Friday 30 September 2016


“There’s little reason to visit this sprawling, traffic congested town,” we read in a famous guidebook (Lonely Planet). “The train station is inconveniently placed and you cannot rent a scooter here without a local license.” We decided to ignore this write-off and give the city a chance.

Yes, it’s a 20-minute bus ride from the new, out-of-town train station to the city centre, but it's no more sprawling or traffic congested than Hualien, for instance, which was probably spared this damning description due to it being the gateway to Taroko Gorge, even though this southerly city is equally the gateway to the islands Ludao (Green Island) and Lanyu. Scooter gripes aside, as if there are no other means of transportation, we spent a couple of days exploring this seaside Taiwanese city, a cocktail of industrial history, urban regeneration and nature that makes this country so intriguing and endearing. Crumbling and stoic, old Taitung train station still stands where it always has, the surrounding scenery softened from industrial practicality into parkland, the space and buildings collectively called the Railway Art Village. Tracks still cut through the grass, banyan trees writhing up here and there, leading where they always have done. Railroad relics abound, the station sign, the platform and ticket office – now the Tourist Information Centre – the signal switches, sidings, and Old Taitung Station Authorities Garage (台東舊站機關車庫), where we saw a group of local friends playing cards at a makeshift table, and a dozing homeless man occupying one of its roomlike nooks. Nowhere is off limits: like legal urban exploration, you can peek inside and explore any edifice without a door free of the worry that you’re trespassing. The tracks continue, untouched, north out of the city proper; a boardwalk runs the whole length as far as we explored, behind rows of houses, walking alongside locals travelling to and from work and school, cafes and eateries on our left and right, little seating areas here and there, colourful murals and fun sculptures dotting the route. After a long walk through this sleepy scenery we found our way to the old Taitung Sugar Refinery (台東糖廠). Some signs told us that it was also at one point a pineapple processing plant. It looms up on your right behind a row of trees just after old Ma Lan train station (馬蘭車站), another defunct, still-standing station which used to service this area of town. Although there's less interior exploring to do, a few no-climbing-on-this-please signs, walking around the grounds of the disused refinery is an eerie and interesting expedition. One of the first things you'll see is a row of sculptures, all of which are real or fantastical objects pieced together using cogs, springs, and other unnamable scraps of machines from the factory, all painted in bold, bright block colours. Further along there is a place to hire bikes, this being the final stretch of the cycle path loop. In the wide open space that follows repurposed old warehouses and storerooms squat with new life, now housing a few quiet boutique shops and cafes, old freight carriages and construction vehicles stand like exhibitions, and there's a large stage. We only wished that this area was used more, and wondered excitedly about the feasibility of putting on events or a festival here. As much as old industry transforms into public space, so too do the city’s natural areas become accessible and semi-urban in this hybrid townscape. To experience the best example of the blurred lines between nature and city we got ourselves a bicycle and pedalled onto the city's cycle path, which runs along Taitung's dramatic coast and Haibin Park (海濱公園), past several lakes and ponds, and into the extensive Forest Park. It takes just a few minutes to get to this lovely spot, a surprise world of natural beauty and fresh air that turns effortlessly from wiggly narrow paths in sub-tropical forest into wide tree-lined boulevards and grassy spaces that feel a little bit like London’s Royal Parks. Winding paths criss-cross the well maintained grounds, past community gardens, spots to chill, more bodies of water, making it easy to get lost or at least think twice about the next right or was it left you were supposed to be taking. There is an abundance of signposts, but let’s face it: misplacing yourself on the paths of dappled light beneath swaying trees in the Forest Park and beyond isn’t such a terrible thing. And for those with higher stamina levels and maybe who are actual cyclists, you’ll be pleased to know that the cycle path circumnavigates the city—from the coast, through Forest Park and back past the old Ma Lan station in a huge loop, via mountain spurs and countryside. Back in town at night and the old Taitung Station area was alive with illumination: hundreds of small paper hot air balloons strung up between trees like rows of lanterns, glowing and graceful. This was part of the Taiwan Balloon Festival, which ran from 1st July to 7th August 2016, and the celebration thereof helped make this unique park area shine with down-to-earth glitz, nurturing a warm, happy atmosphere. Children from local schools had decorated most of these paper balloons with joyful messages, colourful drawings of characters and classmates, teachers lending a hand with English writing; some companies from around town had even sponsored dozens of paper balloons each. We spent a good while here, lingering in front of the cutest designs and thinking of the innocent hope with which these children see the world. We find it difficult to fathom why a guidebook would spend any time at all to create less than a page of information and offhand opinion on a location that is essentially being dismissed. But it doesn’t matter: we were here to see the city and the city is what we saw. Taitung lives and breathes outside of any review or verdict, busily growing and evolving in Taiwan's deep south, continuing to incorporate nature and a century of history to forge a vibrant future.

