Little Bit of History

The flight happened during a historic window of opportunity... between January 29 and February 20, China and Taiwan agreed to "direct" flights, as opposed to having to land and change planes in some third destination. Even so, there's a requirement of flying through Hong Kong airspace, so that's what the in-flight trip display shows. Technically, Macau is exempt from the requirement, but I guess the pilot wasn't taking any chances.


For getting around, the MRT -- Taipei's subway system -- can't be beat. It's fast, efficient, and clean. I mean really clean! Forget about New York's graffiti-riddled subway, even the Bay Area's BART is starting to get shabby, but the MRT, despite often being packed full, remains almost surgically clean. Of course, the fact that no smoking, food, drinks, or even chewing gum is allowed anywhere in the system contributes greatly to that. Hey, I'll live with that minor inconvenience!

Geek's Paradise

One of the first places we went to was Guang-Hua market. Imagine a combination between flea-market, carnival, and trade show all packed up into one confined space, with vendors packed full of almost every imaginable electronic doo-dad -- and the corridors packed full of people (not just geeks, I might add! ;) -- and you begin to get a flavor of the place. If you know what you want, and are willing to negotiate, you can get yourself a lot of cool stuff for unbeatable prices!

The Strip

And it's not just inside one building, imagine an entire street, with people selling computer systems, digital cameras, flat-screen monitors, hard disks, games and DVD's, MP3 players... you name it, it's there. And one thing to be said about the people: they know their stuff! They're not just shoe salesmen that decided to sell techno-trinkets instead.

Dinner on the Town

Okay, haggling down some fellow for some electronics goodies builds up an appetite. So after dropping the loot in the room, it's time to head across town to the ShiLin night market. A similar sort of atmosphere, but for food instead. Imagine a two story parking structure, with the lower level filled with semi-permanent booths selling all manner of dishes from calamari soup to oyster omlettes to steamed dumplings to beef-bone soup to shaved ice.

See-food diet

No haggling here, but there's really no need to; most of these dishes will run you from 40-100 NT$ (roughly US $1-$3) so for the equivalent of $10 US you could eat your fill... assuming you're willing to try new things. Skiddish eaters need not visit, but if you've got an open mind, this place is an experience! (I'm up for a lot of things, but I have to admit, I haven't quite decided to give "stinky tofu" a try; my one past experience left me with an opinion I will spare the gentle reader... email me if you want my unvarnished opinion ;)

Homeward Bound

The ShiLin market, oddly enough, isn't found at the ShiLin stop of the MRT. You'll need to get off the one before (to the south) of it: Jiantan station. The southern-most extent of the market is just across the street. Anyway, it's time to go home, with both belly and wallet full.

In the Snake

Okay, I'm a bit ga-ga about the MRT (comes from being a bit of a rail fan, I suppose ;) but I have to admit, the folks in the US can learn a thing or two from this system! I may not be privy to a lot of the MRT's history, but from the perspective of somebody that had to suddenly rely on it to get around, it was absolutely painless. But enough of that. One of the things that's fun about these trains -- this is the red line here -- is that they're all one long coach, in effect. It's fun standing at one end and watching the train snake around the track... as if you're in the belly of some long silver snake making its way around. Oh, and did I mention that it's a smoooooth ride? No clickety-clack here, and no being jostled and thrown around on uneven roadbed!

ShiLin by Day

Somewhat sleepy in comparison to the frenetic night-time tempo, this outdoor part of the ShiLin market is just sort of waking up. Folks are just out for their last-minute shopping and soon they'll be home around the dinner table with family. Right now, it's the staples that are for sale.

Celebrations Begin

While the market goes about its comparatively torpid pace, some households begin celebration. In the foreground a woman burns spirit money, an offering to ancestors long deceased.

Novel Crepe

While out and about, I saw this family making what seemed to be a cross between a tortilla shell and a crepe. The steel bowl contains a thick, elastic, gooey batter. The man takes a handful of it, and with a flick plops the rubbery mass onto the hot-plate, letting it rebound back into his hand... and leaving a milky residue on the griddle. He repeats this action on the other two hot surfaces, and in the meantime, the first one has cooked enough to be pulled off and stacked. At the time, I had no idea what these were for, (later I would find out) but it was so interesting to watch, I couldn't help but stare (and take a picture or two ;)

Corner Shrine

You see these shrines nearly everywhere in Taiwan. Small, incredibly ornate places either nestled on a street corner, like here, or literally surrounded by high-rises, industrial plants, or any manner of contemporary building.

Can You Read This?

Okay, here's what I mean when I say that Taipei is a remarkably friendly place. It seems that Taipei goes out of its way to accomodate the English-speaker. It may not seem so by looking at this sign...

I can!

...but when you think that the Chinese bulletin is followed by an English one, and the fact that spoken announcements are made in four languages (Mandarin, Taiwanese, Japanese, and English, if my guesses are correct) and you can't help but feel that every effort is made to help you get around. Most signs -- and that includes road signs -- are in Chinese and English... at least in Taipei and the immediate area. Travel too far, and you'll have to brush up on your Guoyu (Mandarin) reading and speaking skills, but the city is quite international.

Colorful Scooters

Probably the most common form of transportation is the scooter. They are literally everywhere; often entire blocks are devoted to parking these things. With all of the many different makes and models sporting essentially the same cowling and trim, but with a variety of gleaming colors, they often looked like some supersized display of irridescent, chitinous beetle exoskeletons pinned onto an oversize exhibit....

