Saturday, 20 December 2014

Huashan Creative Park, Taipei

In the heart of Taipei, in the middle of the sea of anonymous apartment blocks built in the decades following World War II, there lies a former industrial area that has remained virtually unchanged since its construction in the first half of the 20th century. This is the former 'Taipei Wine Factory' (台北酒廠), a complex of buildings that belonged to Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Monopoly. By the 1980s. when Taiwan's economy was booming and its capital, Taipei, was growing fast, the presence of this factory in what had become the city centre (but was periphery in the Japanese era) raised environmental concerns. Therefore, in 1987 wine production was moved to Linkou Industrial Area, in the suburbs of Taipei County (present-day New Taipei City).

However, this 'museum-like' neighbourhood has not been saved by wise and history-conscious city planners, but - paradoxically - by neglect and indifference. Politicians were simply too idle and uninterested in order to make something out of these buildings, and so they left them alone for decades, in a state of decay and dilapidation.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Goodbye, Occupy Central

The Hong Kong police have given the students that have occupied Admiralty an ultimatum: they must leave before 11 am today. Whoever stays will be arrested. 

Apparently the students have decided to comply. They are dismantling their tents, saying goodbye to the 'Umbrella City' they have created. The images of the occupation - a symbol of civil disobedience - will remain in the collective memory, just as those of the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy movement did. The power of those images and ideas is stronger than the short-term failure of the protesters' political objectives. 

Rumours had been going around for weeks that the police would soon clear the sites of the protests. On the evening of December 1st I met a friend of mine. I hadn't seen her for a year. We went to a cafe' called Kubrick, in Yau Ma Tei. We talked a lot, and Occupy Central was one of our topics - it seemed impossible not to mention this issue when conversing with a Hongkonger, a proof of how passionate the people of Hong Kong are about the future destiny of their home city. After chatting for a few hours, we went back to the MTR station. It was raining outside, and it was suddenly colder. We said goodbye. 

I was happy to have met her again, and I felt somewhat energised. But I couldn't leave Hong Kong without seeing Occupy Central for the last time. Although it was late and the weather was bad, I went to Admiralty. There was hardly anyone on the street but me. I walked around the tents, the heavy rain pouring on me. A gloomy atmosphere enshrouded the usually lively and colourful encampment of the students. Only a few of them ventured out of their tents that night. It was about 3 am. Everything was quiet. As I walked along Cotton Tree Drive towards Wan Chai, I said goodbye to the students - those who were sleeping in the tents, braving the cold, and those who were at home.   

Occupy Central has made Hong Kong more beautiful than ever, giving its citizens passion, freeing their creativity, inspiring them. This 74-day long protest has shown the good side of Hong Kong, of which its people can be proud. Unluckily, the sad, boring, conformity-minded Communist government and its Hong Kong allies are triumphing again: greed, suspicion, fear is their way, a worldview hardly compatible with the spontaneity, freedom and idealism of the students. 

Occupy Central may have not accomplished its goals. But it has won a great victory. It has touched the hearts of thousands - if not millions - of people who have seen this movement unfold, who have witnessed the enthusiasm, fervour and solidarity of the citizens of Hong Kong. 

Tomorrow - when the traces of the occupation have been removed and the cars have reconquered the streets - Occupy Central will be history. Yes, it will be history, like the May 4th movement and the Tiananmen Square movement. It will be an indelible part of our collective memory for generations to come, and the seeds of change it has sown will grow. 

Goodbye, Occupy Central

Below a gallery of the pictures I took during the protests


Friday, 5 December 2014

Taipei's Beimen MRT Station and Its Hidden Treasures

Two days ago I took for the first time the new Songshan-Xindian MRT line (松山新店線, Line 3), which opened on November 15 (I wasn't in Taiwan at the time). The new line is an extension of the former Xindian-Danshui Line, which connected Xindian, in the southern part of New Taipei City, and Danshui (淡水), in the north. This South-North axis has now been split and two distinct MRT lines have been created: the Danshui-Xinyi Line (淡水信義線), and the aforementioned Songshan-Xindian line.

One interesting result of the completion of the MRT network is that all of the five city gates of Qing Dynasty Taipei Walled City now have stations named after them - Ximen (西門, 'West Gate'), Dongmen (東門, 'East Gate'), Beimen (北門, 'North Gate'), Nanmen (南門, 'South Gate') and Xiaonanmen (小南門, 'Little South Gate'). This highlights the infrastructural importance of the gates and of the boulevards which the Japanese constructed after the city walls' demolition in the early 20th century.

I decided to visit Beimen MRT Station, which is in many respects different from all other underground stations in Taipei. Because of its historical significance a section of it has been turned into a permanent exhibition about the history of that area from the Qing Dynasty to the present.