Susan's Shanghai Blog - Week 70

We did a long weekend trip in May to Taiwan, which is officially called the Republic of China, is the island formerly known as Formosa. It sits off the coast of China, south-west of Japan. It has a colorful history, being governed by several different other countries throughout its' history. The initial Taiwanese aborigines were taken over in the 17th century by the Dutch and then later conquered by the Qing Dynasty in 1683. In 1895, it went to Japan who kept it until the end of World War II when they surrendered it. The Chinese Civil War pitted the Republic of China (ROC) against the Communist Party, and when the Communist won and took control of mainland China (establishing the PRC) in 1949, the Republic of China relocated its government to Taiwan. Chiang Kai-shek and approximately 2 million people went to Taiwan at this time.

Looking at it economically, it is much better off than mainland China when you look at GDP per capita. To give the numbers some basis, the US ranks 6th based on the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Germany ranks 18th, Japan 24th, and France 25th. Taiwan ranks 19th (so just below Germany) while China ranks 93rd (just above Jamaica). The dollar amounts are even more interesting: US at almost 50,000 USD, Taiwan at $38,749, and China way down at $9,162. While GDP per capita is not a measure of personal income, it tends to be considered an indicator of the standard of living

Taiwan - Day 1

It was a fairly short flight over, and then after getting to the hotel and checking in, we headed around the corner to lunch at Kao Chi on Yongkang street, which is a famous and trendy street filled with shops and restaurants. Kao Chi is a Shanghainese restaurant dating back to 1950 (yea, I know, we live in Shanghai and we eat Shanghainese food in Taiwan). Kao-Chi started out in 1950 as a snack stand selling treats from Shanghai, where its founder lived before the Chinese Civil War.

So, it has been years since I had heard or seen the term "sasparilla", but sure enough, I got to order one in Kao Chi, although on the menu it was called root beer.

We started off with sesame buns followed with ribs. I must say, ribs plus chopsticks equals a big mess.

We then started our walking tour. This is the remains of a Japanese prison. In response to anti-Japanese uprisings during the Japanese rule (1895-1945), large prisons were built in both Taipei and Tainan to hold political prisoners. This is one of the walls of the prison. Between 1944 and 1945, several Allied airmen were shot down or crashed wile on patrols over Taiwan and were held here. Fourteen of them were given a 'mock' trial, sentenced to death, and executed 58 days before the end of WW II (the rest were released).

Next up is Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. Chiang Kai-shek was head of China's Nationalist Party and the country's leader when Japan invaded China in 1937. In order to beat the Japanese, Chiang (an anti-Communist) joined forces with Mao Zedong (and his Communist party). As soon as Japan surrendered in the late summer of 1945, Chinese Communists and Chinese Nationalists fought a civil war. By October 1949, the Communists had prevailed, and Mao Zedong announced the People's Republic of China had been formed. Chiang, what was left of his military forces and about 2 million others, fled to Taiwan. The hall is built in white marble and the roof is decorated with deep-blue glass as part of the reflection of blue sky and bright sun. The four sides of the structure are similar to those of the pyramids in Egypt. Two sets of white stairs, each with 89 steps to represent Chiang's age at the time of his death, lead to the main entrance. A large bronze statue of Chiang Kai-shek dominates the main hall.

The views from the top are pretty good. You can see the Liberty Square, which ?s flanked by the National Concert Hall ?n the north ?nd the National Theater ?n the south. Liberty Square regularly serves ?s the site ?f mass gatherings ?n Taiwan. ?t ?s the scene f?r red-carpet ceremonies when Taiwan's president greets foreign dignitaries. Crowds gather ?t the square throughout the ye?r f?r outdoor festivals ?nd concerts. The Taipei Lantern Festival regularly takes place ?n the square.

The National Concert Hall and National Theater

We went through the museum, and we caught Tom admiring a few of the cars. They also showed Chiang Kai Shek's office.

There are two ponds at the memorial hall: Yunhan and Guanghua Ponds. The Yunhan Pond signifies the Restoration of China. The combination with artificial mountains, man-made waterfalls, and arch bridges, creates a beautiful scene. The ponds contain a variety of carp.

This is the Jingfu Gate or the Gate of The View of Good Fortune. It was part of the Taipei city wall, which was one of the last city walls built during the Qing period (1884). The wall no longer exists but four of the original five gates remain, and this one is considered to be the most beautiful of the gates.

So about here in the walking tour, we took shelter near the 2-28 Peace Park, as we basically had what felt like a typhoon go through! It RAINED and POURED ... with Tom and I huddled under this little gate that happened to have a roof. We tried to take a picture that coudl at least try to show how hard it was raining.

2-28 Peace Park - the park was established in 1908 but renamed in 1996 when a memorial to the 228 incident of 1947 was added to the park. In 1945, the Japanese relinquished control of Taiwan at the end of WWII but the new government was full of corruption. Feb 27th, 1947, a 40-year old woman was caught selling illegal cigarettes and an officer hit her with a pistol. The next day (Feb 28th, or 2-28), a riot spread across the country. In the centre of the park stands the memorial itself, a steepled sculpture surrounded by three enormous cubes turned on their corners.