🍌 Morning Market
Winding warrens of covered walkways house Taitung’s morning market in the centre of town, local ladies sell fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and various cooked and prepared foods from the patchwork of stall that spill out and along neighbouring streets. This is a local market and you may not find everything to your palette, but follow the locals and be nosy. We bought a bunch of bananas.
🍚 Ming Long (明隆春捲專賣店)
Always eager to seek out the best quality and best value vegetarian options we found this all-vegetarian place, run by a team of warm, welcoming women who will sit you sit you down, give you an English menu and help you make your choice. The menu is huge both in actual size and the number of items thereon. They speak little English but the old point-with-gestures-and-a-happy-face works just fine. Cheap, wholesome and traditionally Taiwanese, we went on a empty stomach and wolfed down a bowl of rice topped with mock pork mince, crunchy seaweed and peanut dust in no time. Noodle soup and dumplings also filled our stomachs here; their speciality is apparently spring rolls, which we did not try. Make sure to get there well before 8pm, when they start closing.
🍺 鐵道村G酒屋
Thirsty and in need of something cool and fizzy we found ourselves in an outdoor Taiwanese eatery, which serves up traditional cuisine to tablefuls of loud, jubilant locals. The name translated means "Railway Village G Wine House". We didn't eat here, but there seemed to be a constant procession of tasty food from issuing forth from the busy kitchen. We sat with a few 600ml bottles of Taiwan Beer and enjoyed eavesdropping on conversations we couldn’t understand and getting caught up in the fun, almost festival-like atmosphere. It's located here on Bo'Ai Rd.

Fun fact: Taiwan Beer was a monopoly product operated by the KMT one-party state era of Taiwan, parented by Japanese colonial rule in 1922.


🌰 Areca Nut
One older gentlemen passed our table and welcomed us to Taiwan. This was nice of him. As we were leaving he came back with three bags full of what he called “Chinese chewing gum” and offered it to us. It wasn't a “no thanks” sort of situation so we popped in a something wrapped in a leaf and chewed away. Tasted like a mix of everyday tree leaves and twigs. It soon becomes a juicy concoction, not sweet juicy, but extremely bitter and not tasty and mixed with leafy detritus. Tongue numbed and mouth stained red, we suddenly realised why the streets of Taiwan are splattered with faded crimson gob marks. This is the infamous areca nut, sometimes better known simply as betel.

Used throughout Southeast Asia for many centuries, by royal families and aristocrats as much as common people, the betel leaf is spread with slaked lime and tobacco, then wrapped around the acorn-sized nut from an areca palm. This together is sometimes referred to as a quid, or paan (from Sanskrit meaning "leaf"). Both the betel leaf and the areca nut are psychoactive stimulants*. We noticed that people, especially in the southern, more Austronesian side of Taiwan, chew this on the regular, and we've read since then that chewing on dozens of these a day is not very good for you: the habit results in high levels of oral cancers among other health problems. Not so tasty indeed.

*Didn’t chew long enough for psychoactive effects.


We found ourselves at Jin Lon, a hotel right opposite old Taitung Station, so it used to have an even better location than it does now. Quite basic rooms for NTD$850 per night. Friendly staff. Free bicycle hire, which gave us great freedom to cycle around the city—mainly the cycle path in Forest Park which we loved. No breakfast though.

See more from VISITS in Taiwan:

Monday 26 September 2016


Painting a fun but altogether chilling atmosphere with this smart uptempo tune is musicmaking maestro (officially composer and sound designer) Lindsay Lowend. 'Downtown Mannequin' combines clever composition with various instruments and a driving disco feel, not only allowing you to skim on its surface as if it were a videogame soundtrack – not unlike Lowend, what with his 2013 VGM-inspired Wind Fish EP, and much SoundCloud output since then – but also allowing a deeper experience for the cavernous imagination.

Popping boppity beeps provide their subtle jolts throughout, these staccato patterns bouncing along from start to finish, the pixel canvas on which is strewn moody synth strings and atonal chords like shimmering shards of light striking here and there, muted lightning, and icy sparkling notes played in exotic scales. Later a crazed march of acidy synth joins in, squelching and whipping along with the skitter of the beat: it all feels like the frenzy of shopping.

