Du Juan by Vincent Peters for Numéro China September 2011 (via FGR)
I love this photograph because it brings back a memory about Taipei.
One night, my cousin (who is approximately thirty years old) took me out for the first motorcycle ride of my life.
It was the most exhilarating and liberating experience of my life. I still remember that ride vividly—lights and all flashing by, us leaving it all behind in a trail of darkness, cool wind whipping past, the throaty roar and rumble of the motorcycle tearing through the quiet night, the thrill of being caught in a throng of motorcyclists waiting side-by-side at a red light—I remember everything.
But when we got off the motorcycle at this village, my cousin took me through this alley to get to a little shop. We passed by a very dark and quiet alley. There were women loitering around outside the alley (which was lined with adjacent little shacks/inns) next to each doorway. As we passed through the alley, I peered into each doorway (they were all open) and interestingly enough, all I saw were women in rather vibrant dresses and Buddhist altars/shrines in every single one of those inns. I thought it was very curious to see a shrine in all of them.
As we got out of the alley and headed onto the main street, my cousin asked me if I knew what I had just passed through. I didn’t know. He thought for a moment as we walked, trying to search for the right word in English. And then he said one word:
Our walk dissolved into silence.
I think this photograph captures my memory very well.
Those women would just lean against the wall; some dressed more provocatively than others; and their glances would linger on us as we passed by them. I could feel their eyes on us as I walked by.
Sometimes, my cousin and I would pass by a businessman or two, outside. And sometimes, when I peered into the inns, there would be a man or two in the lounges/foyer.
One brothel stands out in my mind.
I peered into it and saw this gigantic wooden staircase that wrapped around the foyer like a serpent, and it was lined with beautiful women every step of the way.
It wasn’t till I had walked away from that alley and found out what it was that I wondered, very pensively, if those women had chosen to be there—if they were there of their own volition—or not.