Life

“Polyphonic” Taipei

  If you want to understand the cultural genes, life tone, personality and style of a place at the bottom, you can get some clues from its historical changes and experience, from its various businesses and daily life dynamics. Taipei can be said to be a young city. It was established as a city in 1920, and it has been 103 years since then; it was established in 1884, and it has been 139 years since then; The opening of Datong District in Taipei City has a history of only about 300 years. It’s not that hard to get a glimpse of Taipei, is it? Because it is a young city!
  oh! no no! I suddenly came to my senses and told myself that Taipei is also an old and complex city full of “polyphony”.
  The so-called “polyphony” is a philosophical concept coined by the Russian scholar Bakhtin. It may be said that the basic core spirit of polyphony is diversity and tolerance. Isn’t it? From Taipei’s historical shaping background and cultural process, we can see that it coincides with this “polyphony”.
  During the Qing Dynasty, Mengka outside the west gate of Taipei City, together with Taipei Fucheng and Dadaocheng, was called “Three Market Street”, and it was the most important trading port in northern Taiwan.
  In 1709, Mengka was first developed. Mengka, which is next to the Tamsui River, flourished for a while with its wharf freight. The first people to come here were immigrants from Jinjiang, Nan’an, and Hui’an counties in Quanzhou Prefecture, Fujian Province, collectively known as Sanyi people. They came across the sea, and they were almost the “overlords” of the Mengka area, controlling most of the trade and local resources. The Tongan people in Quanzhou Prefecture, Fujian Province are latecomers. For the right to berth at the Mengka Wharf, in 1853, there was a large-scale immigration fight between the Tongan people and the Sanyi people.
  The history of this fight with weapons is called “fighting at the top and the suburbs”. The “Dingjiao” were people from Sanyi, who lived in Mengka, which had a superior geographical location at that time; The Tong’an people were defeated and had to move to Dadaocheng. Mengka and Dadaocheng face each other on both sides of the Tamsui River.
  But Tong’an people got a blessing in disguise in the future. In 1858, during the Second Opium War, the Qing Dynasty was forced to open the Danshui area, and Mengka gradually became silted up and eventually became an abandoned port. Dadaocheng replaced Mengka and became the most prosperous material distribution center in Taipei, with tea and cloth trading as the mainstay. . It is said that when foreigners came to Taiwan, the first thing they saw was Mengka, which was still thriving at that time. Unfortunately, the people of Sanyi had always been conservative and xenophobic, and several big families jointly protested its opening. Coupled with changes in geographical conditions, the beauty of the tea trade fell on the people of Tong’an.

Dadaocheng port in 1895. At that time, Dadaocheng gradually replaced Mengka and became the most prosperous trading place in Taipei.

Dadaocheng Dihua Street is full of various shops.

On January 17, 2023, near the Spring Festival, people go shopping in the traditional market on Dihua Street.

