favorite steak restaurant.
Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall
Chiang Kai Shek memorial is grand. Two identical buildings, the National Theater on the right and the National concert hall on the left, flank the memorial. The wide-open space in the front of the hall is also impressive. There were the students practicing their mass dance maneuvers, and the sun was really bright. We watched the students for a long while, walked through the gardens and the parks and went to the museum at the bottom of the memorial.
The Sushi Express
After spending some time in the museum, we walked up Hsin Yi road to Yong Kang Street where we stopped off in the Sushi Express for lunch. Now although Dad and Yvonne had been real troopers about the food, I think they were starting to long for some good old western fair. Dad’s theory about sushi is that it is a small piece of fish on a big portion of rice only and that when you have a drink, the liquid swells up the rice to make you feel full. But after an hour and a bathroom break you will feel hungry again! We had a good debate about sushi and the need to try different foods but in the end we promised them steak for dinner.
During the meal Yvonne decided to walk around outside and to look at the neighborhood. Unfortunately, as she was doing this she slipped and fell and grazed herself quite badly. She was surprised at how quickly people around her came to her aid. Taiwanese people are like that. Whenever we are in distress they help.
I (Paul) remember the first day I came to Taiwan. I was still trying to find my hostel. I walked into the train station to get directions. The lady I asked couldn’t speak English but I did have the address in Chinese. Within the blink of an eye she grabbed one of my bags, indicated I should follow her, and was gone. She walked me, and my bag all the way to the hostel.
Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall
I managed to get a good rest on the island in the middle of the lake. I just lay down on one of the benches and waited for Dad and Yvonne to finish their meanderings through the garden. The gardens are big and they both love the vegetation. It was good for me to relax there. Our lives are always busy and to find moments in time when there is nothing to do is like finding the only pearl in a million oysters.
We finally went into the hall and quite coincidentally ran into the changing of the guards. As it is in most countries the changing of the guards is an impressive routine. This one lasted for ten minutes (approximately) and I am always amazed when I see how they twirl those heavy rifles with one hand. I often think the guards’ wrists will snap off, but of course they never do.
We then meandered across the Hsin Yi district, through the department stores, to 101. On the way we stopped to price some of the clothes and a golf shirt for a man in one shop cost around NTD15,000 (USD500). Fairly expensive but that is the Hsin Yi district for you. Actually I am always amazed at the number of such high-end department stores in Taipei and by the fact that they can survive since they are all so expensive.
After walking around for some time, we went to watch the movie that shows the building of 101 and then returned to the indoor viewing deck to watch the sunset and the night-lights. Being summer we had to wait quite a long time but eventually the sun did go down and we got to see the spectacle that is Taipei by night.
A Final Culture Shock
We ended the day by shopping in Jason’s, a western specialty store and then going over to the Red Kitchen for a good steak. This was the final cultural adjustment my poor father had to make. They served warm beer in small glasses with ice-cubes. I think I have never seen Dad so shocked at the desecration of beer…The perils of travel I tell you!That’s it folks,
Until the next time,
Queenie and Paul
When people come to Taipei, there are certain places they must see. Two of those places are the Grand Hotel and Snake Alley. They represent vastly contrasting views of Taiwan. The first is a luxury hotel that presents a grand history of wealth and opulence and was commissioned by Madame Chiang Kai Shek herself. The second is a night market tagged onto a temple and the red light district in the heart of old Taipei.
The Grand Hotel
We decided to head off to the Grand Hotel for the afternoon tea buffet and then go to Snake Alley to see the contrast afterwards. Of course, before actually entering snake alley we also visited the famous Longshan Temple too.
The foyer to the Grand Hotel is impressive. I read that it used to be one of the largest foyers in the world. It impresses all first time visitors. The foyer is decorated in a rich red carpet and the typical Chinese décor adds to the opulence. Dad and Yvonne were no different to anyone else visiting for the first time. It took them ten minutes to get through the door. Yes, they thought it was amazing.
Well once they got through the door we found the restaurant on the left side of the foyer where the afternoon tea buffet would be. Of course we made reservations but being a Tuesday it was hardly necessary. There were plenty of chairs available.
