Monday, June 22, 2009

X Beyond O : Calligraphy - Sign - Space

School days

In contrast to last weekend, which was an alcohol-fueled romp through Taipei's early mornings, I decided this weekend to be a little more civilised, and thus lined up a morning of Mountain Biking (sweaty), followed by a rather more cultured stroll around the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei.

I turned up to quite a large exhibit of modern interpretations of Chinese calligraphy, called X Beyond O: Calligraphy - Sign - Space. I have seen my fair share of 'modern China' style exhibitions on this type of subject, but they wowed with some really very memorable pieces, including projection of characters onto graffiti'd-up school desks, piles of paper with laser-cut symbols running through and fun and games with the increasingly ubiquitous multi-touch displays.

I am still somewhat blown away by the main space, however. A huge ink pad - and I mean huge; about the size of a tennis court - flanked by a scroll and brushes on one side. Dimly lit and perfectly reflective, it really was rather a special space.

I can't pretend to be able to penetrate these deeper aspects of the culture - especially written culture - but I do think I can appreciate it none-the-less, and certainly enjoy it. I say that, as the Chinese I have been learning over the last few years is bring ground to dust, replaced by the mental effort required to survive at Dell!

Hidden images, projected into a brightly-lit room

... which entailed running around the room attempting to capture and focus the characters on Chinese fans ... one reference too far?

The main exhibition space. None more black.


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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Andy Warhol in Taipei

Andy Warhol at the CKS

The latest 'hot' exhibition to visit in Taipei is th Andy Warhol retrospective at the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall (at least, I think they changed the name back from 'Democracy Memorial Hall', when the DPP were pissing around with changing names of historical monuments). I suppose I am not the biggest fan on earth of Warhol, but I am happy enough to go along and check it out - especially since it was with a few arty friends who know a little more about the subject of screen printing and pop art.

What made me double-intrigued was the fact that it was being held underneath the mausoleum of said National Icon - and it could not escape my finely-honed sense of irony that one of the key exhibits was a print of his arch-nemesis, Mao Zedong.

Like all too many exhibitions in Taiwan, there were too many exhibits (walls and walls full of Marilyn, it seemed) and too many people shuffling around. The exhibition design was lacking, and the space was, in a word, 'poky' - although I can hardly blame this on them - if you plan to have an exhibition under a tomb you ain't going to argue about space. The shop did seem, however, to deliver on the 'commercial art' promise of Warhol, and was thus packed with people buying tat pasted with Warhol signatures.

Or maybe I was just hung over. Anyway - a fun day out. By starting at Chiang Kai Shek and ending up at Ximen, I really did feel like I was in a foreign country for the first time in a little while.

Seeing the dancers practicing in the windows reminded me of trips there when I first arrived. The photo I took that day of the kids throwing one of their friends in the air is still one of my favourite shots.

Friends jacking around

I probably take the same photo every time, but it still makes me chuckle.

Impressive doors, and brass nobs.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Music & Aesthetics

Steve blagged some journo tickets to see the National China Beijing Opera as they visited town for their one-off Sunday night review, and it gave me the chance to have my first ever taste of this form of theatre that one might assume everyone sees on a regular basis when living in Taiwan or China. It wasn't quite the Full Monty - instead the performers wore suits and refrained from the make-up - but a line-up of virtuosos from China and Taiwan had been (re)assembled, and clearly peoples' emotions were piqued.

Photo from

First impressions were, at best mixed. Cacophonous musical barrage ballons that mark the style of music butted up against the entirely-too-harmonios stage design and pastel presentation.

Set in an environment where we were the only foreign / under 50 people in the house, it all made for a rather strange experience. The crowd heckled and clapped at seemingly entirely random points during each set, screaming out in appreciation as might a crowd of Rolling Stones fans. And yet, when I felt moved, the crowd remained silent.

This continued throughout the performance, and I have been thinking about it a great deal over the past few days. Essentially, in the same way as the music that I constantantly critisise in Taiwanese for being bland and monotonous, this music seemed to be rewarded by this crowd of octogenerians not for being expressive, but for restraint. Not for the performer letting go, but for surfing the boundary within a tightly defined set of constraints. As Steve put it so perfectly, the entire 'Aesthetic' of the music was completely different - harmony and riot, restraint and revolt are flipped on its head.

