Taipei, Day One – 26 February 2013
Allow me to start by saying, “sickness.”
Okay, maybe not literally. But metaphorically, anecdotally, undeniably and totally, this place is awesome. What makes it awesome?
Everyone and their mother rides a scooter here.
Everyone and their mother smokes cigarettes anywhere and everywhere here.
There is cheap food and alcohol here.
I think you get the idea. Taipei is everything a successful metropolis should be, in my opinion – there’s reliable transportation, the people here are pretty warm and inviting, and there’s always the adrenaline rush, the off chance that an errant scooter could take you out at any moment.
The best thing about Taipei (and Taiwan) is the fact that it’s warm all year round here. When I first touched down at my hostel I couldn’t wait to change into shorts and short sleeves. The most surprising thing was how shabby some of the buildings look. But that was hardly a deterrent. I stopped by the convenience store outside my hostel for a quick snack and drink, and I was off.
I started off walking down the main street in front of the hostel, marveling at all the tropical plants lining the wide boulevard. The first place I went was 228 Peace Memorial Park, a public greenspace that commemorates a massacre that took place in Taipei between the Chinese Mainland-controlled Kuomintang and Taiwanese citizens on 28 February, 1947. The park was built during Japanese occupation in 1908 and renamed after the massacre. It’s an impressive piece of public planning, and looks every inch the part.
Afterward I hopped on the subway for the first time, and it’s really easy to use, since there’s English along every inch of it. The first place I went was the Chiang kai-Shek Memorial Hall, a huge complex consisting of a huge square, Liberty Square, bounded on all sides by the CKS Experimental Theatre to the south and the CKS Concert Hall to the north. It took a few minutes to walk across the huge square to the base of the monument, and it towered above me when I got there. Afterward, I walked through the park that surrounds it, and moved on.
The next place I went was Ximending, called Little Shibuya by the people here, and it looks every bit the part. The only difference between the two is the signs that tower above the street are in Chinese rather than katakana. This is where all the young people hang out, and I spent a few hours walking around and through it.
It’s full of clothing stores and knickknack shops, and, after a certain hour, stalls where people sell cheap, delicious eats. I wandered through the area, smoking cigs, when I saw a tattoo parlor. I decided to ignore it, then changed my mind. After a few minutes’ haggling I was in a bar stool getting inked. It took about forty-five minutes, and is quite badass, if I do say so myself.
After, I stopped at Longshan Temple, a huge taoist temple, again, in the middle of a busy section of the city. I watched people move around me, making offerings and prayers to the gods, but all I could do is watch, because it was so different that what I had learned about making an offering at a temple in Japan. Nearby was a night market, so i decided to stop by.
A word about these night markets. They are insane – anything and everything can be found at any one of them. I had read and read and seen documentaries about them, but they do not do them justice. There’s food and clothing and live animals and carnival games and people playing majhong and people smoking cigarettes and Hello Kitty and people scratching lotto tickets and I don’t know what else. And they stay open from around four in the afternoon until well past midnight. I had only planned on going to one a day, but today I ended up going to at least three: Guangzhou, Snake Alley, and Sanhe, riding the rails and pounding the pavement in many corners of the city already.
There’s no doubt that I’ve barely scratched the surface of Taipei. When my flight first got here it was really foggy, and the pilot threatened to turn the plane around and head back to Osaka. Fortunately it lifted enough that the pilot could land safely, and I’m so glad he did.
Tomorrow, I’ve got something special planned, and as long as the weather permits, I’ll make it happen. Taipei, day one – securely in the books.