Glamorous Ximending

16 11 2007

Ximending is the Shibuya/Harajuku of Taipei.  Every night, and even more so on the weekends, throngs of young people flock to the pedestrian area right outside the Ximen MRT stop to shop, eat, and socialize.  Giant ads and screens light up the night sky and bursts of pop music fill the air while young men and women browse the boutiques and shops wearing the latest trends. 

Ximending

We decided to stay in the Ximending area because of its convenient location in the Wanhua district.  The hotel in which we stayed, Ta Shun Hotel, was also highly recommended on the Taiwan tripadvisor forums.  I will review the hotel in another post.  But most importantly, we stayed in Ximending because it is very “re nao.”  “Re nao” is a Chinese term that literally means “Hot Noisy” and refers to a place that is exciting, loud, and busy. 

Ximending

Ximending

Although there is a branch of the Eslite bookstore/department store here, the main attractions are the little shops and boutiques selling cute trinkets and clothes.

Ximending

Ximending

Ximending

Food carts line the boulevard, but they are technically illegal.  Every hour of so, a police officer walks down the street, dispersing all the food stands.  The owners of the food stalls quickly wheel away their stands.  Within 2 minutes of the police officer’s departure, the food stands are back selling their edible wares.  You can see the police officer in the picture below.

Ximending

Since this is a trendy, hip area, there are many American fast food joints.  They even had Dunkin Donuts.  This is the largest KFC I have ever seen!

KFC in Ximending

Ximending is less glamorous and more quiet during the daytime.

Ximending





Taipei 101 and the Xinyi District

9 11 2007

As Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei is the political, financial, and cultural center of the island. Taipei is a modern metropolis with world class shopping, dozens of museums, a wide variety of excellent restaurants, and history, all connected by one of the best public transportation systems in the world.

The Metro Rapid Transit (MRT) system, which was completed just a few years ago, is clean, reliable, convenient and made me have major public transit envy. The MRT is 1000x better than the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority). If you are staying in Taipei for more than a day, I would suggest buying an Easy Card. Easy Cards are available at all MRT stations and convenience stores in Taipei. They cost NT$500, which include a NT$100 deposit and NT$400 in transit credits. With this card, you can easily swipe in and out of MRT stations and not have to worry about calculating your fares. MRT fares are based on distance. If there is any money left over at the end of your stay, you can get the amount remaining on your card refunded and the NT$100 deposit back at any MRT station booth.

After purchasing our Easy Cards, Charles and I decided to get out and explore Taipei. Since I first heard about the food court at Taipei 101, I have always wanted to go. Dinner time was a’calling so we made our way over there. We took the MRT from our hotel in Ximending and alighted at the Taipei City Hall station in the Xinyi district. The Xinyi district is one of the most modern districts in Taipei, and home to the Taipei World Trade Center, Taipei 101, Taipei City Hall, and tons of shopping, movie theatres, and restaurants.

Taipei 101

Taipei 101

Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world until July 2007, when it was surpassed by the Burj Dubai in UAE. Designed by C.Y. Lee, Taipei 101 is mostly office space except for the observatory on the 91st and 89th floors, restaurants on the 85th floor, the large shopping mall at the base, and of course the wonderful food court in the basement. The building was designed to look like a tall sheaf of bamboo. When I first saw this building being built, I thought it was really ugly. After learning a little more about its architecture, I’ve grown to appreciate the design a little more. I like the idea that it represents a bamboo stalk that is strong and flexible at the same time. The building is built to withstand strong winds and earthquakes.

Taipei 101

We visited the shopping mall and food court, but decided to forgo the observatory. Taipei 101 is considered the nicest/poshest/most expensive shopping mall in Taiwan, and international brands such as Gucci, Prada, and Louis Vuitton are well represented. Since we didn’t have any interest in this kind of shopping (not to mention we can get international brands cheaper in the US), we bee-lined to the food court. When we arrived and saw the huge, clean food court featuring every kind of Asian food possible (and Subway, KFC, and McDonald’s) we were in food heaven! Just circling the area to decide where to eat was an adventure in itself. We were surrounded by Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, and Indian stands, each specializing in a certain kind of food. There was a curry stand, a shave ice stand, a juice stand, a hot pot stand, and many many other varieties. The prices were a little higher than normal street stand prices, but did not seem as expensive as US prices.

Taipei 101 food court

I am compelled to take pictures of every KFC I see in a foreign country.

