Taiwan: Houtong Cat Village

In my recent attempts to be slightly better at blogging about my travels, I’ve found that the impetus to do a post either arises from wanting to provide value to other travellers doing their research online, or wanting to share photographs I took while travelling which may not necessarily be useful snapshots of “what you will see at ___ sight” but that I’m reasonably happy with nonetheless.

This post is because cats.

A village of cats.

Houtong is a small village in Taiwan, an easy train ride away from Taipei. It’s part of a group of former coal-mining villages which have now reinvented themselves for tourism. As uninspiring as this may sound, the villages are surrounded by rolling hills and waterfalls, have done up their abandoned mining facilities quite educationally, and are handily connected by the little Pingxi railway line, which you can travel all day for the pittance of 54NTD (day pass).

Houtong’s done a pretty good job with its coal-mining sights, but evidently decided at some point that it would obliterate all possible notions of being nothing more than a bleak industrial wasteland by cultivating and cosseting its fuzziest residents.

Mural of cats in mining carsPlease slow down, cats crossingNo dogs allowed

When you get off the train, one side of the tracks leads you to the visitors’ centre, a nicely done little coal-mining museum and some rather evocative mining ruins, and the other side leads you to the residential streets. There are plenty of cats to be seen on either side, but just in case you’d like some guidance, here’s a totally useful map.

Here be cats

Wandering around, at almost every turn you come across feeding dishes, little cat shelters  and of course the cats themselves, who were mostly very lazy on a rainy afternoon and content to sit around looking cute and snoozy for photos.

Snoozing cats, background cat houses

Just in case it has managed to elude you so far that cats are an important part of this village, there’s also a giant cat statue.

Giant cat statue on roof

In hindsight, I realize I should have used a smaller aperture for this photo because the depth-of-field is too shallow to effectively make the point that this cat is a real-life version of the giant statue seen faintly in the background. I was probably too overwhelmed by ZOMGADORRRRBBBBSS!!! in the moment.

Houtong village cat

Here is the village logo, which combines references to Houtong’s name (侯硐 means “monkey cave” in English), its mining past and its delightful present. Alec, who does not share my enthusiasm for disturbingly oversized cats, did not share my enthusiasm for this logo either. Humph.

Houtong village logo

I set my umbrella down in order to better photograph this cat. Naturally, it then decided that it can haz umbrella.

Ur umbrella iz nao mai umbrella

Most cats I saw in the village were shorthairs, similar to the strays we have in Singapore, but I did come across this regal chap guarding a doorway.

Orange you going to pet me?

MOAR CATS.

She sits, and sits, and sits, and sitsOh haiMuseum guard

To get to Houtong:
Take an east-bound local train out of Taipei Main station or Songshan station to Ruifang (瑞芳). If you can read Chinese, look on the digital displays for trains heading to Yilan (宜蘭), Hualien (花蓮) or Taidong (台東), but if not it may be easier to ask for help. I believe you can buy tickets in advance for a variety of trains (express vs local etc.) with different journey times, but we just took the next available train and paid with our EasyCards by tapping-in as usual at the ticket gates.

At Ruifang, there is a ticket office on the platform where you can buy the Pingxi line day pass. (If you used the EasyCard to pay for your Taipei – Ruifang ride, you can tap-out with your card on the platform near the ticket office without having to exit the station.)

From here, the Pingxi line sequence is:
Ruifang – Houtong – Sandiaoling – Dahua – Shihfen – Wanggu – Lingjiao – Pingxi – Jingtong

I might write more about the rest of our Pingxi line explorations in a separate post, but just in case I don’t get round to doing that, make sure to check train times as you plan your own explorations, because the trains aren’t always regularly spaced out and you could end up waiting around longer than you’d wanted to at one stop because you’ve just missed one train and the next will be in more than an hour’s time.

Till next time, here is a hoodie I spotted on the train out of Houtong.

As we left Houtong

Hong Kong Photoset: Street Shots

I’ve been interested in street photography for quite a while now, and especially influenced by the ideas discussed – often with brutal honesty – in image critique threads at the Hardcore Street Photography forum. Although my other posts about the Hong Kong trip have been intended more as useful guidance for other people planning their own trips than as “photography” posts per se, this one is just a collection of street shots I took on that trip. I’m happiest with the 3rd and the 9th shots because I think they best capture the kind of style I’m trying to develop in my photography (as opposed to more obvious shots like the 5th or 7th), but I would love to know your views on the photos, especially if your preferences are quite different from my own.

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Hong Kong Day 2: Sheung Wan Snapshots

The gaping maw of a sun-dried lizard. A hipster boutique window bust of Sun Yat Sen in a polka-dotted bow tie. A samfu-clad elderly gent sitting just inside the weathered shutters of his shop, reading the newspapers in soft evening light. It might just have been one of those times when the novelty of being on holiday somehow opens your eyes to the sort of things you’re blind to when you’re at home, but I really enjoyed the day we spent wandering around Sheung Wan.

Evening News(Yes, these are from the trip to Hong Kong we took, oh, nearly six months ago. No, I will never be as good at this travel blogging thing as The Everywhereist.)

The Image, Deconstructed

Each week, The Image, Deconstructed features a striking photo (usually, though not always, of a photojournalistic nature) and discusses the creation of that photo with the photographer who took it. I find the discussions interesting not just for the glimpse they give me into the world of photojournalism, but also for the detailed descriptions of what goes into working the scene and the examples of the less successful photos which get taken along the way to the killer shot. I have to admit, there’s nothing I find quite so encouraging as the visual proof that even fantastic photographers take shitty photos.

