This August I went to Taiwan. And ever since I got back I’ve been regurgitating on the texture and colours of the place.
We spent a lot of our time in Taipei. Taipei is a bit different from what I expected, in that the city is much older than what I pictured.
Ximending Shopping District
We spent four nights in Ximending, a popular shopping district. A walk along the streets of Ximending- even the streets where the insanely popular restaurants are located- would be studded with dead cockroaches and slanted, broken canopies.
Once I saw a guy napping outside what seemed to be an old warehouse, in a broken leather chair, and the screensaver on his iPad were photos of half-naked women.
The Ximending shopping district has some of the coolest shops, such as the only UNICLO in Taiwan that allows you to design and print your own T-shirts right on the spot.
But meanwhile the Ximending streets buzz with tiny food carts selling local traditional food, the oily smells clashing with the neon light of the marquees.
Shopping in Ximending feels real, as if the texture of the night air is tangible. When you’re tired of all the 21 Century poshness, look around and you see the cheap hair salons and the food stands, and you feel very much alive and safe again.
101 is all the new-ness of Taiwan stacked into one building.
Shopping there was fun, but as we worked our way to the higher floor levels, the brands were almost too sharp, too expensive, and we just lost interest and went straight to the level where people line up for the elevator to the top of the tower.
Before we took the elevator, we had the mango shaved ice that instantly made me feel very Taiwanese.
At the Taipei Observatory located at the top of the tower, we got to see the whole view of the city.
There was also an area where the floor is made of mirrors and you could look down and see an endless number of reflections of you.
It all felt very refreshing, to be watching the throbbing lights outside the broad windows, at the top of the city.
OTHER SHOPPING DISTRICTS: YONGKANG RD AND ZHONGXIAO RD
I also hunted for the bookstores in Taipei. Eslite Bookstore and VVG Something were the best.
Eslite Bookstore has a lot of locations, but VVG is located on Zhongxiao Rd, in a small alley. It doesn’t really have that many books and I didn’t buy anything, but the ambience was great and I could see why it’s recognized as one of the 20 most beautiful bookstores on Earth.
On our last day in Taiwan, we finally got to dine at Ding Tai Fung, a restaurant specializing in steamed dumplings (xiaolongbao).
They really had the best dim sums I have ever tasted. The steamed dumplings were juicy and warm, and half transparent!!!
Just know that I don’t usually type 3 exclamation points in a row.
After a few days of observation, I decided that downtown Taipei is like a cat. It is real (of course a cat is real), greasy at some spots but altogether puffy and endearing. It is old but bouncing with new life.
And, like a cat, Taipei is most alive at midnight. People lining up outside late-night diners before they open, looking forward to a fourth meal of the day. And there’s the moon, and the evening wind, and the old broken canopies. That’s one of the most beautiful images from Taiwan that I want to keep.
If I had to sum up Taipei in one image, it would be the grey chubby buildings crowding together, the ones that you see on a train passing through the city. They’re grey and old but then you see the turquoise canopies and the colourful clothes hung outside to dry.