|Wandering around Taipei|
After a 4-hour direct flight on the upscale Taiwanese Airline EVA from Singapore to Taiwan, we landed outside of the city’s capitol of Taipei. It was growing dark by this time, but we had an affable, well-spoken 54-year old driver named “Jerry” waiting for us, who hustled us over to the Yomi Hotel where we would spend the next five nights in this new country. Upon arrival at our hotel, we tried to give a monetary tip to Jerry for his taxi service, but he wouldn’t hear of it; he just sincerely wanted us to have a good time while in Taiwan, sans tip.
|Taiwanese beer was soooo good!!|
First, a little background on the city of Taipei. The Taipei Metropolitan area is located at the very northern tip of the Island of Taiwan, just 125 miles off the coast of mainland China. It is made up of three contiguous cities - Taipei City (the capitol of Taiwan), New Taipei, and Keelung. The Taipei Metropolitan area is a typically busy city of 7 million, with lots of tall modern buildings, bustling vehicles, a modern subway, and scurrying business people everywhere. Taiwan is a relatively small island; consequently, land is limited for expansion on Taiwan, and it is quite a densely populated country. New construction must mostly be built vertically to minimize the premiums that would be incurred by growing sideways for new property gains.
|On the streets of Taipei (notice the 7-Eleven!)|
It seemed hard to believe that we had made a transfer to another Asiatic country, but this time, it was slightly different; capitalism is Taiwan’s ideology, as opposed to the predominantly communist countries that we had been visiting in the past few weeks. There was nothing startlingly different to the eye, but we spotted many global industries here that were absent in some of the other places we visited. One thing we noticed was that there were an inordinate number of 7-Eleven's, KFC’s, Popeye’s, and Starbucks on practically every city block. We found out later that there are over five thousand 7/11 convenience stores on Taiwan! That’s our capitalism at work, we thought, making inroads in countries that have opened their doors and embraced western commerce!
|Water lilies and azaleas adorn ancient fountain|
Anne was on assignment here for the Internet Blog Viator to write an article about Taipei, so as part of this venture, we took a city highlights tour to learn about this world class city that we both knew so very little about. A delightful Chinese dude by the name of “Felix” was our tour guide for that excursion; he was a knowledgeable 58-year old who, along with his driver Mr. Shun, escorted us about the city in his air-conditioned Toyota van.
|Taipei, the city of azaleas|
Felix told us that Taipei was known as the “city of azaleas.” And everywhere we drove, colorful azaleas adorned the city streets in carefully manicured fashion. We were so glad we had timed our arrival to Taipei perfectly (ha, ha) for this floral extravaganza of blooming azaleas in multiple pastels colors; it really heightened our enjoyment of the tour even more.
|Good luck Buddha swastikas emblazoned on temple urn|
Felix showed us a beautiful Zen Temple with a centrally located brass incense burner lined with “good luck” Buddha swastikas. Yes, the swastika twisted in the reverse way from Hitler’s infamous moniker was a good luck symbol used by Buddha craftsman throughout the ages. Since land is at a premium here, the temple was completely surrounded by a youth center; without Felix, we would never have known it was there.
|Impressive three-story CKS Memorial|
Of course Chiang Kai-Shek (CKS) was the most famous homeboy & leader of this country, so a visit to his 3-story Memorial Hall built in 1980 was inevitable.
|High-stepping Taiwanese Navy personnel performing |
changing of the guard ceremony
The visit to the hall involved a very serious changing of the guard ceremony by Taiwanese Navy personnel, filled with much pomp and spit-and-polish military moves. The main hall was located on the 3rd floor of a relatively new memorial building, and filled with many Chinese admirers of this past leader.
|CKS looking a lot like the Lincoln Memorial|
The Hall portrayed a huge, brass, seated sculpture of CKS, which was actually patterned after the Lincoln Memorial in our own Washington, DC. Like Lincoln, CKS was the president of his country; he ruled as the leader of the Chinese Nationalist Government here in Taiwan until his death in 1975. He was responsible for many reforms and is totally loved by the people of Taiwan.
|Brightly-colored Martyr's Shrine|
Another stop was at the “Martyr’s Shrine,” a gorgeous building designed to look like a mini-version of the Forbidden City in Beijing. We definitely got the feeling that CKS was trying to create his own little China here on Taiwan.
