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A Literary World of Taipei--A Look at the Old City’s Elegance

A Literary World of Taipei--A Look at the Old City’s EleganceThere are many reasons to fall in love with Taipei – embracing Taipei’s history and falling in love with her being one of the most “in fashion”! Taipei is an endlessly progressive city home to magnificent architectural structures, luxury commercial office buildings, fashionable shopping plazas, and comprehensive transportation and telecommunications systems. However, this progress has not come with a price of wanton destruction. In addition to the process of construction and innovation, the world is provided with a full view of Taipei’s cultural and historical depth.

In recent years, the Taipei City Government has engaged in vigorous revitalization efforts in the older sections of the city. As one example, the Zhongxiao Bridge (忠孝橋) elevated highway has been demolished, restoring the Beimen (North Gate) Plaza (北門廣場) to unfettered view. These initiatives enable more intimate contact between residents and the old city’s elegance, and provide foreign visitors with an inclusive experience of Taipei’s colorful beauty. Most touching is how, in lifting the veil of time and digging into the deep historical roots of this place, people achieve clarity and under-standing of this city’s life experiences, embracing all her beauties and sorrows.

Taipei’s old-city heritage areas possesscharming historical elegance. (Photo:Shi Chuntai)Taipei, Under the Pen of Akira Higashiyama

The different eras and different historical atmospheres of the city of Taipei have provided creative inspiration for many writers over the years, from Pai Hsien-yung ( 白先勇) and his Taipei People (台北人) short stories in an earlier times to today’s Akira Higashiyama and his novel Ryu (流). The story of Ryu, which means “flow,” strongly recreates detailed imagery from the collective memory of many of Taipei residents.

For numerous Taipei residents who grew up in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, Ryu is far more than just a lyrically descriptive youth novel. The scenes depicted are vivid and personal. For example, the beloved China Plaza (中華商場), now long gone, was a grand bazaar of regional Chinese foods and homestyle flavors. It was a favorite destination for homesick military personnel and dependents who had come to Taiwan with the Nationalist government in the late 1940s. Students also came here to have their school uniforms made and student ID number embroidered. As described by Akira, the China Plaza’s Huxian (“Fox Fairy”) Temple (狐仙廟) served as a bridge between devotees from mainland China and Taiwan, and this now-disappeared icon has been given an air of mystery.

Akira lived on Taipei’s Guangzhou Street (廣州街) when he was a youngster. As he grew older, his horizons expanded outward through Wanhua and Ximending ( 西門町). These neighborhoods, which stood directly outside the old walled city, have in recent years become hubs of transformation as the city government has worked to revivify its oldest sections. The messy, cacophonous world depicted in Ryu is today a Taipei “renaissance” base, both a place of celebrated nostalgia for middle and older generations and a stage for showcasing the creative talents of the young.

In days gone by, lush Taipei BotanicalGarden was a green oasis and a paradisefor couples in love. (Photo: WangNengyou)

In the novel, a preferred hideaway where sweethearts could talk of love was the Taipei Botanical Garden (台北植物園), today still a key central-city green oasis for residents. Akira spends a good deal of time here, describing the joys of love’s genesis and clues about the strange and disturbing death of the protagonist’s grandfather. The scenery and character descriptions give us a vivid window into the lives of Taipei’s people in days past.

Since its earliest days, Dadaocheng (大稻埕) was a key center of activity and influence in the old city. Akira specially recommends exploring this community if you want to understand Taipei and experience its charms. Travel through time and space in Taipei along the road recorded by Akira, winner of the prestigious Naoki Prize. Ryu shall be your guide for sailing the seas of youthful memory, and discovering sweetness in sorrow.

Article _ Xu Ciqian
Photos _ Shi Chuntai, Wang Nengyon

Source: TAIPEI Quarterly