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No GuanXi

There will be no further GuanXi magazine content posted on this site. For purely archival purposes, what has been posted here shall remain – a small tribute to those writers, artists and friends who contributed simply because they are writers, artists and friends.

The “Editor in Cheif” (sic) of GuanXi may be contacted by email.


Letter from the Editor – GuanXi IV

Welcome to GuanXi Four – the Spring issue – marking our first full year. To celebrate this auspicious achievement we’ve put together yet another fantastic magazine for your enjoyment. I’d buff my fingernails on my shirt front but it prevents me from typing. I am, you may trust, composing this letter with a particularly smug and satisfied look on my face. You should see Gilbert – he’s absolutely giddy with excitement and performing his interpretive GuanXi happy dance. Matt is also very pleased but he tends to be more taciturn.

To mark GuanXi Mark IV, we are pleased to present our first ever centerfold – designed to be popped out and proudly hung on your wall; a limited edition suitable for framing. You can SEE IT HERE, but the proper centerfold is only available in the magazine.
It was supposed to be a naked photo of Gilbert (designed to be guiltily hidden under your mattress) but the pics were stolen. The list of suspects is, as you might imagine, almost infinite. Nevertheless, the feature was rescued by cartoonist Chris Lecours who raises a long suspected question about the world’s smartest human, Noam Chomsky.

GuanXi is also very pleased to host a feature from Taipei based photographer Tobie Openshaw, who recently organized a Ted X Talk on the island. Mr. Openshaw has spent years studying an unique Taiwanese cultural phenomenon: Betel Nut Beauties. Whether you think it’s a matter of shocking exploitation or a happy yet dangerous distraction while driving, his insight and photos will give you a fresh perspective on the subject.

Hamock Myson returns
, in his inimitable style, with another work of fiction tracing the path of a particular bit of filthy lucre through the local economy while making thin reference to classic poetry. Let me not to the sharing of his fine tale admit impediments.

Kate Nicholson, in her recurring role as GuanXi’s culture maven, interviews a Fulbright scholar who is deeply involved with environmental art here in Taiwan and with curating exhibits featuring Taiwanese artists. Her outstanding article on Jane Ingram Allen presents some great photos and a fresh look at what it means to make art.

GuanXi is further pleased to announce that we now hobnob with a real live journalist. WaPo’s Taiwan stringer, Amber Parcher, haunts the island covering all things of interest to America. She spent her Chinese New Year visiting Cambodia and has taken the time to share her experience.

Amanda Fiore graces us with yet another poem. Amanda left Taiwan to pursue an MFA in creative writing back in the States and has been so kind as to flash glimpses of the depth and breadth of her talent. It is no exaggeration to say she is doing exactly what she was always meant to – being a writer and a poet – and that you should hang on to the early issues of GuanXi because her work appears in these pages.

We also have a bit of a blast from the past. Some may recall the magazine 24/7 and the crazed rantings of an untethered crank who called himself Mr. Bitch. Perhaps a quote from Elton John would be appropriate: The bitch is back. Stone cold sober as a matter of fact…
Not a precise quote, nor precisely accurate. Turns out it’s not easy to maintain that level of vexation…or sobriety.

As always, the articles found here are also available in the dead tree version. You can pick up a copy at any of the fine establishments listed in the left column. We invite you to leave comments for our contributors. We also invite you to join the GuanXi Facebook group, where you can communicate directly with the community and leave notes for Matt, Gilbert and yours truly. We do want to hear your thoughts, ideas, suggestions…and we’d love to have you get involved. It’s your GuanXi.

The Spring is sprung, the grass is riz…I wonder where your GuanXi is.

Gan bei!