Yes combined with the title, this track with its frosty yet happy-go-lucky physique, its excited but frenetic ticking percussion, presents the clean lines chrome and glass sheen of a high-end future shopping experience, the frantic bustle of shoppers, the gleam of expensive new items on display and out of reach, overwhelming. And how some sounds jar and jut out, subtle sideswipes at the expected tinny emptiness of the track—the mind assaulted the sensory overload; and how the string parts, soft and sensitive, play bravely in the whirl of confusion. Modern day consumerism with the gloss of superficiality draped over true troubled feelings boiling below.

  • 'Downtown Mannequin' does not appear to be part of any release, but like almost all of Lindsay Lowend's music it can be downloaded for free. You will also notice that comments are disabled and numbers of likes/plays are hidden for pretty much all his tracks.
  • You should also check out LL's Vimeo, where musicmaking meets the wholly practicable art-science of sound design under his real name, Tony Mendez.

Lindsay Lowend Internet Presence ☟

Saturday 24 September 2016


This feels like it arrived just in time. Laying back in the swirl of synth, in the thick speckled plasma noise of it all, smooth and electric caramel, deeply uttering chillment, silvery chimes and golden fragments of piano like glints of light, muted natural ambient sound trickling in the background, it's easy to slip into the thought that right now is exactly the right time to hear this. This is the the eponymous opener of Harris Cole's debut LP pause and it is wonderful.

And then arrives second track, 'chapsitkc'—a different atmosphere, thinner and hallucinogenic, a mist of phasing waves, whooshing and alien. A gradual slow hail of percussive booms tumble down, sub carving a stoppy groove with an occasional stutter of bass boops, broken beats in an astounding laze of lethargy, pounding absent-purposefully on the present moment and creating its own compartment. But the aching way in which Harris Cole brings in the nocturnal slosh of beach breaking waves, a sample of the real world: reality merges then washes over the once transdimensional sound gallery and shifts your attention to a different moment till it fades away.

Lying beyond this awaits the rest of the album. The sequential nature of these first two morsels makes us feel like we're in for a jolly journey with pause, which also judging from the soundular shapes of 'pause' and 'chapsitkc' will be one that is spacey and reality-blurring, thereby also blurring the perceived distance between recording actual sound and the artificial process of actually manipulating sound.

  • These two morsels act, of course, as the appetiser for Harris Cole's album, pause, which will be released in Fall/Autumn this year. We will maybe have to wait for a month or something like that who knows.
  • The artwork by George Wylesol captures the atmosphere of these two tracks – presumably the LP too – with its own depiction of an otherworldly experience in a worldly setting, bold yet muted, colours that feel somehow off, employing levitation in a setting of magical realism that feels arcane, in spirit and style similar to the Rider-Waite Tarot deck.

Harris ColeInternet Presence ☟

Thursday 15 September 2016


Past the obvious sheen of speedy nightcore and sugary early-00s dance pop associations, this track emerges skewed through a prism of noise and angst that sees soft and brooding, crunchy and cute play together in a wild and simple fantasy of sound. It comes from the hivemind of a collaboration between Crapface, location unknown, and Amy Axegale, fka ZEN, who is from Melbourne, Australia.

Smooth syncopated chords boop bubblesome in a pattern that continues safely throughout, but then there's this heavy twist, a smudge of darkness on this candy gloss, pouncing out from the pastel fog like a tiger when the chords grow and distort, baring teeth, with kicks pulsing in time below and savage snare hits popping above, filling those formerly playful tropical chords with dread and frustration. This noisy electro sludge, the hardcore edge going on here reminded us of the rabid 'Dog' by SebastiAn, whereas its pairing of conventional and unconventional feels very Mr Oizo — cradling and destroying sounds. These two sprang to mind almost immediately.

However, 'Skype' is of course neither, but perhaps exists for similar reasons as these French artists' music: A reaction to the clean-cut in sound, simultaneously exhibiting that emotions can exist in electronic music with this howling wordless disconnect from physicality. Similarly the song title, an ambiguous summoning of Skype as an experiential thing that can mean anything to anyone, exhibits an aphysical source of inspiration. And as the track dances away in its closing 30 seconds, hi-hats ticking with the beat, the synth wonky and bleary, you feel that the Skype call went to plan, and the song's dynamic swing between a contentment and something verging on rage, a burning internal struggle, is quelled for now at least.

  • This is an apparently one-off release courtesy of London-based entity Calm Records.
  • Also, the artwork for this track, some fantasy palace in some fantasy garden, is by visual artist beeple (human name: Mike Winkelmann). It's called ISOTOPE. His Tumblr showcases lots of art and it's all imaginative and grand.

