterious popularity machines. I tried out other trials such as Wix and Format, but the interfaces didn’t appeal to me. After subscribing to a Squarespace 7.1 template, however, I found that once you choose a template, you are basically stuck with it. I was told I would have to cancel my entire subscription if I wanted to choose a 7.0 template that I could change. I tried one I’d been recommended but it wasn’t doing everything I wanted to, so I wondered exactly why I was spending all this money again?

Some friends had been suggesting Google Sites, which is free and apparently nicer than it was after some upgrades, so I played around with that out of curiosity, and, well. I made a site. Here it is. I’m still working on it, and hopefully Google is working on further upgrades to the service, but it’s free and it sort of works, though it looks a lot better on desktop than on mobile, but I figure viewing photography on a phone is sub-optimal at best in any case, so this is what I’m going to use for now.

So the issue now is weaning myself away from the dopamine hits of Likes and Comments and Follows that social media has me addicted to, clawing my way back to some kind of real-world existence (oddly enough, VR experiences are more akin to IRL interactions than social media ones, but that’s another topic for another day).

So yeah, a newsletter.

I’ve been writing this journal for well over two decades, making it one of the longest-lasting blogs out there, But lately I’ve been tiring of the FB/IG algorithm, and I suspect I am not alone. I’m still working on all of this, but I hope to achieve some amount of autonomy, even though my mind has likely been rewired by so many years of dopamine hits in the form of little red dots signifying “engagement”. Congratulations! You’re part of the tribe! You matter! Now do it again! And again! Faster!

Except my time would be far better spent creating for myself and those I care about rather than some greedy algorithm that ultimately doesn’t produce anything of value. Recent inspirations have come from Craig Mod and Andy Adams of Flak photo, both of whom are way better at this sort of thing than I am. But they, Craig in particular, have beaten a path towards what I would rather be doing than posting on FB/IG (or, heaven help me, twitter), which is mainly writing, photographing, video, and editing the result of the whole thing.

So there is no set topic for this account. Those who have faithfully read my journals for the last 20-odd years know what to expect: random posts about wandering the alleys and byways of Taipei, musings on photography, writing, cinema and virtual reality, the odd music gig or photo excursion or exhibition, trips abroad…that kind of thing.

As with just about everything else I do, this is an experiment, a space to see what happens. And as always, you’re welcome to come along.


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posted by Poagao at 6:55 pm  
Apr 14 2022

In for a ride

Covid cases are surging in Taiwan these days. I say “surging” in our context, which is after months of just a handful of cases now and then, suddenly seeing hundreds a day and probably over a thousand soon, which while by Western standards is paltry, is unprecedented here. Part of this was likely inevitable, considering the virulence of the Omicron variant as well as the situation in many other countries, but it’s also part of The Plan. This is because, having seen not only the disastrous results of Western nations just giving up and pretending Covid isn’t a Thing but also the differently disastrous results of China’s zero-case approach, our government has chosen in the face of skyrocketing cases to take a kind of middle path, continuing to ease restrictions slowly, keeping mask mandates and tracking in place, and letting mild and asymptomatic cases quarantine at home. So, each day we are greeted with “record numbers” of cases in the headlines, where they are generally located, and….well, that’s about it. Just wait for more shocking numbers tomorrow.

As we’re just coming off the tomb-sweeping holiday during which a huge number of people traveled around the country and gathered in large numbers at various events and temple ceremonies, it would be surprising if we didn’t see exponential spread in the coming days, limited only by limitations on testing capacity (which is a significant factor). Currently we’re at 84% first shot, 79% second shot and 53% boosted, which aren’t bad numbers, but the elderly have rather poorer numbers. I’ve had conversations with some of them about getting vaccinated, and it’s quite frustrating. Generally it comes down to their assumption that they know better because they’re older, and there’s nothing you can do about it. They’re at once sanguine and fatalistic almost to the point of pride:

“Have you been vaccinated?” I ask.


