TAINAN CITY, Taiwan: With a history of 300 years, streets of Taiwan’s Tainan City are rich in heritage. One in particular has become a hub of bustling activity thanks to a man who helped incorporate the old with the new.
From a place that people saw little reason to visit, Zhengxing Street has now become a magnet for crowds. A tempura shop, which has been on Zhengxing Street for more than 10 years, bears silent witness to its transformation.
“The street became more bustling after new shops like Rainbow Is Coming came in,” said Mia Hsieh, wife of the owner of Feng Fa Tempura. “Shop owners have become very close and jointly built the neighbourhood. Since then, our business has grown at least tenfold.”
Erik Kao, who owns one of the newer shops on the block, is the man behind the street’s makeover. He bonds with his neighbours through music and goes door-to-door to ask how they are doing. The 40-year-old T-shirt vendor believes a strong community spirit can achieve many things.
“When your neighbour needs help to carry something, you help him,” said Erik Kao, owner of the Rainbow Is Coming shop. “When your shop needs a hand, he comes to help. It has become very natural for everyone to help each other. It’s only a few years after that we started to jointly build the street.”
As an online T-shirt vendor, Erik moved to Tainan City and opened his shop on Zhengxing Street seven years ago. Since then, he and other like-minded residents have launched a series of creative activities that have not only brought neighbours closer, but also injected new life into the old street.
“When I first opened my shop, there were only five to 10 visitors here a day. But now on weekends, we have up to 500 visitors a day, which is 100 times better than before,” he said.
One activity has inspired them to make cats their mascots. Now the street is filled with standees of cats that are created based on the appearances of the actual residents who have spent most of their lives here.
Huang Yu-shuang, 83, has lived here for more than 60 years. She used to run a rice shop, which closed 13 years ago. With a standee of a cat drawn based on her appearance and hobby, she loves the attention and says the cat icons have become a tourism draw.
“Many visitors come here to take pictures of this cat," she said. It’s an art, some Japanese tourists come here just to take pictures of me and the cat."
Erik says the idea came from street cats that wander around the neighbourhood. And these cats are so popular that he has turned their image into embroideries, hats and T-shirts, which have now become the hottest selling items in his shop.
There are now 33 cat icons and he expects the number will continue to grow as more new shops are moving in. And he hopes they will draw more visitors to Zhengxing Street, which he now calls home.