Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Aug 15 2022

4th shot

So the student exhibition of work from the last semester is up and running at the Ren An Hospital Museum exhibition space on the second floor. I made a video about it, using just my iPhone and a little stabilizer unit which turned out to be surprisingly effective. It’s going until mid-September, so if you’re looking for some good street photography and are baffled at the confusing art pieces that crowd Taiwan’s photography galleries these days, go have a look.

One day before the one-year anniversary of getting my first covid vaccine, Chenbl and I went to a clinic on Sanmin Road to get our second booster shots. It was a rather casual experience, just a few people waiting around instead of the strictly organized lines and zones I’ve encountered elsewhere. When we were at the counter a woman came in with a form to show the nurse. “You don’t need to show me that,” the nurse said, rather brusquely. Chenbl gave me a look.

“What’s up?” I said. He glanced at the women, who was now heading upstairs.

“I think she’s a covid patient getting meds,” he muttered. “The nurse didn’t want anyone to see her diagnosis.”

“I’m just going to wait outside,” I said. He laughed.

We were getting the Novavax vaccine this time, though my first three were Moderna, and Chenbl got BNT. Just for a little variety, to keep covid guessing. And a little payback for it keeping us guessing, I guess. My shoulder was sore for a few minutes, and I felt a little drunk for the next couple of days.

This might have affected my views on the two plays we went to see on the following two days. The first was at the National Theater at CKS, a grand affair. We were sitting on the very side of the theater above the stage in a box with a single file of seats, oddly not facing the stage but forward, necessitating a certain amount of rubbernecking. The play, featuring the complicated life of a woman from the 70’s to the 90’s and featuring a great deal of jumping around in time, was by Wu Nian-jen and was entirely in Taiwanese, so I missed a good portion of it as my Taiwanese is rather basic. Still, it was quite moving. The second play was up at the big new traditional theater complex near Zhishan Station in Shilin, and featured the marriage-related travails of a family of women. It was also quite good, and it being in mostly Mandarin I didn’t have to guess at any of the meanings. Afterward Chenbl and I walked over to an old neighborhood for dinner, and then back to Shilin Station, where they have unfortunately cut down all the trees to widen the road. That’s a shame.

I’d thought I was done with the after-effects of the vaccine, but after a couple of days feeling drunk and posting ill-advised rants on DPreview, I started just feeling exhausted, like bone-tired on an existential level. This is the first non-mRNA shot I’ve had for covid, and it was not playing. Fortunately it only lasted a day or so, and I got by by watching the excellent new season of The Orville. The BA4 and 5 variants are making their way into the general population, and cases, which had been falling, seem to be on the rise again. More people are maskless outside, and I suppose I can understand why in this spectacular combination of heat and humidity that, if I hadn’t come up in Florida and south Texas, might be unbearable. I took a bike ride along the river the other day and took my mask off to do so, as that is now allowed when exercising outside, and it did feel good. I’m keeping my (color-coordinated) mask on in crowds, though.

In other news, I’m looking at making a photography page for this site…well, not poagao.org, but poagao.com. Squarespace is looking like the best option for a technically impaired person like myself. In a way it would be coming full circle; when I started this site in 2001 my aim was to just have a place online where I could put my photos, that being before the photo sites had started up. Then came this blog, and the photography kind of just did its own thing. But now people are abandoning flickr and sites like Instagram are focusing on becoming TikTok, so perhaps it’s time to make a page on here where I can showcase various projects and topics. Feel free to let me know which particular photograpic websites you like most; I’m looking to keep it simple, but I’m open to suggestions. In any case, I’ll let y’all know when I get something up.

posted by Poagao at 11:35 am  
Aug 02 2022

Busy days

Things are getting busy again, on several levels. Despite all the Twitter-based hullabaloo about Pelosi’s upcoming visit to Taiwan (most of which can’t even be called journalism and completely misses the point), life goes on as normal here as ever.

Last week the Ramblers played a three-day-long gig at the Lin Family Gardens in Banqiao, in a courtyard out in front of one of the old halls. My instrument cart no doubt scuffed several of the centuries-old stone door frames on my way in, but I’ve always liked the place so it was nice to play there despite the oppressive heat. The staff were nice, providing us with tasty bento dinners, souvenir photos of us playing in cute frames, and even umbrellas when a heavy downpour followed our second performance. Thumper and Red Man missed the first show, so Sylvain filled in. Our old friend Chalaw worked wonders at the soundboard to make us sound good, and despite not having played in a good while we managed to put out three solid shows in three days. In between the brutally hot soundchecks and the shows later in the evening I would walk around the neighborhood exploring the various alleys and bridges, the markets and temples. Police on scooters zoomed around checking people’s IDs. After the shows it was cool to be able to wander the complex at night, when it’s usually closed, imagining all the shenanigans and goings-on that happened there back in the days when it was an oasis of culture and taste amid empty fields and swamps. Now it’s an oasis of culture and taste amid apartment buildings and shops of every description.