“Why not?”

“I have (some ailment such as high blood pressure or cholesterol, etc.).”

“Did your doctor tell you you shouldn’t get the shot because of that?”


“What did your doctor tell you?”

“I didn’t ask.”

And that’s that.

It’s partly a cultural thing as elderly people tend to be respected and given a certain amount of leeway here, something that might change as the population in general ages. But for now, I also feel that government policy should have not only been able to enforce some standards on our admittedly shoddy media coverage, but also been able to suggest that doctors work actively to convince their elderly patients to get vaccinated. Alas, that didn’t happen, and now I’m thinking, if this gets much worse, which it most certainly will, our aging population suddenly might not be so aging, if you know what I mean. The costs of disinformation, so sadly avoidable, are great and likely only realized, if at all, after the damage has been done.

Speaking of which, of course the white dudebros on Forumosa and the other expat groups are fine with that, as their convenience apparently outweighs other people’s welfare and lives. Many of them are still saying that vaccines are a hoax and masks are tyranny, and IMHO the people that run those sites and let them post such things should be held responsible for spreading disinformation. My theory as to why white people and especially white Americans are so anti-mask in general is because they have become so used to being judged as individuals instead of by their race that anything that potentially takes away from that “freedom” of individuality is a horrendous crime in their minds. It’s no wonder that being anti-mask has become known as a kind of dog whistle for white supremacy, a way to say the quiet part out loud.

In any case, we’re in for a ride as the government grapples with what is shaping up to be an unprecedented surge in cases here. Serious cases, for which the elderly population is at much greater risk, will have to be managed without overwhelming our medical capacity to the detriment of other patients. We are fortunate to have national health insurance, but our system is not without its flaws, mainly overworked staff, and this is something that has the potential to greatly exacerbate that situation.

For now I am still going to work as usual, as I have throughout this whole thing as we never had WFH, and our classes are continuing as usual. I have tried to make the places we go for photo walks more remote and hopefully safer, avoiding huge crowds. I don’t know how much longer that will last; it depends on evolving government policy, as I can’t imagine that we will get through the semester without at least some cases at the college and/or the office. For now the only thing we can do now is just try to take the only precautions we can, avoid crowds especially in enclosed spaces, keep masking up, and just hoping for the best because, on this ride, the only way out is through.

posted by Poagao at 11:07 am  
Jan 03 2022

This Old Blog

So, I realize that this site may seem stuck pinned to circa-2003 design, but it’s kinda grown on me over the decades. However, despite a mid-run refresh a la my friend Mark of the now-defunct Doubting To Shuo, it has over the intervening years become rather run-down and broken, code-wise, and my provider kept asking for more money to update it with new, more expensive packages. I did a bit of research and found that I was paying about three times more than I needed to to keep the site up and running. An online friend of mine generously offered to whip it into some kind of shape for the mere pittance of a cup of coffee, a copy of my book, and my somewhat-less-than-august presence, Covidian social conventions permitting. Now the basic house-cleaning is pretty much done, so allow me to go over some of what’s new under the hood, so to speak.

The one consistent part of this site from the beginning has been the blog, which was previously separated into several different blogs on Blogger and then WordPress. These have all been integrated into one main blog, which is now the landing page, with category options should a reader have an interest in, say, my attempts to engage in tuishou, or our little film projects, or my Chinese-language journal entries, etc. You can also explore various categories, such as entries involving exploits with the Ramblers, for instance, or musings/interactions with photography. I’ve also cautiously opened up the comments function again, though I doubt many people read these, if indeed many ever did…the thing these days seems to be the email newsletter, but in the end content is content, and I don’t do this for an audience or profit, but rather just to record various things I’m doing or thinking about.

