Taipei’s East District Where the Art of Shopping Is Serious Business

By Rick Charette

“Shopping Central” in the city of Taipei is the East District. While the Ximending district on the far west side is youth-shopper mecca, the posh and sprawling East District caters to the dedicated shoppers of the white-collar legion who have plenty of disposable income and who consider a shopping outing a great treat rather than a burdensome chore.

The fun of wanderings along the lanes and alleys either side of Zhongxiao East Road, Sec. 4 comes from the serendipity. The East District brims with chic shops and boutiques, today competing with aesthetically pleasing facades vying for your attention. I especially like Lane 205, Alley 29, known informally as “Handicrafts Alley” because of the numerous places creating handiworks found nowhere else.

Many of the island’s pop stars come to Wufenpu
in the hunt for a unique look 



I came?to Taiwan over 20 years ago, just shy of my 27th birthday, making me instantly “over-qualified” for Ximending. I thus can offer you only limited expertise as a Ximending shopping guide. However, my expertise on Taipei east-side shopping, despite the fact I am a sports-loving male, is impressive and of great value to you.
This situation has arisen because of four of the most important ladies in my life – wife, mom-in-law, and wife’s two sisters – whom I call the “four musketeers” of local shopping and who are among Taiwan’s finest citizens. To them, there is no time better spent than that spent on group shopping forays, and the best times of all are spent in the East District. I am often volunteered to come along, as driver and as muscle as the purchases add up, my payment a free meal in one of the area’s countless attractive eateries. Over the years my? database of east-end shopping knowledge has been steadily and relentlessly built up, and I here volunteer to serve as your East District shopping guide over the next few pages.



It all started with the Pacific SOGO Department Store, just east of the Fuxing/Zhongxiao road intersection. Fuxing North/South Road is, roughly, the western boundary of the East District. Opened in 1987, the gleaming-white building was Taiwan’s first international department store, a Taiwanese-Japanese joint venture introducing benchmark bright and sparkling-clean interiors, international brands, and pleasant “customer-is-always-right” service. At that time pleasure-shopping excursions were mostly to the Taipei Railway Station area, but Pacific SOGO launched an eastward migration, which was followed by a grand bloom of upscale retail outlets. Today, Pacific SOGO remains a favorite leisure-time rendezvous point, and the base of the shopping district on Zhongxiao East Road Sec. 4.

Just south of the Zhongxiao/Dunhua intersection is the former flagship outlet of eslite bookstore, a home-grown enterprise that is Taiwan’s leading bookstore chain. Open 24 hours a day, and housing a chic cafe, this is an iconic book-lovers’ haunt. When the store opened in 1989 (the original outlet was next door and soon moved here in search of greater space), there was an immediate redefinition of Taiwan’s bookstore world, and of its retail world in general. From that time forth large retailers catering to an ever more sophisticated public had to have the fashionable visual appeal of a boutique. Go to the Taiwan Studies and Taiwan Travel sections, where you can hunt happily for English-language gems sometimes difficult or impossible to find on shelves overseas.

Artist and entrepreneur Heinrich Wang is a renowned Taiwan figure, a successful film director who suddenly left the business to pursue glass art and whose work is now displayed in the National Palace Museum. One of the boutique galleries of his newest venture, NewChi, is across Dunhua South Road from eslite. NewChi specializes in modernistic “white China,” a traditional Chinese porcelain type favored by the royal households of the Tang and Qing dynasties. The works, which seem to glow, are exquisitely delicate, and many of the smaller pieces, notably the tea utensils, have both artistic and practical function. All works are steeped in the classical symbolism of the Chinese culture.

On Zhongxiao just east of the Zhongxiao/Dunhua intersection is the venerable Ming Yao Department Store. Though I use “venerable” here, a thorough 7-month remodelling starting in spring 2011 has given it a brand-new cosmopolitan face and personality. The fortunes of this local enterprise are soaring with the setting up of the UNIQLO Global Flagship Store on the first four floors. Taiwan youth are in love with this Japanese brand, which has a global footprint, and this has become its most profitable outlet. UNIQLO in fact caters to all, from kids to adults, offering quality casual wear; think The Gap and Benetton.