Amy Axegale Internet Presence ☟

Crapface Internet Presence ☟

Wednesday 14 September 2016


Skiffing through the twlight between on and offline ever further from his Spazzkid moniker of summers past, Mark Redito continues as he has always done to evolve as an artist. His latest foray into the ether of music, 'You'll Only Love Me When I'm Gone' swells effortlessly with energy and displays a characteristic change in style that feels organic. Flavoured with dancehall humidity, the track swirls between fluid cute electro and a sparse yammering beatscape, notably lacking in Redito's usually present voice and instead heading heavily onto garbled, voiceless dancefloors.

The track's title, however, does make an appearance in the music as a sampled lyric, chewed up, emotional and intoxicated, flinging its vague electronic lyricism like elastic through the lurid synth. This then repeats rapid-fire after gear-shifting booming bass build-up, stammering high-pitched above hefty kicks and not menacing but business-meaning beat punching syncopated one-twos into the less crowded space, sounds feeling more poignant pummelling away with room to breathe.

But let us not forget that a simple body-moving beat and the manipulation thereof has always been a staple of the way Mark Redito makes music; energy spiced with elation. Here and now, as ever, he incorporates new exciting sounds into his repertoire, with style fluctuating but substance remaining a constant, keeping as fresh as the first whiff of 'Getting To Know You' when it was love at first listen.

  • You can grab 'You'll Only Love Me When I'm Gone' for just $1 on Bandcamp. A full-length album is on the cards for next year.
  • The original artwork for the track was created by kikkujo, whose characteristic pen-and-pencil illustrations often depict people weighed down by weltschmerz, their bodies and expressions fine-tuned to display this subtle painful weariness.
  • Earlier this year, Mark Redito set up Likido, a series of curated events that provides a platform for female, POC and LGBTQ+ artists, aiming to celebrate and nurture these communities.

Mark Redito's Internet Presence ☟

Wednesday 7 September 2016


Hualien is home to the stunning natural scenery of Taroko National Park, a lush landscape shaped by turquoise waters that run snakelike at the bottom of a marble gorge, slicing through the land and revealing layers of rock and creating mountains that jut jagged into the sky with peaks swathed in clouds.

A place to base yourself in order to explore the National Park, the town of Hualien itself is filled with wide streets and scooters, somewhat sprawling but walkable. Picking our way along the pathways was a real initiation into a Tawianese town: an assault course of parked 'peds, hosepipes, street kitchens, old folks' hang-outs and various slopes and steps from one shopfront to the next. Clothes shops sit next to dumpling shops, mobile phone retailer next to furniture place, massage shop next to bank; it is all of everything and nothing has its own special district, a jumbled wonder of Taiwanese proportions merging with a wonder of nature—a show of what this island often does: reminds you that extreme terrain and actual jungle have the majority.

From Hualien the bus to Taroko National Park takes up to an hour depending on how how far into the gorge you want to explore. The bus runs along the coast, past a Taiwanese military base (not an actual stop) and Chishingtan Beach (七星潭風景區) to the right – a popular group/couple selfie spot – before starting to wind its way up through the gorge, taking tumultuous turnings as it climbs high in to the peaks. Some bus drivers can be overzealous with their turnings which is exciting and horrifying for those aboard, particularly if you're on the side of bus where the view of the carved-out gorge grows ever deeper. Seat belts are legally required but rarely worn, as proven by the band of baby cockroaches that erupted across our lap when we tried to pull the seatbelt out. C'est la vie.

Getting an all-day pass for the bus allows you to hop on and off all the way from Hualien Train Station to the route's terminus at Tianxiang (天祥). It's pretty chill to soak up the magnificent scenery on the way, choosing what stops to get off at and allowing you to explore further by foot. Alternatives include cycling, biking, driving or getting a taxi, but unless you insist on your own autonomy, or fancy tackling the turns of the road yourself, the bus is more than satisfactory. Swallow Grotto (or Yanzikou, 燕子口), named for the crowds of swallows that frequent it, is a narrow point of the gorge where the pale colours of the monstrous marble walls swirl, worn and warped over millennia by the shifting earth and its weather. Here you can follow the road by foot for a little while as it tunnels through the solid rock, taking care not to "linger", as the signs put it—falling rocks are real. You can tell from the stands lending out hard hats.

However chill it may be, the bus provides only a glimpse of what the area has to offer, so on our second day we took a stroll on one of the Park's many, many trails that range in length and precariousness. Though one of Taroko's easiest and most accessible, the Shakadang Trail (also known as "Mysterious Valley") very easily pays off. We were able to see more secluded and even more breathtaking views of the twisting bright blue water set in the gorge, ancient rock towering above, surrounded by tropical jungle. Starting on a walkway through the forest canopy where hand-sized golden orb spiders sat in the centre of their huge masterpiece webs, over a rope bridge and along a trail cut into the cliff itself, we rolled almost level with the stream until the path was cut short by a landslide, which is all too common in any of Taiwan's national parks. Many tourists still pushed on past the no entry sign, onwards to epic selfies and photoshoots atop giant boulders cast in the wide shallow trough of the river: the natural world as nothing but a backdrop.

