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Embracing Diversity

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Little "ASEANs" in Greater Taipei

by Tao Chen

Elam Boockvar-Klein (he/him) is currently pursuing a Master’s in City Planning from the University of
Pennsylvania, where he examines the transformative possibilities associated with equitable development. At every stage of his career, he has been grounded by a belief in the power of the intersection of community organizing,
urban planning, and real estate development to work towards reparations for marginalized neighborhoods.


The tapestry of Taiwan’s cultural and urban landscapes is in a state of profound transformation. The growing presence of Southeast Asian communities and government’s encouragement of inclusivity contrasts with historical efforts by the post-World War II occupying regime to impose a homogeneous "Chineseness."[1] The emerging Southeast Asian communities challenge traditional Confucian-Taoist-Buddhist paradigms and are prompting Taiwanese society to reevaluate the perceived monoethnic environment entrenched during decades of Kuomintang (KMT) rule. Nowhere is this metamorphosis more evident than in the vibrant "Little ASEANs" [2] that have flourished throughout Greater Taipei, reshaping both the physical urban landscape and bringing new vitality into neighborhoods.  


Much like Chinatowns and Asian Strip Malls in the US, the presence of Southeast Asian establishments such as stores, restaurants, churches, and services in Greater Taipei offer a comforting sense of familiarity and cultural affirmation for different diaspora groups. [3] They serve as a home away from home to the growing diaspora population, catering to the diverse needs and desires of their clientele. These services are particularly important tin the context of Taiwan’s aging (and shrinking) population and the reluctance of Taiwanese youth to engage in certain sectors like manufacturing and caregiving. [4]

[1] Karvelyte, Kristina. 2022. “The Chineseness of Urban Cultural Policy in Taiwan.”
Asian Studies Review 168-185.

[2] The Association of Southeast Asian Nations

[3] Lung-Amam, Willow S. 2017. “Mainstreaming the Asian Mall.” In Trespassers?:
Asian Americans and the Battle for Suburbia, by Willow S. Lung-Amam, 98-137.
Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 99

[4] Hsueh, James C T. “Taiwan Heading into Its Super-Aged Era.” East Asia Forum,
March 4, 2023


...emerging Southeast Asian communities challenge traditional Confucian-Taoist-Buddhist paradigms and are prompting Taiwanese society to reevaluate the perceived monoethnic environment...


During my visit to Mie Ayam Indostar, a modest eatery near Taoyuan Station (a city just southwest of Taipei), the often bustling crowds of Javanese factory workers and caregivers for Taiwan's rapidly aging population were noticeably absent on a quiet Thursday afternoon. Run by a lovely mother-son duo, this establishment represents a part of Taiwan’s burgeoning “new resident” (新住民) population, a term encompassing foreign spouses, migrant workers, and their children, who have embraced Taiwan as their home. Mie Ayam Indostar offers a straightforward menu, albeit at relatively higher prices compared to the norm in Taiwan (where a typical bento box would cost less than $100 TWD, or $3.25 USD). Nonetheless, customers appreciate the authentic flavors and warm atmosphere when they visit after work, as evidenced from glowing reviews on platforms like Google Maps [5] and TikTok [6]. The addition of a grocery section at the back further enhances the restaurant’s appeal, providing a sense of home for Indonesians longing for familiar products.  


While Mie Ayam Indostar primarily caters to the Indonesian community, the restaurant also strives to reach out to Taiwanese customers. With the rise of online food influencers and the convenience of delivery apps like UberEats, more and more Taiwanese locals are showing interest in exploring the rich flavors right in their own neighborhood. Over at Cres-Art Philippine Cuisine in Taipei's "Little Manila" within Zhongshan District, Imelda, the owner, shared with me how she has seen a growing number of Taiwanese patrons keen on indulging in Filipino delicacies. As I savored my halo-halo (a Filipino cold dessert), Imelda also mentioned the necessity to diversify her customer base, especially as an increasing number of Filipino workers seek employment in the regions south of Taipei.  

[5] Mie Ayam Indostar · Yanping Rd, Taoyuan District, Taoyuan City, Taiwan 330.

[6] TikTok. “X I N L IIDTW on TikTok.” Accessed February 22, 2024. https://www.tiktok.

[7] Lin, Eric. 1999. Taipei’s “Little Philippines” St. Christopher’s Catholic Church. December. Accessed February 19, 2024.

[8] 阿美米干(A-Mei Migan). n.d. 異域孤軍大事記 (Major Events of the Lonely Army in a Foreign Land). Accessed February 20, 2024.

