Erenlai - Benoît Girardot
Benoît Girardot

Benoît Girardot

I'm Benoit, a French guy, arrived in Taiwan around 5 years ago, and it's already hard to remember what I did in my old life! Maybe I lived in Germany? I used to have a weird job, selling breast implants all around Asia, but I quit and am now learning Chinese. I love Taiwan, and I don't really have any words to describe why Taipei is such a cool city... so I'm taking pictures instead.

I have a blog about Taiwan, the idea is to get a deeper understanding of Taiwan-as a foreigner, with language barrier and all kinds of pre-conceived ideas, it is not always an easy task! I post a mic of pictures, videos, articles about the cool people and things I meet on the island! You're welcome to come have a look by yourself!

Tuesday, 08 November 2011 11:12

At the Chinese Pharmacy

It is a dark and humid Friday night, we are wandering around Sanchong, a district of Taipei when we encounter Mr. Wu, the owner of a traditional Chinese Medicine shop.

"What are you doing here," he says. 
"Oh, just taking in the atmosphere of Sanchong."

 

Monday, 02 December 2013 15:05

The Mountain and the City

The Mountain is looking at the City spreading. The City tries to rise but just spreads. Building after building, a forest of concrete, steel and glass; how small it looks when you take altitude and see it from above- from the height of a peak!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013 14:47

In the eye of the Storm: Musings on the Danshui

 

The stream of the Danshui river was bringing me a peaceful melody, waves were biting the shore softly, but, stream inside the stream, slightly blurring the mirror of the water, I could hear a confusing tumult, news from the world struggling in the distance to spill a shot of truth at me:


"When the soldier was being interrogated, all 16 surveillance cameras stopped working. This is absolutely normal. It happens all the time in the army, the cameras are old. This is a banal accident"

Thursday, 11 April 2013 00:00

The Giant Fish That Sees All

This article was written after we spent one night in the Fish Market in Keelung, North Taiwan. It left a strong impression on me, and although it was almost one year ago, I can still remember every minute, every impression; the magic of this night will stay with me for a long time.

Thursday, 22 December 2011 00:00

San Wang Ye: A god goes back home!

Last month,  a very special event happened in my street: my neighbor, the god San Wang Ye (三王爺), decided to travel back home for his birthday!

The god San Wang Ye is originally from Tainan, a city around 300km south of Taipei, and he had arrived in Taipei a long time ago, so long ago that I don't remember!

I had been wondering for a long time what the temple in my street was all about: this small, unassuming, but well taken care of temple, that you can hardly see by day, but is always shining and often holds events at night. Some lanterns are usually hanging, a vague reminder that a god lives there. Day after day, I had made up stories of mafia and gangsters, of witches and weird spirits, stories of everything that could happen in this mysterious temple.

But I was wrong. When I met the people who take care of 三王爺 (San Wang Ye), I could immediately see that this god is a good god as he protects people around in exchange of some attention, and doesn’t ask much, only to go back and see his family once a year. I was also told by the disciples that he likes to be talked to. I could see that he smokes cigarettes, not only incense; he also likes to drink milk tea, and dresses rather conservative. He has a good relationship to its neighbors, too: in front of his temple, a very old japanese house, dimly lit, is shelter to an old man who lives in peace with the God. When there is a ceremony, it is probably the only time a year he opens his house, in a mark of recognition.

The ceremony for departure of the god lasts 2 days. On Saturday everyone travels to Tainan, spends there the evening celebrating, eating, and they all go back on Sunday. 三王爺 (San Wang Ye) has about 10.000 followers: among them, around 400 made the trip to Tainan, this is already quite impressive. More people were to join in Tainan, where he is popular.

Having heard about the event the night before, and together with a friend, we decided to go and attend the departure ceremony. From 4.30am to 7.00am, the main followers prepare the Gods, and double check the organization. The gods are brought out; it seems like the main God has invited some fellows from his family to join. Dancers and fighters repeat their moves, the encense is burning, the drums start to play. Waking up at night, entering this somehow different world, is a strange feeling. At this time, people start to leave a nearby disco, adding to the feeling; they watch incredulously the world of Gods as alcohol seems to make all things look plausible to them. They seem to be satisfied and they resume their path in the wide night.

