Friday, March 18, 2011

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Tataocheng 大稻埕, the old Taipei

3/18/2011 Taiwan Explorer

Tataocheng 大稻埕 (hanyu pinyin: Dàdàochéng) is together with Wanhua one of the two oldest parts of Taipei. Today it covers a small area in the southern part of Datong district (check my modern map of Datong). The beginnings of the area date back to the mid 19th century, when more and more people settled here and trade with tea flourished. The Han Chinese settlers called this part Twatiutia, the Japanese (1895-1945) called it Daitotei (source). After 1945 Tataocheng still prospered, but at the end of the 20th century other parts of Taipei replaced the once so vibrant trade district, which fell into decay. It's only in recent years, that the old buildings are carefully renovated and whole area revitalized and attracting more and more foreign and local visitors. The heart of the area is the old Dihua Street.

There's a great article on the history of Tataocheng on and I liked the part, that briefly sums up what Tataocheng meant for Taipei. It's described as "cradle of the Taiwan New Culture Movement during the Japanese colonial rule (1895-1945), the first theatre built in Taipei, the most famous tea trade center, the first foreign trade street…" Read more about the history here>>

Here's an old map of Taipei, that shows the old parts very well (from 1945):

Old Taipei Map
Click on map to get to a bigger map and the source (Princeton Edu.)

I wanted to visit Tataocheng for a long time, I was especially interested to see the famous Dihua street, that still retains Japanese colonial architecture. And because we finally had some warmer weather yesterday, I headed up to the Zhongshan MRT station and walked west. 5 minutes of walk and I found myself in Tataocheng. Let me show you what I saw:

The famous Chien Cheng Circle. Read more here>>

Fazhu Temple Taipei
This tall temple caught my eye and I found out it's called Fazhu temple 法主宮 and it has a lot of history. Another excerpt from the article on Tataocheng on explains the story behind the interesting structure:

"According to the book The Chinese City Between Two Worlds, edited by Mark Elvin and G. William Skinner, when the Japanese government was redesigning Taipei city, it wanted to tear the temple down because it blocked the path of a road. It was said that just before demolition a Taiwanese man came to take the god out of the temple, and his nose started to bleed. Later a Japanese official decided to do it, and his nose started to bleed too. Then the Japanese policemen came to tear the temple down, but as soon as they climbed up ladders to start work, they fell off. In the end, the temple was left standing; only its back wall was removed to make way for the road.

The Taipei City Government tore down the back of the temple in 1968 and in 1996 the temple was renovated and turned into a narrowly-shaped five-story building with a modern lift, a very rare device in Taiwan’s temples. Opposite the temple was the Tien Ma Tea Room, the venue where the February 28 Incident broke out. The tea room was torn down at the end of 2005."

Walking further, I finally reached the famous Dihua street.

Some say it's the oldest street in Taipei.

The street is very long and partly renovated and very lively, but partly in decay.

On the very southern part is a covered market and a food area with many people.

This part was probably renovated in the recent years.

Walking further up.

The street becomes narrower, many repair shops here.

Old colonial Japanese architecture can be found here on every corner.

The paving is new and this part is very clean and interesting.

This is the northern part of Dihua street. I didn't go further.

The whole area in and around Dihua street has a strong smell of mushrooms.

On the other side of the wall is the Danshui river.

More shops that sell spices. The smells around Dihua are the strongest in all of Taipei.

Then I came to a small parl with an interesting statue dedicated to writer and songwriter Lee Lin-chiu 李臨秋. In 1933 he wrote the most popular song of his times, named "Longing for the Spring Breeze", it's sung in Hokkien (all info is taken from the information in the park). I really love the lyrics and the melody of this song, I've embedded a version for you. If you're sad, it'll make you even more sad, the tune really goes under your skin, even if you don't understand the lyrics.

"Longing for the Spring Breeze 望春風", 1933, Singer unknown.

Walking further, I arrived at another temple and I had to check it out.

There are many hawkers in the area and mostly locals enjoy the delicacies.

I found out that the temple is named Ci Sheng. More about it soon to come.

There is a Presbyterian church close to the temple. More photos here>>

Walking further west you will see wider roads and newer buildings.

This is one of my favorite buildings in Tataocheng. It's new, but it incorporates the 20th century colonial Japanese architecture. It's definitely a landmark here, but it also marks the end of the old Tataocheng and the beginning of new Datong.

On the right is the ever present Shin Kong Life Tower.

I walked around 45min in this area with many stops and pretty much aimlessly. I knew that walking west will bring me close to the Danshui river and walking east close to the red MRT line. If you want to visit Tataocheng, start your journey at Zhongshan MRT Station and end it at Minquan West Road MRT Station. I went further up north to the Confucian and Bao An Temple, which took me another 30min from the spot seen on the last photo. Datong district is very small and it is able to see most of it in few hours. But be ready for all kinds of smells (I'm talking about spices here) and many not so clean parts (a lot of buildings are nearly in ruins). Tataocheng is definitely worth a visit, if you're a die hard Taipei fan like me. And it's good to know a little bit of history, before you lose yourself in the maze of small and big lanes.

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