I was wandering through Sanhe Night Market 三和夜市 on the first day of the new year when this small shop caught my eye. The formal name of the place is Cengji Huazhigeng 曾記花枝羹 and, as the last three characters would suggest, they specialize in squid thick soup, a popular Taiwanese snack. The highly stylized characters on the signboard look something like seal script 篆書 to my inexpert eyes—with the last character, “geng 羹”, swapped for the more traditional “焿”. Don’t ask me to make sense of that first character, mind you—it is enough to know that “hua 花” means flower.
Longtan Strange House 龍潭怪怪屋 is a notorious architectural oddity on the northern edge of Longtan 龍潭 in Taoyuan 桃園, Taiwan. In Chinese it is also known as Ye Fabao’s Strange House 葉發苞怪屋, after its owner and lead designer, and is officially named the Yeshan Building 葉山樓. It has been under construction for decades but at some point the money ran out and the owner has plastered it with advertisements, ostensibly to raise money to complete the project. Nowadays there is little to see beneath the incredible number of promotional banners hanging off the side of the building.
One of the most extraordinary attractions in Taiwan is the historic Changhua Roundhouse 彰化扇形車庫, originally built in 1922 during Japanese colonial rule and still in operation today. Although information is hard to come by it seems that it might be the only roundhouse still operating in Asia—and certainly one of the oldest still in regular use anywhere in the world. Every other roundhouse I researched for this article has been abandoned, demolished, repurposed, or converted into a museum, and those rare few that are still operational have been mighty hard to date. As such, the Changhua Roundhouse is a dream to visit for a railway enthusiast like myself, particularly since the ambiance hasn’t been ruined by the sort of tacky treatment you’ll often find at Taiwanese tourist attractions. After signing in with the guard at the gate I had free run of the place—and as you can see from some of the following photos, nobody minded me getting dangerously close to moving trains as the mechanics went about their daily routines.
Taichung 台中 is home to an unusual social experiment: the Honest Store 誠實商店 in the Fengshu Community 楓樹社區 (literally “Maple Community”) of Nantun 南屯, Taiwan. According to roundTAIWANround (through which I discovered the place) it was once a general store of the traditional variety that you’ll still find scattered around the countryside and in older neighbourhoods. Such shops have been fading into history for years, unable to compete with the modern chains that have become symbols of Taiwan’s culture of convenience. The shop would have shut down had the owner not experimented with a new model: locally-sourced goods, financial transparency, and no paid staff, relying on the honesty of its patrons to stay in business.
Last week I moved from Taipei 台北 to Zhongli 中壢, a mid-sized city of approximately half a million1 about 45 minutes down the Western Line 西部幹線 in the heart of Taoyuan 桃園. I have been all around the island but haven’t explored much of what you might call the “middle north”, the strongly Hakka-influenced area stretching from the rugged borders of New Taipei 新北 south to Taichung 台中 that includes Taoyuan 桃園, Hsinchu 新竹, and Miaoli 苗栗. Perhaps by staying here awhile I will find opportunities to explore more of this part of Taiwan and fill in some blank spots on my personal map.
The Four-Faced Buddha of Yongkang Street 永康街四面佛 is one of the smallest shrines I have ever seen in Taiwan. It occupies a tiny alcove next to an underground parking garage on Xinyi Road 信義路 east of Dongmen Station 東門站 exit 5 and the original Din Tai Fung 鼎泰豊. This alcove might have been a parking attendants’ booth prior to automating the entire system, although this is not explicitly stated in the material I have reviewed. From what I gather this shrine is the work of a local papaya milk vendor by the name of Mr. Lin. Despite its diminutive size—half a square meter according to some reports—the cost of rent is in excess of 10,000 NT per month!
While living down in Changhua City 彰化市 last winter I made occasional forays up and down the TRA Western Line 西部幹線 to scope out places not commonly written about in English. One such place is Douliu 斗六, the administrative seat of Yunlin 雲林, which hardly earns more than a passing mention in the English language blogosphere. It was a worthwhile trip too—apart from the famous Taiping Old Street 太平老街 and the surprisingly large and lively Douliu Night Market 斗六夜市 I also chanced upon another abandoned entertainment complex, the Douliumen Building 斗六門大樓, named after an archaic term for the city dating back to the 17th century. This building was also once home to the Shuangzixing or Gemini Theater 雙子星戲院.
Sunday afternoon in the mountains of Shilin District 士林區, not far from Yangmingshan, about 200 people gathered for The Forester’s Party 牧神的遊戲 at Siu Siu 少少原始感覺研究室, a lab of primitive senses built on a steep south-facing slope. The aesthetics of the space: slate grey walls, wooden planks underfoot on the dance floor, a round black mesh canopy overhead screening the forest without impeding the flow of fresh mountain air. Clean, modern, minimal, but also rustic—an exceedingly comfortable combination of form and function. The finest in dub techno wafting out of the speakers, one particular song selected by Al Burro capturing the mood of the afternoon with perfect ease, Nthng’s 1996.…
Last week I went out with a friend to explore rural Hsinchu 新竹. After checking out a cable car tower in Guanxi 關西 we slipped over the township line to Hengshan 橫山 to make a brief pitstop at Hexing Station 合興車站, the only wooden train station on the newly reopened Neiwan Line 內灣線. Inside the station house we discovered this wall of vintage clocks, obviously somewhat contrived but every bit as photogenic as intended. Although this station (and the rest of the railway line) was built in the 1950s, after the Japanese colonial period, many of these mechanical wind-up clocks bear Japanese names like Gifutokei, Aichi, and, of course, Seiko.
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 skeptical westerners into the scooter lifestyle, particularly when living outside of Taipei 台北.
One unusual feature of Taiwanese scooters are the cheeky stickers commonly found on the body. These stickers typically feature the make and model of the scooter—but for reasons unknown to me, poorly translated slogans full of Chinglish are also common, particularly on older scooters. About a year ago I chanced upon a link to a collection of scooter stickers published by Jonathan Biddle way back in 2005. Shortly thereafter I began documenting some of the more intriguing examples of scooter stickers I found in my travels, mostly around Changhua 彰化. This post contains 17 of the more interesting examples I have collected in this time.