為了使關係五有新氣象,我們驕傲地宣布關係五將附有我們第一份的摺頁海報,您可撕下海報展開來貼在您住家的牆上,原本那應是一張Gildbert的裸照(應被藏在您的床墊下)但照片卻被偷了,如您所猜想,嫌疑犯的名單太長而無從找起;然而,漫畫家Chris Lecours卻對嫌疑犯有所憶測,他向世界最聰明的人Noam Chomsky提出一些嫌疑性的疑問。

關係也很榮幸能夠主辦攝影師Tobie Openshaw的展覽,他最近辦了一個Ted X Talk,Openshaw先生花了數年研究台灣獨特的文化:檳榔西施,不論你是否認為那是一種令人震驚的探索,或者只是在開車時會令你分心的危險因子,但他的照片將帶給您對於檳榔西施全新的觀點。

Hamock Myson回來了!以他獨特的風格創作,他用那虛空的言詞創作古典詩詞,只為了追求取得骯髒財富之途徑, 別因為我而阻礙了你欣賞他的作品。

Kate Nicholson再次為關係做了一個文化專題,她訪談Jane Ingram Allen,她得到Fulbright獎學金來到台灣,專研台灣環境文化及台灣藝術家的展示等,Kate傑出的訪談並呈現多樣化的照片,為藝術帶來新的觀點。

關係也很開心我們現在與一位WaPo的台灣記者Amber Parcher合作,她鑽研與美國相關之話題,她利用農曆新年的假期拜訪東埔塞並分享她的經驗。

Amanda Fiore提供另一首詩使雜誌更加多元,Amanda離開台灣到MFA,在美國寫作並分享她的寫作才能,這麼說並不誇大,她正在做她一直以來都想做的事-成為一位作家與詩人,你該看看關係的前幾季季刊,因為她的作品在前幾季都有刊登。

我們也從過去也得到了一些批評,有些人應該還記得24/7及不知哪個稱自己為Mr.Bitch的怪人的瘋狂的嚷叫聲,或許引用Elton John的歌詞較為適合:婊子回來了,如冰冷的石頭般冷峻,實質上…既不是非常精準的引用,也不是非常的準確;事實上是要保持煩惱或冷靜的程度很不容易。





Betel Nut Beauties

First impressions
When I arrived in Taiwan 12 years ago, I drove past the girls in the brightly-lit glass cages by the road, amazed that prostitution was practiced so openly! When I asked about it, I got one of two responses: “No, they only sell betel nut and cigarettes and drinks, nothing else”, OR “Oh, those are bad girls. Keep away from them, they cause accidents and give Taiwan a bad name.”
Smelling a controversy and a unique subject to dig into, I investigated further. It took some courage to stop at a stall and buy a can of Mr Brown coffee, unsure whether I would be run off by the gangster boss or kidnapped and made to pay for sexual services! But I did and what I found was very different from my expectations.

As a documentary filmmaker, I’ve always been interested in people who live on the fringes, and this unique subject had received very little serious attention. I became fascinated by the layers of misconception and entrenched prejudice faced by the girls, and I wanted to tell their story. Thus began an eight-years-and-counting quest; a documentary film that never found funding; a photo exhibition that attracted a ton of media attention, and a web gallery with over 1.8 million views.

Getting betel nut beauties to agree to be photographed or interviewed proved to be difficult. They are notoriously camera-shy, and will usually refuse if a man just shows up trying to take pictures of them. At the first contact I always have a Chinese speaking female assistant with me to explain what I do. Everyone has a story to tell, and if they know you’re sincere, they will share theirs. If she says no, I just move on. If she says yes, I will usually build a relationship over time – go back, take more photos, give her some photos from previous occasions, and get to hear her life story.

The Business
The industry has cleaned up its act in many respects. Stalls are properly licensed; the gangster-owner element seems to be declining, and the girls are not underage. In places like Taoyuan County, the enforced dress code has done its job. During the economic downturn, I did notice some stalls closing, but I see them opening up again – there’s renovation going on so it seems business is still perking along.
I have never met a betel nut beauty who claimed that she was coerced into the job. Many do want to get out when the pretty clothes get old and the harassment from customers becomes unbearable. Finding a new job is not easy, and some find their way to gambling joints, KTVs or as hostesses in clubs. Most of them say that it’s a job like any other, with pros and cons, and more and more tell me that their parents do know what they are doing and are OK with it.

