Scenes From Everyday Life: Wenshan, Taipei

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Street art in back alley Wenshan.

I lived in , , from October 2013 until April 2014 when I moved south to . In those six months I captured a great many photographs from in around the area, the finest of which were previously shared on this blog in a post entitled the urban landscape of Wenshan. It was my intention with that post to portray southern Taipei from the vantage point of mountaintops, hillsides, river banks, and pedestrian overpasses, with only a couple of shots from street level. This time around I would like to zoom in and share scenes from everyday life in Wenshan.

The photographs I have gathered here were chosen more for their storytelling value than their intrinsic artistic worth—which is just a roundabout way of warning readers that many of these pictures aren’t very good (particularly as the vast majority of them were shot on my phone). This is also by necessity a fairly personal post filled with lots of trivial stuff that might not be of any interest to most readers. My aim here is simply to share a lived experience of an inquisitive yet somewhat clueless foreigner (yours truly) as he adapts to the wintertime blues in a small part of northern .

Taking my bike out for a spin. This was my usual access point to the extensive riverside bicycle path network in Taipei. From here I could go upriver to Muzha and the area around Taipei Zoo or downriver to Xindian or Gongguan. It felt a bit like tunneling into a wormhole and appearing somewhere else in the city. Later on I would sell this bike and buy a new one, partly because I loved riding around Taipei so much.
Teppanyaki at the local night market. I ate here quite often.
Shanghai style fried dumplings at Jingmei Night Market, something I would regularly order when coming out of the metro.
Just another drizzly day with grey skies in Wenshan District. It would go on line this for weeks at a time.
A particularly garish bit of back alley architecture in Wenshan. Nobody’s winning any awards here.
Catbus ride in front of an old school pharmacy near Xinhai Road. There was a decrepit old market there that I only went to now and then for picture taking purposes.
Waiting for laundry at Jingmei Bridge. I had a washer at home but it was often in use and drying clothes was a necessity in the relentless winter dampness.
There was constant construction in the vicinity of Dapinglin MRT when I was living in Wenshan. Later I found out that much of it relates to a new subway line going in.
Watching the rain come down from Jingmei Bridge. The river, which had been running low earlier in the year, was swollen after days of constant rain.
Having previously overwintered in Vancouver I was mentally prepared for the cold, rainy winters of Taipei.
Trying to make sense of menus at restaurants in the area was compounded by unfamiliar practices like writing everything on vertical wooden slats and affixing them to the wall. I was still in my “point and smile” phase of ordering food while living in Wenshan.
This is possibly the most disgusting thing I have tried in Taiwan (and that’s saying a lot). I’m not entirely sure what it is but the yellow stuff is egg and the broth contains a local liquor with a very distinctive taste, to put it mildly. Oh, and it’s served piping hot. Totally nasty, but I would imagine it’d be an effective cure for a winter cold.
That’s one way to store winter melons! I laughed anytime I passed by place on my way to the Xinhai Tunnel.
A closer look at those shapely roadside winter melons.
The mouth of Xinhai Tunnel, one of my main routes into and out of Wenshan. This tunnel is considered one of the most haunted places in all Taipei for being the scene of numerous accidents. It is also next to a funeral home. And, well, tunnels are spooky places. After my harrowing adventures on the Suhua Highway it was a real adrenaline rush anytime I rode the tunnel into the downtown core.
An abandoned piano on the streets of Wenshan.
I was out walking with a Taiwanese friend when we noticed this anti-government graffiti scrawled on a wall in an obscure part of my neighbourhood. I didn’t know many characters at the time but I did recognize “horse” and “dog”. This is a call for the president to step down.
The menu at my local doujiang (an all-night breakfast shop). I spent many nights here wolfing down warm, filling food, all of it junk of one kind or another, while doing my best to ignore the roaches.
A typical order at the local doujiang: xiaolongbao, some kind of egg wrap, and a hot bowl of mijiang, a gloopy gruel formed by an unknown mix of ingredients, most of them probably the by-products of some industrial process or another.
There is a tradition in Taiwan (and probably other places) that you’re supposed to eat a particular kind of dessert on dongzhi, the winter solstice, to grow one year older. Jingmei Night Market, being known for such desserts, was an absolute circus that night. Nobody has yet explained to me why a youth-obsessed culture would want to grow any older. Just another one of those small mysteries…
A scene from Jingmei Night Market. It was here that I was introduced to the goodness of Taiwanese dessert soups.
This is tangyuan, literally “soup circles”, a beloved Taiwanese dessert soup often eaten with sweet red bean and ginger syrup.
Behind the counter at an old school dessert shop in Jingmei Night Market. The hand-cranked blue machine at left is used to make shaved ice, something I didn’t really get into until the summer of 2014. This is the shop I usually went to for tangyuan.
It is not at all uncommon for cafes to have pet mascot, something that would be considered somewhat unsanitary where I am from. This particular dog was a riotous little thing, always getting into trouble. He also liked to mark his territory which led to some amusing and awkward moments with the staff. “Um, hello? Your dog just peed on my bag…”
One of the best bowls of pho I’ve had in Taiwan. There are several authentic Vietnamese restaurants along Muzha Road.
Tomato dumpling soup, a tasty dish I regularly had at a lunch spot on Muzha Road.
Fresh vegetables at the local supermarket. I did my best to get into cooking things at home but it wasn’t easy with all the convenient dining options in the neighbourhood.
The refrigerator at my place in December 2013. It was a bit of an activist household, insofar as foreigners can be activists in Taiwan. Let’s just say there was strong support for local social movements.
Apparently the water in Taipei is safe to drink… but I wouldn’t trust it. That being said, this only happened once.
Another look at the teppanyaki joint in the middle of Jingmei Night Market.