So, after almost five years in Taiwan, perhaps I understand something a little bit more, and maybe this window into music also allows me to see how the design scene here rewards restraint and operating between the boundaries. Need to think about that some more.

Finally, while leaving, I realised just how many of the crowd spoke not in a Taiwanese accent, but in thicker tones of Northern China. It's doubtful that they were tourists, or that they travelled to Taiwan especially for the concert, so it only means that this 'scene' of elderly Opera lovers were left stranded here to appreciate the artform. And on this day, the best performers from Taiwan and China came together, spanning old maestros and the considerable battalion of young artists that have chosen to fly the flag once again. It might not quite be to my taste, but it felt pretty special to see the tendrils of tradition reaching out across the waters to bang the drum.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Taipei Street Movies

Wandering along Civic Boulevard the other evening, one of the local temples was putting on a show of movies, projected from proper reel, down the pavement. I am not quite sure who was supposed to be watching, as it only seemed to be the guy operating the projector and his mate in the audience. I don't even remember if there was any sound. What a great concept, though.

A night at the movies.

IMAX, almost.

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Taipei Institute of History and Philology

Our teacher, Austin, arranged a school trip for us today to visit the catchily-titled Taiwan Museum of the Institute of History and Philology. The name might not be world-class, but the exhibits certainly are, and they have a very nicely designed exhibition space. I was impressed.

The Oracle Bones

I was especially excited to see the 'Oracle Bones', since I have recently finished reading the book by the same name by Peter Hessler, which punctuates his observations of modern Chinese people and the changes taking place in the society with a history of archeology in China. The 'Oracle Bones' are the roots to the written language, and were used by priests to divine the future, based on the inscriptions that they marked. It's almost certainly worth another post, when I am feeling more academically inclined.

Walking around the museums in Taiwan makes me think back to my Grandfather, who was an amateur scholar of Chinese porcelain. I have no doubt that if he was still alive today I would have weekly requests to visit the museums and gather information. He never had the chance to visit Asia, and sometimes I wonder if I am in some way finishing off his work. Certainly, I wonder if my interest in Chinese culture indirectly comes from my childhood memories of his precious collections - especially the Ming dynasty vase that my Dad thoughtfully dropped me into head-first when I was but a wee nipper. Again, a story for another day.

Is there something we should know about?

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Happy Lunar New Year

Happy Lunar New Year everyone!


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Monday, December 03, 2007

Coldcut in Taipei

Coldcut came to Taiwan as part of HP's 'Art in Motion' tour, and totally blew me away. I was asked to provide the write-up for the Taipei Times, so rather than say the same thing again, here are my words from the newspaper:

Taipei Times 'Weekender'

Last night saw the Taipei instalment of the HP-sponsored ‘Art in Motion’ tour at Luxy, featuring British legends Coldcut, Jurassic 5’s DJ Nu-Mark and VJ support from Berlin crew Pfadfinderei. Ostensibly a fusion of music and live visuals, early on the show seemed like an extended advert for HP’s personal computers, and with guidance from the most irritating emcee in Asia was beginning to unfold into some kind of hip-hop-themed ‘wei-ya’ end of year party.

However, things began to improve quickly when Nu-Mark took to the decks and wowed the crowds by mixing sampled beats with a selection of increasingly unlikely musical children's’ toys. Innovative, and unlike the local beat-boxing warm up act, not a bit self-indulgent, the crowd responded with a mixture of laughter and butt-on-the-floor boogying.

With the audience now suitably warmed up, Coldcut entered stage right and took no prisoners with a ballistic delivery of hip-hop, dub and electronic beats, all synchronised with nine projectors beaming video and images around the room in an awesome display of digital showmanship. Jumping from the more obscure references of their own back-catalogue, they never allowed themselves to alienate the newcomers and regularly dropped in samples from sources as diverse as Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf”, Run DMC and AC/DC. Taipei barely knew what hit them.

With Nu-Mark resuming control, the entire room bounced the rest of the night away to the sounds of a thousand house parties, and the best music Taipei has heard in several years.

