flat light

There is something about living in Taiwan that was affecting me that I just could not define. When trying to describe it words like boring, stagnant, stale, and monotonous all came to mind, but none of these give the proper sense of the place. Taipei is not really any of these; it is a very lively, active, dynamic, and slightly chaotic place.

So I continued to be baffled by this nagging feeling. That is, until I landed in the Netherlands on a recent business trip. As I walked out the airport into the crisp air, with the stars fading into the dawn, the source of my nagging feeling in Taiwan became much clearer. In Taiwan most of the global environmental factors do not change throughout a 24 hour day. This is a little hard to explain but I will give it a try.

Starting with sunrise, there is no real sunrise, or for that matter a sunset. The change from night to day, and visa versa, is very digital just like a light switch on/off. No pre-dawn glow, or fading twilight in the evening. I had read about this phenomenon in the tropics and I have a basic scientific understanding of it, but I never expected it to be so noticeable. I also had never contemplated how this extra time during a day with flat light would noticeably dull the scenery. This light switch effect is in contrast with the Netherlands and the long predawn and post sunset light casting long shadows setting the landscape aglow with color. In addition the switch is turned off/on at nearly the same time every day. I never realized that the subtle day to day change in daylight becomes noticeable when you do not have it.

Then there is the sky. The sky here is a uniform color that only varies from dark gray to light blue depending on the weather. Typically it is an opaque pearl gray that is constant day after day. Then when it does change it only changes to a different shade of gray. Unlike the Netherlands, there are not billowing puffy clouds, no partly sunny days with clouds racing across the sky being pushed by the wind, or wild changes in the cloud patterns throughout a day.

Unfortunately this uniform opaque sky continues into the darkness, hiding the night sky. We walk to our car after work in the darkness and only twice have we seen the faint glow of a few stars. It also seems that the grayness is strong enough to block out the moon.

Finally there is the temperature, which does not change throughout the day. The temperature everywhere else I have ever lived is the lowest in the early morning with a normal increase in the temperature during the day. The constant temperature in Taiwan has become our norm, and in some ways it is nice since you can dress for 1 temperature. However, the concept of a constant temperature is absolutely bizarre concept in the Netherlands.

I really miss variation in color, light intensity, and sky texture.

One Response to “flat light”

  1. Jane Says:

    Is this also because of air pollution, maybe?

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