In addition to their reputation for novelty foods night markets in Taiwan also offer an almost endless variety of cheap goods, particularly clothing and accessories. Much of Taiwanese night market fashion is amusing, quirky, provocative, bizarre, or even incoherent, though some of it is also quite clever. My understanding is that a lot of the weirder stuff originates in China, where massive factories churn out garments emblazoned with English text and pop culture references without regard for semantic meaning. This is almost certainly the result of copying passages from print or online media, using machine translation, or sheer laziness, but it might also be for aesthetic effect. Transcription errors are common, particularly when popular designs are copied by competing factories. Observed on the scale of years there is something almost evolutionary at work in night market fashion—styles mutate and are subject to a kind of natural selection. To celebrate the absurdity of this curious cultural phenomena I have assembled about 40 photos from my many visits to the night markets of Taiwan, almost all of which I have previously been shared on my Instagram account, the perfect vehicle for such inanity. Enjoy!
Road safety dummies are a distinctive feature of the streets of Taiwan. In Chinese they are generally known as engineering dummies 工程用假人 (pinyin: gongchengyong jiaren), warning dummies 警示假人 (jingshi jiaren), or, more formally, electric flag-bearers 電動旗手 (diandong qishou). According to law these robotic figures must be setup at all roadside construction sites to provide some measure of protection for workers as well as warn passing motorists and pedestrians of potential hazards. When hooked up to a car battery their stubby arms pump up and down, waving flags and other objects to direct traffic. Construction companies typically decorate these dummies with safety vests and hardhats, though it is not common for workers to express some creativity and personalize their dummies. Some of them even have individual names and histories! The rest of this post features photographs of some of the many road safety dummies I have encountered over the years.
This bizarre installation is one of the more iconic and well-known works of public art in Taipei 台北. Created by artists He Cairou 何采柔 and Guo Wentai 郭文泰 in 2009, it is entitled The World in Aves’ Eyes 愛維思看世界 (alternately Birdman 鳥人 or Daydreams 夢遊) and can be found somewhere in the labyrinthine passageways beneath Taipei Railway Station 臺北火車站. Apart from the obvious, the immature, androgynous figure holds a pencil in its right hand (never to write a word), water continuously seeps from its neck, and its feet show the signs of a mild case of pigeon toe, a condition that should be familiar to anyone who has seen young Taiwanese posing for photographs. Here is the original creative statement that accompanies the piece:
My ability to translate Chinese remains limited, particularly when it comes to the sort of conceptual language employed above, but I’ll do my best to provide the gist.…
Taiwan is absolutely mad for scooters, a consequence of high population density, tightly cramped streets, and the expense and inconvenience of driving a car. Everywhere you go you’ll find streets lined with parked scooters and filled with scooterists going about their business. In can all seem like absolute chaos to outsiders—but there is a method to the madness, and the convenience factor regularly seduces skeptics, particularly when living outside of Taipei 台北 or beyond the reach of public transportation.
It is hard not to notice the giant freaking eyeball and neon orange head hanging out at the side of the road leading up Honglusai Mountain 烘爐塞山 at the southern edge of Zhonghe 中和, Taiwan. After taking in the scene I jokingly came up with a new slogan for the tourist bureau; “Taiwan: don’t ask why!” But of course that’s not really my style—I always like getting to the bottom of the seemingly inexplicable things I encounter in my travels here.
Taiwan loves Totoro, the iconic star of Miyazaki’s animated classic My Neighbor Totoro. Known locally to Chinese speakers as Duoduolong 多多龍 (or 豆豆龍) and—my favourite—Longmao 龍貓 (literally “dragon cat”), Totoro recently appeared on the streets of Taichung 台中 alongside Chibi and Chu Totoro, numerous makkuro kurosuke (soot sprites) and No-Face (who appeared in Spirited Away). These life-sized, fan-made sculptures have drawn so much interest that the site even appears on Google Maps as Dali Totoro Bus Stop 大里龍貓公車站.