Our Second day in Taipei was the day I put aside to see some of the important historical locations in Taipei– monuments, museums and temples defining the birth of modern day Taiwan.
In the mid-1990’s I graduated from the University of Victoria with a double major in Japanese and English, and a minor in Pacific and Asian Studies. One of my interests was post war Taiwan and Asia/Pacific defence issues. Murky international status with territorial claims from the People’s Republic of China (mainland China) and proximity to North and South Korea and Japan has made Taiwan a common topic of discussion in terms of defence in the region.
In 1949 Chiang Kai-Shek led the remnants of the Chinese Nationalist Party and army across the South China Sea to Taiwan after being defeated by Mao Zedong’s Communist Party. For many years, until the late 1960’s/early 1970’s Taiwan was actually considered the legitimate government of China by much of the world. Chiang Kai-Shek was president of the Republic of China until his death in 1975. His memorial was on my ‘must see list’.
Our day started early, a breakfast at a stall on the streets of Taipei– some sort of egg, ham, and tortilla type dish with a mystery sauce– sort of a teriyaki sauce with five spice powder– which I have not entirely figured out– for about a $1 CAN each and a solid cup of coffee and started to walk towards the Taipei Main Station for the subway.
We dodged rain drops and wind from the typhoon perched off the North-East coast of Taiwan as best we could– a short subway ride and walk took us to the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. There was some construction on site, but we were still able to see the his statue (make sure you look up to see the beautiful ceiling). Spend time exploring the exhibits of the memorial hall– the exhibition hall in particular is fabulous with a lot of history of Chiang Kai-shek and the post World War II geopolitical history of Taiwan. From the top of the memorial, the view over Liberty Square, the Liberty Square Main Gate, the National Theatre and the National Concert Hall was impressive– even in the rain.
We walked across the expanse of Liberty Square to the the Liberty Square Main Gate– the park is lush and pretty and the main gate is really beautiful with lots of intricate stone work– I’m glad we got up close. The Liberty Square Main Gate is really impressive up close and you can look back through the gate and see the memorial– it’s a really nice scene.
The rain really started to come down, and our cheap umbrellas simply weren’t up to the task, so we jumped over the puddles and hopped into a taxi for a short ride to Longshan Temple– originally built in 1738– this is the best known Buddhist Temple in Taiwan. There were crowds of people praying, reading texts, buying fortunes, and burning incense. Monks lined the outskirts of the courtyards and groups of tourists were being led around by their guides– with a pole and small flag to guide them onwards hoisted in the air. The rain didn’t slow down the visitors– it was by far the busiest temple with the most fervent worshippers I have ever experienced in Asia.
We checked into our new hotel around 2PM- and had a ‘convenience store’ lunch– I had a curry and Kei had noddle dish– they were both very good– it was nice to put our feet up and rest for a while. Convenience stores in Taiwan are excellent– clean, well stocked, lots of real food with good prices– they are much different from our local offerings in Canada. Convenience stores (7-11 and Family Mart) were also my primary ATM locations which is good to know on a Sunday morning in the outskirts of Taipei… Just saying…
After a brief break at the hotel, we took another taxi and we were off to our final stop of the day which was the National Palace Museum which houses many priceless artifacts that the Nationalist Party took from China for safekeeping before the Communist Party took control of the mainland in 1949. Apparently there are over 700,000 pieces spanning 8,000 years of Chinese history– only a fraction of the collection is available to view at one time. It was humbling to walk among these ancient and amazing works of art– it truly showcased the level of craftsmanship and sophistication of the different periods of Chinese history. We took an English language audio guide with us and it really helped navigate the items on display.
Our hotel was very close to the subway station, so it was an easy transit ride to the famous Shilin Night Market– said to be the largest and most famous in Taipei with over 500 stalls. The rain persisted into the evening and the streets were wet– the reflections from the lights bouncing off the streets were pretty. The Shilin Night market truly is huge, with more than just food stalls– there was a lot of shopping for clothes, trinkets, bags and belts. We made sure to find the downstairs food mall, where we tried the ‘oyster omelet’ and ‘deep fried softshell crabs’ and other morsels. Shilin Night Market was really cool– it had a lot of different alleyways and places to explore– we had some shumai dumplings, pork sausages on a stick, stir fried pork on rice and many other dishes that were inexpensive and tasty. Although Kei did his best, the whole octopus leg was pretty chewy. 🙂 By far, the tastiest thing we ate was the shaved ice mango desert… oh my goodness– the mango is so much better than anything we get in Canada– it was fantastic– a must try.
Drained and exhausted, but full and content from an epic day of sightseeing and great food, we rode the subway back to our hotel and slept soundly.