| Situated near Cianjhen Fishing Port, Cianjhen Secondhand Store lies in a small alley just off Dechang Road in Kaohsiung’s Cianjhen District. Even if one has never previously visited the store, it is not hard to find. The store’s next-door neighbor loudly broadcasts a radio program in Holo (the local language also known as Taiwanese or Minnanhua), causing quite a buzz that can be heard before setting foot in the alley. What is more, the store’s facade is flamboyantly adorned with a fishing float, a pile of planks, and a rusty Vespa scooter. All of these hint at the potential inside for a real treasure hunt.
Proprietor Siao-ting is a twenty-something young lady, notable for her short, dyed lavender hair. She manages the secondhand store with her mother. Siao-ting says they started as roadside vendors, and also sold goods online. They had just a few square feet of space in which to heap their goods. Soon, the proliferation of merchandise compelled them to relocate to the property opposite. A two-story metal hut, built to display merchandise, is the store’s current location.
When one steps into Cianjhen Secondhand Store, the ample stacks of furniture, appliances, household goods and even items retrieved from scrapped ships and boats are overwhelming. Yet everything is arranged neatly, in harmony with the space available, and waiting to be discovered. Cianjhen Secondhand Store creates a thoughtful atmosphere of nostalgia. Siao-ting points out a wooden wall made from material recycled from over a hundred demolished wooden doors. On that wall she displays several vintage movie posts and doorplates. The latter have been collected while visiting households and conversing with customers. They are a record of her journey as she collects vintage goods.
”I like vintage goods, and that’s why I manage my own secondhand store,” says Siao-ting. She has traveled through military dependents’ villages and communities throughout Kaohsiung, searching for memories and stories of eras that have passed.
Siao-ting’s enthusiasm for preserving and collecting vintage goods means she sells only to customers who will appreciate and treasure them. Cianjhen Secondhand Store does not accept bargaining; if a customer is only willing to purchase a bargain vintage good, she feels such a person is likely to underestimate the value of the item, and not properly care for it. This is her humble way of ensuring that the treasures she uncovers end up in good hands.
While seeking out precious vintage goods, she has felt blessed to hear local residents passionately share their stories with her. She casually mentions that what is now Fongshan Huangpu Veterans Quarter was created for servicemen and their families during the rule of President Chiang Kai-shek and his son, President Chiang Ching-kuo, a period which lasted from 1949 to 1987. Siao-ting laments that so much history has been eliminated, without preservation in any form.
Cianjhen Secondhand Store displays several vintage motorcycles, all of which are still well maintained and used by Siao-ting’s family. However, factories no longer produce components for these scooters, and Siao-ting remarks that if one of these vintage motorcycles is damaged, there is a risk it cannot be repaired due to a lack of replacement parts.
The store’s first floor mainly displays household goods as well as some appliances and items from scrapped vessels. When asked to show us around the first floor, Siao-ting walks toward a cabinet, filled with glass cups bearing the logos of well-known Taiwanese corporations. Local glassware can be traced back to the Japanese colonial period (1895 to 1945) and was popular in the 1960s. Many companies promoted themselves by printing their logos on glassware and giving out sets as gifts. Scrutinizing each glass’s simple design, one can see a beauty ingrained with the past. Such glassware reflects local culture, and is embedded in the memories of local residents. “Glassware is ubiquitous, but it’s difficult to preserve,” says Siao-ting. From her tone, it is obvious she cherishes these fragile items.
Siao-ting says that, compared with glassware, furniture is easily preserved. She mentions some closets more than half a century old. The wood is mottled and distorted. She points out that slightly imperfect furniture can be fixed through furniture restoration, then shows off a hand-powered sewing machine almost a century old. Siao-ting says she has noticed that the collection of goods nowadays is different to a decade ago, so it is inevitable that valuable but ancient are scarce in secondhand markets.
Cianjhen Secondhand Store is best known for the vintage clothing which occupies the entire second floor. Most of the garments are for women. Siao-ting says collecting vintage clothing is a labor of love and extremely time consuming. Couture vintage attire was fashionable among affluent residents, but is now scarce, she explains. She says she can only collect fewer than 10 garments out of 100. Some garments may be damaged by bugs. “Despite fashion constantly changing and evolving,” says Siao-ting, “wearing vintage attire is undeniably quite fashionable.” Even though certain fabrics used in vintage clothing may not suit Taiwan’s climate, such attire has gained a market online due to its appearance and low price.
When she spots our interest in pinball, Siao-ting takes out the balls so we can play. She even treats us to boiled chrysanthemum tea. Sipping the tea and listening to her stories, the warmth behind her hospitality shines through each story she tells.