The Strip

Once at Danshui I headed to the shore and walked along the strip for a way. There, a sort of carnival atmosphere prevailed, with vendors of all sorts, including the usual food booths, and various games of skill and chance, along with a handful of souvenir shops. But as you can see, the coastal weather was threatening to bring down more rain. Hmmm, time to head back.

Back in the City

The threat of rain on the shore never really materialized, but it did take the sun out of the sky, even back inland in the heart of the city....

Lunch at Shilin

Since I was passing by anyway, I decided to grab some food at the Shilin street market (again!;) The selection was greater, and the prices were actually much better than the carnie-atmosphere booths of Danshui. A filling lunch for about $3 US; you can't beat that!

Longshan Temple

Later that evening, I met up with a friend who decided to show me around. Rumor had it that there would be a water show in front of the Longshan Temple, shown here with many Buddhist faithful making the trip out on the first night of the new year.

"Snake Alley"

Since the show wasn't due to start for more than an hour, we decided to head to the Huaxi (Hua-she) night market. Yes, this is that infamous night market known as "snake alley" because of the shops catering various snake-based remedies. And yes, you had better have a strong stomach to see some of the "exhibits," but it seems a lot more tame than the olden days. In fact, the covered street and abundant string lights gives it almost a casino sort of atmosphere. A semi-sanitized, tourist-catering experience that's a far cry from its seedier, "red-lamp district" past.

Night Markets Abound

The night market isn't confined to just that one street, though. Needless to say, everyone is willing to get into the act, and many adjacent streets are likewise bustling and choked with visitors, both local and foreign.

Fountain Show

The appointed hour having arrived, we made our way back to the square in front of Longshan temple (literally Dragon Mountain temple) for the waterworks display.

Faithful in the Temple

Beyond the gates, the faithful wait in line to pass beneath the lantern and the rooster (this being the first night of the year of the rooster) and insence wafted from the numerous offerings being left within the inner temple. It was a sort of organized mayhem within.

The City Waits for No-one

The Temple may have stood since the Ching dynasty, but the city bustles energetically around it.

Okay, so this picture is metaphorical, but the time lapse exposure needed to capture the detail also captures the spirit of the place.

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial

We then decided to visit the Chiang Kai Shek memorial plaza, a huge public square to honor the leader of the Kuomintang (KMT) who took the existing Chinese government to Taiwan during the comunist Chinese revolution in 1949; the Taiwanese see him as a cross between George Washington and Lincoln, both a founder and liberator, although the history of Taiwanese government during his presidency is also laced with authoritarian repression. More is found in this excellent article of President Chiang Kai-Shek.

The 'Modern Temple'

The locals affectionately refer to the monument as a modern temple; in a way, it bears a striking resemblance to many Chinese shrines. But no more so, I suppose, than the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall in Washington DC resembles an ancient Greek temple....

Opera House

To the north of the large plaza is the Opera House, itself a very ornate structure.

Symphony Hall

And to the south is found the Symphony hall. Yes, these two beautiful buildings look similar, but if you notice, they have very distinct rooflines.

The Memorial Building

Modern Temple is right. From this angle, the structure has sort of a Buck-Rogers look to it. As with almost all Asian architecture, there's an abundance of symbolism present. The sculpture between the two stairs is remniscent of the same sort of detail in the Forbidden City, the Imperial Path, whereas the three terraces represent the "three people" -- or more properly, the quotation, "Of the people, By the people, For the people," a phrase borrowed from American democracy by the late President.

Encore Opera

Just another view of the Opera House...

Da'an Forest Park

I had some time before I would meet up with my friend again, so I took a short walk to Da'an (Great Peace) Forest Park,one of the largest parks in the city, and a favorite of the locals. Here, one family kicks a soccer ball and tosses a frisbee on the grass. In the distance is The Taipei 101, now the tallest building in the world, a distinction previously held by the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


As I've commented before, the city is very foreigner-friendly. Note that here, too, the signs in the park are bilingual.

Greek Temple in the Jungle?

The first stop on my friend's tour was her alma mater, the Taiwan National University. Here's a clever little oddity tucked away in one corner of the campus: what appears to be a Greek temple and Egyptian obelisk, situated in jungle-like surroundings. Despite the somewhat contradictory juxtaposition, it's actually a rather peaceful and introspective place.

Chinese Garden

Later, we headed to Chiang Kai Shek's presidential residence in Taipei, a secluded estate with numerous gardens on premises; here we see a simple Chinese garden. Also to be seen are western (Italian, English) gardens, a rose garden, a fruit-tree garden, and many other themed areas.


One of the exhibit halls had a flower-arrangement exhibit, and here is a profusion of stargazer lillies...


A nearby orchid exhibit showed off many clever and artistic arrangements.

Lunchtime in Shilin

Since the Official Residence just happened to be a short walk from the Shilin station, it made plenty of sense to stop for lunch (where else? ;) at the Shilin market. Yup... good stuff.

"Storybook" House

And just when you thought you've seen everything, you come to this, a tudor-style house in the middle of an Asian capital. Yes, there's a bit of history surrounding this place, and interestingly, it's Japanese in origin. Curious? Read about the Taipei Story House.


It was rainy when we got off the train at Ruifang station, but that didn't seem to discourage the celebrations, which went on unabated. We hired a taxi to take us up the narrow, winding roads to Jiufen









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