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Takashi Murakami: Japanese kawaii exhibit at Vancouver Art Gallery! Hello Kitty Taipei airport lounge & gift shop.

Takashi Murakami vancouver art gallery flowers

When one of your favorite Japanese artists is in town… It’s time to get trippy!

If you love manga, anime and “kawaii” Japanese pop culture, then head down the rabbit hole to Takashi Murakami’s exhibit at Vancouver Art Gallery.

octopus tentacles japanese art murakami

For the first time, Murakami’s major works have come to Canada. Over 50 pieces spanning three decades are currently on display at VAG (from Feb 2 to May 6, 2018).

The retrospective is titled “The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg,” so get ready to dive into a world of tentacles.

taiwan sanrio terminal lounge

Read on to the end of this story, where I’ll also share photos of the Hello Kitty airport lounge in Taipei (since we’re on the topic of Japanese pop-cute). It’s definitely the world’s weirdest airline lounge, featuring Sanrio characters!

takashipom octopus eats own leg exhibit

Murakami Takashi (村上 隆) is one of Japan’s most intriguing contemporary artists. You might recognize his smiling flowers and cartoon bears, which were on the cover of a Kanye West album and Louis Vuitton purses.

However, as I found out from this exhibit, Murakami’s artistic tentacles reach far deeper than pop commentary on consumer culture. The exhibition’s title, “The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg,” refers to a Japanese parable where the creature survives by sacrificing parts of himself. In this way, “Takashipom” consumes his native history and spirituality, transforming them into colorful new visions. 

vancouver art gallery murakami exhibition

The Vancouver Art Gallery went all-out to welcome Murakami. Each window is plastered with happy flower decals, and the rotunda looks like it’s been attacked by a pink and blue cephalopod, Godzilla-style. The artist himself came here for the opening, dressed in a tentacles-hat for the occasion.

rainbow candy raver kawaii decora

The Murakami exhibition is already an immense success, drawing in queues of visitors. Instead of spending time in line, I recommend that you purchase a ticket in advance from the Vancouver Art Gallery website (it lets you choose the specific date of your visit.) You may also want to aim for a weekday visit, since the space was packed over the weekend.

The Japanese artist is known for his eccentric outfits. I was pleased to see that a few visitors dressed up for the occasion; I loved this girl’s Harajuku decora candy style.

murakami octopus paintings sculpture

During the grey winter months, it’s a joy to wander among giant neon paintings with friends.

Murakami’s best-known works are influenced by Japanese “kawaii’ (big-eyed, round cuteness), with nods to anime, manga and otaku culture. However, these critters always have a deadly or bizarre twist

japanese kawaii weird murakami sculptures

The exhibition spans several huge rooms, and includes wall-sized works and ceiling-high sculptures. Many feature Mr. Dob, his cute character who is a bit like Hello Kitty meets Mickey Mouse.

In his 3D work “DOB in The Strange Forest,” Murakami surrounds the innocent mouse-bear with seeing-eyed mushrooms. In the back, he’s become an unhinged monster spewing vomit (the painting is called “Tan Tan Bo Puking.”)

murakami colorful art bears

The mutant Mr. Dob reflects on how icons can run amok, hiding sharp fang beneath inviting surfaces. Despite this commentary on consumerism, Mr. Dob has (ironically? purposefully?) become a popular design on Louis Vuitton bags and other branded designer goods.

(Click the images below to see Murakami’s art x commerce collaborations):

smiling happy rainbow flowers murakami

Anyone can take photos inside the exhibition, which makes it highly Instagrammable. One of the most popular selfie-spots is in front of this happy floral wall. Murakami once described these flowers as making him “feel almost physically sick, and at the same time I found them very cute.”

smiling flowers flower ball murakami painting

We’re mesmerized by “Flower Ball.” As Ben mused, “Where does art end, and wallpaper begin?”

superflat mr dob anime art murakami

Murakami is best known for his “Superflat” high-meets-low, 2D pop imagery. However, he explores many other facets of Japanese culture in other works, often with a darker vibe.

