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Dongyuan Old Street


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Dongyuan Old Street Introduction

Dongyuan Old Street is a narrow, terracotta-paved lane that runs downhill for some 300 meters through its namesake village. The atmosphere here is quite different from most old streets in Taiwan in that it feels very much as if it were made for the local residents rather than to cater to tourists, and in fact, this is indeed the case.

You will find basically no souvenir or gift shops in Dongyuan Old Street. Nor is there much in the way of arty coffee houses or high-end eateries. A lot of the street is made up of residences, and the shops that do exist are mostly diners, butchers, barbers, grocers, and vegetable sellers.

You may find yourself wondering why such a small town has such a long Old Street. The answer to this question is that once Dongyuan was a thriving mill town thanks to the now-defunct Dapu Sugar Mill. Before 1970, sugar was one of Taiwan’s biggest exports, and along with many other rural centers in the island, Dongyuan was enjoying its own version of a sugar high. People here may not have been fabulously wealthy, but most were comfortably off. This street used to house theaters, doctors, and dentists, and served as a central market for people from the surrounding countryside. The faded glory of bygone times is still evident in some of the facades on the buildings along the lane.

As Taiwan’s economy shifted from agricultural production to industry in 1970s, the sugar industry took a hit. The local mill closed down in 1983, and Dongyuan, like many other rural centers, went through a period of decline as young people increasingly moved to the cities to find work.

Fortunately, increased interest in locally-sourced, organic agricultural products in recent years has helped Dongyuan experience a modest revival. Dongshan District is known for its coffee, turmeric, citrus fruit, plums, and sweet dried longans, and visitors can find all of these seasonal products in the shops on Old Street. But if you want to get in on the action, you’ll have to wake up early. The street is a hive of activity between 6:00 and 10:00 a.m., after which everything closes down and empties out.

Even if you are too late for the morning market, a walk down Dongyuan Old Street is an interesting and thought-provoking experience. For those who know where to look, there is plenty to see. The Culture and Tourism Office is about halfway down the road, and if you speak Chinese, you can have a long chat with Mr. Yu, the office manager, who has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of local lore and history. A tiny park sandwiched between two houses contains photos displaying historical events, and the small local temple is tucked around a corner nearby. What you will see as you explore this street is the story of the rise and fall of a small country town, the memories of good times long past, and a renewed belief in a better future.

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  Dongshan district, Tainan city


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