Most of the women report some form of harassment. This mostly takes the form of men trying to touch them, or making repeated sexual advances, to in extreme cases driving up and exposing themselves. However, actual physical assaults are rare. The girls mostly have strategies in place for dealing with this kind of behavior, including security cameras.

Effect of my work
I’d like to make it clear where my interest lies: “I don’t support the war, I support the troops.” I believe betel nut is bad for you and I would never recommend anyone to take up the habit. Furthermore, I do not believe that sitting in a glass cage wearing lingerie to attract passing men is a great profession. I would not want my daughter to do it. However, I do believe the betel nut beauties deserve more respect and understanding than they’re getting.

In terms of the effect that my work has had, I believe I’ve managed to challenge the entrenched perceptions about the girls being of poor character and the business being a front for prostitution. At the very least, I have kept the conversation going. On several occasions Taiwanese people have come up to me at my exhibitions and challenged me for spotlighting this part of their culture. They would rather not be reminded; ask why I don’t photograph the beautiful mountains and flowers of Taiwan. I tell them that I am interested in the human angle. After going through the exhibition, they often come back saying, “I need to go and think about this a little more.” Those are my most satisfying moments.




Art of Impermanence – Jane Ingram Allen

Artist and exhibition curator Jane Ingram Allen has created art in everything from an elementary school to an old folks home. The Taichung resident has been living in Taiwan with her husband since moving to the island as a Fulbright scholar in 2004. Since then she has been involved with a number of influential community and international art events.

Under the Fulbright residency, Allen and her husband traveled the length and breadth of Taiwan holding community art workshops in paper making. She would usually start by making a map of the village or area in which she was working. “It was a way of learning the [local] culture,” she explains. “I would always collect things in each place to put in the map [and] the locals would bring me old pictures or old brochures of all of the famous things in their community.” The paper was made out of local plant materials: “I learned a lot about plants; ‘What grows here that doesn’t grow anywhere else in Taiwan?’”

Allen went on to found and curate, from 2006 to 2009, the Guandu International Outdoor Sculpture Festival, held in Taipei City’s Guandu Nature Park. Participating artists were required to create their artworks using only natural materials found locally. “In environmental art, if you’re trying to make something that is not going to pollute the environment and even be good for the environment, you have to think, as an artist, in a different way about materials. It’s a challenge to figure out how you can use bamboo to make nails.”

During 2010, Allen curated two exhibitions, Going Green: New Environmental Art from Taiwan and the ChengLong Wetlands International Environmental Art Project. ChengLong is small coastal fishing community in Yunlin County where flooding has created a wetland. It is now being promoted as a nature preserve and bird watching spot, bringing much needed tourist dollar to one of the poorest counties in Taiwan. The project involved international and local artists and, says Allen, “brought fresh energy to the local community and perhaps helped people realize that there is some value in having these wetlands and this art.”

With Going Green, Allen “wanted to show to the world that there are artists in Taiwan that are thinking about environmental issues and are presenting a different viewpoint.” The exhibition toured four US cities and she was ecstatic with the result. “You know, one thing that I think is really important about this show is that it brought two artists from Taiwan to each venue, so the local community had personal contact with the artists and with Taiwanese culture.”

International cultural exchange is crucial for Allen and she has been responsible for bringing a large number of international artists to Taiwan, as well as helping Taiwanese artists expose their work abroad. In her own art practice, she gradually became dissatisfied with the exhibition model offered by gallery spaces and found herself increasingly drawn to site-specific and 3-dimensional art creation. “Project-oriented pieces that are out in the community and involve local people and local materials. That’s why I have been so interested in residencies. When you do this kind of work you almost have to go to the place and do it.”

