Professor X’s Report from the field-Taiwan

Recently, the flaming Lotus girls were invited by a Taiwanese group, Dream Community, to create a flame effect for a mobile art installation, for the Dream Community April parade.  The project involved sending a member of our group to Taipei for two weeks to live within the  Dream Community  and collaborate in making fire art.

Making fire arts in an international environment has its own specific challenges, not only did we need to overcome the language barrier, we needed to match our US plumbing fittings and solenoids to Taiwanese fittings and standards and met local fire safety requirements.

For this project, we sent Dave X., a founding member of the flaming Lotus girls and the Burning Man Performance Safety Team.  Here is his travel blog of the project and our collaboration with the Dream Community.  We thank the Dream Community for this opportunity and look forward to working with them on future projects!

Day 1
10 hours and one dateline into my 13-hour flight must admit I am getting a little stir crazy. But hey they do have toothbrushes pre-pasted in the bathroom so at least my teeth are fresh. I wonderer who will pick me up at the airport?

Well someone did show up and they were easy to spot in tie-dye…
As we drove to where I will be spending the next two weeks the mix of heavy industry and lush tropical woodlands enthralled me. Junkyards seem to back right up to the jungle. As we entered town from the freeway mopeds in what seemed like a dance of death surrounded us. My driver JJ seemed to care little for their proximity or staying in one lane for that matter.

I meet with Gordon the director of the Dream Community this afternoon and looked at the truck that they want to mount flame effects to and the job looks fairly strait forward. I am thinking about two smaller accumulators for the rear and a big one for on top of the cab.
I asked about welding and other technical help and I was told that I would have access to two metal fabrication factories and their personnel. We went on a field trip to check them out and they are perfect. While I was there I spotted some solenoid valves on the floor and I asked about their availability here in Taiwan and was told it would be no problem to order these here on the island. The availability of these parts was of some worry to me as was the pipe sizes and LP fittings but from what I am seeing now these are non-issues.

Across from my lodging is a little café called the Tree Café. I am sipping on a Nepalese tea and it is yummy! Kind of chi like.
The Dream community is huge. I still am not sure about all of it but it seems to be about 5 or 6 square blocks with high rise apartments, studios, a few galleries, a theater, a out door and indoor public space and it is all vibrant and active.

Tomorrow I will start by measuring the truck and have a flat bed fabricated for it and then I will start scrounging for parts.

Day 2
I went to sleep at 9pm last night I tried to stay up later but that was the best I could do.
I woke at sunrise to the songs birds? There seem to be so many here even with all the industry and pollution. There are a lot of dog’s here but no cats that I have seen perhaps that is why there are so many songbirds? I went to get breakfast at 8am at the Community bakery. Very nice… there were some folks that I meet from India who just finished a course on Indian dance. Very nice folks

Anyway I have spent the morning seeking images of all of the parts I need like steel wool, valves, pipe fittings etc. I will print these and this will help me when I go to the B&Q store that from my understanding is like home depot.

I poked around town today killing time and I checked out the propane situation here. I have seen a lot of cylinders that I would guess had propane in them but when I asked I was told it was simply “Gas”? The tank fittings looked like the same ones we have in the states but without disconnecting them I cannot be sure. I think the site of the American tourist pulling out a wrench and disconnecting the tank would have caused some worry amongst the locals. Later in the day I saw the guy who delivers the “Gas” and to my amazement they deliver 25-gallon tanks by moped, three-stacked horizontal across the rear seat and one hanging as a bumper in the rear! The Taiwanese are a by the rules sort of folk and I wonder what will happen when we are testing the effect. I do not want to be a prisoner here!

Yes they are full!

Around 8pm we went to Kullung (sp?) the big port city nearby where they are working on a bunch of parade stuff for an upcoming event. There were artists from all over Asia working on the project and they were expecting a group from Brazil to arrive tomarrow to teach and dance somba. There is definitely an atmosphere of camaraderie amongst the artists her that is unlike other communitys I have been to.

After checking gout the workshop we went to the night market and it was a blast. I arrived home around 11pm and feel right to sleep. I am getting on schedule finally.

Day 3
If you imagine that you are building your Burning Man project and you need lots of parts but the only place to shop was china town, then you would have a picture of my day today.
I started of at the B&Q store. It was like home depot but without a lot of plumbing stuff unfortunately…

I got a few parts but I definitely needed more. I had a friend here, JJ drive me around to the hardware district of Taipei and we found a little hole in the wall shop and though the guy in that shop did not have the parts in stock he did understand what I needed. As I made conversions on my calculator from PSI to BAR’s and BAR’s to KGF/cm2 as well as feet to meters.

He sent a guy out on a moped to pick up the parts I needed and as I sat there LP regulators, solenoid valves, propane hose with fitting made to order were delivered one by one. I cannot believe this guys understanding of what I needed!That dude rocked

You need what?

