Turning 28 years old... wheres my walking stick!?
Taipei Travel Blog› entry 275 of 658 › view all entries
People i met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Jacek (Poland) Lim (Singapore)
On my flight from Manila to Taipei, i was sat next to a very nice Polish guy called Jacek, and we chattered away for the entire flight, swapping stories and looking at each others photographs. When we landed i enquired how he planned to get to the centre and he told me that as he was in Taipei on business, he was expecting to be picked up by a business associate and he may be able to score me a free lift. It actually turned out that 3 people had his name on boards, so he had to select which of the people he would take the lift from! Luckily there was room in the van for me too and around 30 minutes later we were dropped off at a convention centre in Taipei.
I said farewell to Jacek who was going to check out a bicycle convention and then had to try and navigate my way into the centre. A free shuttle bus was luckily running from here to the nearest subway station and from there it was a 15 minute ride to Taipei main station. I checked into Family Hostel, which was run by John Lee, an extremely friendly local guy, who kept the place well maintained and just what i was looking for. It had been a long few days, so after a couple of hours i was ready for an early night.
On Friday morning i awoke with the knowledge that i was now nearer 30 that 25, but put a brave face on and went to see John to pay for my room.
My morning began with a McDonalds breakfast and a quick visit to the Beimen North Gate, before heading on to the Presidential Palace, where i expected to just have a quick look around the outside and move on. I was therefore surprised when i was told to hand in all my belongings and that i would get a free private English tour of the grounds. A very nice lady spent the next 2 hours walking me through the building and explaining each sections relevance and also introducing me to Taiwans history and political situation.
Interesting things included the low door knobs, which were placed where they were not because the Japanese (who built the building during colonial rule) were small, but because it made them bow when entering the rooms. There were also plenty of art works dedicated to the year of the rat and supposedly this is its golden year! I also learnt that within Taiwan, the citizens cannot withdraw money from their banks or do transactions without having their seal with them. In the olden days to have your seal stolen was a disaster, but now they use the seal and signature and an identification code.
I was also told about the ruler Chiang Ching-Kuo, who was the first really popular leader, due to him been able to associate with the common people.
Equally surprising was to hear bad feelings towards the first leader Chiang Kai-Shek, as he is on the money and has many memorials around the country. In fact, many of the Taiwanese don't like him due to his military regime and implementing marshall law. His face has actually been removed from some of the bank notes already. Finally we got to discuss the current political situation and i had to ask the question of whether re-unification with China was ever possible.
After my insightful trip around the palace, i crossed the road and entered the 2-28 Peace Park, which is dedicated to those who died in a rebellion on 2-28-1947. The park contained some nice sculptures and pavilions and made for a pleasant little stroll in the early afternoon. Nearby was the reconstructed East Gate, which was just down the road from my next star attraction, the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall.
The entrance is in the shape of rather a grand triple archway, which is flanked on either side by the National Concert Hall and the National Theatre, both of which were sadly undergoing renovations.
Continuing my tour around the city, i made a beeline for the Botanical Gardens, which were right next to the National Museum. I tried to find the 'marvellous lotus pond' that the Lousy Planet described, but only found a dirty patch of water, so having seen as much as i cared to, i moved on to Longshan Temple via Xiaonanmen (Little South Gate).
I was starting to feel a little weary by this point, but moved on to the Red Pavilion Theatre and then caught the subway to the business district, mainly to check out its archtectural feats. The Chunghwa Television Building was first on my list, followed by the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, which contained a guarded statue of the great man. From here i also got my first view of the World's tallest building, Taipei 101.
By this time it was dark and my stomach was rumbling, so i decided to head to the recommended food court within the building and have my birthday Dinner. After wandering around and checking out the menus i settled for pork and cheese breadcrumbed, with a mushroom gravy, rice, soup and salad. It looked pretty revolting in all fairness, but tasted ok, which is the main thing! I headed home to the hostel to call Julia and my parents and let them shower me with well wishes and love!
The hostel had a pretty nice communal area, so i headed up there to see if anyone fancied celebrating with me and was pleased to see an Aussie guy called Hayden had a bottle of spirits on the go and seemed all too keen.
The following day i headed to the northern parts of Taipei and began by trying to find the Lin Antai Homestead. As i was having no success in locating the place, i had 1 Taiwanese guy walk me for 5 minutes towards the general area and then a kid in his teens ended up walking me the next 10 minutes! It was really kind of them and strengthened my positive early impressions of the people. Getting there was actually the most interesting thing about this part of my day, as i found the site itself to be a little dour.
My next stop was far more impressive, as i timed a trip to the Martyrs Shrine to coincide with the changing of the guards. There were plenty of people who had the same idea and quite a crowd turned up to watch the proceedings and try and take funny pictures with them, when they were stood stationary! The buildings themselves were also very impressive and i was lucky enough to have most of the complex to myself once the guards had changed and people had dispersed. It was through this fact that i caught the 2 guards chatting between themselves when they thought nobody was around. When one caught a glimpse of me he started shushing his colleague and i left with the knowledge that these soldiers don't actually perform the duties that they are trained to do, which i actually found a touch disappointing.
The Grand Hotel was next on my agenda, which is an impressive looking state hotel, and after this i moved on to Hsiahai City God Temple and Dihua Market, neither of which particularly enthused me. I headed back to the hostel and spent the evening chatting with some of the long term guests in the hostel, who are teaching English in the city. There was also one wierd English guy there, who was either very drunk or very drugged up and i began questionning if this place was some kind of mental asylum when Hayden turned up again a bit later, smashed again!
Day 3 in Taipei began with a trip to the National Palace Museum, which houses the best collection of Chinese art in the World. The museum is extremely well presented and holds many interesting artefacts, but museums struggle to really hold my attention span for too long, so i hung around for 2 hours before deciding that i wanted to go for a walk in the adjoining Chih-shan garden.
In the afternoon i decided to hunt out 4 buildings that Lonely Planet listed in its top 5 Contemporary buildings of Taipei. As i was wandering the streets a rather wierd thought came into my head. Every day you pass 1000's of people on the street, thus on average you must see around 3 people who share the same birthday as you and 3 people whose birthday it is on that day! Don't you think thats wierd? I do!
Anyway, I found the first building i visited, which was the China Life Insurance Building, pretty drab, although the Hang Kuo building over the road was very nice. I walked on to the Core Pacific Living Mall, which i thought was quite an interesting structure and finished up back at Taipei 101.
Taipei 101 is not only the Worlds tallest building at 508 metres, but it also has the Worlds fastest elevator, which travels 1010 metres per minute. It was aboard this that we were shot up to the 89th floor viewing platform, which is still 12 floors below the summit! The building was started in 1997 and it took 6 years to complete the exterior, which is designed to look like the shape of bamboo. I climbed to the 91st floor where you could walk around outside and also down to the 88th floor to see the baby damper, which counteracts earthquakes and typhoons.
I finished my day back at the hostel with a few beers and a movie and got the pleasure of meeting Lim, a Singaporean Leeds fan. We chatted about the state of our beloved football club and it was nice to know that some foreigners still supported our boys! I crashed out a little after midnight and the following day went to the train station, still unsure of where i was heading. The words Chiayi blurted out of my mouth as i reached the counter and thus thats where my ticket took me!