red demon sculpture takashi murakami

One of the most powerful rooms held towering red and blue demon totems (Embodiment of “A” and Embodiment of “Um”). These statues imagine a present-day belief system, built on ancient myths and folklore.

famous contemporary modern japan artist

Murakami was devastated by the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami. The tragedy inspired a new direction in his art: he drew upon Japan’s cultural heritage to create spiritual narratives.

murakami 500 arhats buddhist artwork

One of these masterpieces from this era is on display: a 10-panel painting called “The 100 Arhats.” It was painstakingly made by layering hundreds of silk screens, and depicts Buddhist monks who roamed Japan and helped enlighten people.

murakami lions skulls painting

Many of Murakami’s works are inspired by “Nihonga,” the late 19th century fusion of Western and Japanese artistic techniques. In the above work, “Of Chinese Lions, Peonies, Skulls and Fountains”, he illustrates the legend of the lion who guards Buddhist temples. The cute baby cub and rainbow stream of skulls made it one of my favorites.

takashi murakami rare works blue dragon

Murakami’s works are big, in terms of both size and concept. This is “Dragon in Clouds – Indigo Blue”, a re-imagining of a 1763 Japanese fantasy painting by Soga Shohaku.

japanese tentacles octopus statue

Takashi Murakami is often compared to Andy Warhol. The Japanese artist is better received outside of his homeland, where some deride him for being too commercial/marketing oriented. Personally, I think these detractors are only skimming the surface; both artists made provocative works that went far deeper than soup cans and smiley flowers.

vancouver canada murakami takashi gallery

Intrigued? I encourage you to come out to Vancouver Art Gallery to see Murakami’s works in person. There’s no other way to get a full sense of his scale and impact.

murakami octopus stuffed toy plush

Exit through the gift store... There’s a selection of pins, toys, prints and more. This demented octopus plush caught our eye. Looks like something that Charles Manson might embrace.

smiling flower pillow murakami decor

Have you heard of Takashi Murakami? Are you also a fan of his work? (You can browse his fashion designs below:)

mary wyatt london, edwardson eyewear sunglasses

A final close-up of Murakami’s flowers (note the tiny faces), and my outfit of the day. My red 90s beret and Domination top are by Mary Wyatt London. My round minimalist sunglasses are Edwardson Eyewear.

bulgari serpenti silver leather wrap bracelet jewelry

I’m also loving my new Bulgari Serpenti metallic leather bracelet, which matches my snake plant! I only wear jewelry with edge; the ring is Alex Streeter. (More Blvgari bracelets below):

hello kitty airport lounge

Since we’re on the subject of “kawaii” culture… I thought I’d end with photos I took during a stopover, at Taipei’s Taoyuan Airport. If you go to Terminal 2, gate C3… you’ll discover a Hello Kitty airport lounge! 

hello kitty playground, kids park

Although Hello Kitty is from Japan, the mouth-less cat is popular all over Asia. Taiwan loves her so much that they have an airport lounge in her name. The large waiting area has plenty of seats, a kid’s play area, and a nursing station featuring images of baby Kitty and Daniel.

hello kitty themed airport

Taiwan’s Eva Air even launched a Hello Kitty jet, which mainly flies routes to Japan. Everything about the flight is in her likeness: the tickets, staff outfits, food, and art on the side of the airplane. (The Hello Kitty plane was so popular that EVA Airlines now also has Pokemon and Gudetama themed flights.)

taoyuan airport taiwan hello kitty

In Taipei’s airport lounge, Hello Kitty is depicted as a world traveller. We see her wearing pilot goggles, and toting a suitcase behind her with a wink. The murals show the cat flying on her pink airplane to Sydney, India, New York, Rome and Paris.

hello kitty airport gate, nursing room

These pictures are pretty accurate if you think of it… Since Sanrio launched her in 1974, Hello Kitty has taken over the world. I see merchandise with her face on it everywhere I travel.

eva air hello kitty airplane

I filmed an Instagram video here that shows you more of the pink, ridiculous terminal. Is this Hello Kitty heaven… or hell? That’s all up to you.

