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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
While thousands of faithful as well as foreigners visit Lungshan
each day, the other smaller temples within Wan Hau have their own
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
That humanistic and practical bent, even in religious terms, has
to be viewed as a typical Wan Hua touch.
Taiwan Tourism Bureau