Tuesday, January 27, 2009

This Is This and This Ain't Something Else But This Is This

Taipei was an ideal place to build up society – a fruitful valley with a constantly flooding river bringing rich mud to the fields and heavy rains washing energetic top soil down from the mountains. The sea was close and the river full of fish. The Chinese brought with them the agriculture from the Mainland while the aboriginals continued in a more animistic connection with the nature. Anyway, the man and human nature was very much part of nature.

Now Taipei is a rock. The original qualities of the site of the city have no meanings anymore, the nature is treated either as an enemy or as a sewage and a garbage dump. The rock is understandable - people like to live in caves.

When the energy plasma of the city reaches a certain level the people start buzzing around it like bees or ants. There is no name for this. If we would talk about human body, this energy would be described as Qi. Seeking to be engaged with this urban Qi is natural for human but also the atmosphere where personal and common decisions easily get twisted and the connection to the nature can be lost.

There is nothing much good to say about the rock city of Taipei, the ultra violent traffic infrastructure solutions, the more or less criminal treatment of nature – specially the rivers, cold official surroundings of politics and money, pollution and asphalt. This city exists in the maps and official data for urban planning. When you ask people about Taipei, they never talk about this city. When I start remembering how Taipei is, this city does not count. Because a parallel city exists. The Para-city that creates the Qi of Taipei. The city of People.

Like no place else the parallel city has sucked itself into the surface of the official city. The co-existence and same time contradiction is the same as with Dao and Confucianism or as with Taiwan in general as an efficient economic power and business partner same time not officially even existing as a country. The Para-city Taipei resonates in straight connection with the spirit world, nature, humanism and a peculiar mix of the present moment as its ultimate and then eternity is to be found.

This book reviews how the Para-city operates within the official cityscape of Taipei and traces down the private human actions to their origins in the countryside by mirroring Taipei to the country town Yilan on the other side of the mountain ridge. The private building and operational solutions of the Taipei citizens are from the same field as the solutions of the farmers in Yilan. People brought the ideology from the country towns in Taiwan and Mainland China when they moved to Taipei. On the other hand the highway between Taipei and Yilan is soon to be ready and the rock city will come to the fruitful delta or Yilan, the ideal place to build up society.

Shortly about the cases studied in Taipei and Yilan.


Pigeon Architecture
The roofscape of Taipei is dotted with pigeon houses. Pigeons circle around the city training for the races. You eat pigeon and the pigeon eggs. The pigeon house constructions have developed into a special field of architecture. There is no architect in there. The client is the pigeon and the caretaker is the man who builds the illegal construction by himself or lets a pigeon house construction specialist to handle the case. Living together with the pigeons in the modern city and trying to make their living conditions as good as possible builds a bridge between the modern man and nature.

Human Layer
As the attic is the memory and subconscious of a house Treasure Hill is the attic of Taipei. The settlement is an enclave inside the hectic city preserving old Chinese ways of urban living yet having nothing to do with the laws and solutions of the modern society. In Treasure Hill people farm their vegetables, have a common open air cinema and an illegal landlord – renter hierarchy according to ones living place in the Hill. There is no cars in Treasure Hill and every house, fence, step or street is build by hands. Treasure Hill harms nobody, yet it challenges the whole system of the modern urban context. In a way Treasure Hill is dangerous, anarchistic and even a stronghold of terrorism since it don’t obey or even care about the official structures of economics. Treasure Hill is not alone. Similar kind of illegal settlements can be found around Taipei bringing the Human Layer into the city.

CityZen Garden
Small private gardens are everywhere dominating the no mans land and bringing inside the city an axis of forever going private cultivation of land for fresh vegetables, Chinese medicine, herbs, fresh air of just for beauty. Cultivating the private illegal gardens can be seen as a therapy for the modern city dwellers. When tending to the gardens or bringing some fresh vegetables as a gift to your neighbor the people feel happy and they feel clean.

