Travel with me #118 : Ximending (西門町), Taipei!
Dear Steemit Friends:
I am back to writing and I have missed you all! I have been doing some exciting things for the last month, which I am excited to share with you in the future, but for now it's top secret! You may try to guess what I've been doing but I will be revealing nothing until the right time. I like to build your anticipations!
In today's blog I present to you a local view of Ximending which is an area of the Wanhua District in Taipei in Taiwan! Ximending is an important area in Taiwan's capital because it serves as a central source for fashion, culture and social activities. Most of the little area in the middle of the city is pedestrian, the first pedestrian only zone in the entire country. This makes it an amazing place to spend many hours, strolling around at your own pace with all of the other fashion lovers.
Ximending neighbourhood has a heavy influence on the youth and pop culture of the capital. It blends Taiwan's fashion in with other cultures from Japan and also the west. It has thousands of shops, stalls and food outlets, making it a great place to spend the entire day just soaking up the atmosphere of modern Taipei. It also boasts twenty theatres which are very popular, making it not just a centre of pop culture, but creative culture too.
We will explore all this charming shopping district has to offer from theatres to markets to shopping to art and of course, to food. Are you ready to start exploring with me? Let's go!
Ximending Red House Theater, a Japanese relic
So famous for its theatres, the most iconic is the Red House Theater which was built in 1908 to serve as a market place during the rule of the Japanese. In 1945 its use changed to become a theater and it soon became one of the most popular, and visually impressive. It is classed as an important historical site and for many, it's the heart of Ximending, representing all things artistic and cultural and providing a beautiful focal point to the large central square.
Surrounding the Theater you find a stark contrast between its age and the modern age. As soon as you turn around from the old red bricks you are met by concrete, high rise buildings and advertising. I love the mix of old and new. Red House Theater or Ximen Red House as it is sometimes known, was the heart of bustling commercialism in the area during the Japanese rule and then the heart of culture being used as an opera house and movie theatre. It's a great metaphor for Ximending which itself has seen ups and downs, re-purposing and rejuvenating.
Once the centre for theatre goers and shoppers, the area lost much of its popularity in the 90s. In a clever move, the city pedestrianised the area, causing millions to flock back to the area and enjoy the more relaxed shopping atmosphere. Taking advantage of the pedestrianisation and increased popularity, market stalls and food vendors scatter every available space in Ximending meaning you can find anything you could ever want to buy and eat.
Street art and pop culture from the youth of Taipei!
Many of the open concrete surfaces of the modern buildings have been heavily painted, some legally, some not. But all of the art found in Ximending has its own form of beauty. It represents the hopes, dreams, frustrations, interested and lives of the young people that live here.
On many buildings, nearly every surface possible is covered in paint.
I loved how the artist here had covered the pillars of the building with natural motifs like the tree trunks. In a place where there is very little greenery, they bring their own.
The streets and shops of Ximending
Apparently there are more than three million visitors to the shopping district every single month. Retail certainly sits at the forefront of the appeal for most of these visitors who come for the hundreds of different designer shops and fashion outlets.
The focus is very much on the young with shops vying for who has the best and most attractive shop front. They range from grungy to modern to futuristic, but what they all have in common is that they are all stylish! The crazy neon shapes of Debrand caught my eye and of course I ended up buying something too.
Now that's some crazy advertising on the back of a bus! The strangest I've ever seen. Certainly made me stop and look at it when I thought a girl was climbing onto the bus!
Art is everywhere here in Ximending. Not only is the fashion a change for people to express their culture and their creativity, so too are the walls. This spray painting of Michael Jordan reminded my very much of the famous graffiti artist Banksy... does he also work in Taiwan?
Life in Ximending starts early!
If you've read my blog long enough you'll know that I love a good night market. I don't know if you've ever been to an area that has night markets, but usually in the day they are quite quiet and a little eerie without the hustle and bustle of the expected market stalls. Ximending is amazing at night, but it is almost as busy in the day! I was up early and ready to explore and I was amazed at how many shoppers there were here already. Perhaps it's just a 24 hour shopping festival!
There were loads of market stalls set up everywhere and I realised that many people were also visiting the area for breakfast, not just for dinner at the night market! I'll call it the Taipei Breakfast Market.
Life in Ximending stays up late...
