Tainan is like a woman who was once incredibly beautiful but has let herself go. She isn’t ugly, but she’s like a fading movie star whose shimmer has lost its lustre. Her skin no longer glows not because she’s been abandoned; but because she no longer cares with her upkeep. Everyone remembers and knows her name, but her life story is over and has been relegated to the old dusty books.
Tainan is often called the Kyoto of Taiwan. I really don’t agree with the comparison. Instead, Tainan reminds me of Alexandria: a once grand and glorious city that’s faded from the spotlight and will never shine again.
But before I tell you about Tainan, let me tell you know I got there.
1. High Speed Rail
The Taiwan High Speed Rail (HSR) is pretty similar to Japan’s Shinkansen. Since we’re travelling during the peak season, I booked our tickets in advance. We received an early bird discount (Yay!). The HSR is considerably more expensive than the bus and local train, but it cuts the travel time in half.
I got a window seat and looked at the country roads while my partner in crime slept. And as always – who doesn’t love legroom?
2. First impressions
Tainan reminded me of Oita: a country town on Japan’s Kyushu Island. If you don’t know where that is, don’t worry. You’re not missing out on much.
There I was – dressed from head to toe like the city girl that I am. Short shorts. Patterned stockings. A face full of makeup. Sunglasses. Samsonite suitcase and backpack. People were staring at me. Urgh. Not this again. I REALLY don’t miss living in the countryside. Sigh…I will retire my city girl getup for more inconspicuous attire tomorrow.
In better news: our first meal upon arrival was pure perfection. Danzai noodles are a speciality of the Tainan region. Mmm…mmm…mmm.
After lunch, we walk around Tainan. Temples are EVERYWHERE. Old temples. New temples. Paper temples. Shiny light temples. Places that look like temples and are not. Old Dutch colonial buildings that are now museums. Japanese restaurants. The layers of history that Tainan has experienced share the same locale of forgotten memories.
It’s romantic, but not my kind of romantic. I’m not sure I like it.
3. Confucian Temple
Originally built as a place for instructors to offer lectures and cultivate intellectuals, it is now a frugal place that severely pales in comparison to the splendour that Taipei offers. Having said that, the Confucian principles of strong family loyalty and respecting your elders are still very much an integral part of Asian cultures.
This particular Confucius Temple is a popular tourist attraction. Why – I’m not quite sure. I guess some people take joy in romanticising nostalgia. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. There is what is, and what isn’t.
This place once was and no longer is.
4. Finding Siaobei Night Market
It took us an hour to find this place. And when we found it, it was disappointing. The shops were all selling things from thirty years ago (not joking) and the food was unappetising. Why the hell did we even bother. It’s a place stuck in some mysterious past era that stopped existing a long time ago. I just don’t get this town.
Thankfully, we managed to find a place selling zongzi not too far away. It’s an old childhood favourite of mine. YUM.
And with that, it was time to call it a day and return to the hotel. We weren’t in the mood to walk so we hailed a cab. Thankfully, I still remember Mandarin fairly well and managed to speak to the driver – and share a couple of laughs with him.
On that note – here’s hoping that tomorrow will be less nostalgic and more inspiring. I don’t care much for faded glories.
Nevertheless, I have no doubt that Instagram lovers will love this place. With the right filters and clever collages – even Tainan has no choice but to return to her once beautiful self.