Flow: listening to the wandering underclass of Taipei

I set out to listen for sounds of the street and wanderers in Taipei on my field trip in May 2013. I found a range of practices of mobility -- mostly rendered as sonic expressions -- tied to the conditions and politics around the city's criminalized and forgotten underclass.

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  1. Overarching thoughts on mobility, sound, and politics in Taipei

  2. Social and historical context of wanderers in Taiwan:
    Field site = Monga 艋舺 / Wanhua District of Taipei 萬華區

  3. Wanhua District is the oldest part of Taipei, what was known as Monga / Mengjia before the Japanese occupied Taiwan. On the Danshui River, Monga was an economic hub and a cultural center. Longshan Temple, the oldest temple in Taipei, came into being in Monga in 1738.
  4. #fieldnotes on the homeless:

Monga Park is a site of congregation for Taipei's underclass. The elderly, homeless, monks and nuns find a community in this public space and engage in leisurely activities such as Chinese chess, listen to street musicians, and chitchat. Some of them leverage their visibility to tourists to beg for money. There is also where informal trading takes place, i.e. flea market, unsanctioned lottery system.

Many of the nakashi musicians are disabled and came out of an homeless, impoverished background. They acquired the ability to play music because music performance is deemed as a legitimate livelihood for the wandering type traditionally.
    #fieldnotes on the homeless: Monga Park is a site of congregation for Taipei's underclass. The elderly, homeless, monks and nuns find a community in this public space and engage in leisurely activities such as Chinese chess, listen to street musicians, and chitchat. Some of them leverage their visibility to tourists to beg for money. There is also where informal trading takes place, i.e. flea market, unsanctioned lottery system. Many of the nakashi musicians are disabled and came out of an homeless, impoverished background. They acquired the ability to play music because music performance is deemed as a legitimate livelihood for the wandering type traditionally.
  5. I talked to a grad student who's made a documentary film about the homeless 游民 in Taiwan. From his interviews with the urban homeless in Taipei, he learned that the homeless community practices their own economy based on an internal value system. The area surrounding Longshan Temple is known to be a place where no one would starve to death, even to those outside of Taipei. Individuals of the homeless community take care of one another. An interviewee said that with a fluke disposal income, he bought 500 buns to share with those around him in his community.
  6. In a society driven by Confucian values on family, spatial movement could lead social instability. A man without a wife and children is a hooligan; a woman without a family is a prostitute or slut. If one's reproductive energy isn't disciplined by the institution of a family, then he or she becomes a wandering type, a detriment to the societal order. I also wonder if this movement is by choice, or is it a condition that later becomes stigmatized in a public discourse.
  7. Considering that flow is a threat or detriment to society, why is it that topics and practices of flow are so pervasive in Taiyuge (Taiwanese language music), in particular the songs associates nakashi? Is the sounding of movement empowering for those who wander?
  8. First 游民 (yuomin) refers to the homeless. The term 流氓 (liumang) means gangs or hooligans; 流鶑 (liuyin) refers to prostitutes. These terms are derogatory, and often are mentioned together. They also have opposite gender connotations, liumang, male; liuyin, female. The term 流浪人 (liulangren) or 浪子 (langzi) mean those who wander. These two terms pop up in many of the Taiyuge (Taiwanese language songs in the style of enka). They figure prominently in the songs most associated with nakashi.
    First 游民 (yuomin) refers to the homeless. The term 流氓 (liumang) means gangs or hooligans; 流鶑 (liuyin) refers to prostitutes. These terms are derogatory, and often are mentioned together. They also have opposite gender connotations, liumang, male; liuyin, female. The term 流浪人 (liulangren) or 浪子 (langzi) mean those who wander. These two terms pop up in many of the Taiyuge (Taiwanese language songs in the style of enka). They figure prominently in the songs most associated with nakashi.
  9. It is conceivable that some of the current homeless population consists of veterans from the war between the Chinese Nationalists and the Communist Party of China in the late 1930s. Many of the so-called "Old Soldiers" 老兵 fled to Taiwan with Chiang Kai-Shek either unmarried or spouseless. They remained unmarried into their old age.
  10. Nakashi 那卡西, an itinerant music performance practice in (semi-)public spaces