  In addition to business, Dadaocheng’s entertainment and cultural activities also developed rapidly, and it became a place where people gather for a while. The former residence of Li Linqiu, Geyao Lane, Lane 46, Dihua Street, is the birthplace of Taiwanese folk songs “Wang Chunfeng” and “Four Seasons Red” during the Japanese occupation in the 1930s. Both ballads were written by Li Linqiu and composed by Deng Yuxian, which caused a sensation when they first came out. Later, singers Teresa Teng, Qi Qin, etc. re-interpreted the old songs, giving them another flavor.
  What does the “polyphony” of this period of history represent? Isn’t it just the difference and symbiosis between Tong’an people and Sanyi people in language, geography, ethnic group, belief, commercial interests, etc.? At first glance, the ethnic groups of the Sanyi people and the Tong’an people seem dissonant, but in the process of interaction, they also show a common and strong self-awareness.
  When the two factions were fighting fiercely, Zheng Yongxi wrote an article “On Persuading Peace” for the fighting. “Persuading Harmony” stated clearly at the beginning: “What’s more, the change of people’s hearts! It starts from the classification.” It means that the conflicts occurred because the concept of ethnic groups was too strong, and it was necessary to distinguish between Fujianese, Cantonese, Zhangzhou people, and Zhangzhou people. Quanzhou people, or Sanyi people, Tong’an people. Zheng Yongxi said that we were displaced from the mainland and separated from each other, and we will die together in the end. He sadly appealed to everyone to uphold the ancient motto of “all men are brothers” and not to harm each other.
  Zheng Yongxi, who has the reputation of “opening Jinshi”, is eye-catching in every move. The article “On Persuading Peace” played a considerable role in enlightening people. Once it was spread, people were ashamed to fight with each other at every turn. In the future, although there were still small conflicts between the Sanyi people and the Tongan people, basically there was no problem between Mengka and Dadaocheng, and they developed their own business activities. The “polyphony” of diversity and tolerance was thus formed.
  In 1920, the Government Office of Japan, which invaded and colonized Taiwan, implemented an administrative regional restructuring, and the administrative name “Dadaocheng” was officially abolished. Therefore, it is difficult to strictly define the boundary of Dadaocheng. Generally speaking, it is south of Minquan West Road, north of Chang’an West Road, east of Chengde Road, and west of Danshui River.
  But Dadaocheng’s folk name has never disappeared. Today, the most eye-catching place in Dadaocheng is undoubtedly the area around Dihua Street.
  The entire Dihua Street is lined with north and south grocery stores, bird’s nest shops, ginseng shops, cake shops, cloth shops, tea shops, costume shops, tea and ice shops, coffee shops, gourmet restaurants… It is full of Chinese and foreign, old and new, Rich elements such as tradition and modernity. But in general, Dadaocheng Dihua Street is still a traditional conservative area in Taipei. So there are plenty of anecdotes to tell.
  For example, the “Lianhua” store at No. 148, Section 1 of Dihua Street has a Western Renaissance-style archway, but it sells grains, beans, seaweed and other north-south goods, mixed with Chinese and foreign, forming an interesting contrast. At present, it is converted into the company’s office, and the factory building is located in Linkou.
  This well-known Lianhua Food Qijiacuo (in Hokkien, the first house that started a business) was originally the mansion of Li Chunsheng, a wealthy businessman in Dadaocheng, and was later resold to Lianhua. Li Chunsheng is a well-known legend in Dadaocheng. He was born in Xiamen, Fujian Province in 1838. He became the treasurer of the British merchant Yee Kee Foreign Firm at the age of 20. He worked in the foreign firm for a long time and had frequent contact with church people, so he could speak fluent English. Later, Li Chunsheng went to Taiwan to do business with Mr. Du De of Baoshun International Co., Ltd., and engaged in the export of tea and camphor. With a unique vision, he imported tea varieties from Anxi, Fujian, cultivated and managed the tea industry by himself, and sold Taiwanese oolong tea to Europe and the United States in 1869. During the Japanese occupation period, he ranked second in assets in the Taipei area, so he was called “the father of Taiwan’s tea industry”.

  Another “Guo Yimei Firm” on Dihua Street, the combination of ancient and innovative elements presented or implied is also amazing. This is a baroque-style three-story red brick old-fashioned building. The owner is a wealthy businessman Guo Wulong, who is engaged in the wholesale business of seafood, miscellaneous grains, and Chinese medicinal materials. Later generations reluctantly sold the old store due to poor management. Today, decades later, Guo Chongxing, the grandson of Guo Wulong, returned to this place and leased it to open a composite bookstore to continue the life of this old house full of stories. Beside the stairs leading to the second and third floors, the bricks and tiles used in the construction of Guo’s house are displayed, making the stairwell seem like a space-time tunnel connecting the old and new spaces. “Guo Yimei Firm” had correspondence with the “Tai Yi” founded by Chen Guoliang, a Jinmen man, in Nagasaki, Japan. Weaving into the beautiful history of Dadaocheng in Taipei.

Elephant Mountain Trail climbing entrance.

