Ximending is one of the places I go to, here in Taipei, when I want to relax. It seems ironic if you know how the place is but I guess it’s the energy of Ximending that I like most. After all, it is the shopping haven of young Taipei locals. If you want to see Asian pop culture and the fresh creative vibe that is present in Taipei, you might as well take time to visit Ximending.
According to my friend, Ximending used to be the primary shopping capital of Taipei. However, modernization ushered in malls and the subsequent development of Xinyi area. Despite these changes, Ximending found a way to thrive and interestingly retain a youthful appeal. Its streets are mostly flocked by students especially on weekends and holidays.
How to Get to Ximending
To get to Ximending, take the MRT and get off at Ximen station. You might take a connecting trip to get to this yellow green line. As you get off the platform, go up twice via the escalators until you see the sign bearing Exit 6. This exit number takes you straight to the hustle and bustle that is uniquely Ximending.
The Red House
On your left, you would find a red brick house strikingly different from the modern buildings huddled beside it. This oddity is the Red House and it’s one of the main attractions in Ximending.
Check here for details on its history, but in a nutshell this place is a melting pot for the arts and modern creative flow that recently courses through the creative youngbloods of Taipei.
Getting inside the Red House is free so you might as well pay a visit. As you near the place, you’ll notice several tents put up within its area. It’s a bazaar of sorts, mostly catering to artsy-fartsy stuff that are interesting and also worth a look.
Inside, you can check out the history of Taipei’s film and arts culture. There are also some vintage stuff that’s been preserved. I only wish they’d have English translations of the descriptions so that non-Chinese readers would be able to know more about the stories as told by the exhibits.
But what I particularly love about the Red House is the Creative Boutique. This is where you will find an assortment of quirky shops owned by young artists here in Taipei.
If you get off at Exit 6 and decide to take on Ximending immediately, go right instead and walk straight ahead. Be prepared for a visual and auditory overload.
The thing is, there’s something about the crowds in Ximending that I actually like. It’s the same way I feel when I walk through Shilin on weekends, but Ximending just has an extra fun aura to it. Like it’s a party but instead of dancing, people walk. Maybe part of its charm with me has got to be the street performers that you’d find at certain spots as you walk along.
I’m guessing he’s rapping some funny lyrics coz the crowd chuckles every once in a while. Too bad it was in Mandarin so I can’t understand hehe.
The performances you’ll find along Ximending are varied. It may be music or circus-like performances, or street dancing. Either way, these street performers are sure to mesmerize and give you a better glimpse about the pop and arts culture of Taipei.
Interestingly, some of the street performers would turn out to be foreigners. According to my friend, these people cannot just setup and start performing on the streets. They actually have to apply for a permit to become a street performer in Taipei.
Spray Can Artist Redefines Graffiti
If you wander amongst alleyways and check out the streets of Ximending, you would most likely find lots of graffiti spread on the walls. But to me, the clear symbol if not the personification of street art in Ximending happens to be this guy.
Every time I visit Ximending, it’s impossible for me to skip this spray can artist. I call him such because he uses spray cans to create his paintings. His paintings are literally street art, as they are impressionisms birthed right on the streets of Ximending.
Using paper cut with various patterns, some folded up cloth, a blowtorch, a cardboard and clip as workboard, and a collection of colored spray paint cans, this guy is an Asian pop Van Gogh who makes you wonder if his paintings are really painted or were printed right off a glossy paper.
Master Spray Can’s art gets sold by the numbers. That means he’s that good. His hot-off-the-torch creations usually get sold immediately while those that have been done previously gets perused from time to time by impressed spectators.
Seriously Fun Shopping
Ximending stays true to its roots by way of shopping. Compared to Shilin, Ximending takes fashion and beauty on a higher level by elevating the concept of boutiques. Apart from shops, you’ll find boutiques towering over you via dedicated buildings.
Shopping in Ximending will make you realize how Taipei is such an underrated contender as the shopping capital of Asia. This is something that I think not so many foreigners know unless they come here and check out the city. Taiwan enjoys a lower currency exchange rate compared to Hong Kong or Singapore yet offers the same high end brands island-wide.
In Ximending, you wouldn’t just find dedicated boutique buildings. There’s also the usual street market shops that you can check out as well as mall buildings, both old and new. Just trying to recall all of its malls in my head already tires me. Another confession: I have not yet fully conquered all the shopping streets and malls of Ximending in my two years here in Taiwan. IT IS THAT BIG.
When to Visit
Most of the shops open around 10-11AM and some of them start to close at around 11PM. On weekends and during holidays, the time schedules may be earlier and later than usual.
If you’re visiting Taipei for a limited number of days, I would suggest a trip to Ximending after you’ve checked out Chiang Kai Shiek since Ximen can be reached via an MRT ride from the Chiang Kai Shiek MRT station. But if you have time to spare, might as well visit Ximending for one whole day. It’s got everything you need—shopping, local street food, restaurants with English menus, and even theaters that play current Hollywood movies.
Coming to this place would make you experience a mix of history and culture which also makes it an interesting irony. It is one of the oldest and historically-steeped places in Taiwan that showcases the hippest and newest trends to hit the island.