Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Island to Island

Five Days in Taipei
I am grateful to the Publishers Association of New Zealand (PANZ) and Creative New Zealand (CNZ) for making it possible for me to return to Taipei to promote Island to Island (Dala Publishing) at the Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE).
 I chose the title!

The book is the result of a collaboration between three artists from New Zealand and three from Taiwan: Ant Sang, Tim Gibson, Rachel Fenton (me), 61Chi, Ahn Zhe, and Sean Chuang, that began with the New Zealand Book Council's Graphic Novelists exchange Residency, in association with PANZ and TIBE, back in October 2014. 

As then, I kept a visual diary of each day, as well as a photo journal. My Five Days in Taipei begins at Auckland International Airport:

Day One



 Day Two

I recognise fans from last year. 

Intriguing messages appear on stands around the book fair.

 Upstairs, I am given my first copy of Island to Island in preparation for the workshop I'm about to take part in. I read as the room fills before me with graphic artists, cartoonists, art historians, university professors and students from all over Taiwan.

Sean Chuang's "gift" to me has me in tears.

 Then back to the Locus Publishing stand at the book fair for autographs.

 I'm not always comfortable having my photograph taken with fans.

But Aho is always nearby to make sure I honour my duties!

Day Three

Before catching a taxi to my next event, I wait for Aho, my publisher, at the Locus book stand and photograph people reading Island to Island.

Chinese New Year is just ending but no one seems in a hurry to end the celebrations.

A quick cab ride across the city has me and Aho in the part of town where he lives. The streets are narrow and the shops varied and of interest to the students who live here to be close to the university.

 Just before the event, Aho takes me for something to eat before we meet Yang Chia-Hsien, an acclaimed Taiwanese poet who is going to discuss graphic poetry with me and 61Chi.

I've read several of her works in translation - we exchanged poems - and I feel very honoured to have her praise of my poetry.


We talk about some of the differences between Chinese traditional poetry and Western poetry, and note some similarities between formal poetry and graphic poetry. Island to Island is an unusual collection because of its poetic nature.

61Chi's "gift" to me, for example, has no words. It is left to the reader to interpret the interplay between the non-sequential pictures and work out what they might mean.

As an example of my own graphic poetry, I have taken along posted sized pages of "Alchemy Hour".

 I make a new friend - Kevin is also a poet.


Then I take a taxi back to my hotel.

A van transports a box printed with the word "HEART".

The taxi passes The Grand Hyatt, the hotel where the NZ Guest of Honour delegation stayed last February. 

I promised Tina Makereti I'd Tweet a photograph for nostalgia purposes.

In the seating area, a young man has his head in his hands,
elbows on knees. He appears to be crying.

 I don't press send.


Day Four

I get up early, eat an extra large breakfast

  and head across town to deal with some unfinished business.


The city is pretty deserted at this time.

 It's only as I approach the mountains that I start to see signs of life.

 Hikers pause to appreciate one of the many temples on the route.

I watch a dog practicing yoga - early morning is the best time, for ying and yang - but I'm distracted by a man shouting "Foreigner". His name's Geoff and he wants to give me a tour of the temple.

 He tells me about the goddess, urges me to take pictures because, "You're a foreigner, you're ok."

 Stray dogs gather in front of the goddess.

 I ask Geoff the way to the mountain. He tells me to take the left every time the road forks.

 A dog wearing a coat runs to greet me.

I hop behind a couple, ask if they mind me walking with them. They laugh, tell me they have a child who lives in Canada. They say their English is very bad. I say it's better than my Mandarin. I'm very funny, apparently.

 I leave them when the road forks. Now the mountain talks to me.

 All the way up the mountain I hear dogs, their barks and howls mingled with the sound of singing from the temples.

Another temple. Each time I see one I pass a message to Buddha.


 I make it to the summit where there are "People, people, people".
 I'm so happy, I run part of the way down.

I meet 61Chi at the Metro station outside the Taipei 101 building and she takes me over town to have afternoon tea with Lawran, our translator from last year. In lieu of rose milk tea, I celebrate with hot chocolate and lemon pound cake.

Day Five

My final event is a group interview in Theme Square.

My room is on the 12th floor. Breakfast is on the 3rd. There is no 4th floor. The word four in Mandarin is similar to the word death.

 劉宜其 林嘉萱 關婷勻 張敏慧

After the event, we go for a last meal together: spicy hotpot.

Then 61Chi takes me to see her neighbourhood.

On my last night in Taipei, I eat cookies gifted to me by Lawran, and do not sleep. A couple sit together all night on a bench in the alley between the building site and my hotel. Mostly they talk, but at four am, one takes the other's face in their hands, tilts it to the left and kisses them.

My flight leaves  at one pm. I eat breakfast and go for one last walk.

I take a happy photo outside the Grand Hyatt. People are eating breakfast in the ground floor restaurant where I once watched a poet asking for an apple. They don't see me.