A Defender of China

We are your friend

On the northern edge of Hsinchu City 新竹市, about halfway between Nanliao Fishing Port 南寮漁港 and the massive Hsinchu Air Base 新竹空軍基地, you’ll find a small restaurant by the name of Old Lu Beef Noodles 老陸牛肉麵. Such a shop might not catch your eye were it not for a curious turquoise signboard perched on an easel out front. Hsinchu 新竹 is home to one of the highest densities of military dependents’ villages in the nation (including one right next door) so it comes as no surprise that it would be advertising military village cuisine 眷村美食. What is rather unusual is the hand-painted adaptation of the May 16, 1938, edition of Life Magazine, originally subtitled A Defender of China, appearing here with the messages We are your friend 我們的你們的朋友 and We are fights for freedom 我們是為自由而战 (with that last character a simplified form of 戰). The pot of noodles and chopsticks are a creative addition.

Taiwan Night Market Fashion 1

Don’t do fashion

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

Taipei Biennial 2014: Art in the Age of the Anthropocene

Hammock and tea at the Taipei Biennial 2014

Curated by Nicolas Bourriaud, the Taipei Biennial 2014 was held at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum 臺北市立美術館 in Zhongshan District 中山區 from September into the early part of the new year. The theme is “art in the age of the anthropocene”, the current geophysical epoch defined by humankind’s enormous impact on the natural world. From the curator’s notes: this exhibition is organized around the cohabitation of human consciousness with swarming animals, data processing, the rapid growth of plants and the slow movements of matter. I am no serious critic but I certainly appreciate thought-provoking art when I see it. Since I haven’t any expertise in this area I’m mostly going to let the photos speak for themselves, however incomprehensible that might be. Much like the Xu Bing retrospective it was an inspiring experience so I’d like to have a record of it here on my blog.

Taiwanese Scooter Stickers 1

The friendly scooter on earth

Taiwan is absolutely mad for scooters, a consequence of high population density, tightly cramped streets, and the expense and inconvenience of driving a car. Everywhere you go you’ll find streets lined with parked scooters and filled with scooterists going about their business. In can all seem like absolute chaos to outsiders—but there is a method to the madness, and the convenience factor regularly seduces skeptical westerners into the scooter lifestyle, particularly when living outside of Taipei 台北.

One unusual feature of Taiwanese scooters are the cheeky stickers commonly found on the body. These stickers typically feature the make and model of the scooter—but for reasons unknown to me, poorly translated slogans full of Chinglish are also common, particularly on older scooters. About a year ago I chanced upon a link to a collection of scooter stickers published by Jonathan Biddle way back in 2005. Shortly thereafter I began documenting some of the more intriguing examples of scooter stickers I found in my travels, mostly around Changhua 彰化. This post contains 17 of the more interesting examples I have collected in this time.

Remember the Sunflowers

The dawning of the Sunflower Student Movement

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.