The links on the sidebar, long-neglected, had become a litany of 404 pages and a sad reminder of just how interesting and wonderfully individualistic the internet was back then, so I had to update that, and will try to keep it current. The photos link, which previously went to a page of snaps, then to my flickr, now points to my main Instagram account, which is more current even though the photos are still just tiny facsimiles of the shots. I don’t really write fake news stories any more, as the “real” news these days is just so literally incredible that 1) my stories might potentially be taken for genuine news, and 2) the impact isn’t there in any case. So I dumped the old ones into a tumblr for historic purposes, but I might just get rid of them entirely if and when I redo the site from the ground up.

I don’t have the list of “accomplishments”, publications, exhibitions, awards and the like…I figure if someone’s interested they can Google me, and also: Does anyone really enjoy reading those? Do people go to someone’s site and eagerly look for how many articles someone has gotten into SuperiorTaste magazine/website, or how many times they were featured on BokehDrool dot com? I have, to this day, precisely zero blue checks, and it actually feels kinda good. If you’re the type of person to be awed by such things, well, there’s the internet for you (gestures).

In the end, as in the beginning, this is just a blog, with very few bells and whistles. It works a little better now, thanks to my online friend who has said he prefers to remain anonymous. I’ve enjoyed penning my various thoughts and deeds in there for the last 21 years, and I hope y’all have enjoyed the ride so far.

posted by Poagao at 11:38 am  
Dec 09 2021


Late last month I gave a talk to some students at Shih Hsin University, known for its journalism program. The invitation came about in a rather unusual fashion: I was walking down by the river a few months ago, as I have been wont to do in lieu of wandering the streets of the city due to Covidian caution these past few months, when a Western dude in inline skates zoomed past, stopped and then came back to ask me if I was, well, me. Surprised that he recognized me at all, much less in my mask, I just stammered that I was in fact me. He introduced himself as Luke and said he was a fan on my book, and just wanted to tell me, which was nice. Afraid I hadn’t left a very good impression as I had been off in my own little world at the time, I wrote an apology on Facebook, which he saw and responded to. It turned out that Luke, an American, teaches a composition class at Shih Hsin and he invited me to give a talk there.

So one sunny day in late November I went over to Jingmei, meeting Chenbl at the station. We had some tasty Vietnamese food at one of the many such restaurants in the market there, an old-fashioned, cobblestone tub, shirts-hiked-up-around-stomachs kind of place, and then stopped by a Family Mart so I could inject some coffee and chocolate into my system before walking over to the university. Shih Hsin is an interesting place, geographically speaking, set by the river in a little mountain valley accessed by a long tunnel. The class, however, was in a building along the road, so we didn’t get to traverse the tunnel. Chenbl had some trouble with the school’s interface and his venerable notebook, but we fixed it eventually.

Luke gave me a nice introduction; he had told me that he usually uses a mix of Chinese and English in class, so I kept it that way, reminding myself to switch languages every so often depending on which language was more suited to whatever I was talking about. I am usually hesitant to do this as I’m not used to switching back and forth; my interactions tend to be either purely in Chinese, such as if I’m talking with Chenbl or my co-workers, or in English, such as when I’m hanging out with the Ramblers. When I go back and forth, both languages tend to suffer. Still, I made do. There was too much to cover in two hours and I skipped quite a lot in the end, but the students seemed to enjoy it and even gave me a signed card afterward. I wish that we’d had time for Q&A at the end, as the state of Taiwan’s media is quite precarious to say the least, and I was interested to hear their views on that.

It was deep twilight when Chenbl and I walked back out onto the road outside the campus, through the streets of Jingmei, which, I keep having to remind myself, is actually an interesting area though I whoosh underneath it twice a day on the subway. We found a nice Japanese restaurant and enjoyed some tasty sushi. I was relieved that the speech was concluded; I’m never quite sure exactly what to talk about when people ask me to talk about myself. I’d rather hear about them. It’s like the aux cord on a road trip: I’ve already heard my favorite music; I’d rather discover new stuff from other people’s favs.

