I had planned my trip so that i would be bck for the Taipei 101 countdown for NYE...and guess what?? As i said in my earlier posts, i had alot of bad luck and sad things which occured during my hk trip, during the beginning of the trip when i had so much trouble finding HP and her mom at Kowloon Tong station the night i arrived and towards the last few days in HK....which was topped by being late for my plane ride to Taipei (cos u know, in HK, u're allowed to check-in at HK and Kowloon Station in the city area and go out shopping again..) which is what i did until i miscalculated the time and ended up missing my flight to Taipei!! I already knew on the Airport Express to HKIA that i was gonna miss it and was swallowing in depression cos i didn't want to miss NYE countdown at Taipei 101!!! How many more yrs would i have to wait again???
Thankfully, i managed to get the next flight 2 hrs later free of charge with my luggage directed accordingly...as i walked with the airlines personnel as they helped me sort out my new itinerary, i came to realise how big HKIA was...way bigger than KLIA or Taoyuan Airport or Shanghai Intl' Pudong Airport or Narita Airport (some of the other Asian ones i've been to)...
Above: Taoyuan Int'l Airport.... Above: Shuttle bus into the city....
Took the plane and got to Taipei at around 10pm i think...met my Aunt MD there whom had come to the airport to fetch me. We took an airport-city bus into Taipei city (the main int'l airport serving Taipei is located in Taoyuan, another city) We thought it'd be jam packed on the expressway into Taipei due to it being NYE night but surprisingly there was little traffic...thankfully we rushed bck home and rushed half walked-half ran towards one of the main boulevards in Taipei which gives a clear view of the Taipei 101 building, I must say i'm lucky to be living right in/near downtown Taipei city area and thus we could walk towards Taipei 101, if i was living in the suburbs, there would be no such luck! I'd miss the fireworks for sure!!!
The boulevard was jam-packed with people and what normally would be a main road running towards Taipei 101 in the middle of Taipei city became a mass of people...we were literally standing in the middle of the road with thousands of others, hahaha...
Above: Throngs of ppl on the streets of Taipei to watch fireworks at Taipei 101....
Anyways, the fireworks itself, was pretty and the atmosphere great but really it was quite a big let-down to be frank...maybe i had hoped and expected way too much but i really thought the whole fireworks display was not that amazing and waaaaay too short...in comparison, the Sydney NYE fireworks are amazing and much much much better i must say....they should work on it and make it more spectacular and definitely at least longer...it lasted less than 10 min i estimated..
Above and Below: Taipei 101 NYE Fireworks 2009,...
Above: View from my godmother's apartment...
I then went to my Aunt's place whom is also my Godmother in Taiwan (I have two godmothers, one in Penang, one in Taipei, since childhood cos the fortune-teller said i was difficult to raise and needed as many godmothers as possible to make it easier to raise me....) with Aunt MD...and another Aunt Baobei (Aunt Precious cos she's the smallest...yeah, Chinese people like to give nicknames, esp to daughters, esp the younger ones...)was there too and cos godmother had moved to Taipei Main Station district, the view from her apartment was esp. good being in the middle of one of the main shopping/commercial districts in Taipei...i had a good time chatting with everyone and godmother even made me a bowl of steaming noodle soup with taiwanese beef-balls ( i miss this ' heavenly, really..her ones has pieces of mushroom in them too!!!!) and as she's always been the resourceful and wonderful cook, the ingredients were simple and it was a simple home-cooked meal, but i shall always remember that bowl of steaming gong-wan noodle soup that night on the New Year's Eve/Day of 08/09...
Then we went home and i slept.
Since my time in Taipei spanned over 2 weeks and it was going back home really, i shall not write it by day cos its a relaxing time bck in a familiar place and not really one of those travel/vacations and besides i can't rem what i did everyday anyways...being 4 months now..
This post shall simply detail the interesting places i visited.
Above and Below: I Love the Taipei MRT system...i like the atmosphere alot..much better than HK's MRT system, but i guess thats cos HK's MRT system has been around for decades now... A list of places to visit which i visited in Taipei and surrounds are as follows:
1) Taipei Bienniale
2)Chiang-Kai Shek Memorial Hall
3) Taipei Municipal Art Museum
5)Zhongxiao East Road Shopping District
6 New York New York Xinyi Shopping District incl. Shinkong Dept Stores, Warner Complex, Neo 19 Complex, etc...
Above and Below: Taipei 101 Xinyi District...
