Taipei: Between Stormy Seas

Posted by in Culture, Travel

Just like Billy Joel, Taipei suffers from many Stormfronts

DATES

Between 2012 and 2014 (don’t worry about the dates) I visited Taipei as well as surrounding towns and cities on a few occasions. I wrote four blogs, all on cafes and food but never a generic one. The problem with eateries is they have a habit of going bust so I’ve decided to just give a generic overview of the city as I saw it. 

This includes imagery not seen previously and an excerpt from HOUSE OF MANY FACES. I can’t say my time in Taipei was a particularly happy one but as always between the bouts of personal rain and natural typhoons there were some glorious moments or as Julia Fordham might say patches of happiness. 

From House of Many Faces…

And so it began… a life on the isle of limbo land. Quite why the Chinese are so bothered about Taiwan remains unclear; is it merely pride and territory? The wealth generated or the fact the departing emigres heisted a lot of artefacts from the mainland? 

There was a lot of uncertainty to grasp on this lost island. Why was it so bloody hard to find work and what was it with Asia and onward or return tickets! Some of those things are rooted in freedom and some in politics. The American’s are halting China marching into Taiwan, therefore the Taiwanese prefer American teachers, so my work was limited and my free time was vast, if a little stilted on the financial side. 

SIGHTS

Beginning in 2012 – again don’t worry about the date, I’m pretty sure the things I’m about to go through will still be there beyond the now. Principally the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall (my picture is actually the National Concert Hall). 

You can’t really come to Taipei and not see this, it’s one of the main attractions and although Taiwan is a sizeable city so too is the hall (linked to its namesake metro station on the Green and Red lines). Because of Taipei’s geography, the island is a halfway house of Chinese and Japanese influences as well as western ones in terms of modern architecture and shopping malls so let’s start there…

K mall at main

K MALL

Like Shenzhen and Singapore there are no shortage of malls to peruse. K Mall stretches beneath the box shaped Main Station which is itself a labyrinth of levels in which you can easily get lost! Upstairs you can walk right around the square and pick from an array of eateries. From memory the food was somewhat bland but it was cheap and filling. 

But it’s downstairs where the confusion lie amid a bedazzling and equally confusing way finding system. The K Mall features the super cool Eslite bookstore which also has a flagship store  currently in Xinyi (shin-yee – if you don’t know) near the gigantic 101 tower which has its own suite of shops. They also sold CDs and vinyl. Sadly its website appears to be only in Chinese.

BOOKS

Beautiful Books…

Aside Eslite, Taipei has some of the most beautiful bookstores in the world from the VVG to Artland (I’ll put the addresses on at the bottom) and then there’s the Taipei Book Festival where I met Nelly Furtado’s sister Farah! As far as I know there was no evidence of her inheriting her sisters talent to fly like a bird, turn off any lights or man eat. 

Near the main station are many streets of eateries (you’ll smell the aptly named ‘stinky tofu’ before you get to it), English schools, and other shops like a stationers and plenty of convenience stores; 7-11, Family Mart – Taiwan is known for it. If you need a respite from the rush the botanic garden is a nice alternative. It offers some shade though the heat still present and so are the mozzies (mosquito’s if you don’t know Aussie slang) so take the repellent or at least wear a good dose of it.

Birds both free and caged.

BIRDS

Continuing the nature theme and especially if you like birds, the central Daan Park should make you smile, for a start it’s free and so are the birds. By comparison Bird Street in the Mingjia Temple area is a little sad in that they’re either chained to posts or in cages. 

Continuing the avian theme, at the end of the brown line is the Zoo and this makes do for another cheap day or half day out. Check out the extraordinary Great Argus bird! It’s a wonder this thing can stand up! They also have Panda’s but the enclosure gets a lot of visitors so expect to queue.

GONDOLA

Near the Zoo is the entrance to the Maokong Gondola (Cable Car). This is often closed due to the high winds. I was lucky (or not) to utilise it and I’ve gotta say it was the most terrifying cable car which was like a slow motion roller coaster. 

After scaring yourself witless on the cable car, you deserve a waffle!

Let me explain, this is not a cable car that goes up from point A to point B, this was up then down over the next ridge then up again eventually arriving at Maokong where to me there was not a hell of a lot to see unless you like metallic green flying insects and tea. 

As fortune had it I came across the Cat Got Nothing to Do cafe and no wonder! Nevertheless their waffle went down nicely, well live for the moment eh? I think from memory I got the bus down – what a relief!

Back to earth and the cozy confines of the Citylink mall.

MALLS

If you jump back on the brown line – the only one elevated – and head in the opposite direction to the Zoo i.e beyond and behind Songshan’s amazing inner city airport is a wonderful little area called Dazhi (dar-jee). A university campus, a bakery and many English schools (mostly for kids) are here. 

