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bhchao

"A Young Taipei Finds its Groove"

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bhchao

Here is an NYTimes article about how changing demographics is rapidly transforming the city culture in Taipei. It also mentions a few places on where to shop and club in the city.

I haven't been back to Taipei in 20 years, and might be returning for a visit this year. Seems like I have missed out on a lot of stuff since I left.

http://travel2.nytimes.com/2005/01/23/travel/23taipei.html?oref=login

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marcopolo79

You're not missing jack, the article goes to great lengths to point out the improvements in the entertainment options for young people, but this is only a reflection of how far Taipei has come, not a reflection of the fact that it is a "destination".

Of all of the major developed cities in East Asia, Taipei is the most culturally stagnant and boring of the lot, it is more removed from the flow of people and ideas than Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Beijing, etc. Aside from the music industry, there are very few aspects of popular culture that could be considered vibrant and innovative; Taiwan is a place where old trends from the West Coast and Japan come to die, not where they are created. The nightlife reflects this, it's just a rotating party of foreign dj's playing the most predicatble things to crowds that come mainly to pose, not to dance. You'll rarely hear Chinese music in any of the clubs in Taipei, there is nothing that distinguishes Taipei nightlife from anything that can be found elsewhere (aside from a few excellent tea houses); travelling here for the express purpose of experience the "Taipei Lifestyle" is bound to be disappointing.

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bhchao

Interesting insights Marco. That makes me feel better. 8) I still like to see for myself though when I return to Asia.

Ever been to Tainan?

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wix

Undoubtedly Taipei has changed a lot, but is that change necessarily for the better? The MRT, improved footpaths and pedestrian friendly traffic lights are undoubtedly an improvement. However, whether the proliferation of shopping malls and chains of coffee shops is an improvement is questionable. I fear that Taipei is losing some of its character and people do not value what they have enough. I am not saying that the city should not develop or change. I just think there needs to be more thought given to how it should change.

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gato
Of all of the major developed cities in East Asia, Taipei is the most culturally stagnant and boring of the lot, it is more removed from the flow of people and ideas than Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Beijing, etc.

Maybe the grass is greener on the other side? What's there in these other cities that you'd like to see in Taipei?

When I was in Taipei last, I quite enjoyed the wealth of bookstores and cafes. I was also pleased to see the support of the local theaters (e.g. President Theater and the other on ChangChun St.) for smaller non-blockbuster films. One night, I even ran across a very well-attended free outdoor play the city put on for the public. I think the cultural life there compares favorably to any city in the U.S., except maybe NYC.

But then it really all depends on what standards one is judging these things. Does Taipei have to become like NYC to be considered culturally vibrant? What if the Taiwanese don't want to go to raves? Would you then consider Taiwan to be culturally impoverished because there is no rave scene? For instance, one wouldn't think any less of NYC for not having a Peiking opera scene. Are there more objective standards one can use?

However, I do agree with part of your assessment, that the Taiwan public at large does seem to be on the insular side. That could explain there's hardly any international news on TV that doesn't involve relations with the mainland. There wasn't much reporting on Iraq, which surprised me greatly, coming from the U.S., where Iraq news was on 24/7 before the election.

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marcopolo79
Maybe the grass is greener on the other side? What's there in these other cities that you'd like to see in Taipei?

I'm not saying Taipei is devoid of culture, I was very impressed from the first week I arrived here with the voracious appetite for books that Taiwanese seem to have, and of course the local culture has preserved many aspects of traditional Chinese life that have been obliterated by decades of concerted effort to eradicate any vestige of the old "feudal" culture in the mainland, but the article Bhchao referred to is specifically describing the nighlife in Taipei, and I believe that in this regard Taipei trails behind other East Asian cities.

