It was the afternoon of March 28, 2014.
After the captain announced to prepare for landing, I opened the window and saw a piece of land emerging from seeming edgeless Taiwan Strait.
The weather was hot and humid, but it didn’t take me long to find a taxi at TaoYuan airport.
The iTaipei Service Apartment is located across road from Taipei Main Station, which is very convenient for my sightseeing. The apartment room is designed like Japanese Tatami, nice and comfortable.
The First night – A Twisted Illusion
On a bright springtime, Ron and I are walking around Lake Mendota. We are hand – in – hand and enjoying new cherry blossoms beside the pathway. Suddenly it starts raining, Ron hold me tightly and passionately. “Oh, it is raining, let’s go home.” I said. “Let’s just stay here, love making in rain will be more exciting!” a voice seems from far away, familiar but not Ron’s.
“Ron, come back!” I yelled and woke up, soaked in sweat.
I know that lingering spirit, which I have been trying so hard to erase from cerebral world, haunted me again.
I think I do need the soup named “cure me” (孟婆汤), but where is it?
Learning the History and Culture
Sun Yat – sen, the father of the nation, fought to replace autocracy with republic government. He spent all his life promoting united, prosperous and powerful China. To realize his goal Taiwan has already set up a democracy based on his Three Principles of the People, which has provided its citizens with the fruits of freedom.
Sun’s Successor, Chiang Kai Shek, followed his footsteps to promote ethics, democracy, and science among Tanwanese. He also educated people with the thoughts “The purpose of life is to improve the general life of humanity. The meaning of life is to create and sustain subsequent lives in the universe.” The Liberty Square is to memorize Chiang’s contributions.
Chiang Kai Shek also brought and maintained Chinese culture at Taiwan partially by building National Palace Museum. The Museum is sharing the same root with the Palace Museum inside the Forbidden City at Beijing.
Sourcing from ancient tradition, the political power and cultural influence are non – separable and complementary. Cultural inheriting, in some degree, provides a strong support for the political validity. The political position can be challenged if culture is not standing strong.
On 1949, Chiang Kai Shek started departing from Mainland China. Besides taking his key personnel and a large amount of gold reserve, he also employed naval ships to move thousands of boxes of historical relics and treasuries to Taiwan. Even though it was hard to measure the monetary values of those relics and treasuries, Chiang Kai Shek believed that the cultural impact carried by those historical items lay foundation for his political ambition to be a ruler of China.
The historical relics and treasures from Mainland China undoubtedly provided the opportunities for the people born in Taiwan to remember their ancestors and the root of Chinese philosophies.
Chiang Kai Shek poured his life – long efforts trying to recapture Mainland China, and always believed that the historical relics and treasuries would eventually be reunited with their “peers” at Mainland China.
Browsing those historical items at National Palace Museum reminds me of the Palace Museum at Beijing and Shanxi Historical Museum at Xi’an. The highlight is the workmanship to make jade as jewels or as adornments. Also the computer program to display how hieroglyphs have been transfered into traditional Chinese characters is very educational.
Trying the Foods and Snacks at Night Markets
In Taipei, no matter where I was, I could always smell the scents from various kinds of foods and snacks. Of cause I was inside one of the best – known food cities in Asia. It took me a while to locate a place that is specialized to sell vegetarian foods – Vegetarian Kitchen at Shilin MRT station, its tuberfleeceflower diet meal, mixed with dates and wolfberry, forms the best combination of nourishments for a woman.
Later I found out that all vegetarian dishes are boiled or steamed with some sorts of Chinese herbs, which makes them full of nutritions as well as tastes. The idea has inspired me to cook simple and nutritious vegetarian meals at home.
One night at NingXia Night Market. I smelled something very strange suffusing in the air, curiously I followed the smell and found its source – stinking tofu (臭豆腐). I had heard about the story of this “stinking tofu”, it is famous as “smelled bad but tasted good”. I saw a lot of stands selling it with various styles – fried, steamed, boiled, stuffed into sausage, roasted, etc.. I ordered a fried stinking tofu with pickled vegetables, sitting on a small table with couple of strangers. I tried my best not to make too many funny faces. By the end I couldn’t finish entire order, meanwhile my appetites to taste other snacks at that night mostly went away.
I was amazed that Taiwanese can make edibles from almost all parts of animal’s body, including their blood.
