Life In Taipei 101

This blog entry about the events of Sunday, April 25, 2010 was originally posted on April 27, 2010.

DAY 6: “I spoke to my mom earlier,” Elizabeth told me.  “I told her, ‘Erik’s here but I can’t really challenge him with anything because he’s done everything already.’”  True, living in food-obsessed New York City and having been to China already, I’d encountered many far eastern customs and culinary creations that a Minnesotan family like hers might only see via Andrew Zimmern.  However, there were a few things that Taiwan could prove to be unique, and more than the fact that they have creepy moving mannequin flagmen, or the fact that people hang their sausages out to dry with their laundry.

MONDAY MORNING STARTED not unlike a regular work day for Elizabeth, other than the fact that we felt a slight tremor of a passing earthquake.  An ex-pat in her residential Taiwanese neighborhood, she had become known as a character amongst the people in the neighborhood.  “[I’ve been going to my breakfast place for a while and finally the woman asked me for my name,]” she told me.  “[But when I asked for hers, she wouldn’t give it to me.  She said, ‘Uh, we don’t do that,’ and so I said I’d call her by the word for ‘boss.’  But then she said, ‘Oh you can just call me jiejie,’ the word for big sister.”  Elizabeth and I both thought that was a bit odd and one-sided, but that’s the way it was; perhaps she’ll never know her ‘big sister’‘s real name.

After big-sisteryly breakfast of a Taiwanese hamburger and a side of grilled radish cake, we ran into another neighborhood character, the old chain smoking man who used to be a parking attendant before it was boarded up for construction.  “What’s his name?” I asked.

“I don’t know.  He told me once but I can’t really understand him.”  Elizabeth’s smile and language ability was all that she needed for him to be friendly, so we stopped to say hello when we noticed him smoking on the corner near the library — a place where he always stood and smoked a cigarette.

“I think he’s trying to convert me to Buddhism,” Elizabeth told me.

Elizabeth rushed off to work after our morning excursion to the coast, leaving me to explore the city of Taipei on foot, and by rail — using Taipei’s system of plastic tokens embedded with RF-chips so you can still touch them to an electronic RF reading sensor.  A subway train ride took me to a part of town where school had just been let out, next to one of Taipei’s iconic architectural marvels, the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, a cultural center built in honor of Sun Yat-Sen (who else?), “the man considered to be the founder of modern China.”  Taking up an entire city block, the complex held gardens and a big plaza for people to walk their dogs.  Seniors took the calm of the ground’s lake for Tai Chi practice, while others flew kites (picture above) up to where they might be as high as the city’s tallest skyscraper.

Of course, this is just an optical illusion at the vantage point of ground level since the towering Taipei 101 is the tallest building Asia, an honor once held by Malaysia’s Petronas Towers — only to soon be bested by Dubai’s new building on the world stage.  Walking there beyond City Hall, the familiar-shaped pagoda-looking financial center doesn’t look too tall due to lack of frame of reference, but when you’re at its base, it’s pretty fucking tall.  And within it is the world’s fastest elevator to date, which can go from ground level to the 89th floor in 40 seconds. 

Adjacent to the tower is the Taipei 101 shopping mall, a high-class affair with all the high-end fashion brands, from Gucci to Prada to the Taiwanese youth posing for pictures in front of them.  In the basement is a rather impressive food court, most impressive by the fact that in the gourmet grocery, they have a pretty decent cheese selection.

Yes, cheese is


TAIPEI IS NOT ALL ARCHITECTURAL GLITZ and glamour; in quieter parts of town lie religious centers for the different religious groups that live in the city.  Taipei has a mosque and several Christian churches, but much attention goes to the Buddhist temples, as impressive (or passé) as they are in many Buddhist nations.  So as not to get “templed out,” I checked out two: the 18th-century Bao-An Taoist Temple, where the faithful prayed and lit candles, and the busy yet solemn Longshan Temple, which also attracted modern spiritualists by the hundreds per day.

One last Taipei sight was the one most recommended by Elizabeth (mostly because she worked there in her theater days): Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, named for the nation’s* one time dictator.  An impressive arts complex, with its imposing gate and octogonal monument, the ground was home to the National Concert Hall and National Theater, where I caught a whole group of Taiwanese tween and teens busy rehearsing for a big dance routine

“SO WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH KIDS IN SKINNY JEANS?” I asked — ironically because I hailed from Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  “Actually I saw this one guy who had skinny jeans, but he had his pants sagging down like a hip-hop guy.  It’s like hipster and hip-hop fashion in one.”

“Yeah, that’s a thing here,” Elizabeth answered.  She told me it was most common amongst the androgenous style, which I noticed myself.

My time with my Minnesotan friend was coming to an end since she would continue the rest of her regular work week, while I would head to the mainland.  We had one last drink at 45, a local pub, where we observed and chat about more Taiwanese youth fashion, particularly the guy at the bar with thick black glasses (with no glass) and a bowl hair cut — a fad amongst Taiwanese youths because it’s the style of a famous performer.  Also at the bar, I noticed that the Taiwanese televise mahjohngg like it’s a sport, the way Americans cover and televise poker. 

The next morning, we had a quick breakfast of zhua bing — egg-covered scallion pancake (at the suggestion of blogreader Richard Tsai) — before we hugged and parted ways.  “So what’s your impression of Taiwan?” my friend asked me. 

“I love Taiwan.  It’s a lot different from China,” I answered, basing it on my own previous experience.  “It’s like China, but with better urban planning.  Like, everything is just so thought out here.  Like, the subways have breastfeeding rooms! [And they’re clean and sanitary.]  Actually, Taiwan seems like it’s a lot more related to Korea or Japan than it is with China,” I continued, mostly talking about the people, and the laid back nature.  That was my two bits anyway.

Elizabeth would sadly leave Taiwan in the fall for graduate school at Harvard, but would always have a piece of it in her heart.  As for me and my short jaunt there, I would remember it too for its laid back island vibe, its food, warmth, architecture, all its 7-Elevens — and above all, for the time I had with a good friend there.


A few years ago, when it was the Chinese calendar’s Year of the Dog, many people went out and bought dogs, which is why many people were out walking them.

Next entry: A Shanghai Welcome

Previous entry: Chicken Soup For The Eye

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Comments for “Life In Taipei 101”

  • And now, onto the Chinese leftovers…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/27  at  04:26 AM

  • we can take those mannequin flag guys and replace the guys in front of parking garages, but it still wouldn’t lower the cost to park for an hour

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/27  at  04:55 AM

  • So much fun!!!

    Posted by Elizabeth  on  04/27  at  08:51 AM

  • Now I need to go back to Taiwan and explore more. I wasn’t “allowed” to go wander in Taipei like I wanted to when I went on the trip there. Boo.
    Thanks for your stories, tho, they’re fab! Duh.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/27  at  07:30 PM

  • NOELLE: Not allowed? But it’s not China…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/27  at  11:36 PM

  • My parents would be happy to hear that you think Taiwan is not as similar to China as China wants it to be.  Cheese IS delicious! Did you try any?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/28  at  01:39 AM

  • Nice Site You Got Here!Very Informative. Highly Recommended!

    Posted by replica designer handbags  on  07/28  at  12:12 PM

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This blog post is one of eighteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Chinese Leftovers And Other Asian Appetizers," which chronicled a trip to Shanghai and Huang Shan in China, as well as brief excursions to Manila, Taipei, and Seoul.

Next entry:
A Shanghai Welcome

Previous entry:
Chicken Soup For The Eye


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