In other news, the site is now on the new host, and the links are mostly fixed. I’ve updated the links on the sidebar as most of the old ones no longer exist. It’s a bit frightening to look back at how much the internet has changed since this site’s inception, and not much for the better. All of those quirky, interesting sites are history, and now everyone’s just being awful to each other on Twitter and Facebook. It’s depressing. Blogs have largely gone away, somewhat replaced by subscription email lists I guess. One bright spot I’ve recently come across it Craig Mod, an American man who combines his love of Japan, walking, photography and writing into a kind of coalescent platform on his site. Alas, I lack such skill in organizing all of these things, but it’s still an interesting model and has given me some ideas for the evolution of this site going forward.

posted by Poagao at 11:12 am  
Nov 15 2021

2nd shot

Last week I was notified that I could get my second vaccination shot, so I made an appointment for Thursday afternoon at the Hong-En Clinic on Renai Road. I could have done the big-hospital scenario that I did for the first shot, but I wanted to see what the small clinic experience was like, and if possible avoid the huge crowds and long lines that marked my first shot. Thursday was a lovely day, weather-wise, and I took a series of buses, walking along Renai as it’s a nice road to walk down, but for all my delaying tactics, I was still an hour early for my 3 o’clock appointment. So I continued down Renai, past the site of the first Burger King where I used to enjoy their special lemon pies when they’d just arrived in Taiwan, and over to the forested traffic medians of Dunhua near the traffic circle. There I sat on a stone bench and watched the workmen across the road tearing down the building that had housed the wonderful Eslite Bookstore where I’d spent many a late night browsing books, sitting on the floor enjoying the classical music that they would play there.

Around 3 I took a circuitous route back to the clinic, half expecting a long line, but there was none. Immediately upon entering I was asked what my vaccine choice was, and was directed to a nearby chair, where I filled out a form, got the shot, and was told to wait upstairs for 10 minutes, whereupon I could go. This time I actually felt the shot, unlike the first one, but it wasn’t painful. Perhaps it was because this time I was actually paying attention.

After about 15 minutes of waiting I took my leave, walking in the general direction of the subway, stopping at a Family Mart for some water as the nurse had told me to drink a lot of water, before hopping on the MRT back home.

The next day I felt exhausted but still went to work. That afternoon I took a bus out to Sanchong to participate in another radio interview with singer Tsai Cheng-nan on his show. David Chen was nice enough to invite me, but I wasn’t terribly talkative, and went straight home to rest afterward. Saturday I had a low fever and slept a lot, but Sunday I was feeling well enough to go to practice for our upcoming Ramblers show at the National Concert Hall at the beginning of December. The side effects of the second vaccine were definitely stronger than the first, but still not too bad, and in a week or so I’ll be considered fully vaccinated, possibly even more so as I waited nearly three months between shots. At least until we need boosters.

The government has announced that people who got Medigen vaccines could get more widely recognized vaccines if they need to travel in the near future, as Medigen has yet to be very widely accepted for travel. Taipei has nearly complete first-shot coverage and almost 50% full vaccination at this point; hopefully the rate will continue, as I suspect we will have to open up our borders eventually. I’m ok with staying on the cautious side until that point, however.

Naturally the international media have continued their weird “reporting” on Taiwan, with the notable exception of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight piece. It was surreal to see the media reporting on Oliver’s piece utilizing the very questionable practices he was mocking them for, seemingly completely unaware of how unprofessional it made them look. Even foreign reporters actually stationed in Taiwan have been doing it, and protesting when called on it. I hate to see it.

In other news, this ancient site is undergoing a bit of a much-needed overhaul thanks to the generosity of a friend of mine who for now will remain nameless. It may not seem apparent now but things should be more stable with fewer broken links and weird behavior, and I have some ideas for further improvements down the road. To all of you who have been with me here for the last 20-odd years, I appreciate you and look forward to what comes next.

posted by Poagao at 12:21 pm  
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 down 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.”

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  
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