Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Taiwan through Photographs or Lack Thereof

I like to take photos. Tons of photos. I like having my camera around my neck and looking for photogenic people and objects and coming home at the end of the day to upload hundreds of photos onto my computer so that I can share them with people.

But while I was sick in Taiwan, a lot of that part of me simply vanished. Still not quite recovered from travelers' sickness in my last few days in Korea, I spent most of my first few days sleeping and lounging around my grandparents' apartment in Taipei. When they wanted to take me somewhere, I went rather reluctantly and simply didn't bother to take my camera around with me. My thoughts were: I'll get out of the house and walk around -- fresh air will do me good -- and then I'll come right back and sleep some more.

As a result, I have relatively few photos from the two weeks I spent there. And I do mean relatively: there are still hundreds. But many of the places I visited I experienced without my camera, and to my surprise, I felt conflicted about this. On one hand, I felt frustrated when I arrived at a beautiful location and realized that I could not take a photo of it. It was like a part of my body was missing: my third eye was gone, so to speak. My grandparents took me to Yingge (鶯歌), Yang Ming Shan (陽明山), Wulai Falls (烏來), and several nice restaurants. I also went to Puli, in central Taiwan, and visited Sun Moon Lake and some aboriginal tribes while I was there. I have no photos of these beautiful places (although others do, and have sent me them).

On the other hand, I began to think that it was neat that I had given myself no way to record any part of the experience. Each landmark, exhibit, or vista point was going to be a one-time deal. I couldn't flip through a photo album a few days later to remember what that waterfall or that ancient clay pot looked like. This made me want to stay by Wulai Falls for a lot longer than I normally would have. I wanted to just watch it and memorize how grand and gorgeous it was, knowing that it'd be a long time before I ever saw it again.

The thing about photography is that once you get into it, it becomes difficult not to see the world through your camera lens instead of through your eyes. Eventually, if you don't watch yourself, you'll stop seeing the world the way you used to. There's less wonder in your gaze and more regard for good lighting and proper angles and all the things that a photographer takes advantage of to make a real place look -- to be quite honest -- kind of fake.

Then, when it comes to memory, all you can recall from a place you've visited, a party you've been to, or a person you've known is the dozen or so photographs you have of them. One thing photographs are supposed to do is to remind you of things from the past, to sharpen fuzzy recollections and revive languishing memories of good things. But I've discovered over the past few years, to no small amount of dismay, that my memory of things I have seen and done is increasingly poor, to the point that sometimes I can visualize some of the photos I took at an event but literally nothing else about it.

To bring this back to Taiwan... I always tell everyone who bothers to listen about how wonderful and beautiful Taiwan is, how generous its people are and how delicious its food is. (I promise I'm not biased in favor of my motherland or anything.) And usually I accompany these rants and raves with hundreds and hundreds of photos that I hope will prove my point. For example, a Facebook friend has already commented on my Taiwan album, saying, "omg andrew your pictures make me so happy and also make me miss taiwan so much!"

This time, for once, I didn't strive to take as many beautiful photographs as possible. I still took a lot. But I'm curious about how my memory will be shaped this time due to a lack of colored pixels showing me exactly where I went and what I did.

That said, I still want to post some photos. It's just habit now; I can't help it. Enjoy!
In Jinguashi, (金瓜石), an old mining town from Taiwan's colonized-by-Japan era, there is a gold museum where you can touch this enormous bullion. It was sticky. Jinguashi also has an ecological park and is generally very pretty. I had wanted to go to Jiufen instead, but that place is crawling with tourists.
I spent the two weeks with my grandparents and my uncle's family, including my two young cousins who couldn't possibly be any cuter. Here they all are at Jinguashi.
Here is a dog wearing a Jeremy Lin Knicks jersey. Taiwan pride!
Here is a photo taken by my friend Alex in Tamsui. This is a statue of Dr. George Leslie Mackay, a medical missionary who devoted his life to Taiwan from 1871-1901. His daughter Mary adopted a Taiwanese girl who eventually became my great-grandmother. Neat, I'm related to this guy. Wish I could grow a beard like that!
The geographical center of the island of Taiwan is located in Puli (埔里), and it is represented by this ugly pole. This photo was taken by a family friend, the superintendent of Puli's Christian Hospital. I shadowed him for a few days, getting to observe the workings of the hospital (and a handful of surgeries!) as well as taking unofficial trips with their mobile medical clinic to the mountainous rural areas outside the city.
This is me with some cute kids from a small Bunun (布農) village that I visited.
I may post more later... but I'm going to sleep now. I may also write more later, as I realize only now that this post doesn't really tell anyone anything about what I did. Do photographs suffice when words fail? Perhaps.

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