Above: The display on Taipei 101 says 'Love Taiwan 2009'...
Above: In the midst of the economic downturn, there was still this luxury car promotion event for ...i can't remember the name of the brand!
7) The new Eslite Store in Xinyi District
8) Fu Hsing South Road Porridge Street
9) Wufenpu Wholesale Clothing Market
10) Dihua Old Foodstuff Street
12) Taipei 101
13)Taipei Story House
14)Yuanshan Grand Hotel
16)Nanking East Road Commercial District-just passed by
17)Taipei Arena-passed by thrice
18)Gongguan Shopping.Food District
19)Taipei Municipal Government Building and Taiwan Presidential Palace-both passed by
20) Dunhua South Road upmarket area where all the trendiest restaurants, rich people residences, and upmarket commercial buildings are situated...it has one of the highest property prices in Taiwan and u often hear American-Taiwanese young people here...
21) Huashan Art Precinct
22)Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei
23) Daan Forest Park, not actually a forest, mind u!
25)Beitou Hotsprings Area and Beitou Public Library-i'll elaborate later on this unique library:-)
26) Spot Taipei
28)National Taiwan Museum
29)228 Peace Park and 228 Peace Museum
30) Danshui Fisherman's Wharf and surrounding beach area
33) Jiufen Old Mining Town
34) Keelung Port City
35) Jingmei and Pipa Lake Bridge-passed by.
The above are most of the places i visited (or passed by) during my trip bck home at Taipei which includes places in Taipei county too.
Basically, if anyone wants more help when visiting Taipei and surrounds, feel free to leave a comment or at my latest post and i can help translate the places above into Chinese as well as (possibly) give some help in directions to get there:-) ( Cos in Taiwan, similar to China i would assume, saying something in English is gonna get you nowhere as most taiwanese only know these places by their Chinese names..unless its something like 'yangmingshan' or 'keelung' which is already the chinese pronunciation anyways!!
I visited an aunt of my dad's whom assisted in helping raise him and my uncles and aunts during their childhood as our grandparents were extremely busy with their business of 'preserved hunanese meat' which has become a family business for decades now...she's from my grandma's side of the family..it was nice to see her again since the last time we met was when i was like,er,..5 yrs old?
Two decades just flies by like that doesn't it??She was exceptionally strong for her age and i expected a much frailer looking woman, but boy was she energetic and easy-going..she even gave me a red-packet for the upcoming chinese new year..heheh..she's a firm believer of the Goddess of Matsu, as are many Taiwanese, particularly the older generation...and had a shrine to the Goddess Matsu right in front of the living room...it was nice visiting her...and being able to go to Sanchong for that purpose, a place i've never been to before, being in Taipei County...i usually stick around downtown Taipei central area as the whole family lives there like 20 minutes from each other by MRT...and so usually hang around there, being very convenient with most 'happening'places being close by.
During this trip back to Taipei, i went to many places which i never did in the past...such as the Taipei Municipal Art Gallery and the 228 Museum. I also didn't visit some places i did in past yrs such as the Guofu Jinian Guan(SunYatSen memorial hall in english)and Beitou Hotsprings Museum as i had already been before and didn't think i'd need to go again...also i visited the Beitou area before when my godmother was still living there 4 yrs ago but since she moved away, i didn't go there that much this trip...There were a few places i didn't get to go in the end which were on my to-go list but almost all the places/nightmarkets i planned to visit in Taipei was done:-) The only missing places was the National Palace Museum famed around the world for having the largest collection of top-class chinese artifacts, with the ones in China being all the antiques which the KMT government(former chinese govt of china) deemed 2nd and 3rd class and not essential to bring over to Taiwan when it retreated from the mainland in 1949 to Taiwan;Maokong (cos it was closed for maintenance the entire time i was there); Yuanshan Grand Hotel; and the Taiwan Story House near Taipei Main Station. Maokong and the Taiwan Story House is highly recommended for visitors to Taipei so do google it if u ever get to visit Taipei.
