Exploring Taiwan: Real-life Spirited Away & Houtong Cat Village

February 20, 2015 § 1 Comment

Kicking off the new year’s goal of exploring more of Taiwan, Matthew and I have decided to take a weekend trip to the famed Jiufen (九份), the inspiration behind Miyazaki’s ‘Spirited Away’ and Houtong (侯硐), an old coal mining village that became a haven for stray cats. It was a relief to leave Taipei and get some fresh air. The train ride was an hour away and only costed NT.50 (about USD $2), which makes me question myself why I don’t go out into the outside world more.

Jiufen was an old gold mining town that prospered back during the Japanese occupation in the early 20th century. The town is tucked into the mountains and enjoys a stunning view of the Pacific ocean. The small area meant that the buildings are densely built, narrow roads and alleys that winds around the mountainous town.

I highly recommend exploring Jiufen at night. Mostly because you can avoid the throngs of tourists that visit during the daytime but also because the night scenes were significantly more interesting.

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Nighttime exploring

The quietness of the town at night was slightly eerie and surreal. Besides the random passerby or two, we didn’t come across anyone during our nighttime exploration. It felt like a ghost town, especially with the dilapidated structures and the endless rows of graves. The nighttime sounds that you grow accustomed to hearing in the city, scooters, neighbor arguments, tv sets, were nonexistent. Instead, you heard the ocean breeze and the occasional crickets chirping.

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Jiufen’s characteristic red lanterns and long winding alleys. Lights on, but no one in sight

After walking through numerous dark alleys and narrow staircases, we stumbled across this brightly lit tea house:

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The famous Japanese tea house #themoneyshot

It was just like a scene out of Spirited Away. The dark town backdrop just highlighted the bright building even more, absolutely stunning to look at.

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The Power of Color: Da-an 56

September 9, 2012 § 2 Comments

The Power of Color is this awesome annual festival that promotes the creative art scene in Taipei. Works from both Taiwanese and international artists are showcased in different venues around the city, and also includes a variety of events and activities over a 2 month period.

I accidentally stumbled upon the Da-an 56 exhibit this past Saturday. Da-an 56 is an old red brick house with a large courtyard, nestled  in the bustling shopping district of Taipei’s East area. I’ve passed it several times in the past, but this is the first time it’s been opened to the public. It’s very rare to see a standalone western styled house in Taipei. Except for the super-rich, most of us live in apartment buildings in Taiwan.

Da-an 56


Though the date of when the last owners moved out is unknown, the house looks as if it has been frozen in time, about 40 years ago. The wallpaper peeling, the floor boards creaking and the unmistakable musty odor of old houses. From the living room to the bathroom, each room and area of the property has been transformed into individual exhibit rooms for the artists.

“Thank You” by Heidi Volt

The first exhibit you see when you step foot into the house is the eye catching piece “Thank You” by Heidi Volt.

3000 digital watches were used to form a large carpet

At the start of the exhibit, all the watches are set to the same time and beeps at each hour. As time goes by, the cheap digital watches start walking to their own pace of time. If you take a close glimpse, the time on each watch is off by a few seconds or some by a minute or 2 (or more). The beeping at each hour slowly loses its synchronization and creates a cacophony of digital noises. Time really is relative isn’t it?

“Their sight/your sight in Taipei” by Akiko Ikeda
Pop up Daruma doll

I loved the 3D world created by Akika Ikeda’s pop-up cut outs of books, magazines and other media. The scenes seem to come to life when popping out of their paper home.

An Artic expedition

“Similing Face as a Flower” by Hsu Wei-Hui

Finding a gigantic pink flower in the bathroom caught me off guard completely. Upon closer inspection, you can see that the piece is created by facial masks, which is very popular among Asian women. I interpreted it as sacredness of the bathroom for women and their quest for beauty.

“3:15” Hua-Chen Huang

“3:15” Hua-Chen Huang
Glowing bathtub!

“The Rotators” by Ujino

The Rotators was a sound sculpture assembled by various different objects, mostly motor-driven appliances. Besides creating a rhythmic sound, the lights also go on and off! Also, were you creeped out by this picture? My friend was taking a closer look at the exhibit just while I took the picture. So no, that isn’t Ringu (ahhh, I’m getting the creeps already) but in all honesty, Da-an 56 can definitely be considered for a haunted house venue. It has that old, eerie feel to it that comes with the aging house. *goosebumps*

The Rotators by Ujino

“Bring the colorful telescope” by Yen-Chiao Huang

“Bring the colorful telescope” by Yen-Chiao Huang

This is what I would imagine would happen if a graffiti artist gets locked into a white room for a week.

“Erebus” by Chia-Yu Lee

“Erebus” by Chia-Yu Lee

Erebus” didn’t seem that interesting at the first glance. However, if you look at the frames closely enough, you’ll see dim outlines of the artist’s family. It was kind of like a magic eye, where you have to stare at it long and hard, and even at different angles. The first image I saw was an elderly grandma and I freaked out completely. It’s interesting how the artist manipulated the photos and her statement about the piece is worth a read.

“Passing in between” by Han-Hong Tai

“Passing in Between”

Passing in Between was by far the memorable, as you had to personally enter the exhibit. As you can see from the picture, it’s an enclosed wooden staircase with a normal human sized door but then decreases until only a mouse can make it to the end. As a human, you get stuck half-way into the staircase as you try to make it to the light at the end of the tunnel.

The tiny alice-in-wonderland door at the end

The garage door

“Doughnut in Alice’s Wonderland” by Wen-Fu Yu

Doughnut in Alice’s Wonderland” was by far the most popular piece. It’s a beautiful piece that is created completely out of bamboo. I love the reference to Alice in Wonderland as the whole Da-an 56 was by far a mind-bending, stimulating trip out of reality. But in a good way.

“Dispatchwork” by Jan Vormann

I almost missed the “Dispatchwork” by Jan Vormann but luckily for me, I caught it on the way out. I think this is my favorite piece because it reminds me that if you look hard enough, there are bits of creative sparks all around this city, fueled by color. Those sparks are subtle but they are there. They act as reminders that even in our mundane daily lives, you can always find something little that can bring a small on your face.

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