On the northern end of Taiwan, sits Taipei, a teeming, breathing metropolis that many overlook. From its high-end District 101 to its numerous night markets, Taipei offers surprises around every corner.
I recently sat down with two-year Taipei resident, Bronson Glaittli who gave me a foreigner’s inside look.
District 101 is a wealthy district and the busiest part of the city. Taipei’s financial center and home to one of the tallest buildings in the world (Taipei 101), District 101 always has something happening. The towering skyscraper serves as a landmark and a place of reference much as the old and new World Trade Centers do in New York City. There is also an enormous exhibition center.
A great way to see the Taipei (which according to Bronson, who speaks Mandarin, is pronounced closer to “Taibei”) is on a “U-bike” which you can rent for about $3.00 or $4.00 per day. In fact, transportation in Taipei is excellent and convenient with “Easy Cards” which are good on all transit including the world-class MRT system (you can reach the southern tip of Taiwan from Taipei in just three hours for a satisfying day trip). Interestingly, the MRT bans food and gum on their trains. If caught with either, the penalties are stiff.
Night Life and Cuisine
Especially entrancing at night, Taipei features night markets with numerous street vendors selling food, knick-knacks, carnival-type games, and other delights. Street food is unusually inexpensive and varied, so much so that Bronson said it was normally just as cost-effective to eat out utilizing street vendors as it was to eat in. You can get a good meal on the street for approximately $5.00. If you choose to eat at an indoor restaurant, the tip is usually included; however, if it is a western restaurant, prepare to tip.
Also unusually varied is the choice of drink shops featuring fruit juices and all manner of teas. The passion fruit and mangos are superior, and the pineapple sweeter and less acidic than is found in the West. The West’s presence, however, is ubiquitous with 7-11s all over the city.
To see Taiwanese and Chinese treasures, visit the National Palace Museum. The famous Jadeite Cabbage is housed there. Considered a masterpiece in jade, both the essence of the jade and a Chinese cabbage are captured in green and white; even the veins of the cabbage are visible. Unfortunately, the identity of the artist is now unknown adding to its mystery and lure. There are also ceramics, beautiful calligraphy, and murals.
Regarding cultural norms, Bronson said that it is in the character of the Taiwanese to be very business-like in professional settings, even at restaurants. The fawning over that Americans are used to does not exist there when dining. To the Taiwanese, this is simply professional and dignified. However, if you are invited to a Taiwanese home, prepare to be treated warmly; they are wonderful hosts.
If you need a break from the city, there are densely forested hills near Taipei with Buddhist and Taoist temples hidden in the jungle. It is advisable to always carry an umbrella as rain can appear suddenly, drop a deluge, and then disappear, a little like Florida.
Other day trips include a visit to the Taipei Zoo, a twenty or thirty-minute ride on the MRT from downtown. The pandas are especially captivating. The Maokong Gondola offers beautiful views of the hills and is a great escape from The Big City. The Beitou Hot Springs, north of Taipei, are home to a former public bathhouse. Yangmingshan National Park can be reached on foot from Taipei and is famous for its cherry blossoms.