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Monday, 02 September 2019

Taipei, Taiwan: Intriguing, Alive, Charming

Written by Katy Hawkins
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Taipei is seedy – a never ending red light district. Illuminated signs flash, studded lights line up in an arrow formation pointing to unknown places.

Elegant, grotesque Banyan trees flank and frame streets. Blackened bark. Tendrils drool. Branches dance with one another – making contorted shapes with their bodies.

Guts Of City

Buildings are smothered in a layer of dirt that seeps into the cracks between the tiles, coating the thickets of wires that spew out of buildings: the guts of the city laid bare for all to see.

But this is just an impression seen through a western, British lens. Relative to a place where streets are ordered, straight-laced, sterile: to pass through, not to be touched.

Here, the streets are alive. The streets are workshops. Unfinished projects left out everyday: Brooms, fabric, nails, sinks, pipes. Protected by the city’s endless arcades – that extend shop units outwards.

Find a well positioned bench with a good view, or grab a stool and watch the theater of the street for a minute or two, soon to be passed by a tirade of colorful scooters, their riders of whom, on rainy days, come dressed head to toe in matching rain jackets.

At night the streets are transformed again. Night markets are prolific and exceptional. This is where to eat and how - sample so-called ‘stinky tofu’ (a dip on the cities smell scape), fish balls, pineapple cake. But night markets are not only about eating but socializing, playing: sit down for a moment of calm and engage in a game of Mahjong while sipping on a papaya milk.


In Taipei, people are polite, kind, fashionable; they leave you alone. Here masks worn not because of air pollution (as with some neighboring countries) but are worn to signify that one is unwell, as a courtesy.

Culturally you'll find yourself musing on the cities influences from its Japanese and Chinese colonial times, and more recent influences from the USA and Korea.

In terms of religion and spiritual practices it is decidedly Chinese. Temples here (majority Taoist) are prolific and some of the most beautiful. They range in size and scale and are as regular and convenient as the 7/11 shops that pervade the city, and you'll find them nestled in busy shopping streets and back alleys.

Listen out for a tinny clacking sound emitting from the larger temples: the sound of crescent shaped Moon Blocks being thrown by worshipers with questions. Depending on the way the blocks fall gives the answer - yes, no, undecided.

A sound you will not have to bend to hear in the city is Beethoven’s Fur Elize. In fact it will get stuck in your head: with a somewhat chintzy version of the masterpiece chimed out by the city’s waste and recycling trucks five days a week. The melody as a trigger for residents to come running out with their diligently sorted waste (of which there are 13 categories) where it is checked out on the spot, with fines issued for mistakes made. A less welcome ice cream van; or a precious moment for community coming-together?


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Last modified on Friday, 06 September 2019

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