Sunday, January 30, 2011

Taipei City Mall: Journey to the Bowels of Taipei

Hello Kitty men's (yes, men's) briefs on sale at Taipei City Mall

It's been cold and steely gray all weekend, so we decided to spend our Saturday wandering Taipei City Mall, a long two-aisle shopping extravaganza underneath Civic Boulevard. After writing up a few posts on Taipei Main Station, it made sense to follow up with a post about some of the things to see and do in that neighborhood.

It runs roughly from Chengde Road - if it's called Chengde Road that far south - to Yanping Road just north of Taipei Main Station, and is one of the key components of what locals call "車站後" or "Behind The Station".

Above ground, the area has changed both a lot and hardly at all in the past few years: the new Taipei Bus Station was plonked down in all its hulking glory recently, and include a chi-chi department store. Hoity-toity is clearly trying to make its way to this old area.

That said, the twisted lanes and alleys full of shops bursting with consumer goods - from gray acrylic aprons to silverware to lamb's leather and faux leather handbags - those are still there, creating a bit of a tangle of traffic and Made in China goodness all the way up to Nanjing Road. The entire Circus of Stuff reaches a peak at Chang'an Road, where shop after shop of seasonal plastic junk vies for your attention over the hanging drapes of LED fairy lights, blinking off into the distance. So winding are the roads here that the one clear four-corner intersection (of Chongqing and Chang'an, I believe) is called "Ten Intersection" (十字路口) because it looks like the Chinese number ten: 十.

Stuff, stuff, stuff, stuff, stuff

This is also the neighborhood where one finds DIY makeup and beauty care product stores (you'll find these along Tianshui Road - 天水街), DIY beading and jewelry making stores (those can be found down Yanping, to the far west along Chang'an and all the way up to Dihua Streets) and store after store of precious and semi-precious stones (along Chongqing between Nanjing and Civic).

For that matter, don't miss Jiayi Chicken Rice (嘉義雞肉飯) - actually turkey rice, I believe - along Chongqing Road near Chang'an. They're the best place to try this specialty of Jiayi city that I've found.

Below ground, where we hid out for most of yesterday, is a rough-around-the-edges, slightly downmarket shopping experience that, with its ratio of usefulness to classiness (low classiness, high usefulness, pretty much the opposite of the new Bellavita in Xinyi), reminds me of a down-at-heel suburban strip mall. You know, the ones with a Dollar Plus at one end, a Crazy Cal's Discount Liquor, a hardware store, a Cambio de Cheque and a Szechwan Panda Bamboo Palace. Not to mock any of it - it's all very useful stuff. When I lived in Arlington VA I did most of my errands at places like that.

Such is Taipei City Mall. One end has a dance bar and mirrors, and young'uns come here to practice their moves:

And the other has a whole setup of blind masseurs waiting to give you a backrub (NT$100 for ten minutes, and they do a good job).

In between, you can find stores full of beads and semiprecious gems, stores that sell inexpensively made Old Chinese Lady clothing, shops selling tea items, things to hit yourself with (paddles with magnets, brushes made of semi-stiff bamboo sticks, plastic balls with spikes: there is an amazing array of stuff you can beat yourself up with in the name of "improved blood circulation" available in Taipei), about seventy kajillion toy stores, a few Indonesian restaurants and other shops and an assortment of Random.

Back to the Old Chinese Lady clothing: which I totally wear because it's made for sizes that fit older women, not young stick insects, and I rather like Chinese clothing as old-timey as it may make me look (which is totally fine because as a foreigner I get to bend the fashion rules).

Someday I'll take a picture of my Crazy Obasan Jacket and post it here: a jacket I wear to work sometimes made of shiny blue-green fabric embroidered with purple and pink flowers and green vines and trimmed with blue and purple sequins all the way up and around the Mandarin collar, with frog buttons down the front. It's super awesomepants.

Old Chinese Lady Clothing - Love it!

And here are some assortments of Random for you. I am not sure what Maiden School teaches, though it seems to be something like an etiquette school for girls. Below that, the Tea Shop Post Office. Get some Bubble Tea and send your letters, all in one stop!

The Tea Shop Post Office

A great deal of the toys on sale are definitely not for children:

When I first moved to Taiwan, I knew guns were illegal for all but military and police officers (of course that doesn't stop certain unsavory elements from obtaining them). I kept seeing these stores, though, and wondering how guns could be sold so openly if they were illegal - even in the USA I've never seen a gun shop like this, and I've been to Texas! I've taken a road trip through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia and never seen such a display of firearms for passerby to notice.

Of course, these are toy guns - they shoot BBs and are exceedingly popular among Taiwan's adult male set. There are entire BB gun shooting ranges where Taiwanese men go to...shoot things with BBs.

The mall has a fairly good selection of food - from tea stalls to full restaurants that look like they serve some tasty meals. There are two Indonesian places - we tried the one at the far end across from M Toko Indo Indonesian grocery, but there's also a place called Nanyang (南洋) that is supposed to be quite good. Both serve decent downmarket Indonesian food - the sort of thing you'd get at a hole-in-the-wall in rural Sumatra. Both places and the grocery are on the western end of the mall.

For more upmarket, take-your-date-there, downtown Jakarta fare, try Milano on Pucheng Street in Shi-da (I'll write a review of it later).

And all down the long corridors, benches are set out where you can find all manner of random people sitting, snacking and relaxing.

Like this guy.

All in all, not a bad place to spend a rainy, overcast day - and I picked up more beading supplies, too!

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