One of the many summer nights I spent at Underworld
On any given night during the summer of 2009, I was probably at Underworld (地下社會), a live music venue and bar in Taipei. At the time, I was learning Mandarin at National Taiwan Normal University. Both the campus and my apartment weren’t a five-minute walk from the bar. Underworld was the neighbourhood living room. It’s where I met many of the friends I made in Taipei. It was where I had my first real conversations in Mandarin. And it’s where I discovered Taiwanese music.
Three years later, Underworld is being threatened with closure. This Taipei Times article explains the legislation issues and neighbourhood politics the venue faces. It isn’t the first time the city has tried to shut down the venue. In 2005, city officials said Underworld wasn’t licensed to host live musical performances. With some intervention, it was granted a special certificate to allow performances to continue. According to the article, it has managed to continue existing through a licensing loophole. Recently a neighbourhood association has accused Underworld, via its blog, of being an illegal business. Their complaints have caught the attention of local authorities. The worst part is that the city of Taipei is taking the association’s side.
Won Fu (旺褔) at the Music Terminals festival in Taoyuan
Local musicians have rallied around the venue to convince the Ministry of Culture that it’s more than just a place to drink. The article goes into detail about Underworld’s significance in the local music scene and why its closure threatens the fate of other venues across Taiwan.
It also name-checks a list of local bands that played at Underworld early in their careers. After three months in Taipei, it sums up the precious few I discovered. 1976, Chthonic (閃靈), and Wonfu (旺褔) have all played there. When I saw these bands in the summer of 2009, they all played at much larger venues. Their fans wouldn’t be able to fit in that tiny bar but, clearly, it wasn’t always that way.
White Wabbit Records, opened on my street during my stay in Taipei, just a few lanes away from my apartment. I visited it for the first time after seeing 1976 play at The Wall, my first concert in Taiwan. It’s where I purchased my first CD made by a Taiwanese artist. A record store opening in a student neighbourhood isn’t exactly a revelation, but it felt special to live literally in the midst of a flourishing music scene.
Underworld: More than a place to drink
My time and some of my fondest memories in Taiwan are inextricably tied to Underworld. To me, it’s the heart of the Shida and my home away from home away from home. Few establishments have staying power in Taipei. Stores and restaurants in my neighbourhood opened and closed seemingly overnight. By my estimation, staying open for one year in the Shida neighbourhood is a pretty big business success. Underworld has withstood the city’s constant and feverish turnover for sixteen years. I hope it will still be there when I visit again.
Sunday July 15 2012 may be Underworld’s last day. They’ve planned one final blow-out gig. (Just in case it is.) If you’re in Taipei, or know someone there, please attend or let them know about the concert. Support Underworld, the Shida neighbourhood, and the future of live music in Taiwan. Let the city and the Ministry of Culture know that live music venues are an important part of its culture.
The HMS Vicky left the Port of Montreal quite a while ago and has docked for a stay in my hometown of Markham, Ont. The town of Markham isn’t on the water, so there no possibility of keeping a boat here. So I’ve docked her in the waters of the nearest body of water: Lake Ontario. While it’s not far, it’s not immediately accessible either. I don’t know where the ship is headed next or when she will sail again. However, I’ll admit I’ve been amiss with making regular trips to keep her shipshape. While I try to answer those questions, I will be bringing some reports from Toronto and its environs. While it’s not travel, I’m here.
A row of stalls at Night It Up! before it got really crowded
My first dispatch comes from my hometown of Markham. Night It Up! (formerly known as Asian Night Market and Toronto Night Market) is an annual festival inspired by the night markets of Asia. The event started in 2002 and has traditionally been held at Metro Square, or Markham’s the Little Taipei. This year it moved to a much bigger space at the Markham Civic Centre.
I had a revelation when I realized I would be writing this entry in hip café with free wi-fi. I’m enjoying a big chai latte looking out at the bustling street of brunch-goers and shoppers. There are some bubbles floating by the cafe entrance and, across the street, a poncho-wearing mouse who’s handing out flyers is talking to a headscarf-wearing canvasser for Oxfam. Collectively, I think they’re trying to tell me something. It’s something along the lines of, “Readers, we are not in France anymore.” I’m pleased to announce that for the HMS Vicky is now based out of Montréal, Québec, Canada.
This week I started my internship at enRoute online, the website for enRoute, Air Canada’s in-flight travel magazine. I’m mostly working on the blog right now but I’m sure the full extent of my responsibilities will reveal themselves in the next six months.
First let’s do a little recap and wrap-up.
It kind of felt like it was the Armageddon. We were huddled in the windowless kitchen of the hostel–a bright, unusually cheerful bunker. Everyone sat around drinking, discussing their plans for the future, trading exit plans and information. We were all glued to the hostel’s four computers and our cell phones. In between our frantic clicking and texting, we ranted out loud to each other about the sheer incredulousness of it all. Except there was no fire ball–everyone’s flight got cancelled because of an Icelandic volcano, that’s all.
For the two-week Easter holiday I decided to go to Spain, a glaring omission in my European travels. I started in Granada and continued to Madrid. On Wednesday April 17, I arrived in Barcelona–my final stop before home. In vacation mode, I had no access to a television and was only intermittently reading the news. At first it a few people had told me their flights were cancelled because of some volcano thing. They all seemed to be going to the U.K., so the full impact didn’t fully register with me. I was impervious to that thought I could be affected by it.
By Friday, there was enough talk about it that I decided to check the status of my flight from Girona to Karlsruhe-Baden, a city in western Germany, which was scheduled to leave Sunday morning. The Ryanair website assured me that while all flights to northern France and northern Germany were cancelled, mine was okay. So I went about my tourist existence without giving it a second thought. When Saturday rolled around, I could no longer be so high and mighty. All flights to France and Germany had been cancelled until Tuesday. In an instant I was in the same predicament as everyone else: scrambling to get home and finding a place to stay until I did.
As the sheer size of the chaos dawned on me, so did the selection of options to get back, each with their unique difficulties. I was able to rebook my flight for Wednesday but waiting for it meant putting myself up in Barcelona until then and risking the possibility the flight could be cancelled again. (Which it was.) But would there any room left in Barcelona’s hostels or had the spaces already been gobbled up already by travelers whose flights were cancelled before mine? How could I get home short of spending hundreds of euros or spending an entire day on a bus?
Wintzenheim – 24/02/2010