On the morning after the last show, I met up with Chenbl  and his parents at the Taipei high-speed rail station; we had breakfast on the bullet train south, arriving in Taichung in short order. Chenbl’s parents were staying at The Lin Hotel, a ritzy place near the National Theater, whereas we were staying at a place called simply The Place in another part of town. The neighborhood is crammed full of  swank high-rises now, totally unlike when the Ramblers performed at Tiger City so many years ago, the bitterly cold wind blowing across empty lots as we played. We took a train to the impressive Nantian Temple, which features a giant statue on top, and then a bus to the Second Market, a hexagonal affair, where we had delicious noodles for lunch.

We then strolled through the city through the artsy West District. It’s been too long since I visited Taichung; I miss it. Chenbl’s father commented that Taichung seems to have more potential these days. While Taipei’s been content to rest on its laurels as the capital, Taichung these days seems more about exploration and experimentation. It’s also more physically spread out, which makes a second metro line a must  if the city’s going to continue developing.  Residents apparently don’t even have to pay for bus trips under 10 kilometers. We walked to the Place where Chenbl and I were staying, put some stuff away, and headed out again when what had seemed like imminent rain did not manifest.

As a lot of walking was going on, we all packed light, though Chenbl’s father insisted on carrying several heavy bottles of water in his backpack. I only brought one bag as it was just one night and all I needed to bring besides what I usually have on me was an extra shirt. After going through a series of cheap bags whose zippers would break almost immediately, not to mention a Domke that eventually disintegrated, and on the recommendation of some local photographer friends as well as the badge of approval of DPreviews’ Chris Nichols and Big Head Taco, I recently spent bag to get bag from Wotancraft, a local company, and so far I like it a lot. It looks heavy but is actually quite light and comfortable.

Sunset was seen from the odd and interesting roof of the National Theater, which reminded me of that of the Casa Mia apartment building in Barcelona. Chenbl’s parents were fine dining at The Lin’s popular restaurant, so Chenbl and I headed over to the food court at Tiger City for some excellent beef rice bowls.

On Monday morning we took a bus over to The Lin, and then walked to Taichung City Hall, a trim and efficient pair of buildings linked up in the middle. We browsed the exhibition and then took a bus at one of the failed BRT “stations” to another part of town to look at Literature Museum which features a huge old tree in the courtyard. As we were wondering how old said tree was, rain began pouring down. Chenbl’s mother was the only one of us with the sense to bring a real umbrella; she took refuge in a small pavilion while Chenbl’s father and I moved to a tin structure where we could feel the rain pounding on the roof reverberating throughout the entire structure. Chenbl had found a handy arcade. There we all waited for the rain to ease, and it did after about an hour. Chenbl’s father is always full of interesting stories and advice, so the time went by quickly. We then walked to the old martial arts hall, and then took a bus back to the train station, where we spent the rest of the afternoon having ice cream treats and dinner at the Miyahara Confectionery, previously an Optometrist’s office but now more like a rebranded Harry Potter exhibition with cookies. At one point Chenbl and I popped out to get some of the obligatory suncakes. Chenbl refused to be seen carrying the other store’s suncakes into the confectionery, as apparently there’s some rivalry going on there, so he made me carry them instead as I apparently DNGAF about such things.

Chenbl’s parents were itching to get back home, so we took an early train from the huge new station, dwarfing the stately old one next to it, back to the high speed rail station, and then back to Taipei and home. It was good to get out of town for a bit; we need to do it more often. Chenbl and I are scheduled to get our second booster next week, and case numbers are dropping steadily, though I still suspect that when the new variants might arrest that trend, but most people seem to still be wearing masks (despite all the white dudes on those sites howling in protest all day), so perhaps we can still get through all of this ok.

posted by Poagao at 12:00 pm  
Jul 08 2022

Their Way

I was planning to meet Chenbl later yesterday at Jiantan, so instead of getting my usual salmon bento to take back to the Water Curtain Cave for consumption, I had a pleasant sandwich/coffee/carrot cake combo at the Metro Cafe on Chongqing South Road. As it does just about every day in summer, the weather went from bright sun to threatening skies during the course of my meal, so I went back to my office to get an umbrella, planning to take the subway up to Jiantan to have a look around before meeting up with Chenbl after he got off work.