The Taipei Metro System is really really efficient and i really like it alot..it is so convenient and is definitely one of the best in Asia from my own limited personal experiences, i'd say in terms of its reach and punctuality, the cleanliness of stations, the 'feel' of the trains, etc, it'd be rated higher than many other mrt systems i like the atmosphere and overall feel of the trains and train stations the most, i dun know why, i just love the feeling of the taipei mrt system...better than the other systems which i know of being the following: tokyo, hong kong, bangkok, kl, shanghai, sydney, melbourne) I've never been to others n so i can't comment or compare them with the taipei metro but it definitely is the best of the above in terms of feeling and atmophere and comfortability...although tokyo's definitely has a wider and more intricate network and reach and hong kong's stations are huge compared to taipei's which seem so miniscule in comparison..hahaha...but feeling-wise, taipei's definitely tops...although i've used singapore's mrt system as well, and i had a good impression i think but cos it was in 2003 and i can't rem clearly what it's like now, so i can't compare it with the taipei system..
On my impression on this trip, i must say maybe its the fact that Taipei has not changed much in these 4 yrs, or maybe i've been to many other Asian cities since then, or maybe i've simply grown up, but i was pretty unimpressed with the lack of development and change visible in the city and the feeling i once had whenever i went bck to Taipei from Malaysia and Australia which was one of excitement and expectations of modernity and the bustling 'vibe' and 'vitality' of the city was quite absent this time. It had actually started back on my last visit in 04, that was the first time i felt Taipei was quite backwards and not as modern as my childhood memories held...maybe it was cos i had been to Shanghai a year before and had a comparison now with another Chinese city and Shanghai impressed me in terms of how modern it was, the shining skyscrapers, the infrastructure of multiple expressways all stacked 2,3 lanes above each other, the huge landscaped city gardens near Xintiandi, the rising Pudong with miles and miles of highrise buildings going as far as the eye could see...Taipei in contrast, didn't seem very modern with its older buildings and conspicuously absent highrise buildings in its landscape, with the exception of the Taipei 101 building.
With this trip, after having lived in Tokyo, been to Bangkok and moved to Sydney as well as just coming over from Hong Kong and Macau, within the 4 yr gap, i found Taipei lacked the vibrancy and bustling energy of Bangkok (in fact Bkk is v.similar to Taipei in my mind...the buildings, skyline, restaurants and streetside stalls in narrow alleys greatly resemble Taipei..but it actually seems to be more busy, packed with people and filled with energy than Taipei!) and lacked the modernity of Tokyo and Sydney. I even think KL has more 'energy' and 'vibe' compared to Taipei and definitely the skyline of KL is actually more modern than Taipei's (believe it or not!) for instance, Taipei 101 is really a yawn if you visit the shopping mall inside it and the outside of Taipei 101 is not that impressive ( i think anyways)..this is because i have a direct comparison to make and have been to the KL Petronas Twin Towers..I mean this is so much better in appearance (the night litted KLCC Towers is one of the most amazing structures i've seen anywhere...even rivalling any structure u can find in Sydney or Tokyo..)and KLCC Suria is a great shopping experience, always bustling with people with affordable stores and foodcourts, rest. whereas the Taipei 101 mall is nearly empty on weekdays and not very busy on even weekends because of the obvious reason that all its shops are branded stores with nothing much affordable for the middle-income family and the same goes for its restaurants, all top-end ex. rest. and even its food court is more expensive than other shopping mall foodcourts. Thats why i don't go more than once to Taipei 101 on each trip...usually just to the Page One bookstore which is worth going if you ever go there as the view is good and its a nice bookstore with a sizable english language collection, something you learn to appreciate when living in taiwan cos most of the bookstores here stock chinese books (like duh...) and have none or limited english books sections..
The government of Taiwan has not developed Taipei well in past 4 yrs i feel and there was nothing really new in town or some new development,etc...it has stayed pretty much the same with the exception of the Eslite Xinyi Store which is FANTASTIC, more on that in another post...
When i first arrived in Taipei from Hong Kong, i was like omg, the streets are so empty...Hong Kong was bustling and so crowded everywhere you went that Taipei seemed relatively empty in comparison.....and also when i compared many places in Hong Kong and Taipei, Taipei didn't measure up in terms of development....many places in Hong Kong were so developed and advanced, it resembled Tokyo (gosh, i miss Tokyo life!!;-) ) and it was bustling with people all the time...Taipei in comparison, was smaller and seemed more 'provincial' in comparison from a purely highrise and development viewpoint...even Ximending which once seemed grand was tiny compared to the wide street 'Sai Yeung Choi Street' in downtown Mongkok which is almost twice its width and packed with people even as late as 12am everyday...in comparison, Ximending shuts down pretty much by 11pm with the exception of the KTV bars, some restaurants, and streetside stalls...and of course, the biggest surprise was at the size of HK MRT stations which are huge in comparison to Taipei's even Taipei Main Station seems abit small compared to the more central MRT stations such as the one at the IFC (me thinks Hong Kong Station?)
