Thursday, July 16, 2009

Back streets of Dongqu (東區), Taipei

Essentially built from the ground up in the 1970s, Taipei's "East District" (Dongqu - 東區) remains the city's premiere dining, shopping, and nightlife mecca. While its bustling main avenue, Zhongxiao East Road (忠孝東路), is home to its major restaurants and department stores, some of Taipei's best city life is to be found in the district's little side streets and alleyways.

In terms of scale and pace, these streets feel worlds removed from Zhongxiao E. Road. Though packed with shops and businesses, life move a bit more slowly here. Taipei often lays claim to being the most relaxed of Asia's Chinese-speaking metropolises, and nowhere is that more evident than here. At nightfall, once the brutal heat of day disappears, the streets begin to fill with a steady stream of beautiful Taiwanese flâneurs lasting deep into the night.

The neighborhood is home to an incredibly varied retail mix that includes boutiques, restaurants, tea houses, bars, and lounges of all price levels, not to mention the city's ubiquitous food carts. Equally impressive is the proximity and coexistence of multinational mega-retailers and cheap roadside stalls, as pictured above.

Coming from a Western city-dweller's perspective, it might seem amazing that the area has any street-level vibrancy at all. Off of the major avenues, there are just about no sidewalks - narrow streets are shared by cars, scooters, bikes, and pedestrians. It takes sharing the road to a whole new level. But somehow, it all just comes together perfectly. It's hard to find downtown city neighborhoods that feel as lived-in and intimate as these do.

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