By the end of the day I had all I needed except the LP cylinders. I am planning on picking them up in the AM and then I will go to the factory where I was told I would be free to use all of the tools and have help if I need it.
As we drove back to the dream community I was again shocked by the driving here. I am a danger kind of guy but I was white knuckled the whole way back. First of all the lane lines apparently are only a whispered suggestion of where you should drive. If you have a half-inch of clearance from the throngs of mopeds you are cool and if any part of your vehicle is in front of another vehicle you can cut them off at any speed!

This is a great place and I am having a blast.

Day 4

I went to the factory today to do the fabricating on the LP tank for the accumulator and when I got there the boss man wanted to take the tank from me to have the workers do it. I told him no I would do it myself and he looked at me with such skepticism I thought it would melt me. He went back into his office and brought me a new pair of eye protection and some gloves. Well I pulled out my own! I saw a look of confusion on his face and as I started to cut the protective ring off of the tank myself the whole shop came to a halt and they gathered around me to watch. When I finished the boss man checked my work shook his head and gave me a thumbs up.If I need a job here I know where to go.

The workshop

I tried the valve that we got yesterday and no surprise here, it would not stay closed. I checked it out further and found it had no return spring and depending on how you shook it the valve would be either closed or open… Damm it… why are these valves always such a pain in my ass. I had JJ call the supplier and was told if we wanted one with a return spring it would be extra? I am sending someone to pick one up and I hope then to finish with the rough assembly of the accumulator by the end of the day.

I went for a walk while I waited for the new valve. There is a small lake a few blocks from where I am staying with a cute path all around it. I meet some friendly dog’s saw a bunch of frogs and wandered around a lot of cute little gardens. Even though we are in the heart of a big city there are small patches of intense nature everywhere. Any little piece of ground seems to be open to planting a garden.

Day 5
As I was typing my post about the Day 4, Gordon my host came and asked me if I wanted to go to the mountains to see the aboriginal communities. Well I thought I have a few hours befor the parts I need arrive…why not..
Well 5 hours of driving into the jungles of the south with a van full of other Dream Community members I found myself at a grade school for the local kids. Some how I failed to notice the whole back of the van was filled with costumes and big puppets. It turns out we were here to parade with the locals. I was asked, “weer is you cossstume Dabead?” I noticed that Gordon had a s—t eating grin on his face and I knew I had been set up. But this was not my first dog and pony show so without hesitation I pulled off my shirt wraped some bright and frilly cloth around my waist and had Nina paint a disturbing face on my chest and the game was on!
So there I was parading through the streets with 60 or 70 aboriginal kids. The sight of the crazy foreigner dancing his crazy hippie dance had folks pointing and rolling in laughter. I got to admit I was having a great time! Luckily I had a stack if FLG stickers that I handed out and I can say for sure that these villagers will be representing the FLG’s for years to come. Of course there were fireworks and members of the Dream community were spinning fire poi. I do not think that anyone had seen this either as jaws dropped and the timed fled in giggles as we passed. After we were treated to a great full moon night in the bamboo covered mountains and a big feast of wild boar that had been slaughtered in honor of Gordon and us. It turns out that Gordon has a guy here from Brazil who has 100 drums and he is sent to the aboriginal villages for a week before festivals to teach the kids samba drum rhythms and he also supplies the fireworks and other support. We hung out in the village drinking beer and eating some great food till late at night and as we drove home I knew this had been one of the best days of my life.
I believe I will finish with the effect tomorrow and Gordon has told me he may send me back into the mountains next week to another village with the Brazilian guy for a few days. This sounds like a blast but I am a little concerned about communicating, the guy from Brazil speaks little English and the villagers will speak none.

New FLG’s

Day 6
I finished the plumbing of the effect today and we tested it in a parking lt. Kid’s and folks came out to see what was up. There were a lot of thumbs up all around. I have always enjoyed the looks on someone’s face when they get to set it off… priceless.

Afterwards I had some time off and I decided to do my laundry. It was another “man I wish I could read Chinese” moment. The washing machine was of course simple but I could not for the life of me figure out how to start it. Dam! You take these things for granted at home but here I felt like a fool asking someone to show me how to start it. They pushed one button and off it went. They do not have clothes dryers here and the humidity is so high it takes two days or more for clothes to air dry on hangers. This means you must plan days before you need clean clothes to start the process.
A little about food here. I have jumped right in and have only eaten what the loc’s eat and it has been a mixed bag. All meals are served with a heaping portion of rice. For the most part the food has been great but there have been a few times that I have gone out with my hosts here for local street food and been pushed right to the edge. Of course I am thankful and it is made to high standerds but at the same time my mouth has been saying Umm this is yummy my mind has been screaming “come on Dave you can hold this down” each day has gotten easier as I have found the foods that work for me just like any place else.