  11. As a performance practice imported from Japan during the colonial Japanese occupation era, nakashi in its original Japanese is 流し, meaning "flow." The Japanese term also shares the root with the Chinese word for the wanderers types that I've mentioned above: liulang/流浪, liumang/流氓, liuyin/流鶑. The shared root liu/流 suggests a movement in space. Yiu (游), the first part of the term yiumin 游民, also implies movement in space.
  12. Nakashi in parks alongside the Danshui River: past and present
  13. Riverside parties: nakashi in Taiwan spawned as an itinerant performance practice in tea parlors along Danshui River during the Japanese Occupation Era. There are no longer tea parlors along the river, but street musicians still congregate in the government-sanctioned riverside parks to busk. My dad and I stumbled upon a saxophonist who played along MIDI instrumental tracks on a laptop through a diesel-generator-powered  PA system in the park. A female singer and dancer joined in to add a flare to the playback-based performance. Audience members sat on plastic stools and chairs provided by the performers. Cyclists stop to listen to the music, young people come to hover in an around the romantic ambience. The elderly walk to the park to listen to their favorite "old songs" 老歌. I imagine that this is the most affordable and enjoyable pastime for most members of the audience.
    Riverside parties: nakashi in Taiwan spawned as an itinerant performance practice in tea parlors along Danshui River during the Japanese Occupation Era. There are no longer tea parlors along the river, but street musicians still congregate in the government-sanctioned riverside parks to busk. My dad and I stumbled upon a saxophonist who played along MIDI instrumental tracks on a laptop through a diesel-generator-powered PA system in the park. A female singer and dancer joined in to add a flare to the playback-based performance. Audience members sat on plastic stools and chairs provided by the performers. Cyclists stop to listen to the music, young people come to hover in an around the romantic ambience. The elderly walk to the park to listen to their favorite "old songs" 老歌. I imagine that this is the most affordable and enjoyable pastime for most members of the audience.
  14. I have begun to think of nakashi not only as a musical practice, but also as a cultural metaphor for people and practices associated with the fringe of society in contemporary #taiwan. It's a class thing, but class is defined by more than just economics, but as importantly by the complex system of social values.
  15. Nakashi mode of expression: LEDs and sound truck
  16. Sounding of the thin line between sacred and profane -- Buddhist music vendor #nakashi 那卡西 truck in front of the Longshan Temple: nakashi tunes blasting out of homebuilt speaker cabinets,  LEDs flashing, shelves of homebrewed Taiyuge mixtapes on cassettes and CDs, postwar folk recordings, prayer messages painted over a bright yellow motorized tricycle. I asked my dad to stop riding his scooter so I could take a field recording f this rare gem. The vendor seemed more like a business man than an evangelist. He sold secular music but packaged the store with an expressed religiosity infused with a nakashi sensibilty (mobile sound blasting platform with party lights). This truck displays the slippery line between the sacred and the profane that I have observed of the nakashi street culture in Mongkan (old #Taipei), a stomping ground for musicians and music lovers of the underclass of urban #Taiwan -- the homeless, disabled, impoverished elderly, gang members and prostitutes. #ethnography #fieldnotes #fieldrecording
    Sounding of the thin line between sacred and profane -- Buddhist music vendor #nakashi 那卡西 truck in front of the Longshan Temple: nakashi tunes blasting out of homebuilt speaker cabinets, LEDs flashing, shelves of homebrewed Taiyuge mixtapes on cassettes and CDs, postwar folk recordings, prayer messages painted over a bright yellow motorized tricycle. I asked my dad to stop riding his scooter so I could take a field recording f this rare gem. The vendor seemed more like a business man than an evangelist. He sold secular music but packaged the store with an expressed religiosity infused with a nakashi sensibilty (mobile sound blasting platform with party lights). This truck displays the slippery line between the sacred and the profane that I have observed of the nakashi street culture in Mongkan (old #Taipei), a stomping ground for musicians and music lovers of the underclass of urban #Taiwan -- the homeless, disabled, impoverished elderly, gang members and prostitutes. #ethnography #fieldnotes #fieldrecording
  17. A note on pronunciation: the Japanese term 流し is pronounced as "nagashi", and overtime Taiwanized as 那卡西 in Mandarin Chinese.
  18. Betel nuts and religious literature: A peculiar place, Monga in #Taipei is where the sacred meets the profane. Those who loiter here from the homeless to the hooligans consider this placed protected by the gods. This bulletin board is telling of that dynamic. The sign in red written advertises for #檳榔 betel nuts, a stimulative drug most often used for instance by taxi and truck drivers. They are associated with not only blue-collar workers, but also gangsters in #Taiwan. Next to and below the sign are a few posters related to Buddhism. One promotes the doctrines of compassion and nonviolence. The others are about dharma talk, meditation and retreat events. It's unclear to me how the sacred intersects with the profane here, but seeing this is a start. #艋舺 
#萬華 #老台北
    Betel nuts and religious literature: A peculiar place, Monga in #Taipei is where the sacred meets the profane. Those who loiter here from the homeless to the hooligans consider this placed protected by the gods. This bulletin board is telling of that dynamic. The sign in red written advertises for #檳榔 betel nuts, a stimulative drug most often used for instance by taxi and truck drivers. They are associated with not only blue-collar workers, but also gangsters in #Taiwan. Next to and below the sign are a few posters related to Buddhism. One promotes the doctrines of compassion and nonviolence. The others are about dharma talk, meditation and retreat events. It's unclear to me how the sacred intersects with the profane here, but seeing this is a start. #艋舺 #萬華 #老台北
  19. Politics of mobility & sounds:
    effects of gentrification on nakashi

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