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TAIPEI - OCT 24, 2005

 

I 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. 

 

I 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.

 

Taipei 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!!

 

Taipei doesn't really have an impressive skyline. In fact the one tall building, arguably 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.

 

Getting 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.

 

Outside, 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. 

 

Taxis 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.

 

This 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.

 

Here 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.

 

By 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.

 

I 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.

 

All in all, Taipei was a wonderful experience. I would definitely return, given the chance. You can checkout my photographs here.

 

 

 

 

 

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