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HAHA Balloon Company in Pingtung City

Amusing

Mingzhi Building 朙志樓

Yesterday while breezing through Taichung 台中 I snapped this photograph of the Míngzhì Building 朙志樓, a rundown residential complex for teachers at the school of the same name. At the time I was perplexed by the first character—an ancient variant of the standard Míng 明 (“bright”) commonly seen in place names around Taiwan 台灣—and it turns out I’m not the only one! A quick search revealed an entire Taiwanese news segment on the character, in no small part because of the colloquial usage of the character Jiǒng 囧, commonly used to signify embarrassment (for what I hope are obvious reasons), not unlike saying “oops” in English. From what I gather most Taiwanese would see this and think it were some kind of prank!

Apart from the novelty of the unusual character I was also charmed by the use of spiral motifs in the architecture of the building. This obviously dates back to the KMT authoritarian era. Maybe next time I’ll take a closer look…

Sad Elephant

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 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.

Taichung Shark Cemetery 台中鯊魚墳場

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 Xītún 西屯, Taichung 台中. 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

In addition to their reputation for novelty foods night markets in Taiwan 台灣 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!

Giant Bird Crossing at Taida

It was hot as hell this afternoon so I smartly cut through National Taiwan University 國立臺灣大學 in search of some shade while on my way to one of my favourite working cafes in Taipei 台北. NTU, better known as Táidà 台大, has a beautiful main campus in the heart of Dà'ān District 大安區 that offers some respite from the busy city streets that surround it. While riding along one of many tree-lined laneways I noticed this absurd sign by the roadside. The text reads dòngwù chuānyuè 動物穿越 (“animal crossing”), jiǎnsù mànxíng 減速慢行 (“slow down”), with nary a word about giant birds, much to my disappointment. I’m not sure if this is a student project or something official but either way—it’s awesome! I wonder now, is this meant to depict the herons commonly seen in parkland around the city?

Mondrian Parking Garage

Living in Taiwan 台灣 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 Taichung 台中. High-brow art on a carport? Well, whatever. There aren’t any rules or conventions to be followed around here!

Taiwan Road Safety Dummies 台灣的工程用假人

Road safety dummies are a distinctive feature of the streets of Taiwan 台灣. 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.

Whitey’s Up To No Good Again

I was amused to notice this unusually large anti-littering sign in central Taichung 台中 the other day. White men are occasionally portrayed as villains in public service announcements here in Taiwan 台灣—see here and here for two examples from this blog—but seldom with as much absurdity. I mean, just look at how few fucks are given by this business cowboy, lasso in hand as he throws trash everywhere while riding, inexplicably, a balloon version of planet Earth, with cigarettes, wine bottles, tin cans, and other refuse strewn all over the place. Yee-haw! A friend joked that this is basically how she imagines most white men—and indeed, this is basically me, all of the time.

The Birdman of Taipei Station

This bizarre installation is one of the more iconic and well-known works of public art in Taipei 台北. 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!