Saturday, 5 July 2014

Not Rotterdam: The longest distance between two metro stations (Taipei)
I haven't been updating this Rotterdam blog because I haven't been in Rotterdam recently. Instead I'm in Taipei trying to look at as many things as possible. I grew up in TP and it's likely that on a subconscious level this city had curated many of my urban fetishes. Or, in the phrasing of an architecture book I flipped through in a bookstore today, Taipei had taught me my urban mother-tongue. I like car exhausts. I like messy street signs. I like natural colours situated in grey. I like cheap & efficient public transport. I like 24/7 food. I like busy but warm-hearted people. There is a lot to think about and it's taking me a while to figure out where to start.

We can start with metros. It's a good place to start. My very first experience of metro travelling was with Taipei MRT and it's still my favourite metro system today. The Wenshan line is completely automated and runs on elevated rails through the city, it's almost like a theme-park scenic ride. The other lines are mostly underground, they are inviting and cozy and efficient and clean and are everything that metros should be.

A few weeks ago there was a metro tragedy in Taipei that shocked the city greatly. While travelling on a carriage between two stations, a mentally disturbed university student whipped out two knives and stabbed 28 people,  killing 4 of them. This kind of crazy slasher incident had never happened before in Taipei and many grew paranoid. After the attack, for a while the police assigned special-force operatives equipped with sub-machine-guns to patrol metro stations in order to scare off any similar attempts. A lot of the city's inhabitants felt that this was inappropriate and looked like a police state. If anything it only made the metros scarier.

The emotions had since settled down, the sub-machine-guns are removed and when I took the MRT today it wasn't very scary at all. Anyways I guess what matters the most for commuters is not how safe the metros actually are, but rather how safe they feel about it. 

When reading about the young attacker and his methodologies, a specific item drew my attention: He had allegedly observed the MRT system very thoroughly to select the time and place for his crime. The ride between Longshan Temple Station and Jiangzicui Station takes a total of 3 minute and 46 seconds, it's the longest time between any two consecutive MRT stations in Taipei, and this guy figured that between these two stations he has the longest window to stab the maximum amount of people on a moving train before they can get off the carriage. He did end up stabbing a high number of people, and for his purpose this was an effective plan. If he chose a random ride between two random stations, it is likely that his crime would have been of a smaller scale.

At the observation stage he had allegedly timed the metro ride between every MRT station with his wrist watch, to know exactly how long each ride would take. This sounds a lot like something I would do for this blog. Luckily I am not a psycho murderer and my observations do not serve any sinister end. If a psycho murderer does find this blog, however, and were to use my urban patterns to design a ritualistic murder spree in Rotterdam, there is little I can do about it. Urban observations consist of methodologies that produce data, which can then be used to to generate meanings that may in turn inspire further actions. Starting from the generation of meanings, the process gets dynamic and can possibly be volatile. Texts such as this one only offer potentials.

Rotterdam Beurs metro station
When I get back to Rotterdam by the end of the month I hope to also measure and record the time it takes between each metro station. I will then also find out which journey between two specific stations takes a longest time. The practical implications is that during this journey the metro carriage is its own world, for a minute or two segregated from any external authorities or control. It forms a temporary stand-alone space that can develop its own rules. The tragic murder of innocent people is one extreme development, but it is certainly not the only possible development. What else can people do with the metro's momentary social pocket-reality? Here are a few ideas:

1. Practice radical politics
-Leftist, rightist, anarchist, any
-Distribute slogans and pamphlets
-Start your own country, start your own non-country
-Run this (non)country for 2 minutes

(The Netherlands is pretty open with its freedom of speech, and people can often practice political communication without being censored. This is not the case in many countries, in which the metro pocket-reality is more relevant for political actions. In some countries advocating gay rights is considered to be radical politics. If I were a gay man who would like to kiss my boyfriend on the metro as a political statement, in a country where this is taboo, for example, I should rather do it between the two stations that have the longest metro ride between them so we can have the longest kiss.)

2. Practice radical cultist religions
-Worship & rituals
-Being possessed by a spirit who will use your mouth to speak a prophecy. (S)He has over 2 minutes to do it!

3. Play very very loud music, play very very vulgar music
-"Abrasive", "annoying", "that's not music that's just noise" etc

4. Perform very very loud theatre, perform very very vulgar theatre
-I imagine some form of cabaret

5. Perform an actual orgy
-Variety of participants
-Different genders and sexual orientations

6. Consume drugs
-Alcohol: we already see this sometime

7. Violate copyright laws
-Screen a part of a movie
-Share other copy-righted arts for free

8. Advertise for cigarettes and other items that are not allowed to be advertised
-Advertise in purposely misleading fashions targeting children
-Subliminal messaging

9. Talk about my stupid poetry
-Usually no one can stand that sappy tripe, it's basically a crime in the regular social reality, but I imagine a setting in which I can indulge myself the poet's sentiments for two minutes. At the beginning of June I was writing a pathetic song called Season Finale but then oh wait wait wait wrong blog again

10. Combine any 2 or more of the above

Some of these actions are not necessarily what I would like to see or what I would enjoy. I would be quite uncomfortable if someone is too drunk or too high on the metro, for example. I would also be uncomfortable if anyone practices hate-speech loudly on a metro carriage. The purpose of this blogpost is to point out that if one or more passengers plan to perform any of these actions on the metro, they can choose to do so between the two stations that have the the longest journey time, so as to perform the action for as long as possible before being forcibly stopped by law-enforcement personnels or any external actors (or before loosing the audience). Such is the possible implications of the time-span. Whether and how these actions would offend or disturb other passengers is a different discussion. Why do I smile if I see a gay couple lightly kiss on the metro, but would frown if I see a group of people having coked-up sex while worshipping an ancient fertility god? Does it make a difference whether these actions are performed on a moving metro carriage or any other public/private space?

For one thing, the actual performance of said coked-up sex on the metro would stimulate us to think about the issue. More possibly, just knowing that the specific metro journey takes a relatively long time can stimulate us to imagine said coked-up sex, or any other things we can do with this time. I have listed drastic options, but you can very much also do things like holding the hands of the person beside you through the longest metro ride.

Update: Since I've written this post I have travelled between Longshan Temple Station and Jiangzicui Station two times. Both times my friend timed the journey with a stopwatch and the travelling time is consistently 3 minutes 10 seconds. Maybe they have speeded up the ride? Maybe the news article was inaccurate? Maybe the murderer was too disturbed to measure correctly? Many maybes.
Update: In November 2014 I have found the two Rotterdam metro stations that has the longest distance in between.

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