Also, what i rem most about my taipei trips back during my childhood yrs was the fantastic cable tv...there were so many channels then and compared to Malaysia, which had no Astro back then, it seemed like heaven, however, with Astro in 1997 and the past decade over, even the Astro in Malaysia seems better than Taiwanese Cable now!! I mean in Malaysia we can still get alot of Taiwanese channels and foreign channels such as those from the Middle East like Aljazeera, English channels, Malay, Indian channels, Cantonese channels, etc which is alot more variety compared to the Taiwanese cable as its abit more limited to Chinese (Mandarin) and English channels and has limited non-Chinese asian language channels (with the exception of japanese and korean programs n channels which malaysia has anyways) or Middle Eastern Channels. I'm amazed at Astro's improvement and advancement everytime i go back to Penang, and now see Taiwan's cable as somewhat normal..hahah..that goes to show how ppl change and also in some respects, Malaysia is catching up to Taiwan in economic advancements...
However, despite me being so honest and frank on the negatives of Taipei, i shall now point to the positives of what makes Taipei, and Taiwan worth visiting and why its so special in my heart.
Although many visitors (i've heard dissapointments and expectations not been met by the recent arrivals of mainland tourists allowed since 1949 under a new policy mid-2008 as well as some malaysian chinese whom were dissapointed by their first visits to Taipei and Taiwan having been influenced by the Taiwanese media/entertainment/literature to have a romantic image of Taipei (Taiwan) ) are dissapointed, i think the problem is actually of not knowing how to appreciate Taipei, and Taiwan by extension.
First things first, Taipei and Taiwan will never, and can never rival hot tourist destinations such as Japan, China, Hong Kong, and Thailand if you were to go the typical 'touristy' route map and stick to famous historical monuments, natural scenic attractions, or to go for large shopping malls or cheap streetside shopping. Taiwan, must be enjoyed 'off the beaten track' to allow visitors a unique experience...
This is because Taiwan simply doesn't have and cannot compete with the thousand year old huge historical buildings found almost everyone in China or Japan, or the natural scenic beauty of China and Japan (i know many Taiwanese talk about Sun Moon Lake and Alishan,etc...but really, they're great, i went to Alishan on this trip bck, but the problem is China's is EVEN better with places like Huangshan and Japan's Mount Fuji being more scenic i'd argue, very subjective opinion of mine though..)or the vast array of shopping malls of Hong Kong or Bangkok and cheap stuff widely available at the above two cities. This is why many mainland tourists who's itineraries consist of only the main monuments/places of interest and scenic places, are let down as many newspaper reports have reported in recent months cos they've seen better in China.
What Taiwan and Taipei can excel in is the generosity of its people 人情味 and the kindness strangers will often go to help you. (Of course, this is not unique to Taiwan, many other places esp. Thailand are well-known for their friendly people an bsides all countries will have their share of nice and not-so-nice ppl) This is in stark contrast to Hong Kong and China where people are much much much less likely to help you and sometimes are even rude in rejecting your enquiries...also its quite dangerous in China to ask strangers sometimes as public safety is not that safe there whereas Taiwan is a safe country relatively speaking.
Furthermore, Taiwan's food is definitely worth the credit and well-knownness that is garners amongst Chinese-speaking people in China, HK, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia as it is indeed VERY delicious. It is very unique as it has all the regional cooking cuisines of mainland China brought in by the retreating mainland chinese soldiers/refugees/govt officials in 1949 as well as the local taiwanese/hokkien flavours of taiwan island mixed in with a dash of old-school japanese influences from the colonial period as well as aboriginal food from taiwan's aborigines.
