On the Dark Streets of Keelung

Homeless on the streets of Keelung
Homeless on the streets of Keelung.

The gloomy weather, mountainous topography, and bustling container port make Keelung 基隆 the darkest city in Taiwan. Nowhere else on the island will you see such open displays of vice and iniquity, nor will you find such a dense concentration of allegedly haunted ruins. Moreover, the urban landscape is a contorted mess of concrete and tile buildings, pedestrian overpasses, underground passages, and covered alleyways. It has the mark of a place where the planners set down a grid and let people do whatever they wanted within each square. Much like Kowloon 九龍, it is a city to be explored at multiple levels—to get the most out of it you have to try every stairway leading up or down, walk down every cramped lane, and step through every open doorway.

About a month ago I returned to this darkest of cities to gather more material for future blogging projects. At the tail end of this expedition I was wandering by the courtyard of an old temple in the heart of downtown when I saw this old homeless man. Usually I am loathe to disturb anyone and make them the subject of a photograph—it feels somehow exploitative to me—but after seeing the camera slung around my neck he gestured in my direction, inviting me to capture the moment.

It is somewhat unusual to see homeless people on the streets of Taiwan. Late at night it isn’t uncommon to see old people collecting trash with makeshift carts but seldom do I ever see anyone sleeping out in the open. There are enough abandoned buildings around that most homeless people can find shelter if they want it. I wonder what his story is and why he chose the streets.