Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Dec 14 2015

Nanjichang Community

nanjichangOn one of the photo walks I do as part of my class, I recently took my students to the Nanjichang Community, which is slated for demolition so that developers can put up even more useless, soulless empty high-rises. The chief of the community took us around to the various interesting bits of the community, which was the first of its kind in Taipei. It was built on the former site of the south airport used by the Japanese, thus the name Nanjichang, which means “south airport”, and includes rows of multi-storied buildings containing tiny apartments connected by central spiral staircases that never caught on in subsequent designs. Over the years, residents have built out and up, so that once-wide lanes are now narrow alleys. Some of the added balconies themselves have added balconies, and it’s a miracle that one of them hasn’t collapsed by now. There is also a market, a compact elementary school, a surprising number of cats and an unsurprising number of smells. The whole place is a fascinating mix, the residents mostly poor people, the elderly, the handicapped, Southeast Asians, caregivers and orphans. The community chief wants to highlight the existence of the place, even though he is powerless to stop the demolition. I’m thinking of doing another photo walk there with my friend and fellow photographer Craig Ferguson. There are plenty of spaces around that could be used for a small exhibition. Who knows, we might be able to play a part in somehow preserving the history of the place or even helping the people who live there, people whom I doubt will be compensated very well when the place is torn down.

One of the buildings in the community, a triangular building with a courtyard in the center, strictly prohibits random people entering and photographing the place. The reason is that they charge for such things, and actually make a tidy profit from various photography, TV and movie shoots. The community chief took us in and let everyone wander for a period of time. Chenbl and I stayed in the courtyard chatting with the community chief, and at one point one of the residents came storming up to him, cursing up a storm. “One of those photographers came into my home and took my picture!” He spat in Taiwanese. I found this surprising and unlikely as I’ve always told my students that respect for the people they photograph is of the utmost importance.

The community chief was also suspicious, and he volleyed back with his own, even more impressive string of Taiwanese expletives, expressing doubt over the man’s story, and asking for proof. “Which one was it?” he demanded. But the man couldn’t point anyone out or say anything specific. Chenbl and I stood in between the two, listening in frank admiration to these two men shout and gesture at each other.

“Fucking renter,” the chief muttered after the man left, unable to prove his claims of injustice. “He doesn’t even own that place.” Eventually I was able to ascertain that a student had taken a picture of the hallway outside of his apartment, not even shooting the guy himself, and he had construed this as “barging into his home.”

Something tells me that that particular building will be one of the less-missed parts of the community when it’s gone.

posted by Poagao at 11:44 am