OCT 24, 2005
visited Taipei last month. It was a week-long business trip, but I managed
to do a bit of sightseeing
whenever I got the opportunity.
landed in the Taiwanese capital, expecting to find an Asian version of
Manhattan ... a la the Hong Kong from all the Jackie Chan movies. This
was my first ever trip to a city in the far east, so I really had no way of
telling. Needless to say, I was quite wrong.
is an interesting mix of old and new, east and west, China and the US.
However, neither flavor really dominates. Drawing parallels with India,
Taipei has the look and feel of Mumbai and Kerela put together. Scores of
people emerging from train stations, horrible traffic and buildings butting against
each other, remind you of a 21st century boom town. At the same time, all
the shade, moss covered stone walls and the numerous small temples, remind
you of a rustic and laid back setting. Weather wise, Taipei is extremely hot
and sultry ... very Chennai like!!
doesn't really have an impressive skyline. In fact the one tall
the tallest in the world, looks quite odd and out-of-place amidst the rather
modest and "vertically challenged" backdrop. The traffic, the
roads, the rules are all very much like in the US. The markets though, are
very Asian - cramped, crowded and colorful.
around the city wasn't a big problem. The subway system is excellent and has
signs in English and Chinese. The announcements in the subway trains are in
English and some three different Chinese dialects (or was one of them
Japanese? I am not sure.) I took the subway on several occasions, even
during the rush hour. The Taipeites seamlessly formed queues everywhere and
the crowd managed itself beautifully. It was almost as if they were all
receiving instructions on their ear phones. Seriously, the locals seemed to
be hooked on music ... everyone had a personal MP3/CD player on, and they
couldn't care less about their surroundings! I mean how often would they get
to see an Indian with an SLR in one had and a guide map in the other (and
"Tourist" written all over his forehead!). But nope, they didn't
seem to take notice.
all street signs are in English, so no big problem there either. Basically,
if you have a map and a rough sense of direction, you are good to go. And if
you must ask for directions, the youngsters seem to understand and speak
English. A young girl I met at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall encouraged
me to talk to the locals in English. She told me that they were all eager to
talk and help, but were hesitant because of the lack of fluency. I got the
same impression myself.
are another quick and cheap way of getting around Taipei. But not many
drivers seemed to speak English. Its always a good idea to have someone
write down your destination in Chinese.
trip was definitely a culinary eye-opener. It turns out that egg drop soup
and Kung-Pow chicken aren't quite the "authentic Chinese"
that they would have you believe in the US. (Restaurants don't carry
fortune cookies either.) Everything I tried was very tasty. I
wasn't able to gather the courage to try the foods sold on the streets. I am
sure they are very yummy, but they weren't visually appealing. Fortunately
for me, I enjoy Oriental food. But if you don't, you can always eat at
McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut or Subway. They seem to be everywhere.
is a good one ... People in China eat gruel made of white rice for
breakfast. And they call it Congee! The very same word used in Tamil
(pronounced Kunji)! I wonder whether there is a connection.
the way, contrary to popular belief, electronics in Taipei is not cheap. At
least I found the urban legend to be quite false. It might be a lot cheaper
to have all the electronics manufactured in Taiwan. But when it comes to
buying it cheap, nothing beats ebay.
flew China Airlines despite their infamous
track record. It was not bad at all. They are apparently over-hauling
the whole organization. And it seems to be working. The flight was smooth
and the food delicious.
in all, Taipei was a wonderful experience. I would definitely return, given
the chance. You can checkout my photographs here.