Because of school, I was traveling back and forth between Tainan and Liujia for a while. One early morning at the train station, I heard sounds of people shouting 1～2～3～4、1～2～3～4, and as I looked towards where the sounds were coming from, I saw a group of people by a bus station. I thought it was a military platoon that had marched to Tainan, and the squad leader was making use of the waiting time to train his soldiers. “What a tough squad leader! Can’t even let his men rest while waiting for their ride,” I thought to myself. However, upon closer look, I realized the sounds where coming from a well known hair salon in Tainan, and I counted around 30 to 40 stylists with unconventional hairstyles, and they were shouting out slogans in unison.
Although I have heard about corporations doing group exercises in the morning and have even seen employees of security or real-estate firms doing morning exercises together, seeing 40 hairstylists near the bustling train station shouting out slogans by the street was still quite unexpected for me. Perhaps due to my previous perception of thinking the noises were from a group of soldiers in the city, I was unable to transit from the conflicting idea that the soldiers were actually hair stylists.
It wasn’t until two weeks later after witnessing that particular morning exercise that I paid the salon manager a visit. After the morning exercise concluded that day, I went up to the salon on the second floor and asked the manager about some details regarding the morning exercises and their next meeting; we also gave each other our contact information. After that, I would call that manager each night prior to the salon’s morning exercise to confirm the time and location of the next morning’s activity. After arriving, I would talk briefly with them about the salon’s recent special events, and asked them if they need help with shooting the events. A relationship between me and the manager began to take shape, as we took on roles similar to being a subject of the video and the person capturing the video. The greatest difference between this project and my previous projects is with the emergence of the role of a “reporter/person of contact”.
I was contemplating about how to tell this interesting scenario to others. The easiest approach is to use the video camera to document everything I saw. I then began to document the salon’s morning exercise through the perspective of a “complete spectator”. Due to the distance between Liujia and Tainan and also sometimes due to weather conditions or unexpected orders from the upper management of the salon, sometimes the morning exercise would not take place accordingly. After coming away empty-handed a few times, I began to stay in touch with the manager, but besides standard communications with information provided, we didn’t contact each other that much regarding other matters. It was a relationship between a “documenter” and a “documentee”. My focus was placed on the period of time when the stylists were doing the morning exercise. I was eager to capture footages of the event, and didn’t proceed to find out about other details besides the morning exercise. I was inspecting the footages from several of their morning exercise, and although I found them interesting, they were nevertheless just reiterations of an occurrence, which was considered a routine weekly ritual for the people in that area and even the stylists themselves. I felt that as a spectator it was difficult to have a full experience, and I decided to dig deeper into the insides of the ritual through a learning process, with the footages of earlier exercises becoming supplementary teaching aid. I started to watch the video to learn the movements and slogans of the exercise, and also transcribed the entire process into words. The process can be roughly divided into: company mission, basic courteous words, songs, and self-encouragement.
From repetitively observing the process of the salon’s routine event, I discovered that the process is a morale booster for the employees every morning, and the content also includes common communication words that are used while the stylists are working, such as basic courteous words, which are reflected in the conversations between the stylists and the clients of the salon. As I memorized those words through repetition, I told my friends that these were my latest discoveries. I realized that this verbal explanation was more meaningful than playing the footages from the video I’ve captured. I then recalled something I was told before, “Instead of telling you, it would be faster if I reenact the whole thing for you.” I then began to contemplate about how to “act” out the whole thing.
It is not difficult to reenact the entire morning exercise routine, but where should it take place, and how should it be conducted? I initially thought about reenacting the whole thing at its original site, but such reenactment would not be very different from the documentary. I then began to think that the salon’s morning exercise is not carried out just for health reasons or for work morale, because after seeing it a few times, it was easy to see that the morning exercise is more like a live billboard that attracted the attention of passersby. It is probably true that the morning exercise came about due to the salon’s need for advertisement, and this particular salon is part of one of the biggest franchise in Tainan. Franchises like this are scattered throughout Taiwan under different names, and this morning exercise routine is a product of corporation franchises (especially for the service industry), which first came to be in cities. My “rediscovery” of this type of morale boosting morning exercise began when I was in graduate school living in the countryside. As for how to reprocess this corporation ritual produced in an urban setting, perhaps a relocation of the ritual will induce the ritual to speak for itself. The first idea that came to mind was to do the morning exercise on the field that I would pass by daily. In order to place emphasis on the urban collective order, I moved the entire routine to the countryside from the city, and reduced it down from a group to a single person. The image began with an empty field, as I entered the frame from the left. After taking my position, I then began the exercise from Tainan’s Touch Salon’s morning routine. After the conclusion of the ritual, I exited the frame from the same direction. There are two reasons for recreating Touch Salon’s morning exercise on the field:
1. Corporation franchise morning exercises were created in cities. Taking hair salons as an example, although there are Japanese corporation influences with morning exercises done in Taiwan, however, the format observed is closer to the radio exercise conducted in 1925 at the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in the US, which was aimed to promote the health of the insured and also prompt for dialogues about disease prevention. However, it was more like a live billboard for the company. Salons are the same; during the scheduled time for the routine, employees would gather at the sidewalk and recite the company’s mission, courteous words, songs, with pedestrians attracted by what they were doing by pausing and looking.
2. It is a collective action. If only a few employees were involved in the routine by the sidewalk, they would probably not attract so much attention as they shout out their slogans. This particular salon attracted my attention initially because I thought they were a military platoon. With over 30 to 40 employees gathered in front of the salon each morning, as they shout out the slogans in unison, curiosities are aroused for the routine and order behind their actions.