In Taiwan, we take our recycling seriously. The first few months after I moved into the student district Gongguan in Taipei, I found my recycling habits (or lack thereof) scolded so much that I just took to looking sheepishly around me whenever I saw a trash can. I soon came to realize that the desire to repurpose and recycle in Taiwan extended beyond glass bottles and cans, but to bigger and better things: say, old Japanese buildings?
The Japanese-style structures tucked into the alleys of Gongguan are relics of as era past, when the Japanese colonized Taiwan and founded what is now recognized as Taiwan’s top university, 台大(National Taiwan University). Their tiled roofs and sliding doors housed generations of professors and visiting scholars. After the Japanese left Taiwan, the buildings simply sat, unsold and unused, falling into greater neglect with each season of pounding Taiwanese rain.
Last year, news got around that the owner of my former favorite cafe,the hipper –than-hip Ecole (beloved for it’s perfect-for-studying butcher tables and all the back issues of Monocle that I could possibly desire) was granted a lease by the university to renovate one of the old Japanese structures along Taishun Street. Along with the rest of the Taiwanese cafe junkies,I waited with bated breath to see what marvelous thing would result. And soon, Mooi Trouve was birthed, on a quiet lane just a two minute stroll from my apartment. Like all the best cafes, you’d walk past right it if you weren’t in on the secret. Once you turn right, away from the chaotic traditional market on Taishun Street, stop when you see the whimsical black-and-yellow wall murals, done by one of Taiwan’s most recognizable graffiti artists.
Half of the house has been turned into a vintage furniture shop, selling carefully curated knicknacks and items (a bright red tin lunchbox from the 1950s, anyone?) The other half has been turned into a rustic-chic cafe that masterfully highlights the wood-work of the original structure. I find myself at Mooi Trouve again and again, crunching through big, fresh romaine salads that I crave when I can no longer stand the limp iceberg salads that seem to be ubiquitous in Taipei dining. Under the gracefully aging timbers of the roof , I’ve weathered chilly Taiwanese nights with their delicious baked lasagnas and sweated sultry summer nights with an ice-cold glass of their fresh carrot juice. Most often, I find myself there grabbing a drink to accompany my books, joining the mix of artistic and student types that have made themselves regulars at Mooi. The structure has come a long way: once an abandoned, unnoticed shack, it’s become a cafe that one simply can’t just walk past.
I can’t help but admire the island’s commitment to
saving the old, for seeing the potential for it to be made new. My absentmindedness
towards glass bottles still occasionally earns me stern reprimands from old Taiwanese people on the street. But if it’s that attitude that has turned a beautiful old structure, slated for disaster, into a homey place where I can get a glass of red wine and a little plate of cheese to wash down my marketing homework, I must say that I don’t quite mind.
4, Ln 16, Taishun St, Taipei City// (02) 2366-1335
Hours: Sun-Thurs. 10am-10pm/Weekends 10am-midnight
Student-friendly: Free wi-fi
Photos via shu flies