Famous locally for its salt products (every kitchen in Taiwan has their short, red cans of salt with the tiny spoon), Taiyen has recently put a public-facing front on its salt electrolysis and packaging factory in Tongxing Township, Miaoli County. Such a move by a local factory is not a new one and in fact is becoming the norm as the increased choice brought by globalization has forced local companies to Innovate new ways to engage local customers and keep their brands in the minds of Taiwanese. This practice has also spread into foreign companies that manufacture in Taiwan, such as Japanese piano-maker Kawai. There have been some civic implementations of this concept as well, such as the Taipei Water Park that hides one of the cities largest water pumping stations at its center.
In Taiwan, strawberries are a winter fruit. Miaoli County, which sits south of Taipei, is the center of the strawberry universe. Every weekend dozens of tourist busses leave from Taipei Main Station filled with agro-tourists ready to strip the farms bare of anything with even the slightest red tinge followed by a stop off at the center of Miaoli City for some strawberry wine, strawberry ice cream, strawberries over shaved ice drowned in condensed milk, strawberry smoothies, strawberry candies, … you get the idea. There are even strawberry-flavored corn dogs and Taiwanese sausages.
The Barbie Cafe in Taipei, Taiwan is not the first Barbie-themed restaurant in the world but it is the first Barbie-themed restaurant in the world officially licensed by Mattel H.Q. In El Segundo, California. The obvious question is Why Taipei?. Themed restaurants are very popular in Asia in general and seem to be especially popular in countries like Japan, China, and Taiwan. In China, enforcement of intellectual properties and trademarks is ridiculously lax making it a poor environment in which to open a business that relies on its branding as a selling tool. In Japan, the market has matured (and might even be called glutted). While theme restaurants are popular in Taipei, there is still room for new players here. It also helps that one of the most popular restaurants in the city is the Sanrio-approved Hello Kitty Sweets, which has remained popular for some time. In demographic terms, they appeal to the same pie. And guess where the Barbie Cafe is located? Its less than a block from Hello Kitty Sweets, so Mattel is well aware of the demographics.
A couple days ago I published an article about a recent trip to Houtong Village, a.k.a. the Cat Village, which was only a 30 minute train ride away from Taipei city. I love taking the train outside of the city and to any of the smaller stations in the more rural areas of the country. While surface traffic and the evergrowing need for real estate means that most TRA stations in Taipei city are underground, rural stations are by-in-large out in the open air with minimal cover just in case the weather turns rainy.
What do you do if you are the village one train stop down from a very popular tourist-trail village? You come up with a hook to snag some of that tourist traffic. In this case, Houtong Village sits on the next stop past where anyone going to Pingxi to float some paper lanterns or Shifen to see the waterfall would exit.
The hook they came up with? Cats.
One of the benefits of living in the capitol city of any country are the memorials. Taipei is no exception, with the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Memorial being my favorite due to the amazing amount of space dedicated to grass, trees, and a small lake.
Ximen Market (a.k.a. Hsimen Market, Ximending, ???, Hsimenting, etc…) has been a shopping center in Taipei since before Taiwan was a country. It was first designated as a shopping district by the Japanese during their rule of the island prior to World War II. For Chinese or Japanese-language linguaphiles this explains the ding character, which doesnt make a ton of sense in a Chinese context because it is a direct transfer of the same character in Japanese (cho), which does make sense. There have been shopping or entertainment venues in Ximen for over a century including the Red House Theater, which has been standing since 1908 and still stands.