Anping’s Old Streets
Anping’s Old Streets (ānpíng lǎo jiē 安平老街)
Because Anping was the original Dutch settlement in Tainan, it has some of the oldest streets in the country. Of course, there are no 17th century houses, but these streets wind through the same footpaths where the early settlers walked. Anping stayed area distinct from the rest of Tainan City all through history and has a different feel than the rest of Tainan. The area surrounding Anping Fort (Ft. Zeelandia) is full of small streets and alleyways worth exploring. It is also an area full of vendors, eateries, shops and gaming stalls. On the weekends this place is all in a frenzy, but it’s still easy to pick a lane and follow it into yesteryear.
Right at the base of Anping Fort is an area set up like a fairground. There are many gaming stalls with a 1950s county fair kind of innocence to them. You can shoot balloons, throw baseballs at targets, fish toys out of plastic pails, or enter in various games of chance. It’s all good clean fun and tickles a nostalgic funny bone in most people. If you’re not into the games themselves, it’s also good fun to watch the teenaged boys try to win plush dolls for their girlfriends.
There’s no shortage of eateries in the area. Many of them try to capitalize on a demand for Anping’s traditional foods. Much of the food can be bought and eaten throughout Taiwan, but there’s nothing like oyster omelets (o-ah jien) eaten in Anping. Add to that, shrimp rolls, shrimp chips and shrimp soup dumplings and you’ll likely get your fill of traditional seafood. Many vendors sell candy and other snack food. It’s pretty similar stuff to night market fare, but you might find something you haven’t seen before.
Some of the old buildings in the area have been converted into tea houses or eateries, but not that many, really. You can see the potential for more of these conversions, but that hasn’t been exploited yet and that may be a good thing.
Yanping Street is the oldest merchant street in the area. While the buildings here look like they were built 30 years ago, the history of the street has led it to become a shopping plaza for tourists and locals alike. The restored stone road of this street is flat-out trampled on during the weekends, and on holidays it may be impossible to traverse the crowds. This street is packed with little shops and vendors selling snack food and any manner of products from toys and soaps to trinkets and handbags. The products cover a full range from the cheapest of souvenirs to rather expensive handmade goods. If you’re thinking to send home something Taiwanese for Christmas, it’s not a bad place to shop.
Right on Xiaozhong Street is Haishan Hostel (Hǎishān Guǎn 海山館). This building has very recently been re-opened to the public. I’m not sure how long it was closed, but I understand it was under renovations for quite a while. At the time I saw it, I was not even certain that it was finished in the remodel as the rooms were empty without so much as the usual historical explanations. This building was the living quarters and shrine for Qing troops who came from the mainland and were stationed in Tainan. The group that stayed in Haishan Hostel came from Fukien and worshipped the goddess Matsu inside the hostel.
The nicest part of this area is exploring the old streets. If you stay in the tourist area (like I did on my first couple of trips to Anping), you won’t think there’s much in the way of old houses and preserved heritage going on. Many tourists stick to the area of Yanping Street and Xiaozhong Street near Haishan Hostel, but they are missing out.
There are several streets to explore, and many of them are conveniently located in the areas surrounding Haishan Hostel. Heading north or east from here will lead you through a surprising maze of old brick homes and a time warp to an older Taiwan. Some of the homes have been well-kept by their owners. Others have been, or are in the process of, being restored with the help of government funding (as stated by the plaques on the walls). Many of the old buildings, however, are empty and in various stages of dilapidation. While the government will help those who want to restore their properties, you can see that many people have abandoned the old style homes and may one day replace them with something modern.
While this area begs to be refurbished to preserve the heritage, only tourism incentives would be worth it to most people who own the properties. If turning their homes into restaurants, shops, and guesthouses is the only way to make the preservation pay off, then we would see this area become like the theme park of “Old Town” in Lijiang, China. That might kill any real heritage. For now, though, you can wander through these streets and there is still something natural about them. It is a good time to visit and see what’s left of these neighborhoods before they’re gone. I don’t know the future, but the odds are this area is either going to become a tourist theme park or be on the wrong end of a wrecking ball.