Hello Kitty Dream World store

Right next door is the ultimate gift store, aptly named Hello Kitty Dream World. Taiwan Taoyuan airport has a few Sanrio shops, and they’re open from early morning to late evening.

taipei airport hello kitty shop

“I like to stop at the duty free shop!” Especially when it’s filled with rare Hello Kitty and Sanrio character goods. I was tempted to get stationery, stuffed toys, jewelry, backpacks, kitchen items…

taiwan sanrio stores souvenirs

Hello Kitty isn’t just for children. Sanrio has released multiple designer fashion and jewelry collaborations. I’m eyeing this Hello Kitty sequin dress, cashmere sweater and more below…

taiwan taoyuan airport sanrio

Over the years, Sanrio has added more adorable animals to the family. Above is Bad Badtz Maru, Pompompurin, Cinnamon Roll and My Melody.

hello kitty airport store shop

Some of the character items are on the weird side. I need a Hello Kitty robot cleaner in my life…

taipei airport hello kitty

If you’re planning a trip to Taipei or doing a layover, look out for the Hello Kitty lounge in Taoyuan Airport (Terminal 2, section C3).

plush toys hello kitty dolls

I grew up with Hello Kitty, so I’ll always have a soft spot for her. How about you?

And what do you think of Takashi Murakami’s mind-bending exhibit?

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Hello Kitty Chinese dim sum restaurant, Hong Kong! Gudetama theme cafe buns, Sanrio museum.

hello kitty chinese food, restaurant hong kong

Yet another reason you should drop everything and travel to Hong Kong… there’s now a Hello Kitty dim sum restaurant! 

At Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine, diners can bite into fresh steamed buns that look like the famous cat. Read on for dozens of photos from the theme restaurant.

hello kitty anniversary exhibit taiwan

I’ll also take you inside the somewhat-controversial Gudetama cafe in Hong Kong (where you can squeeze chocolate poop out of the egg character), and a Sanrio anniversary exhibition in Taipei. 

And if you’re a fan of Hello Kitty, you’ve got to check out the cute fashion items below!

hello kitty supercute exhibition

Let’s start with my visit to Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine. There are many Sanrio theme cafes worldwide — remember the Seoul Hello Kitty one, where I ate cake shaped like her face?

However, this is the first time anyone has done a Cantonese-style Hello Kitty restaurant. It’s a cute-faced version of dim sum, the traditional dining where everyone shares bite sized dishes around a table.

hello kitty theme restaurant hong kong food

The local owner pitched the dim sum idea to Sanrio, and won them over. The restaurant’s interior design is magnificently executed, combining Chinese tradition with Japanese kawaii. Case in point: the paintings of beautiful ancient Chinese ladies… with Hello Kitty’s face!

Hong Kong Hello Kitty Restaurant Address: Shop A to C, Lee Loy Mansion, 332-338 Canton Road, Jordan, Kowloon.

It’s about a 3 minute walk from the Jordan MTR subway station, or ask your taxi driver to go to 佐敦廣東道332-338號利來洋樓A至C地舖

Hello Kitty 中菜軒, sanrio wine

The Hello Kitty Chinese restaurant is extremely popular, so don’t expect to walk in and get a table. Fortunately, you can make a reservation in advance through their website.

The excitement begins at the entrance, where there’s a glass case glittering with Sanrio jewelry and wines.

hello kitty chinese cuisine restaurant menu

Even the table and chairs have Hello Kitty faces, carved right into the wood. The attention to detail is apparent here — a nice change from other Asian theme restaurants, which often skimp on quality.

The menu is in both Chinese and English, with illustrations. You can choose from a range of Cantonese dishes or fusion creations, all decorated with a Hello Kitty touch.  (On left, a giant bread-cat, with Chinese patterns imprinted on her bow!)

hello kitty theme restaurant, jordan kowloon

The restaurant has several special dishes, such as this one made with apples since this is Hello Kitty’s favorite fruit. 

