Taipei

 

 

David Whitley discovers unexpected cultural influences in the Taiwanese capital – and ends up eating his dinner from a toilet bowl.

 

Anyone who called Taipei a beautiful city would have to be both blind and deaf to the noise of a billion scooters swarming over identikit intersections. But sometimes it’s the, erm, ‘not conventionally attractive’ ones that are the most interesting. Culturally, Taipei doesn’t quite fit where you expect it to. I arrived expecting it to be essentially Chinese with a Hong Kong-esque westernised twist that comes from escaping the communist system. What I didn’t expect was for Taiwan to have a significant indigenous population which is of Austronesian origin – closer to the people of Papua New Guinea than the Asian mainland.

 

A 50 year period of Japanese rule between 1895 and 1945 has also left significant links to Japan. But, surprisingly, that seems to manifest itself more in the younger generations than the older generations. The historic ties mean that Japanese is often spoken better than English for older Taiwanese people, but while the youngsters may tend towards English as a second language, the cultural leanings seem to be towards Japan.

 

That would seem to be the case judging by the lively Ximending area of Taipei, anyway. It’s a brash blizzard of neon and flashing lights, where seemingly every shop, café and fast food outlet has a smiling cartoon character on its signage. The dress code seems to follow the Japanese take on individuality – ie. absurdly try hard – as well.

Another thing that seems to have crept across from Japan rather than China is the ridiculous theme restaurant. And Taipei boasts perhaps the most absurd theme restaurant on the planet.

 

It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say I came here just to eat at Modern Toilet. It has been mentioned to me a few times, and I rather wanted to see it with my own eyes. For, you see, Modern Toilet is a restaurant themed around going about your bathroom business.

 

Tucked into a little laneway off Xining South Road, the exterior of Modern Toilet has a giant lavatory protruding from the wall. Get upstairs, and you’re ushered towards a table that’s essentially a bit of glass on top of a bath. The seats – technically stools, but that would be unfortunately ambiguous terminology in the circumstances – are rather familiar, however. They’re loos, albeit with the flushing mechanism and tank removed. The lids have been given an arty makeover so that they look like aquarium scenes or portraits.

 

But it’s not just the decor that gets the loo look – the food does too. My chicken curry arrives in a bowl of a very different kind. It’s basically a mini-bog, cleverly designed so that the chicken curry sizzles on the underside. With it, I receive a urinal-shaped drinking vessel full of brutally sickly strawberry stuff that’s somewhere between a milkshake and a cordial mixer. I can’t help but feel that they’re missing a trick by not serving apple juice instead...

 

The piece de resistance is the dessert. The chocolate ice cream comes in a miniature squat toilet and is presented to look like a steaming, coiled turd. It tastes like sh... oh, hang on, that joke’s just too obvious, isn’t it?

 

The acid test comes in the loos themselves. How on earth do you novelty-up the toilets in a toilet-themed restaurant? The answer, of course, comes with the wash basin. It is, of course, yet another toilet – a tap has been fixed to the upturned lid for your sanitary needs. Bravo.

 

More photos for your amusement here

 

 

Taipei accommodation: David stayed in Taipei as a guest of Preferred Hotels (Preferredhotels.com). He stayed at the rather excellent Palais de Chine and Landis hotels.

 

 

 

By David Whitley