Responding to an invitation to discuss the success of my US based financial company; I went to Taiwan as a key note speaker for a Forex management firm in Taipei City. After addressing the conference and sharing my basic approaches on handling money and business, my wife and I enjoyed the rest of the seven day tour to explore the rest of the capital which is separated from its mainland China by the threadlike Formosa Strait. Good food, great shopping areas, mountainous and forested region panorama and fun loving Taiwanese people settled on a moist tropical climate fascinated us.
I went in with a light heart and an open mind and was impressed at the long line of locals who fervently pray at the Long Shan Temple. In Taipei, there are certainly hundreds of temples, but this one is the most beautiful and popular. Upon entrance we were welcomed by a gentle fragrance of the lighted incense and the murmur of a small artificial pond with cascading waterfall laced with a koi carp. I like the scene where the young and old show that great enthusiasm to worship and sing at a very early hour. We walked in very quietly so as not to disturb their precious time of devotion and observe silence as we place our lighted incense at the main altar. The Dragon pillars of the Tadashi were so beautiful. The luxurious decoration lights up the temple and I can’t help but take a picture which is freely allowed. For every Taiwanese a temple is important because it is where their deities reside it can give advice on love, health, money and business. The temple has its own MRT line and is therefore easy to find. A few steps away we found the infamous Snake Market, a night market where the snake flesh and blood or bile of the snake is offered. As always with nasty Chinese food, they say it is good for health or virility.
A museum that holds treasures all the way from Beijing, the National Palace Museum has the largest collection of Chinese art historical objects. The antique collection consists of 650,000 artifacts of which only a small part can be shown to the public. One of the best highlights includes some ritual bronzes from the last two Pre-Christian centuries and they alone are worth the visit to this museum. The other pieces that holds so much interest are jade carvings, calligraphy scroll arts, Buddhist art and many more. Located just outside the city but easily reached by a car the Taipei Zoo is an attractive enclosure that showcases many different kind of animals. The special attractions are its famous residents the giant pandas and the cute koalas. We also get to see many of the native animals of Taiwan that we might not necessarily get face to face with in the wild. Our visit to the museum of the insects inside the zoo allowed us to interact with the butterflies on their green house garden. We went on a Saturday morning and it was full of tourists and children having an educational trip to see the pandas. The size of the zoo is enormous and holds so many amusing animals that will capture the hearts of animal lovers, children and tourists. With affordable ticket prices it is a must to visit this zoo.
From the zoo we took a magical cable car ride to reach the Maokong Mountain, it was the highlight of our visit to Taipei. I was expecting the ride will be short but instead it was a half hour drive that passes over 4 kilometers in length over hills, temples, with a great panoramic view of the city and the mountains beyond it. The ride in the cable car costs only one euro and there is an option of riding one with a glass floor to see straight down below which allows a very special riding experience. When we reach the top we saw plenty of tea houses and a model tea plantation that grows the best oolong tea. On that pleasant day but quite humid we wandered through a beautiful but steep, well fortified footpaths and trails to dine at one of the many tea houses in the area. We also passed by a quaint temple and visited a small tea museum where my wife bought souvenirs and packs of oolong teas. About five minutes walk from the MRT we had a chance to see a Peking Opera performance at the Taipei Eye. The interesting play is in Taiwanese but with English translations provided. Seeing actors fully made up and playing musical instruments on a big stage is the best cultural presentation I have ever watched.
The 40 seconds of elevator ride to reach Taipei 101 the second tallest building in the world was totally captivating. The tallest skyscraper provides an exceptional view over the whole city. I had shaky legs as I looked down and see an incredible view of the city and its surrounding mountains. As the name implies it has 101 floors. The 87, 89 and 91 are the floors allowed to visit but on the 91st floor we paid extra to see outside and admire the picturesque scene from the top. All around the 91st floor there is an exhibition and information on how this towering beauty was constructed and the huge pendulum that holds the tower in balance. The first five floors have a nice shopping mall while at the ground floor there is a huge food court where we get to taste all kinds of Asian food at a very affordable price. The Elephant Mountain (Nangang District Hiking Trail) is strategically located at the southwest portion of the capital. On a good weather we hiked and run along a hill and then make it all the way to the summit on foot. Along the way we found small covered huts where one can play a sport, picnic, grill, or just simply relax. When we reached the summit we had a breath taking view of the city.
We got to have a better understanding about the life and times of a prominent military and key political figure in Chinese history at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. This impressive building stands in a small park surrounded by the National Theatre and National Concert Hall which we have also visited prior to this memorial. All these buildings are kept in the traditional Chinese style of architecture and each are truly worth seeing. In Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial there is a permanent exhibition, art mementos in his honor, and a small souvenir shop that sells books, shirts, postcards and pictures of the former president. But the highlight of our visit here was to witness the hourly shifting of the guard that takes place at the top of the pagoda. The soldiers stand under a sweltering heat and motionless for an hour but every now and then another soldier comes to dab the sweat from the forehead of the guards. After an hour an imposing fifteen minute spectacle happens when their approaching replacement arrives in a choreographed cadence and the soldiers begin with an acrobatic display of their skills as they march. Their guns are juggled and whirled (with fixed bayonets!) It is a real pleasure and worth seeing.
There are no words to say how beautiful Taipei is. I thank God for allowing me to know the culture, beautiful palaces, temples, museums, markets, mountains, etc. We are fascinated from beginning to end by the warmth and kindness of the people anywhere we go. It is worth going back to if I have another chance.