The sound of singing that was entirely too awful to be a recording, however, drew me to the square in front of Zhongshan Hall, where a large group of mostly elderly people huddled under tents as rain began to pelt down. Most of them were wearing vests sporting various military-themed logos, and they seemed to all know each other. The songs being sung were old-timey patriotic/nationalist songs (plus the first part of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” with the phrase “the final curtain” replaced by “the final battle”(!), and even more disturbing: Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Please Release Me”); the KMT was in heavy presence, as were various police officers, obviously armed, with one sporting a clump of white zip ties on her belt. I didn’t know what they were expecting; there were no counter protesters and hardly any media around.

They held a ceremony consisting of people lining up to lay yellow flowers on the “Monument to the Victory of the Anti-Japanese War and the Restoration of Taiwan” plaque opposite the hall. Several speeches were made conveying the disturbing message that the “real enemy” was the DPP, not the CCP. A Buddhist monk spoke, as well as various KMT officials. I walked around the edges of the crowd, taking a few photos but not daring to get too close as entirely too many of the old people were maskless and sitting clumped together under the tents. A few of them gave me some strange looks but mostly I was left alone as they probably assumed I was just some random tourist. It all felt a little sad and desperate, the last gasps of a disappearing world. But it would be dangerous to discount this demographic; although they are diminishing in numbers, especially due to covid, they still wield substantial financial and political power.

“Are you a photographer?” an unmasked Asian American man who looked to be in his 40’s asked me. As always, I didn’t know how to answer that question, but he wasn’t concerned with my lack of a definitive answer. He was, he said, a YouTuber, and a quite well known one at that, focusing on political analysis of both the U.S. and Taiwan. I didn’t contribute much to the conversation, mostly listening and nodding at his rather, uh…unconventional views. He stressed, with no prompting, that he wasn’t a fan of Trump, though I hadn’t asked or even mentioned Trump. That always strikes me as odd. But when he was talking about the “mystery” of Republicans gaining ground in Florida, I couldn’t help but ask if perhaps DeSantis’ agenda had been having an effect. “Who?” he asked, puzzled.

“Ron DeSantis?”

“I don’t know who that is.”

“The governor of Florida,”

“Oh, I don’t know who any of those people are,” he said, dismissing such knowledge as unimportant. The real issue, he said, was the DPP stuffing ballot boxes. I asked if he had participated in the voting process here, but again, no, he wasn’t a citizen; his source was…and you might want to sit down for this…a mysterious friend with connections to U.S. intelligence. I only hope I haven’t said too much.

The sun had come out again at this point, and Chenbl said he was on his way, so I caught the subway up to Jiantan. While Chenbl got his hair cut, I walked over to the river and spotted a nice puddle that would surely, I judged from the top of the flood wall, reflect the sunset and skyline. As I approached, another man approached from the opposite direction, a large DSLR around his neck. Surely he will see that reflection, I thought, so I adjusted my path to let him approach it first, but he didn’t. When I crouched down to get my shot, however, I heard the clack of his shutter and looked up to see him photographing me. So if you see a photograph of me crouching by a puddle, 1) this is probably what I was doing, and 2) this is not a rare thing for me. My fellow BME member Don Hudson always points this out, and I am not ashamed of my inability to resist the attraction of a reflective surface. I’ve been doing this shit since the Mirror Project of yore and even before, and I don’t plan on stopping.

posted by Poagao at 12:08 pm  
Jan 21 2022

Tianmu walk

The weather was semi-nice yesterday when I got off work, so after a nice salmon bento lunch at my favorite restaurant on Chongqing South Road, I walked over to the park station and took the subway up to Zhishan Station. Chenbl thought an area over there might be good for a photowalk with students, so I wanted to take a look.

I exited the north gate of the station by the Ewhat Camera store, remembering fondly the days when I would go there to handle the latest models that I couldn’t afford. Then I walked over to the bus stop by the SOGO to hop on the 280 bus over to the area Chenbl had mentioned. I pay a monthly fee of NT$1,280 for all my bus and subway rides, a nifty deal that saves me a bit of money and also includes some free Youbike rides.