|National Palace Museum|
As a finale to the tour, Felix took us over to the National Palace Museum in downtown Taipei, often considered by experts as one of the four greatest museums in the world. The National Palace Museum preserves century-old Chinese art and culture and houses more than 600,000 court treasures from various Chinese dynasties. Much jade and jade sculptures, ivory carvings, and trinkets carved from Rhino horns were on display throughout this large edifice. These items were intriguing, but it was hard to ignore how many of these art forms would be illegal to obtain in today’s world. And how many artists spent their entire lives creating a single masterpiece for the emperor. Just goes to show the insane need for unique opulence by rulers who could demand (and get) anything they wanted. Since money was no object, they could use the power of their throne to obtain any frivolous or absurd item they wanted.
The other interesting aspect of the National Palace Museum is that these treasures were originally stored in the Forbidden City in Beijing. During the Cultural Revolution in China, CKS saved (or stole, depending on your point of view) the greatest treasures of the Chinese court. Today, the majority of visitors to the museum come from the mainland; these are Chinese tourists who are anxious to see their country’s prized possessions.
|Weird packaged quail eggs are sold all over Tamsui|
On another day, we took the metro outside of Taipei to the small town of Tamsui. Tamsui is an historic town with lots of friendly shops, eateries, and unique indigenous stuff for tourists and locals alike. It was a 30-minute ride that cost us a train token each (about $3 US dollars/ person), and that included the return trip too. It couldn’t have been simpler and cheaper to ride the Taipei MRT (metro).
|Street food - fried squid, anyone?|
Tamsui has a few pedestrian streets lined with vendors who sell lots of street food, souvenirs, and merchandise that you’ll find nowhere in America. Frank wanted to try the fried squid, but you had to buy too great a quantity; if he didn’t like it, it would have to be thrown away. So he passed on squid. He did try the quail eggs, but was not enamored of the strange flavor.
The ginger tea was excellent, and we couldn’t walk away without buying a pack of teabags to bring home.
Of course, we had to try some of the local noodle soup. Luckily, a friendly resident named “Hugo” befriended us and directed us to a noodle house. Inside the restaurant, a group
|Sweet young tea vendor sells Frank on her ginger tea|
of older ladies, who spoke some limited English, helped us order some soup dishes. They all did an excellent job of helping us poor “fer-in-ers!”
|Living the life in Taipei with good tea and|
good foot massages
Back in Taipei, we decided to get a foot massage from the kindly old Chinese man who just happened to have a massage shop next to our hotel. Foot massages here are very inexpensive, so we absolutely “needed” to have our sore peds “kneaded.” We had no choice! Foot massage is available all over Asia, and you can just walk in any time -- wish we had something comparable here in the US.
|Heavenly hot towels wraps at the end of the massage|
These particular foot massages were especially delightful because after working over our feet, they massaged our calves, and then wrapped the whole works in hot, wet towels. Ahhhh…. Nice job by the old boy and his son!!
BTW when we left Taipei, we specifically asked for Jerry to be our taxi driver. He was the same driver that brought us into Taipei from the airport on the 1st night here, and refused a tip offered by Frank. This nice man not only picked us up on time, but he provided us with a breakfast snack of delicious dumplings to enjoy during the ride to the airport. Honestly, we meet the nicest people when we travel – restores our faith in humanity!
We had a great time visiting southeastern Asia. The people, the culture, and of course, the food were super. Politics aside, it is a favorite spot of ours to spend holiday time. And very few other spots in the world give you the same bang for your buck that you will get in the places we visited over the past few weeks. If all goes well, we will be happily returning to this part of the world sometime soon.
More pics from Taiwan:
|Frank is lovin' a meat & rice breakfast|
in downtown Taipei
|Taipei's version of Pho Bo, |
noodle soup with beef
|Anne loves slurping up noodles and|
drinking her can of Taiwan beer
|More Taiwanese soup for breakfast|
|Street food in Tamsui appears to be some kind of cooked worms|
(we didn't try it to find out!)
|Taiwan's version of Pho Heo, pork soup with noodles|
|Dish of spicy beef with peppers|
|Taiwanese Pho Ga, chicken soup with noodles|