Tainan is a beautiful city with architecture hailing from multiple different periods. However, it has forced me to recognise and think about another aspect of civic beauty we often neglect – our footpaths. Despite the time we spend admiring the skylines above us, we take very little time to look down at our feet.
Tainan’s footpaths were initially jarring and disorienting for me. The city’s footpaths are privatised and often function essentially as extensions of shopfronts. Often you will see chefs working out in the open, with the pavement functioning as their kitchen, and you can invite chagrin by walking through their workspace. All kinds of things end up on Tainan’s footpaths – one of the most common sights by far is scooters.
Scooters are Tainan’s de-facto official mode of transport. When our Taiwanese peers for our service learning project learnt that our dormitory was a 12-minute walk from our classes, they expressed shock and horror. When we replied that it was not an issue for us – Tainan is essentially flat – they claimed we were like people in Taipei. As one of our peers put it, if 7-11 were five minutes from my house, I would scooter there. As a result of this dominance, there is no natural ‘right of way’. You frequently need to weave onto the road to avoid the obstacles stores leave on the footpaths, and scooters, bikes, and cars will weave around you.
The unique nature of these paths lends itself to unusual beauty. The surface is constantly changing – stone, tiling, and you name it – Tainan’s footpaths are covered in it all. The elevation also varies, with the paths frequently undulating, often requiring you to walk up stairs or stairs or ramps to continue walking.
Whilst this may sound hectic and unusual, it is a unique aspect of the city’s identity. Tainan’s paths weave a unique tapestry. It allows for some of its most notable features and character, such as those delicious street vendors cooking out in the open.