The area in question, however, was almost completely deserted when I arrived, as most areas with rich people tend to be. I can understand the reason, but I still find it a little sad that we are moving from general environments where people tend to interact, i.e. rowhouses with arcades, to more closed-off circumstances such as gated communities and apartment blocks. In fact, a lot more areas seem deserted than they used to, if I’m not imagining things. I skirted the edge of the mountainside, following drainage ditches by abandoned and newly built mansions. It was hot so I took off my sweater and stuffed it with some difficulty into my tiny bag. Occasionally a security guard on an e-scooter would ride by looking for illegally parked cars or whatever it is they do; otherwise nobody was around. Is this what people desire when they think of ideal living circumstances? Perhaps for a large  family it would be fine, but I imagine for a single person it would be mighty lonely.

I walked though the one old veterans’ community Chenbl had mentioned; again, nobody was around, nothing to see, really. So I walked back towards town on Dexing East Road. The weather became cloudy and misty, blustery and cold, so I stopped into the Takashimaya Department Store for a bit, looking halfheartedly for something I wouldn’t find downtown department stores, but there weren’t any surprises. It used to be that stores in the Tianmu area often held certain imported treats that weren’t sold elsewhere in Taipei, but that no longer seems to be the case, especially with the demise several years ago of the wonderful Wellman’s Market. Jake’s Country Kitchen also seems to have vanished, taking their exquisite pancakes with them. Perhaps there are other newer stores now that hold such things, and I just don’t know about them. I can’t bring myself to go onto expat forums to find out, because I’d have to thread the needle through all the BS those places are so full of for very little payback in the form of treats that I probably shouldn’t be eating anyway.

I walked through the alleys rather than the main road on my way back to Zhishan. It still has a fair amount of old two-story houses with yards, a testament to the long history of wealthy people living in the area. A quick glance on Google Maps will show you the swimming pool/movie star mansions dotting the hills above. Times may have changed, but the area still has that expat/bourgeoisie feel to it, with “bilingual” schools and kindergartens and international cuisine here and there. The bias towards the areas north of the city is still clear as opposed to the “sticks” south of town where I live. Each has its own appeal, though, I figure.

Despite the lack of people walking around those nicer neighborhoods, stores and restaurants in the vicinity were fairly crowded. So far we are still at Level 2 vis-a-vis the covid situation, so if things continue to be stable, our class will start up again in March. I have noted my continuing hypersensitivity to people coughing or not wearing masks, though. Smokers in particular seem to get a pass in this respect, as they do in many others for some strange reason, and some days I feel as if my appearance in any one space just makes the people there suddenly want to cough. Today as I crossed the bridge in the rain I saw a man standing holding his umbrella over another man, who was lying on the boards waving a hand and muttering something I couldn’t make out; I wasn’t sticking around to find out, and as an ambulance had just pulled up I figured they had the situation in hand.

It’s still anyone’s guess how the government will proceed in the face of the latest wave of covid cases, which, although significant for us, pales in the face of the scales of outbreaks seen in other countries at this point, even countries that have previously handled things quite well. If this were last summer I’d be predicting that we’d soon be going back to Level 3, but the authorities seem eager to keep things open, and vaccination levels seem to be climbing reasonably fast. Chenbl’s parents have both had their boosters, and we should be eligible to get ours soon. The CDC director,while still expressing hope that it can be contained, has also spoken on the distinct possibility of living with covid, so I suspect that contingency plans will incorporate that as well. We’ll see, I guess.

posted by Poagao at 11:41 am  
Jan 17 2022

Keelung jaunt

As it looked like a nice day on Saturday, I met up with Chenbl at Songshan Station to hop on a train to Keelung to scout potential photography walks with students if next semester happens. Only this time we didn’t go all the way to Keelung, but got off one stop early, at Sankeng, a narrow station in the valley the train follows before it opens up into the city. The weather in Keelung was cloudy, but at least it wasn’t raining, as it often is there. We took the fenced-in walkway towards the city and found ourselves at a railway crossing bordered by two alleys, one creepily dark with shadowy figures moving around inside, and another, leading back towards the station. We took the latter and passed several small rooms, pink fluorescent light spilling out into the alley, each inhabited by an apparently young woman; it was a red light district, but nobody spoke to us or called out.

After some tasty egg-based snacks at a restaurant that claimed to have been opened in 1938, the same year both of our fathers were born, we walked across the tracks and up the hill, passing an abandoned Catholic church, mold growing on the cross on the metal gate. Inside I spotted the discarded box of a synthesizer among the detritus. I wonder how long it’s been abandoned, and what happened to the people who founded it. A religious statue had been built along the street nearby. Most of the houses on the hillside seemed to be abandoned as well, but from the little gardens and terraces it seemed that someone had once seen great potential in living there, though the place seemed quite humid, and the smoke and noise from the old trains constantly passing back in the day would seem to have been unpleasant at best.