Ingram has a storeroom back in New York State that is crammed full of her artworks, “stuff I made and don’t want to throw away but really, what can you do with it? Maybe it will never sell and nobody will collect it.” This has led to a philosophy of impermanence that has a direct influence on her art. “I’m making pieces that either disappear over time or that are made for a particular place and I just leave it there. I think it is sort of liberating in a way; you don’t feel that your art is so precious that you have to keep it forever.”

This impermanence bleeds into the shows she curates. Most of the artworks in the ChengLong project, as well as the site-specific works made for Going Green, will eventually melt into the landscape and are made of materials that will help the environment. During her time in Taiwan, Allen has seen an increasing number of Taiwanese artists from all disciplines focusing on environmental issues. “I think because the environment is becoming such a pressing issue everywhere,” she explains. “Taiwan, because it is a smaller island, is going to be more affected because it is very crowded and very urbanised. I think even artists are starting to see this and think that it may be an important issue for them to make art about.” There is, however, still a long road ahead. “I don’t think environmental art will ever be a big movement in Taiwan until we see it in the public plaza. I think it would be a real stretch for a city to commission a sculpture made with hay bales.”

  藝術家及展覽會館長Jane Ingram Allen在每件物品上都能創造藝術,不論是在國小校園裡或是養老院中,都看得到她的作品;自從2004年以Fulbright留學生身份來到台灣後,這位台中巿民就和她的丈夫一直生活在台灣;自此之後,她就一直忙於社區及國際藝術的活動。

Digging Up The Bitch

Some folks still recall, with varying degrees of either chuckles or mockery, an expired nom de plume under which I regularly vented my spleen, exorcised demons, and generally mocked the unending supply of intolerable stupidity and frustration that seems to comprise the daily struggle in this vale of tears we call life. “Mr. Bitch” ranted, at various times, about local food, love, violence, bad drivers, American foreign policy, fear, sex, deadly sins and the burden of existing in a world in which so very many things are so very aggravating. It was cathartic and, given my nature, rather easier than shooting fish in a barrel.
At a recent meeting with the principals of this fine magazine, it was suggested that I resurrect the Mr. Hyde to my…well…there was never any Dr. Jeckyl but that’s beside the point. I seem to have forgotten exactly where I buried the body.

It’s not that there are no provocations – if anything, the number and kind of things that would have caused sputtering, incredulous raving at the sheer myopic brainlessness of both individuals and humanity in general have only multiplied. It simply turns out that another of the things someone wiser than I once said is true: As one gets older, the number of issues worth fighting over shrinks.
It’s not that I have no passion left, it’s that I’ve become far more discriminating about where I spend it. Sure, Sarah Palin still makes me roll my eyes and wonder what sort of epidemic of imbecility infects a few million Americans, but it bothers me far more that Bacardi rum is no longer stocked at Carrefour, Save ‘n Safe or the RT Mart.

This change – call it crankopause – is certainly at least partly due to age (I’ll not insult the word by calling it maturity). When I arrived in Taiwan, my beard was black and there were only a few stray grey hairs on my head. It drove me almost to the point of murder trying to get my brain around the cultural necessity on this island to maintain social harmony by telling people what they want to hear (as opposed to the truth). As one hardwired to say what I really think (and often without waiting to be asked) this caused no end of trouble. Now, however, I just shrug and go on about my business. Getting twisted up over things you cannot change is like smashing yourself in the face with a ball peen hammer – it feels better when you stop.

Aging is a strange process. I look in the mirror and see the same young man who has for years been looking back at me. More recently, however, that fellow in the mirror has taken to asking, “What the hell happened to you?” I can only shrug my shoulders as we say to each other in perfect unison, “I have no idea. It just happened.”
I’m a little slower off the dribble and can no longer get above the rim; the long pots still find the pocket occasionally but I haven’t had a break over 50 in almost a decade. I used to play tennis. Went out with a neighbour to hit a few balls and was surprised to find I still have a pretty stroke but there’s no way in hell’s half acre I’m chasing balls from alley to alley. The ankles and knees have lost their spring, and the lungs register very serious objections with rather frightening impatience.
I no longer have any interest in hitting the clubs, spending a wild weekend in Kenting, or knowing where the hip kids are going to be on Saturday night. If they aren’t in my living room, I don’t care.
And, for better or worse, the well from which I drew the venom necessary to power Mr. Bitch has almost run dry…or perhaps not dry, I just no longer keep mah bucket handy at all times.