We made ourselves comfortable in our seats and while Dad and Yvonne continued to be amazed by the size of the foyer and the whole layout of the hotel, I decided to start eating. The food was spectacular Chinese cuisine with some Japanese sushi thrown in. I don’t remember there being too many western dishes available.
In the background were two people strumming away on traditional Chinese instruments. We really felt that we had been taken back a few decades to some great and grand colonial era.
Sitting opposite us was a family with a young lady who has Downs Syndrome. Yvonne has a nephew who also suffers from Downs and therefore has a lot of compassion and understanding for people with this Syndrome. She of course made friends with the family and told them about her own nephew. She said these families like to know that they are not alone in the world and that people with Downs also like to know other people with the same condition. So we took a picture of her, got her address and promised to return a picture to her of Sean, Yvonne’s nephew.
Well, after sitting and eating for more than an hour, Dad and Yvonne went exploring in the hotel. It is almost like a museum and they do allow tourists to wander around the public areas. We must have stayed there for quite some time looking around. After Dad and Yvonne bought some trinkets and wandered around for an hour we left the hotel and headed out to Wenhua District where Snake Alley and Longshan are located.
We first spent some time in Longshan Temple. Once again this is usually a major cultural adjustment for most Westerners. The busyness of these large temples is something to behold. The place was half full, not bad considering it was a Tuesday afternoon. Patrons were practicing the traditional worship rituals that included doing Bai Bai prayers with incense, throwing down lucky beads and determining their fortunes in other ways.
When Dad and Yvonne tired of watching the different rituals, we went across the road to the Snake Alley night market. Before we entered the Alley we met a very friendly vendor who was only too happy to introduce herself and her wares. She is typical of the vendors in Taiwanese night markets who serve with happy faces and do not try to rip off foreigners.
After leaving the vendor we finally went inside Snake Alley. Dad has longed to come to this night market for many years. When I first came to Taiwan he had a friend who came here on a business trip and told him about the place. Ever since then he wanted to come see for himself. Fortunately we never saw any snakes being slaughtered live but we did see a video at one of the stores showing how they do it. This utterly disgusted Dad as they pull the heart out of the snake while the snake is still alive.
The video below shows an inside view of snake alley outside one of the many many fish restaurants. Lots of seafood is sold alongside the snake meat and blood. Anyway, it gives you an excellent overview of the inside of the alley. This is on a Tuesday night so it was not too busy.
We spent a good time walking through the market and came to the end all hot and flustered. At the end of the walk we found a small fruit juice shop where we paused for some refreshments and just watched the crowd go by. It was here that Dad gave me his comments on the place.
We finally ended the evening by going back out the main entrance of the market and walking through the small allies that are the heart of the red light district in this small neighborhood. I was actually quite surprised we were offered some “tea” because Yvonne was with us. On second thoughts we should have gone in and had a chat so Dad and Yvonne could see the other side of Taipei, but we didn’t. It was an interesting way to the end the day.
We finally got home at around 9:00 pm after a very busy and rewarding day.
Until the next time,
Queenie and Paul
(Dad and Yvonne in Wulai)
After Dad and Yvonne had been in country for a few days, they wanted to get out of the city and into the country. So we decided to go to Wulai, a small Atayal village nestled beneath a waterfall about an hour South of Taipei. So we caught the MRT to Hsin Tien and jumped on the bus.
The weather on the day started out great but as we got closer to Wulai the weather started to come in and the rain came. A little summer rain in Taipei is not enough to deter intrepid travelers like us. And besides, we were already in Wulai.
Of course the bus ride as usual was stunning. Driving on road that runs to Wulai in the valley next to the river is beautiful. The natural beauty of the road up to Wulai amazed both Dad and Yvonne. It is always difficult to believe that such places exist when living in the congestion of Taipei. A little effort is all that is needed and a person can be away from the bustling crowds.
(On the road to Wulai)
The Atayal Village
After a 90-minute journey we arrived in Wulai. We walked through the small, narrow streets and Dad and Yvonne tinkered around the little shops buying some trinkets and knick-knacks. Yvonne bought a traditional Atayal hat that she wore all the way on the Journey.
