I gave myself the goal of writing 2-3 blog posts per week about what I like to think of as the “Flavor of Taipei.” In Taiwanese culture, food is particularly important. As I once read someone describe the Taiwan attitude towards food: a borderline national obsession. Wei 味 means something like flavor, which can also be expressed as 味道 wei dao. Dao in its root form means “path” or way. So I thought immediately there is a bit of a play by using Wei/Flavor=Dao/Path(way). You see when I think of the flavor of a city, while the scents the ruminate from food cards and side alley eateries is an important part of the local “flavor,” I also perceive “flavor” in some many other realms of life in the city. The buildings, the streets, the lights, the parks, how people walk around, where they congregate, the volumes of city life throughout the day, the high end enclaves, and the working class haunts. There is a flavor of Taipei, one which I think has been under represented in the world of global localism. It’s a flavor that is not altogether different from what you will find in parts of San Francisco, New York, London, Hong Kong or Tokyo, all megacities which people can easily grasp the concept of these places having their own “flavor” even if they’ve only experienced it through movies, photos and stories. The hills of San Francisco, the 8 million stories of the big apple, cockney chimney sweepers of East London, and even junks floating in the harbors giving way to rickshaws and rising financials skyscrapers of Hong Kong’s fragrant harbor. But what of Taipei? You’ve probably heard of the city, probably. You might even know that it’s in Asia, and the capital of Taiwan, which happens to be an island somewhere in the vicinity of Japan, China and the Philippines. You might think of “Made in Taiwan” whether of cheap household goods of a generation ago, bicycles and not a high tech hub that makes semiconductors and many of the bits and pieces inside your iPhone. But what flavor does the city actually have?
To me Taipei is simmering pot bubbling over with flavor, but it’s been slow cooking in that greasy hole in the wall lunch spot in the back alley that few people think to give a try as they walk by, more focused on their cell phone screen than the city teeming with life all around them. That’s the flavor I’m getting a whiff of, and I’m trying to find the source. At moments I catch hints of New York, SF, LA, HK, Tokyo and more. But at the same time, just as no sibling is the exact replica of their kin, Taipei is it’s own concoction. I remember a Norwegian exchange student explaining the many great aspects of his country, but then he admitted “you know, the Swedes are better than us at marketing their country.” And if you think about it, from fish to meatballs, massages to penis enlargers and of course beautiful women (do we have a theme?), Sweden does have a reputation which the Norwegians haven’t been able to keep pace with. Perhaps the same can be said about Taiwan and its casual capital of Taipei: part Tokyo, park HK, part Shanghai. And yet it’s not an uncommon occurance to mention Taiwan to a less-traveled westerner and hear in reply something like “Wow, I love Thai food!” In someways just the unforeseen overlap of language, not too different than Australia/Austria, Sweden/Switzerland and even Iceland/Greenland, Thailand and Bangkok have done a much better job at marketing their culture and image to the outside world. But just because Taipei is less known, doesn’t mean that it’s not cooking up its own secret sauce.
I love urban cycling, so as I roam the major boulevards and the narrow alleyways, I feel a sense of aesthetic stimulation which is neither too much nor too little. Enough eye candy to never get bored, and yet not too much so as to shut down or become desensitized. Or perhaps it’s just my experiences in life, my eye for urban beauty which I was able to polish in San Francisco that now allows me to see Taipei in a way that perhaps isn’t immediately obvious to others.
Whatever the reasons for my current appreciate with Taipei, I thought if I like something enough to keep thinking about it, I might as well take the time to share it with others. Perhaps my passion and enthusiasm can spread and I can savor in sharing my perspective and appreciation with others. Or perhaps with time, as I settle, this place will become normal to me. Either way, I enjoy the opportunity and expose to try and put into pictures and words the little moments and details while allow me to savor the Taipei Wei!