The fun of wanderings along the lanes and alleys either side of Zhongxiao East Road, Sec. 4 comes from the serendipity. The East District brims with chic shops and boutiques, today competing with aesthetically pleasing facades vying for your attention. I especially like Lane 205, Alley 29, known informally as “Handicrafts Alley” because of the numerous places creating handiworks found nowhere else.



Figure 21 is suffused with the nostalgia-inducing aroma of finely worked leather. You’ll see the owner-designer team hard at work at their stations, the display area brimming with handmade leather items themselves brimming with creative individuality. Close by, McVing is the name of both a shop and a brand, both the inspiration of a local who studied design in London; the product here is handcrafted bags that are both unique fashion statements and statements of green-living commitment. Next, AtWill is the dream-made-reality of two young designers who give life to jewelry artworks that fuse rock-and-roll, retro, and free-wheeling ornate exuberance. They craft personalized jewelry here, a service much appreciated and oft utilized by my Taiwan-family shopping pros.



Further east along Zhongxiao, 10-15 minutes on foot, you reach the new core of “Shopping Central,” in the Xinyi District. With the soaring Taipei 101 tower as its clarion beacon, it is framed by Zhongxiao East, Songren, Xinyi, and Keelung roads. Just 20-plus years ago this area was almost all open land; today it is a giant architects’ playbox, filled with big, brash, bold architectural statements, boldest of all the sky-reaching Taipei 101, not long ago the world’s tallest building.

The many giant malls and department stores here include Taipei 101 Mall, Uni-Hankyu, Bellavita, ATT 4 FUN, and four separate Shin Kong Mitsukoshi buildings that look, to me, much like a fleet of aircraft carriers lined up and headed to sea. All are international and decidedly chic and upscale. In your search for a piece of Taiwan in consumer-purchase form, I recommend Shin Kong Mitsukoshi’s tittot and Liuli Gongfang outlets. Both offer exquisite glass art heavy in local cultural themes. Tittot – surprise – is the child of Heinrich Wang, who we just met at NewChi, and Liuli Gongfang the child of Loretta Yang, a former actress. In fact, Wang was part of the original group of ex-film industry colleagues who started Liuli Gongfang, leaving in 1993.

My favorite tittot line is Wang’s emulation of the extraordinarily bright color combinations that defines Taiwan’s beautiful traditional koji pottery. I am, yes, a proud owner of a piece, a specially requested Christmas present from my wife. Loretta Yang’s fascination with dragons is on display at the Liuli Gongfang boutique, and I currently have my eye on a whimsical line of small cartoon-like dragons named “Little Singing Dragon,” “Little Ambitious Dragon,” and “Little Enlightened Dragon” (the last a reference to Confucius), that my Mom will love.

The Eslite Xinyi bookstore is another good option. This is the new flagship store, much larger than the Dunhua facility, and the Taiwan Studies and Taiwan Travel sections have markedly more English titles. Also, near the in-house cafe is a boutique displaying branded Taiwan specialty goods such as native dried mushrooms, wasabi-coated black beans, soft plum candies, dried papaya and mango, and burdock chips. You’ve maybe never heard of “burdock” before, but trust me, these chips are tasty. Finally, I strongly recommend a visit to the OTOP Taiwan outlet in Taipei 101 Mall. “OTOP” stands for “One Town, One Product,” and on display here are the best of the best specialty products from 96 localities, ranging from arts and crafts to teas and foods and on to dyed and woven clothes and items from Taiwan’s indigenous peoples.



