After writing the previous post, I started wondering what parts of Taipei I would put in a fictional story. First of all, it would depend on what the story required. But beyond whatever the story demanded, what would I show in a story to make it feel like it was in Taipei?
This has everything to do with my personal experience of Taipei, and is by no means a universal perspective. That said, if I were to write a fictional story set in Taipei, these are things which would be very likely to appear.
1) Taipei Main Station. As far as I’m concerned, this is the center of Taipei. As soon as I arrived in Taiwan and escaped from immigration/customs, the very first thing I did was board a bus going to Taipei Main Station. When I lived in Taipei for a few months, I lived in a place which was just a few minutes walk from the train station. I spent a lot, a lot, a lot of time walking around the train station and all of the underground arcades which connect to the station. And when I was living in Taoyuan (which was most of the time I lived in Taiwan) Taipei Main Station was my link between Taoyuan and almost anywhere in Taipei (except on the rare occasion I went to Songshan station instead).
2) Japanese-Colonial Architecture. That building I lived in during the brief time I lived in Taipei was clearly built during Japanese rule. Most of the buildings with the most interesting architecture in Taipei were also built during the era of Japanese rule. I would probably want to incorporate these buildings into a fictional story.
3) The rivers. Since I had never lived in a river city before, I was impressed with all of the rivers in Taipei, and I think that would come through in a story.
4) The Legislative Yuan. I grew up over a thousand miles away from the capital of my country, which I have never visited (in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been within 500 miles of Washington D.C.) Thus I’m used to thinking of the national government as being in a Really Far Away Place. So it was a bit of a shock when I realized that the Legislative Yuan, which is Taiwan’s equivalent of Congress, was less than a twenty-minute walk away from where I lived in Taipei. It was the kind of place where I could pass by while going about my day-to-day life! (I cannot imagine casually walking past Congress during my everyday routine). Even when I lived in Taoyuan, I sometimes had to visit the National Police Agency, which is right next to the Legislative Yuan. And I saw a bit of the Sunflower Protests, when the Legislative Yuan was shut down because the protesters literally did not let people enter the building.
5) Finding Things. I sometimes wanted/needed things which I could not find in Taoyuan, so I would look for them in Taipei. For example, I could not get women’s dress shoes which fit my feet in Taoyuan – I had to go to a store in Taipei which specializes in shoes for women with big feet. There was also something which I looked for in Japan for over a month, and not only could I not find it in any stores in Japan, not even in Fukuoka or Osaka (I did not go to Tokyo), the Japanese people I talked to had no clue where I could find that item. When I went back to Taipei for a visit (before I went back to Japan for more travel) I was able to find that item very quickly (probably because I am a lot more savvy about Taipei than any Japanese city) (I also have a pretty good idea of where I could find that item for sale in San Francisco the next time I need a replacement). Thus, to a large extent, I think of Taipei as the Place Where I Get Things I Cannot Get Elsewhere.
6) The street address system. Shortly before I moved to Taiwan, a Taiwanese-American neighbor tried to explain the street address system, and I totally did not understand it. It was only after I was in Taipei for about a week that it finally clicked. And once I understood it, I thought it was totally cool that Taiwan has a different street addressing system than the United States (and unlike the Japanese street addressing system, the Taiwanese street addressing system actually is consistent and logical). Taoyuan has a simpler street layout than Taipei, so Taipei is definitely a better place to appreciate the Taiwanese street address system.
7) Maokong. Yes, this is a touristy part of Taipei, but it is one of my favorite touristy parts of Taipei, one I returned to again and again, and it is one which draws more local tourists than international tourists. And some of the best tea in the world is grown there, right there within Taipei city limits. Isn’t that cool?
8) The neighborhood with all the used bookstores. There is an area near National Taiwan University which has a lot of used bookstores. I have many happy memories of walking through this area, going from used bookstore to used bookstore, looking for gems (mostly wuxia novels). This area also had a lot of posters which gave me a clue about what was going on with Taipei’s cultural/intellectual life, even though, as a resident of Taoyuan who had to live by train schedules, I was not able to take full advantage of it.
9) Songshan Airport. Most airports are on the outskirts of cities, or way outside the city. Not Songshan. It is not in the center of the Taipei basin, but it is surprisingly close. I generally do not care for air travel, but one of the exceptions is flying in or out of Songshan airport. You can really see how Taipei is a dense built-up metropolis in a bowl, with a ring of green mountains serving as the lip of the bowl. As the aircraft approaches Taipei, all of the buildings become closer and closer, and more and more landmarks become identifiable. And then the aircraft plunges straight down into the heart of the city with two million residents (yep, Taipei has a bigger population than any city in the United States except New York and Los Angeles). (I suspect that San Jose airport may be similar since it is close to downtown San Jose, but since I have never flown into/out of San Jose, I’m not sure). You can see what it looks like in this video.
So there you have it. I probably will never write a fictional story set in Taipei, but this gives you all an idea of which impressions of Taipei have stayed with me all of these years.