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Monday, October 3, 2011

Carp fishing downtown

Like most industrialized countries, Taiwan isn't immune from the phenomenon of suburbanization. Few places on this island more clearly demonstrate the effects of car ownership and large shopping malls/hypermarkets than the old downtown area of central T'aichung (Tái​zhōng) 台中. With each visit I make there, the decay just seems to get worse and worse. While it's true downtown T'aichung lacks the menace of inner-city urban America, the shuttered storefronts, seedy fleabag hotels and おばさん prostitutes do make for a depressing walkabout. The T'aichung area's resident Southeast Asian population tries its best to bring some vitality to the district on the weekends, but their presence only serves to keep away many Taiwanese. It's a shame because the central part of T'aichung still contains a number of old buildings dating from the Japanese period. This might be one case where turning the area into a bland, homogenized Taiwanese "old town" might be the only way left to save it...




...if it isn't too late, that is.

Honto ほんと, a bakery specializing in red bean bread (shōzu pan) 小豆パン. The Chinese reads "Hungtou mienpao" (Hóngdòu miànbāo) 紅豆麵包, which means the same thing. We had lunch at a Japanese restaurant just a few doors down from this place. Most Japanese cuisine in Taiwan is fairly bland and uninteresting, but the stuff we had today was downright awful - oily fried rice, tasteless sushi 寿司, half-frozen sashimi 刺身, and overcooked tempura 天ぷら were the chief culprits, all of which were brought to our table by a surly middle-aged waitress. My wife said that the restaurant is a popular establishment known among T'aichung residents for its tasty dishes, which probably just proves that many people here know virtually diddly-squat about good 日本料理. Perhaps this establishment-that-shall-remain-nameless is representative of the decline of downtown T'aichung, where, not coincidentally, I came across these signs while walking among the decay:

An upscale-looking restaurant just opposite T'aichung Park (Tái​zhōng gōng​yuán) 台中公園. Pay no mind to the middle-aged hookers hanging around in front.




Proud of the taste (aji jiman) 味自慢 of their oden おでん, but closed for the day (or at least the afternoon)

This last picture was snapped through the rain-streaked rear window of the car which we were being driven around in. Castella カステラ is a Japanese sponge cake introduced into that country by the Portuguese in the 16th century (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castella). In Japan, the cake is most closely associated with the city of Nagasaki 長崎, hence the name on the sign (the crane appears to be a ripoff reworking of the Japan Airlines 日本航空 logo - http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3f/Japan_Airlines_logo.svg). I remember reading a delusional article in Compass Magazine (are there any that aren't?) a couple of years ago that listed castella as a "unique local food" (http://www.taiwanfun.com/central/taichung/articles/0912/0912TaichungTop10Souvenirs.htm).

Sitting inside the above-mentioned Japanese restaurant. I'm probably smiling because a.) the meal was finally over; and b.) I didn't have to pay for it.

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