Next, we take a short subway ride further east along Zhongxiao. Wufenpu is an amazing self-contained warren of hundreds of small open-front shops selling good/high-quality apparel and a wide range of fashion accouterments, at prices so low that dedicated local shoppers salivate. Located just a few minutes north on foot from MRT Houshanpi Station, along the exceedingly narrow lanes and alleys of this bustling night-market-style labyrinth you can buy attractive in-fashion shirts and blouses, for example, starting at just a few hundred NT$. Proof of the quality, Taipei folk will tell you, is that many of the island’s pop stars come here in the hunt for a unique look – star-spotting has thus become a bonus attraction.
This is in fact a wholesaler district, handling items sourced from all around the region, but everyone is set up to handle individual-item walk-in sales. My favorite shop, which the owner-couple tells me always grabs the attention of other foreigners passing by, is “Yang Jia Hand-Dyed Classic Workshop.” They sell one-of-a-kind clothing featuring the traditional designs of China’s various ethnic groups, adding practical modern twists (such as making traditionally baggy, airy apparel more form-fitting). Over the years I’ve bought many items for family members back home in Canada, and my sister, an artist, has fitted out her three children in Yang Jia items when tots and has framed favorite selections to create a display wall in her workroom.

It’s been a long and happy day of exploration, and you are no doubt in need of a good meal and a good rest. Time, then, to move on to our Eat and Stay files.

OK shoppers, grab your credit cards and let’s get at it. There’s work to be done!

 

 

Dining in Taiwan
The Taiwan Character, in Culinary Form, on Taipei’s East Side

By Rick Charette
Our ?Feature theme this issue is “consuming in Taiwan,” and here we will be consuming via plate and palate. The East District abounds in culinary adventures, from roadside stalls to simple eateries to chic upscale restaurants. You’ll find treats from all the world’s kitchens.

In Taiwan the well-known name “Du Xiao Yue” captures the quintessence of this land and its people, and Taiwanese cuisine’s emphasis on hearty and filling fare invented during pioneering days that is built around tasty home-produced items freshly harvested from land and sea. The East District’s edition of the famed Du Xiao Yue restaurant is in the restaurant-fecund maze of alleys just south of Sec. 4, Zhongxiao E. Rd., behind Ming Yao Department Store. “Du Xiao Yue” literally means “passing the lean months.” The signature dish, “danzai” (carrying pole) noodles, was invented by a southern fishing family in the 1890s for street sale to help make ends meet during the “lean” typhoon months when seas were too dangerous. The mother restaurant is in Tainan City; this branch was opened by a fourth-generation member. The danzai noodles are made at a quaint mock-up of the original family stand, just inside the entrance. Other classic Tainan-style treasures served are shrimp rolls, fried oysters, lobster egg in vermicelli rolls, baked mullet roe, and roasted milk fish tripe.

Shinyeh is another among the elite group of Taiwanese restaurants. There’s a number of East District branches, but most thrilling is Shinyeh 101, on the 85th floor of Taipei 101. The chain offers both classic and modern Taiwanese dishes, with many seasonal variations.

Lane 216 off Sec. 4 of Zhongxiao E. Rd., and the alleys that branch off it, are home to a dense cluster of eating spots that has made this a favorite gathering point with Taipei folk. The many attractive facades have made pre-decision “window-browsing” popular. Two food-serving joints especially popular with local expatriates are Q Bar and On Tap, the latter one of Taipei’s most popular sports bars.
“Du Xiao Yue” captures the quintessence of this land
and its people, and Taiwanese cuisine’s emphasis
on hearty and filling fare

 

 

 

The Lap of Luxury
Taipei East District Accommodation
By Rick Charette
Taipei is Taiwan’s commercial and retail capital, and the East District is the city’s commercial and retail heart. It’s no surprise, then, that it sports a concentration of first-rate high-end places to stay that make your choice, though difficult, inevitably the right one.

The cluster of five-star names is impressive, among them the Far Eastern Plaza Hotel, Sherwood Taipei, Grand Hyatt Taipei, and Agora Garden. The newest face on the international block is the W Taipei, high up in a shiny new tower standing almost directly over MRT Taipei City Hall Station.

