The oldest district in the modern metropolis of Taipei goes by many names - To some it is “Bangka” (Báng-kah khu) or “Monga” (艋舺) and to others it is “Wanhua” (萬華區). Whatever you prefer to call the district, it is one of the most important districts in the city and is steeped in history, culture and religion.
Once one of the most prosperous districts in the city due to its proximity to the Xindian River (新店溪), the district served as a centre of commerce for over three hundred years. The area was originally settled by the Pinpu Kaitakela tribe, then Hokkien (閩南人) immigrants from Fujian Province and most recently by Chinese refugees of the civil war.
Today the district is in a period of decline and has an aging population that is regarded as the “fattest” in the city - It is well known for its historic sites which include Longshan Temple (龍山寺), Taipei’s most popular temple as well as the Qingshui Temple (艋舺清水巖), Bopiliao Historic Street (剝皮寮老街) Huaxi Night Market (華西街夜市) and Ximending (西門町), Taipei’s answer to the hip and modern Shibuya shopping district in Tokyo.
If you want to experience the historical side of Taipei, there is no better place to visit than Bangka. This area is unlike any other area of Taipei - Not only will you find history, but walking around gives you the distinct feeling that you travelled back in time to an older, livelier and somewhat seedier version of the city.
So far my series on Bangka has been split up into three sections. The next three sections will be some simple street photography and I plan on ending it all with a post on Longshan Temple. These posts will consist of street photos of the residents of Bangka around the park, in the temple and on the streets in the historic area of the district. This area is a great area for street photography and I hope to show a bit of what life is like in the district through the photos.
1. Afternoon Tea
I have mixed feelings about this photo. On the on hand it makes me feel a bit happy because the man seems so cute in what he's doing. On the other hand it makes me feel sad that at his age he is having his afternoon snack by himself. It leads me to think about other things less metaphorical about old age and death which are scary to someone who isn't really in his youth anymore.
2. Avoiding the Sun
I recently attended a photo critique session and I brought this photo with me. I think the consensus of all my friends and colleagues in attendance that it was only 2/5 and there were a lot of problems with the shot. Afterwards I explained why I took the shot and they all looked at it again and they all said “Ohhhhhhhh ok.” When I took this shot I only saw one thing and it interested me as somewhat of a commentary on Taiwanese people and their fear of the sun. Look again at how they're walking single file and how they're avoiding the sun shining between the pillars. It was a beautiful day and I really enjoyed the weather. It's not as common for a lot of Taiwanese people to enjoy the sun however as they prefer lighter toned skin.
3. Sugarcane Juice anyone?
There are few things as nasty to me as Sugarcane juice. I'm not a fan and I never have been. It is a popular drink though, especially among older Taiwanese people which means there is probably no better place to sell it than in Monga! When I took the shot the vendor was having a conversation with a customer and he noticed me taking the shot and looked straight into the camera. I like the deer in headlights look and the environment around the vendor as well.
4. Collecting Alms
There are quite a few people dressed up like monks and sitting around Monga. I hate to be skeptical but from what I've learned from other people is that they're not all real monks and a lot of them just sit there dressed up as one to collect alms from the pious people of Taiwan. I haven't really been able to tell the difference between what's real and what's not with monks but from what I've noticed, some of them have ID tags to prove their authenticity. The monk in this shot wasn't really being laid attention to as the people walked by oblivious to his existence – or maybe they've just learned better by now. It's sad that this kind of thing happens because alms are important for a lot of monks and temples to have food and basic amenities.
5. Deep Conversation
If there is one thing I'm not a big fan of its pictures of people from behind. As a photographer it's important to get in the thick of things and if you are posting editorial material of the back of people's heads it comes off a bit unprofessional. I'm not saying that photos from behind can't work, but it's generally better to get in front of people to see the full emotion of the scene. In this shot I was in a large crowd of people who were watching a Taiwanese puppet performance at a small temple near Bopiliao. I didn't want to make the subject of the photo the puppet show, nor did I want to get in front of these guys for the shot. What I wanted was to get a shot of the deep conversation these two were having and have them stand out from the rest of the crowd. I'm still not really a big fan of this kind of photo, but for me at least, I think in this situation it worked quite well with the expressions and seriousness of their faces as they discussed things.