Stop, look, and listen

Stop, look, and listen
A public art installation at Xinzuoying Station.

Arrête, Regarde et Ecoute (Stop, Look and Listen) is an art installation located outside of Xinzuoying Station in Zuǒyíng 左營, Kaohsiung 高雄. Designed and conceived by French-born American artist Arman in 2004, it was installed posthumously in 2006 as his last work of public art. The original artist statement explains “this work uses the repetition of railway alarm signal poles to modify the space, giving new meanings to the signals though a joyful and strange accumulation”. More information about this work can be found on the official Arman web site here and here. You might also like to read a bit more about Arman himself over here.

Personally, as a fan of public art and everything to do with trains I was delighted to find this work after arriving in Zuǒyíng 左營 to visit Lotus Pond 蓮池潭 and the old walled city. I haven’t seen too much public art in Taiwan 台灣 that catches my eye and makes me think but this project really hit the mark with me, hence sharing it here on my blog. If you ever find yourself in Zuoying don’t forget to turn right when you exit the west side of the station!

Twin night markets in Kaohsiung

I was drawn to the twin night markets of Kaisyuan Night Market 凱旋觀光夜市 and Jinzuan Night Market 金鑽觀光夜市 in Kaohsiung 高雄 based on their reputation as the largest in Taiwan 台灣. Supposedly they are both approximately 30,000 square meters in size and feature 500 to 1,000 stalls — but these figures may represent the sum of both night markets. At any rate, I was very surprised to discover how poorly attended both night markets were on a Sunday night, particularly as I had just arrived from a brief tour of the busy Ruìfēng Night Market 瑞豐夜市 in Zuǒyíng 左營, which showed far more life and activity than these more “famous” night markets.

Twin night markets in Kaohsiung
Oyster omelette at Jinzuan Night Market.

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An abandoned chemical plant in Changhua City

An abandoned chemical plant in Changhua City
An abandoned chemical plant at the foot of Baguashan.

One day this winter I went out riding around the base of Baguashan in Changhua City 彰化市 in search of the Red Hair Well. Along the way I noticed a small cluster of old Japanese-style houses next to the hillside. Apparently these were once dormitories for teachers at the nearby school. Behind them I noticed an unusual building against the back of the hillside. The façade was obviously from Japanese colonial times and, actually, the design of the building reminded me a lot of an abandoned cinema not far from the train station. What was this place?

Back at home I went about transcribing the characters and doing a little research. The sign up top says China Electric Chemical Factory 中國電氣化學廠. One report suggests it was used to produce calcium carbide but another report seems to suggest otherwise. Either way, not much is written about this ruin online.

Naturally I did my best to get inside but was thwarted every time. There are packs of feral dogs around on both sides of the building and I couldn’t find a way in at first. I actually spent about half an hour trapped between two packs of dogs one afternoon, waiting patiently for them to lose interest before bolting across an open field. Later on I figured out that you could probably just hop a small concrete divider near the main entrance and ignore the imprecations of the dog chained up in front. I never got around to doing a proper exploration so if you’re looking for a fresh, untapped building to explore in Changhua 彰化, here’s another option.

Nazi imagery in Taiwan

From a western perspective Nazi chic is another curious feature of East and Southeast Asian cultures. In the west we have a powerful taboo governing public depictions of Nazi paraphernalia. Not so in most of Asia, where the average Zhou knows little about the horrors of the European theatre of the war. Hitler is sometimes seen as a strong and charismatic leader, not an insane mass murderer, likely by people who never bothered to do any actual research into the subject. The swastika is an ancient symbol with a long history in Asia (especially in association with Buddhism here in Taiwan) so it is understandable that people here might be interested in products bearing its likeness (without necessarily recognizing specifically Nazi representations of the swastika). My general sense is that Nazi chic in Asia is largely a product of ignorance — of history and of the western taboo — not malice or an intent to offend.

Nazi imagery is neither common in Taiwan 台灣 nor is it completely absent. Michael Turton has a good round-up of Nazi kitsch from several years ago. I have also uncovered reports in Chinese from a Taichung air show and the Taipei MRT. The use of Nazi symbology in Taiwan extends beyond fashion to identifying products and services with a German origin. (More on that later.)

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A small dose of the big city

A small dose of the big city
Not far from Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT station on Zhongxiao Road in Taipei. This is close to where I’m staying for the next little while.

This is the first photograph I captured since moving back to Taipei 台北 a few days ago. I am staying for a couple of months, give or take a week, and don’t have much of a plan beyond that. I have come and gone before. I may do it again.

Already I have mixed feelings about this move. Living in Changhua City 彰化市 was great in some ways and very challenging in others. By now, many years into wandering the world, I have a lot of experience dealing with social isolation — but I am not completely immune to ennui. It is my hope that a small dose of the big city will be good for me.

