We arrived in Taiwan late at night weary and tired from the adventures in Vietnam. We slipped aboard a train from the airport that passed through an endless tunnel of darkness. I slipped in and out of sleep looking out through the window and seeing nothing rush by in a blur. Even the city was devoid of any sort of light or life. We went past entire blocks with only scattered street and window lights breaking through the darkness. The sun had only set two hours ago but it was as if the whole city had decided to call it an early one and dozed off.
At Taipei Main Station we hopped off the train and wandered into a vast underground concrete city. Vast hallways stretched for half a mile or more; neon lights lights lit pictures of smiling men and beautiful women selling products there teeth shining in the light. Our steps reverberated in nearly deserted halls. Every few minutes we scoured for a map to check our progress as we journeyed on and on carrying the heavy load of our bags. Though our hostel was only a little more than a kilometer away from where the train had dropped us, we spent over half an hour wandering through that network of tunnels. Vast underground markets lay desolate with shutters shut and signs pressed into the ground. It felt as if I was wandering through the world of Metro 2033 or the Mines of Moria. If there was ever to be a global disaster Taipei Main Station would have the means to be a city to rise from the ashes. Though our hostel was only a little more than a kilometer away from where the train had dropped us, we spent over half an hour wandering through that network of tunnels before finding the right staircase to ascend to the street level.
The upper streets of Taipei were eerily quiet, the street chorus of Vietnamese mopeds, horns, and shouting was still ringing in my ears. Our hostel was located on the 7th floor of one of the many dark skyscrapers and was just as quiet as the rest of this country. A few lone Asian travelers kept to themselves in their bunks. The receptionist told us that we had arrived in the middle of some sort of celebration, maybe children’s day, and that the whole city was basically shut down for the next few days. Emma and I took again to the streets looking for a restaurant that was still open. We found a good place and talked about how bizarre it was to be here after Vietnam, to be in a place where crossing the street didn’t require making peace with your Gods. The rest of the night was passed in quiet as we wondered if tomorrows sun would bring out more people.
Two days was all we had to see as much of Taipei as possible. As we woke up early in the morning we set up with a plan to get to all of the main landmarks of the city. Though a few more people wandered through the streets in the daylight, it felt as if the city was still enjoying a nice long snooze. We navigated once again into the depth’s of the mausoleum that is Taipei Main Station. A few shops were opened, peddling tourist trinkets, coffee, and donuts the necessities of an early morning. We found our line just after Crying Bird Girl Statue or whatever you wanna call this thing. Post modern art is weird… We rode the rail to the very end of the line which dropped us just a short walk to the trail head for Elphant Mountain.
Elephant Mountain, or Xiangshan Mountain, is more of a large hill at 183 meters high, 600 feet. After weeks of relaxing, eating, and drinking my body felt as if I was climbing a mountain, thousands of steps leading to the overlook. A few people ran up these steps, at the top, just below the overlook, was a outdoor gym. Taiwanese and established travelers alike lifted rust covered weights and did body weight fitness workouts on the top of this mountain overlooking the jungle sprawling out below. On the other side the overlook looked out across the city skyline, the Taipei 101 drawing the eye. One of the biggest tourist attractions on Xiangshan Mountain is the simply named six giant rocks, which are six large rocks sitting on top of the mountain that make for great photo opportunities. Feeling strong and refreshed from our early morning hike we looked towards the city skyline and knew where to head to next.
The Taipei 101 marked the sky like a beacon, and we were drawn towards it. Looking up at it from the below, I was still struck by how beautiful this building looked. It’s 8 tiers giving it a sense of elegance and power, reminiscent of older pagoda. The bottom few floors were taken up by a large shopping mall. In here the city felt more alive, businessmen in suits scrambling around to grab a quick bite to eat on lunch, Family’s and friends sat around having hushed conversations. Emma and I ate some delicious food court grub and plotted how to get a hold of a pair of Taipei 101 marked cafeteria soup spoons. Yet, the cleaning staff were as vigilant as hawks, swooping in the moment the meal was done to clean up plates. We never were able to find an open window to procure a souvenir from the lower level of the tower.
The elevators to reach the observation deck were high powered high tech magic boxes. We shot up the tower as the lights dimmed and twinkling stars appeared above our heads, spacey music playing over the speakers like we had just stepped inside the TARDIS. The blinking display in front of me showed our speed climbing first at 100 m/m, faster still at 500 m/m, before capping at 1010 m/m (37.7 mph). We reached the 89th floor, 381 meters up (1246 ft) in 32 seconds.