I feel that Taipei has the the dubious distinction of being the most culturally isolated major city in East Asia, it doesn't receive many visitors, aside from one or two exceptional cultural events it lacks the kind of cultural clout that Hong Kong and Japan (especially Tokyo) have enjoyed for years and that Korea (especially Seoul) has been enjoying as of late. In spite of the fact that most of the institutions here pride themselves on being the caretakers of Chinese culture, there is not a palpable sense of a distinct cultural vitality or creativity. Taiwanese popular culture shamelessly imitates Japanese and American trends and offers very little in return, and this is reflected in the nightlife. As the article itself mentioned, the clubs which have opened function mainly as a forum for expat and bi-national Taiwanese to flaunt their wealth and their faimiliarity with western trends ("Entry to the clubs, which can cost as much as $30, can be competitive. To get in, people need the proper connections and dress, and the social scene seems to lean heavily toward English-speaking Chinese, local celebrities and businessmen.").

The concept of leisure in Taiwan is inextricably linked with consumption, whether it be the purchase of a brand, attending the release of the latest hollywood blockbuster, or going to a club to hear the latest foreign dj spin; the production of culture, the active participation in creating something distinctive and new, is sadly lacking. This renders Taipei culturally isolated in that it limits what it ingests to the obvious and the already accepted while simultaneously not giving anything in return, which is the essential hallmark of a provincial city.

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wushijiao
provincial city

Are you using "provincial" in the Paris vs. country-side sense, or the way Beijing would like to have it? :lol:

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gato
it lacks the kind of cultural clout that Hong Kong and Japan (especially Tokyo) have enjoyed for years and that Korea (especially Seoul) has been enjoying as of late. In spite of the fact that most of the institutions here pride themselves on being the caretakers of Chinese culture, there is not a palpable sense of a distinct cultural vitality or creativity. Taiwanese popular culture shamelessly imitates Japanese and American trends and offers very little in return, and this is reflected in the nightlife.

Isn't Taiwan's pop music quite popular in mainland China? It may be even more popular than Cantopop. There's a lack of numbers in filmmakers but not necessarily in quality, as shown by Edward Yang, Tsai Mingliang, and Hou Hsiouhsien. Tsai's too eccentric and downbeat for the mainstream audience, but Hou and Yang both have mainstream appeal. They aren't good at making the big blockbusters that HK directors and now some mainland directors are good at making, but I wouldn't say that they lack creativity, either. I would say that Taiwan may even be on the rise in cultural creativity with the advent of democratic reforms in the last ten years. I felt people were very open to the outside and very proud of their own society at the same time. There's more exploration into local, non-Mandarin cultures that could be interesting.

As the article itself mentioned, the clubs which have opened function mainly as a forum for expat and bi-national Taiwanese to flaunt their wealth and their faimiliarity with western trends ("Entry to the clubs, which can cost as much as $30, can be competitive. To get in, people need the proper connections and dress, and the social scene seems to lean heavily toward English-speaking Chinese, local celebrities and businessmen.").

Night life, schnight life. Isn't it the same way with night clubs all over the world, Beijing, Taipei, or midtown Manhattan? Aren't there lots of bars/clubs around the ShiDa (Normal University) area that aren't so pretentious and don't just cater to the rich or foreign?

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bhchao

Based on the posts here, seems like Taipei is lacking originality? Wish I can comment, but I have been away for too long. My friends told me that Tainan is more culturally-Chinese than Taipei. They said if you plan on visiting Taiwan, you should skip Taipei and head straight to Tainan. But it would be hard to resist Taipei's bustle and opt instead for the "small-town" charm of Tainan.

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marcopolo79
Isn't Taiwan's pop music quite popular in mainland China? It may be even more popular than Cantopop.

Taiwanese Mando-pop music is quite popular, not only in the mainland, but throughout the Chinese diaspora community, but Taiwan's vanguard role is solely of a result of the fact that it had the earliest Mandarin production, distribution, and promotion system for music, it's not a reflection of the quality of the music, which, once again, is mostly just a rehash of Japanese and American trends from the near past.