For my money, when choosing a place, Taipei’s best location is the Xinyi District around Taipei 101, because of the impressive new architecture here, the easy access to the MRT system, the area’s comfortable open spaces, and the fact there always seems to be some interesting public event going on, often outdoors. The first big international hotel in this area was the Grand Hyatt Taipei, and this remains my favorite. Space is at a premium in Taipei, including immediately outside and within its hotels, but the Grand Hyatt is on an expansive lot and was able to stretch out as well as up. There’s room to breathe here, and though other tall, big-shouldered buildings have gone up around it you still get great views of the mountains to north and south from points above the first few floors – including public spots like the outdoor pool and fitness center, for example. There’s a great range of dining and entertainment venues; the Pool Bar is especially comfy at night under the stars, the Shanghai Court overlooks a Japanese Zen park area with wood walkways forming a flower blossom, and the Bel Air Bar-Grill has French windows brushed by treetops – a rare downtown-Taipei hotel experience.

The lobby is unusually expansive and welcoming for Taipei, and when you look up you might feel, as I always do, that it’s like an old Italian village with people looking down into the central plaza from balconies. Diners look down at you while at afternoon tea. The outdoor pool area, on the rooftop over the lobby block, has so much room they’ve installed what feels like a small forest.
Many of the rooms and restaurants are showcases for the artistic visions of acclaimed international designers. The ample common-area spaces also allow wide-space art and decorative flourishes by contracted professional talent. My favorite individual piece is an oversized globe-like sphere cleverly made of rounded-off logs of Russian pine, located in the lobby near the east entrance.

 

Finding Consumer Nirvana
Five of the Island’s Most Popular Shopping Areas

By Rick Charette

Fifty-some years ago, the people of Taiwan were poor, often filling up on sweet potatoes because the rice they grew was too expensive and destined for export. The government asked them to save what money they had and to limit consumption so the nation could concentrate on exports that would build up the capital base. Today the people of Taiwan are rich, with significant disposable income jingling in their pockets and a thirst for consumer delights, and there’s seemingly no limit to the number and range of businesses popping up to meet their ever-expanding world of needs. Adding to our East District feature article, we here introduce five more of the island’s best and most popular destinations for happy shopping sprees.
Taipei’s Ximending commercial district was built up as a shopping and entertainment oasis by the Japanese when they ruled Taiwan from 1895 to 1945, and it continues in this function today, dedicated to the youth consumer. From the latest clothing fashions to Hello Kitty kitsch, and from unique local-designer jewelry to the hottest digital games to designer mobile-phone covers, it’s all found here in the dense cluster of shops. Specially recommended are the creative-design boutiques and weekend cultural-creative bazaars at The Red House, an attractive heritage complex, Japanese-built in 1908 as Taiwan’s first modern public market. Getting there: Take the MRT Bannan (Blue) Line to Ximen Station.
Located in Taipei’s Neihu District, Miramar Entertainment Park is a modern multi-level shopping and entertainment complex designed to give visitors all options needed for full-day outings. Opened in 2004, the park’s most striking and famous feature is the giant rooftop ferris wheel; there is also a carousel, which is another popular romantic rendezvous point. Among the park’s many entertainment attractions is Asia’s largest IMAX screen for commercial films. Complementing the upscale consumer items sold within, the park’s establishment has also resulted in a grand sprouting of scores of shops and boutiques in the immediate area. Getting there: Take the MRT Wenhu (Brown) Line to Jiannan Road Station.

The city of Taichung’s bustling Yizhong Street, and surrounding streets and alleys, is a place where people go to see and be seen. Lined with small shops and boutiques that have prettied themselves up to lure the streams of passersby, the street is dominated by clothing and accessories outlets targeting younger consumers, but there are also myriad small restaurants, drink and snack stands, 24H bookshops, and both shops and vendor stands hawking most every consumer bauble imaginable, from colorful glasses to jewelry and even backpacker equipment. It’s been compared to Tokyo’s Shibuya district, and rightly so. Getting there: Take a bus from Taichung Railways Station to National Taichung Institute of Technology.

Kaohsiung’s massive Dream Mall is Taiwan’s biggest shopping complex, and Asia’s sixth largest. The collection of international brands (LV, Gucci, Marks & Spencer, etc.), local and regional brands, and eating options seems endless, but the big draw here – literally drawing everyone’s attention from miles away – is the slow-turning giant ferris wheel in the rooftop amusement park, so high you see past the harbor and out to sea as well as over much surrounding countryside when taking a ride. Getting there: Take a Red 12 bus from KMRT Kaisyuan Station, or walk 15 minutes.