Here are the “deconstructions” of a few images I found particularly striking:

  • Alex Boerner’s beautiful depiction of a 101-year-old former painter, now bedridden, among her paintings.
  • Rich Joseph-Facun’s impeccably-composed photo of pilgrims at the Ganges River.
  • James Chance’s work at Manila’s North Cemetery (home to a living community of 2000 people) yields more than 1 striking photo. Although the headline photo is certainly dramatic, I prefer the surreality of the photo just after that.
  • Paulo Siqueira’s capture of a tender moment shared through the veil between an Egyptian woman and her baby is sweet, and the story of how he obtained access to meet and photograph this very conservative Muslim woman is interesting as well.

Hong Kong Blip: Abercrombie & Fit

We went to Hong Kong, and as is par for the course for all my holidays, I’m still in the midst of that futile flail I always do while elbow deep in photos which will ultimately be half-processed and never published.

But a friend seemed particularly tantalized by this tweet:

So I thought I might as well throw her a bone in the meantime.

To explain, Abercrombie & Fitch just opened a Hong Kong flagship store in the historic Pedder Building for the jawdropping amount of HK$7 million (US$902,000) monthly rent. While it doesn’t make much sense to me to promote a clothing brand through the extensive use of men who are barely wearing any, you could say it enhanced my sightseeing.

Tram Man

If Only

Joo Chiat Photowalk

Cyclist on Koon Seng RoadBefore I spent more than an hour watching the really fascinating Javanese “horse trance” dance performance I chanced upon in Joo Chiat, I had been on a self-initiated photowalk down Joo Chiat Road. As a long-time Katong/Joo Chiat resident, I was walking a route I already knew well, but had rarely bothered to photograph.

If you’re from this part of town as well, I hope my photos will reflect what you know and love about our neighbourhood. And if you’re not familiar with it, I hope you’ll like what you see in my photos and come visit!

 

Javanese “Horse Trance” Dancing In Joo Chiat

It’s been too long since I showed Joo Chiat some photo-love on this blog. We often wander there for bak kut teh at Sin Heng or drinks at The Cider Pit, but perhaps because I take it for granted for being so close to home, I rarely bring my camera. A few weeks ago, I did, which is why I managed to film and capture one of the intriguing things I have ever witnessed in public in Singapore.

At the junction between Joo Chiat Road and Joo Chiat Place, a traditional Javanese dance called Kuda Lumping (also referred to as Kuda Kepang) was being performed. Apart from carrying and manipulating horses made of woven bamboo, the participants in this dance are said to go into trances where they behave like horses and are treated accordingly, such as being fed and whipped. As they are supposedly immune to pain while in this trance-like state, they also perform various dangerous feats such as eating broken glass.

Bali: Lovely Lake Tamblingan

As I mentioned, I’m going to write about our trip to Bali more in terms of highlights than according to the sequence of our itinerary. On that basis there is only one place I could start: the beautiful, tranquil banks of Lake Tamblingan. It was not a place we had known to list on our desired itinerary, but a suggestion from our driver/guide Putu Arnawa as a place he personally liked. We had sought Putu out in the first place because he is a photographer, and by now I had enough of a sense of his aesthetic to trust his suggestions. I am so glad we did.

Temple After Rain

Grant Museum of Zoology, London: The Lovely Bones

I’ve long run out of humorous excuses for neglecting this blog, the pathetic truth being that I neglect it because I don’t think many people read it, which of course engenders a chicken-and-egg problem which is so totally first-world I’m ashamed to even be talking about it. So let me launch right into the good stuff, and by good, I mean good if you’re into skeletal remains and cute furry things entombed in glass formaldehyde coffins.

Anyone who understands London at all will know that you can live there for years and still only scratch its surface, unless you happen to be Peter Ackroyd, in which case I want to transplant your brain into mine. The Grant Museum of Zoology is a classic example of how I managed to live five minutes’ walk from an intimidatingly long walrus penis bone for four years and not know it. It’s one of UCL’s museums, small but very charming, and of course like almost every other museum in London, you can enjoy it for free – something I always appreciated about London, but even more so after I’d visited New York. I realize that as someone who used to enjoy taking spontaneous detours past the Rosetta Stone or Elgin Marbles on the way home from lectures or shopping, I have been extraordinarily spoilt, but that’s just what London does – it spoils you for anywhere else.

But I digress – onwards to the walrus schlong. (Actually, don’t get your expectations up too high, it’s not that big of a deal. Well, it’s big, but I shamelessly exploited it to sucker you into reading a post about a dusty little zoological museum.)

Here’s a thumbnail gallery to help with page loading time, and so that the full-size horrors of the Surinam Toad or the Jar of Moles aren’t plastered across the front page of this blog, but the full post follows under the thumbnails.[slickr-flickr type=”gallery” search=”sets” set=”72157628495925387″ flickr_link=”on” descriptions=”on” size=”m640″]

Bokehkeh

One of the most addictive things about my Sony Nex-3 is using it with old manual focus lenses which you can buy for fairly low prices on ebay. My latest acquisition is a Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 58/1.4. It’s the fastest lens I have, and while I’m sure I need to practice a bit more to get the hang of using such shallow depth of field, the learning process has been kinda dreamy.

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