More than coffee, books and music - Taipei 2013 part 2

Coffee Megane

I am beginning to sound like a broken record, but the only way to begin this post is to still declare Taipei as the favourite city away from home for us amps.

In true urbanite fashion, I thought it was all because all good cities are defined by their coffee, books, and music (and art). For this trip, armed with several new recommendations from CP, we thoroughly enjoyed and admired the following old haunts and new finds:

Nineteentael performing at Witch House
  • Coffee Megane/眼鏡 A beautiful interior, quiet service, simple food made with care, in a residential area. 
  • Booday/Mogu Just off the busy Zhong Shan station is a calm but active street. On the ground floor is the shop for Mogu, the magazine publisher, and just above it is its cafe, Booday. Already into its 10th year, it still feels real and independent - and relatively unchanged since our last visit 3 years ago. Another testament to this city's staying power!  
  • Good Cho/Simple Living Pretty much the life of Si Si Nan Village, Good Cho extends its activities beyond the busy cafe to a laidback Sunday market.
  • Witch House/女巫店 Each time we visit Taipei, we make sure to spend at least 1 evening at this little cafe to listen to a Taiwanese band. Unlike the bigger venues, Witch typically features lesser known independent acts. We've caught a college band, several folk groups, and this time round, 2 bands that told great stories - Smokering and 十九兩/Nineteentael
  • Eslite. The 24-hour ZhongXiao DunHua branch seems to have expanded their film section and added a rather decent new+used vinyl collection.  As if we needed more reason to visit and revisit this bookstore.
  • White Wabbit Records Along a narrow lane off the ShiDa Street is the office and shop front of Taiwanese music label White Wabbit. If you want a one-stop shop to stock up on all genres of independent Taiwanese music, this is a good place to sample CDs and ask questions. As a return favour, we introduced them to our very own Observatory,  Concave Scream and Hanging up the Moon. 
  • 下北澤世代/Shimokitazawa Books We didn't manage to visit this bookstore as they were shut. We wrote to them and were somewhat surprised with the prompt reply explaining that they are in the midst of a move and other things of life. The personable reply only made us more curious about the store. 
But of course, what matters most are the folks behind the coffee, books and music - and whatever it is which informs their interactions with strangers like us. These stores are fronted by young Taiwanese under 40. They are knowledgeable about their work, friendly, generally helpful, and appear to take pride in what they do.

It is so easy in any city to develop an aggression and fight for the little space that you think is yours to have and own. It is easy to blame someone else for a bad day when there's so many "someone else" around you, in the packed train, in the distracted elevator, in the hurried traffic stops. It is easy to just give up, and let the force of the crowd behind and ahead of you carry you along.

So if I were a Taipei resident, I would be proud, not of my city's coffee, books or music in the first instance. Instead, I would be proud of my city's ability to protect the "priority seats" in trains and buses for the people who need it more than me - its compassion; to contain so many small creative enterprises/street hawkers/shopkeepers taking ownership of the things they make - its dedication; and to retain that air of dreamy optimism and action - its imagination. And the coffee, books and music will naturally follow.

Then again I deceive myself. There are no good cities.

J's living free 


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