I would say that Taiwan may even be on the rise in cultural creativity with the advent of democratic reforms in the last ten years. I felt people were very open to the outside and very proud of their own society at the same time. There's more exploration into local, non-Mandarin cultures that could be interesting.

The democratic reforms the have followed the lifting of martial law have finally acknowledged the actual linguistic and ethnic composition of Taiwan, but the vitality that is exhibit by the rapid growth of Hokkien media and culture in Taiwan is not present in Taipei, the only place you're likely to hear a Taiwanese song in the course of a night on the town in Taipei is while singing karaoke.

Night life, schnight life. Isn't it the same way with night clubs all over the world, Beijing, Taipei, or midtown Manhattan? Aren't there lots of bars/clubs around the ShiDa (Normal University) area that aren't so pretentious and don't just cater to the rich or foreign?

Night life is not the same the world over, while every city might have some big clubs where the rich, the famous, and associated hangers on go to preen and be seen, cities such as New York, Tokyo, and even Beijing have a wide variety of places that cater to various local scenes, these sorts of places are really scarce in Taipei. There is a pervasive lack of authenticity and identity, which makes the resulting scene bland and, in my personal opinion, pretty boring after a short period of time.

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gato
The democratic reforms the have followed the lifting of martial law have finally acknowledged the actual linguistic and ethnic composition of Taiwan, but the vitality that is exhibit by the rapid growth of Hokkien media and culture in Taiwan is not present in Taipei, the only place you're likely to hear a Taiwanese song in the course of a night on the town in Taipei is while singing karaoke.

I would say that at least half of the taxi drivers I rode with in Taipei were listening to Hokkien stations. From scanning through the airwaves, I'd say about half of all radio stations on the air in Taipei primarily used Hokkien.

Based on the posts here, seems like Taipei is lacking originality?
Maybe, but a city isn't an art work. As long as people enjoy themselves, I don't know if originality matters much except for bragging rights. I quite enjoyed Taipei and prefer it to LA or SF, and probably Beijing or Shanghai.
My friends told me that Tainan is more culturally-Chinese than Taipei.
I haven't been to Tainan. Don't people there speak primarily Hokkien in everyday conversation, which may make it more difficult for Mandarin speakers? What makes Taipei less culturally Chinese?

Here're some photos from my Taipei trip:

http://csua.berkeley.edu/~mrl/TaipeiOct2004/index.html

http://csua.berkeley.edu/~mrl/taipei2/

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bhchao

Nice photos. I want to leave for Taipei right now.

I should have been more clear. In terms of traditional culture, Tainan stands out from the rest of Taiwan, including Taipei. The city's cultural heritage has been tied to the mainland dating from Koxinga's time, as reflected in the numerous temples throughout the city. It was also the city where the first big wave of emigrants from the mainland settled. My friends mentioned it is a great place to eat. Hokkien is the first language for the majority of people in Tainan. But they should be able to understand you if you spoke Mandarin, just like people in Hong Kong will understand you if you spoke Mandarin there.

That is the culture I am referring to. But if you are talking about big city culture found in cities like New York, Paris, or Hong Kong; Tainan lacks that. You're better off in Taipei if you like to experience and enjoy the city life; if authentic, contemporary city culture is not what you are looking for.

This is off topic from the popular culture described in this discussion, but the many genuine and authentic Chinese art and artifacts found in Taipei's National Palace Museum gives you a good glimpse of the objects taken from the mainland to Taiwan by the Nationalists. It may have been a good thing that the KMT took with them these rich cultural treasures of China to Taiwan. Otherwise, many of these objects would have been destroyed by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.

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yonglan

Tainan is a myth. I've been there many times and have local friends who've taken me about. Locals like to claim it to be a cultural city, but based on what?

If you want museums, Chinese books and publishers, performances of anything tradtional, or classes in anything tradtional, your best bet BY FAR is Taipei. Tainan is the same as Kaohsiung in this regard, not even near Taipei.

