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HIT THE STREETS

The formerly run-down streets of Reposo in the Philippines, and Shida in Taiwan have had an urban makeover

IN TWO CITIES, ONCE RUN-DOWN AREAS HAVE HAD A FACE-LIFT. TWO WRITERS CHECK OUT THE GRADUAL INFLUENCES THAT HAVE MADE THESE ROADS IN MANILA AND TAIPEI ARTISTIC HUBS ELIZABETH REYES DISCOVERS THE ARTISTIC FACE OF THIS ONCE DINGY SIDE OF MAKATI PHOTOGRAPHY BY HANS JUERGEN SPRINGER

MANILA

Reposo was once a quiet, sylvan street; a park, a cemetery, a passageway once lined by rice fields and flame trees. By the 1970s, this rustic avenue on the outer edge of Makati’s elite subdivisions had a semi-industrial look: factory blocks faced elegant home bungalows and concrete buildings had big yards and bays for cargo trucks to load goods for export. Still, Reposo’s residents enjoyed living away from the well-planned commercial complex on the other end of town.

Fast forward to the 1990s and the old street Reposo (meaning rest or repose) was lined with leafy bodhi trees – Ficus religiosa – but was still fast changing. The car showroom became the telephone company; the garment business became a rattan factory, then a computer firm. Reposo was given a modern name – Nicanor F Garcia, after a local mayor – but the neglected avenue still yearned for a new concept and theme to grow on.

Today on Reposo/N Garcia Street, urban traffic flows steadily between the big business walls where several modern white gallery-showrooms are strung. While still her somewhat scruffy self, Reposo has evolved, quietly and organically, into a designers’ row that is off the beaten track, with displays of visual arts both indoors and out.

Along the sidewalk, a long colorful stretch of painted murals decorate the call-center’s perimeter wall. Further up, Reposo’s biggest concrete block, the revived LRI Center, heralds 35 design and ‘lifestyle’ firms inside, carrying hard-wood furniture, fine home decor, designer accessories and six fine-arts galleries. On the street, tucked among sundry showrooms, are stylish cuisine outlets. Three genuine Italian restaurants, Café Maestro, L’Incontro and Café Caruso, cluster by the north end, while other new outlets serve wine, coffee, oven-pizza and the artwork on the walls. By night this is a busy scene, with shiny saloons and SUVs jostling for parking among Reposo’s design and cuisine venues.

The new concept on Reposo, it is said, was sparked by the arrival of designer Budji Layug, circa 1997. The maverick bamboo furniture man opened an all-white showroom for his ‘moderne’ lifestyle. He set up in an old 1960s house with high-ceilings, pocket gardens and a quiet neighborhood: “I found the best location and the right house on Reposo - they’re exactly what I was transformed into a two-story modern building, replete with glass walls and pocket gardens. In 2000, the bright white interiors swung open for French films and language classes, outré art shows, and a French café. Alliance Francaise, now reborn on Reposo/N Garcia Street, gave the street a cultural cachet never known before.

The showroom concept also emerged in Libertystile, a high-end tiles and marble distributor located midway up Reposo. President Dinggay Espiritu says: “I wanted to have a beautiful showroom in an elegant neighborhood… This was an old Manosa house – we took it over in 2003 and had it remodeled by Gil Cosculluela, the modernist son of the famous architect. Now we reach a retail market in our walk-in, drop-by showroom; and rent out the space for special events and company affairs.”

The late-bloomer on the block and unusual market leader for the ‘arts-and-lifestyle’ blooming of Reposo was the LRI Business Center. By 2002, the generational owners of the LRI building (Luzon Rattan Industries) had much empty space to rent – but not a concept to market. LRI President Toni C Lo rallied several manufacturers to form a furnishing center in the old block – Diretso, Silahis Arts, Berde, Imaje Designs – until serendipity struck in 2003 and the LRI found her new theme: as a crossroads for arts and design.

Businessman Lo bumped into old friend and gallery-owner Ed Soler, who had dropped by for coffee. The arts-dealer eagerly suggested that Lo offer his showroom spaces to art galleries. With Soler’s creative input, the LRI building embraced the arts and reinvented itself as a design plaza on the northern end of Reposo/N Garcia Street.

In March 2004, the creative firms of the neighborhood formed a community-based association called Grupo Reposo, for the purpose of “discovering and promoting the Reposo area as a crossroad of art and design.” Grupo stalwarts Ed Soler, Rose Yenko, Sabsy Palanca and Willy Tan brought kindred spirits together, organized art activities and produced a ‘street festival’ along the leafy avenue.

“The objective is to serve as a model for urban communities and encourage cultural activities,” says Rose Yenko, occupational psychologist and creator of the Jung Library in the revitalized LRI.

