Showing posts with label best_of_taipei. Show all posts
Showing posts with label best_of_taipei. Show all posts

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Taipei Antique and Vintage Hunting

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Honestly, I think we're all sick of Constant Coronavirus Coverage. Let's talk about something else.

Over the past few years, I have enjoyed giving my home a sort of modern-retro look by decorating with vintage finds of dubious value - I don't really care what a thing is 'worth' as long as I like it, and the price is acceptable. In fact, everyday vintage items of lower value are preferable, as I can use them without worry.

The shops where I hunt these items down are also great places to check out, as we look for ways to get out of the house, possibly while we still can. I'm not talking about the high-end antique shops or the "vintage stores" that sell the clothing I grew up wearing for a Generation Z crowd. I mean the places that sell a combination of old Taiwan and Japan flair (which is what I'm after) and the sort of Western kitsch I'd generously call "Goodwill finds" back home.

I wouldn't want to go to a bar full of people or high-traffic department store right now - not that I do so typically - but these shops tend to be lower-traffic, and they are also businesses trying to stay afloat in an economy that's suddenly turned against everyone.

Since deciding to create that 'vintage Taiwan' feel on a wall display at home, I've had even more reason to trawl my favorite vintage stores, so now feels like the right time to write about them.

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There are surely more than these in Greater Taipei, so feel free to add any that you know in the comments.


April's Goodies (唐青古物商行)
100台北市中正區羅斯福路一段83巷17號
#17 Lane 83 Roosevelt Rd. Sec 1, Zhongzheng District, Taipei
MRT Guting or CKS Memorial Hall
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The entrance to April's Goodies 

With old windowframes and some larger furniture outside, and everything from old Taiwanese dinnerware to teapots to a few vintage clothing items inside, this place is small but packed with quality vintage goods.

Not only did the window with the textured glass on my wall come from there, my glass persimmon did, too.

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(No, I don't know the actual names of vintage glass patterns, I'm not that much of a nerd about it, but this one, the vaguely floral pattern and a reeded or fluted textured glass are the most common textured glass found in vintage Taiwanese windows).


Treasure Hunters (藏舊尋寶屋)
100台北市中正區羅斯福路二段38號
#38 Roosevelt Rd. Section 2, Zhongzheng District, Taipei
MRT Guting

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This well-known store specializing in Japanese antiques looks small when you enter. Then you find it stretches further and further back (with an alley separating buildings at one point), and has an upstairs! A lot of the antiques here are actually from Japan, not Taiwan's Japanese era, but there's a lot here if you want to capture a bit of the Japanese influence of a vintage Taiwanese look. Also, their ceramics and lacquerware are highly sought-after by collectors.


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All three antiques on this bookcase came from Treasure Hunters


Prices may seem high but for a lot of what they have, you'll find it's actually fairly reasonable. For example, I've picked up 1970s vintage Zohiko and Wajima lacquerware here for a song (Zohiko is a brand, and Wajima is a Japanese island known for lacquer), as well as a beloved lacquer tray with a beautifully rendered dragon from Okinawa. The 閑庭百花發 wooden calligraphy board on my wall came from here, too, and wasn't particularly expensive.

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Recently, Treasure Hunters has been holding half-price antique markets in small space on Lishui Street, I suppose to clear out old stock. Follow their Line account to get updates on when they occur.


Qinjing Old Warehouse (秦境老倉庫)
103台北市大同區民樂街153號
#153 Minle Street, Datong District, Taipei
MRT Zhongshan or Shuanglian (but there are buses that stop closer by)


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This tiny shop, crammed with vintage goodness, is where my vintage window grate came from. They occasionally have windows and window grates here, but the real finds at Qinjing are vintage dishware. Small items sometimes go for cheap - I picked up an small ceramic 招財 cat for NT30 here, and some crystal prisms for NT50 each, that I plan to hang in my window to create rainbows my cats can chase around on sunny days.

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Qinjing also tends to be a good place to look for vintage appliances, toys, old brand gimmick items, worn-out funky keychains, wooden signs and the occasional farm implement. I can't even describe how eclectic it is, so I'll let Elmo in a Blender speak for itself.



 

Swallow Used Furniture (Swallow燕子老傢俱)
 112台北市北投區東華街一段438巷4號
#4, Lane 438, Donghua Street Section 1, Beitou District, Taipei
MRT Mingde (Shipai is also walkable)




In a quiet corner of Beitou, just inside a non-descript lane marked by a burst of tropical greenery off the road that runs under the MRT, you'll find Swallow. This place seems to be run by a pair of hipster guys, and you'd be forgiven for mistaking the front courtyard for a junkyard, or the private home of a hoarding grandpa. When I wandered in, it was only apparent that it was an actual shop by the open door and music, and prices on most (though not all) items.
 
It's packed, and it seems tiny, but this place actually has three floors. The first floor is mostly small items. The second floor has more Japanese-era antiques, and the third floor is furniture. Old windows and screens can be found in the balcony off the 2nd floor (as well as in the courtyard).