Another happy departure from other theme restaurants: Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine uses “real” ingredients such as vegetables and beans to make the decorations.

hello kitty face dumplings, har gaw

The owner focuses on healthy ingredients, and it pays off. The har gow (steamed shrimp dumplings) were so good that we wanted to order several more baskets!

We were pleasantly surprised that the quality of the food was so high, considering the pristine Hello Kitty faces on everything.

hello kitty mask, theme restaurant

Every aspect of the dim sum experience gets a Kitty makeover, even the paper lining of the steam baskets.

hello kitty pastries, bread rolls

I’m sure you “awwed” at this photo of Hello Kitty steamed buns… We won’t show you the “after”, where we tore into her face! Inside, there is a light and delicious red bean paste filling. 

(Photos by noircorner and Ken Yuen.)

hello kitty pudding dessert custard

Finally, we ended with this light egg white custard and fruit. A perfect palate-cleanser, without added sugars or fake flavors.

hello kitty dim sum bun, recipe

This was by far the best Hello Kitty theme restaurant I’ve visited, with high standards for the Cantonese food, cute presentation and interior design. The prices are also very reasonable.

hello kitty chinese cuisine restaurant china

It’s the small touches that make this dim sum experience such a pleasure. I love how the owner was able to create an authentic Hong Kong dining experience, fused with Hello Kitty. 

More info including how to make reservations on the Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine site.

gudetama cafe popup hong kong

Sanrio characters are extremely popular in Hong Kong, possibly even more so than in Japan. One of their new mascots — Gudetama, the lazy egg — seems to be everywhere.

We stopped by Mongkok’s Langham Place, where they were celebrating the mall’s 10th anniversary with a Gudetama exhibition. I admit I don’t really “get” this character’s appeal… maybe someone can explain it to me?

gudetama exhibition, event

People lined up to take photos with the funny displays, including Gudetama as an egg sushi, and a subway train. There was special Gudetama merchandise at the pop-up store, but fitting with his attitude, I was unmotivated to take a look!

gudetama cafe hong kong

Hong Kong also opened up two Gudetama theme cafes. The one in Kwun Tong is a “YATA Gudetama Café by Izumi Curry” (Address: LG/F, apm Millennium City 5, 418 Kwun Tong Road).

I took photos of Dim Sum Icon, the sort-of controversial Gudetama restaurant. (Address: L308, 3/F, The ONE, 100 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong)

gudetama cafe egg menu food

Similar to the Hello Kitty restaurant, this one has dim sum dishes that look like the egg character. However, there are also international selections like burgers and ramen, and the decor is much simpler.

Gudetama dim sum icon, poop bun

Do these diners look engrossed with their food? Perhaps they are grossed out… by the Gudetama bun, which has a rather bizarre design…

gudetama chocolate bun, squeeze bottom

If you squeeze his body, chocolate sauce comes out of his butt! I doubt I’d be able to eat something that looks like a mascot with brown liquid oozing out the back…

marilyn monroe hello kitty

On the other hand, I was gung-ho to pose with Hello Kitty statues at her 40th anniversary exhibition in Taipei. 

We actually took these Taiwan photos a while ago, but I never got around to posting them. Last year, Sanrio celebrated Kitty’s big birthday with an interactive exhibit at Songshan Cultural Park (松山文創園區). (Address: No. 133, Guāngfù South Rd, Xinyi District, Taipei.)

Fans paid an admission fee of about $20 to see Kitty in various guises, such as Marilyn Monroe and Holly Go Lightly.

sanrio museum, exhibition statues

The exhibit consisted of several giant rooms, each decorated with large-scale displays that you can pose with. Most of these feature Kitty, but there are also statues of other Sanrio mascots. Above: Pom Pom Purin, Lala from Little Twin Stars, Keroppi the frog, and Pom Pom Purin.

hello kitty cafe taipei taiwan

The Taipei exhibit hall also had a Hello Kitty pop up cafe, serving desserts and drinks decorated like her mouth-less face.

sanrio desserts

This pop up has now closed, but you can still visit Taipei’s permanent Hello Kitty Sweets Restaurant. (Address: No.90, Sec. 1, Da’an Road, Xinyi Distict, Taipei).

hello kitty macaroons

These colorful macaroons and cupcakes, topped with Hello Kitty candy decorations, look too cute to eat!