If you want friendly people, don't go to Taipei, go south young man.

If you want to dance, who the heck cares?! Stay home and dance.

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lpascoe

bhchao said...

Hokkien is the first language for the majority of people in Tainan. But they should be able to understand you if you spoke Mandarin, just like people in Hong Kong will understand you if you spoke Mandarin there.

The education system is in Mandarin. You should have few problems speaking Mandarin in Tainan. Some older people might not speak Mandarin, but I've found they mostly understand it.

yonglan said...

If you want friendly people, don't go to Taipei, go south young man.

I agree. I like Taipei a lot, but I think the people in the south are much friendlier.

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bhchao
but I think the people in the south are much friendlier

That is good to hear Lpascoe. 8) You're probably right, because my girlfriend is from southern Taiwan, and she is very friendly and easygoing towards people.

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pikachew

Taipei Night Life is definitely much better than before. I don't know which bars/dance clubs the guy who wrote that "you need to be an english speaking chinese or businessman to enter" is referring to. Unless you only go to Carnegies, The Brass Monkey, or the Pig and Whistle, then maybe this is what he means? But, the vast majority of western bars in Taipei are mostly regular Taiwanese people. I say "western bars" as opposed to pi-jiu wu (beer houses), which are almost like 100% Taiwanese. For those of your foreigners not familiar with pi-jiu wu - they are everywhere - it's just that very few foreigners are ever seen at them. They are informal places where the table is low and wooden, you sit on stools and you eat small stir-fry dishes and drink beer or hard liquor - those being the only two alcohol choices (no such as thing as cocktails here).

I'm not expert at dance clubs even though I lived for many years in LA. Actually, I never really liked dance clubs so much. But, for example, one of the biggest in Taipei is Luxy and the crowd there is almost like 98% Taiwanese. So, I don't exactly understand what that person meant by dance clubs being over run with foreigners, etc.

Foreigners only really hang out in a small number of western bars usually. But, there are many many more bars in Taipei. But, yes, unfortunately, Chinese society is not like in the west in regards to drinking, socializing, relaxing. I am of Chinese descent, and I like my drinking a lot - and I like bars a lot. But, where in the U.S., it is a more relaxed thing to go to a bar, here in Taiwan it seems to be more of an "event." I do like how in many U.S. cities, you can go get a drink after work and this would not be seen as unsual. But, if I were to ask one of my Taiwanese co-workers if they would want to go get a drink after work (and I have), they would feel a little strange. They would think like "if we are going to be going to a bar and drinking alcohol, why would I would I only go out with you - one person - alone? Shouldn't get more people and go out as a group? Two people drinking can only talk and talk gets boring." Well, not in my opinion - I love drinking and talking with only one other person - if that person is a good friend and/or interesting. There is a very big "group mentality" going on here. I sometimes want to tell people - "hey it's OK in life to be alone or to only go out with one friend - I promise you the Group Police will not ticket you for this!"

Also, often times, when going out with other Taiwanese to a bar or dance club, I have found that this "group idea" even applies to what and how you drink. It's like so many dance clubs for example offer a "package" where you buy like a bottle of hard liquor and get many glasses for all the people at your table - or in some places they sell you a bucket of like 12 bottles of Heineken. Thus, this kind of puts people on the spot to all drink the same thing. When you do want say, something different, like a cocktail, people will joke you about it. Like, I once went out with a group of people and ordered a gin and tonic and I got all kinds of jokes and heat for drinking that instead of the Coors light that everyone else was drinking. OK, maybe that kind of attitude is found world wide whenever in a group setting, but whatever...

Look, if you want to drink in Taipei with friends, there are many places to do it. But, in my opinion, because of the different style and attitude towards drinking in Taiwan, you may not have as much fun going to bars in Taipei as some other cities in the west - I just don't think bars have as much of a relaxed atmosphere as in the west. But, then again, of course, you are in another country, and that is just the culture here - so accept it.

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