Wednesday, December 30, 2009

At the risk of repeating myself

I read back through the last few entries. I hadn't realised how much I'd gone on about the smell of eggs in the Big Eye Tuna. Ah well, repetition is the soul of wit, after all.

We took the HSR north again to Taipei, and spent the journey watching episodes of The Wire on my computer. I've got an MSi netbook; it's pink, and I've installed Ubuntu on it, which turns out to be a right fuss. With the latest release of the operating system, they've set it up so that the webcam doesn't work, and (more annoyingly for me) the brightness control for the screen is messed up. You can brighten the screen as much as you like, but as soon as you let go of the brightness controls, the computer will start to lighten and darken the screen randomly, as it sees fit. This is meant to be a known issue, but it's not a fixed issue, and I'm really getting too old to fuss about with computers not just working properly. Perhaps I'll downgrade to the previous release, which might be fine. Or perhaps I'll install Windows on it, and have a hope of configuring the network on it. (As it is, I'm failing to connect to any network anywhere, whether it's wireless or wired, and this is providing a bit of frustration to me.)

Or perhaps it will start working magically, and I'll rave to all and sundry about how wonderful Linux is. Hmm...

Meanwhile, Taipei continues, regardless of whether I can connect to the internet or not. After dropping our stuff off at the hotel, we went to the Taiwan Museum of Fine Art, where Cai Guo had an exhibition. He was the guy who suspended eight or nine family saloons in the name of art, in a Shanghai shopping centre, if I remember correctly, as well as in the Guggenheim.

I liked some of what he did – there were some interesting big installations of tigers jumping through the air whilst being shot with arrows, and a stream of wolves leaping up into a glass window, but his paintings left me cold. What was excellent, though, was a courtyard exhibition of the Vienna Rent Strikes – at least a dozen clay sculptures of people being evicted for non-payment of rent. Because the statues had never been fired properly, the clay was cracking and breaking, which made them seem much more visceral – when you see two people pulling on a third who is disintegrating in front of you, it's quite awe-inspiring.

There were displays by new Taiwanese artists downstairs. Some were very fun (a darkened room illuminated by sudden sparks from a series of electrical bug zappers), some a bit trite (making you experience a sniper's shootings from his viewpoint) and others were just a bit odd. One that stuck in the mind was the flag of Taiwan, painted on a huge sheet of bubble-wrap, accompanied by a film of two children, alternately fighting and painting the flag onto the bubble-wrap. The artist's commentary suggested that in the sixty-odd years since Taiwan came into being as a nation, the attitude to the flag has moved from reverence to a sort of ambivalence; a shorter time than the longer duration that the British flag, say, has had to evolve in the collective consciousness. We know whether we're meant to employ the Union Jack ironically or not, or at least we think we do. Although on consideration, I don't even know how long that has been the flag of the United Kingdom. Perhaps 2010 is the year that I learn more about flags. Although that doesn't strike me as the most productive of resolutions, I suppose it would be a start.

Afterwards, we went to Taipei 101. I visited Subway for a foot-long sandwich, and then we had Valrhona ice-cream, and then spent a lot of money on books. A day well spent, and we still had the night market to visit and the internet to hunt down.


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