Elementary Islamic Pastiche

An elementary school with unusual architectural influences in Taichung.

Founded in 1999, Yǒngchūn Elementary School 永春國民小學 is an unusual example of Islamic-influenced architecture in , . No rules or conventions must be followed here; all cultures are subject to creative reinterpretation in modern construction projects, but it is far more common for Taiwanese to pillage European, American, or surrounding East Asian sources for ideas. In this case I am sure it is no accident that the Taichung Mosque 台中清真寺 is just up the street—but it is, if I am not mistaken, just a regular school, albeit a fantastical one with princes and princesses!

For more photos and information (in Chinese, of course) nothing could be more appropriate than this blog, but if you’re feeling brave you can also wade through the insanity of the school’s official web site.

The Divine Dictator

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A statue of Chiang Kai-shek as god inside a small temple in Tamsui.

Kuíxīng Temple 魁星宮 in is nominally dedicated to the eponymous Kuíxīng 魁星, god of examinations and one of the Five Wénchāng 五文昌, a group of deities representative of classical Chinese culture. He typically takes the form of a man balanced on one foot with a writing brush in one hand, his body twisted in a pose suggestive of the strokes of Chinese calligraphy. But you didn’t come here to read about Kuixing—this temple is notable for being one of only a handful of sites in venerating Chiang Kai-shek 蔣中正, president of the Republic of China until his death in 1975, as a god.

Sad Elephant

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An elephant slide abandoned in the basement stairwell of a commercial building in Zhubei.

I found this sad elephant while tromping around the commercial building that was once home to Jīnbǎo Grand Theater 金寶大戲院 in . I was not able to evade detection and sneak into the old theater but this discarded playground slide I found in a basement stairwell made the attempt worthwhile.

Taichung Shark Cemetery 台中鯊魚墳場

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Discarded sharks in a field near Donghai University in Taichung.

Taichung Shark Cemetery 台中鯊魚墳場 (pinyin: Shāyú Fénchǎng) is an unlikely roadside attraction near Donghai University 東海大學 in , . There is no great mystery here—a nearby restaurant and banquet hall by the name of Tong Hai Fish Village 東海漁村 dumped a bunch of junk in this farmer’s field sometime prior to 2009 and since then it has become a popular place for young Taiwanese to visit and take photos. Just have a look at the unofficial Facebook page or the relevant Instagram hashtag and location feeds for plenty of examples.

Taiwan Night Market Fashion 1

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Live fast, live forever! Inexplicable satanic hipster fashion as seen at Tonghua Night Market. This looks like a second generation copy of the black and white original.

In addition to their reputation for novelty foods in also offer an almost endless variety of cheap goods, particularly clothing and accessories. Much of Taiwanese night market fashion is amusing, quirky, provocative, bizarre, or even incoherent, though some of it is also quite clever. My understanding is that a lot of the originates in , where massive factories churn out garments emblazoned with English text and pop culture references without regard for semantic meaning. This is almost certainly the result of copying passages from print or online media, using machine translation, or sheer laziness, but it might also be for aesthetic effect. Transcription errors are common, particularly when popular designs are copied by competing factories. Observed on the scale of years there is something almost evolutionary at work in night market fashion—styles mutate and are subject to a kind of natural selection. To celebrate the absurdity of this curious cultural phenomena I have assembled about 40 photos from my many visits to the night markets of Taiwan, almost all of which I have previously been shared on my Instagram account, the perfect vehicle for such inanity. Enjoy!

Mondrian Parking Garage

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An oddly-decorated parking garage in Taichung.

Living in affords ample opportunities to encounter elements of western culture filtered through an eastern lens. Here we find the distinctive artistic style of Piet Mondrian decorating the entrance to an underground parking garage in . High-brow on a carport? Well, whatever. There aren’t any rules or conventions to be followed around here!

Taiwanese Road Safety Dummies 1

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A warning dummy hard at work on the streets of rural .