Far from the sheer cliffs and green cloaked mountains you can ease your hunger by eating your way through the delights of a tasty Taiwanese night market. Eating is a big thing in Taiwan and Hualien is no different, albeit with a small, sad twist: all of the town's night markets have been moved from their previous probably years-occupied sites to one giant conglomerate Dongdamen Tourist Night Market (東大門自強夜市) as of July 2015. The locals' night market, as well as the aboriginal night market, the Futing (formerly "Rainbow") Night Market, "Provinces Market" (各省一條街), and others, have all been resettled to this huge unsettling area of permanence and tourism. However! It is fun, especially when busy, and exudes a sort of festivalic theme park atmosphere. And what it lacks in physical and spiritual authenticity it makes up for in one of Taiwan's top treats, which is food and lots of it. There is also a green park-like area and a display of some military vehicles. We did find some non-touristic nocturnal food stall activity around here on Zhongshan Rd though, which was followed by a surprise expedition through a few cool, quiet roads beyond.

Hot and humid when we visited, we felt Hualien was more than just a "base". Whilst it is synonymous with the National Park, and perhaps is seen as a stop-off point for that very reason, the city is an easygoing place that is open and relaxed when it comes to tourists—even its major night market serves however garishly as a comprehensive collection of what Hualien plates up at snacktime. Away from this we found ourselves inducted into the intriguing life of smaller town Taiwan. Wandering around the backstreets, snacking at street-side restaurants and getting lost trying to appease your appetite at the night market, the real life of this city begins to reveal itself and you realise that sometimes nature is exactly a backdrop.

🌭 Dongdamen Tourist Night Market (東大門自強夜市)
400 stalls. 9 hectares. One stomach. What do you go for? There's no question of being spoilt for choice at this massive night market, so try to avoid arriving indecisive and hungry. One night, we grabbed some snacks and sat on a grassy hill overlooking a junction at the market and watched it all unfold below, buskers and tourists, in the midst of other sitters and kids running around. We snacked on deep fried tofu: they look like potato fries, but that they ain't, they're rich and hearty with a satisfy mouth-filling texture. Check out that mustard for extra zing.

We also ate what was billed as an "Aboriginal Sausage Wrap", which was very tasty but there is no real context for us to judge its relation to Taiwanese Aboriginal food quite yet. It consisted of a gloriously greasy pancake wrapped around tangy sauced meat and shredded cabbage and other veg. For dessert? Try out marshmallow and lashings of chocolate spread in a fried bread toasty. Naughty and sweet but oh so tasty.

We only know about these from Japanese convenience stores, and therefore as an "American Dog" (アメリカンドッグ), but this is indeed a corn dog. A hot dog smothered in thick doughnut-esque batter – better known as cornmeal, hence the name. Deep fried, terribly delicious, comes in two sizes: large or small. Went for large. All the sauces.
🍜 Ba Fang Yun Ji (八方雲集) Dumplings
This dumpling place, part of a franchise known in English as 8 Way Dumplings or something, serves fresh fresh dumplings of various fillings at low low prices (starts at NTD$5 apiece). Steamed or potsticker versions available. Comprehensive sauce station. Small sitting area inside which is basic and unfancy, a fine venue for filling up on platefuls of dumplings. It's on Zhongshan Road, here according to Google Maps, but more on the corner of Zhongshan and Mingguo Rd.
🍪 台灣bolo
If you do not know the humble yet tasty pineapple bun, it's a bun of soft, slightly stodgy dough topped with a different type of sweeter, crumbly cookie-like dough (same ingredients as Streusel, apparently). Well, that gets a foodular remix here, served hot with a slab of butter inserted. Actually already a thing originating in Hong Kong called 菠蘿油 - that's "bo lo yau", bo lo meaning pineapple and yau meaning oil. Hence the name of this particular establishment, bolo台灣. It is unquestionably delicious. You'll find it here on Zhongshan Rd. Multiple locations nationwide. We ate most of ours before we took a photo.

🍜 Crepe Stand (Savoury)
There's a savoury crepe stand at the market, thin on the filling and so crispy so that they actually shatter as you bite them and what there is of the filling falls on you and the floor and you end up feeling tearful. Anyway, much better options for dinner are available all over the market.


