On Sunday afternoon in Shida Park (師大公園), a shouting match broke out between shopkeepers and the chairman of a neighborhood group. Around 80 or 90 small business owners were assembling for a protest march, holding banners accusing the Taipei City government of malfeasance, mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) of stupidity, and city councilor Lee Hsin (李新) of destroying property values to smooth the way for redevelopment.
The marchers — mostly proprietors of coffee shops, night market stalls and small restaurants — told reporters that the city is selectively enforcing regulations in Shida and forcing their shops to close down. In the last year, close to 200 small businesses have been shut down by city officials, and recent months have seen waves of fines against remaining shops and restaurants.
The marchers would eventually join the DPP’s 100,000-person-strong Fury Rally in front of the Presidential Office, and their banners were prominently displayed along the parade route. But before the march could begin, Jerry Liu (劉振偉), a neighborhood organizer lobbying to shut down the businesses, appeared in Shida Park and began heckling them loudly. He was answered by Andy Singh, owner of the restaurant Out of India, who yelled at him, “Get out of here!”.
“We exchanged some insults and threats, and that was about it,” said Singh.
The United Daily News meanwhile reported that a scuffle nearly broke out between the two men, and the situation was only defused by the arrival of police.
The protest was the first organized action by Shida’s business owners, and the cause dovetailed nicely with the DPP’s new calls for economic reform and protecting the little man.
Singh says he was nearly given a chance to speak from the rally’s main podium, but in the end there was not enough time. Still, the business owners finally exhibited a bit of unity, and in the process have potentially found some real political support. The fight for Shida continues to stay interesting.
Sitting on the sidelines for this one — stupidly, in my opinion — was Underworld, a live music venue that has been shut down by city regulators twice in the last two years. The bar continues to be plagued by city regulators, who visit so often they are almost becoming regulars, and seem to find new problems at every turn.
The situation has gotten so bad that Underworld was last week forced into a historic announcement: It has banned smoking inside the bar, beginning Jan. 15. The reasons, according to the bar’s blog, were “protests by concerned citizens, immature laws and the government.”
This is almost unthinkable, but will be good for the staff, who would probably have found it healthier to have spent the last 16 years working in a coal mine. But no, I don’t really see this happening. A bar by chainsmokers, of chainsmokers and for chainsmokers. Even if they put a stack of nicotine patches next to the coasters, I don’t think the ban can last. If it does, F***ing Place (操場) would remain unchallenged as Taipei’s only excessively smokey rocker bar.
At the DPP’s Fury Rally — the biggest political mobilization since last year’s presidential election — it is interesting to note that the soundtrack was provided in large part by local indie rock and underground hip hop. Both the rock band LTK Commune (濁水溪公社) and rapper Dog G (大支) were given choice time slots on the main stage, and both are known for their open support of Taiwanese independence and related causes. (Last October, Dog G put out a music video featuring his Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is barred from Taiwan by the current government.)
At the corner of Linsen South Road (林森南路) and Renai Road (仁愛路), a truck was parked along the parade route, with large speaker cabinets in the flatbed blasting out “Civil Revolt Part 1” (官逼民反 Part.1) by the hip hop group Kou Chou Ching (拷秋勤). The song, which must have been on repeat, is from 2007, but the lyrics couldn’t have fit the rally better: “The government makes life hard! The people can’t bear it! Overthrow the corrupt! Taiwanese revolt!”
There are many reasons why the DPP and indie music have become such good allies. None of them have to do with DPP leaders being the least bit hip. What rock bands and green camp politicians share is the spirit of grassroots opposition.
The DPP has always considered itself a grassroots party and maintains a fundamental respect for other upstart or populist movements. The KMT meanwhile has a natural aversion to anything that emanates from the rabble. Preferring a paternalistic approach, or what Singaporean king-for-life Lee Kwan Yew (李光耀) calls “Asian values,” the party insists on building all the cultural institutions and then forcing all activity to take place under the single roof of the state apparatus. They know that by domesticating culture, they can also stamp out its rebellious spirit. They like safe — and boring.
The Deadly Vibes and 88 Guava Seeds get the vote for the most fun show this weekend. Even better, it is free. Both bands are Taipei scene veterans, and both are known for high energy rock n roll. 88 Guava Seeds has been around since the mid 1990s, has six albums and frontman A-Chiang (阿強) can still do the splits.
The music is 80s punk and 90s rock, but we appreciate the dance moves lifted from earlier icons like Elvis and Little Richard. The Deadly Vibes, dressed to play in a 1950s Texarkana roadhouse, belt out an early rock ‘n’ roll sound, but with newer distortion pedals. The Texas trio are the Marty McFlys of the Taipei scene, with a music that is both timeless and lost in time. They never fail to get the dance floor moving. Excepting Revolvers’ second anniversary last month, the Deadly Vibes also haven’t been playing many gigs lately, and with drummer Jason Copps expecting a baby in March, there are no shows on the immediate calendar. Catch ‘em while you can!
■ Tomorrow at 8pm at Roxy Rocker, B1, 177 Heping E Rd Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市和平東路一段177號B1)