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Phoenix Crown Gate, Taiwan Lantern Festival 2015


Trapping Light

An ornate display of birdcages in the basement of the Mandarin Oriental in Taipei.

Keep those lightbulbs from flying away! Spied this in the basement of the Mandarin Oriental while attending a gala dinner for the World Design Impact awards, part of a series of events taking place under the banner of the World Design Capital Taipei 2016. I was invited as part of what you might call the outsider press contingent for reasons that are somewhat obscure to me given my penchant for wandering around hotels somewhat less posh than this one. That being said, I certainly appreciate the opportunity to experience something far outside my usual routine here in Taiwan 台灣, and it was cool to meet a bunch of fellow bloggers and photographers at the event (shout outs to Typing To Taipei, G’day Taiwan, Sean Marc Lee, and Eating In Taipei among others).

Snapshots from the Taipei Biennial 2014

Hammock and tea at the Taipei Biennial 2014
Formosa Decelerator, OPAVIVARÁ!.

The Taipei Biennial 2014 was held at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum 臺北市立美術館 in Zhōngshān District 中山區 from September into the early part of the new year. I introduced the exhibition here on my blog and posted a brief follow-up here but haven’t gotten around to compiling this small gallery of photos until now. Better late than never, right? Much like the Xu Bing retrospective it was an inspiring experience so I’d like a record of it here on my blog even if it seems kind of pointless to post long after the fact.

I am no art critic but I certainly appreciate thought-provoking art when I see it. Since I haven’t any expertise in this area I’m going to let the photos speak for themselves, however incomprehensible that might be. If you find your curiosity piqued I suggest perusing the official guide book (PDF), this interview, or this review (with more photos) to get a sense of what it’s all about. What follows are a bunch of photos from both my regular camera as well as my cruddy old smartphone that capture something I found interesting as well as links to more information where available.

New Years Day at Longshan Temple 龍山寺

Lunar new year's day at Longshan Temple

I returned to Taiwan 台灣 just in time for the beginning of the Lunar New Year holidays. From reading this timely article by Josh Ellis I learned the first day, known as chūyī 初一, is a time for families to visit temples and make offerings for good fortune and health in the year ahead, something that would be obvious to anyone out on the streets. I am staying not far from the famous Longshan Temple 龍山寺 in Wànhuá District 萬華區, Taipei 台北, and was almost magnetically attracted to the incredible crowd that formed outside as day turned to night. In my daily wandering I returned several times, snapping a few quick photos with my new smartphone, which I am sharing here in this short piece.

Reflections and Intentions for 2016

Waiting for the countdown
Not long before the countdown.

The first day of the new year is customarily a time of reflection—if one can even think straight after a night of heavy partying, anyway. Like most of the rest of the non-Asian population of Taipei 台北 I rang in the new year down by the riverside in Sōngshān District 松山區 with a decent view of Taipei 101 and the crazy fireworks show that follows the countdown. It was an absolutely mad night, one that set a few things straight even as a few others were knocked out of alignment.

A Muslim Demonstration in Ximending

Muslim demonstrators in Taipei
Indonesian migrant workers demonstrating in Ximenting.

Today I was surprised to see a small group of Muslims at the entrance to Xīméntīng 西門町, a popular entertainment and shopping district in the northern part of Wànhuá District 萬華區 in Taipei 台北. The area around exit 6 of Ximen Station is more commonly used for busking, not political demonstrations, and is always busy with pedestrian traffic during the day. It isn’t common to see anything like this in Taiwan 台灣 so I stopped to see what was going on.

Temporary Reclamation of a Ruin in Tamsui

A skeletal outline in the riverside park
A skeletal outline in the riverside park next to Hongshulin Station, Tamsui.