I paid a bit extra to see the Hello Kitty hologram show. (Hey, you only live once.) We weren’t allowed to shoot it, so imagine a bizarre hologram of Hello Kitty entering the stage — it was basically someone in a glittery purple dress and giant cat-head mask. She sang and did para-para moves with two background dancers, while soap bubbles floated in the air. We had a lyric sheet, and wanted to sing and dance along to the “Kitty Kitty Kitty” rap song… but nobody else in the audience was moving a muscle.

Songshan Cultural and Creative Park

Are you curious as to why I’m doing this bizarre hand pose? It’s a tribute to Brown, the bear from Line Friends — yet another character with a single expression! He always does this tentative morose pose, with the tips of his index fingers pointed together.

breakfast at tiffanys hello kitty

One of the best ones was “Hepburn Hello Kitty: Breakfast at Sanrio’s.” You wouldn’t expect to see this cute cat combined with Hollywood icons… but it works.

marilyn monroe hello kitty

I was impressed by the amount of creativity that went into these intricate sets. In front of Marilyn Kitty, there’s a grate that puffs up air, blowing up your skirt! The designer even incorporated Kitty’s bows into the background architecture.

hello kitty museum, design evolution

Hello Kitty’s design has changed over the past 40 years. One room was like a museum, showing her evolution from baking pies in the 80s, to Charmmy Kitty in the 2000s.

1990s hello kitty statue

Is that a tattoo on my arm? Nope, it’s a Sanrio stamp. There were special stamps and inkpads located all throughout the exhibit. Fans collected these prints on notebooks or on their bodies.

松山文創園區

This exhibition took place in Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. Originally a Japanese colonial tobacco factory, Taipei’s government has converted this unexpected space into a “Creative Hub” for artists and innovators. The park transforms ghosts of its past — boiler rooms, warehouses — into modern design museums, gardens and stores.

You can check the Songshan Park website for upcoming special events. This “Hell Kitty” presentation is no more, but there are always other kawaii displays.

hello kitty restaurant, taipei

Taipei is crazy for this cat. In addition to the Sweets theme cafe, the airport has a Hello Kitty lounge. EVA Air also has a Hello Kitty airplane, which I’m keen to fly.

gustav klimt hello kitty

The Kiss by Gustav Klimt turns into Hello Kitty and her teddy bear. A wonderful use of colored mirrors to recreate the Art Nouveau work.

hello kitty club party dj

You all know I love Italo Disco… so this was perhaps my favorite backdrop!

Wouldn’t you love to party all night with me and DJ Disco Queen?

charlie chaplin hello kitty

The life-size sets encourage guests to pose and be silly. In front of this retro TV, there were giant Charlie Chaplin shoes that you could step into.

sanrio concept sketches

Near the end of the maze-like exhibit, you could see the concept drawings and a video of how it all came to life.

Pretty amazing how a simple character design can inspire so many artistic variations, over the course of four decades.

bad badtz maru statue

Taipei’s Hello Kitty exhibition encapsulated what I love about Sanrio. They’re more than cute merchandisers. Their designs inspire creativity, unite fans of all ages, and put smiles on their faces.

Would you visit a Hello Kitty dim sum restaurant, or exhibition where you can pose with the characters?

(Here are my favorite Sanrio fashion items and toys below — click the images to shop them.)

Taipei has a Barbie Cafe! Weird Taiwan theme restaurants, hip cocktail bars & art shops.

barbie cafe logo taiwan

Where can you find the world’s most bizarre theme restaurants? Japan still has the most madcap ones, but Taiwan is coming in at a close second.

