A trained eye for aesthetics and a love for homegrown products have allowed Taipei native Joy Lee to discover some of the city’s most promising design spaces and most authentic neighborhood joints.
After studying mass communications, film and public relations at RMIT University in Melbourne, Joy returned to her hometown to establish a film production house with a friend. Now in its fifth year of operations, Gazing Element has produced commercials for clients like HP, Moshi and Beats Electronics, as well as documentaries, music videos and branded media for small- and medium-sized local businesses.
Joy’s upcoming documentary, Cycling Angels, takes as its subject the children of dysfunctional families who have been relocated to an orphanage and follows them on a bike tour across Taiwan as they learn to appreciate their natural surroundings and interact with society at large.
Working with entrepreneurs and artists has provided Joy the opportunity to connect with Taiwan’s burgeoning creative scene, but her appreciation for the best of local design extends beyond her professional life.
She’s fond of the recent trend in Taipei of converting tired buildings into new multipurpose spaces, typified by AGCT Apartment, which lays out the AGCT lifestyle brand across two floors of an old residential building. In addition to its coffee, the cafe-retail hybrid specializes in restored secondhand goods and carries its own clothing line, offering quality graphic tees, plaid shirts and stonewashed jeans.
Another example is Good Cho’s (好丘), located in a military dependents’ village that previously housed Republic of China soldiers who fled to Taiwan in the 1950s. Famous for its bagels, Good Cho’s is stocked with locally produced goods, many of which, including the chili sauce made by an out-of-job highway toll booth worker, have intriguing backstories. If you can track it down, the beer from local microbrewery Alechemist (禾餘麥酒), crafted from grains grown in Taiwan, is well worth a try.
Even as she embraces the innovative spirit that has recently taken root in Taipei, when it comes to food, Joy appreciates time-tested traditional flavors.
Some of her preferred haunts carry a sense of playful irony, such as Lu Guang (陸光小館), designed in the style of restaurants from the 1950s, featuring walls lined with portraits of past Kuomintang leaders, a giant Republic of China flag and various other unapologetically kitschy paraphernalia. Finely sliced luwei-braised snacks, shaozi noodles, zhajiang noodles and stinky tofu shrimp rolls are among the must-orders here.
Other hole-in-the-wall eateries make her reminisce on her childhood growing up in Taipei. In a section of trend-sensitive Dongqu that witnessed an explosion and contraction of restaurants within the past two decades, one that has weathered the years—spicy wonton shop Mei Jing (美景川味小吃), located in the basement of a now-antiquated shopping complex—remains a personal favorite.
Joy loves Taipei for its natural ability to “remix” multiple influences: to reinvent traditions inherited from the Chinese and Japanese and to marry old infrastructure with new creativity. She looks on expectantly—just as we look forward to seeing more of her work—as the city continues to innovate and inspire.