Ximending, Taipei, Taiwan

Independent – Contents Page

Street Smart... A teenager on the streets of Ximending

Many travellers dismiss Taiwan as little more than a conservative economic powerhouse of Asia with nothing to offer the cultural traveller. It’s been decades since Chang Kai Chek’s martial law held the nation in its vice, however, and areas like Ximending in Taiwan’s capital, Taipei (a stop off for Sydneysiders on cheap China Airline flights to LA), are presenting a different face of the nation. A kind of Harajuku, Tokyo, in Taipei, with its smoking stalls, bins burning paper money and towering buildings smothered with neon signs and video-monitors, Ximending, pulses with creative vitality and an exuberant mainstream and alternative youth culture.

It is preferable to visit Ximending on the weekend, for obvious reasons, but the creative markets, held all day Saturday and Sunday, provide another. Fronting the grand Red Playhouse (a performance hall fifty meters south from the exit of Ximen train station) numerous surreal artistic delights are found in stalls beneath pretty white parasols in paved pedestrian streets. Talented indigenous buskers perform with enthusiasm and an attractive coffee trailer attached to a mini cooper serves barista made coffee treats. The stalls here are strictly for artist selling their own works. Sixties style mini-robots made out of timber and household detritus or adorable, crazily distorted, stuffed animal toys made from multi-coloured fabric are likely to impress. A stage is often erected on the markets periphery for popular culture performances and the Red House interior hosts regular exhibitions, theatre and talks.

Button Optics... Creative Markets, Ximending

The commercial centre of Ximending is across the road from here in the pedestrian streets stemming, in a North Easterly direction, from the intersection of traffic laden Chengdu and Zhonghua Roads (at which one exits from Ximen Station). This is a world of intensive sensory stimulation, as much from the excess of advertising as from the numerous examples of extreme and decidedly colourful fashion, endless clothes shops and food stalls and truly Asian pop culture entertainment. One bright pink building contains three storeys packed with photo booths. This is an opportunity to weave your self into Taiwanese fantasy.  Insert your face into a bubble headed space man or cartoon animal character then add a layer of crazy text. What could be better? Row upon row of fluffy toy packed glass cabinets fill shops begging for you to manipulate a mechanical arm and win. Best of all, towering over Ximending is Party World, a high-rise temple to karaoke and food with karaoke rooms oozing aesthetic and technological perfection.

Branded by mythology... Tattoo Street, Ximending

There is, however, a cooler side to Ximending. In main streets and side streets walls, public phones and electricity boxes are covered in impressive graffiti art. Walk down narrow Tattoo Street and you’re likely to witness scenes straight out of alternative Asian cinema: a young leather clad, highly pierced, Taiwanese man nonchalantly smoking a cigarette while branding detailed mythological tattoos on to the perfect naked back of an angel-faced Taiwanese princess, for instance. Fashion shops with a less-is-more approach to fashion are hosted by Manga characters realised, often sporting the latest craze: the two-tone, bird’s nest topped, Asian mullet. T-shirts make profound statements like ‘Sex & Banana & Rock & Roll’ and, if you’re looking for nightlife, almost all back street fashion outlets overflow with pamphlets advertising Taipei’s highly sexualised club scene.

Ximending is also a good place to start your evening. Buskers sing, strum, juggle, dance and paint with enthusiasm at the Ximen train station exit and, behind the Red House, a pedestrian street is lined with stylish al fresco bars buzzing with the hubub of the hip, the gay and funky of Taipei’s alternative nightlife scene.

Consider these bars the evening’s preliminary engine room, after which, with club pamphlets in hand, you might consider a quick taxi ride to snake alley, Wanhua district, for snake demonstrations and, for that matter, alcohol infused snakes blood consumption before zooming off to drink and dance the night away. For a taste of Taipei’s alternative you might consider Underground, in the Shida Night Market, a moody punk/rock bar with nightly live music. For the superficial, showy and decidedly fleshy side of Taipei’s nightlife Luxy, on Chung Hsiao East Road, in sector 4, is a luxurious dance music venue that regularly host international DJs.

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