The city I have lived in for almost a decade has been known for sometime by a lot of locals and foreigners in Taipei as the “armpit” of Taiwan and somewhat of a cultural wasteland for the foreign community here compared to the broader horizons of Taiwan’s capital city.
While I’ve never completely agreed with those accusations - I also haven't actually completely disagreed either. There have always been a lot of areas with room for improvement and I feel that some of them have started to be addressed by both the local and central governments.
When I arrived - the city was rundown, the streets weren’t clean and there wasn’t much investment or economic development taking place in the area apart from what was happening in the industrial park.
That was however until the High Speed Rail (台灣高鐵) opened up and the central government started making plans for an airport express system that would connect Taipei to the countries main international airport (which is located in the county I live in) and from there the airport express would connect to the Taoyuan high speed rail station connecting the rest of the country to the convenience of the airport express. With the amalgamation of a lot of Taiwan's cities and counties into special economic zones it was also decided that the Taipei MRT system would eventually expand here to Zhongli as well.
When that happened, the central government, the city government and others started investing wads of cash in the area - not only in real estate, but also putting a lot of effort into the modernization and beautification of the city. The changes in the city that can be seen so far are quite amazing and in a short time the city has developed quite nicely.
Hsin-Shih park (新勢公園)
One of the major (and greener) improvements is that we now have something that is a sort of “central park” in the city called the “Hsin-Shih park.” (新勢公園) which consists of a main recreational area and then follows along a river that passes through the centre of the city covering 4.6 hectares of land. The city government reclaimed massive amounts of land and spent a lot of time cleaning up the river to finish this project and at the time of writing, efforts are still underway to finish the park's green walkway.
What we have now though is similar to Taipei’s Da-An Forest Park (大安森林公園) and is full of recreational activities for all types of enthusiasts. There are basketball courts, a baseball diamond, croquet areas, paths for running and cycling, rock climbing courses, playgrounds for kids and what was most surprising to me when I first visited - a fully loaded skate park.
HUF x Thrasher Stoops Asia Tour - Taiwan
This is where I come to the main part of this post - due to the quality of the Hsin-Shih skate park, it was an easy choice for the people planning the HUF x Thrasher Stoops Asia Tour (#STOOPSASIATOUR) to do something most foreign event organizers don't usually do and completely skip Taipei and allow Zhongli to host the event bringing a group of pro skateboarders from America to put on a demo for the growing community of skateboarders in Taiwan.
A friend and former co-worker of mine who has already been back in Canada for years posted on Facebook that the HUF worldwide team was going to be putting on a demo here in Zhongli. I had a bit of free time that day, so I packed up my camera and went to check it out.
When I arrived at the park I was a bit surprised to see so many skateboard-enthusiasts out to enjoy the show. The skate community in Taiwan is a young one, but it is growing very quickly - the crowd was full of foreigners, but there were also a lot of young kids, teenagers and even some adults taking part in the days festivities, all with skateboards in hands which to me shows that the community is pretty diverse.
The show started around 4:00pm and featured a bunch of local skaters attempting to pull of some cool tricks to make some cash. This part seemed a bit unorganized and somewhat indicative of Taiwanese culture as kids were flying back in forth in all directions and running into each other non-stop. Lessons can always be learned though because when the pro’s finally arrived they skated in to a lot of fanfare and took their turns pulling off some pretty awesome tricks and not getting in each others way.
The demo lasted about an hour and each of the pro-boarders performed various tricks using all of the facilities this new skatepark had to offer - Some of the tricks I’m sure most of the Taiwanese skaters didn’t even know could be achieved at their park and I'm sure will be emulated in the future.
Of all the pro’s I paid most attention to Kevin Terpening as he seemed to me to be the most skilled and getting the most air. He had made several attempts to pull of a pretty difficult vertical wall slide and even though he was mildly successful each time he tried, he wasn’t really happy with his result.
The rest of the pro’s who took part in the event finished their demos around 6:00 after performing various tricks such as rail slides, kick flips and skating through the bowl and on the half pipes yet they all more or less stopped and waited for a frustrated Kevin to finish his wall slide.
I was lucky enough to be in a good position with my camera to get a good angle to catch the slide when he finally pulled it off, but in retrospect I should have been on the opposite side to catch his face rather than his back. As this was my first time shooting pro-skateboarders I could probably be excused though.
After the demo was over, all the kids lined up for autographs and for a meet and greet with the pros. I had another engagement, so it was time for me to make my way back home for a quick shower and then out the door again.
I have to say that I really appreciate what the city government has done over the past few years. This kind of event never would have been possible in years past and I always would have travelled to Taipei to see something like this. Now, the people in Taipei have get off their butts and come here - which is never a bad thing.