But first, my awesome, kick-butt, really cool (and within our budget) engagement ring:
It's got a dragon. I bet your engagement ring doesn't have a dragon. As one friend so rightly said:
"Check out my diamond" - boring. "Check out my kick-ass dragon" - AWESOME!
I've recently made a few other jewelry purchases - things I'm planning to wear when we get married but didn't buy specifically for that purpose. First, a pair of antique jade and gold-dipped earrings, which used to be ornaments on a Qing-era headdress (or so the dealer said, and I don't think he was lying):
And second, a hand-carved hair pick of fragrant wood, which I found at an artisan's stall at the craft market outside of Red House Theater:
And now, I present photos from some of our wanderings around the more historic parts of Wanhua District, my favorite district in Taipei (I'd totally live in an old shophouse if it were easy to rent out the top floor of one.)
The best walks begin at Longshan Temple MRT Station. There is a lot to see in this area - the Guangzhou Street Market connecting Guangzhou Street (duh) and an old Mackay medical clinic, now a restored building with free exhibits and fantastic architecture, and Longshan Temple Park, the park itself full of old folks enjoying themselves:
...Longshan Temple, which is always worth a stop, Mangka Gate and further along, the Naruwan Indigenous People's Market and the old Xuehai Academy, now a family shrine.
In the other direction, you can head up to Guiyang Street. On the way you'll pass lots of shops specializing in temple stuff - embroideries, idols, costumes, tall god costumes etc.. Lined with historic shops in turn-of-the century buildings (many of which have been continuously in business), you can turn one way and go to Qingshan Temple, where the God of Green Mountain resides - it's said that when immigrants from Fujian brought over his image, as they carried it down what is now Guiyang Street, it became too heavy to carry and then they knew that that was where the god wanted his temple to be. (Stories about idols and other sacred objects becoming too heavy to lift as a sign of that god's will is quite common around the world - read In An Antique Land by Amitav Ghosh for a few examples of this).
More information on the God of Green Mountain can be found in Private Prayers and Public Parades - a book available in Page One that every Taipei expat should own.
In the other direction are several shops and old shophouses. One of them is a coffeeshop that doesn't get a lot of business, but is run by a friendly old family who is quite hospitable to guests (the coffee is pretty good, too, and they have food).
I call this "Welcome to Taipei" - old shophouse arcades, scooters, a brightly lit fruit stand and a dude with no shirt on. Ahhhh, yes. That says it all really.
Old Shophouses - some neglected, others not - line Guiyang Street.
Walking farther, you'll reach Qingshui Temple, set up by immigrants from Anzhou in Fujian. The gold work inside is quite amazing, as is the stone carving and painting. It's been rebuilt since burning down in the 19th century but is no less gorgeous:
Along the way we passed some more rows of old buildings, mostly in disrepair. The area also has a branch of NTU hospital and one fairly nice hotel (which seems to be just above an underground love hotel). There are several ways to walk from this area to Ximending, and the whole area is worth exploring.
Once in Ximending, you can enter via Chengdu Road - along the way you'll pass Calcutta Indian food, which has some great curries, a shopfront-sized temple that is gorgeous (and a bit smelly) inside that I believe is dedicated to Matsu, goddess of the sea, and Fong Da, a fun and retro vintage coffeeshop with Formica tables, strong coffee and big ol' diner-style sundaes. It's famous, and yet you can almost always get a seat.
You can also enter via Neijiang Street, which will bring you right to the main intersection of the pedestrian shopping area, which is of no interest to most people over the age of 20. It's called "Little Shibuya" by some, for its resemblance to the massive commercial center in Tokyo. There are some small hidden treasures in here, though, and even the Starbucks is in a historic building.
Head in the other direction, and you'll come to several crumbling temples far from the lights and activity of the main shopping area. Their locations are outlined in Rough Guide Taiwan and they're well worth a brief stop. A few are not in the guidebook at all but are easy enough to find with a little wandering.
Across the street from the huge intersection above is my personal favorite spot in Taipei, Red House Theater:
With theater and music performances upstairs, exhibits and a fancy coffeeshop (they have alcohol, too) downstairs and a funky independent artist's market outside and in the long adjacent building, there is no excuse not to pay a visit. Behind the theater is a newly-built but thriving outdoor bar strip that's quite popular in the gay&lesbian community. It's probably the best place in Taipei to grab a drink and sit outside on a pleasant evening.
At the moment, there's an exhibit going on inside on Taiwanese puppetry, focusing on the weirder styles of modern puppets. Most puppets (bu dai xi) look like this:
But these terrifying objets d'art look like, well, this:
(My next post will feature some more puppets from that particular exhibit. They're really...um...something. One dude has a foot on his head.)
From Red House you can walk up Hengyang Rd. or over to Wuchang Street, passing Zhongshan Hall - built by the Japanese, and a fine place to catch a concert if you're into the fine arts (we've seen two there, it's always a pleasure and we prefer it to the gaudy Look At Us We're Rich Mainland-style architecture of the National Concert Hall).
Along Wuchang Street in one direction is a covered market with all sorts of fun stuff, including traditional Chinese clothes and funky jewelry and handbags. In the other is Taipei Snow King, with its hundreds of flavors of ice cream ranging from basil to sugar apple to pig knuckle to honey to Gaoliang rice wine to Taiwan Beer to kiwi. It's locally owned and makes its own ice cream as it has for decades. (Even further along is an area packed with movie theaters).
If you turn toward Taipei Main Station along Zhonghua Road from there, you'll pass the old post office, the North Gate (my favorite of the still-standing city gates, it wasn't 'redecorated' during the KMT martial law period), a block of shops specializing in cameras and another in stamps, and yet another in luggage. Keep heading north on Yanping and you'll come to Dadaocheng and the Dihua Street area, which is worth an entirely new post, so I won't cover it here.