Yesterday I seized an opportunity to combine two of my passions, the exploration of abandoned places and appreciation of underground electronic music, at a one-off techno party titled The Whiteloft 白厝. From the event description:

The Whiteloft was originally an abandoned villa where only wild dogs go to sleep. Buried deep in silver grass, just alongside the Golden Waterfront of Hongshulin, Taipei, the building hovers the Interzone between metropolis and mangrove jungle. Humdrum pedestrians seem oblivious of this colossal fortress: its skeleton rusted and exposed, leftover building materials strewn astray. Despite its shroud of mangrove leaves, the building appears raw and naked. We tried to find historical records about this building, but found nothing but total blankness, hence the name The Whiteloft.

In the Realm of Primitive Senses

In the realm of primitive senses
Back to the roots.

Sunday afternoon in the mountains of Shìlín District 士林區, not far from Yángmíngshān 陽明山, about 200 people gathered for The Forester’s Party 牧神的遊戲 at Siu Siu 少少原始感覺研究室, a lab of primitive senses built on a steep south-facing slope. The aesthetics of the space: slate grey walls, wooden planks underfoot on the dance floor, a round black mesh canopy overhead screening the forest without impeding the flow of fresh mountain air. Clean, modern, minimal, but also rustic—an exceedingly comfortable combination of form and function. The finest in dub techno wafting out of the speakers, one particular song selected by Al Burro capturing the mood of the afternoon with perfect ease, Nthng’s 1996.

Mazu Mania in Changhua City 媽祖繞境

Yongle Street six hours before Mazu arrives
Yongle Street, one of Changhua City’s main shopping streets, six hours before the Mazu procession arrives.

My last night in Changhua City 彰化市 was surprisingly eventful thanks to a fortunate accident of timing. Earlier in the day I had noticed an unusual uptick in the amount of activity on the streets while cycling around. Banquet tents had been setup on major thoroughfares, police were standing at major intersections, scooters flying yellow banners were buzzing around like angry hornets, and the air was filled with a palpable sense of expectation and excitement. After an early supper next to a coffee shop I often work at I approached to one of the staff (who speaks passable English) and asked, “What’s going on?” Their answer, “It’s the…” Trailing off, hands aflutter, obviously searching for the right word—and then: “Mazu!” Oh, of course it would be Mazu!

Remember the Sunflowers

A year ago the Taiwanese people stood up to their elected government and halted the passage of a controversial free trade agreement by occupying the Legislative Yuan. This act of mass civil disobedience was soon christened the Sunflower Student Movement. I was living in Taipei 台北 when it all went down and visited the protest on several nights to watch history unfold. I am not a professional photographer, political observer, nor journalist, so please excuse the poor technical quality of the images and lack of elaboration in this gallery. It is my hope that these pictures capture something of the spirit of those wild, uncertain nights when anything seemed possible.

The dawning of the Sunflower Student Movement
The dawning of the Sunflower Student Movement.

Lanterns of the Phoenix Gate 鳳冠門

Phoenix Crown Gate, Taiwan Lantern Festival 2015
A big display at the Taiwan Lantern Festival 2015 in Taichung.

After a couple of days in Taipei 台北 I returned to Changhua City 彰化市 tonight. I was unable to book a regular train from the main station in Taipei for reasons that were unknown to me at the time so I splurged on the high speed rail, which takes all of 45 minutes to Taichung 台中. From there it’s only about 15 minutes to my place by local train—which means I can make it to Taipei in slightly more than an hour if I make all the right connections1.

It was obvious when I arrived at the high speed rail station in Wūrì 烏日 that something big was going on—the Taiwan Lantern Festival 2015 台灣燈會 (warning: auto-playing music). I soon found myself swept up in the human river flowing toward the vast open space next to the station where thousands of elaborate lanterns had been setup. I’ll admit that I have no particular interest in lanterns but the sheer scale of the event was impressive and some of the displays were pretty cool—particularly this one, which reads fèngguānmén 鳳冠門, or Phoenix Crown Gate if I may hazard an educated guess.

  1. For a sense of scale: Taipei and Changhua are about 185 km apart—roughly the same distance as Ottawa and Montreal.