From atop the highest terrace Emma and I looked out across the city of Taipei, stretching far into the distance jungles. The city rested right into the mountains, peaks and rooftop becoming one. Large apartment complex sprung from the hills of the mountains like 10,000 year old trees. As I looked around the 360͒ i still couldn’t get over how calm the city appeared. The streets were almost barren of cars and the motorcycles drove in ordered lines obeying the law to the highest degree.
We found out more of the actual design of Taipei 101 and how much symbolism the designers embedded into the architecture. Towering above the rest of the city at one hundred and one stories it’s meant to be better then excellence by going just beyond one hundred. This also reflects the beginning of a new century, when it was built, and all of the years to come. It’s eight tier structure, each section containing eight floors, also holds a much deeper meaning then just a aesthetically pleasing pattern. The number 8 is the luckiest number in Chinese Culture. The sound for 8 is very similar to the sound for wealth, fortune, and prosperity. A double 88, like with the 8 floors of 8, is even better as it’s meaning is “double Happiness” Symbolism like this was entwined throughout the entire structure. The interior of the building had tons of designs and details to make sure that the entirety of the structure maintained a proper had a yin and yang balance, and maintain. For all of this, the building is one of the sturdiest in the world, able to withstand typhoon winds that rip across the island from time to time, as well as built withstand the strongest earthquake the region has seen in the past two-thousand years. The Taipei 101 quickly became one of my favorite architectural works, so much so that one of the few touristy trinkets I picked up my journey was a Lego version of the building.
Liberty Square, or Freedom Square depending on what type of patriot you want to be, was our next destination. We didn’t know much about it, but it had a cool looking picture on our map so we knew we had to check it out. The square stretches for close to 250,000 square meters. The lower end of the plaza contains the National Theater and National Concert hall, while commanding over the end of square is the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. The entire area commanded a demanding opulence that made a single person feel very very small. Each of the four buildings were massive and powerful in scale, taking up the near entirety of the horizon in each of the four directions.
Like the Taipei 101, each of these buildings designs was rich in meaning and symbolism. The Memorial Hall is built in remembrance of President Chiang, the declared President of the Republic of China as ruled from Taiwan. 89 steps lead up the main hall where his statute is guarded 24/7, each step a year in his life. As Emma and I climbed each step, Emma slightly ahead of me, I told her to stop. I was standing on the 23rd step, she was on the 24th and I told her to look back at our lives. We looked at the steps we had climbed and the vast square and city stretching beyond us. We looked up at the remaining 60+ steps laying before us and thought about where our lives could lead, what we could accomplish in those many many remaining steps. I had stopped on the 23rd step as a joke, something I thought would just be cool to see, it turned into something very profound. I took each remaining step with energy and gusto dreaming of the life ahead of me, and being very aware of the the step in my life I was currently taking.
Later in the evening we headed to one of the many night markets apparently famous in Taipei. I expected it to be much like Vietnamese night markets, bustling with delicious foods and cheap brand goods, and yet I shouldn’t have been surprised that the first we stumbled across was still and quiet. Street carts sold bizarre foods with no English markings what’s so ever. An older man smoking cigarettes motioned for us to sit down near him and we order some food from the nearby cart. I still don’t know what we ate from the cart but I would be lying if I said I enjoyed it. It was various cuts of a fishyish tasting meat with a few pieces of translucent jellied like fish. Though my curiosity drove me to sample everything at the very start, as the meal went on I only was able to stomach by the addition of gratuitous amounts of wasabi and cheap beer. Luckily the next night market we traveled to on “Food Street” had much more appetizing and delicious food to better please our confused stomachs.
We didn’t have to much time the next day before making our way to Japan, so we headed to one of the many temple complexes located around the city. The Taipei Confucius Temple is moddled after the original Confucius Temple in Qufu. At this point I’m just taking facts off of Wikipedia, but what I do know is that like all temples I have entered in the past few months it was incredibly peaceful and beautiful. The gates and buildings were adorned statues of dragons, rich blues and reds drawing the eye. Each pillar and wall was an I-spy of ornate details. Though I normally saw temples as a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, there was little difference inside the temple and out. We left Taipei as quietly as we had entered it just a hushed whisper in this sleeping city.
Make sure to check out Emma’s take on Taipei as well!