We actually saw a set of squirrels!! This is something we just don't see in mainland China. This one was actually eating little cracker pieces directly from the fingers of a lady.

The hotel was quite nice, the Dandy hotel. It was a really good location (2 blocks from a metro and directly across from a park) that was about to become a great location (metro getting ready to open right next door).

Dinner was at a fairly new restaurant called Dian Shui Lou. While only launched in 2003, last year it was crowned as the only restaurant to be awarded the full five stars by the Northern Taiwan Restaurant Guide.

Day 2

We started out Day 2 at the Lin Antai Historical Home. Built in 1783, it is Taipei's most intact historical architecture. It is a quadrangular building in a location hand-picked according to good feng-shui. There is also a crescent pond in the front yard for gathering wealth in feng-shui terms, with a red pavement that prevents slipping as well as molding.

Of course, it is important to have your own little Buddhist temple :-)

The house is built around a central courtyard with bedrooms, halls, kitchen and dining rooms, all coming off the one courtyard. Most of the rooms have original furnishings, artifacts and household appliances the family would have used. The traditional beds are elaborate and beautiful, some with shell inlay, mirrors, tiles and carvings.

They also had some crafts on display ... we snapped some pictures of paper lantern painting and some little clay figures. Some of the detail is, well, just amazing!

There was a stone garden and pond to the side of the house. It includes a pavilion, an artificial hill with a waterfall. It is out on the side and quite quiet and tranquil. One of the interesting things about the doorways is that many of them are in the shape of a vase (which rhymes with "all well" in Mandarin). There is also a round one that reminds us of the doors for the Hobbits.

A quick trip on the metro brought us to the Shilin Presidential Residence. This was the residence of Chiang Kai-shek and his wife from 1950 until his death in 1975. It hosted many foreign dignitaries. (sorry, no inside pictures).

There is also a nice park area and a pond with these interesting models of insects, and a few live little friends.

We go from Chiang Kai-shek to Sun Yat-sen and visited the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall. The hall was completed in 1972 and has a large seated statue of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a military guard that has a changing of the guards ceremony hourly, exhibits from the life of Sun Yat-sen, and a performance hall.

The changing of the guards ceremony in the main hall had a nice crowd waiting for it. I took quite few pictures throughout from my vantage point on the main floor.

Taipei 101, which was the tallest building in the world in 2004, has 101 floors of entertainment and consumption - the Taiwanese idea of heaven. Everything is here - bars and restaurants, a health club, cinema and designer boutiques. It held the title until 2010, when the Burj Khalifa in Dubai took over.

Longshan Temple is not the largest temple in the city, but it is unique and quite beautiful. The temple dates back to 1738 and legend has it a passer-by left an amulet of the Guanyin (goddess of mercy) hanging on a tree on the site of the present temple, and the amulet shone so brightly, even after dark, that all who passed by knew the site was blessed.

Right inside the main gate in a little waterfall on one side of the courtyard, which made a perfect spot for a picture.

Painting of vivid creatures grace the temple walls and stone statues of mystical creatures guard the temple grounds. Covered by overtapping tiles, the temple roof is decorated with figures of dragon, phoenix and other creatures. The figures are decorated with porcelain, clay, and shards of colored glass. We took lots of pictures of these figures on the roofs, since they were the most magnificant decorations that we have seen in most places in China. They were amazingly intricate and very colorful .. almost like they were either brand new or just restored.

They also had some nice carvings and paintings on the walls.

Near the temple is 'Herb Lane' as it is commonly known.Over 10 herb stores are packed into Lane 224 selling just about every herb grown. As the story goes, disease was common to this area in early years, but the lack of Chinese medicine doctors forced the people instead to seek out herbal remedies, including soups with herbal infusions. Because of this, the area also was known then as 'salvation street.'

Yet another temple, this time Tien Ho Temple. This has a narrow door on a busy street and you could easily miss it. But once inside is one of Central Taipei's most beautiful Buddhist temples, complete with statues of Matsu, ancient Chinese generals, a bell tower and a small dragon-shaped pond filled with huge carp. The temple was built in 1746 and is one of the three major temples in Taiwan from Qing period.

The well-known Ximending Pedestrian Area was the first pedestrian area built in Taipei and is the largest in Taiwan. As we walked through, we saw this one guy molding little dolls.

Tom and "puppy envy" yet again. We took a break and sat on a bench in this little square, and there was a puppy who came up and took a little break with us as well.

Next stop: dinner! Shin Yeh Restaurant serves traditional Taiwanese dishes. One of the dishes was sweet potato porridge, which you basically get as much as you want. It was a rice porridge (the Chinese do like their rice porridges, normally called congee).

We also wanted to just take a couple of night-shots down the streets to give a view of the city at night with the lights.

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