Colcut - to the limit

Nick keeps it nice and sleazy

And some other words from Tom, as featured in 'The Vinyl Word' last week:

Taipei Times - 'The Vinyl Word'

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Jonny the Voodoo Doll

I have never had migraine in my life before very recently, but in the last month and a half I have been having about one per week. I think this might be related to sleep and being anxious about one or two rather big things, but it is still unsettling when a machine (my head) suddenly starts developing a problem it never had before.

My Chinese teacher, Austin, suggested that she take me to see an Acupuncture specialist, and after a dizzy day of taking drugs prescribed last week, I packed myself into a taxi and out through the crappy weather. What she did not tell me, until afterwards, is that she has never had Acupuncture, and now I know why!

The guy was really friendly and listened to my problems. We both agreed that much is probably sleep related, so he took my pulse, poked me a bit and came up with a programme for me.

Now, this is the first time I have had Acupuncture. I am not particularly scared of needles, but of course what they neglect to tell you is that in every case they are trying to find the nerve. It's quite difficult to fully describe what the sensation is like, but I suppose it is a mixture of electric shock, and someone attempting to pull out your nervous system through a small hole.

In my case, I had four needles inserted, and every few minutes he would come in to twang and twist them, punishing me for sins I have yet to commit. Lord know what my friend Nick must feel when he has has fourteen inserted to treat his gut problems. It was painful enough when I simply moved my hand, so I hate to think what it must feel like in the event of an earthquake, with all the needles hitting your pressure points in unison.

I am now pretty sure that the logic behind Acupuncture is basically scare your body into not having the problem again, but I have to say that after the event, if not exactly refreshed, I feel relaxed. Quite literally, I wonder if it is like pressing the reset switch and 'flashing' the memory.


These ones hurt less.

Pin cushion.

This one was exceptionally painful. Twisted nerve.

This one was painful in ways I can hardly describe. My hole body reeling in agony... and I was just so close to kicking the doctor in the face! Next time.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Windows on Taiwan

Growing up in the West, there are many things that you assume to be universally acknowledged as a Good Thing, but this is not always the case. Windows are a nice example; in the West, they add greatly to a living environment and raise the value of property by allowing light in and a view to be presented to the lucky inhabitant.

Here, they seem to be a necessary evil, added as an orifice for the air conditioning units. If the small size of the windows was not enough, very often a layer of dark plastic is applied over the top to stop too much natural light in, and bars are then drilled into the fabric of the building. People have explained these bars in various ways - for security, to stop babies falling out, and so on - but I am positive it is much more culturally ingrained than that. I am just sure that the link between the inside and outside world is much less obvious here.

In general, people seem to place much less emphasis on the outward appearance of a dwelling, focusing instead on the interior decoration. This is not always the case, as there are too many stylized European villas and castles to explain it that way, but there is something different going on with the relationship.

Enjoy the view

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006


What is multiculturalism? I have been thinking about it recently.

Taiwan is perhaps the most tolerant place towards people of different cultures and faiths I have ever been to. The foolish activities of foreigners are shrugged off and with a hearty laugh they will ask you where you are from, what you do and why are you here. A genuine inquisitiveness which is incredibly welcoming. But no matter how long I stay, how good my Chinese gets (unlikely) or how close a friendship I make, I will always be a 'waiguo' (ousider). Is acceptance without any chance of assimilation multiculturalism?

Britain - especially London - is one of the most multicoloured, faceted and influenced places I have been to. A country that has opened its doors to the world, and I believe in most ways to be tolerant. If a person arrives from Italy, India or Innsbruck there is every possibility that they, or at least their children, would be regarded as 'English'. But to become English, you need to leave your cultural luggage at the door and nobody will ever be interested in the slightest about where you come from, or be pleased that you took the time to visit this fine country. So, is assimilation without acceptance multiculturalism?

Is America, the ultimate multicultural society? For as long as they are 'One Nation Under God' this is surely an impossibility. Or Canada, where all countries, faiths and origins are welcomed and this right is embedded in the basic rights of the citizens?

Or maybe multicultralism is a myth. A word to describe a multitude of different situations and balances as society self-organises itself into equilibrium with the addition of new ideas and blood. One thing is for sure, it took a trip around the world for me to be able to ask this question.


