Well, vacation’s finally over (of a sorts- I have one week back in school before graduation, then another couple of weeks of “spring vacation.” Public school is grand). Regardless, the days of warm temperatures and flexible deadlines are over, and now what is left is to reflect on my travels of the last three weeks and let everyone know what I’ve been up to. I’ll break up the trip into six smaller posts over the next few weeks, so stay tuned. Today I”ll tackle the first stop in my trip- Taipei, Taiwan.
I decided to go to Taiwan almost on a lark when a friend pointed out some cheap tickets and reminded me that a strategic use of Solnal- the lunar new year- would allow me to tack the trip onto my regular vacation. The lunar new year is also the basis for Chinese New Year, so I found myself fighting crowds for much of my visit, but on the flip side some sites, especially the temples, took on a much more interesting aspect.
I’ll start with a bit of basic history. Taiwan has an indigenous population that I wish I could have interacted with more, but far and away the most prevalent ethnic group in the country is Chinese. The Chinese have been there for centuries, and most consider the island part of China. They just believe that they have the rightful government for the whole of it, not the Communists. The People’s Republic of China, of course, also prefers this view (except the reverse for the rightful government), and it has been the prevailing notion in the relations between the two sides. Younger people in Taiwan, though, have begun to accept the de facto status quo- two separate nations- as permanent. It will be interesting to see how this relationship evolves as the years march on.
Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, is a large city- 6.7 million people in its metropolitan area- and boasts just about any amenity that you’d like. The main attraction is the culture, especially the glorious night markets, which I’ll tackle in the next post, but there are a few things to see besides. The highlight, and a quite impressive sight in a city with few extremely tall buildings, is the towering Taipei 101, at one time the tallest building in the world until Dubai’s Burj Khalifa was finished. It’s particularly beautiful at night, all lit up and presiding over a sea of neon and fluorescence against the dark sky.
Another part of the city I enjoyed was Beitou, a former spa and thermal baths area once outside the city but now swallowed up by it. I accompanied a small tour group that I had been lucky enough to encounter on the way to Jiufen, which I’ll cover in the next post. This area had a distinct Japanese influence that I found fascinating. The Japanese had occupied Taiwan from 1895 to the end of World War II, but the Taiwanese attitude towards them is vastly different than the one I’ve witnessed in Korea. In Beitou, Japanese architecture and culture have been preserved, which I highly doubt would be possible in Korea, where even seventy years haven’t dulled the animosity between the two peoples. As for the hot baths themselves, they amounted to little more than private rooms with stone tubs, although the outside hot springs were quite a sight.
The camera doesn’t quite do the swirling mists and clear water justice
Overall, my time in Taipei was very relaxing, and I met more truly nice people there than I have ever had in any other country that I’ve visited for so short a time, a feat especially impressive considering how “big city” it really is. Now, if only they’d see the sun more than a quarter of the year…