A May 2001 trip
to Taipei by billmoy
Quote: Taipei, the bustling capital of Taiwan
Taipei can be quite congested with vehicles, including an amazing number of motor scooters. You can barely walk on most sidewalks because the locals use them as scooter parking lots. The pollution from the vehicles can be rough, as the scooter riders all seem to wear makeshift masks over their noses and mouths. I am amazed that I did not see any accidents, considering the incredible traffic.
Once you leave the congested center of Taipei, you have lush green mountains running down the length of the island. Yeilou, off the northern coast of Taiwan and about an hour away from taipei by bus, features bizarre rock formations created by the effects of wind and water over the years.
All the rooms have heat and air-conditioning, TV, and en-suite bath, and breakfast is included. The hotel faxed me a price list of their room rates, which are all very affordable. The lowest rate is for a basic room with "no windows". I was going to choose this room, which would have probably been like a glorified closet. My co-worker heard about this and ridiculed me for choosing such a low-scale room type, so I then decided to book myself a single room "with window" for about eight dollars more per night. It is good to have a window in your room, is it not?
My room "with window" was basic but decent enough. The one window was a small one on the wall next to my single, firm twin bed. The window was high, so I had to kneel or stand on my bed to actually look out of the window. Once I did so, the view was of some apartment building back porch, with laundry strung on a clothesline. Well, it is always nice to have some daylight and ventilation. The small television set had a decent number of stations to choose from, above a small empty mini-fridge. The bathroom had a tub and hand-held shower head, but no shower curtain. The hotel did have a decent amount of toiletries. It seems that even the simplest Asian hotels like the Chair Man supply you with complimentary toothbrush, toothpaste, disposable razor, comb, along with packs of liquid soap and shampoo.
When you check in at the front desk, the clerk will hand you a breakfast coupon good for each night of your stay. The complimentary breakfast buffet is very Taiwanese, featuring goopy rice porridge, and sides like green beans, rice, tofu, and peanuts. You can also get "western" selections like cereal, toast and jam, and tea and juice too. There is a rack of newspapers for guests, and I was always happy to find a copy of the Taipei Times, the only one on the rack that was in English and not in Chinese.
The front desk clerk can also arrange tours for you. I booked an all-day trip to Taroko Gorge with the helpful clerk, who called a local travel agency for me at no extra charge. You can pay for your stay one night at a time or in one lump sum.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 22, 2002
Chair Man Hotel
No. 88 Han Kou Street
Hotel | "Grand Hotel"
Once you get past the driveway and the grandiose display of flags of prominent nations, you will enter an opulent lobby with Asian design influences throughout. The staff at the front desk is quite helpful, especially when I befuddled one particular young woman with a question about the location of a local baseball stadium and whether there was a game that evening. She even tried to call someone else to get some more information for me.
The hotel is geared to the international businessperson, with its own convention center, a bunch of restaurants and cocktail lounges, outdoor pool with snack bar, and a large valet parking lot with room for coach buses. Because of its elevated location, the fine rooms have outstanding views of the surrounding city. You can watch the daily air show of planes taking off and leaving at the nearby Sungshan Domestic Airport about two miles away. The Taipei Fine Arts Museum and the Martyrs Shrine are relatively close to the hotel, but if you are walking nothing will seem that close.
The Grand Hotel
NO 1 SEC 4 CHUNG SHAN N RD
Taipei, Taiwan 104
These department store food courts are very popular with the locals because they can get a helping of good old-fashioned cooking, served quickly and cheaply. The communal dining tables can be very crowded at mealtime hours and during the weekends. Some of the menu signs are bilingual, but most of the food stalls have user-friendly photos depicting the food selections and prices for easy ordering. Just walk around to the different stalls to see what strikes your fancy.