While in Taipei, I visited some of these quirky theme cafes — which include a Barbie dream house, and a fake European castle. Let’s start with the blonde plastic doll, shall we?

barbie themed restaurant taipei

She’s a Barbie girl, and this theme cafe is her world. The glowing staircase is a prelude to the spacious, neon-pink restaurant upstairs. (Address: 2F, #128 Section 4, Zhongxiao East Road, Da’an, Taipei)

barbie home decor, interior design

If your friends are late, you can sit on the plush handbag-shaped sofa and relax on poodle pillows.

barbie pink house, chairs

Mattel opened this “dream house” in 2013, and it is the first officially licensed Barbie cafe in the world.

barbie cakes, desserts

A glass case displays cakes and other sweets stamped with Barbie’s ponytailed profile. Other pastries are topped with hearts and bows (colored pink, what else?)

mattel barbie museum exhibit

In the back, there are Mattel dolls for sale. I saw Barbie, Ken and friends in various outfits.

rare barbie doll display

Here’s a princess Barbie, wearing what looks like a cake dress with swirls of icing. (All photos by Ken Yuen and noircorner).

barbie cafe costume, waitress uniforms

The waitresses even get in the spirit by wearing hot pink skirts and tops, topped with tiaras. None of them had blonde hair, however.

barbie purse shaped sofa, poodle pillows

As typical in theme restaurants, the food is nothing special and on the pricey side: a set lunch with salad, curry and cake costs $15-20 US.

barbie cafe taipei taiwan

Still, it’s a unique venue for a girly-girl bonding session. The Barbie cafe is not far from Zhongxiao Fuxing station exit 2, and next to the SOGO department store — in case you suddenly get the urge to dress in pink ruffles.

(Personally, I will stick to Gothic dresses! Purchase a skull dress like mine here.)

soma tea mocktails

Walking around this district, you’ll come across cute shops and unique eateries. My film team and I stopped by Soma, a “tea and mocktail” parlor.

taiwanese tea boba shop

I had a grapefruit mix, which had chewy, gelatinous basil seeds in it. Such a bizarre texture, like a mouthful of little eyeballs.

jay chou deja vu restaurant

While I’ve visited plenty of theme restaurants, I haven’t seen anything quite like Deja Vu. It’s located in Huashan Creative Park (Address: No.1, Section 1, Bade Road, Taipei).

castle themed restaurant

The velvet curtains open into what looks like a tall European castle, with royal portraits and gargoyles staring down from the high stone walls.

jay chou piano, taipei

This restaurant is the brainchild of Jay Chou, Taiwan’s most popular singer-actor-idol. Fans love to take photos of the personalized decor, which includes his Batmobile and an aristocratic piano.

jay chou's deja vu restaurant

The food, however, is nothing to sing about: mediocre and over-priced Italian (around $12-15 US a plate). I suggest coming just for a coffee and to pose in the grand space.

taipei secret bar, alchemy cocktails

How about Taipei’s nightlife? My friend Boris took me to several laid-back, artsy bars in the Xinyi district (by Taipei 101). For those in the know, there’s a secret bar inside the popular nightclub, Barcode. (Address: 22 Songshou Rd, Taipei)

Walk in and to the right, and look for an unmarked door. It leads to a narrow staircase, which ends at a bookshelf. But if you slide the shelf open, you’ll find yourself in Alchemy. The speakeasy theme matches the “insiders only” cozy feel, featuring a fireplace and dark leather seats.

barcode, alchemy bar taipei

Try a signature Prohibition cocktail, made with whisky and wrapped in an American newspaper announcing the 1920s ban on alcohol. The Miso-Tini comes in a miso soup bowl, and smells like bonito flakes — but when you take a sip, it’s sake and wasabi with a light, pleasant sweetness. Cocktails are around $12-15 US each.

taipei cocktails, mod bar

Boris also took me to Mod bar, and his favorite MonoMono, which has architectural photographs on the walls. We ended our final night at “F-king Place”  (above) — yes, that is the actual name — and drank cocktails while listening to a retro-rock playlist!

Go on a pub crawl to all these Taipei bars, and you’re guaranteed a fun night.

Huashan Creative Park entrance

During the daytime, I encourage you to check out Taipei’s contemporary art scene. Many of these exhibits are free, and found in the unique Huashan 1914 Creative Park.

