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.





Cold Treats for the Hot Weather

24 09 2007

Despite having been there before, nothing quite prepared me for the heat and humidity in Taiwan. The shock to Charles’ system was even worse. Imagine the hottest, most humid day in DC or in Chicago and add more humidity, more smog, and no air conditioning. That’s how it feels to step outside in Taiwan in September. The funny thing is that the Taiwanese residents seem to think that September is on the cooler side. We saw many people walking around in long pants and long sleeves! After the typhoon, people were wearing jackets.

It was difficult to get used to the weather, and took a day or two to not instantly sweat whenever we walked outside. When I say get used to the weather, I mean before we realized the importance of balancing outside sightseeing with inside air conditioning appreciation at shopping malls and museums. I can’t believe that most Taiwanese residents don’t use air conditioning. Even before the typhoon, which actually cooled things down quite a bit, it was really really really really really hot and humid. Then it was rainy and humid. Really rainy. No wonder the island is so green with vegetation!

One positive side effect of the heat is that Taiwan is a great place to find all kinds of cool drinks and cold snacks. In addition, this kind of weather, though punishing for humans, is wonderful for growing fruit and tea. The Taiwanese often say that the fruit here is sweeter and more abundant than anywhere else in the world. Mango, guava, papaya, dragonfruit, starfruit, custard fruit, Asian pear, lychee, and longan are everywhere, just to name a few.

Fruit Stand

Below are some cut dragonfruit and fresh longans. Delicious and fresh! Unfortunately for me, lychees, my favorite fruit, were out of season.

Fruit

Iced tea is its own category here, with options from pearl milk tea to red tea to green tea to oolong tea to mint tea. The bubble tea phenomenon that is sweeping the Chinatowns of the U.S. originated in Taiwan.

The cold drink options in Taiwan are endless, as evidenced by the water and tea section in the local convenience store (the one with the half smiley face).

Cold Drinks

Lucky for me, in Kaohsiung my aunt knew all the best (and cleanest) places to buy food. This stand on a side street off Liuho 2nd Street in Kaohsiung sells a great grass jelly mint tea.

Grass Jelly stand

Like many drink stands in Taiwan, the mint tea is sealed with plastic on top. Since sanitation can be an issue at street stands, this is a welcome measure. You just poke your straw through the top anywhere. However, I think putting your sealed drink in an additional plastic bag as they also do here is a little over the top. The only reason I can think of why they do this is because of the condensation.

Grass Jelly Tea

Cold treats are also available everywhere. The stand pictured below sells various red bean, green bean, taro, gelatin, and fruit ice drinks. We had some and it was yummy! This stand is located in Kaohsiung on one of the side streets behind the <name to be filled in> temple.

Cold Treat Stand

Cold Treat Stand

The best street stand cold treat, in my opinion, is Tzua Bing, or shaved ice. We had some every other day, and it is YUMMY! Each stand will have at least 6 toppings for you to choose from, including red bean, taro, green bean, taro, fruit, milk, and syrups. We stopped at one in Kaohsiung, but I forgot to take a picture. I was too busy eating!

Here is a picture of a tzua bing stand I found in the food court in the basement of Taipei 101. This particular dish is special because it features “snowflake” ice, or shaved frozen milk. It was delicious! Later I will wax poetic about the wonderful food court at Taipei 101, but that deserves its own post.

Snowflake Shaved Ice with milk and red bean topping.

Snowflake Ice Treat

I wish I could have one of these right now!





Where to go, what to see in Taiwan

3 09 2007

As I finish up reading all the guidebooks I bought for Taiwan (which, I know is overboard for one trip but this is my hobby), I keep wishing we could stay a few more days so that we can see more of Taiwan. Unfortunately, due to limitations to my vacation time, we can only go for about 1.5 weeks. I plan on going back again, as a lot of my relatives still live in Taiwan, but it will be several years at least.

Here are the places we are planning to visit in Taiwan:

Taipei – 2.5 to 3 days
Jiufen/Jingguashi – 1 day
Hualien/Taroko Gorge – 1 day
Lukang – 0.5 day
Kaohsiung – rest of trip
Night Markets

TAIPEI – Longshan Temple and the surrounding Wanhua district, National Palace Museum, Taipei 101, Ximending

Taipei 101
Photocredit: Alton Thompson under GNU

Taipei 101

Longshan Temple
Photocredit: de:Benutzer:HJS65 under GNU

Longshan Temple

Ximending, Taiwan’s answer to Shibuya (Tokyo, Japan)
Photocredit: Diego Trazzi under GNU

Ximending at Night

JIUFEN and JINGGUASHI

Jiufen/Chiufen
Photocredit: This image has been released into the public domain by its creator, Kwb.

Jiufen

HUALIEN and TAROKO GORGE
Photocredit: Allen Timothy Chang under GNU

Taroko Gorge

Todd did a great post on his visit to Hualien last year, with some gorgeous pictures.

LUKANG
Photocredit: Flora / Prattflora

Matzu Temple

Matzu Temple 2

Check out Craig’s beautiful 3 part photo series on Lugang.

Kaohsiung – Visiting family, shopping, Ai He

Liu He Night Market
Photocredit: Henry Trotter, 2003

Liuho Night Market

Night Markets – In Kaoshiung, we are definitely going to Liu He 2nd Street Night Market. In Taipei, we are probably going to Shilin Night Market and the one next to Longshan Temple since we will be there already. I want to have the famous Ai Yu (Ay Yuh). I don’t know which night market is the best one in Taipei.

Readers, which night market is your favorite?

Holly has an interesting post about Shida’s night market this week.

We have figured out that we need to eat every two hours in order to try all the food that I want. I know it will be a challenge, but I am willing to sacrifice myself to do that. On Prince Roy‘s recommendation, I will NOT try the egg drop corn soup from McDonald’s, as cool as it sounds that McD’s actually sells this soup.








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