Takeaway Scenery

Travel Souvenirs

2020 / March

Cathy Teng /photos courtesy of Lin Min-hsuan /tr. by Scott Williams

A trip to Taiwan can mean many things: personally visit­ing some of its 368 districts and townships, tasting local specialties, uploading photos to Instagram and Facebook…. Regardless of how you plan your visit, you will certainly want physical reminders of the scenes and scenery you experience, souvenirs that embody something of Taiwan’s character and can be shared with friends.


In recent years, Taiwanese souvenirs have undergone a sea change. Highly designed, infused with local character, and connected to everyday life, they reflect Taiwan’s particular tastes, sense of humor, and growing environmental advocacy. Here’s the lowdown on Taiwanese souvenirs according to the National Palace Museum, The Gala Asia, and the Taiwan Design Research Institute.

The National Palace Museum

“The cultural artifacts in the National Palace Mu­seum’s collection are often one of a kind,” says Wang Yao-feng, deputy director of the museum’s Department of Cultural Creativity and Marketing. “They are brilliant and important, and can only be experienced in Taiwan.”

“At the National Palace Museum, we treat you as a guest in our home, and show you our family treasures. Culture is the most important of our treasures. We see the transformation of cultural artifacts into creative and cultural products as a way to provide visitors with souvenirs that they can take home with them. We are very sincere about this,” says Wu I-ching, who works in the museum’s publishing section.

Over the last few years, the NPM has put more cre­ativ­ity into its souvenirs and has also incorporated more local character into them. Lee Weidy, a section chief in the Depart­ment of Cultural Creativity and Marketing, shows us the Jadeite Cabbage Sun & Rain Umbrella, a new addition to the museum’s product line based on the famous Jadeite Cabbage sculpture, ­bundled with a custom-sized red, blue and green tote just the right size for holding a cup of boba tea. The designs practically shout “Taiwan!”

Nearly all of the artifacts on display in the museum are from the Chinese imperial collection, but the museum makes sure to connect its gifts to ordinary folk. The pattern on the outside of the Passport Cover with Ice Plum Pattern is based on the cover of Emperor Qianlong’s First Collection of Imperial Poetry, and still looks fashionable today. Produced by Tainan-based canvas bag maker Guang­fu­hao, the made-in-Taiwan passport cover opens to the right, like an antique book. The museum’s attention to this kind of small detail is indicative of its determination to promote education.

The NPM also offers more contemporary “cool” products such as its collaboration with Taiwanese creative‡­cultural designer Justin Chou, which incorpor­ates “Sunlight After Snowfall,” a famous letter from the hand of Jin-Dynasty calligrapher Wang Xizhi (303‡361), into the lenses of a pair of sunglasses, and Emperor Qianlong’s calligraphic praise of the letter into the frame.

The museum offers some even quirkier souvenirs. A design competition for products using elements drawn from national treasures in the museum’s open database led to “I’m Weary—Put Me On & Be the Emperor or Empress,” a hilarious eye mask printed with pairs of eyes from Ming-Dynasty imperial portraits in the museum’s collection. Other products include “Im­perial Court Chopstick Rests,” which were inspired by a seated image of Emperor Taizu of the Song Dynasty and feature the black cap with wing-like flaps of an imperial official. The base of these cartoony chopstick rests doubles as a soy-sauce dish. On seeing the rests, some of Lee’s colleagues joked that having “the emperor” hold the chopsticks for guests would show just how committed the museum was to being a good host.

The Gala Asia

Grace Wang, president of The Gala Asia, loves to give gifts, and has made a mission of promoting the aesthetics of living. She founded The Gala Asia in 2018 as a platform for products by Asian designers. Open for less than two years, the shop bustles with a seemingly endless stream of visitors.

Located in Taipei’s Huashan 1914 Creative Park, The Gala Asia is a white space punctuated with tented displays like the stalls of a bazaar, each showcasing the creativity of a different brand. Exploring the store, you can hear frequent exclamations of delight as customers gush over a new find.

Roughly 70% of the visitors to the creative park are tourists. Wang promotes a number of local brands in her shop in an effort to familiarize international travelers with Taiwanese design houses and help them better under­stand our culture. 

One of the brands Wang hosts is Green in Hand. With a display that includes rice in seasonal packaging and a large variety of agricultural products, the brand offers visit­ors the opportunity to bring home the flavors of Taiwan. These souvenirs couldn’t be any more local, and enable purchasers to maintain a connection to Taiwan’s land.

Traditional handicrafts often lack modern aesthetics. Mixing the two can give rise to something entirely new. For example, Wang recommends the brands greenroom and Züny, both of which offer leather products that add a comforting sense of refinement to living spaces. 

Wang turns the conversation to gift giving: “I love giving gifts, and one reason for that is that I want to share. I think sharing is very important because some of the connection between people relies on us sharing things we like so others can better understand us. Sometimes giving a gift reveals our taste.” This idea leads her to recommend the TZULAï brand, which designs every­day household items imbued with a sense of life. For example, its chopstick cages are traditionally shaped, but incorporate modern design touches in a way that feels familiar to Taiwanese yet is also attractive to non-­Taiwanese. It turns out that travelers find locally designed gifts some of Taiwan’s most alluring attractions.

Taiwan Design Research Institute

“A tiny souvenir can reflect our dreams or values. It can embody an individual in miniature, encapsulating the person’s memories and values,” says Oliver Lin, vice president of the Taiwan Design Research Institute (TDRI). He offers a traveler bringing home a handicraft item as an example, arguing that the choice represents the ­buyer’s recognition and admiration of the artisan’s skill. A visitor’s delight in a souvenir reflects an appreci­ation of the creativity that went into it. 

“In fact, souvenirs also reflect the culture, worldview and values of the place they come from,” says Lin. Over the last few years, Taiwan has begun applying the principles of design to souvenirs, giving them a greater sense of refinement. For example, Sun Moon Lake Black Tea’s products seem almost to have been imbued with Sun Moon Lake’s beautiful vistas, helping visitors who purchase the tea retain the memories of those scenes. Fu Wan Chocolate’s products, which have received numerous international accolades, are another case in point. Made entirely in Taiwan from Taiwanese-grown cocoa beans and often incorporating Taiwanese dried fruits and teas, these tree-to-bar Taiwanese chocolates deliver a cornucopia of Taiwanese flavors. Beautifully packaged, evocatively described, and cleverly branded with names like “Slanting Sun by Sun Moon Lake,” “Tai­mali Sunrise,” “Twilight Encounter in Jiufen,” and “Ali­shan Sea of Clouds,” the chocolates not only taste delicious, but also evoke Taiwan’s lovely scenery.

In addition to being highly designed, many sou­venirs also demonstrate a love for the Earth. As Taiwanese society has become more environmentally conscious, many designers have begun incorporating environmental friendliness and sustainability into their work. HMM and Spring Pool Glass have jointly produced drinking glasses made from recycled glass. These souvenirs remind purchasers that Taiwan recycles glass at the second-­highest rate in the world, and the skill with which they are made adds still other dimensions to their story. Meanwhile, DOTdesign and REnato’s cobranded environmentally friendly rice-husk beach toys are manufactured using only biodegradable materials that will break down completely within three years.

“Taiwanese-style hospitality and kindness emerge from an inner drive to treat others well,” says Lin, adding that these environmentally friendly designs make great reminders of a visit to Taiwan.

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