A written sign caught my attention: pig blood cake (豬血糕). Can a birthday cake be made of pig blood mixed with flour? It sounds really gross! I stopped in front of the stand to see how this kind of “cake” was made. Actually the pig blood was already somehow solidified, cooked and held onto a stick, the seller only needs to spread some seasons on its surface before giving to the customers. Being a vegetarian, I decided not to give it a try.
Taiwanese have invented some new tasty deviates from the existing foods or snacks, such as salty rice balls or salty popsicles, etc. They can cook fish eggs into nine different flavors, or they choose to BBQ squids, or they used tea leaves to roast goose eggs (besides chicken eggs) in a specially made oven.
By chance I found my childhood favor: candied hawthorn on a stick (糖葫蘆), which has been one of the local specialties at Beijing. The only difference is that in Taipei candied fruits can be made not only from hawthorn, but also from strawberry, baby tomatoes or other small size round shape fruits. I bought candied baby tomatoes on a stick, which was surprisingly tasty.
In contrary to Greek’s stuffed grape leaves, an unknown local food in Taipei is stuffed meat slices, i.e., using thinly sliced meat to wrap vegetables and BBQing this combination.
Learning that there are some “native products” at HuaXiJie night market, I decided to taste those “products”. There I discovered the “products” were the meals made from the meats of turtle, snake, rat, deer, etc. I stopped in front one of the snake stores watching the snakes crawling inside their cages. The owner used the opportunity to promote his snake soup, “Miss, the soup can smoothen your skin and the gallbladder drink can brighten your eyes!”
I am one of women who are willing to do anything to look better, so I decided to give a try on this set of snake soup, gallbladder, extract from snake poison, marrow and oil.
The soup was made with tuberfleeceflower and tastes nothing else but tuberfleeceflower. I drank the soup, swallowed the capsules containing snake oil, but I was hesitate on the gallbladder, the extract and the marrow. By the end, I managed to finish all of them.
I touched my face and didn’t feel any smoother, I looked around and still saw things blurring as before. Instead I started feeling creepy with cool air rising up along my backbone.
Mixing Traditional Elements into Modern Technologies
The World Trade Center of Taipei (Taipei 101) is located in the middle of downtown. It is formed as a shape of bamboo. According to classical oriental culture, a durable bamboo successively growing resembles to the blossoming flowers bringing honors and richness. The architects symbolized this building as continuous life cycle of the traditional Chinese architecture.
Beyond that “bamboo” design idea, the architects also used the propitious number “eight’ in Chinese culture as one unit containing eight consecutive floors, to create the mega structure with eight reduplicate units forming beauty of rhythm.
The building is equipped with the world’s fastest elevator, is the world’s tallest building and the tallest structure. It is especially earthquake resistance owing to its eight “mega columns” and a 5.5 meters in diameter tuned mass damper at 88th floor.
Even with its fast taking – off economy, Taiwanese still worship their root by including the traditional elements into its modern achievements.
Praying at LongShan Temple
The LongShan Temple is only two stops away from the apartment I was staying. It is a sacred place for Buddhists, and it is filled with incense.
Into the main entrance is a waterfall named “clearing mind” (淨心瀑布) on the right side. Does its falling water mean to wash off all selfishness and distractions before facing those Gods and Goddesses?
Something prompted me to pay my respect to those Gods and Goddesses. With sticks of incense in my hands I sincerely asked their forgiveness for the mistakes I made at young age. Standing in front of the God for love and marriage (月老神君), I prayed for the happiness and eternity of a newly married couple, and rejuvenation of love for the couples who were temporally struggling with their own issues.
Looking at Current and Old Times
Taipei is a true sleepless night, around 10 pm, many people are still wandering in those night markets, underground streets, walking, driving or riding on the roads.
Soon after arrival, I discovered a distinguishing feature of Taipei – motorcycles. Riding on one of the main transportation tools, those motorcyclists are bravely fighting for their ways with vehicles!
I could always see and hear those fast – speed motorcycles rushing and whizzing besides me, some of which were even carrying multiple people. I saw one of the motorcycles carrying four people – two adults and two children, and still going as fast as others. I can’t image I was carrying my daughter on a motorcycle and fighting with those cars. But this is the local lifestyle, I am fortunately living in the North America with the lifestyle I am enjoying.
