The homeless, a depiction of living.
The identity as a homeless aside, there are multiple aspects of their lives that have not been discovered. In Hong Kong, Some were the Teresa Teng (a famous Chinese singer) of Yau Ma Tei who still enjoy singing a lot, some have been the favourite bar attendants of their bosses, some were serving the locals well on an island, some are football coaches, influencing others’ lives and their own through the popular sports.
In Taiwan, some were projectionist, some are carpenter, some are ‘The Big Issue’ vendor, some are working in parade formation at temple fair, some are Homeless tour guide of Hidden Taipei, introducing the life of homelessness to the public.
The heyday for them might have passed. The heyday for them might be now. Everyone has got their heyday.
In 2015, we met Angel in a 24-hour fast food restaurant and listened to her story about her past nickname "Tsui Siu-fung of Yau Ma Tei", and she had many "fans" around Temple Street. Although she was sick in recent years, she still has a resonant voice. However, she is unwilling to see a doctor and has gradually pined away. /Photo: LEI Jih-sheng
The Big Issue vendor /Photo: Ching-Wei LIN
Sharing life stories in a human library event. /Photo: Ching-Wei LIN
Homeless tour guide of Hidden Taipei /Photo: Ching-Wei LIN
Work for parade formation in a temple fair. /Photo: Ching-Wei LIN
Selling chewing gum. /Photo: YANG Yun sheng
Mr. Lai who hand-made Lion head for temple fair. /Photo: YANG Yun sheng
Mr. Airplane, a Former Movie Projectionist
Written/Photo by Ching-Wei LIN / Translation by Li-Yi Chen
Mr. Airplane was a movie projectionist in Tainan when he was young, just like Alfredo in Cinema Paradiso. I met him a few years ago when I was the photographer for his first Human Library event. He was a born story-teller, capable of giving very structured and fun details of his life experiences. What I remembered the most was that the co-speaker of that day was a filmmaker, who simply just handed the microphone to Mr. Airplane after giving the introduction speech for the audience to hear more about Mr. Airplane’s life.
When I arranged to take his pictures at his place this time, we agreed on meeting early at 6 am so that he could get to neighboring schools and metro station exits early enough to sell The Big Issue to the people going to school or work. His place looked bigger than what an average homeless person would rent, with a small balcony at the front and an elevator for him to move around more easily. I asked him about the rent, he said it wasn’t expensive; the landlord offered him a discount because the previous tenant, an old man, passed away inside. That didn’t bother him at all. I didn’t ask much about what happened to that previous tenant. If he didn’t mind, neither should I. That was my first time taking pictures of such kind of place, and I just went with the flow.
While walking with him, we passed by a bus stop, and he suddenly said he wanted to stop and sit for a while. I asked him whether he was tired from walking, and he said no, it was because he would usually stop and help check if the bus was coming for a visually-impaired student who often arrived at the bus stop around that time. It seemed like being in a challenging situation like this helped him see more people in need than we did.
Along the way, we chatted about people that we mutually knew, and he finally realized that I was the one who took pictures of his first Human Library event. He told me about those who he liked or did not like, and how he knew whether a person could get along well with him after a few sentences into the conversation. I shared with him the reasons for me to start shooting pictures for the homeless. He said he thought volunteers were all great people, and he appreciated those who had helped him.
When I’m talking to homeless individuals, I don’t really think of them as homeless. For me, they’re just like any other people who I can become friends with (or not).
A-kuan at the Wanderer’s Table
Written/Photo by Ching-Wei LIN / Translation by Li-Yi Chen
A-kuan is a young man who was savvy and quick. It was easy to find him in front of the church in the night market. When I arrived, he was holding two buckets. After saying hello, he wanted me to go to the warehouse where he stored his food carts and helped him push the cart out.
The preparation work behind getting the food carts ready was very hectic. Four people pulled the two food carts out and got the ingredients and equipment needed for the day, just like frequent travelers needing to unpack everything that they packed the night before daily—it was an enormous effort. The entire night market and the alley behind are filled with busy actions like this. One by one, the carts were pulled out, the umbrellas were put up, and the lights were lit up.
A-kuan skillfully worked with his partners to set everything up, and he was the one responsible for cooking. I was glad to have such delicious fried curry chicken as snacks in the night market. He said someone taught him the recipe years ago, and the most crucial factor was time control. He also gave me a sample of black tea that he brewed on site, which tasted refreshing and had no hint of bitterness.
It wasn’t easy to operate this kind of food stand in the night market. The skills for the operation and equipment needed were all slowly accumulated over a long period of time. However, homeless persons usually don’t own vehicles or scooters, so they could only operate according to the opening hours of public transportation and couldn’t run until midnight like the other stands. Having no prior experience, they had endured a strenuous learning process since they opened nearly a year ago.
After taking the pictures and left, rain started to pour under the dimmed night sky. I couldn’t help but wonder how chaotic it would be for them to pack up and leave late at night.