The Taiwanese government are keen on developing its overseas tourist scene and spreading the tourist money around the country. The focus on attracting tourists further afield than Taipei means there are many options for reasonably priced accommodation across Taiwan with many new, squeaky clean hostels and guesthouses popping up in every city. Hualien is no exception. We stayed at Lovely Bean Inn ( Features modern rooms with sanitary shared bathrooms – complete with an array of hairdryers – on each floor, plus an AC-refrigerated basement with a pool table and a big TV on the wall. A double room cost us £23/NTD$1000 per night, but there are dorm rooms available if you don't mind that sort of thing. There's free bike hire. The owner is also sweet: after a confusing mix-up with the free McDonald's breakfast voucher we should've been receiving (really), he shared his breakfast with us and made us coffee.

See more from VISITS in Taiwan:

Tuesday 6 September 2016


This newness from British musicmaking team Fins A Luminous is, we think, the best they've offered up to the world yet, marking something of a departure from their usual plunge pool of rock-infused dark and stormy electronica into an area of richly exalting sun-glinted sky-touching Balearic-flavoured sound. That's not to say that darkness gathers at the edges of 'Antipodes', and at its core, as a techno bassline dominates alongside a thumping beat and a fizz of slicing synth hits that fly in the cold, stark air summoned in the sound.

The lyrics, literally poetic, match this rich otherdimensional dirge with a loneliness spun simply, lamenting with imagery of isolation: "On this raft / All I have / Is mental pictures of you / And the stars to guide me"—and later, "I talk to the waves / They whisper your name / I talk to the wind / You're further away now than you've ever been"—conjurations of longing and loss in voices layered in a choir, as if all the fibres of being join in for this totality of feeling.

But this exaltedness: a change from minor to major, from the steel and fog of overcast skies to a raising up above the giant clouds, a rush of emotion in waves of thick, soaring sound, the last section of the song uplifted from introspection of extrospection, the luscious gales and golden light of noise and skittering glitter of synth melody here complimenting the beauty of the lyrics, an illuminated outpouring of the heart: "The clouds form into every face / I've ever known / Into every face I've known / The moon, the stars and the sun / And everyone above..."

  • This wonderful slice of music comes from Fins A Luminous's latest EP, also titled Antipodes, which features more of the musicmakers' forays into huge, spacious sounds, altogether charting a journey of loneliness with experimental electronic orchestration. You can download it from their Bandcamp for just £3.