I also came back to Taipei to make myself more accessible to friends and family, some of whom are visiting this month. A short-term rental is cheaper than a hotel — particularly when factoring in the cost of transportation. You might ask, why not bring them to central Taiwan? My answer is that Taipei offers tourists on a tight schedule way more bang for the buck than anywhere else in Taiwan.

So there you have it. I look forward to playing tour guide, getting together over coffee and good food, and at least a few nights dancing at the best underground club on the island.

Qiaoyou Building 喬友大廈

Qiaoyou Building 喬友大廈
The most magnificent ruin in Changhua City.

I have been living next to the magnificent ruins of the Qiáoyǒu Building 喬友大廈 in Changhua City 彰化市 for the last several months. Not a day goes by where I’m not walking or riding by this hulking derelict, looking up and wondering about what I might find inside. I had some general idea, of course, as I already recognized the building for what it was: one of several shopping and entertainment complexes built in central Taiwan 台灣 during the economic boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s1. Many of these former showcase properties have been abandoned in the decades since, usually due to some combination of mismanagement, declining fortunes, and fire damage.

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Mazu mania in Changhua City

Mazu mania in Changhua City
Yongle Street, one of Changhua City’s main shopping streets, six hours before the Mazu procession arrives.

My last night in Changhua City 彰化市 was surprisingly eventful thanks to a fortunate accident of timing. Earlier in the day I had noticed an unusual uptick in the amount of activity on the streets while cycling around. Banquet tents had been setup on major thoroughfares, police were standing at major intersections, scooters flying yellow banners were buzzing around like angry hornets, and the air was filled with a palpable sense of expectation and excitement. After an early supper next to a coffee shop I often work at I approached to one of the staff (who speaks passable English) and asked, “What’s going on?” Their answer, “It’s the…” Trailing off, hands aflutter, obviously searching for the right word — and then: “Mazu!” Oh, of course it would be Mazu!

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Blacklight Metropolis album artwork

Blacklight Metropolis album artwork

I designed this cover for the mix that I released after participating in Global Goa Party, a virtual event that gathers up a bunch of DJs to program an entire night of music from some year (1997 in this case) in the past. I wanted to keep it retro so I went rummaging around in the archives and found an old photograph originally shot on a film camera and later scanned. It was covered with dust and the resolution wasn’t suitable for modern design work so I pulled it into Adobe Illustrator and went about tracing it into a vector graphic. After that I dabbled in Photoshop, blurring some of the lines and tweaking the colour scheme, before setting type in Gota Light, DS Lane, and Borneo. Garish, I know, but that was the style in the 1990s, and the goal here was to be fairly authentic!

If you’re curious about the mix you can stream it on Mixcloud or download it from Ektoplazm.

Kowloon city visions

Kowloon 九龍 was my first experience of Asia back in 2012. Anytime I return to Hong Kong 香港 I stay there for at least a couple of nights. It helps that many of the most affordable hotels are located in Kowloon — but I also like how gritty, rundown, and real it is, particularly when compared to the naked display of wealth and privilege seen on the other side of Victoria Harbour (on Hong Kong Island 香港島 itself).

Last weekend I crossed the strait for a brief visa run and, after finding an excellent deal on a hotel on Agoda, once again found myself lost in the immensity of Kowloon. Naturally I spent a good part of my trip wandering around the city documenting my impressions. Collected here are several of my photos from this trip…

Kowloon city visions
Vibrant shades of Kowloon.

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An abandoned slaughterhouse in Kowloon

An abandoned slaughterhouse in Kowloon
Immediately before I was captured.

Urban exploration in Hong Kong 香港 usually involves getting out to the New Territories 新界 and one of the outlying islands. There isn’t much to see on the big city streets, not with property values being what they are. Hong Kong also seems to have a culture of safety and orderliness that ensures abandonments, particularly urban ones, are secured from idle curiosity. It is quite a treat whenever I stumble upon something I didn’t plan on finding.

Earlier today I sauntered over to the Cattle Depot Artist Village 牛棚藝術村 in Ma Tau Kok 馬頭角 after exploring a rundown area known as the 13 Streets 十三街. The artist village is housed in a series of renovated buildings that were once a slaughterhouse. Around back I noticed that the complex continued beyond a fence — and the gate was open! I didn’t stop to think before passing through and shooting a few photographs. I haven’t seen many buildings left to the elements here in Hong Kong 香港 so it was a rare surprise!

And then a couple of officials noticed me and kindly kicked me out: “This is an abandoned building. You can’t be in here.” Acting casual: “Oh, sorry, I was just taking photos. I like abandoned buildings.” Friendly but firm: “This place is dangerous, please leave now.” Well, I wasn’t about to argue, and they didn’t ask me to delete my photos, so here’s one for the record books.