Walking the streets of Taipei for the first time in ten years, I found myself chuckling. It was so much like New York, except the sidewalks were clean and the roads inundated with motorcycles. Exhaust was the perfume of the major boulevards, while the smaller streets were crowded with low-rise buildings hosting apartments on the top floors and retailers on the ground. For residents who preferred not to drive, the subway and bus system were both convenient and easily accessible – as long as you knew Chinese. And amidst all these people coming and going, the most amusing sight for me was that at any time of day, someone happily walked their little dog, usually unleashed.
During my time in Taipei, I made sure to visit the major tourist sites, including Taipei 101, the National Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, and even Chiufen, a coastal tourist city.
On a clear day, it’s impossible to miss Taipei 101’s glistening green glass in the financial district. After all, the building is one of the tallest towers in the world. This art deco, modern pagoda-like structure is available for overpriced tours – unfortunately my visit occurred on an extremely foggy (or smoggy) day. Instead, like most tourists, I lingered around its adjacent shopping center. The mall is a multi-story galleria of luxury stores, where shop clerks eagerly follow your every move for a sale. It was quiet and eerily empty on a Friday evening as I admired the gleaming marble — an indicator that the Taiwanese were not spending here. The liveliest floor was the underground level, where you could find mainstream (i.e., affordable) retailers as well as the illustrious food court. This food court’s design and refreshments far surpassed those found in American malls — and even the food in U.S. chain restaurants.
The Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Halls are both beautiful to behold. They are very characteristic of Eastern-style architecture and feature an imposing main gate. Inside the Sun Yat-sen memorial, art galleries illustrate the story of his life and interpret the memorial through different artists’ perspectives. Just like Lincoln in Washington D.C., a large sculpture of Sun Yat-sen sits on his chair gazing out. He is protected by two guards who, like the Buckhingham guards in London, will not move or falter when approached. The outside of the hall is a vibrant orange, and a reflection pool and park border it. The scene is idyllic as many citizens gather here: a group of students practicing their dance routine, parents watching their children fly kites, photographers trying to capture the beauty of the Memorial, and friends chatting on park benches.
This time I only visited the outside of Chaing Kai-shek’s Memorial Hall, but despite being under construction, it is stunningly beautiful. The stark white stones are striking even against a gray sky, and the ocean blue tiles on the memorial and the entrance gate are one of the most vivid colors you see in the city. Though I was only able to spend a brief moment here, I found a sense of peace and stillness, a rarity in my life that I truly appreciated.