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Olde Taichung – Garry Young

Why do foreigners come to Taiwan? Is it the allure of risking one’s life in the traffic? The Sour and Spicy noodles with duck’s blood? The ginger soup with intestines of a porky variety?

One reason for looking to Taiwan is simple; for hundreds of years, Westerners have romanticized the Far East. We yearn to experience just a little of the wonder Marco Polo must have felt in the process of “discovery”.

We even may long (with some trepidation) to be symbolically shanghaied onto a “trading vessel” as an unwilling sailor, where we spend a decade of our lives in ways that we never planned, but will always look back fondly on the incredible experience. We hunger for the exotic ambiance, with some sharp edges for added spice.

Unfortunately (or fortunately at times), we don’t always find what we are looking for. But quite possibly, there is still something there, hidden away below the 21st century veneer. You just have to look for it.

Taichung’s old town center, located just above the train station, is an interesting place with ambiance in bundles. There are numerous narrow alleys of no particular interest beyond adding a sense of age. Others hide treasure troves of cultural interest. Traditional stores can be found here, offering teas made from a variety of grasses and plants – although the taste can be difficult to acquire. Each tea is made from a different plant (bitter cactus green juice!), and is focused on treating different organs of the body.

The aromas of the city here are complex and may sometimes be unpleasant to the uncultured nose, but are an indication of the variety available. The old Jian Guo traditional market is a place where your knives can be sharpened within a stone’s throw of where the sharpening machines can be bought, all while you shop for a good fish to fillet for lunch.

The old jade market runs every Saturday in the area, and has a far more cramped and dingy feel to it than the new jade market. It’s definitely worth exploring, partly for the jade treasures you may find, but mostly for the authentic feel, the…the …yeah: The Feel.

The old city center runs all the way from the train station area to Taichung park and offers much more than shopping destinations. Just walking along, sampling various wares, chatting to the denizens of the area is an experience worth undertaking. Even the people who populate the area give one the impression that they don’t venture out into other areas of the city (obviously they must, but we are talking about the Feeling).

Twenty years ago, on arrival in Taiwan, this was where I lived and worked, and I am grateful for that origin. The eldest of ancient wyrms breathed on me. It actually took me a long time to realize there was a more modern city out there. The ambiance shanghaied me onto the sailing vessel called “The Ancient Dragon”, and years later, having moved up the ranking from deckhand to ship’s poet, I am yet to give up my involuntary pirate identity.













One Response

  1. I love how the bright colours of the beads and lamps contrast with the grey! I’ve wandered around this area a bit but not recently. You’ve tempted me to go again.

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