Image: Little Myanmar, or Nanyang Sightseeing Food Street in Zhonghe District, New Taipei

Source: Tao Chen

These "Little ASEAN" areas and their culinary establishments not only help different diaspora groups maintain their identities, but also foster the formation of new ones. Just like Asian malls in the United States that foster a sense of “Pan-Asian” Asian-American identity where diverse backgrounds converge, Little ASEANs have played a similar role for Taiwan's "New Immigrants." This is especially evident in the grocery stores and other services found within these communities, where offerings transcend Southeast Asian boundaries, including goods from Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand. Additionally, remittance-sending and package delivery services cater to the needs of the diverse Southeast Asian countries represented. 


Little ASEANs serve as a powerful reminder that vibrant communities do not emerge in isolation but are the result of a complex interplay of historic dynamics and deliberate policies implemented by various levels of government. The establishment of Taipei's Little Manila, for instance, can be traced back to the founding of St. Christopher's Church by American parishioners, which held the distinction of being the sole English-speaking Catholic church in Taipei for many decades. This unique institution acted as a magnet for the Filipino community, creating a nurturing environment that fostered a strong support network and provided a sacred space where cultural and religious practices could thrive and be preserved. [7


Similarly, the presence of "Little Myanmar" in New Taipei's Zhonghe district and the significant Burmese-Thai community in Taoyuan's Longgang district can be attributed to the historical ties between the KMT and northern Myanmar and Thailand. Following their defeat in the Chinese Civil War, thousands of KMT troops crossed the border from the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan and seized control of the northern Burmese provinces. There, they sustained themselves through the opium trade and laid the foundation for what would later become known as the Golden Triangle. After being evacuated in 1960 to Taiwan, these soldiers and their families were resettled in Zhonghe and Longgang, where their unique heritage and experiences continue to shape the fabric of these communities. [8]


[9] One of many underground malls linking metro stations in Taipei

[10] Lin, Yumei. “Southeast Asian Migrant Workers in Taiwan: Human Rights and Soft
Power | New Perspectives on Asia | CSIS,” September 28, 2023.

[11] 陳立儀 (Li-Yi Chen). 2023. 首波40店搶先開賣!全家便利商店南洋酸辣燙「馬
尚煮」強勢登台 冬蔭功湯+10款海味食材自由配 (“First Wave of 40 Stores
Launch Sales! FamilyMart Introduce Southeast Asian Spicy Hot Pot ‘Tom Yummy’
- Tom Yam Kung + 10 Seafood Ingredients for Customization”). United Daily News.
November 8. Accessed February 22, 2024

These days, Southeast Asian stores are seamlessly integrated into the urban fabric of Taipei, in many cases extending beyond designated "Little ASEAN" areas. Near Taipei Main Station, at the western end of the underground Taipei City Mall, [9] an array of Indonesian restaurants, telecom services, and grocery stores has flourished, even outnumbering Taiwanese establishments in the vicinity. This “Indonesia Street” has helped reinvigorate an otherwise struggling mall. Moreover, malls like the King Wan Wan Shopping Center in Zhongshan District have transformed into thriving business hubs for diverse Southeast Asian communities, empowering Taipei's Filipino community in the face of persistent challenges of migrant worker discrimination and racism [10]. The increasing popularity of Vietnamese cuisine has led to the proliferation of Vietnamese restaurants and food carts throughout Taiwan, reflecting both the significant Vietnamese community and the growing Taiwanese appreciation for the flavors of Vietnam. So much so, even FamilyMart, a Japanese convenience store chain with over 3,600 locations in Taiwan (second only to 7-Eleven's 6,500), has recently introduced a dedicated "Southeast Asian" section to cater to the diverse tastes and preferences of its customers. [11]  


The Little ASEANs of Greater Taipei illuminate the historical forces shaping social and cultural landscapes. These communities epitomize resilience, adaptability, and extraordinary journeys. It is crucial to recognize the deliberate policies and historical ties that underpin their formation. Policymakers globally should prioritize embracing and supporting diverse communities, respecting and celebrating their unique needs, aspirations, and cultural identities. Moreover, it is essential to acknowledge and cater to the distinct groups within diaspora communities to ensure that their individual needs are fully met. The presence of  Little ASEANs in Greater Taipei stands as a testament to the transformative power of embracing diversity, challenging traditional notions of identity, and offering invaluable lessons to policymakers worldwide, spanning all levels. 


Image: English and Tagalog signs at the King
Wan Wan Shopping Center 

Source: Tao Chen
IMG-20230526-WA0021 (1).jpeg
Image: Indonesian, Burmese, and Thai items at a grocery store in
New Taipei’s “Little Myanmar” 

Source: Tao Chen
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