Taipei 101

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Taipei 101

The architects and designers of Taipei 101, once the world’s tallest building (from 2004 – 2010, when the Dubai Burj was finished) took not only the physics of construction seriously, but also the metaphysics.  They made sure that the 508 m (1667′) tower wouldn’t be brought down by a typhoon wind, or a 2,500 year earthquake event, or by the forces of bad fung shui.  The “101” in it’s title, for instance,  is significant for more than just the number of floors: it goes one up on perfection (100 + 1), and is the same forwards and backwards – an eternal number.  To ensure stability, the structure is anchored on pylons sunk 50m into the bedrock – and there is no 44th floor.  Four is an unlucky number, so two fours must be worse.  Eight, however,  (as in 500m + 8 tall) is especially good because it is the luckiest number (7) plus 1.  Lots of math to absorb, and we haven’t even touched on the calculations of the bad-feng-shui deflecting fountain by the main entrance.

Bamboo or...

Bamboo or...

Whether the massive green glass structure looks like bamboo – the ultimate symbol of China and tensile strength – or a stack on take-away Chinese food boxes is yours to decide.  What can’t be doubted is that it dominates the city skyline.

Our friend Helen grew up in Taipei and very generously suggested we stay at her mother’s apartment, which wasn’t currently in use.  She also arranged for a car to meet us at the airport (most appreciated after 13 hrs. of flying and a 5:40 am arrival time) and take us there.  We stayed in Taipei for 6 days, but many of the things we found to be typical of the city we experienced in the first 6 hours.  1) Things work.  Whether it was Helen’s plan to get us to the apartment or the brilliant metro system, we were always whisked around efficiently.  2) The people are really friendly.  Although she spoke little English, the aunt warmed our hearts

At the BBQ

At the BBQ

showing us the apartment, and had a welcome pile of fruit on the table for us, as well as a (how did she know?) can of tonic.  3) There is food everywhere.  We had dinner

street market

street market

with Stewart, an old friend of Katheryn’s, and his wonderful partner Anna twice.  Once at their place, and once at what Stewart described as a not-to-be-missed local experience – an all-you-can-eat meat BBQ.  Fabulous, it must be said, and K got to pile up the Haagen-dazs for dessert.  Most of our eating, however, was done in the night markets which spring up all over town, or in one of the multitude of local restaurants where a plate of rice and 5 toppings cost about $1.50.

Stewart, who has been working as a teacher and actor in Taiwan for 11 years, was also a great source of information about the city.  Much of Taipei, he told us, was the result of the 50 year occupation of the island by the Japanese, which ended in

Japanese-era buildings

Japanese-era buildings

1944.  The vast acres of low-rise buildings with the characteristic small square “bathroom tile” facades are from this era.  Most of us know Taipei as the capital of a country called Taiwan.  It’s more complicated than that.  Officially, Taipei is still the provisional capital of China.  The Republic of China (ROC) that is.  The ROC was governed by Chiang Kai Shek and his Kuomintang (KMT) party from the fall of the last Qing Emperor in 1911 until 1949, when they were defeated by Mao’s Communists.  Then the KMT fled to the island of Taiwan, forming a government-in-exile until their eventual return as the legitimate rulers of China.  China (the People’s Republic, that is) has different views on the subject.  Each one considers the other to be occupied territory, a source of endless tension for themselves and the world.  A policy of deliberate ambiguity has become the

Sun yat-sen and friend

Sun yat-sen and friend

status quo, and a finely tuned ear for nuance has been developed on both sides.  For instance, Taiwan is happy enough that it’s biggest backer, the US, officially “does not support” independence, rather than “oppose” it, as the Chinese wish.  In the Olympics, Taiwanese athletes received medals for the fictitious country of “Chinese Taipei”, under a made-up flag while some song about the glorious Olympic committee played.  Stewart, playing a role recently, had to say “Formosa”, rather than “Taiwan”, in case it upset China.

We knew we had to see the “National Museum” where much of the cultural heritage of China ended up, transported with the fleeing KMT, but we didn’t know there are at least 4 variations on the name.  The one we wanted was the “National Palace

National Theatre

National Theatre

Museum” – and it was the 4th one we tried.  It speaks to me about the depth of the refinement of a culture where for 4000 years some of their greatest art has been put into the production of “wine vessels” – decantors (albeit big bronze ones) by any other name.

Thanks in no small way to Helen and Keith in Vancouver who encouraged us to stop in a place we had only transited through, and who made the arrangements to make our stay easy and fun, and to Anna and Stewart for showing us around and being such interesting hosts, we loved Taipei.  It’s not a tourist destination, which is one of the great things about it, and apart from the museums the only “site-seeing” we did was a large sprawling

Chinese cemetery

Chinese cemetery

cemetery on a hill behind Helen’s place. It doesn’t have the flash and glitz of Hong Kong, or the polished languorousness  of Singapore, or the bustle and charm of Bangkok, but I can see why it would be a tempting place to live, and we even talked about retail opportunities with Stewart.  It was a great way to start our trip.

For more photos of Taipei go to the Flickr link via our web site:  http://www.kebeandfast.com
or click on the link directly here: http://www.flickr.com

Bra salesman

Bra salesman

/photos/croquet/sets/72157632020763267/

For the video experience, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFYed31lghw&feature=share&list=UUzPNkH_3cH9Oz3q-g71UkUA

Signing off from the ROC, Your Foreign Devil Correspondents