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Taiwan: Alishan National Park, Kaohsiung, Sun Moon Lake, Tainan, Taipei, Taitung, Taroko National Park, Yehliu Geo Park
Taipei, Taiwan: Hi-tech metropolis
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, is a modern metropolis with Japanese colonial lanes, busy shopping streets and contemporary buildings. The skyline is crowned by the 509 metre tall, bamboo-shaped Taipei 101 skyscraper and the city dots with upscale shops, lively street-food and bustling night markets. The Greater Taipei metropolitan area, which encompasses the central Taipei City along with the surrounding New Taipei City and Keelung, represents the largest urban cluster in Taiwan with nearly 7 million people. Taipei serves as the island's financial, cultural and governmental centre.
We arrived in Taipei late in the evening and checked-in Riviera Hotel. The whole of next day, we would explore Taipei's highlights.
As scheduled, our guide cum driver Steven was at the hotel gates at 10 AM. The plan for the day was to visit the National Palace Museum, the famous Taipei 101 skyscraper, Kai-shek Memorial Hall, the Longshan Temple and the Shilin night market. Surely, a day is not enough to really fathom the intricacies but a couple of hours at each location just about did the trick.
National Palace Museum: Due to the Sino-Japanese War the Nationalist Government took artifacts from Beijing so they wouldn't be harmed. After the war ended, the Chinese civil war continued and thus the Kuomintang shipped them to Taiwan. Needless to say, the Communists weren't very happy about this, but this way the treasures were probably saved from destruction in the Cultural Revolution — and the museum today has what is quite possibly the best collection of Chinese art in the world. Famous pieces from its collections include the jade cabbage, pork belly jade, and passenger boat carved from an olive pit.
Taipei 101: Officially known as the Taipei International Financial Center, this 101-floor, 508-meter high skyscraper is in the Xinyi District of Taipei and is the ninth tallest skyscraper in the world. The tower is rich in symbolism; it was designed to resemble bamboo rising from the earth, a plant recognized in Asian cultures for its fast growth and flexibility, both of which are ideal characteristics for a financial building. The building is also divided into eight distinct sections, with eight being a number associated with prosperity in Chinese culture. The internal architecture of Taipei 101 is similarly awe-inspiring - the ornate details on the structural beams, columns, and other elements. Taipei 101 is perhaps most notable for its feats of engineering. It was the world's tallest building from 2004 to 2010. It also boasts the world's second fastest elevators, which will zip visitors up to the 89th-floor observation deck in just 37 seconds.
The National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is the famous symbol of both Taipei and the Republic of China. It is here that the nation's flag is raised every morning, and the huge court yard in front of the memorial serves as a place for both national celebrations as well as a platform to voice one's disapproval of the government. The memorial consists of a large bronze statue of Chiang Kai-shek, watched over by two motionless honor guards who are replaced every hour in a rifle twirling ceremony. Downstairs, there is a museum of Chiang's life, complete with his sedans and uniforms. The gardens, with their Chinese style ponds, are definitely worth a visit.
The Longshan temple is where countless generations of Taipei citizens have come to pray and seek guidance at times of trouble. As the temple is dedicated to Guanyin (the Buddhist representation of compassion) it is officially defined as Buddhist, but there is a great amount of folk religion mixed into the fabric of the beliefs at this temple. It just oozes with character, although don't come expecting to find teachings on meditation.
The area around Longshan Temple, Wanhua, is one of the original districts of Taipei. And, while much of the traditional architecture has been lost, the area still maintains a traditional feel. It is here that the blind masseurs congregate to offer their skill. Likewise, this is the area where the Taiwanese come to learn who they should marry or what to name their children by consulting one of the many fortune tellers that set up shop along the roads and alleys around the temple.
The next morning it was time to say good-bye Taiwan.
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