One of the friendly hipster guys seems to work on creating upcycled furniture, much like W2 (though the look is different).

I picked up a Japanese-style sliding window screen here, but haven't figured out what to do with it yet.

This place is fun to check out in person, but if you don't feel like going all the way to Mingde, they have an impressively organized Facebook page where you can click on albums of their various items, complete with prices, and shop at home. (I don't know if they deliver but they put a lot of work into their Facebook page so they should be accessible by Messenger). If you want to score some old windows or window frames for yourself, their Facebook albums are a fantastic place to start.

Moungar (莽葛拾遺二手書店)
108台北市萬華區廣州街152巷4號

#4 Guangzhou Street Lane 152, Wanhua District, Taipei
(right behind Cafe 85)

MRT Longshan Temple

Moungar is housed in an old brick shophouse half-hidden by a large bougainvillea. Decorative Majolica tiles grace the front and make it an inviting space to enter.

This is more of an antique book shop - their selection of actual antique items is smaller than the other places I've listed. I have a book from them on my shelf - a collection of Pushkin stories.

Even if you don't buy anything, the old building is very much worth a look inside. I don't know if they still serve coffee. 



Aphrodite
114台北市內湖區民權東路六段16之1號
#1-16, Minquan East Road Section 6, Neihu District, Taipei
Not near the MRT - take any of the cross-Minquan buses to get here (278, 556 and 902 also stop nearby)

To be honest, I haven't been here in years, because it's no longer convenient to any of my worksites (I used to have a class in an office not far from here).

Unlike the other antique stores on this list, Aphrodite focuses on European antiques. The other shops sometimes have items from Western countries, but this place looks like your German immigrant grandma's attic. I've purchased old wooden coasters, some glassware and some copper items here, though much of their stock is furniture.


Fuhe Bridge Flea Market (福和橋市場)
Under Fuhe Bridge on the Yonghe (New Taipei) side
Open until noon, most popular on Saturdays
Not near the MRT but many buses stop nearby, including the 275, R25, 660, 254, 672 and 208)


Oh, Fuhe Bridge Flea Market, with your stolen shoes and dodgy goods. With your weird, wonderful weirdness and wonderfulness.

I haven't been here in years either, mostly because I have a private class on Saturday mornings, but I'm told it's still going strong and is a great place for old vintage finds, as you can see from my pictures from 2013. (If you're wondering, I eventually got that Datong fan - did you know they still make them and you can get one new?)

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A few vendors at this market actually hold Yixing clay teapot auctions, so if you trust your auctioning skills and can get in on the fun in Chinese (or Taiwanese), you might get a good deal.

The link in my original post lists a few other flea markets in the Taipei area.


Yongkang Street Jin'an Market  (錦安市場)
106台北市大安區永康街60號
#60 Yongkang Street, Da'an District, Taipei

Honestly, I have less to say about this market. It's full of cool old stuff but it's also been 'discovered', meaning that prices are higher (it's also in a fancy part of town, surrounded by antique stores that sell high-end items).

But, it's worth a stroll-through, and I'll occasionally poke around the various shops, though I don't know if I've ever actually bought anything there.


Facebook Groups

Honestly, some of the most interesting things I've come across can be found in dedicated Facebook groups to vintage shopping. I'm a fan of Grocrery Store (no idea if the typo is intentional, and don't care), 寶島新樂園二手舊貨、古董、民藝 and 二手。古董。老件。收藏。裝飾 but there are honestly tons of choices - join a few and Facebook will suggest more for you.


I will say that I have not actually tried to buy anything from these groups,  but they're great fun for browsing.

Happy hunting!

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Thursday, December 19, 2019

Update: Speaking up works - YouBike will allow foreign residents to register

Here's the great thing about Taiwan - when something actually gets done, it happens so efficiently and with such personal care, that it can be astounding. 

Of course, this assumes that something is done properly in the first place, which isn't always the case (see: every English language education initiative the government has ever announced).

But yesterday, YouBike did (mostly) the right thing, and so fast that the news cycle could barely keep up with it. 


After the news broke that YouBike's new insurance scheme wasn't available to foreign residents or tourists, and therefore foreign residents and tourists could not register their EasyCards to use YouBikes normally but would have to go through complicated and expensive processes each time they wanted to rent, we positively tsunamied them (I made a new verb!) with complaints. 

Within a day those of us who complained by e-mail received a reply that they would talk to the Department of Transportation about the issue, and then they actually did so. Now, foreign residents would be able to register their EasyCards to use YouBike on December 24th. (This is quite acceptable; it will surely take time to update the code).

The city government even released a statement acknowledging the volume of complaints:



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I honestly believe that in the country I come from, those complaints would have simply been ignored. If a solution came, it would be long after the fact with no clear notification made. (Not that any American cities except New York have remotely acceptable public transportation in the first place, mind you, and even New York's transit smells end-to-end like pee). If you were lucky you might get a form letter in reply that did not actually address your issue in any substantive way.

There are good and bad things to say about the course of events. I'm in a positive "we got stuff done!" in a positive mood, so let's start with the good.

