Back to the Past through Wanhua

In Taiwan, regions are divided into counties that are made up of different cities. Within each of those cities are smaller bits of districts that help make sense of lanes, sections, and building numbers in a Taiwan address.

Well, at least that’s how it technically goes. But just recently, I realized that more than just numbers, what truly makes each of these districts unique are the culture/people/lifestyle you would see outstandingly different within its neighborhood. And, if you’re lucky, those cultures would also manifest themselves as historical places that were preserved to this day.

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I now live in Wanhua, the oldest district in Taipei. And so far, it’s the most interesting place I’ve moved to. I luckily got an apartment near its central area, where most of its tourists spots are located. It showed me a glimpse of Taiwan when it was still peaking, making its way into its golden years, on track to being one of Asia’s tiger economies. But more than that, it showed me a raw side of Taiwan, a birthplace where its own brand of modernization have taken root and grew to what it is today.

What’s in Wanhua?

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Aside from amazing sunsets that paint a blue velvety gradient across the skies, Wanhua is also home to the most number of historical sites in Taipei. It’s also the district where Ximending belongs to. I used to think that Ximending was a district in its own but apparently, it’s just the modern shopping area of Wanhua.

Wanhua used to be a flourishing treaty port beside Tamsui river, where trades come in and out of Taiwan. It was largely populated by mainland Chinese migrants and traders who brought with them influences from the Qing dynasty. Personally, I think Wanhua is the Chinatown of Taipei, and a unique one at that.

Bopiliao Historical Block

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Bopiliao Historical Block is a street filled with preserved buildings dating as far back as the 1800’s. It was initially created by Chinese migrants, then mixed with Japanese influences during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. This historical area features those popular red bricks that have become synonymous to “historical” or even “ancient” here in Taiwan.

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Bopiliao is an example of Taiwan’s active efforts to preserve its historical landmarks, which is one of the many things I like about my second home. Not only do they expertly blend nature with urban landscapes, but they also try to maintain old roots amidst modernization especially in Taipei. Bopiliao’s historical block stood out like a mysterious row of buildings when I first saw it, so when I finally had time to check it out, I was amazed to see it’s another preserved piece of history nestled within the hustle and bustle of Taipei.

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Today, Bopiliao is being actively restored and some of its nooks are being used to host events. Some portions of it also serve as a museum to showcase Wanhua’s textile-making history. Some parts of it are still being renovated, but I do hope to see it become as busy as Huashan Creative Park these days.

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Monga Fashion at Dali Street

I watched Monga, the movie, so seeing its name beside the words “Fashion Apparel District” confused the heck out of me.

It was hard to reconcile the movie with what I actually found on Dali Street–the fashion apparel district of Monga. It was a peaceful, clean strip of area that has nothing but stalls after stalls of every apparel imaginable.

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As it happens, Monga (pronounced as Mon-ka) is the old name of Wanhua. The district itself was the location for the movie Monga, which isn’t exactly a historical account of it but rather a coming-of-age action movie set amidst fictitious gangsters and the improverished sections of Monga a.k.a. Wanhua. The setting you’ll find in the movie is exactly how most of central Wanhua looks like, especially the surrounding area near Longshan Temple. It’s actually a good movie, showing you a rawness about Taiwan that you wouldn’t find in places like Xinyi and Taipei 101.

These days though, Monga’s Dali Street is where you can buy cheap unbranded clothes and even wholesale textile. It’s also the only area in Wanhua that uses the name “Monga” to brand itself. The clothes you’d find here are made from China and Taiwan.

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As for the price, based from what I saw on the racks, you can get stuff for as cheap as 99 NTD. You can find every garment imaginable–from lingeries, to baby onesies, to seasonal clothes for winter and summer, to traditional gowns, even tailored suits. Some stalls are closed on Sundays.

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Snake Alley in Huaxi Night Market

I actually just went to Huaxi Night market to check out the infamous Snake Alley. But I guess, even time caught up with this area because I only saw three restaurants that specialized in serving snake and other exotic dishes.

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I’m guessing some of the old exotic restaurants now converted themselves to seafood restaurants. The few ones that stuck to their ultra-adventurous menu also have a few customers in them. Maybe even the locals no longer fancy eating these scaled giants.

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Still, Snake Alley or the entire Huaxi Night Market itself, is worth a visit. If you go there from Longshan Temple, you would likely pass by the Indigenous People’s Night Market and be able to buy street food from the counties outside Taipei. And hey, if you’re up for it, Snake Alley still serves some of those snake delicacies and even venom/blood drinks to satisfy the exotic adventurista in you.

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Longshan Temple

This is my favorite temple in Taipei, the one I visit every now and then. Longshan Temple is a standout landmark amidst the colorful and people-flocked streets of central Wanhua. It’s a remarkable historical landmark in day time that becomes golden and beautiful at night time.

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Longshan Temple is popular for a lot of reasons. For tourists, its cultural and historical charm lies behind the blend of Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism within its temple. Also, the temple itself was built from ancient Southern Chinese architecture.

Among locals, Longshan Temple is popular and revered because of its miracles. During the Japanese war, the temple was hit by air raid bombers that devastated much of it except one important piece–the statue of Guan Yin. To date, you can see the same statue right in the heart of the temple’s main hall, completely intact, between two other Mahayana buddhas. Guan Yin is also known in Theravada Buddhism as Avalokitesvara, the buddha of mercy and compassion.

I’ve also been told that Guan Yin generously grants prayers and wishes. Learning about this made me think of her as the East Asian version of Mother of Perpetual Help. Longshan Temple = Baclaran.

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If you ever find yourself inside Longshan Temple, I would suggest you try saying a prayer of thanks to Guan Yin. There’s actually something calming and soothing about her face when you gaze at it.

Make sure you enter through the right gate of Longshan temple. From there, you will see a store-like booth at the right side where you’ll find incense sticks and candles. The people manning the booth give visitors 3 pieces of incense sticks, for free.

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You’ll find a place near the gate side of the temple where you can light up your incense sticks. Once the ends catch fire, wag it gently to get rid of the flame and leave just a glowing burn to smoke it.

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As you reach the main hall and face each of the buddhas (right to left), hold the incense sticks with both hands on chest level, then bow thrice in front of each buddha. The one in the middle is Guan Yin. After bowing thrice, start your prayer by introducing yourself to the buddha, saying your name, and your intentions. Keep it simple and true to how you’d usually talk to a friend or pray as you’re used to. When you finish, bow thrice again then place the incense sticks in the censer you will see in the center of the main hall.

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Behind Guan Yin’s main hall are Taoist deities and the folk god Matsu within a prayer hall that’s also open to the public. Unlike the buddhas in the main hall, each of these deities are responsible for specific needs such as passing examinations, finding one’s life partner, even seeking protection during war.

Overall, I love how welcoming and calming Longshan Temple is. It’s nice to know that they don’t alienate people who have a different religion (like me!) and just freely share their devotion to anyone who’s interested to experience it.

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Wanhua is a remnant of how Taipei started out, how Taiwan managed to boom into what it is today. It is a quaint place that houses some of the oldest, most historical places of Taiwan, and gives you insight on how Chinese influences have managed to enter and take root int this island that once was called Formosa.

It’s a diamond in the rough.

To visit Ximending, get off at Ximen MRT then go out via Exit 2. You can also check out my post about it. But for the other places mentioned in this post, check out the map below. Get off at Longshan Temple MRT station then go out from Exit 1.

Then, explore. 🙂

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