Ascending into the stacks

Ascending into the stacks
Riding an escalator to a higher level at Robarts Library, University of Toronto.

Now and then I like to go through some of my old photographs and give them new treatments in Adobe Lightroom. I have learned so much from all these years of working with the software—and I follow a very different approach nowadays: warmer and more nuanced, less outlandish and cold. It is an interesting experience to retouch my old work with the benefit of experience and new eyes.

I shot this particular photograph while riding the escalator up to the third floor at Robarts Library not long after starting my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto in 2007. I wasn’t doing much in the way of “art” photography at the time (if you can even call it that); mostly I was simply shooting social events and music festivals. Slowly, through the encouragement of friends and a dawning interest in capturing something of my way of seeing the world, I began to get more serious about my approach to photography.

One thing that helped motivate me was support from Noah Pred’s record label, Thoughtless Music. Not long after sharing this photo around on Flickr (and eventually Facebook, though at the time I wasn’t yet a user) he asked me if I would be interested in licensing it for this release, to which I gladly consented. Thus began a long and fruitful partnership, for the label ended up using literally dozens of my photographs for their releases over the following years.

Lizard on a stick

Lizard on a stick
Dried lizards for sale in Vancouver’s Chinatown in 2007.

I saw these reptilian delicacies for sale in Vancouver’s Chinatown while visiting way back in 2007. Nobody believes me anytime I mention flayed lizard for sale so here it is—photographic proof! These are likely to be tokay geckos, a species used in traditional Chinese medicine for various indications, “male endurance” among them. They aren’t eaten whole—they are boiled along with various other ingredients to make a soup.

Demand is so great that tokay geckos are now being hunted to extinction in some parts of Southeast Asia, particularly after bogus claims that tokay geckos cure HIV/AIDS gained traction in online media.

Oddly enough, despite living in culturally Chinese parts of Asia for more than a year I haven’t yet seen tokay geckos outside any of the shops I have wandered by. I’ve seen snake, crocodile, and turtle for sale at various night markets but no gecko or lizard soup. I can’t say I’ve looked very hard—but in Canada they’re hanging out on the street, visible to anyone passing by.

It probably goes without saying that I emphatically disagree with this practice. I don’t care if it’s “traditional” (and even that is in doubt), hunting species to near-extinction for “medicinal” purposes is obviously wrong—regardless of cultural context. Take a gander at this list of traditional Chinese medicines to see what else is on the menu.

Golden ghost

Golden ghost
Golden Ghost (Reality Called, So I Woke Up), Surasi Kusolwong.

Pictured here is part of Golden Ghost (Reality Called, So I Woke Up), an installation by Surasi Kusolwong at the Taipei Biennial 2014 in Taipei 台北. A description of the work:

12 gold necklaces with symbol made and designed by the artist are hidden in industrial thread waste of 5 tons in the exhibition space. Neon work, mirror, photographs and works on paper.

By the time I visited all of the gold necklaces had been found—but the work continued to be exceedingly popular among Taiwanese youth. People were just hanging out, chatting and laughing, burying each other in yarn, and—of course—taking many, many photos of themselves.

In case you’re curious I wrote a little more about this exhibition here.

Huatan treehouse

Huatan treehouse
A tree growing out of an old home in rural Changhua County.

I found the crumbling ruins of this traditional home in Huātán 花壇 while cycling along Shānjiǎo Road 山腳路 not far from the edge of Changhua City 彰化市. It is not uncommon to see trees growing out of old homes in Taiwan 台灣; the crumbling brick shell affords some measure of protection from the elements as well as relative freedom from competition. I am not entirely sure why this particular tree emerges at such a peculiar angle but it certainly makes for an appealing photograph—it almost looks like a missile exploding out of the ruins of the old brick house.

A pink sanheyuan in Huatan

A pink sanheyuan in Huatan
Someone has given their traditional home a fresh coat of paint!

Yesterday I went riding along the Bāguàshān 八卦山 ridge line for a spell. I came back down to the plains of Changhua 彰化 by way of Sānfēn Road 三芬路, passing by the old Taiwan Folk Village 台灣民俗村, now abandoned and calling out to be explored. At any rate, just before getting back to the main road at the bottom of the hillside in Huātán 花壇 I noticed an archway on a traditional sānhéyuàn 三合院 (courtyard home) that had been painted pink, something I haven’t seen before. I went to take a closer look and was amused at the sight of this charming old house, which is only one step away from being a veritable Hello Kitty themed courtyard house.

Write the truest sentence that you know

Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.

A strange temple on the eastern edge of Changhua

High on the upper slopes of the modest Bagua Mountain Range 八卦山脈 (pinyin: Bāguàshānmài) overlooking Dayeh University (pinyin: Dàyè), on the border between Changhua 彰化 and Nántóu 南投 in Taiwan 台灣, stands a strange half-abandoned temple. It is peculiar in that temples are almost never left to the elements the way this one has been. Abandoned buildings are commonplace in this land of abundant ruins—but even the most obscure temples receive regular maintenance in the form of incense and offerings, among other things. To neglect the gods and spirits is to curse a place with tremendously bad luck and misfortune. Temples may be formally decommissioned, dismantled, and destroyed—but they are almost never simply abandoned or left to decay like this. What’s going on here?

A strange temple on the eastern edge of Changhua
A strange temple on top of a mountain on the border of Changhua and Nantou counties.

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An abandoned lookout on Guanshan

An abandoned lookout on Guanshan
The view from the top deck of an abandoned restaurant on Guanshan in Kenting National Park.

Not far off the beaten trail leading up and around Guānshān 關山, a modest mountain in the southwestern corner of Kenting National Park 墾丁國家公園, one will find a recently abandoned restaurant and cafe with some great views of the South China Sea. Guanshan is an uplifted coral reef—it lay beneath the waves mere millions of years ago. Nowadays it is widely considered to be one of the best places to catch a sunset in southern Taiwan 台灣. I didn’t stay long enough to find out—it was a quick operation, in and out, with no time to snap anything more than this forgotten vista, receding into memory.

Still in Hollywood

Still in Hollywood
A derelict sign outside an abandoned KTV in Yuanlin.

Businesses in Taiwan 台灣 close but their signs often remain, littering the urban landscape with small reminders of what once was. This particular sign hangs over a parking lot next to a grocery store on the eastern side of Yuánlín 員林 in Changhua 彰化. It marks the entrance to an old, abandoned KTV by the name of Hǎoláiwù 好萊塢, better known as Hollywood.

Weaving a social network

Weaving a social network
Inside an art installation at Kaohsiung’s Pier-2 Art Center.

Flashback to New Year’s Day, 2014: I took the high-speed train down to Kaohsiung 高雄 to attend a friend’s wedding banquet. Later that night, after a great deal of food was consumed, my roommate and I met up with the bride and groom on the waterfront to check out the Pier-2 Art Center at night. We strolled and chatted about all manner of issues, big and small, and lingered for a while inside a large wicker (or is it rattan?) hut of some kind, pictured here. I can’t say I know the name of the piece or what its purpose was—but it served us well for a time, and I quite like the photograph that I captured just before we left.