A couple of stops further lands you at Xihu (she-hoo) and the Miramar Shopping Mall with its distinctive Ferris Wheel (visible from the airport observation deck). The brown line continues onto Neihu – home to the Nangang Exhibition Hall where RADIOHEAD played in July 2012. 

Songshan ‘Citylink’ Mall not to be confused with Songshan Airport – is in a different part of the district and the train and metro stations that connect to it, are on different lines than the metro which calls at the airport so be careful of that one. Cool mall by the way.

MOUNTAINS

Elephant mountain has great views over the city.

While the famous and dominating skyscraper 101 was a familiar sight I chose instead to scale the nearby Elephant Mountain which offered free views at roughly the same height with less tourists, seeing gigantic spiders in their webs along the way. 

Take a metro to Xiangshan (something like shang-shan, the Mandarin for Elephant) on the red line. From there you’ll have to walk to the entrance signalled by the stone elephant in the picture above. Then it’s a steady climb. Quite good if walking/hiking is your thing and again costs nothing.

Up another mountain, views were optional.

In the opposite direction (behind Dazhi and Songshan airport) is Datun Mountain. To get there you have to travel by bus which takes you half way, then mini bus which does the rest. On alighting I’m met with an eerie sound. This was not the wind this was some sort of insect song. I swear I have never heard Cicadas like that before – it sounded like someone was behind a tree with a synthesizer! And then there’s the gecko’s. 

The views? Well, they’re hit and miss. After a hike to find a vantage point of the city my efforts were foiled by the weather, a thick cloud masked any hope of seeing it, however the other direction afforded some vista – of mausoleums, lone vessels and shiny seas. On the way down crouched on the floor of a packed mini-van I felt a bit queasy with all the twists and turns in the road and was grateful to get off.

Beitou (as mentioned earlier up the red line) is known for its hot spring (I never got round to sampling it) and the plush Shilin and Zhishan area is an exclusive enclave with another mall; good for late night sushi if you’re feeling peckish and just want a light bite. And speaking of night munchies, there are always the night markets for some unusual sites and bites. They are usually very crowded though.

ART

Feeling arty? Check out the Fine Arts Museum and the Cosi O Cosi cafe!

The Fine Arts Museum (according to my notes visited on the 22nd of August 2012) is – in my opinion – worth the modest admission fee. Richard Lin’s minimal 20th July 1973 stands out as does their modernist cafe Cosi o Cosi. The new builds around Daan Park and the metro stations are also worth noting.

Festivities for ghosts and the moon!

FESTIVALS

If you’re in Taipei for any significant space of time, you may witness the mid-autumn or moon cake festival and also the ghost festival. Apparently I wasn’t supposed to shoot the picture of the incense as it is offensive to the gods, oops. I am still none the wiser what happens to the food as I’m certain it’s not going to be much use to a ghost.

HOTELS

Okura – Japanese warmth in the heart of Taipei.

More exclusive residences in the city.

Taipei is not short on stylish hotels. Near the central station (just behind the overpass and the bus station) is the Palais de Chine hotel. Then there’s the Regent and Okura and while I never got to stay in them I did sip on Orange juice at the finest W Hotels – closer to the 101 building – of all the ones I’ve visited around the world.

Other hotels include Simple (website only in Chinese) in Dazhi and amba in Ximen both of which offer more contemporary chic. I stayed in the less than regal Taipei Hostel in the centre of town with Lily who was as temperamental as the Taipei weather. Calm, bubbly and then somewhat stroppy and stormy. 

If I needed a more stylish approach to personal affairs I frequented the Japanese toilet and its magic wand over in the basement of the Sheraton. Itself with a small mall beneath it and a hub for airline crews so I felt a bit of an imposter like Leonardo diCaprio’s character in the Catch Me if You Can movie, only I wasn’t getting anywhere (except Hong Kong for another visa).

Hello Adventure

METRO

Since I left Taipei further advances have been made to the metro system. There are now three lines (blue, red and green) running a west to east service (in my day it was just the blue line which did this).

Also the rail link to the airport finally opened in March 2017 and this has its own dedicated terminal adjacent to the Main Train Station. Currently there are two trains into the city from the airport. A 38 minute express and a 45 minute commuter (which stops at all 21 stations). Though the bus was ok in its own way.

PLAYLIST AND CREDITS

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BOOKSTORES
ARTLAND BOOKSTORE B1 #122 Jen Ai Road, Sec. 3
Taipei Metro: Zhongxiao Fuxing Station or Daan station.
ESLITE (several branches throughout Taipei and Taiwan) website only in Chinese Mandarin. Here’s the wiki link.
VVG BOOKSTORE No. 13號, Alley 40, Lane 181, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Road, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106

PLAYLIST
Treefingers – Radiohead
Fine – Kylie
Lies (Tourist Mix) – CHVRCHES
Where’s Your Gravity – David Sylvian
Blood Diamonds – Simple Minds
Driving You – Wang Chung
We Are Leaving – The Naked and Famous

Photo Credits: KH