Photo Credit to Danny Liao

Earlier today I was having a conversation with my colleague, April, Social Media Manager for MyTaiwanTour. She’d noticed that there had been a sharp uptick in recent weeks to people searching for the term DaDaoCheng, and was curious about why. She also noted that the area’s been increasingly packed with foreign travelers.

“I don’t understand why.” She said. “There’s no current festivals happening in the neighborhood.”

“There doesn’t have to be.” I replied. “DaDaoCheng is cool. People know it’s cool, and want to just hang out there. Like Times Square, in New York City. People just go there.”

At the time, it seemed like a decent analogy.

Being from New York, I never went to Time Square unless I had some reason, and never really “got” what the appeal of the neighborhood was. But to travelers, Times Square represents the quintessential New York Experience – bright lights, Broadway, hustlers and weirdos. (Though these days the “hustlers and weirdos” part is a pale shadow of its former glory.)

Taiwanese people probably see DaDaoCheng in a similar light. “A bunch of old buildings with traditional stores selling stuff I never buy” and “another temple that mostly tourists go to.”

I’ve had more than one Taiwanese friend confirm for me that in everyday circumstances a beautifully ornate temple replete with colorful dragon carvings, statues of gods and demons, braziers filled with burning incense and surrounded by chanting monks registered in their consciousness on about the same level as a 7-11 or bubble-milk tea stand. Which I suppose makes sense if you’ve spent your whole life surrounded by this sort of thing.

“Nothing special,” is how I’ve had Taiwanese people describe these absolutely fantastical things to me, which is about how I would have described the view from the deck of the Staten Island Ferry, the Statue of Liberty holding aloft her torch, the skyscrapers of Manhattan, the greatest city in the world growing closer as the boat pulled into the dock, tourists absolutely marveling at the experience while I was just doing something I had to do every day just to get to work or school.

Coolness, you see, is a subjective concept.

Another thing that’s subjective is this column, being largely based on my own observations and opinions. That being said, I’m going to go out on a limb and declare that it’s possible for a city to be intrinsically cool.

My benchmark for Urban Level Intrinsic Coolness (or U.L.I.C.: Pretty cool acronym, eh?): Any city that you don’t need a reason to visit is intrinsically cool.

Do you need a “reason” to visit Paris? Of course not. Paris is the City of Lights. (Henry Miller moved there to write Tropic of Cancer, but that doesn’t mean you need a reason to visit.)

Do you need a “reason” to visit New York? It’s New York, fer Christ’s sake. (David Byrne, Chris Frantz, and Tina Weymouth moved there to form the Talking Heads, but ditto on your not needing a reason to visit.)

Since this is my column, and since I live in Taipei, I’m going to double down and declare here and now that Taipei is intrinsically cool.

I could back this up with a few dozen reasons to back the claim, but at the moment one will suffice.

Henry Rollins is in Taipei.

He’s not here promoting a book, he’s not performing. Henry Rollins is just walking around town, checking things out as part of a larger tour he’s doing (presumably) just for the personal hell of it. As usual, he’s writing about his travels in his LA Weekly Column. I’ll past the first paragraph here…you can click over to the LA Weekly to read the rest (as always, worth reading):

“I’ve been in Taipei, Taiwan, for a few days. I’ve got a routine. By day, I do my desk work, go to the gym, then back to the desk until around 1845 hrs. After that, I hit the streets, eat cheap, find a place to write, drink coffee, listen to music and keep on grinding until near closing time. Then more walking and, finally, back to the hotel room.

Walking around here, checking things out, it occurs to me that I’m in the right place, doing the right thing, not wasting time. When I look around at all the lights, traffic and people, it all seems eventful.”

Click here to read the rest of Henry Rollins: Don’t Sleepwalk Through Life — Get Out There and See the World

One quote from the article particularly resonated with me, and kind of brings this column full circle:

“There’s a lot to see anywhere, of course, but when you’re in one place for any length of time, repetition can dull your senses.”

“Repetition can dull your senses.”

So yeah, I guess I can’t judge my Taipei-ren friends too harshly for yawning past the dragons, temples and monks of Taipei any more than they can judge me for all the times I fell asleep on the Staten Island Ferry. We are, after all, both products of an intrinsically cool city.

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