Taiwan's 'Strawberry Generation' Reaches Out To The Young And Trendy | KERA News

Taiwan's 'Strawberry Generation' Reaches Out To The Young And Trendy

Dec 8, 2015
Originally published on January 6, 2016 8:13 am

Taiwan's millennials are known as the "strawberry generation," and it's not a compliment.

In their own eyes, the millennials are helping to turn the capital city Taipei into something hipper, a place that embraces creativity and innovation. Some have gone as far as calling the city Taiwan's answer to Portland, Ore.

But an older generation of Taiwanese, who helped fuel the country's export-driven economy, sees the youngsters as soft and easily bruised. Hence, the "strawberry generation," a disparaging way of saying they don't work hard. You know, like their parents did.

But that's not what Jimmy Yang thinks. He has a spacious, two-story independent bar, restaurant and coffee shop called Woolloomooloo, and that's where you'll find him on most nights.

"We used it because it was just a really funny, quirky name. It has lots of 'O's,'" says Yang.

A former architect, the Taiwanese-Australian Yang paid a lot of attention to design. At Woolloomooloo, customers don't sit in clusters. They share long wooden tables that stretch the length of the restaurant.

"This is part of my experiences having grown up in Australia where we have cafes with lots of sharing tables," he says.

This kind of place — born of people-centered design — is at the heart of a boomlet of independent boutiques, cafes and restaurants opening in Taipei.

While typical Asian mega-cities race to build gleaming towers and lookalike shopping centers, Taipei's millennial entrepreneurs are focused on unique spaces: Tiny tea houses on leafy streets. Shops selling hand-stitched notebooks. Old industrial sites turned into art parks.

Places For The Young And Trendy

"Suddenly there's coffee shops [and] just an explosion of these really cool places," says Ben Thompson. He's a technology and business analyst who calls Taipei home. The numbers back him up. Taipei has seen a 30 percent jump in licensed eating and drinking spots between 2007 and 2013, according to city commerce data.

"What is so fascinating is that people in Taiwan, particularly the older generation, despair about this," he says. "It is the strawberry generation that's opening these things and their parents hate it."

Thanks to the hard work of an earlier generation, Taiwan's economy surged ahead and now ranks among the top 30 in the world, with a GDP per capital three times bigger than China's.

Even China's mega-manufacturing company — the iPhone parts maker Foxconn — is owned by a Taiwanese man. But from his ranks, you'll hear the fretting about Taiwan's economic future.

"There was the chairperson from Foxconn who says Taiwan's ruined because all the youngsters wanted to open cafes. They had no bigger ambitions in life. I remember that bit," Yang says.

A Service-Based Economy

But could the cafes be signaling an important shift?

During Taiwan's Asian Tiger heyday, electronics and agricultural products all over the world carried "Made in Taiwan" labels. But this is a wealthy place now. And to keep growing, the economy has to evolve.

For most developed nations, this has meant a shift from manufacturing-driven exports to a consumption and service-based economy. It means creating meaningful products people buy because they desire them — not just because they'll do the job.

"It's the difference between Apple and Dell," Thompson says. "One is utilitarian, you're gonna buy the cheapest computer you can. The other is, you're buying a computer, yes, but you're buying something more. And if you think about how to shift that in the economy that doesn't spring from a manufacturing economy. That springs from coffee shops and art shows. The sort of sensibility about people and who they are. That's what creates cool products that people want to buy just because they're cool."

A look at thriving American cities such as Austin or Seattle shows an environment for innovation matters. Hip places to hang out could help Taiwan compete for creative talent, cultivate it and then harness it.

"In your example, there's a coffee shop. There's a place for that community to appear in a way that it might not otherwise," says Scott Paterson, a designer at the San Francisco-based global design firm, IDEO. He helps create environments for urban spaces to encourage community building and growth.

"A lot of the reasons people live in cities is because of the potential serendipity of running into other ideas or people who have ideas different than you. And through that the kind of invention you're talking about could flourish," Paterson says. "Seeing that stuff flourish means people feel like it's possible."

Back at Jimmy Yang's Woolloomooloo, he says the possibility for younger generations here stems from designing places that put people first.

"These places help, help their minds work," Yang says.

