Thursday, March 6, 2014

Taiwan Travelogue: Bo Pi Liao Historic Street



There is no end to the attractions in the Wanhua district; and right up the nose of the intersecting Kangding Street and Guangzhou Street is this charming site with a history dating back to three centuries before, from the period of the Qing Dynasty when it was constructed to today's veering street filled with rows of pre-dated and well-preserved old shophouses.



Bo Pi Liao Historic Street/Site (剝皮寮歷史街區) is one of the oldest streets in Taiwan, and is unmistakably striking with the red bricks facade and also the mix of different building materials seen on the traditional shophouses, all tracing back to the various periods of establishment and their very stories of time.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating things about this site is the use of wood/timber which were brought in from Fuzhou (福州), in the province of Fujian in China, used in the construction of this historic site during the period of the major construction in the 18th century. The wood and timber were also known as Fok Chiu Sam (福州杉), owing to the origins from where they came from. While Taiwan is filled with her own forests perfectly capable of providing good wood/timber for constructions, imports of these are still taking place; particularly from China, due to the locals' respect (and perhaps fear) of the aborigines residing on the mountainside. These natives were believed to be headhunters, and it was said that to this day, there are still activities of headhunting going around in the mountains where the aborigines lurk in waiting. It does bring a whole new perspective to the word headhunting, and I am not referring to the career prospects.



Bo Pi Liao, is indeed a strange name for a street or even a site (or anything) as it literally means the stripping or chipping of the bark process and the name traces back to the time when the wood processing business was taking place in the Monga (艋舺) community, they were literally skinning the barks of the trees in the production. Of course, based on the limited technology back then in the 18th century, it was the only normal thing to do though it was a rather tedious process, not to mention time consuming. The Monga community was one of Taiwan's oldest communities, and were perhaps, one of the earliest settlers on this site which runs like a backbone for their trades and living back then.

While most of the buildings here are supposed to be ancient, the signs of history seem to be concealed with the restoration works ongoing here. There is just this unmistakable scent of timeless elegance about the place and it feels like a walk down the old era when taking a stroll down the street.  At some point, I was half expecting a fair complexion lady with rosy cheeks in a tight cheongsam appearing with a fan, hiding her face with a blush passing by with that graceful charm in her; such was the effects of the old street on my imagination. The street also had a ghostly air about it; bursting with the many stories hidden in its alms from the past, though I don't mean it in a scary manner, but rather in that vintage charm well displayed in the conservative designs of the buildings.







The street is also rather uniquely designed in a rather meandering way where there are bends appearing as one strides down the streets and apparently this is also attributed to the traditions and superstitious beliefs of the local residents which lent the ideas to the way the street was constructed.
It is interesting, as this is a commonality I see with majority of the historical Chinese streets I have been to, outside of Taiwan, but if you observe carefully, the Chinese rarely, or almost never, design any street or road or alley in a straight manner. (Okay, maybe sometimes they do, but most of the streets are not really that straight that you can stand at the start and see right through the end).
There is a reason for this, and the Chinese influence greatly falls on the Taiwanese, who were after all, also immigrants from the region initially.


Of course feng shui does plays its part, but another stems from the superstition and old tales of the supernatural. The Taiwanese are believers of spirits; and are generally a religious centric society, and they believe in the existence of ghosts or wandering souls of the dead among the living.
It is believed that these souls are still among us human beings, and just because they cannot be seen with the naked eyes does not cease the belief that they are around. While there are many categories of these spirits, or ghosts as most Taiwanese would call them, the Taiwanese generally fear these ghosts who were believed to be malicious and meant harm unto the living.
Ghosts or () are not to meddled with and the Taiwanese do not joke about them, in fact, they are careful to avoid any dabbling or disrespect towards them to avoid misfortune to befall unto themselves. They pay due respects and draw the line clear between the living and the other world, to avoid earthly troubles with the dead. In one of these aspects, the ghosts are given their respect and space and typically, the locals acknowledge their existence by understanding their habits and behavior.
Ghosts are said to be straightforward creatures; in fact, they tend to follow the direction in a straight line (ever watched the old Chinese vampire movies?) and do not make turns unless instructed to. Most of the Chinese culture took note of this particular trait, and as such, to avoid any encounter of direct head ons with the wandering ghosts (which could lead to bad luck), most would walk away from the walls or design the roads or their place of living in a slightly meandering manner.
Bo Pi Liao street was one such example, with almost three centuries of history in her belt, it was definitely one of the considerations when designing the streets which was lined with rows of shophouses, housing the local and concerned owners.

Interesting works of art, which are clearly new additions to this historical site can be spotted here; much like the inspirational works of the artist back in my own country.


The setting of the movie Monga (there were men seen to be working on this on the other side, not captured in the photo)


Bo Pi Liao Street is like this window to the old Taiwan, and it is good to see that the authorities are also going to great lengths to preserve the place, which will serve as a remnant of the country's memories of the past.





I personally recommend to take a slow stroll; take in each of the uniqueness of the building and not rush through the winding street which was not intended for that purpose anyway.
It is indeed a walk down memory lane; Taiwan's memory lane, filled with stories from the past.


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