Transformation by Colour @ Kaohsiung 高雄 Street Art ~ and more!

Every city needs some colour, especially if the city concerned is famous for being a city nobody wants to visit.  Or live in.  Or work in. Kaohsiung is exactly that city.  It may be the southern capital of Taiwan and a major metropolis.  But it is also THE city in Taiwan that everybody loves to hate.  Far too hot in summer, far too polluted in winter.  Full of industry, oil refineries, factories and vehicles pumping out fumes all day and all night.  An ugly, horrible, industrial, polluted, over-heated and under-cared-for metropolis, frequently listed in the Top Ten Most Polluted Cities of the World.  My impression has always been that it has almost nothing going for it other than half the country seems to come from Kaohsiung, been educated there or worked there at some time.  So they kinda feel loyal to their ‘home town’.  But then again, most couldn’t wait to leave, from what I had always heard.  Ah, poor old Kaohsiung!

But y’know, Kaohsiung is changing.  Being transformed no less.  By colour!  And not just any old colour.  Walls and buildings are being painted with huge and very attractive murals.  Not just painted with cartoon murals or indecipherable graffiti, though there are plenty of those.  But painted with REAL art.  Really beautiful, stunning, colourful and amazing high-quality works of art in fact.

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Walls are divisive, not just by their nature, but by their utter ugliness.  Plain walls are so boring, but coloured walls, if painted the wrong colour or covered in abusive graffiti may be worse.  But now the walls in Kaohsiung are turning heads, and turning the world upside down by their beauty.  This wall mural is the most recent, dated 2018!

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Much of this transformation is taking place in the area around Weiwuying MRT Metro Station 衛武營 on the MRT Orange Line (exit 5, turn right onto Jianjun 建軍 Road).  Opposite is the Kaohsiung Armed Forces General Hospital, and a bit further along is the Kaohsiung Mosque … 

Across from the hospital and mosque is a large housing estate / apartment complex, housing military dependents, and it is on these walls that the murals have been painted. 

And right next to the MRT Station is the wall of the bus station, and that mural is perhaps the most famous ~ painted to look like a huge bookcase…. 

The walls around the side of the bus station are also painted too…. 

The murals are mostly painted by the Wallriors (for more information see here and their facebook page here), and they are really talented.  Real artists.  Working from cranes and scaffolding.  Supported by the Kaohsiung City government and the local community.  Not only have the walls been painted in that area, but the local community have planted flowers all over, and it’s beautiful!  The old people sit out and chat to each other, and talk to visitors.  Such a friendly place.  You must must must go! 

And if it’s a sunny day, then so much the better.  We went there last Thursday afternoon, and the light was perfect.  It is by far the most amazing place to visit in Kaohsiung!

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But Weiwuying is not the only place with street art in Kaohsiung, there’s plenty more, scattered around, but information offered on the internet is virtually all in Chinese, so get some help if your Chinese language skills are not up to scratch!  And so it was that me and my good friends, Shiu-Chin and Ah-Guan headed off to the sports stadium nearby where there’s 3 wall murals, though the sun was in the wrong place for good photos…. 

And then we went to the Kaohsiung Cultural Center, and after a bit of walking around following Google Maps, so we found 2 more amazing murals, about 1 km apart, but well worth visiting, even though by then it was nearly dark.  Daylight is required to see murals of course. But hey, a sunset on the way was an added bonus!  The first one is by San Francisco-based artist, Mona Caron, part of her series on weeds, titled, ‘Outgrowing‘ (the link also shows videos of the making of the mural), and which government officials apparently claim is the biggest mural in Asia….

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This second one is by Kaohsiung-based artist Bamboo Yang (楊惟竹) of the Wallriors…

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And then there is the newly-famous and very wonderful area called Pier 2 駁二藝術特區.  This is a huge area of old and abandoned warehouses around the Kaohsiung Port area, now all being restored and converted into art spaces, museums, shops and restaurants, with plenty to see and do.  There’s lots of wall murals here too, though mostly of cartoons or weird and wacky designs.  The coastguard ships are here, and there’s a good view of the Kaohsiung Skyline across the water.   There’s also the light rail / tram-line too.  We were there on Wednesday last week, which was a national holiday in Taiwan (228), so the place was packed.  And the light rail was free, the last day.  From March 1 onwards, you have to pay.  But it’s not expensive.  And the whole area has a great atmosphere ~ well worth visiting!

The other famous place in Kaohsiung that has undergone major transformation in the last few years is the Love River 愛河.   The river flows through the heart of the city, and for years was famous as a badly-polluted (and therefore very misnamed) stinky canal. But it too has been transformed.  The water has been cleaned up, parks run along the river banks with performances going on, restaurants, coffee shops, bars etc, and it is a pleasant place to spend an evening.  We were there on Wednesday night last week.  And Thursday night.  And Friday night too!  All for the Kaohsiung Lantern Festival, which finished this past weekend, but which saw thousands and thousands of people coming along to see the lanterns and the light show and the performances.  It’s the Year of the Dog and the old name of Kaohsiung was ‘Takau’ in the Taiwanese language (Chinese: 打狗). The meaning of the associated Chinese characters is “beat the dog”, so there were even more dog lanterns than ever.  And lanterns mean colour, colour and more colour!

And what else to see in Kaohsiung? A must-go place is the Formosa Boulevard MRT Station 美麗島站 (Meilidao) famous for its “Dome of Light”, the largest glass work in the world – designed by Italian artist Narcissus Quagliata.   I love it! 

And if you still have time and energy, check out some churches.  Right next to the Love River is the R.C. Holy Rosary Cathedral, apparently the oldest RC Church in Taiwan (though Wanchin Basilica RC Church in Pingtung may also be the oldest, depending on whether you date the church from when it was established, constructed, or rebuilt!) Anyway, the cathedral was first established in 1860 and rebuilt to its present dimensions in 1928.  I saw it very early in the morning, and very late at night, both times in the murky darkness,so this is the best view I got ~ actually it is completely overshadowed by nearby high-rise buildings, so really unless you know it’s there, you won’t even notice it! 

And the Taiwan Episcopal Church has 2 churches in Kaohsiung – the very beautiful St. Paul’s Church in the Sanmin area of the city…..

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And St. Timothy’s Church, not far from Formosa Boulevard MRT Station, 30 minutes walking distance apart.  Lovely clergy and very welcoming people in both churches. Well worth visiting too! 

So Kaohsiung is now my new favourite city.  It’s true it’s too hot in summer, but at this time of year and after a winter of terrible endless rain and cold up here in the north, well, y’know, Kaohsiung seems extra-attractive. Just look at all this colour! 

And the people are so friendly.  On an early morning walk around the city, everyone greets you.  Nobody does that in Taipei.  Or even Taichung.  Only in the countryside does that happen in northern and central Taiwan.

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But Kaohsiung, major city that it is, is oh so friendly!  I just love it!

PS: Updated May 28, 2018 – see Part 2, revisiting Street Art locations in Kaohsiung, discovering there’s even more street art than before!

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