Fins A Luminous Internet Presence ☟

Monday 5 September 2016


Taipei brims with life, youthful, historical, progressive; modernity on a backdrop of cracking facades and twisting back alleys. Crammed full of fun and food, Taiwan's capital has built upon its rocky historical roots and transformed itself into a city where young people are unafraid to be themselves—they push the boundaries past the unforgotten years of history and political unrest to produce a city that thrives on its misfortunes, combining a penchant for Japanese culture with the ancient history of China and the mad buzz of Southeast Asian cities to become a tangled whirlwind of unimaginably delicious street food, surprising angsty androgynous fashion and intriguing design: a city that is intrinsically Taiwanese and proud. Understanding Taiwanese history and their ongoing strained relations with the PRC is important before being too impressed by the grandeur Liberty Square; it's worth a look to see scale of the square, the traditional architecture as was used by the Kuomintang in their monuments even on the Chinese mainland, but we can understand why some might feel that the area could be put to better use. Previously known as Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Square, this large glorification of the late President of the Republic of China stands in stark opposition to "China" as the world knows it, but sadly feels as authoritarian and as cold as that against which it stands. Politics haunts many aspects of this city. Google "White Terror". This is the name given to the early years of martial law imposed by the Kuomintang throughout Taiwan until 1987. It's astounding to think that less than 30 years ago, this unique country was just emerging from a 38-year period of harsh rule that saw the notorious Taiwan Garrison Command, the "secret service", crack down on everything from democratisation and criticising the government, to something as innocuous as language (Mandarin being favoured over the semi-native Hokkien and indigenous Taiwanese languages). In this period it's estimated that around 140,000 individuals were arrested, tortured, executed, or a combination of the three, right up until the same year The Smiths broke up. And even then, this was only the beginning of the road to democracy paved well into the 1990s. Taking a walk around the sights and temples of Qing and Japanese-era Taipei can be interesting to put this history into architectural context – you'll find many examples of Qing influence around the Songshan area. Actual context can be found at The 228 Museum, housed in a radio station used by the Japanese and then Kuomintang, in the 228 Peace Memorial Park. It's got foreign language audio guides, a modern layout and an offers a seemingly unbiased view into Taiwan's tumultuous modern history. Whilst here an old Taiwanese gentlemen accosted us. "I hate the Chinese, they're dirty," he said. "I had a Japanese education." His Indonesian carer abashedly tried to pull him away from us. It was possible to imagine that he wasn't alone in his opinions. After reading about Taiwan in the 20th Century at this illuminating museum, a walk around the Park will feel more profound. Fast-forward to the present day and the city is awash with creativity and a long overdue sense of liberalism. We thought we'd find a concentrated bastion of this sentiment at the Huashan 1914 Creative Park. This renovated warehouse area, however, is pretty much an Instagram theme park stuffed with overpriced art gallery-style shops and incongruent exhibitions (think Where's Wally?—seriously). There's an upside-down house. All of it can be seen in 30 minutes, but, whilst some of the Park consists of ticketed attractions, a wander around the factories and warehouses resurrected from their days of 20th century toil and disuse feels like a wander through an urban botanical garden. An urbanical garden? As if on cue, coffee shops around the area sell stupidly priced coffee. Keep clear unless you want to fall into what feels another tourist trap set up to take Mainland Chinese tourists' money. Another more odd place was the Taipei Artists Village, hyped by a guidebook (Lonely Planet), we literally could not understand this place, it was deserted and didn't seem to be more than an empty restaurant in a courtyard. Maybe we turned up on the wrong day or something, maybe there's a schedule. The central district of Ximending is electric. A place where same sex couples are open about their relationships, this area is an excitingly eye-opening view into the liberalism of Taipei. Androgyny is huge here with clothing strikingly reflecting the openness of sexuality, the visibly dark vibe of muted palettes, punchy statement t-shirts and cleverly satirical pairings are all worn with the type of knowing apathy that grunge demands. Trends and tourists whirl together, streets formed by currents of gloss and grit. Get lost and find out for yourself what the future of Taipei has to offer: it is exciting. For some greenery, a quick metro ride out the centre of town are the intriguing residential areas almost swallowed up by the jungle at the feet of Elephant Mountain. A 15-minute hike up endless stairs reveals a view of the city and the famous silhouette of Taipei 101 all on a hill that is shaped like an elephant raising its trunk. A little touristy at times but locals also make the climb to get fresh air and a view of the spread of Taipei and the surrounding mountains to get a better understanding of where you really are. Equally natural, The Taipei Botanical Garden is a slice of natural calmness in the busy city. Enjoy a coffee from a local food place on one of the roads that lead into the gardens and sip on it while munching on tasty onion bread and take in the lotus pond, while locals meet with friends around you. The different walkways and areas are really well laid out, rare birds can be seen – we encountered a group of twitchers playing bird noises through their phones – and it's free. Another element of the city deserves a particularly special mention: Food. Food is everywhere in Taipei and pretty much all of it is worth trying. Alleyways and street corners are home to multitudes of food stands providing passers by with seriously fulfilling snacks like the deliciousness that is onion bread or red bean waffles. Small restaurants and independent cafes have taken up down backstreets in otherwise run-down buildings with urban designs and modern, Westernised menus selling fresh coffee and sandwiches. Old ways of doing things like buying and eating food also fervently exist among the older generations, who still dominate a lot of the city's areas with shops and socialising and daytime markets and all manner of daily life. And then of course, there are the famous night markets of Taipei consisting of row upon row of resident food vendors, each cooking up their own eye-popping combination of traditional tidbits, western junk food and modern Taiwanese creations (like coffin bread), they are places of sheer wonder for the hungry, from the traditional Taiwanese pig's blood cake to deep-fried taro, everyone can find themselves something new and mouthwatering to chow down, probably daily. To wash all of the greasy goodness down, monster sized watermelons are juiced and sold with ice everywhere – or try a bubble tea, an inconceivably huge Taiwanese creation that has led to pretty much everyone wandering around with plastic cup of tea in plastic bag. Alongside stuffing yourself silly night markets are a great place to fill up on the energy of the city, locals hanging out with friends, ladies cooking up a storm, children fishing goldfish at stalls; life, more than in the day, comes out at night and it is the best place see the hot and sweaty happenings of Taipei.
🍔 H.M Burger
Down the graffitied back alleys of Ximending, you'll find young Taipei-ites hanging out with their friends in here. With very decent burgers, of course, and towers of French toast layered with fillings amongst other things on the menu, it's a tasty business for late Sunday breakfasts and lunch. The menu's in English, the staff are friendly, and their veggie burger is well meaning: it just comes without a burger patty. It's a collaboration between two previous establishments, Hometown Development x Mary's Burger茉莉漢堡.
🌯 Raohe Night Market
What wonders the night markets of Taipei ushered in to our lives... Raohe Night Market, glitzed up and packed with throngs of people, got us salivating like crazy over rolled barbecued pork stuffed with green onions and spiced to taste. Then there was a green onion pancake wrap with meat, peanut dust, tofu and chilli sauce. This is a big claim, but we think it's the best wrap we ate in Taiwan (vegetarian option: minus the meat and more vegetables).
🍖 Shilin Night Market
One of the most fun night markets in Taiwan. The gurgling energy of the city can be found as you walk along the sidestreets casually grabbing snacks from a crazy array of vendors; people gather near the metro station and spill out on to the surrounding streets, meeting up with friends and enjoying what the city has to offer. Also equals delicious food. Has its own site. We tried stinky tofu here, the spicy type, and yes: the smell is almost blinding, but the taste is somewhat neutral, with a hint of that fermented-foodstuff tang. We found a more heavenly morsel in the form of Taiwan-style green onion bread rolls stuffed with minced pork.
🍺 Drink At A Roadside Bar
Not really a "roadside bar" but we made do. Drinking is not so big in Taiwanese culture, but beer can be bought and drunk in small local roadside eateries, pretty cheaply too. We went somewhere down the same road as this Italian restaurant, for example. Foreign beers are on offer but when in Taiwan it's Taiwan Beer for us please sir.
🍢 Ningxia Night Market
This smaller market is sensibly located on Ningxia Road. Try out the tasty Taiwanese pig's blood cake, they are more doughy and salty, much less bloody than you'd imagine from the name. Here we also sampled another type of green onion pancake wrap, this time filled with sliced beef and onions, greens, bean sprouts and egg. Salty, sweet, warm and gooey in equal parts, the deep-fried combo of pickled egg yolk inside a mashed taro ball is unusual but worth a try (see below). The stall, piled with pyramidal stacks of these bitesized snacks ready for the plunge, is quite famous and seems to be known to some people as "Deep Fried Taro Balls and the Ones with Pickled Egg Yolk" (劉芋仔香酥芋丸蛋黃芋餅). Google Maps says it's here, but just go to the market and you'll find it easily enough.
🧀 Prince Cheese Potatoes
A classic Taipei street food, this stall in Ximending featured its own menu guy who quickly dealt with dithering patrons to keep things rolling. Deep-fried potato croquette islands in a flood of cheesy cheese sauce and topped with anything from meat and vegetables to pineapple and egg. So, so good, especially with a Taiwan Beer.
🍉 Smoothie/juice/bubble tea
Every corner, everywhere, try out the juices and bubble teas—the constant antidote for the humidity of the summer in the city.
🍞 Green Onion Bread
Walking around the sights of Taipei in the heat, green onion bread (a thick version of the thinner pancake version, 葱油饼 Tong Yo Bin) sold by street vendors is a life-saver. Cheap, filling and tasty it is the perfect, most basic snack for taking a break in the park or Botanical Garden. A real delicacy for lovers of stodgy, properly mouth-filling food. Our favourite lady served us from behind a glass shelf stacked with piles of the stuff in a tiny shop somewhere on Hengyang Road, maybe at this point, on the way to the 228 Park from Ximen MRT. It was yellow, if that helps.

