This time I wanted to go to Taiwan. Once called Formosa, and today better known as Taiwan, the large island is located south of the southern Chinese region of Fujian, surrounded by the East China Sea. Mandarin is the official language, although the first language of the majority of Taiwanese is a Hokkien dialect, the language of Fujian.
We leave at 10 in the morning, half an hour late, and at about 2 in the afternoon through the right door we see already the green mountains cloaked in clouds in Taiwan, and the southern coast of China from the window of the left. How exciting, we are in the Middle Kingdom! After another half-hour flight we landed at Taoyuan International Airport.
We are looking for a place to put something in your stomach. I take the sushi and we go out to catch the bus leading to the Taipei main Station, the capital, where we have booked a room. Just outside we are welcomed with a pleasant temperature and a very strong wind, which explains that the landing was not the sweetest.
Not even an hour by bus and go down near the central station which is already totally dark even though its not even six in the evening, but the difference is that the day is not so short as the sun rises very early but also sets early.
From the bus stop, just south of Central Station, we ran into an underpass to cross the road, which turns out to be a large and long underground corridor full of shops that not only allows us to cross the busy highway, but even leads up to the most northern road from our hotel! And so not even half an hour after getting off the bus we are already outside the hotel where we will spend the next three nights.
Time to freshen up and take a coffee, and we are on the road again, heading for a nearby bar. On either side is lined up dozens of small Chinese and Japanese cuisine restaurants, where we stop to dine. People seem friendly everywhere, and during the four days of our stay the impression that the Taiwanese are kind and helpful people will not change. Then we continue on foot to the west, towards the Datong district, one of the oldest parts of the city, which developed near the Danshui River.
Taipei is a major city of two million inhabitants, but has a rather European appearance, although historic buildings were not many but is regular with long roads that intersect in a straight line on the sides of which people walk along the wide sidewalks lined with shops and restaurants, some more Western appearance, other typically Chinese.
And of course all over are the Chinese inscriptions, but of those older complicated types but also more beautiful than those simplified in use today in China. However, the thing that strikes me, and I like most of Taiwan is that almost all the sidewalks of the center pass beneath large porches, so that you can drive around the city without an umbrella even when it rains, even though most of the buildings constructed after the war are not very attractive. But I like the atmosphere.
We walk for a long time, and we have to cross several junctions before arriving in Datong, at that time with a few still open shutters and looking a bit desolate, although the buildings here are lower, and you breathe a certain small air country. finally we reach the river at the wharf Dadaocheng, and there we rest a bit on a bench watching the water flowing slowly in front of us and the couples that pass in front, while the music of Chinese melodies comes to us from nearby.
We returned to the hotel and discovered in a drawer in the bedroom, rightly as in China, a book of maxims written by a Buddhist nun Chan or Zen in Japanese, with translation in Japanese, English and even Spanish. The next morning begins the exploration of the city. The weather is beautiful and it's warm enough, even if it continues a bit of wind. And unlike in Malaysia, there is not a cloud in the blue sky. The day's plan is to visit the Zhongzheng central district and then move toward the river, where it is the oldest district of Taipei, Wanhua, and possibly continue further north towards Datong. In short, we will walk a lot!
First we reach the part of town that was once surrounded by walls, to go see the only of the five gates remained almost as it once was, with its arched roof with the points upwards, typical of China, and in this case, specifically that of the southern Fujian, and then from there we head to the National Museum housed in a Japanese colonial building of 1915 in the European neoclassical style, behind which lies the little park in Heping, or Peace, the presidential Palace, a bit more to the west, also built by the Japanese in a British imperial style.
From there we continue to the southeast to finally get to the monumental center of Taipei, the large square where there is the Memorial dedicated to Chang Kai-shek. The square is impressive, it is huge, with a large arched door on one side, two gigantic buildings in Chinese style on either side, one of the National Theatre and the other, opposite the National Concert Hall and the real memorial on the opposite side, an impressive round building from the blue roof, similar to the magnificent Temple of Heaven that I had already visited in Beijing.
Going up a wide staircase of 89 white granite steps brings you to the big room that shelters the huge bronze statue of the dictator, that shows him sitting in a chair, a bit as Abraham Lincoln in Washington. After the visit and the usual photos, we cross a nice little park next door to reach the stop of MRT, the efficient subway in Taipei. When we arrive in front, we will have a pleasant surprise as the entrance of the station was built in classical Chinese style! Two line changes and a few more to get to the train station west of the Longshan Temple, in front of which lies the old Mangka Park, a small green oasis full of people, especially pensioners.
We cross it and find ourselves in front of the beautiful Buddhist temple that gave its name to the station from which we just got off, erected in 1738, but largely rebuilt after the devastating American bombing of the Second World War. The interior is a coming and going of faithful who pray and burn incense to Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy to whom is dedicated the temple, but also to other Taoist deities that are located behind the main altar. We also see some tourists, mainly Japanese.
After the visit to the temple, it's almost three in the afternoon and then we head on a street next door full of local shops and we have a nice plate of jiaozi, a tasty Chinese tortelloni and then we resume exploration of the Wanhua district. We go in a dark alley full of Chinese herbal medicine shops, a show, and then continue along a street lined with low-rise buildings, with the omnipresent arcades and shops, until we come to a road of old Chinese shop houses, the little that it remains of Taipei than once.
At that point we decided to walk to the Red House, a renovated old market where now there are restaurants, a tea house, a small museum and a theater. Just behind there is a big square where there is a stop of the Ximen MRT. By now it is getting dark, we are tired and we decide to give up Datong which is not just around the corner. We are content with what we had glimpsed the night before the district.
