Postcard #9 Wellington Lights from Mt Victoria, or The Architecture of Happiness

March 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

This post first appeared on “The Postcard Chronicles

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The Architecture of Happiness is a dazzling and generously illustrated journey through the philosophy and psychology of architecture and the indelible connection between our identities and our locations”

For the past several weeks, I’ve been slowly digesting Alain de Botton’s beautiful prose in The Architecture of Happiness. The book was made popular after making an appearance in 500 days of Summer, when Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character decides to rededicate his passion in architecture. I picked up the book by chance, after reading another de Botton book, On Love, which was filled with thought-provoking quotes on love. This book is a combination of philosophical tibits, aesthetics theory and art history concepts, all deeply intertwined. Though I’m only half-way through, it has spurred some sporadic thoughts that I thought I’d share.

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Observing Europe – Part II (Luxembourg)

February 28, 2012 § 102 Comments

Luxembourg is often considered the stuff from fairy tales, with the abundant castles, the picturesque valleys and the romantic atmosphere infecting everyone that steps foot into the tiny country. I almost cried when my dad causally brought up that we should just skip Luxembourg and head straight to Germany.

it was love at the first sight

Sunday is probably the worst days to travel in Europe since everything is closed. I was disappointed that nothing in Luxembourg city was open that day. Not only was nothing opened, it was freezing and no one was in sight – a hint of resemblance to a ghost town. The only perk was not having to deal with hoards of tourists squawking about. After a while I became used to the stillness and I refocused my attention to the elegant architecture and stunning scenery. Luxembourg sits on precipitous cliffs, which suddenly drops into deep valleys and circled by two rivers. It was clear that the city was built at a place of strategic military significance. The old walls and towers still surround the city, making it almost too easy to imagine the bustling city life during the middle ages. It’s so different from Asia where everything was built in the last century or so.

I would love to live in one of these houses 🙂

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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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