We came back down the hill as there was no way on except for mountain paths, and found a Japanese-era tunnel, along the length of which were mounted old photographs of the Japanese military base that had been located in the area in the early 1900s. Closely shorn soldiers stared from the pictures as they stood in their barracks doing various tasks. The ceiling of the tunnel was less than six feet high, and I kept having to duck as we traversed its length.

Dense alleyways lay on the other side of the tunnel as we approached the city. I’d never really explored this part of Keelung before, and it’s quite interesting. We passed under the massive highway bridge, which used to be home to a large market but is now full of people playing sports, and though another street market as we skirted the hillside through the alleys.

An interestingly shaped old building in Keelung

An old building in Keelung

Dusk was falling as we passed by a the huge, Hong Kong-esque Guanghua housing complex and arrived at the river, covered by a highway branch, that we’d seen from a bus on a previous trip. I’ve always been interested in how rivers interact with urban environments, and this was a rather sad example as rivers are too often ignored here, cemented away and forgotten about. Cats abounded, which Chenbl says is a sign of decay while dogs represent prosperity, but as I like cats in general I couldn’t complain; indeed I greeted every one as I usually do, and most were quite gracious about it. I feel like I should keep some cat treats on me though.

We approached an unusually shaped building that seemed to be literally falling apart, featuring several interesting shades of light and a market downstairs, rusted rebar poking out of the frames. People still lived there, though. We then followed the underground stream through the neighborhoods, picking up its traces every so often as it reappeared here and there, often frequented by birds and rats, occasioned by temples, streams of wastewater pouring in from showers, laundromats, kitchens and who knows what else. Every time I’m in Keelung I wonder what living there would be like on a day-to-day basis. Commuting would be a pain, though, at least until they run a subway line out there. It’s a special place, no doubt.

Hungry and tired, we made our way to the Miaokou market, where a guard monitoring the crowds sprayed disinfectant on my hands and camera lens just for good measure. Inside, we lumbered up a flight of steep stairs for a meal of dry noodles, spinach and hot pork soup. It was nice to sit down after a day of walking and climbing, but the throngs of people at the market unsettled me considering the looming prospect of Omicron. I’ve been wearing K94 masks lately for their greater coverage, but it seems more and more people, especially smokers and older people, are just not bothering any more.

After dinner we had some bitter tea from a stand. “Don’t give that to him!” the stand operator scolded Chenbl as he handed me my drink, but I just drank it while staring blankly at the operator.

“It’s ok, he’s fine with it,” Chenbl explained, needlessly. We then walked back towards the harbor, to the new train station. The site of the old station is still swathed in construction; I have no idea what they’re doing to do with it. If it were up to me I’d build a recreation of the old Japanese-era station and make it a tourism/cultural center. That’s just me though.

posted by Poagao at 12:08 pm  
Dec 10 2021

National Concert Hall shows

My co-workers were reminded that I play in a band last Friday when I hauled all my instruments, including my trumpet, euphonium and washtub bass stick, with me to work in the morning. The reason was that the Muddy Basin Ramblers were embarking on a two-day run at the National Concert Hall, which is kind of a big deal here. I stopped for a salmon sandwich on the way over, getting there around 2. Though we had rehearsed there before to get all the sound stuff right, we were going through the whole shebang again in the afternoon. It wasn’t easy, playing effectively two shows in a row. I went over to the Mos Burger under the parking ramp for a coffee and chocolate boost, and found that they were selling several different flavors of Tim Tams, an Australian chocolate treat I’ve been a fan of since my trip there in 2001. I bought a package of caramel ones.

Chenbl showed up that afternoon to help sell CDs and merchandise at a table in the lobby. We then had some nice healthy bento dinners. The staff at the NCH were very professional and took care of everything. A bit before the show, David was asking if anyone had any chocolate, so I gave him a Tim Tam, and then offered them to everyone else there. I could tell he was nervous about the show as he even took a sip of whiskey before we walked on stage to a packed house. I wondered if the concert hall staff,  who were surely more accustomed to classical music aficionados, were used to the raucous nature of our usual audience, but they seemed to take it in stride.

The combination of whiskey and caramel Tim Tams wasn’t great for David’s voice at the start, but he soon overcame it, and the show was a roaring success. I had been holding back during the rehearsal because I know I only have so much playing in me for one day, and had enough left for the show. I think I might have even smiled a couple of time. Our musical friend Ric 荒山亮 added a lot to the show with his Taiwanese Hokkien rendition of Dance Age. Chenbl did a bang-up job in the lobby, selling most of the CDs and merch, and we signed a bunch of things afterward in the main lobby. Some of my photography students even showed up.

