Blog: Love, Dadaocheng

Rot Vintage 破朽

In a century-old building in a small alley off Dihua Street (迪化街), not far from the noise of the City God Temple (台北霞海城隍廟), a treasure trove awaits. 

This is Rot Vintage (破朽), a small shop crammed full with rare finds that span the decades of Taiwan’s history.

Owners 紅花 (Hong Hua, literally “red flower”) and 小咪 (Xiao Mi, or “little meow”) began collecting vintage items three years ago, scouring flea markets for unique pieces that are hard to find these days. They sold the items at weekend markets and via online auctions, but as the collection grew, the couple eventually began looking for a storefront.

The 24-year-old 紅花 says that although the foot traffic in the East District (東區) alleys around Zhongxiao Dunhua (忠孝敦化) was a draw, she felt that Dadaocheng was a much better fit for the shop’s offerings because its visitors are able to appreciate things of historical value. As she tells it, shoppers in the trendier areas believe that “vintage” equates to “cheap,” and don’t see the value of the rare items available at Rot.

In fact, even the shop’s unconventional name was chosen to reflect a respect for the past, blemishes and all. 紅花 says that, while people tend to prefer new things, if you really like something, you won’t mind if it’s a little imperfect, and this is the philosophy she hopes to impart to her customers.

Although Rot is not exclusively a clothing store, the racks are filled with interesting pieces from different eras of Taiwan’s history, as well as some items from Europe brought over by Angela of Kiss & Tell Vintage on trips back to Taiwan.

A fair portion of the dresses on offer are the traditional qipao (旗袍), whose styles range from casual day wear to more formal frocks with delicate stitching. While the qipao is of Chinese origin and isn’t traditionally associated with Taiwan, it saw its heyday in Dadaocheng during the 1920s and 1930s, and was often worn as a uniform by women working in cafes and restaurants. For this reason, the primary costume selection in the 2014 film Twa-Tiu-Tiann (大稻埕, or Dadaocheng) was the qipao.

Visitors to Rot may also come across some recognizable vintage accessories, like this hat worn by postmen while out delivering mail.

It’s not just the clothing and accessories at Rot that are vintage. In fact, all of the mannequins in the shop are themselves quite old. Scavenged from various thrift shops or flea markets, the mannequins show signs of wear and tear, like this form which was once used to display suits and men’s formal shirts.

Another unique item, appropriate given the shop’s close proximity to the Yong Le Fabric Market, is this clear acrylic slate. It was used by tailors to demonstrate how a particular fabric would look as an item of clothing.

Though 紅花 and 小咪 try to do as much research as possible on the items they collect, many items in the shop are of unknown origin, including this cap-wearing wind-up character. Often, the pair finds out the history of an item only by chance when a customer happens to know the item’s background.

One such item is this dancing clown music box, which turns out to be a mass-produced item available across the world in the early 1980s. (Author’s note: After originally posting this video on the Love, Dadaocheng Instagram and Facebook, fans in Japan and the United States mentioned that they had also owned the same music box. More examples can be found here.)

Other items are often recognizable to many Taiwanese, like this glass candy container, though the brand name still eludes 紅花, much to her chagrin. (Have information about this guy? Let her know!)

Some of the items in the shop might raise eyebrows among the more conservative, like this sheet of stickers which were usually applied to cheap plastic lighters found at betel nut (賓郎) stands. When warmed up, the dark “clothing” covering the women’s bodies turns transparent for a cheap thrill. 紅花 says that, although there may be lighters still in circulation somewhere, it’s quite rare to find an intact sheet of these stickers out in the wild. 

These days, since the selection at many flea markets in Taiwan has dwindled, 紅花 and 小咪 get many of their items from older relatives or friends who have collectibles just sitting in storage. For instance, the shop’s landlord collected these pay phone cards from Chunghwa Telecom (中華電信) over his lifetime until the cards (and pay phones) were largely phased out. He enjoyed the images, and would often ask others if he could have their cards once the value was used up. Part of his collection is now on consignment at Rot.

小咪 explains that these aluminum suitcases were once popular among the wealthy in Taiwan, and were also often used as dowry cases (嫁妝) or for transporting costumes (戲服). This was because they were not only fashionable, but also very light, though this characteristic made them much flimsier in comparison to the more expensive leather suitcases also in Rot’s collection. When stacked or tossed about, the aluminum could buckle, causing the clasps to become ineffective. 

Can you guess what this case was used for? Certainly not for traveling! One of Rot’s more interesting cases, this was originally used by the military for transporting ammunition, though given Taiwan’s checkered military past, it’s unclear by which country’s military it was used. 

Some other items found at Rot may be recognizable to people across the world, like this Sankyo Dualux 2000H Super 8 Projector. This one doesn’t work but, like many of the electronics items at Rot, 紅花 says that it likely needs a minor electrical repair to get it up and running.

紅花 and 小咪 aren’t the only one you’ll encounter when you visit Rot. You’ll likely also be greeted by the shop’s most popular staff member: 小豆子 (Xiao Dou Zi, “Little Bean”). He can’t introduce any of the items in the shop, but he’ll be glad to keep you company while you shop.

Planning a visit? Rot is usually open in the afternoons Wednesday to Sunday, from 1pm until around 8pm. However, like many places in Dadaocheng (like Doorway Cafe), the shop’s hours vary to accommodate the freewheeling lifestyle of the shopkeepers. Check out the shop’s Facebook page and leave a message if you’re arriving from afar and want to be sure the shop will be open.

Rot Vintage is located at Dihua Street, Lane 72, #23. You can like the shop on Facebook here.