Since 2013, the British musician and graphic designer, Simon T. Bramley, has been living in Taipei, with his Taiwanese wife. Tens of thousands of kilometers away from home, he still manages to record music with his fellow band members in Britain. Living on an Island in the South China Sea might be dangerous in some ways, but cold noodles, a more than delicious speciality, make up for that. Living in a different world has many rewards, including good movies on the long flight home. We spoke to Simon.
Magazine79: You just got home to the U.K. for a visit. How long did the trip take? 20 hours? How many movies did they show? Any good ones?
Simon T. Bramley: It’s a bit of a journey from Taiwan to the UK, but all in, the journey, with a 2 hour layover in Amsterdam totals about 15 hours. I try to make a point of catching a few movies on the flight and there really was lots of choice. I finally watched “The Revenant” with Di Caprio. Fantastic.
Magazine79: When did you step on Taiwanese soil for the first time? What was the weirdest thing you noticed?
Simon T. Bramley: The first time I went to Taiwan was June 2012, to meet my future wife, who is Taiwanese. The culture in many ways is so radically different there were so many instances, but I guess the most different things I noticed were the foods – and some definitely looked weird! The main weird thing I really took note of though was the lack of sidewalks on so many streets. People are literally walking on the road with cars zooming past them very closely, so that was very odd for me.
Magazine79: Is it true the Taiwanese have automated car wash booths for motorcycles? What in the hell?
Simon T. Bramley: Well to be honest: I’ve only seen one so far, so it could be the only one, but yes they do have them. Very strange indeed.
Magazine79: Was there any local dish you would not touch at first, but which you are addicted to now? Which one would that be?
Simon T. Bramley: I’m a little bit conservative in my tastes, so I don’t often go from ‘dislike to love’, but they have a well known dish which is basically cold noodles. It didn’t sound appetising from the description, but I tried it and now I’d eat it every day if I could. It’s basically chilled noodles that are mixed with a sauce made from sesame paste, soy sauce and vinegar, topped with shredded cucumber.
Magazine79: How does a normal day for a Taiwanese differ from that of a Brit?
Simon T. Bramley: Actually, I’d say it’s mostly the same, apart from the smaller details, so for example, if you were working in a clothes shop, in the U.K. we’d have a specific lunchtime, and we’d go out or eat in a dining area, but for lots of Taiwanese shops, they would simply eat while they continue to work. The hours for workers typically seem longer too, so it’s not uncommon for some people to work until 10 p.m.. Estate agents are known for working long into the night. Pretty much most of the population eat out every day too for most meals, so eating out is a big deal and consequently there are an amazing amount of places to eat for all prices.
Magazine79: Which are the things you should never say or do, while in Taiwan (if any)?
Simon T. Bramley: The Taiwanese a generally quite open and friendly so there aren’t many taboos as such, but I would say that you should NEVER go into anyone’s home with your shoes on. They even have different indoor shoes for the kitchen and bathroom.
Magazine79: Do you feel you are in danger in Taipei? The People’s Republic of China insists on the so-called “One China Policy”, while the Republic of China, which is Taiwan, refuses to obey,
since it wants independence. At the same time, China (the big one) has a pretty big Navy. How scary is all of that to you and your Taiwanese wife?
Simon T. Bramley: It is a real concern to be honest, but the people of Taiwan have lived with the Chinese threat looming over them for a long time now, and they really just get on with their lives, so I try not to let it get under my skin.
Magazine79: Is there a mentality difference between mainland Chinese and Taiwanese people?
Simon T. Bramley: Its still not easy for me to tell at the moment, but I’m beginning to notice if someone is native to Taiwan and someone is from the mainland. The big difference is is public manners. Chinese and especially Hong Kong residents aren’t great about respecting personal space, so they can get quite close and not think it’s an issue. The other thing I’m seeing more is whilst Taiwanese are very fascinated about the wider world and want to explore the cultures in other countries, Chinese tourists are really more about devouring and spending as much as possible without (it would seem) really taking anything in. I don’t want to say that all Chinese are like this, but it is a noticeable trait. Taiwan also has a big affinity with Japan in a lot of ways, unlike China, but there are other historical reasons for this.
Magazine79: Since you are a Jazz-Funk musician, and a member of the group Afro Elements, I have the perfect question for you: How funky is Taiwan?
Simon T. Bramley: Not very! I couldn’t honestly tell you anywhere in Taiwan where you could hear a good funk record or band – sorry.
Magazine79: Your fellow band members are usually some 10,000 kilometers away. How do you record new tunes? And how do you manage to do live gigs? Do you guys meet in the middle?
Simon T. Bramley: Gigs are off the table right now due to the logistics, but recording is not too problematic due to the Internet and digital recording. We use a system call VST Connect, which allows me to hook up my music recording software to someone else, who uses a free program (VST connect performer), which in turn then allows me to record their performance to the backing track in real time. It really is a great tool, considering how far apart we are.
Magazine79: How does your Taiwanese wife like Fish & Chips? How does she feel in the U.K.?
Simon T. Bramley: We’re both vegetarians, so we skip the fish, but she does love English chips. In fact she loves England very much, having lived here for 12 months, many years ago.
Magazine79: Do you intend to go to the Jazz Café or Ronnie Scott’s during your U.K. stay?
Simon T. Bramley: We won’t be in London for this trip, so those venues aren’t on the cards. I’d rather go to Ronnie’s though, it’s the real deal as far as jazz clubs go.
Magazine79: British expats in Bulgaria, an E.U. country, are worried about the Brexit, because they believe it will complicate their status down here. Do you think there might be consequences for you as an expat in Taiwan?
Simon T. Bramley: The whole Brexit outcome was so unexpected it really shook my faith in the UK population to be honest, but I’m not entirely sure it’ll ever happen. However, If it did, I’m not sure it would make any difference to my situation. Who knows though – I sincerely hope it doesn’t.
Magazine 79: Thanks so much, Simon!
Simon’s band Afro Elements.
By Imanuel Marcus
Simon’s Jazz-Funk band, Afro Elements, just released “Take a Look at Yourself”, their interpretation of a classic:
Another killer piece by Afro Elements: