Ex­plor­ing old Taipei fol­low­ing your nose

The China Post - - LOCAL - BY KATHER­INE WEI

It was a street you loi­tered in when you were a bare­footed imp, chas­ing your play­mates down the dark­ened al­leys. Yet hav­ing left home for so long, you find your­self back in a haze of newly con­structed build­ings and un­fa­mil­iar sights … and then you catch a whiff of fa­mil­iar­ity.

What was it? Burning sticks of in­cense? Bloom­ing flow­ers on your fa­vorite shrub nearby? And then you hear the chant­ing from the nearby tem­ple, and re­lax: things are still the same, the smells have brought you back to your mis­chievous days of lore.

Scent is a won­der­ful thing that pre­serves mem­ory the way film and images fail to. Cer­tain scents are branded into one’s mind and con­nected to spe­cific mem­o­ries that rush back when the same smell en­ters one’s nose again. And when you think about it, Tai­wan has a cul­ture built on a rich mix­ture of smells that would trig­ger any lo­cal’s mem­ory with a sniff.

A tall girl with a frank smile, founder of The Smells of Taipei Huang Jung ( ) an­i­mat­edly in­tro­duces her project to me. Af­ter par­tic­i­pat­ing in free tours led by lo­cals through­out dif­fer­ent places in Europe dur­ing her time as an ex­change stu­dent, she was in­spired to start a sim­i­lar project that would draw for­eign vis­i­tors in Tai­wan into nooks and cran­nies that only the lo­cals would know.

Hav­ing lived in Taipei’s Wan­hua Dis­trict since her birth, Huang was proud of her home and thought Tai­wan, as did many, a beau­ti­ful piece of land.

“I thought it would be nice to start a spe­cial tour here for for­eign­ers to bet­ter un­der­stand Tai­wanese cul­ture, but I didn’t want this to just be­come a copy of the free tours in Europe,” said Huang.

She pointed to three pic­tures in front of her. One was a cut­off from the “Taipei Tone” sound­track cover that was pro­moted dur­ing Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je’s cam- paign for mayor, an­other was a part of a map of Taipei, and the third a sim­ple sketch of a nose. I re­al­ized I was look­ing at the same sil­hou­ette in the pic­tures: the first two showed the Dan­shui River run­ning in a curve that was strik­ingly like the third sketch of the nose. “The river al­ways seem to be the story teller,” said Huang, who re­mem­bers an old book­store she dis­cov­ered on the bank of the Seine.

Wan­hua is one of the first de­vel­oped ar­eas in Taipei, and boasts of a his­tory rich with tra­di­tional prac­tices, a wide range of so­cial com­mu­ni­ties, as well as a his­tory of gang­ster cul­ture and pros­ti­tu­tion. “What we have here is a smell of a sub­cul­ture, smells that do not have names,” said Huang. “As you know, there are many home­less peo­ple in the streets of Wan­hua. While some for­eign­ers may dis­crim­i­nate against them, I feel that this is a friendly land that takes in all sorts of peo­ple.”

Huang de­vised a tour that would lead for­eign vis­i­tors in Taipei through her beloved Wan­hua, weav­ing a story that be­gan from the ev­ery­day lives of the lo­cal res­i­dents. It starts from the renowned Long­shan Tem­ple with its smell of in­cense and burning can­dles, and pro­ceeds to Herb Al­ley (

), where all kinds of herbs are sold for health benefits, and to a sec­ond­hand book­store with its fragrance of old print and yel­lowed pa­per. Next on the agenda would be the his­tor­i­cal Guiyang Street, and a Ja­panese tem­ple within which lingers the spirit of Tai­wan when it was un­der the Ja­panese rule.

“This way, the vis­i­tors are taken through a gal­ley of Tai­wan’s his­tory, from the Qing Dy­nasty to the Ja­panese rule and then the early days of the Repub­lic of China,” said Huang.

Work­ing at a fragrance com­pany called Can­june, Huang said she has been al­ways sen­si­tive when it comes to smells and aro­mas. For the pur­pose of the tour, she ex­per- imented with fra­grances and af­ter two weeks of mix­ing, came up with a scent that took one through the tour with a sniff.

“You can smell a hint of flow­ers, which I meant to rep­re­sent the sex work­ers in Wan­hua. They are all old now, and the in­dus­try is an aging one … and then there is the smell of mint, which is a com­mon in­gre­di­ent found in Herb Al­ley. For the old book­store, I used Tar­ragon, rep­re­sent­ing knowl­edge with its woodsy smell, and san­dal­wood for the sticks of burning in­cense in Long­shan Tem­ple. And at last, you will smell the scent of im­mortelle, the smell of for­give­ness, strength that de­rives from sad­ness — this is the home­less peo­ple of Wan­hua,” said Huang.

She pulled out a small vial, and of­fered me a dab on my wrists. I in­haled, and picked out the aro­mas as she de­scribed them one by one. “My home is a beau­ti­ful place, and you don’t have to go far from home to make friends,” she smiled.

Her love for Taipei was one that burned deep and true. “I don’t think all th­ese tours through the same route would make me tired of the same things. This is a way for me to ex­plore my own home­town through new eyes … I’m even try­ing to talk to the home­less in the streets, to get to know their life sto­ries,” said Huang.

So far, Huang has taken three groups of for­eign ex­change stu­dents study­ing in dif­fer­ent uni­ver­si­ties in Taipei for her Smells of Taipei tours, and the re­sults proved ex­cel­lent. The lo­cals were ea­ger to in­tro­duce their tra­di­tions and cul­ture, and the stu­dents were glad for an un­con­ven­tional way of get­ting to know the city.

“Oh, I think I will be launch­ing them of­fi­cially in a few weeks,” said Huang, who was get­ting her tiny bot­tles of Wan­hua’s scent ready for her fu­ture clients.

Close your eyes and in­hale. Taipei is ready for you to see it, only through a bog­gling va­ri­ety of aro­mas.

1. Huang’s “tourists” are seen smelling the sticks of in­cense sold at Long­shan Tem­ple in Wan­hua.

2. A for­eign vis­i­tor smells minty herbs in Wan­hua’s Herb Al­ley dur­ing one Smells of Taipei tour. 3. Huang Jung, founder of the Smells of Taipei tours, is seen smelling herbs in this photo.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Taiwan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.