After dinner, we walked around the Xinyi area to help us digest. Xinyi is considered the high end shopping district, similar to Michigan Ave in Chicago (or Fifth Avenue in NYC).

New York New York

This is the New York New York shopping center, which features casual American brand name stores such as Toys R’ Us, Apple, Marks & Spencer (not American as far as I know), Cold Stone Creamery, and, of course, Starbucks and McDonald’s.

Xinyi

Shinkong Mitsukoshi

Here is a view of one of the many buildings in the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi mall complex. Shin Kong Mitsukoshi is a high end Japanese department store with stores all over Taiwan.

Warner Cinemas

The Warner Village Cinemas – where you can catch all the top American flicks.

Shinkong Mitsukoshi

Interesting Public Art: It’s like a thumbs-up but with your toe.

I don’t have a picture of it, but the flagship of Taiwan’s Eslite Bookstore is also located in Xinyi. With 7 floors of books, magazines, and mini specialty bookstores within the larger bookstore, it is reading heaven. We stopped by briefly intending to return, but we never did. Next time!

After walking around for a bit, we decided to head home. It seemed silly to shop for American products in Taiwan, where they are much more expensive, when we live in one of the biggest shopping cities in the US. However, it was nice to see that Taipei offered these kinds of beautiful and expansive shopping and entertainment areas for its residents and visitors. Not only are these areas good for the city’s image, but they are also revenue generators for the city. If I lived in Taipei, I would definitely shop here.





In Taipei: Taiwan Storyland

1 11 2007

After spending a few relaxing days in Central Taiwan, we boarded another train and headed north to Taipei.  We passed by more vignettes of small town Taiwan (by the train tracks).

Small Town

The mountains reappeared behind storm clouds and/or smog.

Countryside

I love seeing the mountains in the background.  It’s also good feng shui!

Countryside

After we arrived in Taipei, we dropped off our bags at the hotel.  Since (of course) it was raining, we decided to check out some indoor activities until it lightened up outside. 

My guidebook suggested a place called Taiwan Storyland, an underground replica of Taiwan from the 1950s – 1970s.  Taiwan Storyland is located across the street from Taipei Main Station and next to the local branch of the Shinkong Mitsukoshi department store in the basement of the K-Mall.  We found this attraction to be very stange but interesting at the same time.  Think of it as the Disney version of 1950-1970s Taiwan, complete with snack stands and restaurants every couple of feet, except that you are allowed to take pictures and there are no rides. 

Taiwan Storyland

When we first walked in, it was a little creepy because everything is so dark and since it was 1 PM on a weekday, it was a literal ghost town.  Music popular from the 1950s played softly in the background, and you really felt like you were out of time and place.  If you have ever read that children’s book, “Help I’m a Prisoner in the Library,” that was the feeling I got when we first entered.  The snack stands looked good, but since there was no one around, we weren’t sure if they were real or not.

Taiwan Storyland

This snack stand (below) was real enough for me, and they served my favorite – dan dan!  The server pours batter into these hot molds, waits for a few minutes, and then pops out little crepe/sponge cakes.  The ones we got in particular were in the shape of different objects, such as a bicycle and a gun.

Dan Dan Stand

There is an entrance fee of NT$250 for each person, but you get $250 in Storyland vouchers you can use to redeem anything inside the attraction.  We used ours to buy some snacks and lunch.  There are snack stands and themed restaurants scattered throughout, including a Japanese place, a Chinese place, and a traditional Taiwanese place.  The food was nothing to write home about (or blog about).

Taiwan Storyland definitely has atmosphere.  The signs and many of the objects found here are collectibles from the private collection of Mr. Franky Wu, as described in this article from the Taipei Times.  I was impressed by the attention to detail.

Taiwan Storyland

There were some very interesting exhibits, such as this replica of an old schoolroom.

Taiwan Storyland

Notice the picture of Sun Yat-Sen, Taiwan’s founding father, next to the chalkboard.  I guess there are two pictures.

Taiwan Storyland

Here’s an apothecary.

Taiwan Storyland

And… a torture chamber/dentist’s chair.  I told you this place is scary!

Taiwan Storyland

There were many “streets” to wander through, much like a neighborhood.  There was even a police station and a little section of old children’s games.  There didn’t seem to be a lot of labels explaining things, at least in English, but it was easy enough to figure things out.

Taiwan Storyland

All in all, we were amused by our hour there and thought it was a great way to see some Taiwanese history, albeit a cleaned up version. 








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