The Xin Jue Jiang commercial district, also rendered in English as Shinkuchan, is another major Kaohsiung tourist attraction. Focused on young and young-at-heart consumers, this retail/entertainment area is situated on Wufu 2nd Rd. and Renzhi Street. There are scores of fashion and accessories boutiques, jewelry purveyors, cosmetics sellers, and street-stand businesses dedicated to helping you define your personal style. This area has become the largest in south Taiwan for imported goods, and you’ll find the best of youth fashion from Tokyo, Paris, Milan, and Hong Kong. Getting there: Take the KMRT to Central Park Station.

English & Chinese
Dream Mall 夢時代購物中心
Miramar Entertainment Park 美麗華百樂園
Renzhi Street 仁智街
Wufu 2nd Rd. 五福二路
Ximending 西門町
Xin Jue Jiang 新掘江
Yizhong Street 一中街
danzai noodles 擔仔麵
Ming Yao Deptartment Store 明曜百貨公司
Shinyeh 欣葉
English & Chinese
Handicrafts Alley 手工巷
Heinrich Wang 王俠軍
koji pottery 交趾陶
Loretta Yang 楊惠珊
Xinyi District信義區

Pacific SOGO Dept. Store
Add: 45, Sec. 4, Zhongxiao E. Rd. (忠孝東路四段45號)
Tel: (02) 2776-5555
Website: www.sogo.com.tw (Chinese) 

eslite bookstore 
Dunnan Branch
Add: 2F, 245, Sec. 1, Dunhua S. Rd. (敦化南路一段245號2F)
Tel: (02) 2775-5977
Xinyi Branch
Add: 11, Songgao. Rd. (松高路11號)
Tel: (02) 8789-3388
Website: www.eslite.com (Chinese) 

NewChi (八方新)
Add: 1F, 5, Lane 252, Sec. 1, Dunhua S. Rd. (敦化南路一段252巷5號1樓)
Tel: (02) 8773-8369

Ming Yao Department Store/UNIQLO Global Flagship Store
Add: 200, Sec. 4, Zhongxiao E. Rd. (忠孝東路四段200號)
Tel: (02) 2777-1266 (Ming Yao), (02) 2778-3308 (UNIQLO)
Website: www.mingyao.com.tw (Chinese), www.uniqlo.com/tw (Chinese) 

Figure 21 (手工包房)
Add: 1-6, Alley 29, Lane 205, Sec. 4, Zhongxiao E. Rd. (忠孝東路4段205巷29弄1-6號)
Tel: (02) 8771-4498

McVing
Add: 5, Alley 29, Lane 205, Sec. 4, Zhongxiao E. Rd. (忠孝東路4段205巷29弄5號)
Tel: (02) 2559-6402

AtWill
Add: 7-6, Alley 29, Lane 205, Sec. 4, Zhongxiao E. Rd. (忠孝東路4段205巷29弄7-6號)
Tel: (02) 2711-4609

tittot (琉園)
Website: www.tittot.com 

Liuli Gongfang (琉璃工房)
Website: www.liuli.com.tw (Chinese) 

Yang Jia Hand-Dyed Classic Workshop (楊佳手染古典坊)
Add: 17-1, Alley 11, Lane 443, Yongji Rd. (永吉路443巷11弄17之1號)
Tel: (02) 2765-5038

Grand Hyatt Taipei (台北君悅大飯店)
Add: 2 Songshou Rd., Xinyi District, Taipei City (台北市信義區松壽路2號)
Tel: (02) 2720-1234
Website: www.grandhyatttaipei.com.tw

Du Xiao Yue (度小月) 
Add: 12, Alley 8, Lane 216, Sec. 4, Zhongxiao E. Rd., Taipei City (台北市忠孝東路四段216巷8弄12號)

Tel: (02) 2773-1244

 

