Taipei's National Theatre and National Concert Hall, first opened in 1987, have always retained something of the flavour of the authoritarian, pre-democratic era they were planned in. With their chandeliers, sweeping staircases and ubiquitous red carpeting, they appear to announce that the Kuomintang, in whose most sacred precinct the auditoriums stand, will hold its head high above the tide of ordinary humanity into the indefinite future. They have long needed a breath of life, and a new director, Ping Heng, has provided just that. Within a short space of time this year, a traditional Taiwanese teahouse, a CD and DVD shop, a performing arts and travel centre, two outdoor coffee shops, a lavish musical fountain, and even a Mos Burger outlet, have appeared on the scene. These have added to an already flourishing bookstore and indoor coffee shop put in place in 2003. In addition, the restaurant has been refurbished to luxury standards, and the emphasis changed from all-purpose food to Cantonese, Shanghainese and Taiwanese specialities. Nothing could be more welcome. The two buildings' empty spaces had long been both an embarrassment and a testimony to waste on a grandiose scale. The new venues, many of them cosily social in what is a characteristically Taiwanese style, clearly announce the arrival of the democratic spirit in these hallowed edifices. But are they working? Are the crowds showing up? 'I think it will take time,' said one visitor. 'People used to come here only for performances. Now they are beginning to come to hang out as well. I think it's a trend that will escalate.' Hsu Min-hsiung, the young owner of Min's World Classical Music, the CD and DVD outlet, was more cautious. 'Setting up this place was an unexpected development for me,' he said. 'I had thought of seeking out more congenial working conditions abroad, and then suddenly this chance came up. That was only last October, and by March, I was in business.' Mr Hsu's arrangement with the theatre and concert hall management is that he pays a basic rent, and begins to divide his profit with the host institution only if it exceeds a certain figure. Similar arrangements have probably been put in place for the other outlets. Outside, on the broad Chiang Kai-shek Memorial plaza, groups regularly practise martial arts, and at night, teenagers pace out dance steps to the sounds of ghetto-blasters. The classical and popular worlds, however, have still to make any significant connection. But the channels for interaction are now in place, and Mos Burger may yet find itself with a cultural mission its founders never envisaged.