What we've learned from this is that speaking up works. It works!

There were a lot of comments on social media saying we were just "complainers", "first world whiners" or "guests in this country" who should never complain, or that we couldn't possibly get the problem fixed so the only choice was to accept it.

What they didn't realize was that this wasn't whining, it was strategy. The more people make noise, the more likely the problem will get fixed. If even 5% of the people who read this post wrote to the city government, that's still several hundred e-mails they received. 


And we did get the problem fixed, so all those "don't complain, you can't change it" people were simply wrong.

That doesn't mean everything's great because the problem is solved, however.

Tourists still have to go through the more cumbersome process of one-time rentals, which require an NT$2000 deposit on a card which is not refunded for up to 15 days. The process also takes a lot longer, and it's frankly silly that Taipei city encourages tourists to get EasyCards but then doesn't make them useable for YouBikes. The city rolled out YouBikes in part to appeal to tourists, and routinely recommends tourists use them (here's one example, originally published in Taipei magazine. Making rentals annoying and expensive for tourists is self-defeating when all they have to do is add code to the system that opts foreign visitors out of the new insurance scheme that caused this whole mess. 


And, of course, the quick turnaround we got on this issue does highlight "expat privilege" to an extent. I discussed the issue with a few students who said they didn't think of the Taipei city government as particularly responsive, and we may have gotten the problem solved in a day simply because we were foreigners. Not only that, but we were mostly (though not entirely) white "expat" foreigners who tend to get preferential treatment.

To be frank, that almost certainly played a role. Let's not pretend it didn't. 


Which means that, if we can make change by speaking out as a privileged group, maybe we should do that more often, in service of goals that benefit people who are more likely to be ignored by the powers that be.

Finally, there's the fact that this simply should not have been a problem in the first place. I doubt it was active discrimination, but rather that the impact of the new policy on non-citizens was simply not considered. That results in discriminatory impact. Discrimination can exist in impact just as much as intent (if not more so).

To avoid these sorts of issues in the future, the government can't just passively ignore the foreign community and pretend that's the same as 'not discriminating'. It has to actively consider its actions through the lens of understanding that the city it governs has foreign residents, too, and that its tourism strategy should be coherent and synchronized across departments. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

A half-day wander in the Beitou backstreets

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At some point in the past few weeks, I ended up with something called a "Bakers cyst" (discovered by a guy named Baker), which is a fluid cyst that develops when there's too much strain on the knee. Whether it was my trip to Europe - and all the stairs and cobblestones - or going to the gym too much, I have no idea.

In any case, that means minimal stairs, lots of rest and no hiking for awhile. Instead, to get a little easy exercise and enjoy the beautiful weather this weekend, a friend and I headed up to Beitou to check out some of its older architecture. Not Xinbeitou with its glorious Japanese-era pavilions, temples and buildings, but the flat area of Beitou which has no hills that could pose a challenge to my knee.

Beitou doesn't have a wealth of exciting old buildings to see, but its backstreets are pleasantly old-school in a way that reminds me of the quieter parts of Tainan city. There are, however, a few things worth taking a look at if you're in the neighborhood.

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We started out walking towards the Lady Zhou memorial arch, built in the 19th century by local officials to honor Lady Zhou, whose husband died young and who apparently "kept her chastity intact" while taking care of her late husband's parents and raising their children. While I'm not on board with this particular kind of morality, the arch itself is interesting an in an atmospheric little lane next to a quirky temple.

Lady Zhou Memorial Gate (周氏節孝坊) is easy to find on Google Maps.

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The lane is pleasant enough that you might feel inclined to relax on one of the stone pylons meant to stop cars from driving under the arch, or sit on the inviting benches of the temple. The temple itself is small and features a variety of scenes from folk stories painted on the bathroom-tile walls.

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The houses in this lane are worth your notice as well, although they are not as immediately eye-catching as the baroque shophouses on Taiwan's old streets. Lovely details such as attractively painted window screens, unique bannisters on balconies, plants that give the lane some leafy atmosphere and generally just a quiet neighborhood feel make this area very pleasant. Being extremely close to the MRT, this is the sort of place I'd love to buy someday and renovate with original features intact. Sadly, though these sorts of homes look normal, they're extremely expensive now, well out of my budget (especially considering the sorts of renovations I'd want to do to make the home modern and comfortable but period-appropriate).

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Then we went looking for a few more old houses that were said to still exist on Datong Street nearby. What we found instead was a kind of neighborhood junkyard, and the locals there informed us that the buildings had been torn down some time ago. There was one left in bad condition off to the side, but was basically just a backdrop to heaps of junk at that point. It's a shame, as Beitou could probably bring in more visitors - the kind who are actually interested in local history - if it kept and maintained these sorts of buildings.

Next door, we came across an old temple not on our list, the Chen Family Ancestral Hall (陳氏祠堂, also findable on Google Maps), across the street from the adorable-looking Slipper Cafe. The hall itself is fronted by an attractive old gate, but then you have to pass through a shaded car park. The ancestral worship areas are at the back, behind a locked gate which is surrounded by piles of junk, and near the car park is a place to eat that has a sign extolling the importance of protecting the environment.