Then, suddenly, at dusk, the ceremony starts. The ceremony master is a strong robust lady who directs the participants. She sets a fire on the road, then waits for the long queue of dignitaries to come and bend before it, then jump above the fire, and turn back normal again. During the procession most people seem possessed, it is an impressive demonstration. The lady-ceremony master also beats herself with some kind of axe. The drums are playing heavily, there are firecrackers and smoke everywhere. After everyone has come, it is the God’s turn to cross the fire, and I could almost see him smile, delighted to leave soon for the South, and to have so many friends.

There is a market nearby, a typical old place that will probably be destroyed soon, God knows why. It has been deemed too old by the municipality, and this is only one step in the fight that opposes the day forces such as business and money, to the Gods of the night and the ancient culture of Taipei. Alas, I think I know who’s gonna win this one…

First published on Litanies.net.

Click here to see the complete set of photos.

All photos by B. Girardot

Friday, 25 February 2011 11:09

在海洋之心呼喚新生

晨曦來臨前,在霧氣迷濛的無垠海面上,他赫然發現,生命中的春天就在這裡……

Wednesday, 23 February 2011 19:45

Spring blues

Lanterns can’t breathe in the night, they scout the darkness but the waves shake the boat and leave them trembling, not sure if they will make it this time, as if shackled to the ocean, holding their breath for the sky to appear.

Thursday, 22 April 2010 17:31

Taipei in four acts: Scene IV

IV - Leave

And then one day, early Morning, you find yourself in a taxi, crossing bridges above rivers you know by heart now – the city that once appeared so big, you now know every corner of it – eyes wide open you keep watching the long thin smoky river flow all around the city; you lift the window and smell the air, the sun has lit the surrounding mountains already and the tallest buildings drain the lights from the top, draw the vertical energy from the sun into the plain grid of the same tortuous streets you’ve been through the first day, it’s all the same story, you think, some people currently land at the airport, they’re gonna live here, they come back home after a trip, it all starts again, here, among men heading for the same normal day they’ve lived so many times, slowly moving under the warm energy from the sky, you know it and there’s no way you will settle down, that’s why you see it, the poetry of this world is not yours, made of customs and habits to whom its people are blind, of places they love and places they have to go to, of their moan and laughter; you will leave soon, you wish you could grab it whole forever.

Soon, at the airport, the flavor of the place will start fading, some foreign elements appear that hurt your sight every time, the foreigners like you, the uniforms that you will see in other places too, Cathay Pacific and Hong-Kong invite themselves in your memory, another city, another life, another poetry, even the traditional characters seem to have started travelling to Hong-Kong, a city maybe more obvious in its arrogant rhythm, you are almost not there anymore, you wish you would call home the other cities as well; you know you can’t; one city took your heart, strangely enough, without any reason, you wonder what you would write if you had to talk about the poetry of it in particular; the only thing that comes to your mind is that it’s not poetry, it’s magic, the raw feeling of a place that can both welcome you and keep you at a distance behind its smiles, the magic that starts with concrete and ugly buildings, that runs along the streets, that goes deep into the heart of everyone, that hides beneath the exotic trees and irrigates a multicultural life; the power of a place you can compare to many others, where you also see how it could be, what people decided to build and what ideas are at work, and that very power turns it into a dream a close world open to the outside though still dreaming on its own, suspended in time and history as few others, offering you the face of a fallen dream if you can grab it, a bitter feeling indeed, it was once lively and it froze, it disappeared over time and opportunities, and now, the blank future of all possible opens its face as your plane takes off already, so small, so decided, straight ahead against the wind, it’s not over yet, one last time you fly over it, above the clouds this time you see it diminish in the air, you see the path to the sea and you see the grid, it’s an old painting from the ancient culture that spreads before your eyes one last time, an old forgotten lavish of ink and paper, bitten by time and dust it is a picture but you understand you’ve been living in it, day after day, for some time, you’ve embraced its sharp reality and now it’s gone, time to take the road again, and the memories will follow.

