My Asia: My Taipei City with Catherine Shu of Shu Flies

I don’t remember how I stumbled upon writer Catherine Shu‘s wonderful blog, shu flies (舒飛). But once discovered, it quickly became one of my favorite reads. I have a particular interest in “local” blogs. (No surprise, eh?)

shu flies (舒飛) is about daily life in Taipei, as seen through the eyes of a Taiwanese American expatriate. She writes about being a US-born person of Asian descent living in an Asian country and what it’s taught her about race and her own sense of identity. (And sometimes she just posts photos of furry animals.)

Her other blog, Eye Taiwan, spotlights Taiwan’s independent design scene. Total eye candy. Her Facebook page chronicles the hijinks of Taroko George, Catherine’s “celebrity Internet cat.”

In Catherine’s own words: “I was born and raised in California, got my undergraduate and graduate degrees in New York, and moved to Taipei City in 2007. I originally planned to stay for a couple of years, just so I could say that I had lived abroad, but I love exploring Taipei City so much that I can’t imagine leaving anytime soon.

“I came here with some serious goals—learn Mandarin and become closer to my family and heritage—but most of the time I just have a lot of fun! Taipei City can be dirty, crowded, and chaotic, but there is something wonderful—a temple, a lovingly decorated café, a peaceful park—around every corner.  I hope my blog (and the articles I write for the Taipei Times) capture that.”

And now, over to Catherine…

Must-eats?

One of my favorite places to eat is Chia Chia Hakka Seafood Restaurant near Yongkang. My mother’s family is Hakka and I really enjoy all the rich flavors in Hakka cuisine (their stinky tofu is exceptional).

For special occasions, my husband and I enjoy Just In Bistro in the East District.

Dintaifung is the most famous place for xiaolongbao, or soup dumplings, in Taipei City, but I prefer to take visiting friends to Sanyuan in Bellavita mall. Sanyuan is also a bit on the pricey side, but they have the most amazing chocolate xiaolongbao.

I know Shilin Night Market is the most famous place for “small eats” and street food in Taipei City, but I prefer Tonghua Night Market because it is smaller and more navigable, but filled with just as many weird and tasty treats. It’s also fun to go shopping there: items include sequined train cases to store your makeup, athletic shoes, and bongs (yes, it is a bit random, but they also sell cute leather bracelets and stainless steel accessories).

Must-shops?

As much as I would like to support local clothing brands, I just can’t because sizing standards are ridiculous in Taiwan. I’m a US size 8 and am often referred to as “chubby” or “fat” to my face by sales associates in chain stores. To be honest, I usually just go to Uniqlo in Uni Hankyu, a new shopping mall near the Taipei City Hall MRT station.

But I really like looking out for Taiwanese indie designers who specialize in jewelry or home accessories. Booday is one of my favorite places to browse, as is their next-door neighbor, Lovely Taiwan, which sells items by artisans around Taiwan. I think their prices are very reasonable considering most items are handmade. In fact, I love the entire area around Zhongshan MRT station. (Here is a guide I wrote a few months ago.) If you want to browse items made by Taiwanese designers online, check out pinkoi.

My favorite place to go to for crafting supplies is “DIY district” near Taipei Main Station. (Shop descriptions and addresses here.) It is right next to Yongle Fabric Market, which has a mind-blowing, almost overwhelming selection of fabric. Across the street is ArtYard, a former residence that now houses a café and a ground floor store that sells items by indie brands like In Blooom and Hakka Blue. Nostalgic Future nearby has vintage items imported from France. They carry Polaroid cameras and film, which makes me really, really happy.

My favorite bookstore is Eslite Dunnan, which is open 24 hours a day. Their stationery store (which is not open 24 hours a day, sadly) is great.

Must-dos?

I just love exploring neighborhoods on foot! I always find something interesting, like tiny herb gardens cultivated in Styrofoam boxes by apartment dwellers or lines of poetry spray painted on a concrete wall.

On weekdays when it’s not too crowded, I like to hang out at Good Cho’s. If you don’t mind crowds, they have an outdoor design/farmers’ market on weekends.

Mooi Trouve, which just opened and is located in a former single-family residence, also has a nice, soothing ambiance on weekday evenings.

Must-arts?

I have a soft spot for Red House Theater in Ximending and MOCA Taipei, in part because both are housed in Japanese colonial era buildings. Red House Theater has a small mall in the back with shops by emerging local brands and hosts an artists’ and designers’ market on weekends.

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Know a creative person who wants to share his or her must-stop spots with my readers? Please email all suggestions to me with the subject line ‘My Asia.

(Additional credits: Photographs by Catherine Shu.)

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