What I haven’t seen there before was the Atayal museum. The Atayal people used to be headhunters apparently. And the village is like any other tourist village in the world. But never the less, it is quaintly nestled in the valley with the river running next to it. While we were there we also tried some special almond milk. I remember thinking it was heavenly. Dad and Yvonne also stopped and chatted with lots of the local folk. Of course this was challenging but I managed to translate for them.
After hanging out in the village for about an hour, we caught a taxi to the waterfall. The taxi driver was a hoot. He told us that he had a wife but that he also had a number of girlfriends. He also mentioned that his wife didn't seem to mind too much and he said that is the way of a real man.
The Top of the Waterfall
(Dad and Yvonne at the Top)
We finally got to the waterfall. A cable car takes people to the top of the waterfall where there is a restaurant, pond and some other activities. We decided to eat at the top so bought the cable car tickets and tickets for lunch
The cable car ride is always fun but it was the first time I was doing it in the rain. Dad and Yvonne also managed to make friends with a bunch of kids in the cable car and, even when we arrived at the top, managed to initiate a language exchange. It was really amusing. We spent some time looking at the view from the cable car station and then headed off for lunch.
The coy fish in all the ponds fascinated Dad and Yvonne and so getting to the hotel took a lot longer than we thought it would. We finally arrived and had a great traditional Taiwanese lunch. We had a great time just relaxing in the hotel dining room.
Nearly Headless Paul
My one abiding memory from Wulai will always be my first trip there. Queenie first took me there in 2000. At that time there was a small amusement park at the top of the falls. In the theme park was a roller coaster that seemed a bit small but the attendant assured me that I could go on it. So I did. Well, I remember going over one of the rises on the roller coaster and as we came down the other side I saw a steel bar running across the tracks precisely at the height of my head. I managed to duck really quickly and kept as low as I could for the rest of the way. I don’t think the roller coaster is there anymore.
The Obstacle Course
After the meal we went walking on some of the trails at the top of mountain. There is also an obstacle course so we decided to try our luck on the course. We used a considerable amount of energy pulling ourselves over the different obstacles but it was fun. I was most impressed with my father who, even though had a sore knee, still managed to climb over the obstacles.
After walking around at the top for sometime the rain started to come down in buckets. We had to flee. By the time we found some shelter we were completely drenched. Bt by that stage we were really in a rush to get home because we needed to meet Queenie’s family for dinner. So we trudged through the rain to the cable car station.
The End of the Day
We took another 70 minutes on the bus to get back to Gongguan and then walked through the university home. It was a great day in the clouds above the waterfall. Everyone usually has a great time there. If you have some time it is a great day trip. You might even try the hot-springs, which are also great but we never got to try
Anyway, that's it for this time
See our Taipei and Taiwan Travel Guide for more day trips outside Taipei
(Paul and Dad in our Alley)
I (Paul) have now lived in Taiwan for nearly nine years. Queenie and I have known each other for eight of those nine years and been married a little over five years. In all this time the only person from my family to visit me was my mother so of course, when my dad said he wanted to come over to see us we were thrilled.
Dad and his wife Yvonne came when it was best for me (after my exams) in the middle of the summer heat. Taipei in summer can be hot, but we have air-conditioners in our homes here (unlike South Africa) so the heat is bearable.
Dad and Yvonne flew into Taipei on a typical summers day. I (Paul) went down to the airport to meet them and of course we were excited. When they finally came out of the gates they had big wide grins on their faces and I think they never really knew what to expect. Here they were, the first time in the East, and far from anything they had experienced before. Of course, before we got into the cab to drive home, they needed a cup of coffee. So we did! They also wanted to stretch their legs since those flights from South Africa to Taipei are long and convoluted.
After coffee we got into one of the hotel taxis and headed off home. They were bristling with questions about Taipei and Taiwan. Taipei is a magic city and Taiwan an amazing country. And we love to have visitors and to show them around. They were going to be here in Taiwan for two weeks and spend one week in Hong Kong. Of course, we had a schedule planned but it would be up to them. I (Paul) had also taken a couple of weeks off work to spend with them.
During the taxi ride home I managed to give them a brief introduction to this country we love, but they were more amazed by the sheer congestion of homes and streets. It is difficult to convey to people the level of congestion in Taipei and Taiwan. To think that this country has (I think) in excess of 24 million people on a little stretch of land that at its longest is about 400 km and widest is about 300 km is difficult. The only way to understand it is to come and see for your self!
