Taipei Holidays-A A +A
By Mimi Olarga
Saturday, January 5, 2013
T’WAS a chilling 12°C very early morning when we arrived at Taiwan Taoyuan Airport. The wintry holidays are very much felt in this northern part of Taiwan.
With our luggage in tow, Tita Cora Maturan, Ronald, Jane and Marielle Dugangay, Elvi Summer Idiosolo and I braved the biting coldness of the weather and the full blast air conditioning units of Terminal 1 after passing immigration. Yet, the warm welcoming presence of our host, Fr. Owen Maturan, OAR (son of Tita Cora), plus the hot bowl of typical Chinese noodles, helped dispel our almost wintry weather experience.
After a shuttle bus ride from the airport, we settled in our hotel at the Ximending District, said to be “Harajuku” and “Shibuya” of Taipei. Why? Because Ximen, besides being one commercial district, also features the latest in fashion and culture, especially that from Japan. This we found out with the so many walks from our hotel in Hankou St. to Zhonghua Road where the Metro Taipei Rapid Transit (MRT) station is.
Young and old people sport glam winter outfits, from bonnets and caps, to shawls and coats, to boots and shoes. Moreover, Ximending also features the first and largest pedestrian area in Taiwan. The strolling area prohibits the entrance of vehicles on weekdays and national holidays.
Thus, people can really stroll along the four alleys along the area without being afraid of getting bumped by a car. And in as much as we took the train rides in most of our stay in Taipei, we hustled and bustled with a lot of locals in our walks from our hotel to the station and vice-versa.
Taipei 101 was our first destination for the morning. Otherwise known as the Taipei World Financial Center, Taipei 101 was reputed to be the world’s tallest building until Burj Khalifa in Dubai overtook it in 2010.
Despite this, the skyscraper was conferred the Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) Award last July 2011 as the world’s biggest and tallest green building.
Since the NT$450 -ticket to the observation deck on the 89th floor is sold on the 5th floor yet, we detoured for some stops on world-renowned signature shops which littered the basement up to the 4th floor.
Shopping? Malling? Both.
The food –taste tests are a-plenty and Ronald and Elvi were not able to resist buying sweets and tea. Robin and Baskin ice cream is also irresistible to Jane’s and all of us sweet teeth. But the greatest delight for all of us was a hearty lunch at Din Tai Fung, one of the famous xiaolongbao restaurants in Taiwan.
Though we waited for quite a while for our number to be called (the tables were filled with customers), yet the steamed and spicy soup, the steamed buns, the drunken chicken and the fried rice were oh-so heavenly. Their pie tart is one of the must-eat-desserts you should try.
With our stomachs full, we went up the 5th floor. Many tourists were queuing up for the one of the fastest ascending elevator rides in the world: 1010 meters per minute. And because the 91st floor was closed for the public, everybody’s destination was the 89th level. And all who have gone up to the 89th floor and have viewed the Taipei’s skyline would all agree that “the view from the top is breathtakingly beautiful.”
After having been awed by one of the tallest and largest buildings in the world, we ought to have one reasonable holiday shopping. And this is true in our visit to Shilin Night Market. From Taipei Main Station, we took the Tamsui Line to Jiantan Station. True enough, the side streets and alley stalls and the shops were humming with business activities. Locals and tourists abound, hopping from curio to clothes to food and to shoe shops.
What is so welcoming to our sights are the innumerable food taste-tests- from nougats to fruits- and the fair prices of commodities which we even haggled. But even as we were almost overwhelmed by the so many stuffs, we constantly reminded ourselves that the MRT plying the area stops operation at midnight.
Whew! The scuttles we made to beat the departing train was an exciting experience which we capped with dumplings and noodles in one of the food stalls near our hotel at Ximen.
For history and the arts of Taiwan, we immersed ourselves for a half-a-day tour at the National Palace Museum, No. 221, Section 2, Zhishan Road at Shih-lin District.
Taipei, dubbed as the “city of azaleas”, has 12 districts. The NPM, composed of several structures, is gently nestled on a hill. And for half a day, we engrossed ourselves to only some of the total 693,507 pieces of artifacts of the NPM collection.
Why some only? The exhibition area 1 building alone has 4 floors, excluding the basement which houses the souvenir shop and the post office. Trips to these four floors are well-coordinated by museum personnel and tour guides. More, being awed by the priced antiquities which we viewed also took time. The whole area still has different structures for exhibition area 2, administrative buildings 1 &2, the library and the creative workshop site.
Anyway, for NT$160, and without our cameras, we had our fill of information behind the Bell of Zhou, the Chinese ceramics, porcelains and pottery, the jade, bamboo, wood, ivory, rhinoceros horns and fruit pits carvings (these ones are really amazing), and the calligraphic prints from the Jin and Tang Dynasties. The curio shop inside the museum offers replicas and must –buy souvenirs which are tagged sensibly.
Nine bus stops from NPM and a two-block walk from the main road is the Shilin Official Residence of General Chiang Kai-shek., former President of the Republic of China. But before we found the place, we were witnesses to a proposal made by a young gentleman to his girlfriend in Shilin public plaza. Such a sweet experience was re-invigorated by the horticultural gardens surrounding the modest house of the former leader, Chiang Kai-shek. A mini amphitheater, a chapel, and limousine of the former First Lady were also sights to behold.
And from the unassuming lot of the former President, we proceeded to the awesome Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Park, a 240 square meter area which houses the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, the Liberty Square, the National Theater and the National Concert Hall. Noticeable really is the octagonal roof of the memorial which made its 76-meter height above ground astounding. There was an event and a group of frolicking high school students in Liberty Square when we arrived. A Chinese opera in the main gallery of the National Theater was about to start while we were having dinner at one of Eslit’s branch at the Theater’s right wing.
And as we trod our way through the subway, we were regaled by a repertoire of a blind violinist, Nestor, playing one classic piece. He played a Filipino folksong to all us when he learned of our nationality. Nestor claimed he had visited our country once when he was still a part of a symphonic orchestra. Our hats off him because, even if he is differently-abled, he still made use of his ability to communicate his passion for music.
Holidays connote gaiety. Our holidays were not only exciting but also educational and fun.. And with our bonnets, scarves, gloves, windbreakers and warmers, our Taipei holidays were really worth our while.
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on January 06, 2013.