Taipei New Life Road
The first time I went out to take pictures in Taipei, I tried to photograph
a woman with a disfigured eye who was selling flowers on the street. This
seemed like the kind of documentary photography I wanted to produce
with my new DSLR. The woman raised her hand to cover her face, and I knew
instantly that I was too much of a "pussy" to photograph other people.
Growing up in Buffalo, New York, I explored many abandoned buildings,
including factories, theaters, hospitals, train stations, and offices.
In Taipei, there were a large number of vacant postwar buildings, but most
of them were in the process of being destroyed and redeveloped, they were not
These buildings had their own internal streets and breezeways, and seemed to
reflect the more idealistic ambitions of the Republic of China in the early
60s. The apartments were usually had wall calendars from around 2003 to 2009.
I was hardly the only person to realize the fraught nature of these
buildings. I often stumbled on elaborate art projects and graffiti,
especially near arts colleges.
During the first half of my year as an exchange student in Taiwan, I sort of
enjoyed the isolation that the language barrier provided. My distate for
mangling the Chinese language gave me an excuse to simply spend most of my time
wandering alone, looking for "things", or going over vocabularly and
pronounciation with my doting host mother.
Sometimes I'd explore things with other exchange students. One time, I
convinced one of the French students to break away from the group to check out
a half-finished seaside resort. What would have been a massive glass-enclosed
lobby was only steel beams, opening over bright blue waves. Other parts of
the building were almost complete: some bedrooms were decorated with plastic
flowers; some doors and hallways opened to six story drops. As we walked back
along the beach, the French exchange student told me how attractive she found
my normal exploration partner, another American student.
The process of writing college applications was difficult for my mental
health. As my time in Taiwan drew to a close, my explorations became more
compulsive and subterranean.
My biggest project was exploring a network of drainage tunnels I found under
a a "cultural park". After a few explorations, I realized that the tunnels led
to a five mile long underground river under the center of Taipei. I planned to
buy an inflatable kayak and the paddle the length of the river.
I haven't looked at these pictures in almost five years, and I wonder if I'd
still enjoy something like this. Would the red cockroaches covering the walls
be more of a dealbreaker? As an adult, I could get a Masters of Engineering
and work in drainage tunnels for a living, if I truly loved them.
One time, when I was walking down a narrow passageway, I
realized there was another light coming towards me. I thought it
might be own flashlight reflecting off something. I turned my light off, and
could see a person moving at the far end of the hallway. I think he was
shouting at me, but I couldn't tell what he was saying over the sound of the water.
I felt intense dread. Was this the police, down here looking for me? Had I made
a terrible mistake? What would my parents say? No one knew I was down in the
Ending the standoff, I took a picture, turned around, and quickly walked away.
After a successful exploration, I usually ate McDonalds. Living in Taiwan
made me really appreciate McDonalds, where I could go even if drenched in
drainage water, eat a Big Mac, and listen to young Taiwanese businesspeople
discuss their plans.
I stopped doing these explorations a few years ago. Why? In Taiwan, and in
Buffalo, I got caught a few times, but it was never a big deal.
I think I'm mostly afraid of the embarassment of being an adult caught doing