Taiwan is also famous for its liberal arts scene and is the most artistic and creative place for Chinese artists allowing the most freedom compared to other Chinese speaking areas such as China, HK, Malaysia and Singapore. It is well known that censorship is the least severe here and all kinds of movies and books which may be banned in China, Singapore or even HK often get to be allowed here. So thats one great things about Taiwan. Theres also alot of freedom of speech here being the most liberal and so one can see interesting tv programs on politics or enjoy many movies,etc here not allowed in other Chinese areas such as China. Thus, a great place to buy banned books and movies home! I highly recommend the Huashan Art Park as a good place to visit and to attend any of the talks/lectures frequently given around the city for Chinese speakers...i attended one myself bck in 04 (didn't attend one this time cos i had a look at one of the city's free art publications n nothing caught my interest) and it was great...
Taiwan is also known for its being the leader in Asia for human rights issues and social movements and indeed i saw a pamphlet which is produced monthly and it listed all the different programs available on feminism and women's social issues such as lectures,etc...Also it had alot of essays submitted and published critiquing many chinese customs which are oppressive towards women as well as the still present social barriers and problems women face in Taiwan today.
Another highlight of Taiwan is its Japanese food and products. This is a little known fact for foreigners but i'm sure most taiwanese know, but Taiwan has the most authentic japanese cuisine outside japan in the world! It is the most pro-Japanese of any other Asian nation and the people love anything Japanese...in stark contrast to Japan's other former colonies and occupied territories. You can get alot of Japanese foods and products in Taiwan at a cheaper price sometimes than in Japan and with Chinese labelling! This is a plus for visitors whom understand Chinese and whom have difficulty buying stuff in Japan cos you don't understand Japanese...in Taipei, there're alot of places to buy imported Japanese goods with chinese shop keepers to help you understand the products and how to use them. Furthermore, Japanese restaurants in Taipei and Taiwan serve some real authentic japanese food at CHEAPER prices than Japan and the sashimi in Taiwan is definitely BETTER than Japan's cos its' cut thick unlike the super thin pieces they give you in Japan..so not worth your money! So next time u're in Taiwan, definitely go Japanese...they're all pretty good n cheaper than Japan...
Another plus point about Taiwan and which is better than Malaysia and many other Asian countries such as Singapore and HK, is their service. The service in Taiwan is still perfect and top-notch. They've learnt it from the Japanese and the service industry is much better than you can expect from places like Australia or Malaysia where waitors or shopkeepers can be less than nice when they're on their moody days or less than helpful when u ask abit more questions than usual...none of that in Taiwan, i was thoroughly impressed as always on their efficiency and polite/professional manner on all my shopping trips,restaurants,and even the streetside stall people are incredibly nice...they go out of their way to recommend stuff and its the norm here in Taiwan (like Japan) to allow customers to try 'testers' before buying any food products and they'll even chat with u and give u abit more sometimes....i'm always commenting on the level of service here which is in sharp contrast to Australia's and Malaysia's but for locals its the norm...so one can expect this plus point when visiting Taiwan..well...that's about all which i can think of at the moment..
Above and Below: Hello Kitty Boarding Gate at Taoyuan Airport...first in the World!!...and it just so happened that my flight was from this boarding gate!!
Above: Now, why did i take the photo above u may be wondering?? Well, i've finally come to the conclusion this year that ALL (ok, maybe 80% and above...) air stewards are GAY...i noticed this (very handsome guy!!) air steward at first cos he was the only male amongst all the air attendants for our flight....then cos they were talking, i decided to listen in...i didn't think about whether he's gay or not...never really crossed my mind...until i caught what they were saying...omg, he was telling the ladies how they should not cross their arms against their breasts cos it would flatten the breasts and make it go downwards...and i was like HE IS GAY...only a gay man can get away with a comment like that!! Heck, if a straight male tried that, i'm sure there'd be a sexual harassment suit filed against him...then i tried to discern on the flight whether i would have noticed whether he was gay or not on the flight if i haven't heard the conversation before, and nope, not really, he was extremely dashing, good fair skin (ok, quite gay qualities), but with a masculine posture and he had a deep voice...hhmm...now to think about it, many of my gay friends' friends are air stewards, a coursemate of mine whom looked really straight was gay and a previous air steward and my ex-housemate was an air steward and gay as well (not the good looking type i must say...)......how come all the air stewards are gay?!!!
Above: Bought some souveniers from the Andy Warhol Exhibition at Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall..
Above and Below: Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall and National Performance Halls...