Inside the somewhat planned realm of the modern city, there are still landscapes of unintended side-effects. Space left over after planning, gaps, cracks dents and grooves in the image of the modern city is being harvested in different ways by different groups of people: most operating as individuals but occasionally part of bigger groups constituting small societies or sub-cultures. This phenomenon is happening in cities all over the world and is in a way an indicator of the city’s ability to live up to the promises of its image.
In the Nordic urban venues, usually the gap between this real city and the city-image is quite small and controlled, but in many Asian cities this gap has evolved to form a part of the cities culture. Given this, the individuals within such a culture would be indicators of the possibilities that exist within the urban framework in terms of unintended utilities. We call these individuals “urban farmers”.
The city as a landscape
Because the urban farmers are unplugged from the “authorized” city, they are often carrying out their actions in autonomous networks; they form self-sustainable cycles, they recycle energy and matter, they form new economies, and they utilise devaluated parts of the urban fabric. In many ways they perform the very essence of the micro-city on an individual basis, demonstrating the city’s potential as a complex network without being trapped in a top-down image. Like farmers in the rural areas, these urban farmers fertilise, plant and harvest the urban landscape.
We would like to talk to these urban farmers, and tell the story of how these people operate the city. We will make twins of both Nordic and Taiwanese urban farmers and reveal the striking similarity of the somewhat universal sustainability in their way of life. Through their stories, a distinct layer of the city is exposed; we would like to call this the human layer, the layer free of masterplans and ideology.
Interview of the fishermen at san-jiao-du, senior citizens, fishermen and dragonboat racers
Chapter 1 – Our memories
There used to be a riverbed over here that continued to over there…and it went all the way to the red building over there. You see that red building up on the dike there? And this bend used to be the port, and it continued all the way to where the mrt-station is, and it went even further all the way over to where the marked is today. Before, between Ji-He road and Shi-Shang road, was the big fisheries and port. It used to be the old port. The Bei-Lin Bridge is in that direction, and that river goes to Tamsui, so this is why we call this place right here the San-Jiao-Du!
Oh, because of the three parts?
Yes, that’s right. Today you can go straight this way to Tamsui, but before you had to row the boat…over there is a flood gate, you see it has beveled corners.
What do you mean with beveled corners?
You know, the flood gate is here in the center, and the river comes in here, and here, and here. So this place here is in a way isolated from the rivers. You know, Mayor Wu wanted to divide this area in different separate districts…one over there…and one over here belonging to the Shin-Lin district…and then one down there.
So how long have you been living here?
For many generations.
So which generation are you then?
Well, after I was born, we have had three generations here, so…
What was this place like before, when you were younger?
Before? Well, before it was less manmade structures around the river. There was a lot of threes and nature.
So did you build the houses here by yourself?
Yes, we built the houses by ourselves. You know, in the old days the farming and the fishing were mixed together.
When I was young I was happier than I am now…do you know why? Because the water in the port was clean, so I could swim for clam here. But now you cannot do that anywhere here, and I am getting older so…Now, there are cars everywhere…
So there are a lot of changes?
Yes, yes. There were not so many cars before. I remember when I was young; I could even lie down on the street. I could even spin a top in the middle of Zhong-Shan North road…and there were no cars!
But now there are cars everywhere.
Yes, now it’s even a problem to cross at the cross-roads. I remember one time I had caught some clams and cooked them…and then I went to the marked to sell them, but I got there too early, so I just sat down on the street to wait…and then I fell asleep!
And it was safe?
Yes, there were no cars!
Did you live in San-Jiao-Du before?
Yes, I lived near the Shin-Shang road. You know, there used to be a fish-port near Ji-He road…and we lived just next to the port, and I had my boat there. We could catch clams right outside the port. We could even drink the water straight from the river. The river was very clean at that time. We also could catch a lot of shrimps and eel…you know, it tasted much better before, you know, in the old days.
How long ago do you mean?
Well, about 30–40 years ago. I have been a fisherman since the age of 13, now I’m 67 years old.
Are you the only fisherman left here now?
Well, there are some other fishermen over there…but now most of them are retired. I am the only one still fishing. Sometimes I catch some catfish from the river and when its flooding I can also catch grass-carp.
Chapter 2 – The changes of our environment
What would you say is the biggest change around here?
The water-pollution. The population is getting bigger and then it becomes more pollution.
When did it become worse?
Since 20–30 years ago…
Is it getting worse since factories have built in San-Ching city?
Not only from the factories…also waste-water from houses, and so on.
Now the water is cleaner, or not?
Yes, it’s much better, but the water still has some impurities because the ecological system has been changed. Now it’s almost only imported species of fish in the river.
It’s imported from other countries…and the new fish have settled better in the river than the local fish.
Oh, really? So what kind of fish do they import?
For example like Mouthbreeders.
Is that an imported fish?
Yes, Mouthbreeder is imported from South-Asia. And also they import catfish, and some other strange fish…people can have them in aquariums you know, but when they get big then people don’t want them anymore so they just throw them into the river.
Ah, so they can live in the river?
Yes, they can. They interrupt the ecosystem.
What is the typical local fish then?
Well, there is carp, crucian carp, grass carp, catfish, shrimp and eel. It’s a lot!
So you could catch these fish in the river before?
Yes! Also different types of clams, and a lot of other things. And when we went fishing, we didn’t need to bring any water, we just drank from the river!
Can you drink the water now?
Yes you can, but you will get a rotten stomach!
Oh, that’s so terrible.
