I found this sad elephant while tromping around the commercial building that was once home to Jinbao Grand Theater 金寶大戲院 in Zhúběi 竹北. 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.
In addition to their reputation for novelty foods night markets in Taiwan 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 weirder stuff originates in China, 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!
Road safety dummies are a distinctive feature of the streets of Taiwan. In Chinese they are generally known as engineering dummies 工程用假人 (pinyin: gongchengyong jiaren), warning dummies 警示假人 (jingshi jiaren), or, more formally, electric flag-bearers 電動旗手 (diandong qishou). 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.
This bizarre installation is one of the more iconic and well-known works of public art in Taipei 台北. Created by artists He Cairou 何采柔 and Guo Wentai 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:
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!
I spied this scooter in a public park on the edge of Sānchóng 三重 on the first day of 2016. It isn’t unusual to see people personalize their scooters in Taiwan 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.
This afternoon I snapped this photograph of the seemingly crazy plumbing job beneath a sink in the bathroom of a breakfast shop in Keelung 基隆. It was a hit on Facebook with many people sharing the photo to their own feeds. Some compared it to the work of M.C. Escher, others suggested this shop is stealing water, and one friend weighed in to say it’s an unsightly yet sensible design. Many foreigners in Taiwan have a sardonic catch phrase for this kind of half-assed job: chabuduo 差不多, which translates to “almost” or “nearly”. (Apparently Taiwanese people don’t use this phrase in a negative context. Perhaps it is only laowai slang?) Maybe this crazy system of pumps and pipes serves its purpose—but it certainly looks like madness to the inexpert eye!
If you’ve taken the Taipei Metro (hereafter the MRT) in the last few months you might have seen this cheeky public service announcement posted at various stations. It seems like an obvious effort to be more inclusive of the city’s vanishingly small white minority, though it does seem a little funny that it’s the white man breaking the rules. Take a closer look and you’ll note the couple’s matching wedding bands and what I would assume is a mixed child sitting between them. This begs the question: how has this bad foreigner been around long enough to procreate without learning of the MRT’s cardinal rule not to eat or drink on the trains? I don’t know about you but I’m amused!
Taiwan is absolutely mad for scooters, a consequence of high population density, tightly cramped streets, and the expense and inconvenience of driving a car. Everywhere you go you’ll find streets lined with parked scooters and filled with scooterists going about their business. In can all seem like absolute chaos to outsiders—but there is a method to the madness, and the convenience factor regularly seduces skeptical westerners into the scooter lifestyle, particularly when living outside of Taipei 台北.
One unusual feature of Taiwanese scooters are the cheeky stickers commonly found on the body. These stickers typically feature the make and model of the scooter—but for reasons unknown to me, poorly translated slogans full of Chinglish are also common, particularly on older scooters. About a year ago I chanced upon a link to a collection of scooter stickers published by Jonathan Biddle way back in 2005. Shortly thereafter I began documenting some of the more intriguing examples of scooter stickers I found in my travels, mostly around Changhua 彰化. This post contains 17 of the more interesting examples I have collected in this time.
It is hard not to notice the giant freaking eyeball and neon orange head hanging out at the side of the road leading up Honglusai Mountain 烘爐塞山 at the southern edge of Zhōnghé 中和, Taiwan. After taking in the scene I jokingly came up with a new slogan for the tourist bureau; “Taiwan: don’t ask why!” But of course that’s not really my style—I always like getting to the bottom of the seemingly inexplicable things I encounter in my travels here.