Ding, ding, ding-a-ding-ding! The sounds of a sidewalk percussionist please the ears of pedestrians as he smacks a block of steel with a stick-like object. Slightly louder than this is the clanking of coins being dropped into his donation bucket. Pop! A balloon is brought to its demise by a low flying dart. This sound, as irritable as it may be, is no competition for the engines of the motorized scooters that roar in every direction. A variety of stenches, from the smoky scent of dried squid to the sweet smell of fried honey cakes waft around the rocky shores of Tamsui, a far northern district of New Taipei City, Taiwan. Though filled with games, music, and food vendors, this boardwalk is far from the scene off of exit 82. Tamsui means "fresh water" in Chinese, but this could not be further from the case in this town. People are forbidden from swimming in its sub-sparkly grey waters for a laundry list of health and safety reasons. Despite the mediocre level of hygiene in this place, tourists from all over Taiwan and the world are sure to pay a visit to this daily exposition of steel box drummers, religious theatre acts, and concrete calligraphy painters.
There just seems to be something poetic about the faded skyline of hotels and factories that sits across from old Tamsui Road. An area settled by the Ketagaland aborigines and later discovered by the Spanish in the 17th century, it is rich in history and has been used for many different reasons. Despite such an ancient identity, this smoggy beach town also has the resources of a hip nightlife district. While people of all ages gather there for touristy purposes, the three nearby universities contribute to its steady influx of young adults. Perhaps such duality is what one is bound to find in an old fisherman’s village turned college town. Regardless of how traditional Tamsui stays or how modern it becomes, nothing is able to change its beloved view of the setting sun that so many gather to watch.
There is a seemingly endless trail of aquatic wonder all over Taiwan. Much like our own state, though, despite its plethora of gorgeous beaches and rustic farms, it often suffers under the stereotypes of overcrowdedness and pollution. The air in Taiwan is often dirty from scooters and motorcycles, and the streets are forever showered in red spit from beetle nut chewers. Such a trio of noise, pollution and liquid litter is hardly charming. Have no fear, though, for this land does not allow such flaws to get in the way of its true beauty.
From monumental skyscrapers to breathtaking mountains, Taiwan provides scenic compensation, to say the least. Tamsui is no exception to this upside to my sometimes stinky island, and scenery is not all that it has to offer. In addition to its glowing sunset, this seaside town has an extremely ecclectic culinary scene. On the very same corner, one can grab traditional beef noodle, fresh eel, and cotton candy. A stone’s throw away from these establishments is an Alley Cat’s brick oven pizza, along with one of the boardwalk’s many competing sausage stands. Dessert can be chosen from a wide array of shaved ices - red bean and pineapple to peanut butter and green tea. Craving something a bit more old fashioned? Try a 20-inch high chocolate and vanilla soft-serve ice cream; grab it from the Turkish chef, and be prepared to see him perform one of the many tricks he does while he serves up the dairy goodness.
What goes on in this tiny, crowded country just east of China? Well, it sure would be convenient for me to say that this circus act of a town on the Northwest coast is a microcosm of Taiwan. However, Tamsui merely scratches the surface of this caldron of culture that I continue to wake up in every morning.