Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Nov 30 2023

Night of the Standard Fish Market

gearWhile waiting for lunch at Kyomachi No. 8, I noticed an elderly man in a pink shirt, two ancient cameras (Minolta and Praktica for those playing at home) hanging from his shoulders, staring intently at the closing notice posted on what had been the camera store next door. Taipei’s “Camera Street” has been decimated by the public move to phone cameras, with store after store closing up, and only a few left to represent dedicated photographic devices. I wondered what his story was, so I went out and started up a conversation. He said he was more of a painter than a photographer despite the heavy SLRs, which tracked seeing that the lens caps were firmly in place. I invited him in for lunch, and we probably disturbed all of the other patrons for the next half hour as I had to speak loudly enough to overcome his poor hearing. We exchanged cards, and he turned out to be the artist Ma Ying-cheh, who studied under the famous Lang Jing-shan and has exhibited all over Taiwan. He also teaches oil painting at his residence in Shilin. We had a nice conversation about our respective styles, approaches, images and what makes them compelling, etc. After lunch he offered to drive me to Songshan Station where I was meeting Chenbl and his parents later, but I demurred, as I like to walk places, plus I didn’t want to impose.

We were meeting at Songshan Station to take a train out to Keelung, which is now included in the monthly T-pass scheme. As we exited Keelung Station, Chenbl’s father, who like my own was a career engineer before he retired, observed that the roof of the new station was constructed like a big tree so that it wouldn’t fly away in a storm, with intricate branch columns, wood beams and holes to let the wind through. Also like a tree, it attracts a great many birds, which unfortunately poop quite generously on the plaza below.  “Bet the designers didn’t see that coming,” Chenbl said sardonically. Across the harbor the oddly named Resorts World One cruise ship was docked, but I could find no mention of Taiwan on their website as a destination so I guess it must have been traveling incognito.

We waited quite a long time to get onto a very crowded bus that involved an argument every time it stopped as the driver tried to convince people that it was actually full. Eventually we reached the large green monolith that is the harbor-side Evergreen Hotel, where Chenbl and I were taking advantage of a coupon he got from his company before it expired (the coupon, not his company) in December. After the setting sun brought a brief but brilliant bit of color to the otherwise dreary skies, we set out for the Miaokou night market, where we had some Ah-Hua noodles under the ministrations of a very forthright young waiter who told us in no uncertain terms where to sit and when to look at our phones (basically just don’t). Chenbl’s father said that the emissions of the powerplant located nearby had reduced the amount of rain in the city, probably the only upside as Keelung is notorious for its excessive precipitation.

Keelung at sunset

After dinner we walked Chenbl’s parents back to the train station and saw them off, and then wandered around a bit more before going back to the hotel to rest up. The reason we’d chosen the Keelung Evergreen over other, superior Evergreens was that I wanted to take a look at the Kanziding Fish Market that takes place in the early hours of the morning. It’s the focus of several city walking tours for tourists, and some of my students have done it as well. My friend Xander (Happy Birthday btw) made an excellent piece on it as well. Fortunately the weather was still nice as we set out again from the hotel around midnight; rain was forecast for later. The night market was wrapping up, the vendors taking everything down and hauling it back to whatever little alley space they normally kept their stalls during non-market hours. The fish market, however, was just getting started; we walked around as trucks pulled up and people unloaded box after box of fresh fish. Fish of all shapes, sizes and colors were on display as buyers gathered and haggled over purchases. For someone like me who is as bothered by the sound of Styrofoam as fingernails on a chalkboard, it was not the most pleasant of soundscapes.

To be honest, photographically speaking, it was kind of just another market. I’m sure there are many interesting stories amid the various nooks and crannies that I’d like love to explore had I the time and stamina to basically turn my sleep schedule upside-down, but after looking at the photos others had taken of it before online, and then seeing it for myself, well…aside from the obvious challenge of exposing photos with blinding white boxes and various interesting color temperatures, it just wasn’t terribly compelling in of itself, at least at first brush; I’d have to go back a few times to really get the feel of the place. I mean, Keelung is cool in general, but Kanziding is rather standard market fare. I maintain my belief that photography can and does happen anywhere, independent of supposed “interesting” events/people/places, so none of this actually makes a difference in any case.

We’d had our fill of the scene by around 2 a.m. or so, so we sat down for a snack of tasty noodles and dumplings sold out the back of a motorized tricycle parked between the market and the neighboring temple, across from the police station. I don’t know if it was the late hour or what, but I don’t remember the last time I had such delicious noodles.

It was beginning to drizzle as we traversed the series of up-and-down arcade levels (even sidewalks are more of a Taipei thing) back to the hotel, passing groups of young revelers along the Renai Market’s veranda while a man unloaded giant pig carcasses onto the counters inside. Across the odiferous Tianliao river, the streets were deserted, the only sounds the thumping music issuing from some late-night cruiser.

The next morning we consumed the complimentary breakfast on the 18th floor overlooking the harbor accompanied by a small boy yelling in English, “NO I DON’T WANNA!” over and over while the ladies at the next table tut-tutted about the manners of foreign children. The 30-year-old Cosco Star ferry, which we took to Xiamen in 2011, was docked up the harbor a ways, looking rather decrepit, and the much smaller new Matsu Ferry directly across the harbor. After checking out we headed back through downtown once again, noting that the area of the market had been cleaned up fairly well.

I have always been intrigued by Keelung, it being an old port city surrounded by mountains, so full of history and potential yet suffering from decades of opaque urban and social mismanagement. My friend Cheng Kai-hsiang, also a painter, has been observing the city through his art for a while now; I probably wouldn’t say no if someone wanted to subsidize a sabbatical there to explore what makes that city tick…even though I’ve been visiting Keelung over the course of the last few decades, I feel I’d have to actually live there to get a better grasp of what life there is really like.

Still stuffed from breakfast, we skipped lunch in favor of some snacks at the café in one of the old port buildings before passing back across the harbor square (now unfortunately devoid of those delightful Ju Ming umbrella sculptures), by the media center in shell of the ugly old KMT-era train station, now featuring various AR and VR experiences (I wish they’d reconstructed the lovely old Japanese-era train station and made it into a cultural display arts space overlooking the harbor), up to the shiny new station, and back to Taipei and home.


posted by Poagao at 10:58 pm