What shopping district would be complete without a night market? Ximending is known as the Harajuku of Taipei, and that becomes even more apparent at night. For those who don't know what Harajuku is, it is a district in Tokyo in Japan. It is synonymous with youth culture in Japan and is one of their centres of new and cutting edge fashion. Widely known as one of the centres of the Eastern and Western fashion worlds! Ximending is doing a great job at becoming a rival!
There are reportedly thousands upon thousands of shops and stalls in the district and looking at these photos again, it's not difficult to believe. Follow me now as we walk through these thousands of stalls. Most of them are fashion or food related but, as you can imagine, you can find a bit of everything here.
Though night markets are always overwhelming, they are also often extremely cramped, making it hard to see the size of them. You are more focused on squeezing past the person in front of you. But Ximending is such a large district and is so well managed, that you can see down most streets to see the sheer number of shops and stalls available. That's what made it so overwhelming!
Together now, we'll explore this market and I want you to take time over each image to see the colours, the items for sale and to soak up the atmosphere with me. They are talking better than I ever could!
Of course, what post of mine would be complete without animals! Look at these spoilt little guys. They have their own chauffeur to take them around Ximending to shop for their favourite things. I bet they picked out some new collars for themselves, some tasty doggy treats for dinner and perhaps were on the look out for a new bed to sleep on too!
Ximending isn't just a night market
Ximending doesn't just have market stalls. All of the shops stay open late too, making it a fashion shoppers paradise. You all know me, I love my clothes and my fashion and I was in absolute heaven here.
A very popular game in Taiwan and in much of Asia is the toy grabber machines. Found in every single arcade all over the world, they are a glass cabinet filled with items, usually toys. The game is, you need to use the claw located in the top of the cabinet to grab and then drop the toy into the slot where you can retrieve it! I have seen perhaps one of these in arcades in other countries, but in Asia, and particularly Taiwan, they are much loved. So as you can see here, there is a 24 hour toy grabber machine arcade with dozens of game cabinets! You could play 24 hours a day, 7 days a week if you wanted... and of course in the best colour ever too.
Not just theatres, cinemas too!
Locally, this street is known as Cinema Street and it's pretty obvious why. There were dozens of cinemas, all showing the best of Eastern and Western cinema, Anime and more obscure films too!
As you can see, the street comes alive at night when all of the bright lights of the big screens light up the street and tempt you in to watch their movies.
This IMAX cinema is absolutely huge. Which movie would you want to watch on IMAX?
Singing the night away with some Karaoke!
As many of you know who have followed my blog for the last couple of years, I love to sing and dance and express myself! Of course, that's one of the joys of blogging on Steemit in the first place, to express yourself and all your loves and passions. While exploring, near the end of the night, I saw a beautiful KTV place! I just had to go and have a go because I LOVE karaoke.
Karaoke bars are usually called KTVs in Taiwan which means 'Karaoke Television' and they are extremely popular, as they are through much of Asia. There's many different ways to take part in Karaoke, from clubs where you can take a turn on stage, to a set up in the corner of a bar, to the private booth set up.
Sorry, if you've never heard of Karaoke, let me explain. Karaoke was first developed in Japan and helps normal people like you and I, have fun, sing along to your favourite song, and feel a bit like a pop star. They play recorded music, without the usual singing, and then you sing along to the words which are printed for you to sing a long to on a TV screen. The karaoke market world wide is said to be worth $10 billion! As you can tell, it's very popular.
The first Karaoke machine was build in 1971 by Daisuke Inoue, which played music and allowed people to sing a long to the words through a microphone. Originally, the machines were in restaurants and bars, off to one side, for people to use. Over time, the more private style of entertainment started to take off where you could have a private area with your group of friends to have a good time and sing together - these are my favourite because I still get nervous if I had to sign to a room full of strangers!
What I love about Karaoke is that it is very fun and very liberating. Your first time you are very nervous to sing in front of people, even just your friends, but you are all doing it together and that makes it great fun. You can express yourself and just have a great time, usually socialising around some food and drinks, and cheering each other's performances.
Thank you for joining me on my day shopping and touring around Ximending shopping district. It's really nice sometimes to be able to just take a step back from the hectic daily life and just enjoy a day walking around town, with no real goal other than to enjoy ones self and just 'be' in that place.
I hope you could see and enjoy the area and the atmosphere. Of all of the activities of the day, I saved the best until last. As you can tell I love KTV Karaoke and I just wanted to share that love for it with you all. I hope you enjoyed learning about it if you haven't heard of it before and if you have, but haven't tried it, you must go and experience it - don't be nervous or shy and just take some good friends.
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