In 1997, a group of young actors discovered an abandoned factory that used to produce wines and breed moths. They took it over and started putting on experimental performances. More artists set up workspaces, and today, Huashan is a protected center for art.

Huashan creative art park taipei

When I visited, there was an exhibit dedicated to the Japanese manga One Piece, and a shop for the Korean Line characters. I loved poking my head into the local design shops, which sold creative goods like the “color-me” robot toy above. Have a look at Huashan 1914’s website for upcoming event listings; the hands-on art workshops are excellent for children of all ages.

shima risu bookstore taipei

Where else can you find cute character goods in Taipei? At Shima Risu picture books store. “Shimarisu” means “chipmunk” in Japanese, so this children’s shop is designed like a fairytale forest hideaway.

children's toys bookstore asia

The books are in Chinese and English; I found my childhood favorites like Miffy, Tintin, Babar, Moomin, Peter Rabbit. The shelves also stock gorgeously bound and illustrated works by new authors, especially from Taiwan. There are miniature seats all around, and parents are encouraged to read to their children right in the bookstore.

kawaii toys, cute taipei

The little ones, however, might be more interested in the plush toys and mascot accessories placed all around Shima Risu. I picked up a small stuffed Miffy bunny for $320 TWD, or $11 US.

robot hello kitty, toy store taipei

Toys aren’t just for children. Taipei has many anime collectible stores, like Hot Dog Toyz in Da’an. A Robot Hello Kitty beckoned us to enter.

doraemon collectible statues

All your favorite Japanese mascots are here, including collectible figures of Doraemon the earless robot cat.

stayreal clothing taipei disney

As you can see, “kawaii” is big in every part of Asia. The subway had a poster for StayReal’s Disney clothing collaboration.

songshan park eslite mall

Songshan Park is another creative art destintaion, and home to the Eslite Spectrum mall. Be prepared to spend hours inside, mesmerized by the selection of cute gifts like these cat-in-hat notebooks. The bottom floor is a cluster of speciality cafes, including a stall for Ice Man shaved ice.

cute panda bear art

Upstairs is a seemingly endless hall of hip design: I spotted panda bear soap, owl pillows, plants in beakers, oversized fringe pillows and more, mostly by local designers.

taiwan character mascots shops

The top floor is an Eslite bookstore with an immense collection of photography and art books. Look for the traditional tea house hidden among the racks, which go well with the sun biscuits also sold in the mall.

taipei night market entrance

I leave you with a shot from the entrance of the Raohe Street Night Market. So many bizarre street foods inside…

Taipei has more strange theme restaurants, including Modern Toilet, Sky Kitchen (which looks like an Airbus A380), and DS Music (hospital themed). There’s also a Hello Kitty Sweets Restaurant! However, since I went to the one in Seoul, and John covered the Hello Kitty pop-up in Hong Kong, I decided not to visit it. (I did, however, go to the Sanrio exhibition in Taipei’s Songshan Design Park, which I’ll show you soon…)

Have you tried Taiwanese food? Would you eat at any of these theme cafes?

Taichung Rainbow Village: crazy, colorful painted houses in Taiwan!

taichung rainbow village art

As a travel writer, I do my best to seek out obscure and offbeat places. For this reason, I went out of my way to visit Taichung’s Rainbow Village with my friend Boris Tsai. The photos say it all: this attraction is a total LSD trip!

taiwan painted house

The “Rainbow Family Village” consists of several old buildings and paths, with every surface coated in vivid, primitive strokes.

What’s the story behind these colorful paintings? Who made them, and what drugs was this person on? Let’s find out.

rainbow village, taichung taiwan

I was staying in Taipei, at the Humble House hotel (remember my photoshoot here?). Taichung is another major city, located about two hours south.

rainbow painting wall mural

To get here, I recommend either driving (as we did), or taking a train and then a taxi. Taichung is rather spread out, and public transportation isn’t conveniently located near the Rainbow Village.

boris tsai, 蔡伯璽

The directions are a little tricky. If you’re in a taxi, show your driver the address in Chinese (written below), and have him plug it into the GPS.