Someone from the Chen family, or perhaps just a local uncle hanging out, let us in. The tablets themselves are backed by a pretty cool hand-painted dragon - yes, we asked permission before photographing it. 

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There are also some lovely old paintings on wooden sideboards and an atmospherically neglected shrine to the right.

It's not a place to go out of your way to visit by any means, but it makes for a pleasant stop on a relaxed city walking day if you happen to pass by. Which, to be honest, is the case with most temples, shrines and ancestral halls.

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We then walked up to Beitou Market, which is a bit loud and disorganized but has a few places to eat and at least one tea vendor selling lemon pineapple tea with chunks of pineapple (which was far too sweet but also delicious). There's also a guy selling Oreo and Rocher wheel cakes. Near the market, on Guangming Road very close to the MRT (you can see the station down the road) you'll also pass a few old shophouses from what I guess was once the main market street, which have been taken over by a Cosmed. 


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On one hand, I'm happy that these old structures are continuing to be used (and not necessarily turned into yet another tacky tourist shop, not that tourists come to this part of Beitou, as they usually head up the mountain instead). On the other, that is one hell of an ugly sign. 

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Near Beitou Market is the Beitou Presbyterian Church (長老教會北投教堂), built in 1912 and designed by William Gauld. It's the only surviving 20th-century church designed by Gauld, and its congregation was initially mostly local plains indigenous. It has brick and cement buttresses to protect against earthquakes, but there's no easy way to get in if it's closed (the gate, however, seems to be left open most of the time so you can walk right up to it). 

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One thing we missed was the old Beitou Granary on Datong Street, not far from the Chen Family Ancestral Hall, simply because I hadn't known it was there until I researched our route a little bit after our walk. Built in the 1930s, it was (as you might guess) a grain distribution center during the Japanese era. Apparently the original wooden roof and the old rice mill are still extant. I guess I'll have to return to check it out.

We then set out for one of the last remaining two-story traditional houses in Taipei, which is down a lane off Qingjiang Road (I believe Lane 113).

The lanes in this area are highly atmospheric and worth a walk on their own, before you get to a dirt path through a small urban farm, past a few old brick houses - some in very poor condition - and one that is still lived in. The main road itself is a bit more hectic but I did appreciate the creepy mannequins in one store.

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In this area you can see a lot of structures that were clearly once Japanese-era shophouses but which have been tiled over. While the tile is ugly, I'm happy the structures have survived. I do hope someday the aesthetic trend of removing tiles and refurbishing original exteriors will become more popular (the equivalent of tearing up '80s shag carpet to find hardwood floors underneath).

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They do have a cute dog though.

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Unfortunately, the house itself was not accessible. There was no clear way in, and the path was blocked by another old house with a guardrail around it that was clearly intended to keep trespassers off. This is a section of wall from the outside. At least the slightly overgrown garden area made the whole place very atmospheric in the late afternoon. 

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As with many traditional Taiwanese houses, it's hard to see what the main house looks like from the road. We're clearly not the first wanderers who've tried to get in, but this person was obviously more successful. Here's what we missed:

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To be honest, after finding this house, we got a little lost, though we never went too far from the MRT. I couldn't really tell you where I took these photos, except to say that they're so close to the MRT that you could hear the signals of the train doors closing, and there's at least one place (closed when we came by) that appears to be a cafe/bookstore/place where hipsters hang out.

Don't worry though, that whole area is atmospheric and if you wander enough, you're sure to come across it.

I especially enjoyed running into the cat, and the mosaic bird detail on some random person's adorable house.

Again, totally the sort of house I'd like to buy and renovate to keep touches like that intact while turning it into a comfortable living space. I have small dreams - I never wanted a mansion - but in my generation, to even do this one needs to be loaded, and it's still a shame that I'm not rich. 



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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Where I'm drinking in 2019 - I get older, the bars get quieter

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Fancy G&Ts at Xiang Se


Because I can't write about politics all the time (literally, I can't - it induces too much anxiety), I decided to punt for the day and write up something about where I've been drinking in the past year. You know, to give the world a few more Taipei drinking choices - and one place in Tainan! - reviewed by a real person. I've tried to avoid the big restaurants, the fancy hotels and the huge (and already well-known) expat bars, because I prefer quieter, more intimate drinking experiences with friends. But, just to make a point, I'll address the big expat bars at the end.

My recent post on cafes also includes a few places that are good for drinking (notably Cafe Costumice, Cafe Le Zinc and Shake House), and an upcoming post on where I'm eating in Taipei in 2019 will also include a few places that are good for drinks (including Tanuki Koji for high-end sake and pretty much any of the Italian restaurants I'll mention for wine, Aperol spritzes and more). Of course, there will always be some overlap. 