The six boulders of Xiangshan Mountain are the best place to overlook the Taipei 101 building. (Huang Kequan/photo)

  In contrast, the World Trade Center and Taipei 101 located on the east side of Taipei belong to the modern innovation zone. For example, in an exhibition held at the World Trade Center in December 2022, there will be cos-show awards on site, including role-playing of various films, comics, video games, light novels, puppet shows, and puppet shows. This is a commercial and subcultural activity that integrates costumes, make-up and performances. The exhibition hall was crowded with people, all kinds of animation characters were dressed up, full of vitality like a carnival of the new generation.
  On this day, my wife and I passed by the World Trade Center next to Building 101, just as the exhibition was over, and we could see cosplayers in weird costumes everywhere. There was a little girl dressed up as the protagonist of the anime “Re: Zero -Starting Life in Another World”–a half-elven silver-haired beautiful girl Emilia, standing at the entrance of the subway elevator. On the side, Su Huanhuan, the protagonist of Taiwan’s local puppet show “Thunderbolt Golden Light”, happened to be sideways against the wall. A little further back, the Rakshasa from “X-Men” is wearing a yellow and green belted bodysuit, looking sharply at passers-by.
  ”They show it to others, and others watch them,” I said to my wife.
  ”The Rakshasa woman and Su are really good, the comparison is a bit weird.” My wife asked with a smile, “Is this also a kind of ‘polyphony’ spirit?”
  No! The weirdness is also one of the elements of the “polyphony” spirit, which is a dialogue with the secular and rigid reality. We cannot underestimate this subculture of the new generation!
  Take the MRT one stop from Building 101, and then walk for a while, and you will arrive at the entrance of the Xiangshan Trail. Elephant Mountain is named for its resemblance to an elephant. Although it is less than 200 meters above sea level, it is rarely close to the city center and has a wide view. It is a popular check-in place for citizens and tourists. My wife and I walked stop and go, climbed for half an hour, and finally arrived at the six boulders. Standing on the six boulders, you can have a panoramic view of the city of Taipei, and the 101 building stands “straightly” in front of you. Especially during the Spring Festival, many people come here to enjoy the New Year’s fireworks, and there are often long queues in front of the six boulders.
  In Xiangshan, it is easy to spot foreigners. English, French, Japanese, Spanish, Vietnamese, Malay… Various languages ​​come and go. We saw a couple in front of the taller boulder in the rear. The boy was blond and blue-eyed, and the girl was as tall as her boyfriend. Interestingly, the boy spoke stuttering Chinese, obviously imitating a Taiwanese accent, while the girl spoke broken English, and the two were talking about a strange love affair in a different city.
  According to their origins, about 70% of Taipei’s population is foreigners, mainly from Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli in northern Taiwan, and central and southern Taiwan. From what I have heard, heard, and experienced from my own experience, foreigners always consider it something to be proud of when they come to live in Taipei.
  But let’s not forget the song “Lukang Town” sung by Luo Dayou. As early as 1982, he had already uttered the roar “Taipei is not my home”! This song touched many hearts. This duality and paradox of “proudly living in Taipei” and “disagreeing with Taipei” can also be attributed to the expression of “polyphony”. In Luo Dayou’s “Lugang Town”, there is an implicit criticism of modern urban civilization, but the likes and dislikes, acceptance and sublation of civilization are ultimately a multi-part remix.
  In recent years, the number of immigrants from Taipei has exceeded the number of immigrants. From 2019 to 2022, a total of 180,000 residents have been reduced in three years. Prices in Taipei remain high, life is not easy, and various factors such as the improvement of the surrounding urban transportation system have undoubtedly accelerated the speed of this population migration.
  Virtual animation characters alternate with real characters, Chinese and foreign characters alternate, traditional characters alternate with modern characters, the crowds in Taipei are constantly flowing, and different characters and their encounters, lives, fates, interactions, etc. converge into a unified whole. Taipei is really a multi-part remix!

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