Taipei: The Stimulating City

March 20, 2011 § 3 Comments

It’s been about a month since I’ve moved back to Taipei. Although Taipei is technically my home city, the amount of time I have lived abroad far outweighs the time I’ve spent living here. The culture shock is always there when I come back; the small apartment-style houses, the sheer amount of people and the fact that people immediately pinpoint me as a whitewashed Asian foreigner. When I came back from the States about 10 years ago, I thought it was dirty and cramped. If you didn’t watch your step, you might unexpectedly set foot on a fresh pile of dog poop. The humidity was unbearable during the summer and caused buildings and things to erode at light-speed. As a result, the buildings always looked dirty and old.

The first few weeks back, I spent a lot of time just walking around the city and paying my due to various bookstores and Starbucks. It was a nice change to not have to drive anywhere and walk a few steps to get to a 7-11. After the first few days, I started getting adventurous and took long walks to nearby neighborhoods.

Coming back now, I got the feeling that the city is hungry for an aesthetic makeover. Everyone is on the market to find the hottest new apartment buildings. Bookstores are stocked with architect and interior design magazines. All around the city, new fancy buildings sprout up from nothing. This change didn’t occur overnight but these thoughts seemed to have spread like a virus in the past decade.

The biggest change however, is probably my mental attitude. Instead of constantly comparing Taipei to other metropolitan cities and focusing on its faults and blemishes, I started focusing my attention on the differences and characteristics that sets Taipei apart from the other cities. Looking at everything with a fresh set of lens and taking pictures along the way. Not taking for granted each details and structure but in fact, thinking about why they’re there and how these things are reflective of the culture here. Like people watching, I put together the pieces of my observation and created short stories of what Taipei is about.

Here are just a few of the pictures I have taken:

I’m rather impressed with the street art I’m seeing around the city. 10 years ago, you might see the occasional tags that weren’t very exciting. Now I find hidden gems in the narrow alleys around the city:

my slightly failed attempt to create a panoramic photo of the alley graffiti i found

Temples in Taiwan are rarely treated as a sacred holy site. When I was younger, I didn’t understand why the temples weren’t more beautiful and isolated but now when I think about it, I prefer them the way they are now. Visually, it’s quite bizarre to see them next to a KFC but when you think about it, the temples are really integrated into the people’s daily lives. People don’t have to travel far to connect with their gods. Isn’t that kind of what religion is about? Having God with you at all times? A place of comfort within a few steps away? You see temples and shrines of all sizes everywhere in the city.

a KFC next to a temple. of course

 

 I never understood why people willingly put metal bars on their windows and doors. It looked like everyone in Taiwan lived in a bird-cage. However, I learned that people have those metal bars not just to keep thieves out but to buy themselves a peace of mind. In the past, theft was a real problem and people didn’t feel safe in their homes. The metal bars aren’t a cage per say but a protective barrier.

the cage

 The newer buildings don’t have cages anymore so slowly, these will probably disappear from the city.

 When I went to Beijing 2 years ago, I saw a lot of these ‘forbidden signs’ everywhere. It seemed quite unnecessary for me since it never occurred to me to litter or spit in public. I realized quickly that I was probably the rare few that didn’t need the reminder. People spit like crazy over there! Trash was also everywhere on the streets. 

I see less ‘forbidding’ signs in Taiwan but when I do come across one, I find them hilarious. They get really creative with how they represent different prohibited actions, that’s for sure! Guess it never hurts to remind people that they need to clean up after their dog…dog poop was always a big problem. Though, I think it’s not because owners don’t pick up after their dogs but because there use to be a huge stray dog problem in the past. That’s another story though.

these types signs are everywhere...when nature calls...hehe

 

During one of my walks, this building stuck out among all the other apartment buildings. I loved the colors and just snapped the shot on the spot.

unexpected building, stuck between a cluster of apartment buildings

 

I tried to come up with a word or a phrase to sum up Taipei but I haven’t been able to a suitable one yet. So right now, I just dubbed it “The Stimulating City” because it’s such an oddball place of sights, smells and sounds. It’s not uniformed nor can you easily categorize it as one thing or another.

But for right now, it’s home and it’s good to be back.

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§ 3 Responses to Taipei: The Stimulating City

  • Your experience/sentiment was exactly mine when I came back to Hong Kong from the UK. Probably I have it a little bit worse off than you: I grew up in several different countries and, before I came back, I practically never lived in Hong Kong.

  • Anni says:

    beautiful! i love love love wandering around cities and discovering all the quirks that make them unique. and don’t you love how the street art scene has expanded so far beyond gang tags in recent years? so much of it is so beautiful. thanks for the insight into life in taipei! i’ve been wondering how it’s treating you…

  • Sewon says:

    I’m loving the photos of Taipei! It sounds like you’re doing well on this side of the world. I feel both “not Asian enough” and “not American enough” here. Hey, at least you speak Mandarin! I thought things were looking up now that I can speak a decent amount, but people have started speaking to me in Shanghainese.

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