Taipei Part 1 – The Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, the National Palace Museum and the Taipei 101.

It is an island of many names. The Portugese called it “Ilha Formosa” (Beautiful Island), while officially it is either the “Republic of China”, or “Chinese Taipei”. For most of us however, it is simply Taiwan.

This is my first time in Taiwan, though i’ve been curious about it since I don’t know when, being my country’s closest neighbor to the north. I’ve always thought about it as “the quiet one” in East Asia. It is wealthy of course, like most countries in that part of the world, but it does not grab headlines like mainland China, nor does it have the name recognition of Japan, or the tech savvy of Korea. Taiwan in reality is high tech and advanced like the other three, but it doesn’t flaunt it by much.

Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei, may not hold the same luster to its name like Hong Kong or Shanghai does, and compared to the latter two, Taipei may look uneventful to the naked eye…but therein lies its charms.

CHIANG KAI SHEK MEMORIAL

Taiwan is almost synonymous to Chiang Kai Shek, the leader who brought the Chinese Nationalist government to Taiwan when they lost the mainland. People’s opinion on his leadership may vary widely, however there is no doubt that he had a lot to do with making Taiwan what it is today.

One of the most recognizable structures in Taipei (apart from the very tall tower that’s a fairly recent addition to the city’s skyline), is the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial. As it is right in the middle of the city, and serviced very conveniently by an MRT station of the same name right next to it, it made for an ideal “first stop” in our itinerary. The memorial is enclosed by a large and well manicured park, that also includes the National Theater Hall and the National Concert Hall. With the buildings designed in traditional Chinese architecture, ala Forbidden City, the whole complex actually makes for a scenic spot.

The Memorial’s grounds, with the National Concert Hall to the right, the National Theater Hall to the left and the Gate of Great Centrality and Perfect Uprightness in the middle.

The National Concert Hall

The National Theater Hall

The Gate of Great Centrality and Perfect Uprightness

THE NATIONAL PALACE MUSEUM

This is on the 1,001 places to see before you die, and so I’m glad to have ticked off another one, but I have an awfully long way to go.

China is one of the countries with the richest history, being one of the oldest ones in continuous existence, and this museum holds a huge amount of pieces of that history. It is said that the amount of artifacts at the custody of the museum is too many to display all at once, that they just rotate the pieces on display periodically. Here you see pieces as old as the bronze age, up to the Qing – China’s last dynasty.

So what is thousands of years worth of mainland Chinese history doing in the island? The nationalists shipped most of these the from the mainland just before China got divided into the Nationalist and Communist side. And now, it’s become one of the compelling reasons to visit “the other side” of China. The mainland has the large monuments of history like the Great Wall, the Foridden City and the Temple of Heaven, while Taiwan has the more intricate pieces of craftsmanship and artistry from those periods.

The museum can be reached through bus R30 from the Shilin MRT station. Like most notable museums, photography is prohibited, that’s why I only have pictures of the exterior.

The grounds of the National Palace Museum

TAIPEI 101

And now, here’s the “very tall tower that’s a fairly recent addition to the city’s skyline”, one of the world’s tallest buildings. Most of Taipei looks rather low profile for a progressive city, but this structure that lords over the entire city is a reminder that you are in a very advanced and wealthy society. Taiwan isn’t an Asian Tiger for nothing after all.

The building carries with it a lot of symbolism. It is shaped like bamboo – a symbol of strength – and the name 101 means several things. It could mean “beyond perfection” (more than 100), and it also means technology (101 resembling a computer’s binary code), among others.

With indoor observation decks at the 89th and 88th floors, plus an outdoor one at the 91st (which was closed when we were there due to weather, unfortunately), it’s the perfect place for that unobstructed 360 degree view of the city.

Taipei 101 is within 20-30 minutes walking distance from the City Hall MRT station, or you can take a free shuttle from the City Hall bus station. Just ask the bus station’s information desk for directions to the shuttle. The Taipei 101 station of the city’s new Xinyi MRT line is scheduled to open soon though, giving direct access to the building.

Taipei at night, from 89 floors high.

Taipei 101’s mass damper – a heavy spherical object suspended in the building’s topmost floors, which helps keep the structure stable.

The gift shop at the 89th floor observation deck

We were in Taipei on April 2012. All photos taken with Olympus E420 with Zuiko 14-54mm f2.8-3.5.

For part 2 of my Taipei trip, click here.

For part 3 of my Taipei trip, click here.

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