🍜 Ay-Chung Flour Rice Noodles
One of those following-the-guidebook mistakes that we felt had to be included to warn people, the "famous" Ay-Chung Flour Rice Noodles of Ximending will be busy with Chinese and Hong Kong tourists and, unless you like stodgy noodles and unidentifiable grey meat, we'd say steer clear: there's way too much tasty food in Taipei to waste a valuable meal on hype. Google the name and you'll see waves of approval from many blogs and online publications espousing its greatness. Maybe we're missing the right tastebuds or something. Judge for yourself if you want, but for us these gloopy noodles tasted like the smell of a cheap supermarket, and the meat – probably supposed to embody "Q" (bounciness in Taiwanese food terms) – was impervious to innumerable chews, making it literally hard to swallow. No, no, no.


We stayed at Tomorrow Hotel, perfectly located almost on top of Ximen MRT. We paid the equivalent of £20 per night for a twin room and that's with breakfast included. There's a 24hr 7-Eleven in the always bustling lobby. There's free breakfast, which is either a 70NTD$ voucher for the 7-Eleven or an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet downstairs, with rice and noodles and various vegetables, and also steamed buns, toast, smiley faces (or chips, some days) and a vat of creamy scrambled eggs—possibly our favourite scrambled eggs ever eaten. Fill up and take yourself safe from hunger into the city. The location provides constant excitement: one entrance is 60 seconds' walk from Exit 6 of Ximen MRT, another is on Chengdu Road, and one spills into the alleys towards Ximending's pedestrianised area. For this, and for that breakfast—DAMN!—yeah, stay here. Hotel staff aren't the best English speakers but if that bothers you maybe reconsider a trip out of the Anglosphere altogether. Visit their site at

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