The enthused Grupo closed down the street and staged mini-cultural events, music performances, art lectures and bazaars, and they made their biggest impact in the public eye through the colorful street murals. During the May 2005 street festival, visual artists painted varied Makati reflections on the walls near St Andrew’s church.

The following year, 30 artists painted vibrant personal statements on the long wall between Budji’s showroom and LRI Design Plaza.

The LRI center evolved from within as well, re-modeling the space with glass and water features; creating two atria under skylights and building a circular staircase to the upper levels. Aptly, LRI attracted more interesting designers to their floors: Jeannie Goulbourn, Ito Kish, PNKY, Elizabeth Payte – individual designers who had made their mark elsewhere before gravitating to Reposo.

Reposo marches on with a new theme and image firmly in place as a crossroads of arts and design. The avenue’s individual firms and creative characters remain inspired by the colorful street murals and street festival. They know they’ll be attracting more kindred spirits to the designers’ row under the bodhi trees.

HOW TO FIND THEM

LRI Business Plaza
210 Nicanor Garcia St
Café Maestro
1780 Nicanor Garcia St, tel: (+02) 895 7814
L’Incontro Ristorante Italiano
207 Nicanor Garcia St, tel: (+02) 899 0635
Café Caruso
210 Nicanor Garcia St, tel: (+02) 895 2451
Alliance Française de Manille
209 Nicanor Garcia St, tel: (+02) 895 7585
Libertystile
223 Nicanor Garcia St, tel: (+02) 896 8512

YOU’LL FIND SHOPPING OR DINING IN THE LABYRINTH OF SHIDA LANES IS FULL OF PLEASANTLY EXCITING SURPRISES, ESPECIALLY AT NIGHT, SAYS NANA CHEN PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVID HØGSHOLT

TAIPEI

Climb Climb out of the Taipower MRT on the green line. Take exit 3 and you’re instantly on Shida Road, better known as ‘the Shida neighbourhood’, a complex labyrinth that draws the quirkiest people in Taipei. Whether you’re looking for something old or new, ordinary or edgy, cheap or expensive, be prepared. If you didn’t arrive with a big bag for purchases, you’ll end up buying one or two to do just that.

Keeping step with the crowd is easy as you walk away from Roosevelt Road. Stay on the right side where all the action is and, if you find yourself here before 1pm, treat yourself to a breakfast sandwich, as that’s the first thing you’ll see. Offering a Western Taiwanese breakfast, this no-name breakfast bar remains open till early afternoon. Sink your teeth into a juicy pork burger with the trademark Taiwanese flavor of five-spice powder, and a blend of white and black pepper lending it a smoky aroma.

Next door stands one of the oldest traditional Chinese medicine shops. Stepping in is like arriving on a long-lost movie set and a perfect example of one of the older establishments in Shida. A few steps, and you stumble upon a juice bar serving bowls of traditional Chinese sweets.

For more foodie options, try the wooden stall 100 meters up the street. Biff’s is a newcomer to Shida and serves up pitta sandwiches for chicken lovers, stuffed with juicy Singaporean chicken curry, chilli and garlic chicken, cumin chicken or sugarcane chicken. However, the culinary delights are only the beginning.

“Shida is cool and different from other neighbourhoods because it has a higher concentration of people from all over the world,” says Shadow, a 26-year-old waitress at Roxy JR, a bar on Shida Road that’s open 24 hours every day of the year and is one of the best-known institutions in the city. Look out for manager ‘Little Orange’, who arrives at 7pm, the time for special cocktail blends.

Through their names, Shadow and her boss reflect the experimental outlook of the young in this part of town. Here, in between all the action, there’s always an escape. “Look at all the trees and places to sit and relax. No other part of town is like it,” Shadow says. There are also lots of cafés which give unknown artists a chance to exhibit their work, she says.

Shida, in Chinese, stands for National Taiwan Normal University. The area was mostly residential for many years, with students renting cheap rooms, but by the 1970s it became known for its cheap buffet meals and clusters of shops selling knick-knacks. The busiest places then were the vegetable market at one end, and the University’s women’s dorm at the other.

Over the years, as the Mandarin Training Center attracted a constant stream of students from more than 60 countries, Shida’s lanes and alleys started filling up with restaurants and shops to meet international tastes.

“The neighborhood is a result of students bringing to it their foreign cultures, fresh eyes, creativity and laidback presence,” says Ms Ting of DOOR, a quirky shop selling anything from retro sunglasses to hip dresses and vinyl jackets from Japanese designer Endo-Lin, priced from PHP1,000 to PHP5,800.

Exploring Shida is all about getting lost in its many lanes and alleys. Lane 93, for example, is home to a cluster of shops, cafés and restaurants. At Grandma Nitti’s Kitchen, proprietor Rainbow Lin was one of the pioneers in making Shida the international cuisine village it is today. Often packed with loyal and homesick North American customers, her menu promises all-day comfort breakfast platters, various burgers, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and everything you’ll find in an American diner.