Lacquerware

Lion’s Head Mountain and Beipu

Exploring the Valley of the Glowing Sky

Fruit of the Angels

Its Cake Culture

The Amazing Bamboo

Yilan’s Kumquats

Lovely Nanzhuang

The Sea of Flowers in Xinshe Festival

Healthful Eating and Delicious Flavors

The Black King Kong of Yuanchang

From Art Brush to Beauty Brush

A Strange Fruit

The Sound of Drums

Zuoying Wannian Folklore Festival

The Hot Springs of Beitou

Simakusi (Smangus)

Meinong

Water Frolics

Overnighting on the Northeast Coast

Giant Buddha, Old Temples, and Glass Art

Mt. Beidawu

The Most Joyous Thing in the World is Music

Taiwan Fun on the Tropic of Cancer

FUN WITH CHINESE - Men in the Fields during Rain

NK 101 Tea @ Style

Taitung Backpack Bus Trip

The Life of Pi

Taipei’s East District Where the Art of Shopping Is Serious Business

Spring Onion Country Yilan's Sanxing Township Offers Ideal Conditions for Cultivating Scallions

Sandy Beaches, Rocky Coastline, Quiet Country A Whirlwind Tour Round Hengchun Peninsula

What Happened at Wushe

Confucius Day

Keeping It in the Family: I Wan Jan Puppet Theater

Taiwan Has a Unique Culture

Welcoming the Year of the Rabbit and the ROC's 100 Years

All the Flowers You Can Dream Of

Music from the Marshland

Pristine Scenes

Fierce Faces

Following the Tide

A Wonderful World Out There

Off to the Beach and the Rocks

Taiwan’s Easy Rider Goes Into the Wild

HAKKA TUNG BLOSSOM FESTIVAL

Taipei Int'l Flora Expo

HIDDEN HOT SPRINGS & LANDFORMS

JOURNEY into the PAST

YOUNG, GIFTED, AND DEAF

Taiwan's Ultra Man Going Beyond Extreme

Rice by Any Other Name

Taiwan is Beautiful!

TAIPEI EYE

Slate Houses and Mud Rivers

From Fir Formosa

Touring Kaohsiung by KMART

TOURING TAIWAN

Taoyuan HSR Station

Taking Taiwan's Slow Train

Bus Trip to Central Taiwan

Establishing a Beautiful Taiwan

High Mountain Ecology

Exploring High Mountain HighsTaiwan at Her Peaks

Cultural Tourism in Taiwan:What's in It for You?

Getting to Know Taiwan's Indigenous Cultures

Leaving Stress Behind

Taiwan! "Feel Good" Country

Exploring Taiwan's Rural Side

Aboriginal Tribes & Festivals

The Famous Lantern Festival in Taiwan

Night Markets in Taiwan

Great Arts, Culinary Exhibitions and Events in Taiwan's National Palace Museum and Other Places

Mountains in Taiwan

Water Fun in Taiwan

Taiwanese Arts, Arts Festivals and Interesting Artifacts

"Taiwan's Ghost Festival and Other Religious Events"

Dragon Boat Festival

City: The Tallest Building Taipei 101 & Kaohsiung's Love River

National Scenic Area (IV)-Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area, Penghu National Scenic Area, Matsu National Scenic Area

National Scenic Area (III)-East Rift Valley National Scenic Area, East Coast National Scenic Area, Maolin National Scenic Area

National Scenic Area (II)-Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area, Alishan National Scenic Area, Southwest Coast National Scenic Area

National Scenic Area (I)-North Coast & Guanyinshan National Scenic Area, Northeast Coast National Scenic Area, Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area

Offshore Islands- Penghu、Kinmen National Park、Matzu、Green Island(Lyudao)、Orchid Island(Lanyu)

Eastern Taiwan- Taroko National Park、East Rift Valley、Rueisuei & Hongye、Jhihben

Southern Taiwan- Alishan、Tainan、Kaohsiung、Dapeng Bay & Little Liouciou、Kenting National Park

Central Taiwan- Miaoli、Taichung、Changhua、Nantou、Yushan National Park

Northern Taiwan -Taipei City、Yangmingshan & Beitou、Danshuei、Wulai、Jioufen & Jinguashih、Yilan、Taoyuan & Hsinchu