Saturday, September 30, 2006

Grafitti in Taipei

For me, Grafitti is not simply defacement of public property, but an intrisic part of urban culture - a reflection of the city, and a barometer for its political climate, sense of humour, tolerance and a thousand other things that people feel the need to express when paint hits wall.

One of the things that I miss in Taipei is having this barometer. The kids simply do not seem to want to express themselves in the ways I am used to. However, it seems the times they are a-changing, and quality artwork is appearing on the streets. Moreover, it seems to have a style not completely borrowed from New York, London, Berlin or Melbourne - and is developing in a subtly Asian way.

The highest quality work has been, without a doubt, the stencil work. Though not up to the standards of Banksy, it is pleasant, and infinitely preferable to visual pollution in the form of adverts, neon and the further commercial hijacking of our environment.

Tree frogs appearing to brighten up the concrete

Rather nice flowers - definitely asian style.

Also, one of the things I really love, is the municipal stencil work - I just spent a few minutes looking for some photos - but these will have to wait for next time.

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Ups & Downs

Certainly, one of the disadvantages of living an 'international lifestyle' is that the very freedoms that you arrived to seek are the ones that bite you in the ass. I have been here for getting on for two and half years - which is scary, just to write - and have made some incredible friends from all over the world. This is quite an achievement, I think, and something I am quite proud of.

However, the aloofness we grant ourselves does mean that at regular intervals, friends do leave. Sadly for me, a series of good friends have left in quick succession, leaving me sitting here in PS rather at a loss on this Saturday night. It's a pooey feeling.

The flip side, of course, can be found in my blog posts from Australia, Hong Kong and Japan, where I find myself eating and drinking with people that I can really count as friends (or sisters!) in these amazing locations. And I can't be too sad - here I am sitting drinking a beer, I recognise all the staff and know them by name, and one of the girls just put on a CD she likes - a compilation of songs I burnt for the Cafe.

And hell. Next week I am in the Philippines. Blah!

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Sunday, September 17, 2006


Taipei is fast discovering a hot grass roots design scene, and it is great to be involved in it. One of the things that I have been looking for of late is 'Campo' - a fashion and accessories market run by the young things, with live music and a party atmosphere. I went today - and discovered some rather nice gems.

Link to Campo

Hot Dog!

The area - before the rain arrived

I found some shoe repair people here - each 'booth' is seperated by a wall of laces, which is rather nice I think.

Later on, I helped Rich n Nick at Keep move their store from the Breeze II centre back to their place. They are both in NZ at the moment, and really I should be there with them!

The aftermath

Keep Moving

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Harajuku Girls

We got in late last night. Roppongi. Mark as dangerous. The area I was told not to go was of course the first destination for the CSR crew boys here. A late night and a lack of sleep did not help getting up this morning, despite Tokyo being on our door step. Indeed, it took shaved ice with pure glucose sauce to kick me out of my stinker of a hangover. Roppongi.

Ele, Kauru, Junko and I live it up

Never have I seen so many energy drinks in one place - 'functional' drinks are huge in Japan, including Yakult and many other nutrition-packed liquids

Kauru ties the fortune knot to the bar in Asakusa (not to be confused with Akasaka - our hotel)

A local takes some time out to breathe on his Mild Seven

Kimonos were a surprisingly common sight - wonderful

After my shaved ice salvation and cruising around the Senso-Ji temple in Asakusa (confusing, since our hotel is in Asakasa) and emerging out of the metro to be faced with Philip Starke's Asahi Museum work, we headed off to * to check out some of the shopping and then to Harujuku to meet Junko and Ian. Harajuku, for those not in the know, is the place in Tokyo to see the bleeding edge, drop-dead fashions -the goths, the rockers, the girls wearing makeup to enhance ugliness, the school girls, the Elvises and the zombies. I bought some sunglasses.

Zombie woolly hats in Harajuku

Utterly insane Pachinko - I played twice in games lasting all of 20 seconds and I have come to the conclusion you need a hole in your skull to play, and another to keep slotting money in.

Dinner was Shibuya. A human hub, its road crossing is apparently the busiest in the world. It was here where I learnt that Ximending in Taipei gets its inspiration from. I swear, even down to the street lighting it was copied from this place. This was my vision for Tokyo and it happily matched it. Shabu Shabu was booked for dinner, which is a communal cooking pot with meat an vegetables comprehensively blew the doors off my local favourite Taipei version; I did not know it could be better. And I also did not know how much Japanese girls can eat in one sitting.

