On Sunday, Taipei's oldest food market, the Jiancheng Circle (
Following a massive and expensive renovation by the Taipei City Government, the building, which had stood on the site for 98 years, is gone and, along with it, a cultural and historical landmark that had served Taipei residents as well as visitors from other parts of the country and abroad.
While many lament the market's closure, its demise also highlights Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou's (
In an attempt to modernize the decades-old market, Ma ordered the demolition of the food circle in March 2001 and had the Taipei City Government spend lots of money to renovate the market.
However, the resulting structure failed to live up to its theme -- the circle of life -- based on the design by Taiwanese architect C.Y. Lee (
In Ma's view, the two-story cylindrical glass building that re-opened in October 2003 was a testament to the beauty and wonder of modern architecture, which did away with the aged, congested, disorderly array of vendors and stalls that filled the old market.
However, to the eyes of many Taipei residents, especially those living nearby, it was a cold, glass monster that bore no trace of the market's good and familiar architectural style, history and culture.
To top it all, the renovated structure neglected the very element that had made the night market fun and memorable -- the priceless local touch that's distinctly Taiwanese in flavor. It might have been a little crowded, slightly filthy or a bit shabby, but it had a distinctly warm, human element.
Ma probably meant well when he sought to improve the old Jiancheng Circle.
But the ironic part is that the very effort by the Taipei City Government to modernize the time-honored market was the least progressive idea of all.
Sure, the Jiancheng Circle was not a glamour house like Taipei 101, nor did it resemble anything like the upscale shoeboxes that hawk brandname items in the Xinyi commercial district.
But old does not always mean outdated, nor does everything new equate with progress.
Having survived two fires -- one in 1993 and another in 1999 -- the market remained a very visible city landmark. It was one of the most popular night markets since the Japanese colonial era, where generations shared fond memories of childhood afternoon snack-runs, young people dating or a family night out.
While Ma wasn't the architect of the new building, he contributed to its failure and decline.
Like any good manager or marketer, he should know that the key to selling something is to tailor it to what people want, and not what he thinks they want.
After all, a mayor is elected to serve the people and not his own personal agenda.
While Ma may view his two-term mayoral tenure as a step to a higher political post, he is off to a bad start if after living on this soil for decades, he still can't identify what the Taiwanese want or need.
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