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!
Bicycle touring is one of the best ways to experience Taiwan. I don’t have an opportunity to go touring as much as I’d like but managed to find some time last year, in June of 2015, to embark upon a multi-day bicycle trip around southern Taiwan. My intention was to cover some of the same territory that I had rushed through on my first bicycle trip down south in 2013. I ended up racing a typhoon from Kenting to Taitung City 台東市 that year—so the chance to explore the backroads of Pingtung 屏東 at a more relaxed pace really appealed to me. I started my journey in Tainan 台南, my favourite city in Taiwan, and cycled through Kaohsiung 高雄 to Pingtung City 屏東市, putting about 70 kilometers behind me. Gathered here are some photos from the first day of this trip, continued here.
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.
After dark at Nangang Fude Temple 南崗福德祠 on the outskirts of Fengyuan 豐原.
Coming down from the hills of Shigang 石岡 late one evening I noticed an ordinary shrine to Tudigong 土地公, the land god, by the roadside on the outskirts of Fengyuan 豐原. There are literally thousands of similar temples scattered all over the nation but the reflection of all those red lanterns on the curved glass of the car parked out front caught my eye. I wonder what its story might be. Every temple has one—though it isn’t always easy to divine.
Now with the benefit of internet access and some time on my hands I’ve been able to puzzle out a few details. This is Nangang Fude Temple 南崗福德祠, notable for having been damaged, like so many other buildings in this part of Taiwan, by the devastating 921 Earthquake 九二一地震. Unsurprisingly, the local community rallied to rebuild the temple a few years…
Kanziding Fish Market 崁仔頂漁市場 is supposedly the longest-running operation of its kind in northern Taiwan. Back in the Japanese colonial era the market was located along the banks of the Xuchuan River 旭川河 in Keelung 基隆, formerly a navigable channel running through the downtown core into the harbour. The name of the market is derived from a Taiwanese Hokkien term for the stone stairs that once lined the riverbank; Kanziding literally means “top of the stairs”. The Japanese built a pier in the late 1920s, making it easy for fishermen to offload their catch next to the market, and convenient access to the railway network encouraged its growth.
I resided in Zhongli 中壢, Taoyuan 桃園, for two months at the very end of 2015 for reasons outlined in my first dispatch. In short: I wanted to try out living in another city in Taiwan and had a few good friends in the area, one of whom is fellow Canadian blogger Josh Ellis. In my time in Zhongli I captured numerous scenes from everyday life in this burgeoning conurbation of half a million. This post is meant to convey a sense of what it was like to live there for a while—just as I previously did for my time in Wenshan District, Taipei 台北. It is not meant to be a comprehensive guide or a review; think of this as a loose collection of snapshots and impressions of a mid-sized Taiwanese city not commonly documented in English.
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…
Here’s something you might not have seen before: a professional ear cleaning service in Wanhua District 萬華區! When I shot this photo while riding around a couple of months ago I assumed it was a run-of-the-mill ear, nose, and throat doctor with a quirky sign out front. Turns out this is a famous shop by the name of Erqiang Qingli de Jia 耳腔清理的家 (loosely: “Ear Canal Cleaning Home”) where you can have your ears cleaned by a “professional ear cleaning master” (zhuanye tao’er shi 專業掏耳師) for about 500 NT. Apparently Yao Bin 姚賓, the octogenarian proprietor, will be happy to show off jars filled with grotesque things he has unearthed over the course of five decades of aural spelunking.
Yesterday I went wandering around Hsinchu 新竹 to capture more of its old school charm. Along the way I snapped a quick photo of a vintage barber shop around the corner from the historic Hsinchu Zhanghe Temple 新竹長和宮 that proved to be surprisingly popular. Located at 26 Aiwen Street 愛文街26號, this is Wenya Barber Shop 文雅理髮店 (with Wenya meaning “elegant” or “refined”) and Mingzhu Beauty Salon 明珠美容院 (“pearl”). The building itself is rather odd, sandwiched between traditional courtyard homes and newly built residences, looking very much like a place out of time. The man inside the shop is even reading a newspaper!…
This storefront immediately caught my eye when I arrived in Hsinchu 新竹 a few hours ago. Both the facade and the lettering are unusually classy, showing a vintage style of design not commonly seen here in Taiwan. This is a jewelry shop, as the clever use of characters would suggest, and its formal name is Xinfu Zhubao 鑫府珠寶. The first character, xin 鑫, is known as a sandiezi 三叠字, or triplet character, and is composed of three instances of jin 金, which means gold. Whoever designed the lettering obviously had some fun integrating a sparkling jewel into the two characters on either side of the shop’s name!…