Uncle Smile is from Taichung. He is the store manager of FUN FUN TOWN in Tainan.
Why are you here in Tainan?
I’ve been asked to move to Tainan around 5 or 6 years ago, and the idea had been in my mind for a while before I put it off for the lack of a specific motivation. Two years ago, I left my job at a company I worked for almost 8 years and started a long vacation of self reflection. A friend in Tainan had heard about my situation, and invited me over for a summer. That was how I ended up in Tainan. By the end of the vacation, I became a store manager and started my new life here.
Then, do you like Tainan?
Yeah, I like it! Many people prefer Tainan over Taipei, but I like them both equally. I’ve spent 20 years in Taipei and discovered many facets of it as a big city. A part of it has the same atmosphere as Tainan, but it is only a part of it, not the whole of it. I am living a more relaxed life here, in line with the slower-paced city and my own tempo, so I guess it suits me better! In addition to what it is known for on the surface, the city seems to carry other faces too. Maybe it has something to do with all the newcomers to the city and the never-ending clashes between old, the new and the newest. We’ll wait and see.
What would you suggest to people visiting Tainan that they should do here? Where should they visit?
Eat less and walk around more!
Place to visit: in Yantian near Budai, take Provincial Highway 61(West Coast Expressway) to Route 173A. It is the County Highway that comes closest to the sea in Taiwan. You will go past many abandoned salt pans and fisheries, and the desolation feels like being at the end of the world.
How did you end up managing the shop for FUN FUN TOWN in Tainan?
Many of my friends came to visit me in Tainan when I was taking my vacation here, and quickly I became almost a professional tour guide. One day, after saying goodbye to some crazy friends from Xiamen, I was nearly exhausted and desperately needed a good rest, but a part of me was having post-part blues. So I took the suggestion of the friend, who invited me to Tainan and kept saying it’s something I shouldn’t miss, to go to the opening part of FUN FUN TOWN on the same day. That evening, I was invited to the post-celebration dinner and met Oji Masanori, the Japanese designer, who held his exhibition here. I accompanied him as a tour guide in Tainan on the next day. Another month went by, and the owner of FUN FUN TOWN asked me if I wanted to work with them for the store. That wasn’t something I had expected at that time, so I asked him to wait until I am done with my summer vacation for a formal response. Later, I accepted the offer and so, here I am.
What are you planning to do in this store?
I had experience in the field of retailing when I was a sales at Mogu. In this shop, I plan to reorganize our space so there will be a corner for books, as well as a cafe and a DJ turntable. The idea of a multi-purpose creative space is not new, but I believe there are still rooms for development. Of course it will have to be amusing and fun, or it will be difficult to survive. Having the right momentum is the most important, and I am still learning on that! One thing that’s really nice about Tainan is that friends are always available when needed. It was actually my friends who helped to make our last exhibition Lost & Found from Beijing a success. They are like guerrilla fighters, and they will enter fighting position when there’s a mission, but go back to mind their own businesses once everything’s over. That’s pretty cool I think!
Basically everything in my shop were picked by the owner of FUN FUN TOWN, so we share a lot of the same merchandise with the shop in Taipei. But since we are located in two very different cities, we have customers of vastly different styles and it is important to make changes and rearrangement according to their feedback. I also recommend to my boss good products that we can sell. For example, that red coffee pot was something that I’ve been using for some time, and now we have introduced it to the Tainan store.
「是一家店，不如說是遊樂場；是遊樂場，不如說是生活的實驗室。」 是放放堂官方網站上介紹詞。 我前一陣子也有上臺北逛了一下臺北店，我覺得臺北店的確給我一種遊樂場，氣氛中有一種歡愉的感覺，不過台南店卻好像不是那種感覺，而是比較沉靜一點的。
“ Call us a shop, but we are more appropriately a playground; Call us a playground, but we are more precisely a lab researching on life.” It was how FUN FUN TOWN introduced itself in its website. I visited its shop in Taipei a while ago and saw its entertaining, cheerful side. The Tainan branch, on the other hand, seems to be calmer.
Well, we did think about naming the Tainan shop Dian Dian but the idea was rejected out of the confusion it can create with the overall branding. Therefore we decided to call it FUN FUN TOWN in Tainan for simplicity.
Why do you call yourself Uncle smile?
I wanted to keep my privacy. Although my previous job was a writer and editor for Mogu and their publication Booday Zine, the idea of being seen and known by the public frightened me. I had all kinds of pen names in the magazine. In fact, if you ever read the zine and come across many weird and funky name, it’s probably me.
I started using the name Uncle Smile in around 2003 when I first came to the job as a writer. I was working on an issue themed “Child” and needed a pen name and the words “Uncle Smile” came into my mind. The name feels right for the theme, and is warm with a hint of middle-age bitterness. It sounded a bit like someone from Hong Kong, as they love using the words “uncle” or “aunt” to refer to people they respect. It was the first appearance of the name.
As a funny fact, nobody in our office got what I wrote in the issue, but I was praised for my pen name. As time went by, I needed to unify my pen names to make it easier to introduce myself and to take on new jobs or to impress others. I scratched my head in search of a better one but settled on this, since then many started calling me “uncle” despite I was only in my 30s. But I’m old enough to be a real uncle now. (Laughs)
Let’s talk about music and how important it is for you!
我聽音樂聽得很雜，但是不精，唯一的優點大概是這個興趣一直不曾間斷過，就是那種我走過的橋，比你吃過的鹽還多的意思，所以才會被朋友抓去寫樂評。聽音樂跟我們理解世界的態度有點像，其實我以前不喜歡電子音樂，不過有一次在一個大學學長的唱片行裡聽到了Aphex Twin化名Polygon Window的專輯《Surfing On Sine Waves》，從此打開了我聽電子樂的大門，所以要保持開放的心迎接未知。Aphex Twin今年出了一張新的專輯 – Syro，一樣很酷！很多玩電子樂的人都會取不同的名字，我想我會取不同的筆名，應該多少也是受到他們的影響吧，而且取名字會取上癮！
I listen to a lot of different music, but I am just a casual listener. It’s a hobby that I could not put down, so it’s very likely that I’ve listened to more songs than most others, and that’s how I started writing albums reviews for a friend. I guess the way we understand the world is similar to the way we enjoy music. In the beginning I just couldn’t get electronic music, but it was a trip to my schoolmate’s record store, which was playing Polygon Window (Aphex Twin)’s Surfing On Sine Waves, that opened the world for me. It is just like how we should view the world with an open mind and be able to appreciate new things. By the way, Apehx Twin’s album Syro is out now and it’s really cool. Those in electronic music tend to go by name names, so I must have been influenced by them to have many pen names too! It’s a real addition!
How would you describe yourself?
That was a tough question! I think I am rather slow in reacting to people, and I prefer not to be noticed or seen. But then I shouldn’t be doing this interview…its’ kind of contradictor, huh? I guess Westerners have better answers for your question?
Well not exactly. Many of my past interviewees know exactly what they are looking for, so I guess they can describe themselves better. Perhaps it’s also related to how they were educated and the environment they were raised. Some of them had a very different family and education background and were less busy so they could find time to think more about themselves.
I think I act like Libra, the zodiac sign I am born on. I am always peacefully weighing options from a distance, so some may think I am not passionate enough. I am like a satellite or a UFO, evaluating from afar and taking my time before I am ready to react. I did miss a few opportunities because of this, but that’s how I am, really. I have to live in my own pace. Perhaps I will stay hidden like an alien living among humans, and one day I will conquer Earth without anyone noticing!
Date of interview: 2014.11.20
Photography & text: Huiwen Chen
English text editing: Sanford Poon