Day 7
It was Sunday so I went to temple!
As all my friends know I deal with danger and scary thins every day but today I was really scared. And why you may ask… because I had to take the bus all the way to Taipei by myself. I wanted to go to a big festival at a buddest temple but no one was free to go with me. The streets here follow no particular grid pattern. All of the signs are in Chinese of course and I would have to find my way back some how on my own as well. Again I know a bus ride does not sound like a big deal but I was really not sure I would make it back. Even if I spent the night in the bushes somewhere there was no way to be sure I would make it back the next day. Well fuck it. I was not going to be a baby and be held back from something that I really wanted to do by this irrational fear so I went for it!

I made it there and found the temple just fine. Apparently this temple has just undergone some extensive rebuilding and it was totally intense. There were hundreds of folks praying at many different stations of this temple complex each station had a shrine to a different deity as well as many areas fro offerings. Outside there were displays of fire walking and of coursing plenty of firecrackers. There was a large stage set up next to the temple and as night fell I was treated to Chinese opera. It was a great production. I was really off the tourist’s path here and I did not see another European face all day. The locals were definitely checking me out and more than once I found myself the subject of photographers. At one point a woman came up to me to show me the picture she had taken of my ponytail! Well we chatted for a while, as she knew some English. This was great as she was able to translate the story of the opera for me. The big challenge of the night was to not only find the right bus back but to recognize where to get off. Well I am happy to repot I did not have to sleep in the bushes! I made it home by midnight t and had a great sleep.

Oww Yaa..

Day 8

I finished the electrical system today for the effect. I had a really nice control box made in the factory from stainless steel. Man it looks good! I have created some written start up and shut down procedures and after I have them translated into Chinese I will add some illustrations to complete the operation manual. Everyone here is exited to see it in a parade that we will be part of on Sat. there are a lot of overhead wires, banners and other hazard here so a big part of the parade will be training the folks here in safety issues. It is one thing just to build and effect like this and leave but I feel that I must drive home the safety part before I leave it in their hands

Day 9 AKA my 44th…
My new friends here planed a trip to the hot springs for my birthday. We went to Kulung and rounded up a dozen other artists working there and drove along the coast and up into the mountains to a large spa-hot spring complex. It was really nice with several soaking pools of different temperatures, a cold plunge and a lot of space to relax. Apparently drinking in the hot spring is not an issue and we had a bunch of beers to enjoy as we soaked. At one point the inevitable birthday cake was brought out and happy birthday was sung in both Chinese and English. Well of course I had to teach them the DPW birthday song and they greatly enjoyed this rendition. I pity the next birthday person here…
As I sat soaking in the pool I reflected on my 44th year and how this trip was the fulfillment of one of the many dreams that I have had over the years. I remember a time many years ago when I sat with Pouneh, Tamara and Sun Cat in the craft loft of the Cell Space and we conceived of the concept of the Flaming Lotus girls. We laughed as we predicted that one day our fire art would allow us to travel the world as “Fire Artists”. This dream seemed so unlikely and far off at that time but here I am now halfway around the world living the dream while the lotus Girls have displayed there art in dozens of venues and festivals from SF to Australia. Man it feels good when your dream come true!
I can only imagine what of my many dreams will come true in the coming 44 years…

44… what the..

Day 10
This journey has been a great exercise for me in letting go of myself and any feeling of control of my time here. For days my hosts have been talking about sending me to the hill to stay with the aboriginal population here. I believe this is because I said my son was part American Indian. I went for lunch and was told that I would be traveling at 12:45 on a train by myself 3 hours south and someone would meet me there for my “adventure”. Well of course there was no time to decipher where I was going, whom I would be staying with or what I would be doing. Well to top it off I was told that the folks I would be staying with spoke only the smallest bit of English. Many times here I have felt powerless over my own destiny and like a small baby who knows nothing and can speak nothing this trip was a test of my ability top speak with my heart and hands. Like a baby I would be given what I was to eat, shown where and when to sleep and dragged around to where ever the wind blew.
I arrived at the end of the rail line and was meet by my new host Ily and after a short drive I found my self at a village Christian church. We meet about a dozen other aboriginal folks there and I deciphered that this was a singing group. We sat down and they started to practice. It was really good and as the pastor spoke a little English I found out that we were all going to a large hotel nearby to perform a concert of indigenes music for a group of regional officers and other big wigs who were donating 3 million NT$ to build a new church in the village. Well we arrived at the hotel and were shown to a large room filled with vary important regional officers and I was sticking out big time… I sat at the table with the aboriginal singing group all in there traditional costumes and all of the other folks were dressed as you might imagine officers of there stature dressed. Good thing I chose to where all black?…
The singing group performed and a bunch of bottles of 120 proof liquor of some kind started to flow. Well as you might imagine this loosened both myself and the room full of businessmen up and next thing I knew I was being dragged to the stage to sing karaoke. Well I gave my best rendition of “Duke of Earl” an encore song of there choice of course it was “I left my heart in San Francisco”. More drink later and the whole room demanded I give a speech about the virtues of San Francisco. What the F—.

