"If you come to Taiwan without making a trip to a night market, you haven't been to Taiwan!"
Thanks to the joint efforts of the government and private sector, tourist arrivals to Taiwan this year are expected to hit an all-time high of 5.2 million. Night markets can be thanked for attracting a lot of these people to Taiwan. You might be curious as to why I say this.
Well, the most commonly visited place among many tourists who come to Taiwan is in fact not the National Palace Museum or the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Rather, the most popular spots are night markets throughout Taiwan. Night markets are visited by over 70% of tourists to Taiwan. They are an important window into Taiwan culture, because once you step into a night market, you are walking into popular culture and seeing the ordinary person. Many people fall in love with Taiwan while browsing through its night markets.
Recently we have been promoting the internationalization of Taiwan's culinary delights. In fact, more and more international media sources are pointing out Taiwan's unique night market culture. In the second half of this year, one key focus of the Tourism Bureau's marketing of Taiwan has been an activity in which people select their favorite night market. As a result, night markets have become a focus of interest throughout Taiwan.
Browsing through night markets and eating the delicious foods sold there has long been something of a national pastime for the people of Taiwan. As a boy I lived right near the entrance to the Wuzhou Street Night Market in Wanhua District of Taipei City. Nearby was the Huaxi Street Night Market. These places made a deep impression on me from a very early age.
From Taiwan's big cities to its 319 townships, it is anyone's guess as to how many night markets there actually are. I often go to night markets on my travels around Taiwan. For instance, at the Shihlin Night Market in Taipei City, I once served as a guide for tourists from Hong Kong. I took them to the Niu Mama Community Home confectionery shop, which donates much of its earnings to good causes. At the Luodong Night Market in Yilan I've sampled the green onion pancakes and the stuffed tapioca balls. And what would a visit to Kaohsiung's Liuhe Night Market be without a cup of papaya milk? Some of the other well-known night markets around Taiwan that I've visited include Miaokou Night Market in Keelung, the Shulin and Nanya night markets in Taipei County, the Zhongxing Night Market in Hsinchu, the Toufen Night Market in Miaoli, the Fengjia shopping district in Taichung, the Xingang Night Market in Chiayi, the Xiaobei Chenggong Night Market in Tainan, the Ruiguang Night Market in Pingtung, the Nanbin and Ziqiang night markets in Hualien, the Fruit Street Night Market in Taitung, and on and on and on. Each night market, regardless of its size, reflects the characteristics of each place and is full of stories of the people of that place. Each one of these places also embodies Taiwan's core values. These are moving sights to behold.
Night markets are where everyday people gather and engage in economic activity at the most basic level. The things sold at night markets are inexpensively priced. The ordinary person can afford to eat the foods, play the games, and use the products sold there. That is why night markets draw so many people, which certainly helps to increase the incomes of the ordinary people selling things there.
The popularity of night markets is a reflection of the close connection that they have with common people, and offer a classic panorama of everyday life at its nitty-gritty best. You witness the friendliness and hospitality of the Taiwan people, and see great foods all around you. There are food stalls, hawkers, street artists, and all types of games. Night markets are a cradle of Taiwan's cultural and creative industries, and embody the diverse soft power of the public.
It is because of this that each night market has its own characteristics, making it hard to compare them to each other. With this in mind, two years ago I specially suggested that the Tourism Bureau hold a competition among Taiwan's night markets. This year the competition was held and it was extremely popular among the public. I am delighted that I was able to personally hand out the awards, which came in many categories – friendliest, most attractive, best for shopping, most environmentally conscious, old stores with the best local character, most innovative marketing, most modern, and the most down-home feel. This competition trained a spotlight on the characteristics that Taiwan's night markets share in common. However, there wasn't a winner in the "most environmentally conscious" category, which is something that I hope vendors in night markets will improve upon.
I am confident that in the future there will be even more night markets and more competitions to highlight the special features of various night markets. We also hope that these activities will help night markets develop unique features to differentiate themselves from other night markets. Those that succeed will surely be attractive, clean, environmentally conscious, and offer great food.
We hope that Taiwan's night market culture will play a role in the internationalization of Taiwan food, giving Taiwan an edge in the international tourism market. We hope that vendors will continue to work hard so that overseas visitors will all come to realize that no trip to Taiwan is complete without visiting our night markets!