Eye On Taiwan
By: David Wang
Well-informed westerners say there are pockets of excellence in Asia, a rule of thumb that is generally true for many aspects of culture across the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, China as well as Taiwan.
Recently Taipei mayor Ko commented, with respect to the demolition of the Zhonxiao viaduct near the Taipei Train Station, that urban aesthetics in the city nears eye-sore level, partly due to haphazard signage that results in visual chaos.
Such sentiment unfortunately also applies to over half (euphemistic estimate) the structures as condo and office towers in Taipei, which isn’t surprising considering that the 10-story Victory Mansion, torn down years ago, near the SOGO boutique mall on Dun-Hwa S. Rd. and the iconic Fu-Shing Elementary/Junior High School next door, was the tallest apartment in the city in around 1967 to have been an enviable landmark for its day.
Taipei also can’t be blamed for being a latecomer to the global pageant as a city of world-class high-rises, upscale condo towers, given the nation was only given a start to rebuild as a modern state around 1949, when its administrators was driven from China by the communists.
Also the uneven economic development between Taipei and the southern cities has skewed population growths, to have fueled migration towards the northern capital over the years to result in extraordinarily high population densities across Taipei, where most permanent and migratory residents generally care only about eking out a living. While gentrification is not really a sizable phenomenon in Taipei, with many pre-1960 low-rises being in disrepair to undermine overall urban beauty.
The sad fact is that, save trekking out to suburban Taipei to be among the sylvan outdoor, city residents typically are stuck in a concrete jungle with scant visual relief in terms of historical, architectural creations by inspiring designers as would be available in many major cities as Sydney, Los Angeles, New York City, Miami, London, Paris, Madrid, Milan.
So there has always been a café culture in Taipei where residents, rattled by the hectic pace of life, seek sanctuary in one of the many coffee shops to meet friends, chill out and find visual comfort among artistic décor, sample ethnic cuisine and gourmet coffees.
And as many other activities and encounters in life, one has to be plain lucky to
come across such cafés, one that has been fortunate to be inspired by a caring proprietor.
Luck was with me the other day as I happened by the Aussie Café, sitting incongruously but confidently holding its own design-wise on a non-descript corner hidden as a rare find in central Taipei, only a few steps northeast of the high-profile Taiwan Cement Tower on Zhong-Shan N. Rd.
The operator likely has an agreement with the Australian tourism authorities to promote travel Down Under as a sign states offering related tourism information.
The rather outdoorsy feel of the ground-level façade, unfortunately out of place against a typically-unsightly residential low-rise, leads into a cleanly laid-out interior of elongated proportion, complete with some cozy, soft-backed seating, and large windows along the entire length that enhances airiness.
It is a very serene, civilized locale for a coffee, mostly above US$4, and Net surfing as seems popular with many patrons.
The young man who courteously welcomes guests at the coffee bar didn’t show a hint of Aussie accent as he spoke Mandarin, a flaw that would actually add to the amusement of the Aussie-theme.
The café was still closed at around 10:30 a.m. on a Thursday, so one can safely assume the management does not target office staff on their way to work.
A real gem of a place to bask in Aussie ambiance while sipping coffee away from traffic along the major thoroughfare a stone’s throw away.