Layers of Beauty in Daily Life
Chai Chai: More than a Postman
Some places in Taiwan leave deep imprints in the minds of the people who have lived there.
Chai Chai: More than a PostmanBy H.H. Chang
“Registered mail!” This voice is often the only impression left by a postman. “You can call me ‘Chai Chai’,” says Lee Hsiang with a slightly bashful smile as he parks his motorcycle. He has been working as a postman in a post office in Tainan for more than a decade. Several years ago, due to encouragement from friends, he started to share on Instagram some of what he’d seen and experienced in his job as a postman all these years.
Although some may wonder how a mailman has the time to take photographs, Chai Chai manages. The auntie who always appears on his way to get breakfast, the handsome, experienced farmer, the carefree dogs that enjoy resting in the middle of the road…Chai Chai often meets them all on his delivery route.
“I know the scenery of the four seasons. The color, the smell, the people and the landscape, I know all of them,” says Chai Chai.
The subjects of his photos have usually met Chai Chai or even know him. When looking at the elderly lady who sells stinky tofu, Chai Chai sees the mark of passing years on her body and motions, suddenly realizing that “it doesn’t matter if one succeeds or not as long as one puts effort into one’s work.”
After many years delivering mail, Chai Chai is greeted warmly by an old veteran every time he passes. “You are like my own son,” the old lady who owns a little garden sometimes tells Chai Chai.
Chai Chai’s photographs are profound and intimate; his works make people linger. The pictures are accompanied by Chai Chai’s own words of feeling and thoughts when posted on Instagram, which makes them even more meaningful. Hence, more and more people have started to comment on his posts and follow his account.
“In my view, your photos should be worthy of the people you’re photographing; you need to be able to see the details. The cameras you use is not that important.” He says. Two years ago, Chai Chai left for a trip to the United States with his uncle due to some upsetting life events. They stayed there for 15 days and visited several national parks. The moment he got off the plane, Chai Chai saw an unbelievably huge crowd at the airport, and his mind boggled. “Compared to the big wide world, people are so insignificant; why should we care about our petty misery?” Chai Chai never set a limit on taking pictures ever since. He stopped pondering and decided to follow his heart.
At the 321 Alley Art Village, Chai Chai sits in the “Tainan One House”, an old Japanese style wooden house that was refurnished by a group of “art comrades”. With the sun calmly shining through, Chai Chai says that it was only because of this group of people, comprised of friends from design, architecture, chemical engineering and antique shop circles, that he started to learn more about the culture of his hometown of Tainan. “But they’re from everywhere but Tainan,” Chai Chai says. In the art village, they used old wood to build carts, and started a small night market, the Nan Guo Small Night Market. (Chai Chai is in charge of the sausage cart.)
Yo Ang, who calls himself “The Gardener”, is originally from Kaohsiung. He first came to Tainan for work and decided to live here. “Tainan’s alleys and lanes are so interestingly labyrinthine.” He met Chai Chai at the “Jogging Midnight in Tainan” running event. Chai Chai echoes his view. “The best scenery and things are often hidden in small alleys,” he says.
Chai Chai loves red brick walls, green trees and fishing villages. He shows us the nearly 70-year-old mango tree in the backyard, saying, “There are lots of beautiful places in Taiwan. We just don’t know it.” Not long ago, Chai Chai got back from the Ciharaay tribe in Hualien. There, he fell completely for the “myriad shades of green” he saw.
What Chai Chai wants to share is the real life that is happening all around us. Change your perspective, and you might discover not only beauty but profundity as well.
Translated from the Chinese by Chou Hsi-Yuan
♦ Chai Chai's Instagram Account