Trio Original and Trio Bitters


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A lovely specialty cocktail at Trio Bitters

Some local friends introduced me to Trio Bitters near Zhongxiao Xinsheng. They have pretty good bistro food, a range of both regular and specialty cocktails, and a wine list. The wine is neither particularly cheap nor overly expensive and is fairly good, but I'd particularly recommend the specialty cocktails. I don't think I've ever seen another foreigner here, but it's popular with Millenial Taiwanese.

Another popular bar in this area is B Line By A Train - it's on the 2nd floor of a nondescript building on Zhongxiao East Road. I haven't actually been, but it's also very popular with the hip Millenial Taiwanese crowd, so it's probably worth a try.

I found Trio Original after trying Trio Bitters, and am reasonably sure the two bars are related. This one is just off Xinyi-Anhe - they have plenty of seating downstairs (though I like the upstairs atmosphere more) and will make you an excellent Manhattan with proper maraschino cherries, not those bright red things you can buy in any supermarket. 



L'arriere-cour (Backyard)

Hands down the best whiskey bar in Taipei, though it can be hard to get a seat - and there's nowhere to stand, so reserve in advance, even on ostensibly 'slow' nights. While not cheap, they have over 400 kinds of whiskey, the staff is friendly and will chat with you if you're alone, and the wasabi popcorn chicken is excellent. Get water with that - whiskey doesn't do a great job of cooling the heat of wasabi. I especially love the low lighting that makes you feel like you're in an upscale whiskey cave for hedonistic nihilists (or nihilistic hedonists).

The best part? They have so many types of whiskey that you won't be limited to the big names and the smooth, non-peaty blends popular in Asia. If you want a whiskey so peaty that it smells like the bottle smoked a cigarette by the ocean, this is the place to go. 



23 Public


This tiny little beer bar with floor-to-ceiling windows is simple and comfortable, and has a good mix of local and foreign. Right between Shi-da and NTU, it's not surprising that the local crowd is very grad-studenty. 23 Public only does local craft beer, and many of its beers are Taiwan themed (there's Taiwan #1 IPA, Love Motel Love, 22k IPA, a DPP-themed cucumber sour beer and more). They have light bar snacks - think small pizzas, spicy edamame, salted pork slices and rosemary fava beans. This place gets crowded so either go on a less popular night or make a reservation. 


Prozac Balcony


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Cool presentation at Prozac Balcony - the drink was good too


I haven't been here in awhile, but I like the shabby chic feel of this place, and their signature drinks are sometimes displayed in very fancy ways. I had a cocktail with fresh blood orange here once that cost NT$500, was absolutely delicious and was served in a large traditional teacup with a dragon design perched on a tray strewn with flower petals.

It's near a few more watering holes on Fuxing South Road south of Heping, including at least one whiskey bar with tinted windows that looks so masculine, I just want to go in there, order a drink and boast about how great I am while manspreading or something. Haven't done it yet, though. 



The Local 


Another beer bar! These are super popular in Taipei these days, at least until the next craze comes along (rum bars anyone?). The Local doesn't have a lot of seating but it's rarely crowded so it's easy to have a conversation. There are some video games you can play, and usually some amusing sport or other on the TV - who knew drinking beer and making light fun of extreme skateboarding could be so engaging? The big selling point of The Local, though, is the grilled cheese sandwiches, and the nachos aren't bad either. They occasionally have special events or food trucks stopping by. 


Xiang Se


This is the most hipster of hipster places to drink. With a funky garden - try to do some weekend day drinking in it, you won't regret it - and Brooklyn-meets-Miss-Havisham decor (think candles in weird holders with wax dripped artfully on reclaimed-wood tables - like that), you'll feel like a cooler person for having come here. The food is fun and unique as well, though I remember the atmosphere more than anything. A bottle of white wine in the garden on a hot summer weekend day is an excellent way to spend the day, and their gin and tonics come with sprigs of rosemary and the fancy tonic in glass bottles. Do reserve.


Zhang Men


Oh, yes, another beer bar! Like the others, this has a great atmosphere and local beer on tap. I habitually steal their coasters because they look so cool, and it's a solid drinking choice in the Yongkang Street area, which is more known for cafes and Japanese tourists than drinking, generally. 


Tavern D - The Rum Bar



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This place has good mojitos and great atmosphere


This place could go on a food list for its excellent Cuban sandwiches, corn tortilla chips and homemade salsa, but I'm putting it here because the real highlight is the excellent rum selection and fancy mojitos. The decor - think wooden bar, big green ferns, a Cuban-style wall mural - accentuates the drinking experience. It's not cheap but worth it for the best mojitos in town. It's not the only rum bar in town, but it's the one I prefer, and the only bar in Xinyi that I'll recommend here. Huge bonus points: they have fancy mocktails for your teetotalling friends. 


Le Puzzle Creperie and Bar 


This place could - and probably will - also go on a food list. Run by a friendly Frenchman whose name I've forgotten, I'm including it in the bar list because New Taipei deserves a mention, plus you can get a good bottle of wine for NT$700. You honestly can't beat that deal. They also do cocktails. The crepes here are absolutely worth trucking out to Banqiao for (it's a short walk from Xinpu MRT) - imagine an evening of wine, lemon crepes with sugar and delicious sorbet, or go all out and have one of their excellent dinner crepes as well. Just don't forget the wine. 