Yes, you can try to touch the water with your skin, you will get a rash. It’s very sad, the population is bigger so we get more waste-water. You can’t really blame anyone, it just happened. There is less fish in the river now, and even if you catch it you can’t eat it! When you catch the fish you can’t sell it because it’s not good for eating.
Is it hard to work in these conditions?
Not necessarily, because when it’s so polluted you can so something else! The pollution started 20-30 years ago.
That over there is actually a land-fill, but now it looks like a mountain.
How long has it looked like that?
It’s quite a long time, many years. In the beginning it was just grass growing over the land-fill and now there are also trees, but it’s not like the trees in the forest. These trees are not useful; you cannot make anything from them.
So before, when you passed through this area, could you smell the garbage?
Yes, yes. After they built the incinerator they stopped putting the garbage here.
Chapter 3 – Making a living
When I was young, and went out to catch clams, I tied a rope around my waist and tied the other end around a tree. Then I walked into the river until the water reached up to my chin and dove down under to catch the calms. When I was out of air I just pulled myself up by the rope to breath.
Oh, its so funny. How long ago was this?
When I was 8-9 years old.
Where did you go to catch clams and red-bugs?
There are no clams here. They are in the Tamsui River! Red-bugs are not only here, you can also catch them where we were earlier by the garbage mountain. You can even catch them near by the temple in Song-Shan, and you can also catch them right here. If you know about red-bugs then you will know where to catch them. Some fishermen can catch more than 100 kg and others just 50 kg…it depends on your skills. It’s the same with the clams; some can get 100 kg while others just 30-40 kg. if you are skilled you will catch more. If you are catching clams the skills play a bigger role than with red-bugs. If you are trying to catch clams you have to find them on the seabed, it’s difficult to see them because they have the same color as the seabed, so you must have good eyesight. You can find a good location for clams by looking at the color on the seabed. Then you look at the shape of the mountains, and find a good place…then you just turn the boat around and catch the clams.
So it’s just like driving?
Do you think the river looks the same as before? If you compare before and now, is it getting better or worse?
Well, it’s better, but there is nothing to catch in the river anymore…Before it was so dark around here. When the water was high we could easily row the boats out to go fishing. But when the water was low then it was much more difficult to row, it was a hard job! Now we have motorboats you know, it’s more convenient.
Yes, you just pull the string and go.
Yes, with some of them it’s like that. It’s a motor engine so it’s like a car, we just turn the key.
If you compare driving a car and rowing a boat, which do you like best?
Well, I don’t know how to drive a car. I can only drive a boat.
Is it more freedom in driving a boat?
Yes, it is.
Chapter 4 – The typhoon
When the typhoon is coming it’s very hard, we have to move the boats over there…and we have to tie them under a tree.
Are the boats very heavy?
No, we use a wheel. We put the wheel under the boat and then we tow them up to the dike.
So it’s quite convenient?
Yes it is, so we tow the boat up to the trees and they protect against the strong wind. Before we used to grow bamboo around the houses near the flood gate…the bamboo protected the houses because the strong wind cannot pass through the bamboo.
Chapter 5 – Going away
One time when I went to japan I wanted to buy an apple one evening, but I didn’t bring the apple-peeler that I normally use…I thought; Damn it! How am I going to eat this apple? So I went to a 24-hour shop, like we have in Taiwan, to buy a peeler. But I cannot speak Japanese! So I tried to show the man in the shop with my hands, you know….and he understood what I wanted! You just have to use your head you know. I don’t understand Japanese so…I just showed my apple and started to move my hands like this…he understood exactly what I wanted.
So was the apple any good?
No, it was very ordinary
Do you go often to celebrate Gods birthday?
Yes, we go to the South of Taiwan, like Bei-Gang and Che-Cheng, every year. It’s an activity that involves both communities in south. We usually go by bus, and every time its 5–6 busses going there together.
Chapter 6 –Out traditions
Old men like us like to have Dragonboat competitions and we always bring our flag!
Yes, yes, I know this! Have you won any of the competitions?
Do you practice for this every day?
We practice together around one month before the competition starts.
So, all of you old guys get together and practice for this?
Yes, if you add the age of all the team members, it will be 1400 years! Really, it’s true! Each district in Taipei city has their own team, we always win first price.
Good job! Good job!
When we race the Dragonboats on the Da-Jia riverside Park, I am always the helmsman. You know, if the helmsman isn’t doing his job right then the boat will just go in circles. You must really push the paddle deep into the water, and keep the direction. If you don’t use the right technique then the boat will not go fast. First of all you must have the right direction on the boat and then push the paddle deep into the water. This will help the other team members do a better job. You must use your arms, and you must use your waist when you paddle. Then the boat will tilt slightly in the water and you go really fast. If you know how to work these techniques you will go past the other boats.
This year you won the first price in the Dragonboat race…are your community proud of you for that?
No! nobody cares about that…they don’t care.
Category Research, Exhibition & Academic Location Venice Biennale, Italy Client National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (TMOA) Status Built, 2006 Size NA Program exhibition Collaborators C-lab (Marco Cassegrande),Curator Prof. Ching-Yueh Roan,"Co-exhibitors Hsieh Ying-Jun (TW), Liu Kuo-Chang (TW), Huang Sheng-Yuan (TW), C- Lab Finlan (FI)" associates Cecilie Andersson (NO), Nikita Wu (TW), Enta Yang (TW), Yeh Chih-Cheng (TW), Vivian Garnes (NO), and Espen Folgerø (NO)