Trista di Genova
For scores — maybe hundreds of visitors over the past years –-
these graffiti–riddled walls have been a haven, a half-way house,
roadhouse, meeting place, jamspace, recording studio, artists’ atelier;
a literary salon, a saloon, a party pad, a stepping stone, a tourist cell.
“Radio Banciao” as it has fondly come to be known,
has been an inspiration and a speakeasy for painters, poets,
writers, musicians, intellectuals, freestylin’ hip-hop artists,
scholars, visitors from all nations and corners of the earth.
As Sophia Mubarak from California put it
when asked her favorite part of Taiwan that she’d seen
while at Radio Banciao: “This block and the next,” she said.
If there has been any criticism,
it’s that Radio Banciao is “too social”;
true, it is not the place for you
if you’re not a heavy sleeper
or can’t stand to be around smokers.
It’s been likened to Paris, New Orleans, Le Plateau in Montreal.
Gourmet meals and revolutionary dishes and drinks
have been concocted, tasted, put to the test here –
sushi burritos before they hit the 7-11s, blueberry pancakes,
Mexican food fiestas, salades nicoises, Swedish salmon.
A river of rum, whisky & coke has flowed through these walls,
a mountain of Long Life Cigarettes hoarded, bummed and shared,
xiao mijiu (millet wine) gratis the Aboriginals, betelnut chewings,
so many experimentations with the latest paraphernalia
that Timothy Leary wouldn’t even dare cock a snoot at.
People have passed out on the couches, barfed on the floors,
run naked down the street on a dare to buy cigarettes and beer,
had sex in the shower, sang songs till the neighbors complained,
“toned it down” after 10pm to avoid bothering them thereafter,
thrown chairs and bottles at one another, all in a rage,
not spoken to each other until sincere apologies offered,
and had gospel hour in the living room of Radio Banciao.
A soldier had his first toke here, a gay guy copped a feel there,
a cop quaffed a beer in our garden, a couple people got kicked out,
beautiful Taiwanese girls and Canadian boys sat in our laps,
threw tantrums, stole our hearts, broke them, won them back again.
We danced with fire, burned stuff, used it as fertilizer.
A two-week wedding banquet took place upstairs,
a ton of meat and vegetables grilled on the barbecue,
and over the years a million Taiwan Beer cans recycled.
A French writer wrote his book in one of these rooms,
an American learned basic Chinese from her now-husband,
three Oxford scholars passed their summer pleasantly ensconced,
we wrote books, poetry, articles, copied quips to the wall as record,
recorded hours, days, nay weeks worth of original material,
wrote, directed, filmed videos for YouTube and festivals.
Famous-in-Taiwan, long-time, pro-independence icons
and scholars have graced “The Loof” with their presence,
birthday jazz sets have been played on acoustic instruments.
Capoeira practice and demonstrations were staged here,
as well as drunken, testosterone-fueled confrontations
between men who then forged deep, brotherly bonds.
Days, weeks, probably a month or two of labor
went into transforming a massive concrete deadspace
into a botanical garden deep in the heart of Banciao,
with over a hundred species of plants from around Taiwan,
it became a restful, beautiful place, despite urban noise
whether sunset or sunrise, for work and play alike.
Why stay for eight years, why stay so long,
in a run-down smoky Banciao 3-bedroom apartment?
Because this is the Real Taiwan.
This is traditional, suburban Taipei Country,
“feichang Taiwan”, extreme Taiwan,
with its ghetto ambiance, packs of dogs prowling the street,
attendant piles of poo, betelnut stains like a homicide,
betelnut beauties from Vietnam that come and go,
and the oh-so-friendly Taiwanese families,
who so kindly invite us to drink and eat with them,
take part in boozy, down-to-earth barbecues roadside.
This afternoon I was thinking about how
the Chuangs downstairs at the breakfast shop
spend almost their whole lives entertaining in
the space of a couple square meters, so content.
Maybe that same feeling affected us, foreigners;
we’re white ghosts to the Chinese, but welcome here.
And for us, the quirky novelty just never wears off.
As the saying goes,
“The guest is the pearl on the pillow of hospitality.”
Yea/Yay Banciao, you are and have been the pearl AND the hospitality.