Saturday morning I experimented on ordering a big breakfast on Food Panda, which might not have been a great decision as I wasn’t in the mood for lunch by the time I showed up back at the NCH for our second show. We didn’t go through the entire show on Saturday, but I was tired from the previous day despite a burger, chocolate and more coffee from Mos Burger, not to mention another good bento dinner. The second show was…fine. For sure, Steve and Cadence danced up a storm on stage, the house was packed again, I saw some more friends and students in the audience, and David’s voice was much better due to his abstinence from chocolate and whiskey; I just wasn’t really playing at the top of my game…nothing horrible, just sloppy here and there. Chenbl couldn’t make it on Saturday either, but we managed to sell some CDs and other merchandise anyway, and signed more stuff out in the lobby after the show. Then it was back inside to clear out our things, and back out to the parking lot, past the crowds of fans of the other classical concert that had been taking place in the other auditorium, and sitting on the bench by the smoking section and drink machines where we hung out while recording Hold That Tiger years ago. The other Ramblers were buzzing from the show and talking with friends, mostly foreigners, who had come to see us. I sat by myself for a few minutes and then went home.

Chenbl woke me up on Sunday morning, calling to say they were heading out to the Fuzhong area in Banqiao, so I took the subway over and followed his geolocation dot on my phone to the market where he and his mother were looking at this and that. Chenbl’s mother often says she hates walking, but in markets she can walk forever, it seems. I stood in the middle of the street, greedily soaking up the sunshine I’ve long been missing and occasionally snapping a picture, while they shopped. I also picked up a nifty Lucky Beckoning Cat doormat (Last one in the shop! For a pittance! You know how it goes). We met up with Chenbl’s father at the temple after lunch at a place near the market, and then walked over to Banqiao Station to look at the Christmas displays there. We sat down near some Lego setups and talked…well,  Chenbl’s father talked and I listened, mostly. He has a deep, extensive knowledge of many things, particularly politics and engineering, which was his profession before he retired. Originally from Tainan, his Mandarin has a strong Taiwanese accent; he is also a great resource for Taiwanese questions I have, which is quite a lot as my Taiwanese could be a lot better.

Dinner was braised pork rice at a nice restaurant in Snake Alley; the place was hopping, in stark contrast to how empty the area was during the outbreak in cases there over the summer. It’s good to see it coming back, and the food was delicious. I was feeling much better.

Tomorrow we’re back at it with two more gigs in one day (!)…out in Nangang in the afternoon and then Tiger Mountain in the evening. Unfortunately Taiwan saw it’s first local case of Covid in a while yesterday in the Nangang area, so despite being fully vaxxed I think it would be best to play it safe and stay masked up when possible. The predilection of most people here to stay masked has been one of the many reasons we’ve managed this so well so far, despite the anti-mask conspiracy theorist white dudes ranting and raving on f.com and the FB expat groups. Omicron will get here eventually as well, but hopefully our vaccination rates will continue to rise enough to keep the impact manageable.

posted by Poagao at 12:01 pm  
Jul 23 2021

Level 3 to end

They announced this afternoon that Level 3 would end on the 26th, in a few days’ time. Of course, this is going to be a gradual relaxation, and the pessimist inside me predicts that cases will go back up and we’ll be back at Level 3 again before this is over. But I could be wrong. For those of us who are still not fully vaccinated, this presents a worrying situation. Companies are calling all their employees to come back so they can pretend to work at the office instead of actually working at home. Productivity will be the same, of course, but bosses here love love love it when they see someone fake “running” with tiny steps down the hallway carrying a bunch of papers that are most likely whatever report they had on hand when they got up. “They’re so busy!” the boss thinks, dimly. “I must be a good boss! I deserve a raise!”

But we’ll see, I guess. The typhoon that was headed in our direction balked when it bounced against our territorial waters, as if Taiwan’s version of William T. Riker had shouted “Shields up!” It spun indecisively for a day or two before shrinking northward, abashed. Now it’s probably going to beat up Shanghai in frustration. But for now, we’re seeing heavy rains on occasion due to its proximity. This afternoon after I came home from work and had lunch on my coffee table (a rare sandwich today, as I usually get a chicken lunchbox), and goofed off online for a few hours, I saw that there was sunshine outside, so I grabbed my cameras and an umbrella and headed down to the riverside as has been my wont during these non-urban-wandering times. The water level at Bitan was a bit high but nothing catastrophic. I walked down the river, under the bridges and by the golf range to see how the Xizhou Village was fairing. As I approached the gate, I could see one of those yellow warning ribbons slung across the road. As I watched, a taxi drove through it, breaking it and tossing it to the ground.