All my new friends

Well we left there around mid-night and returned to the small village where I was staying I was as full of good food and liquor as I have ever been and was looking forward to a good sleep but that was not to be. As soon as we arrived a hand full of villagers greeted us and before I knew what was happing a guy brought a chicken and promptly snapped its neck. How do you tell a guy who has just killed a chicken for you that you are not hungry?
Bottles of beer were brought out and the chicken was boiled.
At this point I want to tell you about Bin-long AKA beetle nut. It is everywhere here little stands are all over every part of this island and it is traditional favorite the Aboriginal folks. I have been wondering about it since I have been here but the opportunity has not arisen to try it. Low and behold there was a big sack of the nuts and one of the men showed me how to chew it. Much chewing and spiting later I did not seem to fell any effects but my mouth was numb. Around 2am we finished the beer, chicken, and beetle nuts and I crashed out. I will say that whether it was the Beetle nut or the liquor I did have some of the most intense and prolific dreams ever that night.

Day 11
I woke in the morning with a bit of a hang over and still stuffed from the night before. My host Ile is a schoolteacher here and as I ate my breakfast all of the little kids from the village showed up and peaked at me shyly. I noticed the were running up and down the streets repeating some phrase and when I asked what they were saying I was told that they thought I was Jesus and they were saying “Jesus was in there school! I hung out for a few hours with Ile and her students helping them use the Internet. I found the Disney in Chinese website and they loved it. I can honestly say I have a new respect for the corporate mouse and all he stands for. After a few hours I was driven to a great national park called Taroko Park where I was dropped off at a trailhead and told to return to the village at dusk. Man I wished I had paid more attention to how we got there! But I was game and I spent the day in some of the most steepest most cloud covered mountains I have been in. at the end of the day I made my way back to the village and was driven to the train. I triad to give my hosts a few bucks but I was refused and I felt they had had as much fun with me as I had had with them. I was told if I ever wanted to teach English here I was more than welcome.
I leave in two days and I will be sad to leave this island and the folks here.

More new FLG’s

Day 12
Today was the big parade in Keelung. We gathered the forces around noon in a rally spot at the start of the parade. I was given some room on the sound truck to set up the Flame Effect and I felt right at home with the sound crew. Cables, speakers, and mixing boards are a language I can speak anywhere. I attached the Propane tanks to the effect and gave it a few test bursts. I don’t think anyone told the sound guy’s that this was part of the deal but when they saw that they were safe they gave me the thumbs up. The parade was as big as any I have ever seen stretching for 5 city blocks of more featuring large elaborate floats, aboriginal drumming groups, Brazilian style dancers and a whole mess of other stuff. As the parade started we were tasked with providing amplification for the native drummers and singers. Although most of you know I have never really been a drum circle kind of guy but I was definitely in the rhythm. I worked out some beats on the effect the accented the drum beats and the drum leader Hakim was impressed with my ability to jump right in. the parade went on for what seemed like hours and I wished I had brought a few replacement tanks because I was blasting it so frequently the I was freezing the tanks almost right away. There was a small generator on the truck to run the sound and power the effect and with some tinkering in motion I placed the muffler facing the tanks providing some heat for the tanks. With some switching of the pilot light tanks with the accumulator tanks on the fly I am happy top say I was able to keep the pressure up all day! I had made a long control cable for the effect and when I saw a likely group of old folks or kids I would hand the button to them so they could fire the effect. Man I love that look on someone’s face when they fire the effect!
After the parade we went back to the assembly point to do some basic break down of the floats and to my surprise they were driven the 20 miles back to the Dream Community on the city streets… no need for a flat bed truck here. It was a full day and I crashed early with a smile on my face.

It works

Day 13
My last day here…
I was asked to give a talk to the Dream Community members about the Flaming Lotus Girls and the Burning Man and about 100 folks showed up. As I talked my friend here translated what I was saying into Chinese and from all the smiles and head nodding I could tell I was getting threw to them just fine. I showed 8 clips from TV free burning Man that showed both the works of the FLG’s and all the work that goes into Burning Man. After a short Q and A session we went outside where we had set up the Flame Effect and lets folks fire it off. Oww Joy…
I was glad I brought a lot of business cards on this trip as I have been handing them out like candy. With both hands of course as that is the respectful way that it is done here. After the presentation all of my friends here got tougher in one of the artists residences called the goat house and we drank until the we hours of the night. As I blearily headed to my crib I knew I would miss this place big time, as this has been one of my greatest adventures yet.
I fly home in the morning I have caution tape for all…

Your man in the field
Dave X

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