Shibuya - waiting to charge!

Ele, Ian and Kauru enjoy THE BEST SHABU SHABU I have ever had - and that is saying something. I am fairly sure my stomach became a solid ball of meat.

Back to Akasaka, and after meeting up with Ele's boss Gordon we headed straight for Karaoke to round off a great day in Tokyo - albeit a day with a rough, rocky and stormy start. Ending with Whiskies in the rooftop bar was perfect, and i have this feeling that I will be back in Japan sooner rather than later.

Singing our hearts out guaranteed sexy voices the next day

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Design Speed Dating

I just returned from a great evening meeting many creative types at a series of speeches as part of a “Pecha Kucha” – Japanese for Chit Chat. You get 20 seconds per slide, and 20 slides and it is really strict. We had speakers from fields as diverse as architecture (Shanghai is full of ‘em) design, photography and fashion and it made for a really stimulating evening. At long last, it felt like a gallery opening in London surrounded by people faintly cooler than you. But still, everyone maintains there is no scene here, and the nearest beach is three hours away. By aeroplane.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Taiwanese Ex-Pats

I already wrote a little about the different behaviour of the Taiwanese in the office, but I was lucky enough last night to be invited out for dinner once again by some of the China operation's directors last night for a meal. The restaurant was in the west of the city where there are extensive communities of HongKongese, Japanese, Korean and Japanese. The whole thing was shiny and neon'd, interspersed with Japanese titty bars, Karaoke and stores full of overpriced food. And all the time, there were ramshackle houses built next to the fountains, full of tiny rooms. Who for? The maids? Workers?

Once into conversation, It felt like I was looking at myself amongst my foreigner friends in Taiwan bitching about the taxis, social protocol, level of professionality, work environment, food and a million other things. This is what we do too, semingly as some sort of natural reaction to a new environment. I hate doing it - it feels like I am talking behind my friends' backs - but somehow this is the release valve that we need to vent steam.

So there I was last night, listening to the Taiwanese Ex-Pats talk about life in China - their body language once again more confident as they watched the girls bring in food and leaned back on their chairs. Half of me felt horribly superior, as I imagined all the locations that the British have settlements. The other felt some kind of minor pride for Taiwan - this is their little empire right inside China. Of course, there are other major Taiwanese communities, and I guess most of them are in the USA. I wonder if they talk about the US in the same way. Probably.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Taiwan & China

Taiwan and China, along with their neighbours Japan and Korea, have a turbulent history. I did not know what to expect when I arrived here, working for a Taiwanese design house, for a Taiwanese company, with Taiwanese bosses, but work colleagues here from China.

Certainly, the first day was a little strained, and by day two I was getting the impression that they resented their Taiwanese bosses to some degree. Talk to locals here and more often than not if they work for a large technology company their seniors are from the rogue province. As a result, the feeling on the street is that Taiwanese are arseholes. Even meeting foreigners on Saturday they had heard the same thing.

I am clearly not Taiwanese, but with the project being imposed by HQ in Taipei I was surely seen as 'one of them'. I have to say that, over the course of these days my views have changed as I get to know the team here better. Like I believe I said before (I can't check this post because of the restrictions) the initial impression was a little cold, but now they are offering the odd bad cup of coffee or biscuit. Rather like working in old Newmarket!

I am used to dealing with Taiwanese now, so the two occasions that I met with Taiwanese directors here were doubly interesting. Their interaction with their Chinese 'underlings' was akin to seeing an American barge into an English pub and order a Philly Steak. Suddenly they become assertive and decisive. It left me chuckling after the head of ID warned me that the Chinese do not speak their minds 'like the Taiwanese'. Hilarious.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

Lunch Time Bell

At 12:00 sharp the lights go out and the soothing moods of Curtiss Steiger's saxophone fill the air with mediocrety. Lunchtime has arrived. Am I the only one with a soundtrack? Nobody flinches. One hour of quiet discussion and eating and light returns, once again accompanied by the mind-softening musak.

And back to work.

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