Design & Culture / 文化, Taipei / 來台北玩
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Taichung in Monocle

Monocle magazine recently published a feature on the central city of Taichung 台中 in their latest issue (85) in a feature entitled Built to Plan – and as usual, elicited the usual bi-polar reaction – ranging from enthusiastic shares on social media to complaints – mostly from foreigners of the insufferable-Taiwan-expat of-ambiguous-career variety – that this coverage was yet another cunning move by the KMT government, funnelling shit-loads of money into Tyler Brule’s empire (Wallpaper* included) to make things in Taiwan seem better than the “reality” which is: an absolute chaotic third-world shithole (but not really though…)

Branding Taichung “a revitalised city”, Monocle begins by – insert eyeroll – continuing their blatantly obvious hard-on for Japan by interviewing “Junji Sakai, a Japanese expat who opened the first overseas outpost of his Tokyo-based doughnut shop Haritts in a narrow lane off the Greenway two years ago.” God forbid Monocle publish any opinion without running it by a culturally superior Japanese citizen.

Back to Monocle: “Sakai was drawn to Taichung rather than Taiwan’s hectic capital, Taipei, due to the city’s slower pace and better quality of life. Part of Taichung’s charm derives from its compact size and excellent park system, which has remained largely intact since the city’s development under its Japanese rulers in the early 20th century. In recent decades, Taichung has spread outward as the city became one of the world’s leading manufacturers of bicycles and shoes (the bike company Giant has its headquarters here, as does Pou Chen Group, which makes shoes for Nike and Adidas among others). But the inner city has remained a vital part of the local economy due to Taichung’s continued reliance on the railway and the thousands of small businesses that have sprouted up in the dense warren of lanes, from bubble-tea shops and orchid sellers to the trendy cafés and boutiques that have arrived more recently.”

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My family owns an apartment in Taichung 台中, and from my sporadic visits there in the past few years, I have to say that I don’t get the hype. Although – I have to first confess my own enormous bias in favor of Taipei 台北. I don’t understand why anyone would ever live in any other Taiwanese city besides Taipei – to me, it’s the perfect place to live. That being said:

• Taichung does have way better weather than Taipei

• But weather ain’t everything – with Taipei, I still feel that I can live some semblance of a “global” lifestyle –  a healthy roster of cafes, restaurants at the kind of standard you would expect at any cosmopolitan capital. And then when I don’t want to go to RAW, I can also hit up Tonghua Night Market for some 滷肉飯 and 生煎包. With a few exceptions (Lanshu Chen of Le Moût in Taichung has been named Asia’s best female chef) – Taichung doesn’t offer such variety. Of course – whether this is relevant or not depends on what you’re looking for.

• The city may be “compact” but it is so fucking annoying to get around, unless you can drive a scooter. Buses are monstrously inefficient and always run late. Sure, the government is investing in 600km of bike lanes – but it’s even hotter in Taichung than in Taipei – where’s the air-conditioned method of transport?

“Now the Urban Development Bureau wants to do more. Wang is seeking TWD10bn (€300m) from the government to renovate other abandoned buildings in the city centre.”

I have heard about the Taichung government’s efforts to revitalise the area around the old train station 老火車站 and I’m still pretty excited that about. As a friend pointed out: “shitty” is just another word for “untapped” –  cheap prices bring creatives, who bring gentrification, place becomes nice but over-priced, and hello, central Taipei. Perhaps Taichung will become Taiwan’s next creative hub. It’ll be interesting to see how the city transforms.

Read the full Monocle write-up of Taichung here in Issue 85: Built to Plan.

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