As I walked into the village, I quickly realized that most of it was no longer there. After a couple of shops, I saw a vast field of wreckage dotted with a couple of bulldozers and cranes. Apparently they’d been in the midst of tearing it all down when the typhoon approached, necessitating a ceasing of operations. I wandered around the area for a bit, taking a few photos of the few bits of buildings still standing, pieces of art in the wreckage, that kind of thing. It was kind of sad, though I realized that the entire village had moved up the hill to a newly built complex that wouldn’t be subject to flooding.

It began to rain as evening fell, and I began to walk back as I’d ordered dinner. Before long it became a torrential downpour, and was getting soaked despite my big umbrella. I covered my camera with my shirt to keep it from getting too wet. The high-rises across the river were just vague forms through the heavy rain as I slogged through flooded walkways back up the river. The lights were on but the sky was still visible, and everything was shiny and misty at the same time. It was exhilarating, but I was glad to get back to the blessedly dry Water Curtain Cave for dinner and Star Trek.

posted by Poagao at 8:39 pm  
Apr 14 2021

Revival song

Spring is usually difficult as the temperatures fluctuate so wildly…usually the weather varies between sun and rain, but this year we’re getting precious little rain. Regardless, it tends to put me in a foul mood.

I was all ready to just go back to the Water Curtain Cave and just fall into bed after work today, but one of my students has an exhibition in the space above NOW Coffee on Yanping South Road, so I headed that way to take a look, stopping at my favorite lunch place sandwiched in between two historic buildings near the North Gate.

As I was looking at the exhibition, a raucous chorus of horns and firecrackers announced the approach of a temple procession. I went downstairs to watch it pass, and as they’d neglected to stop traffic on the street, the procession was stop and go. So I decided to hang out. Some scantily clad women danced on top of various vehicles, surrounded by men with cameras, and people in god costumes and people bearing palanquins and banners strode around, stopping at each stoplight.

“Come on, give it a shot!” one of the temple horn players said, thrusting one of the instruments at me. I took it and gave a few blasts, which they seemed to enjoy. I drew the line at the offer to try out one of the god costumes, though. My mood was much improved.

Chenbl called, saying he wanted to meet after he got off work to give me some tea we’d decided to try, which meant spending all afternoon in town.

I decided to more or less follow the temple procession, drifting off when something else caught my interest. I spent a half hour amid the unbelievable Donki Store crowds looking at cheap Japanese produce, then followed the temple procession noise to the Tianhou Temple, and then deeper into Ximending. Luckily I had ear plugs because the firecrackers were quite loud, not to mention the brass band and drums.

The procession made a large loop of the area, ending up at a temple on Luoyang Street. I went back over to the exhibition to sign the guest book and found my student there with some other photographers. But I couldn’t stay long; I had to meet Chenbl at Houshanpi Station for noodles and to get the tea.

After dinner, on the 270 bus back to Ximen to catch the train, I listened to Blues in C Sharp Minor by Teddy Wilson, a perfect song for old Taipei at night.

posted by Poagao at 8:56 pm  
Mar 15 2021

Feeling a way

Been in and out of various moods lately. Who hasn’t? It’s 2021, the world has changed, is still changing. Nobody knows where things will end up. Reassessing priorities has been the name of the game.

We here in Taiwan, of course, have been fortunate to be living under responsible governance, which makes for conflicting emotions when we see the vaccines we don’t have access to being so widely spread in countries where people felt free to ignore competent advice. They need it more, obviously. But remember, please, why they need it more.

Last weekend revolved around a St. Patrick’s Day gig at Bobwundaye. I don’t particularly care about St. Patrick’s Day, but we hadn’t played at Bob’s in a minute, so it was a long-overdue show. Cristina is getting ready to have Baby Paradise, so it was her last show before the big event. I saw some familiar faces, which was nice and got me back into a more social mood than I’ve been in lately. The show went well, and I shared a late-night/early morning taxi with Slim back to Xindian afterwards.

Sunday was spent recovering. In the morning I chatted with some folks in VR, meeting a fellow from Maitland, Florida, where I grew up, reminiscing about various landmarks. Later I walked down to the area just downstream from the Bitan traffic bridge, where they’re revamping the catchment infrastructure to allow fish to traverse it. I talked with some of people fishing in the river there for a bit before returning to the Water Curtain Cave for a dinner of questionable pasta leftover from my pandemic-induced shopping spree last year. Verdict: Ew.

