All directions need a reference point. Ask any Taipei resident and they probably know where you are talking about in general terms. But do they know exactly where east meets west on a map of Taipei?
By Stuart Hill
How can we stop the habit of using the somewhat pretentious and annoyingly vague term “dong qu” (東區) to describe the location of specific shops or events that are somewhere in the east side of Taipei?
The opening paragraph in a recent article “Fast-forward fashion” by Catherine Shu is a typical example of how the term is being (ab)used. “Located in Taipei’s East District (東區), Even Select Shop specializes in avant-garde designs, with a focus on Japanese labels.”
See “Fast Forward Fashion” published in the Taipei Times 8 December 2010.
Friends might say, let’s meet in Taipei’s “dong qu” but if you were using that description for street directions you’d never find them. What would be far more useful are the exact street locations of the places you are talking about. Or the official district name of the area you want to visit.
In the original layout of Taipei’s streets, east was theoretically anything to the right of ZhongShan Road running north to south. With 0,0 on the city map being the intersection with ZhongXiao Road running east to west.
These days, try locating where “Taipei East District” is, either via Google or the Taipei City government website, and you begin to discover that it is a very loosely defined area of Taipei that can include any combination of the NeiHu, SongShan, NanGan, XinYi and DaAn districts. On several websites only XinYi, SongShan and NanGan are listed as being “East” with the border being GuangFu Road. So anything to the left of GuangFu is located in the west?
Perhaps it is a hip turn of phrase that immediately implies where all the great stuff in Taipei is going on. Certainly lots has been invested on shops and government buildings, world trade show halls, and the like. And the hundreds of boutiques, restaurants and cafes make it a buzz of small-scale commercial activity.
Some sections of the East District are newer than most parts of Taipei, such as the so-called financial district with the gigantic Taipei 101 building gloating over the entire cityscape. Yet, you have to wonder what makes a city truly great when its greatest planning achievements are represented by 4-5 blocks of carbon-copy department stores.
This kind of unjustified snobbery suggests the rest of Taipei is a bit of a wasteland. Yet Taipei’s historical past is better represented in older parts of the city, including the old administrative center around what is now the Presidential Building, the old trading center of the WanHua District, and even the northern sections of the city such as BeiTou.
That said, who ever says meet you in West District? Or South District? Most likely nobody; and perhaps that is indicative as to how important the east of Taipei has become, at least as a place to meet friends and do a bit of shopping.
Whether or not you live there can help inflate the perceived value of the “Eastern” vibe while exaggerating your own quotient of personal cool. Yet peel away the plywood shop facades and LED lighting and there are huge blocks of the East District that are begging for renewal. So the tag “dong qu” (東區) becomes a convenient cultural reference for what is really an artificial construct layered over Taipei’s eating and entertainment districts.
In the article about a trendy clothes shop mentioned above, why is it so important to lead with where it is anyway? If location is the point of the story, it would be far more enlightening to see descriptions such as “near the ZhongXiao DunHua intersection” or “a lane south of Civil Boulevard off DunHua” as a way to pin-point its location. These details could be used to embellish and clarify the content of the story, instead of obscuring it. As it stands, “Dong Qu” (East District) sounds like a marketing slogan trying to stretch a little too hard.
More than a long stone’s throw away from all things East, Taipei 101, the shop in question is located near ZhongXiao East and DunHua South roads in the DaAn District. Assuming you include DaAn in your definition of East District, that would locate the shop roughly East-North-East using ZhongXiao FuXing as your center of origin.
Hand me a GPS please!
(ED: the author lives in WenShan District in the south of Taipei)
Other stories about Taipei Districts: