Thursday, 8 December 2016


Remember when all your cutlery was 'Made in Taiwan'? All your toys and other household trinkets? They came from Taichung. But this former home of light industry has morphed into a city of refreshed modernity. Ugly urban architecture has been cleverly, knowingly transformed to house all manner of present day amenities with cafes, restaurants, shops, salons and even boutique hotels now occupying ex-industrial edifices.

The spread of Taiwanese urban regeneration slots naturally and most successfully into progressive Taichung, maybe because its factories turned out knives and forks and die-cast toys and nothing much heavier. The factory-filled landscape and production lines of its past very consciously, not sleekly or seamlessly, house the youthful urban buzz of today's Taichung. Don't take our word for it; according to the CommonWealth Magazine 2013 City Happiness Survey, Taiwanese people feel like Taichung is their nation's most liveable city. Food, shopping, friendly residents and more add up to a not so unfounded claim. The weather, an unsweltering average temperature of 23°C and less rainfall than the rest of the island, is also attractive. The result of the 3-year-old survey was bolstered last year by a post on Taiwanese site ET Today expounding the same love for Taichung. Like in other cities in Taiwan, travelling around on foot is rewarding, leading you to stumble upon pockets of unexpected cool and quirk. Take for instance the Anime Alley (動漫彩繪巷), a small unassuming lane where the walls are daubed with favourites from American and Japanese cartoons alike. It's nothing official but the obvious organic innocence of the place is worth a look, doubly so if you’re an otaku who likes posing for pictures in front of your favourite characters. We especially liked the Mario mural. For exactness, this is Lane 100, Linesen Rd. Walking as usual our feet, in a case of mistaken identity, also led us to the walls of the Taichung City Dadun Cultural Centre (臺中市大墩文化中心). The building's proximity to the Taichung art gallery and the fact that it too displays art meant that for a good 30 minutes we believed we were in THE modern art museum, which did seem strange seeing as we were browsing an extensive collection of traditional tea pots and artwork that was a done mainly in crayons. Nevertheless, some of the aforementioned tea pots were insanely ornate and the artwork gave us a glimpse into the local community. It was not a wasted visit. Free admission. You can see on the map how close it is to the art gallery. Then there's the actual National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (國立台灣美術館). It's huge – rightly so for a national-level institution – and could do with a full day's visit. We really enjoyed/loved the modern installations and were particularly moved by raw, honest pieces relating to modern day Taiwan's cultural, social and political issues, of which there were many. Photography is allowed in this gallery, and you’ll find many visitors more interested in posing next to the art than looking at it; ironically there was one painting, a collage of Taiwanese girls using smartphones, mundane unjoyful muted grey and peach and beige–some girls passed by staring at this comment on society. Grim and grimy no more, Taichung is on its way up. A contender to Taipei, the youth culture, funky restaurants, tall shiny buildings and trendy redevelopment make Taichung a tantalising city. It feels as though all the city needs is a metro system, or some trams (we love trams), something a bit more reliable than a bus. And almost every hour we were here, we kept thinking of that claim to livability – could we live on this or that street, and would this eatery become our local?

With light industry all but fizzled out, Taichung has become a blank canvas. Away from the prescribed "history" of Tainan, "industry" of Kaohsiung, "politics" of Taipei, the specialisation of Taichung, a city created by itself, will be that it is simply a great city.

🍟 Fengjia Night Market (逢甲夜市)
After a confusing ride through the city in a small bus, followed by a ten-minute walk along a canal, we arrived at the bright lights and bustle of the Fengjia Night Market (逢甲夜市) in Xitun District. This a crammed carnival of sheer stuff that has taken over the narrow back streets of the area around the gates of the university, pulsating with supercharged student energy, tapering off into nearby malls and strips of brand name shops. Everything can be bought here: electrical (we purchased an iPad charger), accessories, clothes, toys and, most importantly, FOOD–and lots of it. Here we sampled the Taiwanese night market classic, coffin bread (棺材板). Originating in Tainan, this is thick fried bread with a square trap door carved in the middle, opened up, filled with all manner of tasty goodness - creamy sauce, sweetcorn, cabbage, pork floss - closed again and served up, resulting in a symphony of lightly oiled crunch and gentle savoury gloop. Prepare for messy face. Occasionally to stand out a food stall employs a gimmick and we loved this one at Percy's Chips. Good old chips might be the same the world over, but these spiral structures were made using a modified drill to create twirly twists of potato. This stall was popular and seemed somewhat famous, maybe, judging from the attention from the Taiwanese crowd. The chips were splendidly spiced and topped with a sauce, our choice of cheese went well. The portions could’ve been bigger but maybe we’re just greedy.
🍕 這里[Voilà]Cafe & Restaurant (這里咖啡輕食)
A great example of trendy eateries popping up in the shells of ramshackle shops of the mid-twentieth century, this little breakfast-cum-general food hangout was a dream. Besides being a good place to chill (and take advantage of the air con) the menu was in English and the food was a uniquely good. Strangely herbed, the margherita pizza was tasty and exceeded expectations with great attention to detail given to flavour. Please go there and tell us what that flavour is. The chips on the side were crispy, crunchy, moreish. Possibly double-fried. Cute place here on Section 1, Meicun Rd.
🍔 Hot Shock美式休閒餐廳
Burgers! Burgers are wonderful. Hot Shock is an Americana wonderland chockablock with US memorabilia and signage. It's a youthful hangout for cool kids who linger sipping on milkshakes à la real America circa 1950s but with a Taiwanese twist. As we said, burgers are wonderful, but how do you make the more wonderful? Slather them with peanut sauce and serve as a tower of taste, that's how. Heavy on the onions. Comes with a healthy portion of chips and a zingy tomato dip/relish. Burgers aside, we also chowed down on a vegetable sub, which was an intriguing mix of broccoli, mango, peppers, pineapples, and salad smothered in a creamy dressing that complimented the sweet crunch. Unbelievably, the creative concoction filling the toasted bun was delightful. We want to recreate this one. Hot Shock is a fun, friendly place, the sort of establishment which, if on your doorstep at home, you would frequent once in a while for a naughty treat. Find it on Xiangshang N Rd.


Mou Hotel (沐旅商旅)
One of those instances where you book a room and can’t belive your eyes when you go through the door. We booked a standard double room which actually turned out to be a massive bed in a room stuffed with luxury Regency-style furniture and a view of the mountains, heavy on the wood, white and gold paint with ornate coving gracing the ceiling and a walk in shower. Price came with free breakfast which was served in a more modern business-oriented hotel next door and was actually really tasty. Big buffet style. Located in West District. NTD$842 per night. Whilst we were there a little bit of construction was going on along the river that runs in front. Making it a nice riverside area or something. Judging from a quick look on the hotel's Facebook page, the development of this area has really come along. Now we wanna go back and walk along it and stuff. Mou Hotel official site is here if you're interested.

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