In response to the suggestion that I crank out a fresh Mr. Bitch, I spent more than a few hours chasing various threads down pointless cul de sacs. I simply couldn’t spare the vinegar for things that only amount, these days, to mild annoyance.
I do, however, have a shovel and a vague idea of the general location of the grave. I am not at all averse to digging up those old bones and hooking the corpse up for a Dr. Frankenstein style lightning strike to jolt some juice into a righteous screed should the stars so align. A good friend – one far too smart to believe such utter shite – recently tried to argue for homeopathy. THAT is the sort of thing that can wake the dead (while offering absolutely no assistance to the living). So, fair warning: I may have mellowed and moved out to the mountains, but the ghost of Mr. Bitch still lurks…and waits.

至今仍然有一些讀者帶著不同程度的輕蔑及嘲笑回憶著我之前所使用的筆名,那時隱藏在這筆名下的我,定期地宣洩我的怒氣以驅趕我心中的惡魔,並嘲弄著生活中不斷發生且不能忍受的傻事及挫折,就像我們為了所謂的生活而不斷地奮鬥而流下的眼淚一樣;如同Mr. Bitch一樣,我多次談論食物、愛情、暴力、不良駕駛、美國外交政策、恐懼、性、致命的罪及生活的重擔等等,世界各地很多地方這些原素都在惡化;過去這些是純淨天然的,比射在籠子裡的魚還要更簡單;最近我和這家雜誌的負責人會面後,他們建議我喚醒Hyde先生成為我的…嗯…從來就沒有Jeckyl醫生,但這些都離題了;我似乎真的忘了我把屍體藏在哪了。


Cambodia feels a world apart from Taiwan. There’s an intangible glamour to this sweaty, scruffy country in the heart of Southeast Asia. The capital city, Phnom Penh, has an energy that can’t be felt in the metropolises of Taiwan, China or Japan.
People here don’t subscribe to the same traditions and beliefs of prim and proper East Asia. Here, the people are loud and colorful–if you upset a Cambodian, you’re going to hear about it.

Phnom Penh’s riverfront bustles with tourists and Cambodians.

But this humble country is a vortex of positive and negative energy, metaphorically akin to the classic struggle between good and evil. One of the oddest things about being in this country is knowing that so many of the people you meet and see have survived an unimaginable hell, and yet here they are, trying to make the most of what life they have left. I find myself wondering who among me was a child soldier, or who supported the mind-blowingly genocidal propaganda of Paris-educated Pol Pot’s regime. Do I pass former soldiers on the street? Were any of these people responsible for the mass killings?
On the other side of the suffering, it’s too easy to picture today’s Cambodian children starving, their bloated bellies round with air and skin dripping from malnutrition. (Reading first-hand accounts of survivors from the Khmer Rogue reign, a wild Communist faction that destroyed Cambodia from 1974-1979 hasn’t helped my imagination.)
The fact is that everybody here over a certain age lived and suffered through the Khmer Rogue and the nearly 30-year civil war that followed. Accounts vary, but it’s widely accepted that some 2 million out of Cambodia’s 7 million residents were killed in just four years during one of the most murderous regimes the world has ever seen. Many people survived by fighting for the bad guys.

Mehak Sokhom, a 25-year-old Cambodian who lost his family and his left arm to a landmine 10 years ago, lives in dismal poverty, unable to get a job because of his disability. He spends his days speaking to visitors of Siem Reap’s relatively unknown War Museum about the underground war still raging against Cambodia’s farmers.