The Hammer

While we're in New Taipei, let's head on over to The Hammer, a small bar very close to MRT Dingxi Station. The San Miguel draft is a good deal, they have some nice bottled beers and you can get a decent glass of house wine. The food's pretty good too. It gets a bit loud and busy downstairs on weekends, but you can try to score a seat upstairs or come at a quieter time. A great place to go for a beer after a spicy dinner at Tianfu (天府川菜) which is right nearby, and has the best Sichuanese food not just in the Taipei area, but quite possibly all of Taiwan. 



BeerCat

The area between MRT Zhongshan and Dihua Street is slowly becoming populated with bars, cafes, teahouses and more. I could name a number of places in this area to drink, but I'm choosing this one not because the drinks on offer are particularly special (it's another beer bar), but because...guys. They have two cats. They have two cats. You can have a beer and pet a cat. You can beer and cat in the same place! BeerCat! The cats are pretty friendly too. We went to this place to drink away our sorrows the night of Taiwan's 2018 elections, and having beer to drink and a cat to pet really was therapeutic. 


Bar Ansleep


You would never know this tiny Japanese bar existed if someone didn't tell you, so here I am telling you. It's hidden away in a quiet lane near MRT Zhongshan Elementary School, on the 2nd floor. I don't even remember if there's a sign. The space is narrow but there are a few larger tables, and they do excellent cocktails in a quiet atmosphere.


Tuga


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Generous wine by the glass at Tuga


While technically a Portuguese restaurant (try the pan-seared green chilis - yum!), the real selling point of Tuga is the massive wine selection and inexpensive, generously portioned house wine by the glass. You can also buy wine by the bottle here - some bottles can run quite pricey, though - as well as some Portuguese condiments and cooking ingredients (think sardines, piri piri sauce). It's also near ABV, which has good-enough food, and an absolutely amazing beer selection.

Driftwood

Yes, yes, yes, another beer bar. This one is run by the folks at Taihu Brewing. I've had some great beers here, and a few misses (but not too many). The huge selling point is that it's pretty spacious and uniquely decorated, so you can probably get a seat. Ximenting, once the haunt of local teens and tourists, perhaps a few tattoo shops and not a lot else, is starting to become a great place for beer. Driftwood is one good option; try Ximen Beer Bar for another (yes, another beer bar). 



Bonus! Taikoo (in Tainan) 



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The balcony at Taikoo, in Tainan

It's not in Taipei, but hands-down it's our favorite bar when traveling in southern Taiwan. On Shennong Street in Tainan - you know, the famous old street with lots of quaint shops in lovely old buildings - there are two Taikoos, run by the same people. A cafe, and a bar. We prefer the bar. Taikoo (the bar) is in a two-story old house and has comfortable couch seating downstairs, with outdoor seating in the courtyard and even more seating in the (non-air-conditioned) building behind. Up a set of extremely dangerous old stairs, there's even more seating in a dimly lit space. The original roof beams are still visible, and there's a lovely balcony back here (it creaks ominously but I assure you it's safe) where you can sip your drink looking out over the courtyard below. They have a reasonable beer selection and make very good cocktails - I've never had anything I didn't love at Taikoo, and the staff is super friendly (and they speak good English, if that's something you prefer). 


As for the popular expat bars: 

Here's the thing about the Brass Monkey, Carnegie's, Revolver, Bobwundaye and relative (but very popular) newcomer, Red Point Taproom - I like these places quite a bit for drinking, at the right times. Go on a typically slow night - that is, avoiding Friday and Saturday (and in some cases Wednesdays, if there's a Ladies' Night) and grabbing a table or seat at the bar on a Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday. Brass Monkey has a solid selection of British beers, including Old Peculier, a particular favorite of mine. They also have an excellent range of British food. Carnegie's has an affordable "Crazy Hour", excellent brunch and they do make good cocktails, though they messed up once by putting sours mix in a Tom Collins - which might have been the worst drink I've ever had. Red Point has a great selection of local beers on tap, excellent appetizers and a fantastic Reuben sandwich, just don't go when it's busy. And Bobwundaye also makes a fine cocktail (some of the meals are good, but I've not been keen on the appetizers). Revolver is a great place to hang out when it first opens for the evening (around 6:30) and their nachos are tops. I find it's time to go, though, when it starts getting loud.

The main reasons why they get their own paragraph rather than a spot on the list are 1.) you already know about them, 2.) they aren't 'quiet, intimate' places to have a drink and 3.) they are extremely crowded on weekend nights, which is something I try to avoid these days.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

A visit to Academia Sinica's history museum: the good, the bad and the weirdly supremacist

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A few weeks ago, we decided to escape the scathing summer heat and check out the history museum at Academia Sinica. It's a little hard to find once on campus and far from the MRT, but also air conditioned to the point of being refrigerated (seriously, bring a jacket) and best of all, it's free!

