Mar 30, 2023



I came to Tainan with no knowledge and no expectations.

What I found was a million places to explore. Every street rich with restaurants and shops. Tucked into every alley were cafés and bars. The city felt fully alive, compact and walkable and vibrant.

To find a gin bar, we climbed up into a multi-storied market, shuttered, the day’s towels set out to dry. After several wrong passageways we wound up in a barely-lit corridor with an illuminated door. Inside: a true gin nerd ran the show. Serious but welcoming, he had spirits so diverse that even a gin and tonic surprised, the infused herbs and spices lively and harmonious.

Japanese staples were ever present, like an always packed izakaya with gourmet flourishes and a vintage department store specializing in design goods.

But if you wanted to eat cheaply and locally, the options for noodles, tofu, soup, and pork—just to name a fraction—could keep you sated.

Going about town, glimmers of art and third-wave design cropped up.

I will admit that I think we lucked out with the district we stayed in. Wandering through sections away from our home base, I realized that to traverse the city more broadly, you could really use a moped.

Chimei Museum

On paper, I would not expect to like the Chimei museum at all. It is an elaborate Greco-Roman compound that primarily houses collections of objects, like models of animals and musical instruments and medieval swords.

But it turns out that such arrays are fascinating to behold. It’s like walking through a life-size encyclopedia. First you encounter 1:1 scale mammals, all the way from gazelles to elephants and polar bears. Then you can duck into hallways that have hundreds of birds, many seeming too wacky and spectacular to exist.

I could not tell you whether some, all, or none of these creatures were taxidermied. I should probably be embarrassed by this. But fake things are so convincing these days I often end up touching models plants to confirm their plasticity.

Then you hit up all kinds of swords and guns and shields and armor from both Europe and Asia. They even included hyper-detailed placards walking you thorough, e.g., the mechanics of various firearms across centuries. This all gave me a greater respect for the complexity of war tech across the past few thousand years, as my knowledge was basically limited to the idea that we hit each other with sharp objects in various shapes.

Not posting a ton of pics here at risk of glorifying war, but there were so many things that made sense but I hadn't realized existed. E.g., this shield can catch a sword in its little slot.

Musical instruments formed their own league of fascination. I spent roughly exactly my second decade alive engrossed in playing music, and enough time badly composing orchestral songs that I accumulated hours poking around the instrument settings in various music software. All that to say, I thought I had a pretty good inventory of what musical instruments were out there. But it turns out this is just peanuts to what people have actually come up with.

Top photo: recreated violin-maker's workshop. Bottom: yes, someone put a violin INSIDE A WALKING STICK. I'm sparing you about a dozen other photos I took here.

Even some of the art displays had this The Way Things Work01 feel to it, like this original painting (right) and re-creation done by a student at an art school (left).

The original (right) is by Friedrich von Amerling in 1854; the study (left) was done four years later at the Austria-Hungary School. (So said the plaque.)

It’s an unusual concept, but I love that the museum exists. It’s the kind of place that can ignite unexpected fascination through the simple act of presenting you with things that exist.

Bits and Pieces

As ever, here are some little surprises to enjoy.

There was a security camera in the living room of our AirBnb. The host recognized that this creeped us out, and let me put a hat on it the whole time we were there. But to me it's wild that you'd have the audacity to put one there to begin with. An art piece I saw somewhere in Taiwan mentioned as part of its context that Taipei has a staggering density of surveillance cameras, so I guess there's a broader culture of accepting being watched all the time.

I will never cease to be amazed that new coffee apparatuses still exist for me to discover. This one: a single-serving pour-over.

See, Portuguese egg tarts! They're everywhere!

I’m not sure if the first NO is intentionally all-caps but it’s even better if so. This was a feature in an extremely long underground parking lot, which I had to applaud as a smart move (Singapore also has these, and is planning more). Unfortunately, it was enough of a clusterfuck with cars trying to maneuver, and park, and wait for parking, and get around those waiting for parking, that it made walking through it unappealing even as an escape from rain.

Garbage truck playing the garbage truck jingle, a piano opus.

You've got mail.

Final High Speed Train Destination: Kaohsiung

Taiwan has great bullet trains, but only along its west coast. So the next stop—Kaohsiung, city of street art—would be our last speedy connection.

No idea what was going on with that smoke though.


  1. Anyone else have that book as a kid? I don’t think I retained anything except a love of good diagrams, parts, and processes. ↩︎