Local Temples
When you set up a farm in the hills and build your house you do also build a small house for your local God, a small local temple. You ask the God blessings for the farming and your family. In this state maybe the God is just a stone from your fields. People took all this with them also to the city. Since you don´t farm anymore you pray for money. The local temples in Taipei color the grey streets. Usually together with the local temple is a couple of trees or even a small park, anyway the setting is very much different than the surrounding city. No matter what you pray for the local temple is a safe haven from the artificial time, stress and hectic rhythm of the city.

Night Markets
The ultimate battle field of more or less illegal private enterprising and official stiffness of the city is the night market. The astonishingly colorful and energetic night markets are as acupuncture needles in the urban body releasing the Qi to meet the surface. This has to be, even the police knows it. He has to do his duty though, but for sure not too effectively.

Illegal Architecture
The city must be a compost and the Para-city Taipei is. Illegal constructions are everywhere recycling material and space. Small houses rise on rooftops. Parasite structures grow to the facades of apartment houses. The ad-hoc shops occupy street corners and so on. The official city maybe exists along the big streets but inside the city blocks the situation is dominated by private illegal constructions. As ants the people bring material to where the official city can not see and add a piece to an organic structure. Sometimes the structure grows to be a whole settlement. Sometimes the official city wipes out the settlement or cuts brutally through it some official streets.

Pin-Lan Vision
A taxi driver spends 500 NTD every day for pin-lan. The nut gives him a small high and keeps him awake. The nuts are addictive but so is the whole circus around the nut – the beetle nut vision. The pin-lan culture offers the construction worker, taxi or truck driver or who ever a short escape from the grey city to surroundings or glamour, sex and mysteries. The beetle nut girl is hot, she lives in a small neon light princess castle only to serve her prince, you.


Clean Up Center
The water is Yilan is clean and it runs everywhere. Either the water comes as rivers or streams down from the mountain or straight from underground as mineral rich ponds and springs. The Yilan people construct shelters to wash their clothes and vegetables in community washing places. In these places they meet each other, gossip and tell stories. The clean up place is an honest forum of the citizens. No money exists there and everyone is expected to fix or modify the shelter. The architecture of these shelters is shocking. Everything is done by hand and carried to the place. The dimensions are human and the way of material use organic. Nature is everywhere and the whole ritual of washing the clothes or vegetables almost holy.

Hot Spring
Hot springs is a good business. During the Japanese era Yilan was famous across the Empire. Now city people come to enjoy the drive in hot springs. Still there is also places to get really clean. No money out there. In these hot springs the Kamikaze pilots took their last baths before the Eternity. In some villages around Yilan there is families who do it every day. These fine clean up springs are small secrets of the communities and only the most necessary constructions are added to the natural spring – a place to change clothes, a fence around the deep part of the spring keeping the children from falling to deeper water, a sheltering for shadow and maybe steppes down to the spring. When any of these springs is found the disaster is close, one can make money with this. And that is good for the community.

Urban Nomad
Taipei trades on wheels. And so does Yilan. Where during the day was a normal street in the night is a market. All kinds of foods, drinks and objects. All this came to the place just like that – on wheels. Any kind of manpowered and motorized solutions on wheels for moving food stands, carrying vegetables, burning the God´s money, collecting cardboard for recycling, moving the rice straw stacks and so on. The private people are highly mobilized and the small business will find its place, a small city on wheels will be set up. These people are the urban nomads, something very Chinese mixing the agriculture, urbanism and the movement of the nomads.

Farmhouse or Villa
You couldn’t dream of a better place to farm rice than the Yilan delta. Glorious green, endless paddies with running water systems. In the middle of the fields the house of a farmer or now more and more actually a villa of the bourgeoisie. The city people are coming. They buy farmland and then bring in a villa. Soon the highway from Taipei is here and this land is worth fortunes. As the city Yilan is a rock in the middle of the rice fields the similar kind smaller rocks in the form of city dwellers villas are now dropping to the rice fields. Comparing the building methods of the farmer who lives from the nature to the villas of the bourgeoisie is shocking again. Yilan has now the change to turn into an after city rehabilitation center and drive in nature, to turn its original qualities into business.

Marco Casagrande

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