We expected a fairly small collection and were surprised to find that the two hours we'd set aside to explore the museum was not enough to see everything - it's far larger than it looks, with lots of interconnected rooms and corridors you don't know are there until you're upon them. We never even made it to the lower level but no matter, it's a good excuse to return.


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One of the coolest things on display: a letter from the Manchu emperor in China requesting one of Zheng Chenggong's descendants (either Zheng Jing or Zheng Keshuang) to leave Taiwan and return to China, written in both Manchu and Chinese

The best parts of the museum were the ones showcasing artifacts relevant to Taiwanese history, like the scroll above. Below, although a scroll announcing the capture of the Yongli Emperor (last of the Southern Ming, after a fashion) in Burma doesn't seem particularly related to Taiwan, it is. If I remember correctly, that was the emperor who gave Zheng Chenggong/Koxinga his title (Lord of the Imperial Surname), and so the Yongli Emperor's rise and fall is directly related to the events that spurred Koxinga to come to Taiwan, and for his descendants to stay on as Ming loyalists for a few generations.


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Here's another one regarding sea traffic between Qing Dynasty China and Taiwan:


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And then we have this, the explanatory plaque for the cover photo of this post:
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This is a request from the "eldest son of the king of Liuqiu" for a new patent and seal, sent in 1654 to the Ming imperial court in China.

Okay, so what? You might ask.

Well, this is exactly the sort of "historical proof" that China routinely uses when making territorial claims on various islands off its coast, most notably the Senkaku islands (not the same as the Ryukyu islands, but nearby). Of course, they also claim the Ryukyu islands, including Okinawa.

This is relevant to Taiwan not only due to these islands' geographical proximity to Taiwan - some of them are actually off the coast of Taiwan, not China, including Ishigaki and Yonaguni, which are closer to Yilan in eastern Taiwan than either Japan or China. It also matters because the Republic of China (you know, that old colonialist windbag of a government currently on life support as the official government on Taiwan - yeah, that) tends to claim everything China claims. The ROC officially claims the Senkakus - Diaoyutai in Chinese - just as China does, as well as those islands in the South China Sea. I think all of that is completely ridiculous, but, anyway, it's a thing.

(As far as I know, the ROC does not claim the Ryukyu Islands, but I could be wrong.)

The museum also has a large collection of rubbings of stelae and other large engravings. Many of the original stone and metal artifacts have been lost; some I presume are still in existence somewhere in China. To be honest, although these are valuable pieces, they come from various parts of China and are not directly relevant to Taiwan. So, while I enjoyed looking at them for their aesthetic beauty, they weren't of particular historical interest to me. Which, of course, does not mean they're not worthwhile. Not everyone has a laser focus on Taiwan the way I do.





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Yes, I made a joke about "full-surface rubbing". Because I'm 12. 

One of the great things about this museum is that everything is rendered in competent English. Although the National Museum of History, for example, has more artifacts from Taiwan's Austronesian past (which makes up the bulk of its history, but is often ignored due to a lack of recorded history), but no English. It's also clearly designed for adults, whereas the National Museum of History is more of a place to take your kids for the day.

On the other hand, there is a tendency in the information on items in the collection to expend way too much verbiage on the archaeological processes or techniques used to unearth the artifacts, or how the artifacts were made (see the tutorial on "full surface rubbing" above) and not nearly enough - if any - telling the stories behind the artifacts or what we can learn about history from them. 


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Here's a prime example. We learn what kind of shells these were (the shells themselves are not very photogenic), and why they matter, but we don't learn anything about the bits that are actually interesting: what kinds of ornaments and tools were they and what were they used for? What were the consumption habits of ancient Austronesians living in Taiwan? What was the ancient environment like, and what were the harvesting seasons? All we learn are that archaeologists have ways of finding these things out, but we never get to read about what they learned.

The most egregious example of this - and I wish I'd taken a photo - was an ancient scroll described as having something to do with some 'lama drama' in Tibet. I don't remember exactly, but it briefly mentioned that one lama could no longer be lama and was stepping down, and another lama would take his place, all written to the imperial court.

Cool, but it seems like there's a real story there! What happened? Why'd the first lama step down? That would be an interesting thing to know, and also an engaging narrative to really get visitors interested in the colorful history behind these items, but we never find out.

Here's another:

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Interesting! What was the discrepancy? Do we know why? Any hypotheses? Also, who are Kao Lishi, Pan Yan and Zhang Shaoti, and why do they matter?

We never find out.


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I'd also be interested in knowing more about the cultural underpinnings behind the use of human teeth as ornaments.

But, we don't learn that either. We do learn quite a bit about how archaeologists unearth all of this stuff, though.

This is a minor complaint, however. If even that - more a kind suggestion that perhaps there are more engaging ways to put together a museum collection, which it would be fully within Academia Sinica's ability to implement. Think about it, guys?

If you thought that was critical, wait 'til you hear what I've got to say below.