(Photo: B. Girardot flickr.com/photos/litanies)

For readers in mainland China:

Thursday, 22 April 2010 17:30

Taipei in four acts: Scene III

III - People of Taipei

What would be the city without its people? It is so true in Taipei, not such a beautiful place, not so perfect, but full of grace and poetry, so much that just one person will make you smile, and you will do this experience over and over again, you will enjoy the city with everyone, half accepted and half tolerated, you will go to the bank and try to retrieve money, ah, such an adventure, you will smile at the lady behind her desk conscientiously using her rule to draw a perfectly straight line at the perfectly right place, such an effort she has to curl her tongue and summon all concentration in the world, so touchingly; once outside you will chat with taxi drivers, students, protesters, shopkeepers– oh don’t worry, you won’t even have to understand, sometimes, in the beginning, they will talk to you for hours, and you will nod, and you will smile, and even grab a bit of what they say; you will argue with the bus drivers disguised into Santa Claus outfits because it’s Christmas, you will see people running 10 minutes after you to give you back your wallet, you will also find your landlord in the middle of the night crying softly in your living room repairing a broken canalization – you will find her also cooking when you come back earlier from a trip, quite funny- you will make complicated tests to check if it is right that people smile more when the stock exchange goes up and you will eat a lot of strange vegetables supposed to help you get a promotion, even if it didn’t work the first year and even if it seems that your colleague has gotten it and not you – who cares, you will flee the big concrete walls and hide behind the tall herbs, just there, with your friends who just know everything and show you, a secret privilege, some hidden spots, you will learn how to make insects sleep so that you can quietly make snapshots of them, you will discuss with them the ECFA, the world flower international exhibitions, put your winter clothes when the temperature goes below 15 degrees, woolen pullovers, ski jackets and thick caps; ride the metro and watch everyone sleep after long days, spend whole days eating, laughing, guided by the Chinese characters on the walls, on the streets, on the doors and between the buildings, throw sky lanterns in the air and rest in hot springs, play the old wise man in ancient tea houses, live there, just live there.

All of us share the secrets of the city, some kind of untold poetry coming from the roots, from the knowledge inside the secretive alcoves, hanging on the aerial roots of ancient trees like ripe fruits of happiness. A city as a center of freedom, arrogantly emptied from any need to produce food or industry, all looking at its services, all man-made, forgetting where it comes from and living within the imagination of men, a city of many books and stories, spinning on herself with its own rhythm, made by people for people, with freedom at its heart, the nascent feeling of doing what you want, just a smile passing by at the youth discovering discos and chatting with girls, a bit awkward, o sweet feeling, the city lives under the giant solar clock of 101 pointing successively at districts a welcome shadow, so thin, so real. “You know Ben, in Taiwan…” people fighting against promoters to prevent buildings from being built because some centennial trees, and even a white nose squirrel, live there, a city of contradictions, ugly and natural, yes a poetic city after all.

(Photo: B. Girardot flickr.com/photos/litanies)

Read the fourth part

 

Thursday, 22 April 2010 17:28

Taipei in four acts: Scene II

II - Night and Morning

So here we are, in the city, and before we even can see it we feel its blood, the place where it is, its inclusion in the surrounding landscape, in the bright sunshine; light as a traveler, we watch the grid of roads and avenues, we see how they lovingly shape the hills, how the streets lose their perfect neat order from the center and start climbing the hills, how some manors push their fatty protuberance and bend the concrete lanes, we see where the ground is deep and moving, in those pockets of small, old houses forgotten by the city planning, we see the floodable areas and the new districts, far away, rational, arrogant, just tall. Each district has its own voice, planes landing in the north, roaring constructions answering innocent singing exotic birds, sometimes the mere whispering of trees, when everything else has turned quiet, sometimes, for no reason, a pause in the night, constantly pushed away by all instruments, water pipes, water heaters, fridges, taps, choking windows spreading their life while humans quietly sleep, all the small metallic articulations of the city in the warm quiet hot summer nights, all windows open, dreaming about the magic of some secret places we just discovered, the places where you would bring your girl, maybe, if the time is right, where it’s not too crowded, if it’s not too hot, like that moment you just surprised in the morning, where the city will devote you a small shrine for love, protective, touching your heart. You dream of the places you don’t know yet, your imagination wanders between what you know already and what is likely to appear, once you’ll have understood the idea behind the glass and the stones, the concrete and the clay, you’ll be a living architect for the city, you’ll put high rises and nice parks, and you’ll watch it spread around, grow bigger, you’ll see the prices soaring then the people move further, you’ll smile and put more high-rises, you know they are love it here, you’ll also clean the rivers and restore old barracks. That’s it; maybe you love the town already.