I’ve been getting on Clubhouse chats lately…it’s a kind of mixture of talk radio, podcasts and chatrooms, with moderated talks where listeners can participate. It’s Apple-product only so far, which has added to its aura of exclusivity for some reason. Rammy, ABC and I founded a Street Photography club on there, and have had a few interesting sessions so far. Quite a few other SP clubs have cropped up, some of which do discussions almost on the daily, but we’ve elected for a quality-over-quantity approach. Still, who knows how this thing will develop.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve also been working, slowly, on a photography book. My floor and walls remain covered in prints, but the work is now largely a matter of presentation. Of course it changes every time I get new advice, but slowly it seems to be taking form. It’s difficult as I am so close to the subject matter and the photos, and objectivity is hard to find sometimes. Also time is more of an issue these days as the semester has started up again. Again with the violin, although I feel I’m stuck at my current level, most likely as I am loathe to practice.

Been feeling stuck in many areas recently. Last week after work I took train out to Keelung to walk around and say good-bye to the old pedestrian overpass by the harbor. Usually walking around with no particular agenda helps me get out of my head and reconnect with the world around me, but it was rough going for some reason. I walked over to where the Taima Ferry docks, and while I was walking away the ship entered the harbor and docked. It was something I would have liked to see, but I missed it. Then, after I walked back over to see the ship and was walking away again, it departed…another thing I would have liked to see and missed. It felt like a metaphor for life lately. I keep missing things. Perhaps it’s time for a reset.



posted by Poagao at 12:05 pm  
Sep 07 2020

A gig in Hsinchu

This last Saturday we went down to Hsinchu for a gig. Our van driver was the ever-reliable Mr. Gao, with his hair arranged in a Japanese-style topknot, and traffic was mostly smooth. Cristina had pulled a muscle in her back and was on pain medication. The weather was fine, Hsinchu’s famous breeze kept things cool…fall came with the arrival of September this year, quite punctually. The air has lost its core heat, and suddenly breezes have an actual cooling effect. Being outside without instantly breaking into a sweat feels quite novel. Chenbl predicts that this means the winter will be especially cold. I don’t think anyone is looking forward to Winter 2020 and the threat of recurring virus waves; all we can do is keep our guard up and trust those in charge know what they’re doing. Which is more than a lot of countries seem able to do, unfortunately.

We arrived at Hsinchu Park on time and did our soundcheck, but they hadn’t arranged lunch, so I went across the street to get ice coffee and a cinnamon bun. Just after I’d ordered, David called and said the organizers had moved things up and we had to go back early.

Alas, I was not back early. Which turned out to be fine as we started on time anyway, but it did become a kind of theme for the day. We did a thing where we played while walking up to the stage, bringing back memories of marching band, and then we had three hours to kill before the main show.

The park was becoming crowded, with too few people wearing masks for my comfort, so I went for a walk around town, first over to the railroad tracks, taking photos of scooters and shadows in the underpass, then over to the train station, where the light on the platforms was exquisite. It was too bad that I couldn’t get on them. I mulled using my Easycard to get on the platforms and then just leaving, but I decided against it and kept walking, taking the tunnel under the tracks and back towards the park, passing the corpses of ancient trees by the rear entrance.

I skirted the park again, heading through nearby neighborhoods, happy to be just out and walking on my own for a bit, when I stumbled across a raised canal running through the apartment complexes. It must have been used for irrigation at one point, but now it was a pleasant little river, with hardly any odor. A man was taking pictures of an orange-and-white street cat while a few feet away a rather large pig snuffled through the hedges. I followed the canal towards a pleasant park filled with artificial wetland bogs, elderly people sitting around with caretakers, a dog and another street cat that had appropriated one of the benches. The canal continued into the back of Chiao Tung University’s Boai campus, but I couldn’t follow it much further as I had to get back. I passed through some older one-story house communities and brand-new buildings with wraparound balconies that would surely be closed off. Developers here seem to think Taiwanese people will love balconies and use them for enjoyment, but hardly anyone ever does. People like the idea of balconies, in that they see themselves as the type of people who would enjoy a balcony if they just had one, but that’s not the way it works out in practice. They most often end up enclosed and/or full of boxes and other detritus.

Showtime had been moved up, of course, so it’s good that I got back to the park early. The show went well, or at least I assume it did as the lights were so bright I couldn’t really see the audience. The Thai chicken boxed meals were delicious and the drive back smooth, but it had been a long day; when Mr. Gao dropped us off at Xindian Station nobody thought of hanging out by the river as we often do.


posted by Poagao at 11:41 am  
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