Rainbow Family Village: Lane 56, Chun’an Road, Taichung, Taiwan
台中彩虹眷村: 台中市南屯區春安里

taichung tourist attraction

This tourist attraction is small, and it won’t take you more than 15-30 minutes to explore it. I wouldn’t go out of my way to come here, but if you’re already in Taichung, it’s an opportunity to see weird and wonderful local art.

rainbow village murals

Boris and I were perplexed by these figures — human, animal and supernatural — surrounded by swirls of color. What a distinct style: modern meets primitive, with a touch of Taiwanese tradition.

weird travel attractions

This scary strawberry-person holds pamphlets by the door. On the floor, the Chinese characters say “peace and good luck.”

蔡伯璽, boris tsai

The walls are a superb backdrop for modeling. We were here to shoot images for Hong Kong Express Airways magazine, where I have a regular column.

Boris wears Rick Owens wool pants with drawstring, a Rick Owens tank top, and Rick Owens high top shoes.

台中彩虹眷村

I’m wearing Camper sandals, and a sheer white flowing top from Show Me Your MuMu. They also make a blue-white tunic and watercolor flowers cover-up.

colorful chinese cat painting

The characters ranged from old people to panda bears. Doesn’t this little guy look like my Scottish Fold cat?

scottish fold cat small ears

They have the same short legs, tiny ears and round body.

rainbow colorful painted houses

You’ll never guess who is responsible for this bizarre art… a 91 year old grandfather! Grandpa Huang was born in Hong Kong, and lived in these dilapidated buildings that were initially built for WWII veterans. He had time to kill, so he bought paint with his pension, and started to transform the old walls into rainbow murals.

taiwanese art, taichung

Grandpa Huang is a self-taught artist who painted out of passion — he wanted to inject color into this worn-down neighborhood. Before long, students at a nearby university discovered the ever-expanding Rainbow Village. They took pictures of his works, posted them online, and they went viral.

experimental chinese art

Today, this little settlement is one of Taichung’s most popular tourist attractions. People come here to read the positive messages on the walls, and pose with the spirited paintings.

crazy art murals

The Taiwanese government had originally planned to demolish the Rainbow Village. However, locals started a petition, and the area is now preserved (hopefully for the long run).

taiwan tourism, taichung

We saw a small souvenir stand where you can buy drinks and Popsicles, and small souvenirs. It’s an easy way to support the Rainbow Village and its aged caretaker.

bizarre creepy art

Sweet and slightly demented: that’s my kind of place!

彩虹眷村

The “acid trip” feeling of the Rainbow Village inspired us to get a little crazy with our poses.

taiwan good luck souvenirs

Visitors write wishes on these notes, and hang them along with seashells on the windows.

taiwanese male model

My wish to visit Taiwan and reunite with my friend certainly came true!

rainbow family village taichung

Pretending to be the Chiefs of the Rainbow Village.

weird crazy strange asia attractions landmarks

All photography by Jacqueline Kwok of noircorner, and Ken Yuen.

crazy tourist attractions

We didn’t see Grandpa Huang that day, but he still touches up the paintings daily. Children love to see his works in progress.

asia weird art travel

Come make a wish at the Taichung Rainbow Family Village. The nearby Dawncake (a gifts and snacks building, featuring Miyahara tea-flavored ice cream) and Taichung Night Market are also fun to include in a day-trip.

taichung attractions

And you can’t leave without taking a funny photo with the cut-outs!

Are you intrigued by the Rainbow Village? Do you seek out local oddities when you travel, like I do?

hong kong magazine model, modeling

I wrote about this funny Asian attraction, and many more, in my travel column “Go Go Goth.” It’s published in Chinese, in every issue of UO (the in-flight magazine of Hong Kong Express Airways). Above are scans…

fashion blogger photography locations

… and you can always see on-the-go snaps from my travels on my @lacarmina InstagramI’ll be back in Asia soon, and you’ll be able to see what mischief I’m making!

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