Some of the more popular food courts are at Sogo, AsiaWorld, and Mitsukoshi. Many of the stalls serve set meals, with a bowl of soup, a main course of rice or noodles accompanied with meat and veggies, and sometimes a small (very small!) soft drink. Generally these set meals are less than 4 US dollars, and they can be quite filling and tasty. One of my all-time favorite dishes is barbeque pork chow mein. I ordered this dish several times at the Sogo food court. Its version of chow mein is not great, but it is good enough and only about $3 for a decent-sized serving. Note that "chow mein" sounds about the same in English, Cantonese (my dialect) and Mandarin (the main dialect in Taiwan). One of the AsiaWorld stalls serves a huge plate of beef and broccoli with white rice for a similar cost.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 22, 2002
Local buses pass by the front of the museum. There is a majestic staircase leading to the main entrance of the formal Main Exhibition Building. The impeccably manicured grounds include a library, the Chih-Shan Gardens, an Administration Building, small post office, and a driveway leading to and from on-site parking. By far the most popular museum in Taiwan, there are always many tour groups visiting. There are some guided tours available in English and Chinese; inquire at the information desk. No photography is allowed within the museum. I spent three hours examining the exhibitions and wished I had some more time.
The first floor features bronze vessels, Buddhist sculpture, and an interesting display showing parallel timelines of art and civilization in China and elsewhere in the world.
The second floor features painting, calligraphy and porcelain.
The third floor has a variety of mixed media: carvings in jade, wood, ivory, bamboo, and even rhinoceros horn. There are also rare books and documents, and a room of lacquered wood "curio cabinets".
There is a rather pricey Museum Restaurant on the grounds. It is basically an upscale cafeteria, serving serviceable and typical Chinese dishes. I had a decent plate of sweet and sour rib tips with a bowl of rice and a soda. The Main Exhibition Building also has a cafeteria and formal tearoom on the fourth floor. There is a pretty nice gift shop with a tasteful assortment of artistic Taiwan gifts.
National Palace Museum
221 Chih-shan Rd. Sec 2
While there are some older works, TFAM concentrates on art from the 20th Century. There are also temporary exhibits, including an interesting collection of black-and-white photographs depicting life in Taiwan from 1930 to 1960. The cantilevered ends of the galleries have glassed-in lookouts with great views of the city. You can see planes taking off and landing, and you can see how grand the Grand Hotel is.
The entrance fee is very inexpensive (under $1 US), and there are free catalogs depicting many of the works of the TFAM Permanent Collection. The keepsake catalogs are mostly in Chinese, but there are illustrations and the titles are in English. No photography is allowed within the museum. The museum is closed on Mondays. Tours are conducted in Mandarin, but it is stated that you can arrange for a tour in another language with a notice of several days. The drinking fountain provides little "cups" for you. Each cup is basically a small white envelope, but when it is opened the little envelope actually holds a few sips of water.
Taipei Fine Arts Museum
181 Chung Shan North Road, Section 3
Taipei, Taiwan 104
+886 (0)2 2595 7656
The opening exhibition, "The Gravity of the Immaterial", is a sampler of what's hot in the current contemporary arts scene amongst Taiwanese artists, locally and around the world. I have always been fascinated by art gallery openings, because the people attending the opening can be as interesting as the art itself. The event of the opening can even be perceived as an essential part or an outgrowth of the actual art. This evening's crowd was artsy, dressed in typical black, and split evenly between ethnic Taiwanese and expats, with the biggest gathering of non-Chinese I have seen in Taiwan. The festivities included speeches, fireworks, and television coverage.
One of the most interesting installations is "Eva Returns to Wonderland 2001" by the artist Jun T T Lai. This installation is basically a bedroom-sized space featuring a white feathery carpet. There were quite a few kids (and some adults) bouncing around the carpet as if they were at some amusement park. A trail of feathers was tracked out of the room throughout the building, an unintentional (or intentional?) extension of the artwork.
Institute of Contemporary Arts
No. 39 Chang-an West Rd