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We know time


Departure Time

Time to go

Five in the afternoon and it’s time to split. I’ve had an interesting time here in Manila—and a good day of work here at Toby’s Estate—but I’ve a plane to catch. Timing my departure is difficult due to the threat of absolute gridlock on the way to the airport. My plane is scheduled to fly just after ten but I rather arrive early than succumb to a last-minute panic. Time and tide wait for no man, nor do commercial flights. (And as chance would have it my flight was delayed by nearly two hours and I didn’t leave the Philippines until close to midnight.)

Time Is Not Reversible 時間是不可逆轉

Time is not reversible

I spent about an hour in the library at Shih Chien University 實踐大學 in Taipei 台北 not so long ago. Among tomes unshelved and perused was Chieu-Feng: The Mountainous Town 山城九份, a collection of photographs by Wong Ting-Hua 翁庭華 documenting everyday life in Jiǔfèn 九份 over the course of four decades.

This quotation immediately jumped out at me. It succinctly articulates one of the main reasons I do what I do (in terms of photography and blogging). I am similarly concerned with documenting the prosaic, everyday moments, the sort of things that most people overlook. Photography allows us to explore the past, to consider what happened from a different perspective, in a different light. All these scenes vanish the instant they are captured.

Neiwan Hexing Station 內灣合興車站

Vintage clocks at Hexing Station

Last week I went out with a friend to explore rural Hsinchu 新竹. After checking out a cable car tower in Guānxi 關西 we slipped over the township line to Hengshan to make a brief pitstop at Héxìng Station 合興車站, the only wooden train station on the newly reopened Nèiwān Line 內灣線. Inside the station house we discovered this wall of vintage clocks, obviously somewhat contrived but every bit as photogenic as intended. Although this station (and the rest of the railway line) was built in the 1950s, after the Japanese colonial period, many of these mechanical wind-up clocks bear Japanese names like Gifutokei, Aichi, and, of course, Seiko.

Telling Time by a Mirror

Telling time at Daiming Temple 代明宮

I captured this scene at Dàimíng Temple 代明宮 in Keelung about an hour ago. Apparently it’s one of the oldest temples in Keelung, though it isn’t clear to me exactly when it was originally built. The current iteration of this old temple actually occupies the second level of a building with access granted by a pair of stairways fronting onto a tiny alleyways lined by historic brick facades. It is admittedly not the most remarkable of scenes—but there’s something about the juxtaposition of the standard issue clock and the temple entrance in the mirror that speaks to me on some level. Small details like these catch my eye here in Keelung—which is one reason I enjoy exploring this darkest of Taiwanese cities as much as I do.

Fuxing Fishermen’s Association 彰化縣福興區漁會

The ruins of a fishermen’s association in Fuxing Township

About a month ago I was out riding in western Changhua 彰化 when I noticed this ruin along Yánhǎi Road 沿海路 at the south end of Lukang 鹿港. Technically this parcel of land is still part of Fúxīng 福興, a peculiar situation in a country where few other township lines gerrymander through a major settlement. Evidently this isn’t a new thing, for the characters above the entrance read Changhua County Fuxing Township Fishermen’s Association Welfare Society 彰化縣福興區漁會漁民福利社 (with apologies for the approximate translation and thanks to Kamiya for some transcription help).

Ruminating on Cyclical Time

A cemetery in rural Changhua

New year’s eve, 2013: I take my bicycle out for a spin in the cool winter air. There is no rain for a change and I make the most of it, cycling from Wénshān District 文山區 to the edge of Xìnyì District 信義區 and the beginning of the graveyard ride through the Taipei Necropolis. Later on I ride out to catch the fireworks at Taipei 101 before calling it an early night. The next day I rise bright and early to take the high-speed train to Kaohsiung 高雄 for a friend’s wedding banquet.

Toronto Standard Time

Toronto time

I visited my alma mater, the University of Toronto, one rainy afternoon in late October. Across from Convocation Hall I stopped to take a closer look at the various meteorological and timekeeping instruments that have stood along King’s College Circle for at least a century. I had no specific recollection of ever doing so despite having wandered by hundreds of time on the way to Gerstein or some such place. Strange, though it was only a few short years ago, I can hardly recall the crushing burden of school anymore. Time is the simplest thing.

These Infinite Worlds

Infinite worlds

I captured this photography on the afternoon of my departure from Taiwan 台灣 at Taoyuan International. Down in the basement I found this curious reflective display showing times from various cities all around the world, some of them inordinately obscure. I couldn’t find Toronto but I did see Godthåb of all places flash before my eyes when the English translation came up. How many of these places have I been and how many will I visit before this life is over?

Walking away, I was left with the sense that one lifetime might be enough to see the world in passing—but there’d be no way to experience all these far-flung places as deeply as I have experienced Taiwan. Our consumerist culture tends to fetishize quantity-over-quality tourism, relegating our experiences of the wide world beyond the borders of our homeland to a growing list of places we have visited without regard for how much we lived and learned and loved in those places.

I would much rather adhere to this more personal metric, one that emphasizes depth and quality of experience, than live my life trying to make a number go up, though I certainly won’t disparage anyone for having different priorities. I’m just glad I decided to stay in Taiwan awhile rather than move around as much as some people do—and I look forward to being able to continue my explorations, either in Taiwan or some other place, whenever the opportunity arises.

But for now it appears prudent to stay somewhere I already know quite well—and experience it like an outsider, with new eyes.