The “West Gate District” in Taipei City
When we think of Taipei, we think of Taipei 101, which is in the eastern part of the city, known as the new metropolitan center of the capital of Taiwan. What you probably don’t know is that the history of the biggest city in the country actually begins from the west, or more precisely, from the riverside. The local indigenous people traded and even mixed with the Chinese immigrants for long before the Japanese started to colonize Formosa. Wanhua District of Taipei, historically called “Bangka”, which is derived from the tribal language meaning “boats”, houses the oldest temple of the capital Lungshan Temple and part of the central business center during the Japanese era now what we call “Ximending”, literally “west gate district” in Mandarin Chinese.
Those Days in Ximending
When I was a high school student, American fast-food chain stores were just introduced to the country in less than a decade. At that time, Ximending might be the only location those investors can succeed thanks to its vibrant subculture and dozens of fashionable cinemas in the 80s. Now we look at Taiwan as a full-fledged democracy all because we’ve gone through turbulent times of student demonstrations for more freedom in the early 90s and major reforms since the lift of martial law in 1987. It’s not easy for a young democracy to achieve that goal in such a short period of time, let alone the passing of the law to legalize same-sex marriage in 2019, the first Asian state to do so!
Gay Facts About Ximending
Okay, so, what’s it all about with Ximending I’m going to talk about? As I grow older and old enough to know some of my male friends only love to get along with males, I started to realize how difficult their lives were when they simply wanted to show their love in public just like any other “normal” couple. I vaguely remember from the newspaper (yes, no Internet at that time) that the only place for gay couples to meet is the New Park (now 228 Peace Memorial Park) and it has to be “in the dark”! Parents alike always tell their teens to avoid that area, especially in the evening. That seems to us we might bump into vampires as night falls. Those adults probably don’t know that the New Park is in fact the first European-style urban park in the history of Taiwan!
As I get even older and wiser enough, the meeting place and also the architectural icon for gay couples to meet up has become the Red Theater (or in Chinese, hong lou).
The Pink Economy
This elegant octagonal red-brick house is at the beginning a marketplace in the early 20th century. After WWII, the same building was started to be used as a theater which, I think, better suits its magnificent architectural appearance.
But, again, this beautiful place didn’t get too much attention simply because LGBT communities made it a favorite meeting ground near the exit of a subway station. It was not until the onset of the new century that colorful bars and interesting bazaars started to gather around the Red Theater, and currently, the bustle and hustle of the neighboring shops and fancy restaurants presumably brings back those good old days of the Japanese market after more than a century has passed!
The Power of the Rainbow
You might be thinking the majority of Taiwanese people are of Chinese descent and the deep-rooted culture may not support gay marriage. It’s right to some extent. It’s widely, however, believed that, because of its immigrant society’s characteristics, Taiwan has been steadily manifesting her tolerance and flexibility. The Taiwan Rainbow Civil Action Association is going to mark its 20th Taiwan LGBT+ Pride parade this year! Our people have been friendly and joyfully showing our hearty support to the LGBT communities to make this an ongoing event for two decades!
Due to Taipei’s urban renewal plan before and after WWII, Taipei’s west will certainly make hay while the sun shines again to win back the titles of the prime shopping destination and entertainment hub of the city. The Octagon Building will again prove its resilience and attract tourists back after the pandemic to this onetime most crowded region on weekends!
By the way, if you want to make Red Theater as the first stop of your Ximending visit, you’d better know that there are a couple of different translations referring to this historical site, such as Red House (official name now), Octagon Building, Red Building, Red House Theater, etc.
Visitor Information (Red House)
11:00 to 20:00 (closes generally later on weekends)
Free unless specified!
How to get there?
Taipei’s pride, Taipei Metro or Taipei MRT, is, without doubt, the best means of transportation to get there. Although there’s a famous rainbow landscaping Rainbow Six right out of Exit 6 of Ximen MRT Station, don’t come out of the ground from there because it’s heavily used. You should use Exit 1 and as soon as you see the daylight, you’ll see a police station in front of you and the Red House is just right behind it.
Book a Tour
Taipei welcomes any friends, either from LGBT communities or not, from around the world to join this year’s gay parade and let’s make even more friends at the Taiwan LGBT Pride 2022! Hurry! Sign up for the tour now!
Useful Tips While Visiting
Too hot in summer?
The Ximending shopping district has lots of little malls and intriguing stores with strong air-conditioning. If you can’t stand the heat, just check out any of them for a while to dry yourself. The whole area is comprised of a couple of blocks and there are three major streets closed to pedestrians only every weekend. The visit to Taiwan in summer wouldn’t be complete if you didn’t visit a shaved ice parlor. I’ll recommend Yang Ji’s Corn and Peanut Ice at No. 38 Sec. 2, Hankou St. You’ll be amazed by the way they mix shaved ice flakes and sweet corn! Oh, it’s just about 200 meters away from the Ximen MRT Station.
The Ximending shopping area is equipped with a plethora of eateries and restaurants. But, let it be a bit more nostalgic for people of my generation, why not try some old-style Japanese restaurants? It was a fashion when I was a kid to go to Mei Guan Yuan, literally “beautiful sight garden” in Chinese, for its fresh and affordable good quality Japanese foods. Even so now! The address is No. 47 Emei St. and it’s only a few stores away from Exit 6 of Ximen MRT Station.