Story of the Month - January 2017

Story of the Month - January 2017


Christmas/New Year Holiday Trip to Taiwan


By Jiageng ZHU


Happy New Year of 2017! Some of our team members launched their short-haul trips around the Christmas/New Year and Chinese New Year holidays. So our January and February “Story of the Month” sessions will provide a platform to share some of the travel experiences, first of my trip to Taiwan, followed by Elton’s journey around the Seto Inland Sea, Japan. Hope you will enjoy our “limited-time travel blog”!


Taiwan with its unique political status struggles on the international stage but it has also benefitted from its historical ties with Mainland China, Japan, and also the United States, the three largest economies in the world today. While the Chinese and Japanese influences are probably very obvious to many people, the long-established alliance between the US and the government in Taiwan should not be overlooked as well. The US had been the largest trade partner of Taiwan for decades until the early 2000s when Mainland China replaced US’s leading role in trading with Taiwan[i]. This robust relationship has also been well reflected in the business scene of the island, especially its capital city, Taipei.


As I recently returned from New York City, I deliberately made stops at some NYC-based restaurants – a pretend-to-be-in-New-York pilgrimage – that have opened their branches in Taipei, including Sarabeth’s, a popular chain famous for its brunch and dessert, and the very trendy Totto Ramen favored by a lot of New Yorkers. It’s not difficult at all to spend an entire week’s dinner time at different restaurants with American origins. I guess it would be even easier if you feel like experiencing some authentic Tokyo gastronomy in Taipei.


Amidst this tide of globalization, it’s also noticeable that there are still a lot of places that have not yet been dragged into this storm. I decided to visit a large block of early postwar-period residential housing that seems to be now on the periphery of the capital city and cannot be reached by metro, called South Airport Residences, after seeing the handsome design of the buildings there during their early days in the book “Planning in Taipei after WWII[ii]. Today, the exteriors with those signature spiral staircases, although still there, are physically dilapidated (Figure 1). But the neighborhood nevertheless seems to remain socially vigorous as intimate interactions among residents can be spotted here and there in the local market[iii].  The sweet egg soup with taro balls I had there (Figure 2) was the best I’ve ever tasted in my life and cost me only about 15 HK dollars (again, gastronomic tourism). However, the renewal of this residential area is now being discussed with the city’s Urban Regeneration Office (URO), and the future of this vibrant neighborhood is bound to face some uncertainties[iv].


That same evening, coincidentally, I encountered this URO advertisement (Figure 3) promoting the city government’s efforts of urban renewal, which says “urban renewal, the way Taipei must go: renewal will make it even better”. The Ad puts a worn-out toothbrush and a brand new one together to make a tricky metaphor of deprived and renewed neighborhoods I guess, although it is a very questionable and laughable comparison. It only makes me realize that there are many things in life you don’t simply throw away and get a new one even when they seem to be dilapidated.


fig1 Jan

Figure 1 - Exterior spiral stairs of South Airport Residences then and now (source: top – book “planning in Taipei after WWII”; bottom – author) 


fig2 Jan

Figure 2 - Sweet fermented rice and egg soup with taro balls from a local sweet soup shop, 八棟圓仔湯 (source: author)


fig3 Jan

Figure 3. URO advertisement (source: author)




[i] Data can be retrieved from the website of Taiwan’s Bureau of Foreign Trade:

[ii] 林秀灃、高名孝主編(2015),《計劃城事:戰後台北都市發展歷程》,田園城市:台北

[iii] More details about the history and recent development of the South Airport area have been researched in the Master Thesis (May 2014) of Wu, Po-Wei from the Graduate Institute of Building and Planning of National Taiwan University, titled “Urban bricolage of grassroots tactics in modernist housing projects – reinterpreting the socio-spatial role of street market in the South Airport public housing clusters” (in Chinese).

[iv]  More details can be found on URO’s website (in Chinese):



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