Next door is, Two Fish, a café and restaurant with whitewashed walls, blue shutters and bougainvillea vines, closely resembling a house on the Greek island of Mykonos. The food is affordable and hot teas come in generous portions. Opposite is Peacock, a bar, café and restaurant, where the eclectic menu reflects its interior decor. A mix of East, West, and Middle-East, Peacock truly lives up to its name. There are stained glass screen doors partitioning the rooms and guests sit on retro furniture while listening to laidback beats and sipping house special cocktails named Blue Peacock, Kill Bill or Pink Panther Countess.

Not so widely known, but with pizzas to rival those of Peacock, is Mary Jane, a restaurant a few lanes away on Yun-He Street. Or for a laidback chat, try Oso Café. Here a cup of freshly squeezed kumquat tea makes it one of the cosiest spots in town. The owners generously offer their basement as an art space and, with their cats, are unobtrusive.

Longquan Street is another place to check out. To get to it, come to the stoplight across from the Shida Park and turn right at Watson’s, into the unofficial entrance to the Shida Night Market. Pick up a beer sausage crépe or an ice cream crépe on your way.

Here, I spot Yukio Kawaguchi, a Japanese tourist beaming with excitement as he videotapes his girlfriend going through racks of the latest trends at discounted prices. “I love night markets for the shopping, eating and sightseeing,” he says. “Every time we come to Taiwan, we come to this market.

The food is excellent and cheap.”

Once on Longquan Street, get ready for fashion outlets and boutiques housing local inspirations from the latest international designs. Stop at Sesame Street Café, where you can savor a bit of French flavor. And just down the street is Warehouse, a hip outlet offering everything from Fred Perry gym bags to Paul Smith sweaters at a fraction of the prices in other parts of town.

As I browse, a beagle appearing from nowhere, licks my foot before disappearing. People leave their doors open here and it’s not unusual to see passers-by waving to shopkeepers while riding their bicycles. A few moments later, the same beagle appears again, this time giving my jeans a good lick.

Curious, I follow it to Lane 49, before getting distracted by the funkiest shops. Look out for Khadius, a tiny stall run by Peruvian jewellery designer Carlos, who started making jewellery ten years ago, drawing inspiration from both Peru and Brazil. You can choose from beautiful leather bands to stunning earrings. Prices are great too, from PHP190 for earrings to PHP500 for a leather band.

Then there’s Yumegatari, the brainchild of two former painters and a salesgirl. The shop offers hand-painted graphics on t-shirts, mini skirts, designer-style bags, and fashionable wellies.

Choose from already painted items or, if you’ve got a week, have your own idea painted on, with styles echoing something between Ed Hardy, Grateful Dead and Shida. Co-owner Shu tells me goldfish, mushrooms and crossbones are in high demand.

And there’s no better way to end the night than stepping up to Bistro, one of the most laidback bars in the neighborhood. If you’re feeling up for it, ask for a hookah and puff away or sip on a cocktail while you rest in a heap of cushions. The Chao Chou Street area behind the Mandarin Training Center, on the opposite side of Hoping East Road has eased into the Shida groove in recent years with its cafés. Newcomer HJS Grill has been feeding Xinjiang food to students, artists and intellectuals, who ease their late nights with a kebab and fresh salads tossed in a homemade dressing. If history is any indication, growth is on the cards. Be there to witness it.

HOW TO FIND THEM

Biff’s
No 121-1 Shida Road. Tel: 0921 779279
Roxy JR
No 1 Lane 80, Shida Road. www.roxy.com.tw
Door
No 34 Lane 40, Taishun Steet. Tel: (+02) 3365-2199
Grandma Nitti’s Kitchen
No 8 Lane 93, Shida Road. Tel: (+02) 2369-9751
Two Fish
No 9 Lane 93, Shida Road. Tel: (+02) 2362-3271 or (+02) 2363-3546
Peacock
No 5 Lane 93, Shida Road. Tel: (+02) 3365 2997
Mary Jane
No 51 Yun He Street. Tel: (+02) 2368 5222. www.maryjanepizza.com
Oso Café
No 13 Lane 93, Shida Road. Tel: (+02) 2364 0002 or 2364 0003 (free wireless internet)
Sesame St Café
No 74 Lungquan Road. Tel: (+02) 2363 8015
Warehouse
No 72 Lungquan Road.
Khadius
No 12 Alley 49, Shida Rd.
Yumegatari
No 5 Alley 49, Shida Rd. Tel: (+02) 8369 2787 www.wretch.cc/album/yumegatari
HJS Grill
No 139 Chao Chou St. Tel+ (02) 2322 5169

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