Saturday, September 25, 2010
Ximending - Shibuya without the crowds
In T'aipei (Taihoku) 台北 this morning to take care of some personal matters, I found myself with a couple of hours on my hand before my 1:30 train back to Fengyuan (Hōgen/Toyohara) 豊原, so I headed over to Hsimenting (Seimonchō) 西門町, billed as T'aipei's answer to Harajuku 原宿 or Shibuya 渋谷 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ximending. For once, the hype was fairly accurate, as the crisscrossing streets in the area do bear a noticeable similarity to Shibuya's Center Gai 渋谷センター街 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Center_Gai.:
If you're young and Taiwanese, Hsimenting is no doubt the place to be, full of shops, boutiques and restaurants, many with a Japanese connection or theme. However, there are a couple of sightseeing attractions, as well, with the Red Pavilion Theater http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_House_Theater being the most prominent:
Dating from 1908, when it opened as a public market, the theater is now an arts center. Although there wasn't anything going on when I looked inside, the displays were evocative of days gone by. Another sight in the area is the T'ienhou Temple. Unfortunately, none of the pictures I took there turned out very well.
Compared with Shibuya, there were far fewer people out and about on this Friday around noon, though I'm sure Hsimenting becomes a sea of youthful humanity at night and on the weekends. Unsurprisingly, Japanese signs were everywhere to be seen in the area. Some were aimed at Japanese tourists, while others were attempts at looking cool in the eyes of the local youth (and some were probably a bit of both).
A short walk from Hsimenting, but worlds away in attitude (and hipness) lies Taiwan's government nerve center. The most prominent structure in this area is the Presidential Building 中華民国総統府 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presidential_Building_%28Taiwan%29, put up in 1919 to house the Japanese governors-general 台湾総督府, it still serves as the office of the head of state. This in contrast to Seoul, where the Koreans, in a fit of nationalist pique a few years ago, tore down the Japanese colonial HQ there, and replaced it with a national museum:
From the Presidential Building, it was short walk back to T'aipei Station 台北駅, and my seat on the 1:30 express train.