February 08
Excursions along the Red Line

Since the weather was so nice, I decided I'd take a trip to the north end of the red line, to Danshui ('dan shway'). Everybody recommended it as a nice place to visit. Without knowing quite what to expect, I thought I'd give it a try.

Bad move, I think: everybody in Taipei seemed to have the same idea. Though I think it's a bit of an impossibility in this city, I rather like avoiding crowds. And typical of a lot of Asian cities, these crowds are the jostling, tight-fitting, oh-I-didn't-see-you-but-it's-your-problem-I-snuck-in-first crowds. Yes, a sense of assertiveness is called for when dealing with crowd mentality, and being a broad-shouldered six-foot-tall man really doesn't matter.

Anyway, Danshui was interesting, but had a bit of a contrived feel to it. Or maybe it was the fact that the nice weather was rapidly disappearing and it seemed like a good idea to get back. No matter, it was an interesting, but brief, visit.

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 Wikipedia.org 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...

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