Kaohsiung (高雄) in southern Taiwan is a city of interesting contrasts, even contradictions. Its name translates to “high hero,” although its original name is decidedly less noble –
“打狗 beating the dog.” It is Taiwan’s largest port and third largest city with its share of skyscrapers, but the city’s focal point is the Love River (愛河), where lovers literally stroll hand-in-hand along its banks before heading off to the myriad little cafés and eateries nearby.
Its night markets – Rui Feng (瑞豐) and Liu He (六合) are musts – draw a mass of humanity wanting a share of its delights, from nougats to sausages to stinky tofu, while the Xin Jue Jiang Shopping District (新崛江商圈) gives out a decidedly young and hip vibe.
But, since 2012 by city council directive, Kaohsiung has embarked on a journey to be a dynamic, avant garde city for art, particularly public or street art. This kicked off with Jiuru Street being designated a graffiti area, which became the Jiuru Street Art Factory (九如鐵道藝廠) housed in an abandoned train station.
Then there is the amazing Weiwuying Street Art Village (衛武營街頭藝術彩繪), in Lingya District (苓雅區), a former military barracks that is now the largest village of murals in Taiwan. The drab concrete buildings are the perfect canvases for street artists from all over the world – Brazil, Spain, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Italy, Thailand and more – to express their ideas. And not just walls but all public spaces – pump sheds, park benches, shipping containers – play hosts to colorful, often whimsical, art.
Weiwuying is also home to a cultural center that sits on a 66-hectare site. Opened last year, the Weiwuying Cultural Center (衛武營國家藝術文化中心 or National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts) has four performance halls, the largest being a 2,236-seat opera house. There are outdoor spaces like an amphitheater, and everything comes under an elaborate roof inspired by local banyan trees.
Taking on a vibrant life of its own, its street art expanded to the Pier 2 Art Center (駁二藝術特區) in Yancheng District (鹽埕區), an abandoned industrial area transformed into an arts hub packed with exhibits and installations.
Join the creative experiment that is KUBIC (集盒) in Qianzheng District (前鎮區), a new experimental market built with used shipping containers. Stacked on the open space like Lego blocks, KUBIC – Kaohsiung, Urban, Boxes, Innovation and Creative – showcases food, design, architecture, handicraft and fashion, inviting folks to walk, to explore or just imbibe the creative energy of this community.
If you have an extra day, take the 10-minute ferry ride out to Cijin Island (旗津島). Enjoy its black sand beach, or rent a bike and explore the island, including a historic lighthouse and a fort. But what you must not miss is the Rainbow Church (彩虹教堂), which is not really a place of worship but a contemporary art installation that is sure to light up your Instagram page. Then, before heading back to the city, indulge in a seafood dinner – squid, fish, clams to your heart’s delight – that will bust your waistline but not your pocket.
Don’t leave Kaohsiung without visiting the Dome of Light (光之穹頂) at the Formosa Boulevard subway station (美麗島車站), at the intersection of the Red and Orange lines. Built by Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata, the 30-meter diameter dome is made of 4,500 glass panels, which makes it the largest work of glass art in the world. It took four and a half years to complete and, despite it being the city’s busiest metro stop, the dome has the solemnity of a cathedral. The dome’s four quadrants feature different themes like the history of the universe, humanity and Taiwan’s tumultuous political history.
So on your next visit to Taiwan, head south, and discover a city bursting with color, smells, tastes and sounds – food for the body and the soul.