Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Hwashi Street and Wanhua

Another day, another enthusiastic response to my lectures from my students. Despite their high energy, I left them on Friday afternoon and headed into Taipei to overnight for another bike trip over the Northern Cross-Island Highway.

My son takes in a motorcycle accident near Longshan Temple and Huashi Street

We had decided to stay on Huashi Street (華西街) in Wanhua and toss the bikes on the Longshan Metro in the morning. Huashi Street in Taipei is one of the most famous tourist areas in the city, a step away from the Longshan Temple. Formerly a red-light district -- plenty of that still goes on -- the area is being remade as a "tourist attraction" with a "tourist night market." Ugh. But there are lots of good photo-ops in the markets around the area.

A vendor moves her cart as the night markets are set up in the late afternoon.

Like all of Taipei, retailing is a big business in the area.

We got a spartan room for 5 for just $2000 at a historic old hostel....here my son searches for a plug. The room was an excellent deal in an interesting area, and came equipped with all the basic amenities -- toothbrushes, hair dryers, big towels -- in an old building crammed with tiny rooms, twisty hallways, and the accumulated stuff of half a lifetime. They also had a place to put the bikes. Definitely recommended.

...the 古山園旅社, (萬華區華西街40巷16號1-3樓). Apparently it used to be one of the places that housed legal prostitutes in the good old days. "Illegal" prostitution still thrives in the area, and walking around the alleys around Huashi Street one can see many streetwalkers plying their trade, and be accosted by any number of madames with their girls in tow.

In the Tourist Night Market the vendors were busy setting up in the late afternoon.

As tables waited silently for customers.

Santa, caged.

Wanhua is an old district of Taipei and if you walk around, there are many older buildings hiding in plain sight, like the brick structure on the right.

The city has put in the pavement and lights that signal that the area is an "old district". One distressing aspect of Taiwanese tourist presentation is that it obliterates what is old and unique and replaces it with a kind of kitsch approach whose purpose is to present a generic image of what "historical" is expected to look like to tourists -- rather than reconstruction or preservation.

A common sight on Taiwan streets: things hanging.

Mom was trying to get him to say hello, while the other kids helpfully categorized me as a foreigner, in case I wasn't aware of that.

A veggie stand in the area.

In front of a local temple, dinner.

My friend Jeff, always interested in architecture, inspects some unusual round pillars.

We also stopped by the famous Longshan Temple, next to the metro stop of the same name.

The temple was packed, as always.

Unusual figures hold up the roof of the incense burner.

As night fell, the market rose.

Eager snackers sample the abundance of the night market around Huashi Street.

More than enough for the hungriest night market shopper.

Fish heads, anyone?

A drinks vendor.

Diners enjoy good food and conversation.

The covered night market where you can find the snake blood for sale. Twenty years ago this was a much more interesting experience; now the city has cast a dull sameness across the market, since in local thinking, sameness equates to orderliness.

The endless crowds slither through the jungle of signs and stands.

Nuts steaming on a cool fall evening.

And in the morning, there were mountains.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Anonymous said...

Do you still teach at Chaoyang?

Fact checking is essentially a political activity especially when but not necessarily only when it comes to political constituted facts; in order to stay neutral and objective, Media no longer restraint itself with the burden of fact checking:
"Taiwanese tear-jerker wins Golden Horse award in China "

Scott Writer said...

Hi Michael,

Wow - your photos make me miss Taipei so much.

One query though. You write that, "the city has cast a dull sameness across the market, since in local thinking, sameness equates to orderliness."

I wonder if rather than (as I take your point) betraying a quasi-Confucian fear of 'chaos' on the part of 'locals', the orderliness you highlight isn't more connected with wanting to promote Taipei as a 'modern' and 'international' city?

The reason I ask that is that for the 'locals' I know, night markets are most often distinguished as spaces of 'renao' (a concept which lets 'chaos' in the back door, albeit in a socially-acceptable way). Also, that particular market is heavily promoted to international tourists.

It may be that the rationalisation and gentrification of these spaces could also be heavily tied up with the Taipei City Government's (idiosyncratic) views about what foreigners want (hygiene!) and what the 'local colour' experience in an appropriately 'modern' Taipei should look or feel like for them. I guess it depends on which 'locals' you mean.

The TCG tends to be fairly bad at 'cultural' things in any case: witness the Mayor Ma-led debacle that was the refurb of the Jian-cheng Circle market.



Mark said...

Based on what I've seen of the area myself, I suspect that O-bah-san pushing the cart across the street becomes one of the 'madames' under the red lights later in the evening. There are a lot of old guys that hang out in the mall across from the temple playing checkers, etc......
It is a colorful area and definitely worth a visit. The tourist night market isn't the greatest - kinda 'sterile' compared to a place like Shi Lin - but can be a good place to take visitor just because they hang and skin the snakes there (I'm sure you saw the "No Photos" signs otherwise there would be some pics up). Yeah, I did have the soup and drink the blood/gall baldder - it's not so bad...! Yeah, I guess it does brings to mind the Jian-cheng Circle. That had to be the coolest looking ultra-local place around but then I remember going by it again one day and it was just completely gone. Couldn't believe it..... What a royal screw up by Horsey Brave Nine.
The temple is a great place to take people as well - you need to walk around to the back part behind the main altar - seems you didn't make it back there or at least there are no pics. I used to see Japanese tour groups going through the temple just about every time I went there in the past, but come to think of it I haven't seen any recently.

TicoExpat said...

Who can blame them for teh mistake? Most years, no taiwanese actors -and hardly any movies- are nominated for this "local" award... *sigh*

Michael Turton said...

Damn, Scott, some heavy ideas.

I wonder if rather than (as I take your point) betraying a quasi-Confucian fear of 'chaos' on the part of 'locals', the orderliness you highlight isn't more connected with wanting to promote Taipei as a 'modern' and 'international' city?

I don't think so, because the same drive to standardize appears everywhere -- been to Miaokou in Keelung lately? It used to be a pleasing anarchy, but then they mde it all look the same. If you go around Taiwan many smaller towns mandate identically shaped signs along main streets, producing utter monotony and making it hard to find stuff without the old distinctively shaped signs.

I think it isn't about modernity, but actual about traditional ideas of order and sameness.

Yes, I agree, lots of presentation here is aimed at "what foreigners want" which is defined locally.

Oh yes, the Jiancheng circle was a great loss. Among many.

Stop by more often, man, could use comments like yours.


Michael Turton said...

Anon, left CYU two years ago.

BBC sucks -- the title is probably made in london, since the article clearly distinguishes Taiwan from China.

Ben Goren said...

"sameness equates to orderliness"

.. and by the same token I imagine that difference equates to disorderliness and should be treated with caution, if not discrimination, covert or otherwise.