Mon, Jul 10, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Fond memories of Jiancheng Circle

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taipei's Jiancheng Circle, located at the intersection of Chongqing North Road and Nanjing West Road, and once a bustling food market, entered the annals of history on July 2 when it closed its doors for the last time.

PHOTO: CHIEN JUNG-FONG, TAIPEI TIMES

For 51-year-old Taipei resident Randy Hsu (許守仁), the old Jiancheng Circle (建成圓環) plays a prominent part in his happy childhood memories.

Having Taiwanese snacks and shopping in the night market afterwards used to be one of his favorite ways of spending an evening with family or friends.

"It was a bustling and crowded place like Gongguan or Shihlin night market now. My friends and I would go there after school or at weekends," he said.

Many Taipei residents share similar fond memories of the circle as a place with great food and a cheerful atmosphere.

"Going to the circle used to be my favorite family outing. Every time my parents took us to the circle, we got so excited that our cheers would raise the roof," 36-year-old Taipei resident Chen Ching-ming (陳璟民) told the Taipei Times.

But the decision by the Taipei City Government to renovate the old market into a modern, two-story food court three years ago, they said, failed to reflect the history, culture and the hustle-bustle feel that a night market should have even though it was clean and organized.

Last Sunday (July 2), the circle, Taipei's oldest food market, was consigned to the history books after the NT$200 million (US$6.17 million) reconstruction project initiated by the city government failed to attract sufficient crowds to regain the market's competitiveness.

The Jiancheng Circle, located at the intersection of Chongqing North Road and Nanjing West Road, was once a city landmark.

The area was a swamp until the period of the Qing Dynasty. During the 1920s, houses and parks sprang up in the vicinity bringing prosperity to the area. Vendors then set up stalls selling all kinds of Taiwanese food.

At its peak during the 1960s and 1970s, there were about 200 stalls selling popular snacks, as well as grocery and antique shops.

It became the biggest night market in Taipei with an area expanded to Nanking West Road and Baoan Road.

Along with the area around Longshan Temple, the circle became one of Taipei's most famous markets.

But the market's business was badly hit by two devastating fires in 1993 and 1999. The booming of other areas of the city, such as the east side, also contributed to the market's decline.

In 2001, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) made the reconstruction of the circle one of the mainstays of his bid to revitalize the city's older districts.

The modern building which emerged as a result, however, did not appeal to food vendors and residents.

"I expected that the project would bring new life to the old circle. But the new circle is too arty for me. A night market should be crowded and lively," Hsu said.

Chen Chen-sheng (陳震盛), former president of the Jiancheng Circle vendor's association, blamed the city government for not taking tradition and historical memories into account when the circle was redesigned.

"The renovated circle was completely impractical ... it was like a labyrinth inside," he said.

Yielding to the slow business, the Taipei City Markets Administration Office has given each vendor a relocation subsidy of about NT$800,000 and closed the market.

Facing harsh criticism, Office head Chen Shih-hui (陳世輝) stressed that the office will continue to seek the revitalization of the area by building a Taiwanese food promotion center on the site by the end of this year, while shifting the blame onto the economy and vendors for the circle's closure.

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