I was out on one of my first walkabouts around Taipei 台北 back in March 2013 when I noticed a bunch of workers offloading boxes into this roadside storehouse in Wànhuá District 萬華區. It was a tiny nook of a place, really just a crevice between two old buildings, but it seemed like a permanent fixture of the urban landscape in these parts. Something about it appealed to me and I unslung my camera to take a quick picture.
At the time I wondered what might be in those boxes but had no way of finding out. Nowadays I can at least fumble around and figure out the characters: Hēijīngāng 黑金鋼, the name of the company, and tèjítànjīng 特級炭精, a special kind of charcoal. I suppose that makes sense given all the barbecue restaurants around, but I never would have guessed. Part of the fun of learning a little Chinese is that it reveals the secrets hidden in prosaic, everyday scenes like this.
This being an informal journal of synchronicity and connection, I would be in remiss not to briefly allude to another use of charcoal in Taiwanese society, however morbid the subject matter may be.