It's too early to tell what will come for the Taiwanese economy at large. But the new places springing up are creating a kind of buzz here, enough to keep entrepreneurs like Yang in business, and cafes like his bustling.

Fanny Liu contributed to this story.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In Taiwan, millennials have a different name. They're called the strawberry generation, and their ideas have helped turn the capital city of Taipei into a Taiwanese version of Austin or Portland, Ore. As NPR's Elise Hu reports, the strawberry generation's influence could have some significant economic effects, too.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: At this spacious two-story indie bar and coffee shop, on most nights you'll find Jimmy Yang.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Jimmy, this is Elise.

HU: Hey, nice to meet you.

JIMMY YANG: Hi, Elise, hi.

HU: This is his place - Woolloomooloo.

YANG: We used it because it was just a really funny, quirky, quirky name. It has lots of O's.

HU: A former architect, the Taiwanese-Australian Yang paid a lot of attention to design. At Woolloomooloo, customers don't sit in clusters. They share long, wooden tables that stretch the length of the restaurant.

YANG: This is part of my experiences having grown up in Australia where we have cafes with lots of sharing tables.

HU: This kind of place, born of people-centered design, is at the heart of a boomlet of independent boutiques, cafes and restaurants opening in Taipei. While more typical Asian mega-cities race to build gleaming towers and carbon-copy department stores, Taipei's millennial entrepreneurs are focused on unique spaces - tiny teahouses on narrow streets, shops selling hand-stitched notebooks, avant-garde fashion boutiques.

BEN THOMPSON: Suddenly, there was coffee shops, just an explosion of these just really cool places.

HU: Ben Thompson is a technology and business analyst who calls Taipei home. The numbers back him up. Taipei has seen a 30 percent jump in licensed eating and drinking spots between 2007 and 2013.

THOMPSON: What's so fascinating is that people in Taiwan, particularly the older generation, despair about this.

HU: In fact, older generations call Asian millennials the strawberry generation because strawberries tend to bruise easily. It's a disparaging way to say the generation doesn't work hard - you know, like their parents. While millenials open today's cafes, their parents helped fuel an export-driven Taiwanese economy that now ranks among the top 30 in the world and a GDP per capita that's three times bigger than China's. Even China's mega-manufacturing company, the iPhone parts maker Foxconn, is owned by a Taiwanese man. But from his ranks, you'll hear the fretting about Taiwan's economic future. Cafe owner Yang.

YANG: There was the chairperson from Foxconn who says Taiwan's ruined 'cause all the youngsters wanted to open cafes. They had no bigger ambitions in life. I remember that bit.

HU: Or could the cafes be signaling an important shift? During Taiwan's Asian Tiger heyday, agriculture and electronics all over the world carried Made In Taiwan labels. But this is a rich country now, and to keep growing, the economy has to evolve. For most developed nations, that shift means moving from manufacturing-driven exports to a consumption and service-based system. It means creating meaningful products people buy because they desire them, not just because they'll do the job. Ben Thompson.

THOMPSON: It's the difference between Apple and Dell. One is utilitarian. You're going to buy the cheapest computer you can. The other one is you're buying a computer, yes, but you're buying something more. And if you think about how to shift that in the economy, that doesn't spring from a manufacturing economy.

HU: He argues a sensibility for people that leads to creating cool products springs from coffee shops and art shows. If you look at thriving American cities, such as Austin or Seattle, they show having an environment for innovation matters. Having hip places to hang out makes Taipei more livable. That could help Taiwan compete for creative talent and cultivate it.

SCOTT PATERSON: There's a coffee shop. There's a place for that community to actually appear in a way that it might not otherwise appear.

HU: Scott Paterson, of the San Francisco design firm IDEO, helps create environments for cities to draw innovators and grow.

PATERSON: And so a lot of the reason people live in cities is because of the potential serendipity of running into other ideas or people who have ideas different than you. And through that then the kind of invention you're talking about could flourish. Seeing that stuff flourish means people feel like it's possible.

HU: It's too early to tell what will come for the Taiwanese economy at large. But the new businesses are creating a kind of buzz here. It's enough to keep entrepreneurs like Yang in business and cafes like his cropping up faster than you can say Woolloomooloo. Elise Hu, NPR News, Taipei. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.