Written by Linus K
Translated by Derek
Shiu-Mei still remembers how excited she was when she rented that old cement house: After looking around for times, finally I have you!
She used to live in Taipei and worked as designer in a magazine, but she returned to Hualien to settle down with his husband because of her father-in-law's sickness 20 years ago. In September 2006, she set up A-Zhi-Bao with a mission to "collect all goodies from Taiwan".
It takes her and her husband a couple of times to travel around Taiwan to collect and shelve homemade sauces and food brands enjoying a history of about a century; to consign the design works of insignificant independent designers including metal insects made from twisted iron spoons, dolls made from socks, plant dyeing products and bamboo handicrafts; and to house-pack High Mountains Tea from Hualien for sale. In those years, Taiwan's creative boutique shops are not as common as today.
Over the years, A-Zhi-Bao has been getting popular and was finally awarded the First Prize in the category of Services of Creative Excellence Award by Council for Cultural Affairs, Taiwan due to its huge variety of food items and products, and its popularity among local people and even shopaholic tourists.
This is not only the former office of merchant cruise firm Asahigumi during the occupancy by Japanese, but also a vivid memory of old Hualien citizens.
Early last year, Shiu-Mei had to find a new location since the landlord sold the shop upon expiry of the lease. A motorbike ride took her and her husband to No. 48, Zhongshan Road, Hualien and there stood a vacant century-old structure with delicate and elegant design of a colonial style. During the occupancy by Japanese, it was in the city's busiest street since it stood next to the old railway station. A newspaper office at the beginning, this landmarking site was reconstructed as a forwarder after the Hualien earthquake in 1951, and was once an airline office.
"These are all the fashionable memories of our grannies," described Shiu-Mei. "My husband also went there when he was young."
Unexpectedly, the realty called in less than a month and said there was a place fit for A-Zhi-Bao, and that was No. 48, Zhongshan Road!
The couple rented it at once with ecstasy. Not until they dealt with a pile of old documents during their cleaning did they find out more surprising histories.
"I can't believe my husband's grandfather and the landlord's father were long-time friends who jointly set up a company 40 years ago,” added Shiu-Mei surprisingly. "It seems like the house is looking for us."
After renovation, a century-old house is rejunvenated into a clean and bright mansion.
When the renovation works started, Shiu-Mei and her husband found this structure serendipity. It was one of the houses of the first batch after the earthquake and it took years to build one floor due to the shortage of resources at that time. Another point of interest was the original look of the wonderful mix of cement on the ground floor, wooden beams on the first, and steel frame on the second and the ceiling was for many years covered by building materials without any exposure.
The ground floor used to be an office.
The steel frame structure of the second floor adds a flair of boldness.
At last, all interior partitions were torn down and all wooden parts were replaced with new ones. The wooden beam structure in the atrium was retained and there was no cover on the first floor and in the ceiling, creating a hollow atrium where people can clearly see the upper level and the ceiling structure.
After completion of the construction, the ground floor now houses the sauces, food items and ancient household products; the first floor sees design handicrafts, whereas there stands a restaurant called Mad Teahouse on the second floor where indigenous Taiwanese cuisine made of local ingredients can be savoured.
Without any change in its mission since its operation, A-Zhi-Bao keeps bringing in innovative products and spares space for exhibitions. "We have the responsibility to introduce more external information to others so as to widen the horizons of young people in Hualien including my only daughter," said Shiu-Mei.
The first floor is made hollow on purpose to create a wider spatial vision.
A-Zhi-Bao is the nickname of Shiumei's daughter, who drew this lovely logo 10 years ago.
A-Zhi-Bao is the nickname of Shiu-Mei’s 14-year-old daughter. The graffiti-like child in the brand logo was her self-portrait 10 years ago. Despite the removal from the previous shop to the current old house, it is always there hanging.
Address: No. 48, Zhongshan Road, Hualien City