In the stretch between the station of the metro and our hotel we see finally check off between the buildings the Taipei 101, the magnificent skyscraper in the form of giant bamboo, 101 plans and hence the name at 508 meters above sea level, which until 2008 was the tallest building in the world.
After getting refreshed and rested we go out again for the evening program we plan to direct us on the subway to the most modern neighborhoods that lie to the east of the city. We go down to Zhongxiao Fuxing, and we find ourselves between wide busy streets, full of lights, restaurants, shops and shopping centers. We have dinner and we take the subway to move further east, in the center of the modern district of Xinyi where there is the Taipei 101. We leave the station, and there we find it in the face all lit up.
And yet it will still be a kilometer from where we are and we cross then the park surrounding the building in Chinese style postmodern memorial to Sun Yat-sen, the father of modern China, and begin to photograph the modern tower that stands out among the other buildings that surround it. We approach a little, and then we decide to take a taxi back to the hotel, the next day it will be another long day.
The next morning the weather is still gorgeous and pretty windy, have breakfast and go back to the MRT, this time to reach the extreme south-eastern outskirts of Taipei, where the zoo is located, but also the cable car to the nearby hills. After so many cities today we try a bit of nature. The whole city is surrounded by green hills that can easily be visited with very efficient public transport.
When switching from the line of the underground MRT to the causeway leading to Maokong, our destination, there is a sign that warns, in Chinese and English, the cable car service is temporarily suspended because of strong winds, damn! But we think that there will probably be some other medium that brings up high. After arriving at the last stop we head directly to the cable car station to verify that the services have since been resumed, but they tell us that for the moment everything is still stopped, and show us a bus stop across the road telling us that there is a bus that goes to the last cable car station, between the woods and the Maokong tea fields.
The time to cross the street and here comes the minibus that goes up on the hills, and 'mini' must necessarily be because as soon as we leave the main road, the road that climbs up top is so narrow and winding that two vehicles in the opposite direction struggle to pass. But the scenery is nice, although for most of the half hour it takes the bus to get to Maokong the seats are occupied and we are forced to stay (precariously) standing and saw that the window is below my head, and I do not see much. But as soon as we go down we have a beautiful view with on one side the vegetation of which are covered hills and valleys that are located in the middle, and on the other, down low, Taipei, the Taipei 101, which will check in between, like a giant rocket ready to go.
All in all we were lucky as if the cable car had been in operation, we probably should have done a long line and the place would be already full of tourists, and so we do not find many people. So we set out on foot along the road enjoying the trees that surround us and the view around, including some tea fields. On either side of the road we find many tea houses open for tourists, but we continue for another half hour until at some point we decide to stop at a pastry shop / ice cream shop to try their ice cream to tea.
I try the oolong, the typical Taiwanese semi-fermented tea and then we decide to go back. There is now far more people on the street, and in fact when we get to the cable car station we realize that resumed service and which has already led upward several people. We buy the ticket and go back directly down, flying over the hills and a beautiful view of the capital to our left. Half an hour later we are back at the departure station, where we see coming out of the long line of people waiting to take the cable car, the wind helped us to avoid.
They have already made the past three when we get to the MRT station, and from there we have to get across town to the north, to achieve our second goal of the day: the Aboriginal Museum and the National Palace Museum. Taipei is great, and we employ more than an hour and half to get there, with two changes of line to get to the Shilin Station and then another stretch in the bus that takes us to the foot of other beautiful green hills. Aboriginal museum (the full name is Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines) closes at five-thirty and we have just enough time to make a walk for its three large rooms; what a pity not to have more time because we find it extremely interesting.
Aborigines are just one of the reasons why I wanted to visit this museum, this time not having the time to travel to the island and maybe going to visit some of their villages. Not many people know that in addition to Chinese, in Taiwan live at least fourteen tribal groups, but make up only 2% of the entire population of 23 million inhabitants, almost all Chinese, the majority of Fujianese, but also Hakka and other parts China. But the interesting thing is that these aborigines are quite different from the Chinese, not just physically: they are mostly animist or Christian and speak totally different languages from Chinese, belonging to the Austronesian Family, just like Malay, Tagalog or Maori.
Indeed, it seems that all the Austronesian strain, whose languages are spoken from Africa (Madagascar) to America (Easter Island), across the Pacific to New Zealand. And in fact we observe that the habits and customs in the famous Museum has many similarities such as with the natives of Borneo.
At the close of the Aboriginal museum outside it is already dark, and we decide to take a coffee in a nice pub nearby before moving to the Palace Museum, which on Saturday is open until 8.30pm. I usually when I stay in a new place for such a short time I avoid the museums to focus on the city and the style of life of people. Chiang Kai-shek in 1949 packed up the best of the best of the imperial art collection and brought it to Taiwan.
Luckily, we went to this museum because it is a true wonder to behold, with its huge collection of documents, furniture, statues, vases, ceramics, jades, paintings, various ornaments, etc. some dating back more than 3000 years ago. And all well exposed and organized, with explanations in both Chinese and English. We end the tour of the museum after a look at the gift shop near the entrance and then we go to take a bus back to Shilin, where we have dinner in one of the many restaurants near the station (again excellent jiaozi). From there we take the MRT to return, exhausted but happy, to the hotel.
And so comes the day of departure the next morning, and we get up, prepare our bags and head out on foot to the central station by passing again through the shopping underpass. Right next to the train station is in fact the bus station, from where are the direct airport buses. The flight leaves at 4, and this gives us time to even roam a bit around the airport and buy a few things. And so we are back, recharged from that brief but intense and especially interesting holiday.