The World of Wan Hua

A district offers a centuries-old way of life in modern Taipei

By: Norman Sklarewitz

Just a short distance away from Taipei’s gleaming office skyscrapers, the rush of traffic and the dynamic pace of modern Taiwanese commercial life, time essentially stands still. It happens in the Wan Hua District (pronounced “Whan Wah”). Almost a city within a city, the district spreads some 318 acres and has a population of nearly 200,000.

But more than its size, the Wan Hua is distinguished by its history, traditions and the distinctive role it plays in an otherwise totally modern Taipei.

For the foreign visitor in particular, it is the essence of a rich Taiwanese culture that goes back some 300 years, and an even older Chinese way of life comes alive. Clients will find busy streets which, in appearance, are per-haps not much different from those in other parts of the city. But off these thoroughfares sits a myriad of narrow lanes and side streets, crowded with the tiny shops of merchants, open-air tan tsu food stalls and carts, where locals crowd to savor noodles, steamed pork buns or breakfast congee. Here, too, is the world of fortune tellers, artisans and craftsmen.

To explore this bustling community, your clients need only a stout pair of shoes, a curiosity about people and a sense of being part of another time and place, if just for an afternoon.

Shop-Lined Streets

Chingtsao (Green Herb) Lane is just one of these places of discovery. Here, fresh herbs of every description are proffered by merchants, whose families for generations have specialized in their sale.

These products are the makings of traditional Chinese medicines, but their mixing is the specialty of others. Such shops are nearby, and their potions, powders and elixirs are stored neatly in labeled jars and bottles.

Steps away is the open-air shop Hoyu where clients will find bundles of incense sticks on sale along with yellow paper lotus flowers, which are burned to honor the dead.

Cut across the street and duck into the Shi Shan Shuei the West Three Water market. Here, dozens of shops jam the narrow walkway under the cov-ered arcade, selling fresh fruits, vegetables, jewelry, yard goods, clothing, fresh flowers, bags of rice and grain, along with fresh meat and poultry.

“If you want fresh fish, pork and chicken, it’s best to come to such a place,” said one Wan Hua resident. “This is not like a supermarket where things are frozen and more expensive.”

The emphasis is definitely on fresh. While on a recent trip, I saw a local woman pick a live rooster from wire cages under the counter. After a deft whack of a cleaver, the bird was ready to be taken home for supper.

If your clients have a skirt that needs shortening or a jacket to be mended, in this bustling market, women skilled in such work sit behind their sewing machines ready to accommodate alteration needs.

Artistry can also be found in between the produce and the housewares. On display in the Lung Hi porcelain shop waits a variety of bowls, tea pots, plates, vases and other containers. Not the products of mass-produced molds, these items come from the hands of the owner-potter.

On another street, embroidery, traditionally a homemaker’s skill, is a lively commercial enterprise.

Night Market

If many of the tiny alleys and lanes of the Wan Hua are waiting to be discovered, the same can’t be said of the two-block-long Huahsi Street, known popularly as the Night Market. Tour buses and bands of foreign and domestic tourists converge on the covered street each evening as this is among the most popular and well-known tourist attractions in Taipei.

Between Kuangchou and Kueiyang streets, Huahsi’s dozens of shops, restaurants, food stalls and carts come alive as locals converge on the area.

Clients might also find shops that sell live snakes still favored by some Taiwanese as a delicacy. While only a few outlets are here, they long ago caused Huahsi Street to be nicknamed “Snake Alley.”

Taipei’s Temples

Of considerably more significance, Wan Hua is home to some of Taipei’s most important religious centers.

The largest and probably most well-known of these is the Lungshan Temple in the heart of the Wan Hua district. Lungshan means Dragon Mountain and is regarded as one of Taiwan’s finest examples of temple design.

Other temples include the Chingshan Temple, and in the district’s northeast corner, the Chingshui Temple. Visitors are always welcome, and for the most part, are free to photograph all activities.

While thousands of faithful as well as foreigners visit Lungshan each day, the other smaller temples within Wan Hau have their own distinctive look.

The Chingshan Kung Temple on Hsiyuan Road, for example, is a Taoist place of worship. Its exterior is ornately decorated with yellow-and-red paper lanterns. Near the rear of the little temple are niches where panoply of gods is enshrined some with fierce countenances, others benign. The gods look after one’s longevity, good health, reward good behavior and assist with personal problems.

That humanistic and practical bent, even in religious terms, has to be viewed as a typical Wan Hua touch.

Taiwan Tourism Bureau