Sometime in December it got cold enough that I had to go and purchase a blanket from the local department store. Here I am shopping in the bargain tent just outside Carrefour. With so many fantastic designs to choose from it was a difficult task to complete.
Taiwanese people regularly wear clothes emblazoned with western national insignia. I used to play around with this a bit as I’d shoot a wink and a nod to anyone wearing Canadian clothes, almost as if to say “Hey there, fellow countryman!” I’m not sure if my humour was understood or if my actions were filed under “inexplicable things foreigners do”. Either way, I was amused.
It was my habit to scan Taiwanese newspapers over breakfast most mornings to practice my character reading and get a sense of what people are talking about or at least interested in. I was amused to find a mention of Bitcoin one morning in November 2013 and captured the image for posterity.
Sorry for the gore but this is part of life in Taiwan. Walk around a market area before dawn and you’ll inevitably see delivery trucks filled with carcasses. These are dropped off at small-scale butchers who cut orders for the day. Where I’m from all of this happens out of sight, behind closed doors. Here in Taiwan it’s out on the street for all to see.
I was stranded without a bike one rainy night and had to wait for a bus. The play of lights striking the asphalt in the incessant rain momentarily captivated me, making me think of distant stars out there in this vast universe of ours.
Taiwanese schools often feature some rather unusual architectural flourishes like this steel rainbow.
The bus depot underneath the expressway at the western edge of Jingmei. I was amused by the colour scheme.
Route 666, one of the main bus lines I would regularly take to get to Jingmei MRT station.
Wonton noodle soup at a local restaurant along Muzha Road. It’s a simple dish but very hearty and filling when done right.
Colourful dumplings at a local eatery. Pink is shrimp, yellow is corn, green is some kind of vegetable, and some of the others are filled with meat. Cool idea.
Here is a 2,000 NT note, fresh from the bank. I went to the trouble of picking one up as I was attending a wedding banquet and had read online that it’s a nice thing to do. I’ve never seen one in regular circulation. Pretty cool that they’ve got something scientific on their biggest note though.
I walked by this guy almost every day. What is he trying to communicate with that hand gesture? That he’s a solid guy? Anyway, it was a constant source of low-level amusement.
Inspecting the gauges of a vintage motorbike outside of my place. This might have actually been one of my roommate’s rides; they both enjoyed vehicles with a little more oomph than the average scooter.
Yet another rain-soaked night. I shot this on the way back from my local doujiang one night, almost as if to say “alright, that’s enough!”
Yet another weird brunch joint on Muzha Road.
My roommate found a violin in the trash outside our place one day. We were all very surprised by this.
Am amusing example of street art near Dapinglin MRT.
Setting out for Wulai on a grey day. Many of my adventures started with this exact view.
A noisy parade down my street around the time of Chinese New Year’s. The objective seemed to have been to make the most raucous noise possible. In that regard they most certainly succeeded; even with headphones on back at home I could hear the atonal clanging and shrieking of various musical instruments.
One day I noticed a new YouBike station along a small side street near Dapinglin MRT. It was amazing to see the expansion of public transit options month by month while living in Taipei, particularly coming from Toronto, where public transit remains frozen in the 1970s.
Outside a great cafe hidden along a side street not far from Dapinglin MRT. Great coffee, decent food, open late, outlets everywhere. I got a lot of work done here.
A high-octane double header at Peace & Love Cafe, where cappuccinos are served with macchiatos.
A quiet space beneath a bridge by the riverside. I was charmed by the fact that even these marginal places were made somehow livable by local residents. I would often see old people down here taking shelter from the rain and talking amongst themselves or doing nothing at all.
An ironic self-portrait in a traffic mirror at the top of a hill in my neighbourhood.
The new ride immediately after picking it up from the shop.
Dawn breaks over Jingmei River. I kept a terrible schedule during the winter and would often be up at sunrise, still working.
The headlines the morning after students stormed the legislature. I feel fortunate that I was already familiar with many of the actors in this drama.
The occupation of the legislature would continue for weeks and became a major distraction from my work.
I was eating dinner in a restaurant on Muzha Road when Taiwanese television broke into a live address by Lin Fei-Fan, one of the most visible spokespeople of what came to be known as the Sunflower Student Movement.
My front door at the time of the Sunflower Student Movement. I used to think that our neighbours must have been very amused by the foreigners in their midst.
My very last photograph as a resident of Taipei. I captured this from the rooftop of my place before stepping out into the street and parts beyond.

If you enjoyed this post you might also like to browse my and archives for more from my time residing in the area. And again, be sure to check out my original post about living in Wenshan!

4 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing, funny to see many places I’ve been to to take pictures, like the Jingmei night market or the small shops in Dapinglin, those are all good memories!
    And your shots are great, smartphone or not the atmosphere is there. Special mention for the Wenshan tunnel.
    Anyway, the “Vagina” Street art you saw was actually done by a local artist to support a foundation that helps beaten and abandonned women make a living by selling chocolates, I was even there when they did it lol.

    Are you still living in Taiwan or did you move to another place already?

  2. Benoit: that’s interesting, I had no idea. I always assumed it was yet another manifestation of quirky Taiwanese humour.

    I’m still in Taiwan for the time being… but not Taipei.

  3. taiwandeutscher

    Nice pics, that’s Taibei alright!
    How do you like Tainan?
    Any series of pics planned yet?
    Greetings for the goat year, from Qishan (former Gaoxiong county).

  4. @taiwandeutscher: Thanks for the comment! I lived in Tainan for three months in 2014 before moving on but really enjoyed my time there and hope to share more photos of my experiences one of these days. I’ve also been to Qishan and Meinong on a bicycle trip through the badlands and hope to post something about that one of these days :)

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