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.
I briefly visited Meinong 美濃 in July of 2014 while cycling around southern Taiwan. I hadn’t done any planning prior to arrival and knew nothing of what I was getting myself into nor what sights I should have made an effort to see. I was navigating almost exclusively by instinct, riding in whatever direction seemed interesting, simply to see what was there. Gathered here are several of my photos from a few uninformed hours in this bucolic rural township in Kaohsiung 高雄.
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.
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.
A couple of months ago I randomly took the train to Douliu 斗六, the capital of Yunlin 雲林, the most rural county on the western plains of Taiwan. Douliu is regularly the subject of jokes so I was pleasantly surprised by what I found there: an old street lined with Japanese colonial buildings, the quirky “Hungry Ghost” covered market, and an abandoned entertainment complex to explore. Even more surprising was the size of the Saturday night Renwen Park Night Market 人文公園夜市 located southwest of the downtown core. I have become something of a night market connoisseur since living in central and southern Taiwan and wouldn’t hesitate to declare this night market one of the biggest and best on the island.
I lived in Wenshan District 文山區, Taipei 台北, from October 2013 until April 2014 when I moved south to Tainan 台南. In those six months I captured a great many photographs from in around the area, the finest of which were previously shared on this blog in a post about the urban landscape of Wenshan. It was my intention with that post to portray southern Taipei from the vantage point of mountaintops, hillsides, river banks, and pedestrian overpasses, with only a couple of shots from street level. This time around I would like to zoom in and share scenes from everyday life in Wenshan.
Jingcheng Night Market 精誠夜市 is perhaps the largest open air night market in Changhua 彰化, Taiwan. Unlike some of the other big night markets in the area Jingcheng hasn’t been developed for tourism in the slightest. I doubt you’ll find it in any guidebook and there isn’t anything written about it in English that I have been able to find online. And, to be fair, there isn’t anything special about Jingcheng, particularly not if you’ve been to the fantastic open air night markets of Tainan 台南. Still, if you’re a night market connoisseur like me—or merely interested in trying something different—it might be worthwhile to check out, or you can live vicariously through my photos.
Beigang 北港 is a historic town on the riverside border between Yunlin 雲林 and Chiayi 嘉義 in southern Taiwan. I made a brief, unplanned stopover in Beigang while riding north to Changhua 彰化 in the summer of 2014. I was only vaguely aware of Beigang’s existence, having at some point read something about Chaotian Temple 朝天宫, one of Taiwan’s most famous Mazu 媽祖 temples, but I had a hunch that there might be more to see—and I was right! If you enjoy visiting traditional towns with a lot of history then Beigang should definitely be on your list.
Tonight I visited one of the biggest night markets in Nantou 南投, the Caoxiedun Tourist Night Market 草鞋墩人文觀光夜市 in Caotun 草屯. Located at the north end of town, the sprawling open air Caotun Night Market offers a somewhat unusual twist on the Taiwanese night market formula of meals, snacks, drinks, cheap goods, clothing and accessories, and fairground games. I have now visited more than a dozen night markets in this area of Taiwan and this one definitely stands out.
Tainan 台南 is known throughout Taiwan for its food—but deciding where to eat can be somewhat daunting, especially for anyone who doesn’t very much Chinese. There are literally thousands of restaurants to choose from—in addition to the many night markets scattered around the city. Taiwan, like any highly digital and developed nation, has a vast number of restaurant reviews online, but it isn’t practical to sift through all those reviews without some degree of fluency (or a lot of patience with the shoddy state of machine translation). And, to be honest, I would much rather know how to find good food than read specific restaurant reviews. I didn’t know much about Tainan’s cuisine when I moved there for three months last spring—so with this post I mean to give you the benefit of my experience as a mostly illiterate foreigner attempting to hack the system and eat well in Taiwan’s historic old capital.