Location: Qiaotou Sugar Refinery Station, Kaohsiung.
I thought that the area by the Qiaotou Sugar Refinery station would be empty on a Friday afternoon – everyone at work or in school. When I arrived, though, there were groups of students rushing to and fro with cameras, then I noticed a sign advertising the “Golden Sugarcane Film Festival”, a competition to make a short film about the area. It seemed my quiet Friday afternoon photowalk might not be so quiet after all.
I spent half an hour in the main area in front of the station. It’s a kind of cultural preservation area, with small streets and traditional style housing. There’s an artists’ reserve, art installations and some small coffee shops.
I took some photos and walked about, before deciding to head in to the old sugar refinery – my plan was to escape to solitude and photograph the old buildings and machinery. First, though, I needed a coffee. I headed over the railway tracks into Qiaotou to find a 7-11.
Just as I crossed the railway tracks I noticed three guys at the side of the road. I took a photo of them standing there. The guy on scooter was delivering some 芭蕉 (bājiāo) to his friend, they’re these mini-bananas that I’ve only seen in Taiwan. They asked me where I was from, and the usual questions you get as a foreigner. it turned out that one of them (the guy yellow baseball cap) had previously lived in the States. They offered me some of the bananas, and not knowing how long I was going to be out taking photos, I took them up on the offer.
I chatted with the gentleman who had lived in the US, his English name was Howard. He told me that his sons lived over there and then pointed back at his house exclaiming “they were born right here in this house”. There was a courtyard set back from the street with a traditional style Taiwanese house and some other interesting looking buildings. He motioned for me to come and take a look so I followed him, and his friend Jason, into the courtyard.
After taking a look around, Howard offered me a drink. Being in Taiwan I assumed it would be Oolong Tea or, on the outside chance, a coffee. But when I walked into the kitchen/living room Howard was opening a bottle of gin. It turns out he picked up a big taste for gin somewhere on his travels.
And so it ended up I spent a Friday afternoon late in January sipping on gin, eating mini bananas, and listening to stories about Howard’s travels in America. He’d lived there a decade or so, but decided to return to Taiwan as that’s where his friends were. He used to own a motel in the Mojave desert close to a military base. I tried to get some stories out of him but he wouldn’t budge. He said he sold the motel and it had since been demolished.
He showed me some photos of his family and talked about his past in Kaohsiung. It turned out that he had worked in the Sugar Refinery at one point and he explained the various levels of sugar purity. They both offered to show me around the old factory next time I was there.
Soon after, Howard’s sister and her friend came over to pay a visit, and I decided I had overstayed my welcome. I’d had enough gin for the afternoon, anyway. So I thanked the guys, said my goodbyes, and left. I had a coffee at the Family Mart on the corner to sober up before walking through the Qiaotou market.
When researching the area I had seen a railway bridge in Google Maps that I wanted to photograph. It was quite far away, but turned out to be worth the walk.
The bridge crosses over the Dianbao River after Qiaotou station heading out of Kaohsiung.
By the time I had finished photographing the bridge the sun had receded well over the horizon. I decided it to call it a day and visit the old sugar refinery factory another day. I headed home, now groggy from the gin that was wearing off.