What makes Cambodia unique in the encyclopedia of political experiments gone awry is that the bloodshed here is so real and raw, the stains still drying, and yet Cambodia is one of the few places on earth where the past is so closely intertwined with the present, like a dream you can’t quite rip apart from reality. Tuk tuk drivers paste their rickety carriages with advertisements for rides to the Killing Fields, a ghastly mass grave of thousands of men, women, children and even foreigners just outside the capital city limits. Laundry crusts in the dust from Tuol Sleng, a hellish elementary school-turned-prison that served as the epicenter of the Khmer Rogue crazy. Cambodia’s current president lost an eye as a high-ranking general for the Communist party. He spends his time trying to stall a joint United Nations/Cambodian war crimes tribunal attempting to prosecute his former comrades.

A 13-year-old girl selling books to tourists along Phnom Penh’s shabby riverfront poses for her friend, who took control of my camera for the night. The ubiquitous children hawkers speak excellent English and are ready to make friends with anyone who will spend time with them.

Unsurprisingly, none of this has stumped growth. Cambodia’s tourism scene is surprisingly developed, and Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and party beach towns like Sihanoukville are cities on the rise. There are only a few buildings more than five or six stories tall in all of Phnom Penh, but the Koreans and Japanese are moving in quickly with grand plans for heavenly skyscrapers. (The Japanese actually own the Killing Fields, charging tourists an entry fee in exchange for paving the roads from Phnom Penh.) Whatever the price, Phnom Penh will soon be the Paris of Southeast Asia, they say.
The growth continues outside the capital. Siem Reap, an outpost near the Thai border sprouting out of the massive Angkor Wat temples, is finding its footing again as a haven for counterculture. And waves crash against strobe lights in hip clubs along the Gulf of Thailand in Sihanoukville.
All this suggests Cambodia has far better days ahead than behind. It’s clear its people have made a collective decision to move on, perhaps because it’s the only thing they can do. Like the dawn breaking on a sleepless night, there’s no choice but start the day. The ghosts from too-recent atrocities live peacefully with the good people here now. Like yin and yang, Cambodia’s horrific modern past balances out with the passion of its people alive today. And life goes on.

The sun sets on boats moored in the Gulf of Thailand on Serendipity Beach in Sihanoukville, a busy stretch of sand with beach chairs and drinks galore.




Suggested reading list on Cambodia’s recent history:

For an emotional read that can put any of your problems in perspective, check out these excellent books on the Khmer Rogue reign of Cambodia:

First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung–firsthand account of a well-to-do Phnom Penh family turned upside down by the Khmer Rogue.

When the War Was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rogue Revolution by Elizabeth Becker–A former war correspondent for The Washington Post (and current New York Times reporter) who was one of the few journalists allowed back into the country before the Khmer Rogue’s fall analyzes the United States’ involvement in the war.

Stay Alive, My Son by Pin Yathay with John Man–Yathay was a former engineer for Cambodia’s Ministry of Public Works when his country descended into hell.

Amber Parcher is an American journalist living in Kaohsiung. She writes for The Washington Post, Monocle Magazine, Taiwan Business TOPICS, Waakao.com, and, of course, GuanXi.

Change – Amanda Fiore

it was gold and yellow when it came

dressed in silk camouflage ribbons
and carried plumbers’ tools

it swung its orange-peel tongue
like a sassy aunt

and shook its fat fairy-tale fingers
into pools

I stayed frozen and afraid in my ancient chest–
my cage of decrepit bones

Thought to protect the old organ
but it came fast

plunged in a cold metal hook
combed its iron coils

my skin slid off
like an old gym sock

and it plucked my eyes
to squish between its toes

when the dirty work was done
it sewed two terrible hearts

embroidered them with spiders lace
stuck them on with glue

then it hung the old me
on a splintered fence post
and sat back on its haunches.

I turned this way and that
admiring my new colored scales
like a thousand tiny dresses.

I never wanted to change
but when it was through
like a crisp breath of colored sand

there was no more me
and so
no more you.