Taipei and surrounds
Taipei, Taiwan, 2009-09-18 12:00 by Laerke and Martin
Taipei has efficient public transport that will take you pretty much everywhere; it took us to Yulun’s home, which is outside the center and a bit up in the mountains. The view from their apartment is beautiful, tall green mountains just outside the windows.
The MRT can be very crowded though, especially the Taipei Main St. is pretty hectic – but Taiwanese are polite and are very good at queuing, so it doesn’t feel too overwhelming. Don’t eat, drink or even chew chewing gum though, as a guard will tell you off for doing so. (It seemed that foreigners were more often corrected than the locals, even though locals didn’t follow the rules completely either - maybe the guards just wanted us to know how to behave.)
The MRT also took us downtown one evening to one of the older parts of Taipei; the area around Longshan Temple. We started out at the temple; it looked like something out of a fairytale, gold all over, many carvings and incense sticks burning everywhere. It is a very lively temple, often frequented by locals who come to pray, seek blessings or forgiveness. Yulun went to pray for a bit and we wandered around looking at the temple and its patrons. Yulun and Lily both went to try out the answer sticks; first they had to ask the god if he could help with the question in mind. This was done with two pieces of wood, which indicated yes or no; by the way they landed when dropped to the floor. Both Yulun and Lily got a yes. Second part was to draw a number stick, which corresponded to a poem, which would help answer whatever question you had asked. Thirdly you had to read the poem and probably get it explained by an expert in Chinese, as the poems are written in old style mandarin. The answers were cryptically indeed…
After the temple, we went to the night market nearby. Lots of hustle and bustle, street vendors selling all kinds of food, and things only the Chinese believe is food. We had some weird snacks that we are to date not sure what was, and some good noodle soup.

We also visited the Confucius temple that is often frequented by students – many small pieces of wood hang around the complex. These have inscriptions, often asking for help with exams or other school related issues. The complex was less striking and simpler in design, which is very much more the style of Confucianism.

Another day was spent with some sightseeing. We saw the Taipei 101 building – the tallest building in the world. At least until the construction crazy Dubai builds something higher. We also visited the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial and the two theater/opera buildings adjunct to the memorial. It is a beautiful square especially seen late on a day with blue skies – the light becomes fantastic, and the white Chiang Kai-shek Memorial hall looks stunning with the blue backdrop.

Taipei equals shopping! There are some fantastic shopping opportunities on the night markets, Ximen pedestrian market and various other markets in town. We spent quite a lot of hours in Ximen, buying Christmas presents and clothing for ourselves. Prices are generally very low and you can get pretty cool stuff – it is definitely comparable to Thailand’s fashion markets.
The second to last night in Taiwan we spent with Yulun in Maokong; an area sprawled on the hills south of Taipei. It is known for its many lovely, traditional tea houses and offers great hiking and views across the Taipei valley. Unfortunately the gondola was out of order indefinitely, so we had to take the bus – which made some a bit queasy. But we sat down at a cozy little teahouse, enjoyed the views, many cups of tea and some delicious food, while talking over the many memories we had gotten from Taiwan – a place that has positively surprised us in so many ways, and a country we will miss until we return again in the future.

The last night we spend with Yulun and our friends from the Snow Moutain climbing trip. We had dumplings at a famous dumplings place; very yummy! Afterwards we saw a theater show performed by performers from various aboriginal tribes. We didn’t understand much of the words being said, but the dancing, singing and general choreography was pretty good. It was a nice way to end our stay in Taiwan, but as I’m writing this I long to go back to our good friends and the wonderful country.

A last “thank you” to Yulun and her parents for letting us into their home, showing us around and helping us whenever we didn’t understand whatever we were asked in Chinese. Hope to see you again soon…