But you wake up, you’ve got to go for food, you’re back in a tiny fraction of this city that just a while ago appeared so huge, you can’t embrace it all anymore, you’re left with foggy thoughts and fragments of reality murmuring you the city, you’re not sure, you see the trees are still there, you hear some noise in closed shops, you breathe deeply ‘cause you know it’s gonna be hot, you watch old men meditating, everywhere they are more of them, exercising in public parks, slowly moving their bodies to the Qi Kong, lost in their tiny world they still can call the World – nothing awake yet, you slow down the pace, turn into a new street, greet old temples fuming with incense some mysterious visitors have put at night – you didn’t hear that – once again the feeling emerges, this is all an old theater scene, the city there, not exactly like another neighborhood, not perfectly what you think it ought to be, but this cart, there, on the corner, the 包子, the 豆漿, the 水果汁, you forget already. For a moment you won’t remember the city, just enjoy what it has to offer, the Real gets suspended before normal life starts again, stressful, crowded, fluid, a sea of men assaulted with threatening silent “small yellows”, like many sharks slowly, slowly patrolling the city looking for a prey in their long, long slender, long long low carcass, everywhere up to the darkest alleys, everywhere slowing down when they see you, turning their necks; endlessly patrolling.

This is where you live now, nothing before and nothing after.

(Photo: B. Girardot flickr.com/photos/litanies)

For mainland readers:

Read the third part

 

Thursday, 22 April 2010 17:22

Taipei in four acts: Scene I

I - The typhoon

The city, asleep behind a curtain of rain; I wanted to feel the air of Asia, I tried to spur the magic in the small antic streets, I, ready for some exotic discoveries; my heart, ready for tortuous trees amid sweating concrete walls, smoke from beneath the street, food stands vanishing in the air, like some genies from an old tale.

But it was dark, all human sounds flushed by the heavy rain, each drop splashing the ground as if a giant drummer was releasing deep scents at every beat – all odors splashed to the ground like on a giant keyboard, it has no beginning and no end – I knew there was a city, there, into the heart of the island, I couldn’t see it, merely the tallest skyscrapers emerging from the chaos, some lost ambassadors born out of desolation and fear. Would they crumble already, just today? But I was nowhere; the island itself was nowhere, heart of a beating monster hidden in the rain. Nature, nature all around. How would I have known?

You don’t know where you are, all beauty is hidden, you feel the first poetry of a place you can’t call a city yet, before everything else appears; feel the thin line between this place and any other place, somehow hidden, somehow abstract, but so wide and powerful it will follow you in your dreams for a long time; you don’t even know it, not yet, you can’t stare at the future, this storm won’t let you focus, lack of sleep, oh the noise, the Earth groaning.

That’s the bass poetry, the one you won’t ever see, made of history and geography, the raw Reason behind all those walls and streets, all those buildings and parks, why they were born exactly there - you know, the same feeling as when you stand on a observatory, watching the streets, the horizon blinded by high walls, and you feel: “what’s this place? What would there be if mankind hadn’t come here?”. You watch the place again, you see a flat area, maybe some trees, some rivers, a forest here, and it’s flat, flat, empty. Suddenly you understand; this river, where someone thought he might drink, those mountains around, that would protect from the storms, this plain, where the winds would blow unabated and whisper the story of the gods, those flat lands would become the root of their dream, the very soil where they would stand, human without a destination on the island, where everything would live and grow, year after year, maybe welcome citizens of the world and maybe turn into the wild capital of some obscure poets, in this small land of nothing where one breathes so freely, even if it is nothing, even if it grows ugly, no matter what cracks and hopes time will insidiously wrinkle everywhere; this will be our land and from there we shall spread and fight, fight for those who dream and fight for those who will love it, the Neverland they’ve been looking for, I can imagine this, they would name the hills and summon elephants, leopards and lions; O nature, let us settle here and grow our history humbly, far from the powerful and far from greed, a land so insignificant everyone shall be welcome and it shall warm thy heart.

Sitting on a sword when one side is the raw desolation of Reality and the other the sweet power of dreams; the city, at its very core, will be a deep hole where time is suspended before something happens, it’s there but no one ever mentions it.

The rain stops, the curtain open, rays of light, fuming dragons, the city awakes, like a giant eye on top of a beast, beloved dragon, son of a millenary history, jaws full of blood, deeply wounded though, Taipei. Did I dream?

(Photo: B. Girardot, Taipei, 2008 flickr.com/photos/litanies)

Read the second part

 

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