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I already knew that in minority communities in China, the men tend to dress in ways that imitate the dominant group (that is, Han Chinese) whereas women are more likely to wear their traditional clothing, because men were more likely to leave their villages and mingle with society at large, and would want or need to 'fit in'. These days, that means men from these communities in China are more likely to dress in Western clothing, but women might not. In fact, here are some of my old photos from my life in Guizhou, China, when I went traveling in the countryside:

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I'm sorry they're not that clear - I only have hard copies. A friendly local in Kaili offered to accompany me on my travels and helped with translation, so all of these photos were taken with the permission of the subjects.

What bothers me is this:

"'National tradition' reinforces the unification of nationality yet at the same time represents a backward past."

Excuse me, but what?

I get the notion that the dominant group - Han Chinese - often view minority communities as "backward" but what's up with saying that in a way that takes it at face value, rather than interrogating it? Why would you drop that word in there as though it's a legitimate way of describing the cultures and histories of these groups?

The same goes for "the unification of nationality". "National tradition" in China only exists as it does because the authoritarian government there decided it would be that way. They decided to promote the notion of all citizens of China as Chinese, sharing the same blood, language, traditions etc. They - not some amorphous, societally-agreed-on force - decided to treat 'ethnic minorities' like adorable living museum exhibits with cool costumes, existing mostly as people the government can point to and say "see! China is tolerant and diverse!" while treating them in very intolerant and marginalizing ways. Or, if not that, as entertainment for domestic tourists who show up as visitors to their festivals and surround them with audio-visual equipment without their consent.

That's not "national tradition", it's a form of cultural assault. Come on Academia Sinica, how are you not even questioning it or highlighting how problematic it is?

And that's not getting into how none of the clothing of minority groups on display looked particularly similar to what I saw in China - I'm willing to let that be, as a lot of those groups are actually quite differentiated, and dress styles may vary even between nearby valleys, let alone longer distances. 


If you think that was a one-off, poorly-translated information panel, get a load of this: 


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It says:
Under the impact of modern nationalism, 'nation' has been defined as a group of people with common physical traits, language and culture persisting through generations. Since the early twentieth century, scholars have investigated native cultures or traced the migration and diffusion of various peoples for the purposes of identifying and classifying nationalities in China, providing a basis for carrying out national policy, and illustrating the unity of the Chinese nation. 
Based on ethnographic and historical materials, non-Han natives in southwestern China have been classified into twenty-five minority nationalities. The identification of nationalities and the concomitant principles of national policy and education have changed traditional relations among the natives and also the relations between the Han peoples and the natives.

I just...excuse me? The Chinese doesn't seem much better to me, but a native-speaking friend looked it over and said the Chinese is, in fact, more acceptable, but still. Excuse me? 

First, I'm not sure calling them 'natives' is a great idea. Don't we have words with fewer negative connotations? "Indigenous", perhaps?


Second, "common physical traits"? If by "modern nationalism" you mean the kind of ethnocentric nationalism that got us into world wars a century ago, sure. But these days we can talk about nationalism as a shared cultural and historical identification - which can include immigrants who come to identify as part of that society - or perhaps as a group of people with shared values and principles of how they'd like to exercise self-determination. So I really don't know what to say there. I have a friend who doesn't share "common physical traits" with Taiwanese who nevertheless is a citizen of Taiwan now. There is a pathway - albeit a narrow one - for me to become a citizen someday as well, and it is not possible to look less Taiwanese than me. Taiwanese themselves don't have that many "common physical traits" - having backgrounds from Indigenous to Han Chinese to non-Han Chinese to modern Southeast Asian and beyond - unless you think all Asians are the same (they're not, and indigenous Taiwanese are Pacific Islander anyway.)

In any case, that sounds like making an argument for biology determining political destiny and I'm sorry, that's just not on.

And no, saying so is not a "Western" idea. Taiwan is diverse and multicultural too. Always has been. The same is true for China. Plenty of Taiwanese, including indigenous Austronesian Taiwanese, Southeast Asian immigrants who have married and settled here, Hakka who have also been historically discriminated against and a good number of 'dominant' Han Chinese have been pushing for more acknowledgement of Taiwan as a nation bound by shared identity and cultural and political values. That's coming from them, not 'the West'.

Third, and most importantly, is Academia Sinica really justifying the study of minority cultures in order to enact national policy that seeks to assimilate those cultures? To either turn them into groups who willingly subject themselves to being seen as costumed, dancing entertainment for Han Chinese, or to eviscerate their cultural heritage altogether in the name of "national unity"?

Because seriously, that sounds like something the Communist Party of China would write, and it's really not cool. Taiwan doesn't need to have museums with exhibits that follow the same ethnocentric, jingoistic, nationalistic, supremacist garbage logic that the Chinese government puts out.

I don't think Academia Sinica is intentionally writing supremacist placards for their museum collection. Either it's a failure of English translation, or they are in dire need of updating but nobody's really taken that on. In any case, it's time to do some updating. Imagine if a foreign visitor who can't read the Chinese or doesn't have a well-connected local friend to discuss these things with goes to this museum and reads the English here - what will they think? That the English doesn't clearly express the sentiments of Academia Sinica, or that Academia Sinica has supremacist views on indigenous peoples?

We can, and must, do better.