Founded in 1999, Yǒngchūn Elementary School 永春國民小學 is an unusual example of Islamic-influenced architecture in Taichung 台中, Taiwan 台灣. No rules or conventions must be followed here; all cultures are subject to creative reinterpretation in modern construction projects, but it is far more common for Taiwanese to pillage European, American, or surrounding East Asian sources for ideas. In this case I am sure it is no accident that the Taichung Mosque 台中清真寺 is just up the street—but it is, if I am not mistaken, just a regular school, albeit a fantastical one with princes and princesses!
For more photos and information (in Chinese, of course) nothing could be more appropriate than this blog, but if you’re feeling brave you can also wade through the insanity of the school’s official web site.
Kuíxīng Temple 魁星宮 in Tamsui 淡水 is nominally dedicated to the eponymous Kuíxīng 魁星, god of examinations and one of the Five Wénchāng 五文昌, a group of deities representative of classical Chinese culture. He typically takes the form of a man balanced on one foot with a writing brush in one hand, his body twisted in a pose suggestive of the strokes of Chinese calligraphy. But you didn’t come here to read about Kuixing—this temple is notable for being one of only a handful of sites in Taiwan 台灣 venerating Chiang Kai-shek 蔣中正, president of the Republic of China until his death in 1975, as a god.
I found this sad elephant while tromping around the commercial building that was once home to Jīnbǎo Grand Theater 金寶大戲院 in Zhúběi 竹北. I was not able to evade detection and sneak into the old theater but this discarded playground slide I found in a basement stairwell made the attempt worthwhile.
In addition to their reputation for novelty foods night markets in Taiwan 台灣 also offer an almost endless variety of cheap goods, particularly clothing and accessories. Much of Taiwanese night market fashion is amusing, quirky, provocative, bizarre, or even incoherent, though some of it is also quite clever. My understanding is that a lot of the weirder stuff originates in China, where massive factories churn out garments emblazoned with English text and pop culture references without regard for semantic meaning. This is almost certainly the result of copying passages from print or online media, using machine translation, or sheer laziness, but it might also be for aesthetic effect. Transcription errors are common, particularly when popular designs are copied by competing factories. Observed on the scale of years there is something almost evolutionary at work in night market fashion—styles mutate and are subject to a kind of natural selection. To celebrate the absurdity of this curious cultural phenomena I have assembled about 40 photos from my many visits to the night markets of Taiwan, almost all of which I have previously been shared on my Instagram account, the perfect vehicle for such inanity. Enjoy!
Living in Taiwan 台灣 affords ample opportunities to encounter elements of western culture filtered through an eastern lens. Here we find the distinctive artistic style of Piet Mondrian decorating the entrance to an underground parking garage in Taichung 台中. High-brow art on a carport? Well, whatever. There aren’t any rules or conventions to be followed around here!
Road safety dummies are a distinctive feature of the streets of Taiwan 台灣. In Chinese they are generally known as engineering dummies 工程用假人 (pinyin: gōngchéngyòng jiǎrén), warning dummies 警示假人 (jǐngshì jiǎrén), or, more formally, electric flag-bearers 電動旗手 (diàndòng qíshǒu). According to law these robotic figures must be setup at all roadside construction sites to provide some measure of protection for workers as well as warn passing motorists and pedestrians of potential hazards. When hooked up to a car battery their stubby arms pump up and down, waving flags and other objects to direct traffic. Construction companies typically decorate these dummies with safety vests and hardhats, though it is not common for workers to express some creativity and personalize their dummies. Some of them even have individual names and histories! The rest of this post features photographs of some of the many road safety dummies I have encountered over the years.
This bizarre installation is one of the more iconic and well-known works of public art in Taipei 台北. Created by artists Hé Cǎiróu 何采柔 and Guō Wéntài 郭文泰 in 2009, it is entitled The World in Aves’ Eyes愛維思看世界 (alternately Birdman鳥人 or Daydreams夢遊) and can be found somewhere in the labyrinthine passageways beneath Taipei Railway Station 臺北火車站. Apart from the obvious, the immature, androgynous figure holds a pencil in its right hand (never to write a word), water continuously seeps from its neck, and its feet show the signs of a mild case of pigeon toe, a condition that should be familiar to anyone who has seen young Taiwanese posing for photographs. Here is the original creative statement that accompanies the piece:
My ability to translate Chinese remains limited, particularly when it comes to the sort of conceptual language employed above, but I’ll do my best to provide the gist. From what I can tell this piece is about the confusion and innocence of youth, of an entity in no hurry to grow up and face the challenges of the adult world. The grotesque bird’s head, disproportionate to the slender, prepubescent body, is meant to represent an exaggerated sense of alienation. There’s more—but I’ll leave it at that for now. You can find out more about this work on Facebook. Stay weird, Taiwan!
Here’s something you might not have seen before: a professional ear cleaning service in Wànhuá District 萬華區! When I shot this photo while riding around a couple of months ago I assumed it was a run-of-the-mill ear, nose, and throat doctor with a quirky sign out front. Turns out this is a famous shop by the name of Ěrqiāng Qīnglǐ de Jiā 耳腔清理的家 (loosely: “Ear Canal Cleaning Home”) where you can have your ears cleaned by a “professional ear cleaning master” (zhuānyè tāo’ěr shī 專業掏耳師) for about 500 NT. Apparently Yáo Bīn 姚賓, the octogenarian proprietor, will be happy to show off jars filled with grotesque things he has unearthed over the course of five decades of aural spelunking.
I spied this scooter in a public park on the edge of Sānchóng 三重 on the first day of 2016. It isn’t unusual to see people personalize their scooters in Taiwan 台灣 in crude, folksy ways—but this one stands out for the extent and nature of its customizations. Perhaps someone was sprucing up an elder’s ride to make it more visible on the road? Whatever the reason, the end result is rather amusing.