If you flip through the travel magazines or in-flight reading packets on board a major airline, chances are you’ll find several glossy pages boasting one of Asia’s stunning skylines. The lights and shapes etched on to a page ready to capture the attention in much the same way that car design ads promote the sleek figures of its industrial models. Nestled in between those chrome-dripping pages are the pops of red and green that soothe the reader into the idea of an exotic Asian getaway, filled with cherry blossoms, pots of tea, silent temple giants, and lush hot springs.
At first comparison, it seems as if Taipei missed its slice of Asian marketing. The city, while having mountains and one of the tallest buildings in the world, simply does not compare to the architectural designs of other Asian cities. And it might be for this reason that most of my friends back home seemingly can’t remember if I live in Taiwan or Thailand (because who has really heard of a place called Taiwan).
I have to admit that when I first moved to Taiwan, Anthony Bourdain’s suggestion that Taipei may in fact be one of the ugliest cities in the world seemed fairly reasonable. Having lived in this city for almost two years now, I can’t help but disagree.
It is true that Taipei is an urban mixture of all its influences while still managing to retain none of the best elements of these. It is also very reasonable to look around the city and see gray compounded upon gray.
Maybe blame it on the two weeks I spent cooped up in bed recovering from bronchitis and tonsillitis, but walking around my neighborhood had me reconsidering what it was about this city that held my fascination.
If you’ve read more about Taipei from my site, you know that the summer sun in Taipei is fierce. If you can stand the heat though, the November sun is mild and blushing. It is this sun that caught my bathroom in the most gorgeous pink glow at 4 in the afternoon, prompting me to throw on something more than sweatpants and get outside.
I set off with the idea of just getting out to the roof to shoot the skyline. The pink seemed to filter out around the buildings and wrap around them like a rosy embrace. I stood there taking in the city, the cars, the mountains, and just the overall warmth the city had in this moment.
Without realizing it, I was carried outside my building and throughout the streets and alleys of my neighborhood. The cars and cyclists rushed by in the glow of the sun and the red of the bus lights.
As the sun began its final decent, the gray of the city returned. Instead of being as overcast as the rest of the day had been, life seemed to flow forth from its walls and out of the cracks of its sidewalks. I weaved through the back alleys off the main streets taking in the doorways and pops of color of the potted plants and bicycles. Possibly the city itself was painted in a sea of gray, but color was infused into every scene. From far away, colors will merge into the gray of the city as if they were never there in the first place. Getting closer, letting it in, the color reemerges from its gray optical illusion.
Wrapping up tighter in my scarf, I found myself winding through the opening night market of Shida as students and residents began scouting for dinner and other evening essentials.
When I first moved here, the majority of the night market was made of stalls and makeshift stores. Thanks to the community’s efforts to push much of this street commotion out of business for quieter streets, many of these stalls and makeshift stores have been replaced by glittering new shops and indoor restaurants. Despite this, there are still a good number of vendors who have remained strong. Other vendors have simply been replaced by new vendors, taking their chances. In Asia, any available space is good space.
The Shida Night Market is a perfect example of Taipei. Shops and restaurants close and new tenants move in with new signs and new colors. They go through the same rise and fall as the previous vendors and the cycle continues. The face of the night market continues to change its shape and outline every few weeks. Students still come for food, residents still complain about the noise, and well the city continues to thrive.
Taipei is in itself an evolution. It’s in a constant state of evolving to fill its needs. When one thing doesn’t work out, it reshapes itself with another, trying on hats until something works. From afar, it all looks gray and messy. To someone who has witnessed this again and again, it is rebirth. The notion, of which, captures my romanticism.