If a city gets too crowded, there are usually two ways to deal with the issue: adding layers upwards or downwards. Downtown Minneapolis is well known for its skyways to connect buildings together. In this trip to Taipei, I noticed another distinguishing feature: its underground streets, shopping centers, specialty stores and restaurants. This feature, together with its very efficient transportation system (MRT, TRA, HSR), disperses the traffic burden caused by being overly populated.
With well over two millions people living at Taipei, its main streets are surprisingly spacious and the daily traffic is faster and smoother than I expected. I hope in near future, my hometown will adapt similar city planning strategies to achieve a better living environment for its citizens.
Riding on MRT is one of my favorite parts in this trip to Taipei. Along the ways I could browse the living places of local people as well as commercial buildings. Couple of times I was a little confused that in front of some old and badly maintained residence buildings were parked some luxurious vehicles. After chatting with the owner of the Vegetarian Kitchen, I started understanding that the vehicles represent the social status of their drivers. To help me know this concept better he explained that many people could notice the kind of cars running on the roads but not many people could see the houses of residing.
Well this seems to be opposite from what the people are pursuing in the North America.
Even though Taipei has become an internationalized metropolitan, the costs of basic living are very reasonable. The whole body massage or hot spring bath in an individual room for two hours costs around NT$1000 (US$30). Most of lunches costs less than NT$200 (US$6) and NT$1000 is usually enough to purchase a piece of cloth with decent quality.
I specially love the people here, who are always helpful. They were patiently leading me find my way when I got lost in the middle of nowhere. I was carrying three different currencies, together with a bad eyesight, I couldn’t tell NT$ from the other two, especially those coins. Upon paying for my purchase I chose a shortcut by dumping all currencies onto the counter and letting the cashier pick up the amounts I owned. I was never blamed by the mess I created on their counters.
In order to satisfy my nostalgia, I browsed through stores to find something “old” at Tamsui Historical Streets (淡水老街). I bought couple of old – styled school notebooks, and a monkey keychain / purse, made in an old hand-workshop, for my daughter whose zodiac sign is monkey.
I enjoyed listening the soft feminine voices with Taiwanese accent flowing out from the street – side stores to greet customers. Once a while, I could hear the songs from 1980s playing in some stores, which reminded me of the time that Taiwanese songs were so popular on our university campus.
Interacting with Natural Beauties
Even with its developed economy, the level of air pollution is much lower compared with other cities such as Beijing and Xi’an.
During this trip I visited a few places with natural reserves: BeiTou, YangMingShan and XiangShan。
I had a two – hour long bath at one of BeiTou hot spring reserves. Afterwards I felt totally refreshed from inside out. The fair and smooth skin of local people might be owing to the minerals in the water they are daily using. This discovery also drove me purchase a pile of face and eye masks made in Taiwan.
YangMingShan is a national park, with very beautiful naturally reserved landscapes. While I was there, azaleas was in full blooming, even though cherry blossom was mostly dying away.
Just in front of the Mountain, there is a clock named “flower clock”. Surrounded by various plants and flowers, its continuously moving arms seem to remind people cherish time and natural offers.
Interacting with the natural beauty after daily busy life should be a wonderful way for local people to relax.
Running from one site to another, I sometimes stopped and took short breaks in those public parks, some of them are conveniently located besides main streets such as Daan Park and Dahu Park. Wandering among those plants, flowers and lakes recharged my energy. Occasionally I stopped for simple body stretching to replace those missed yoga practices.
On the last day at Taipei, I chose to challenge my strength and stamina. I went hiking at XiangShan Hiking Trail, and felt proud that I could get to that popular spot easily, which might be due to my regular excises at home.
On the last night at Taipei, I was wandering in Taipei City Mall, ZhongShan Metro Mall and QSquare.
For one last time, I checked at each store, picked up anything which could be possibly squeezed into my luggages, listened to those soft voices to greet customers, tasted as many as possible local snacks.
I have spent the last seven days exploring a brand new place, carrying a mixture of excitements and regrets. I have experienced a condensed “lifetime” and emerged as a refreshed – mind person.
For one last time, I wanted to be heard and to be touched by you, Taipei!
No mater whether I will re-visit here or not, the memory on this place will last lifelong!
Goodbye, Taipei, a mesmerizing city!