I think they had trepidations about the place in which we lived and thought we lived in a shoebox. After navigating the taxi through the alleys and lanes to our home, they were shocked by how big it is. My father kept on saying he expected something smaller.
The first day with them was very relaxed. We just sat around the house and talked about things in South Africa. Of course we compared the economies and the living standards and the crime rates and the congestion. These are the things travelers do. We always seem to use the place in which we were born or have lived for a long time as the measuring yardstick for all other experiences. Having lived in Taiwan for a long time now I am out of the habit of comparing Taiwan to South Africa and compare everything to Taiwan. Taiwan is my new yardstick.
To Gongguan and Back Again
After relaxing at home we took Dad and Yvonne for a walk through the Taiwan University grounds, which is at the back of our home. The Taiwan University (Tai-Da) is a green belt in the city. It has a lot of vegetation and greenery. There is even a pond with ducks and fish and it is a great place to let people walk off jet-weary feet.
After that we headed out into the Gongguan night market on Roosevelt Road. We spent some time hanging out in a teashop that had a great view of the streets. Dad and Yvonne could not stop staring at the motorcycles and the people. Gongguan on a Saturday night is impressive. There are just so many people. Sometimes I am amazed we can walk through the market, but somehow the crowd moves and we move with them.
(Gongguan Night Market)
I must confess that when I (Paul) first came to Taipei, I used to be amazed by the congestion too. When I first came here I lived in the Happy Family II hostel on the corner of Chung Shan North Road and Civil Boulevard. I used to walk over the bridge (that has since been knocked down) between the train station and Shin Kong Mitsukoshi department store and just stare at the people. So Dad and Yvonne’s surprise at the congestion of people did not surprise me at all.
After walking through the market we got them a helping of gua-bau (Chinese hamburger) and zhong zi (traditional food eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival). Now both these foods can look rather odd to a Western person and we think it was with much skeptism that they ate the food. To give them credit they did seem to enjoy it at the end and they were full, which is important I guess.
(Zhong zi and Gua-bau)
The Flower and Jade Market
On the second day, the Sunday, they didn’t want a hectic schedule. They did want breakfast and asked what we had! Of course, we don’t cook and so we had nothing! They were shocked. They wanted toast. There was none! They wanted to buy us a toaster, but we said there was no need as we would never use it. Rather, we went down stairs to our local breakfast shop and got them some egg rolls, hash browns and fried carrot cakes. Once again they were amazed by the food and what we ate on a regular diet.
So after our hearty breakfast we headed off to the Chien Kuo flower market and jade market. Dad and Yvonne are very used to the nurseries in South Africa but here in Taipei, if we want to buy flowers, we go to the Chien Kuo flower market. They have all variety of flowers and trees including orchids and bonsai. Yvonne and my father were so impressed with the flower market that on their second Sunday in Taipei we took them there again. My father also bought us a wonderful water fountain as a belated wedding gift that stands proudly in our living room.
(Dad and a Bonsai Tree in the Chien Kuo Flower Market)
The jade market was also a unique experience for them. There is not much jade in South Africa and even the jade in Taiwan can be expensive. Unfortunately, if you don’t know what you are looking at you could very easily buy fake jade (which is common). To buy jade in Taiwan it is best to find someone who knows about jade (not us) and ask them for help.
The Subway and Church
My Dad and Yvonne were also curious about the MRT system in Taiwan. So I took them to the above ground rail and we took a ride through the city to the zoo, and back again. Once again the level of organization, cleanliness and the way in which people are respectful of each other even though it is crowded amazed them.
(On the Mucha MRT)
In the evening we headed off to Church. There my Dad and Yvonne met many of our close friends and they were fortunate because that evening our Church had their outdoor café. They had the opportunity to mix and mingle with a lot of the people.
So the first few days for them were a success. The crowds amazed them and the friendliness of the Taiwanese people stunned them. The general cleanliness of most places was unexpected and we think (hope) that those two days did not shell shock them too much.
Until the next time everyone,
Queenie and Paul
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