Taipei is constantly changing. Nothing’s really older than 20, 30 years. The city is constantly reinventing itself. Knocking down, and rebuilding bigger, newer, shinier. The city is growing and shifting just like its inhabitants.
I was sitting in Da’an Park. Looking out from the park, skyscrapers time stamp the skyline. A brick building from the 80s. A concrete tower from the 90s. A glass obelisk from the 2000s. A crane building something new. I asked my friend, Yen, “Where’s the farthest we can get away from central Taipei, but still get home before the metro stops?” She suggested Yilan, a beach town about 1.5 hours away by train, so we got onto the subway and went to Taipei Main Station.
Taipei Main Station was flooded with students, workers, tourists. I didn’t know where I was going. I was half following the crowd, half looking for my friend’s head bob through the swarming commuters. The station itself was in a state of flux – new subway cars would pull up to one platform and decades old trains would pull away from another. The boarding process was like this too. I used my student ID/debit card/transit pass to pay for the train, but used a machine straight out of the 80s and some pocket change to reserve my seat.
The train looked old, but clean. I took my seat next to the window and watched the city shift around me. After a long tunnel, the train emerged on the outskirts of the city. Low-rise buildings slowly sank into the countryside. After cutting through farmland along the coast, we arrived at Yilan.
Yilan was a time capsule. The main street was dotted with neon and kitsch. Remnants from the economic miracle of the 80s. Buildings showed years of wear. It was a tourist town past its time, but there was something bewitching about the faded beauty. Yilan was defined by cheap facades that didn’t age well.
The town was barren, but still all lit up. It was as if the buildings were waiting for decades old crowds to return. After walking the same streets over and over, we went to the beach. Only a 15 minute cab ride. The taxi was the newest car on the street, a shiny yellow Toyota flanked by a 90s BMW and a rusted truck.
The beach glowed in Yilan’s distant street lights. We took off our clothes and ran into the water. The water was warm, the sand was soft, and no one was there. I saw the stars. Only a few dim constellations, but I didn’t believe it at first. I haven’t seen stars since coming to Taiwan.
After laying in the sand, letting the sea breeze dry us off, and talking for hours, we had to catch a train. We climbed back into the same taxi and went back to the station. We took High-Speed Rail. Waiting at the platform, the train was a piece of modernity surrounded by stained bricks and decay.
As soon as we took our seats, I felt like I was back in Taipei. The tinted windows blocked out Yilan’s eclectic architecture. A brand new LED screen addressed passengers in Chinese and English. The train was new, and hardly showed any signs of wear.
Too soon we got back to Taipei. To the polish of Taipei Main Station. To the sterility of a new city. The stars were replaced with traffic lights, the neon replaced with LED. The centuries-old city that looks like it was built yesterday.