Road safety dummies are a distinctive feature of the streets of . In Chinese they are generally known as engineering dummies 工程用假人 (pinyin: gōngchéngyòng jiǎrén), warning dummies 警示假人 (jǐngshì jiǎrén), or, more formally, electric flag-bearers 電動旗手 (diàndòng qíshǒu). According to law these robotic figures must be setup at all roadside construction sites to provide some measure of protection for workers as well as warn passing motorists and pedestrians of potential hazards. When hooked up to a car battery their stubby arms pump up and down, waving flags and other objects to direct traffic. Construction companies typically decorate these dummies with safety vests and hardhats, though it is not common for workers to express some creativity and personalize their dummies. Some of them even have individual names and histories! The rest of this post features photographs of some of the many road safety dummies I have encountered over the years.

The Birdman of Taipei Station

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A bizarre work of public art in the bowels of Taipei Station.

This bizarre installation is one of the more iconic and well-known works of public art in . Created by artists Hé Cǎiróu 何采柔 and Guō Wéntài 郭文泰 in 2009, it is entitled The World in Aves’ Eyes 愛維思看世界 (alternately Birdman 鳥人 or Daydreams 夢遊) and can be found somewhere in the labyrinthine passageways beneath Taipei Railway Station 臺北火車站. Apart from the obvious, the immature, androgynous figure holds a pencil in its right hand (never to write a word), water continuously seeps from its neck, and its feet show the signs of a mild case of pigeon toe, a condition that should be familiar to anyone who has seen young Taiwanese posing for photographs. Here is the original creative statement that accompanies the piece:

「愛維思看世界」以稚嫩的身體、怪誕逗趣的鳥頭以及輕輕淺淺的流水,表現出E世代對世界的困惑,身體的稚嫩感彷彿要告訴世界,還不急著要長大,而側著的鳥頭以不成比例的尺寸,誇張的標明著自我的異化感,猶如一位誤闖地球的外星人,在幽浮般的蛋殼中孵化而出。

愛維思(Aves)搖搖晃晃的嘗試著適應這難以理解的世界,那漾漾清水則是一般腦傾洩而出的困惑,沒有黑暗、邪惡、憂傷或者種種成人世界裡的光怪色彩,愛維思(Aves)的苦惱是屬於孩童一般的天真困惑,在陽光的照耀下甚至會散射出七彩的光暈、迷霧而迷人。

My ability to translate Chinese remains limited, particularly when it comes to the sort of conceptual language employed above, but I’ll do my best to provide the gist. From what I can tell this piece is about the confusion and innocence of youth, of an entity in no hurry to grow up and face the challenges of the adult world. The grotesque bird’s head, disproportionate to the slender, prepubescent body, is meant to represent an exaggerated sense of alienation. There’s more—but I’ll leave it at that for now. You can find out more about this work on Facebook. Stay weird, Taiwan!

Clean Your Head

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The giant ear is your first clue.

Here’s something you might not have seen before: a professional ear cleaning service in ! When I shot this photo while riding around a couple of months ago I assumed it was a run-of-the-mill ear, nose, and throat doctor with a quirky sign out front. Turns out this is a famous shop by the name of Ěrqiāng Qīnglǐ de Jiā 耳腔清理的家 (loosely: “Ear Canal Cleaning Home”) where you can have your ears cleaned by a “professional ear cleaning master” (zhuānyè tāo’ěr shī 專業掏耳師) for about 500 NT. Apparently Yáo Bīn 姚賓, the octogenarian proprietor, will be happy to show off jars filled with grotesque things he has unearthed over the course of five decades of aural spelunking.

Sanchong Scooter Style

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A tricked-out scooter in a park near the riverside in Sanchong.

I spied this scooter in a public park on the edge of on the first day of 2016. It isn’t unusual to see people personalize their scooters in in crude, folksy ways—but this one stands out for the extent and nature of its customizations. Perhaps someone was sprucing up an elder’s ride to make it more visible on the road? Whatever the reason, the end result is rather amusing.