Traversing Taipei

I was recently offered a job in Taipei, Taiwan, that would start later this year. It’s a wonderful opportunity and could do wonders for my career. I’ve been a little hesitant about accepting this job for a number of reasons. One of which was I had never been to Taiwan; I was unsure what it would be like to live there and if I would like it. Having lived in China for almost three years now, I know that it can be daunting and taxing to live on the Mainland. While I know Taiwan is different to the Mainland, I needed to know that information first hand. Which led me to spending a few days in Taipei for me to get an idea of the city and whether I could live there.

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Day 1

My first day in Taipei was just getting accustomed to the city and settling in at the hotel. The first thing I noticed about Taiwan was how organized things were on the small scale. Things like people lining up was a nice change from chaotic blobs. I also noticed as I was walking from the metro to the hotel that I didn’t hear any cars honking. It was nice to not be surrounded by obnoxious and loud noises.

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Since I arrived late in the afternoon I thought a nice hike up Xiangshan to see the city sounded relaxing. The hike around Xiangshan was nice. The views up there were amazing, and you could see all around the city. Since it was near sunset, the lighting of the city was beautiful. It was a nice start to the trip.

Day 2

The next day I ventured first to see Longshan Temple. Settlers from Fujian province built the temple in 1738. Since that time it has served as a place of worship and a gathering place for locals. It was a beautiful temple and was well maintained.

Afterwards I went and explored some of the more traditional parts of the city. One of which was the Bopiliao Historical Block. This block houses some of the oldest buildings in the city; they have been converted into an artistic area. There were a number of modern art exhibitions in these buildings. It was a neat area.

North of it I visited the Redhouse, a historic building built by the Japanese in 1908. Continuing my walk I went and saw another interesting temple: Qingshan Temple. Unlike many other temples I’ve visited. This one was built up instead of out. It was quite interesting to see the different shrines on the different floors. This temple—like many of the other temples in Taipei—was colorful, bright, and had ornate decorations. They were a bit different to the temples in Guangzhou, which tend to be darker in color.

Late in the afternoon I went to see the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. This complex was built to commemorate Chiang Kai-shek, the former President of the Republic of China who ushered the move of the government from the Mainland to Taiwan. This place was huge and was amazing. I watched the changing of the guards and visited the different parts of the park. While most of it was somber and dignified, there were little whimsical parts to it as well, such as the reindeer sculpture.

Later I went to the 2/28 Peace Memorial Park and the National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. The Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Taipei is much more modern than the one in Guangzhou. The one in Guangzhou is architecturally more traditional in style, whereas the one in Taipei seems to be a combination of modern international with traditional Chinese. I ended the day with some shopping and having dinner at Taipei 101.

Day 3

I woke up and looked out the window to see that it was raining. Museum day I decided. I had planned on going to the National Palace Museum during my trip, but wasn’t sure when I would go. The weather helped me make that decision.

The National Palace Museum traces its founding to the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City in Beijing. Due to internal and external conflicts, much of the collection found its way to Taiwan. The collection encompasses over 10,000 years of Chinese history, the majority of it collected by the emperors of China. The museum indeed has an impressive collection and it was interesting to see the different aspects of Chinese culture throughout time. One of the exhibits I found interesting was one which combined traditional art with modern technology. It really showcased how technology can give a different perspective to art. It was neat to interact with art that way.

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Once I was done inside the building I was relieved to see the rain had start to diminish. I went to Zhishan Garden next to the museum and walked around it. It was quite peaceful and relaxing after all the people inside the museum.

Since the rain stopped I decided to go to Tamsui, a sea-side town in New Taipei. There were a number of interesting things to see there. The former British consular residence next to Fort San Domingo was intriguing. It overlooked the river and gave a glimpse into how Europeans lived in Taiwan in the nineteenth century.

Further north of this area was Hobe Fort. This was a cool find. I saw a sign that pointed to it but didn’t think much of it. I was tempted to skip it and go back to the main town. I decided since I was there I may as well see what it was like. I’m glad I did. This fort was nicely preserved. It was built at the end of the Qing Dynasty to protect northern Taiwan. While it was never used for that purpose due to the changing political scene in China, the fort was able to be preserved over time.

Next to the fort was New Taipei Martyrs’ Shrine. Like Hobe Fort, this was also a nice find. It was quiet and serene. I was the only one there and it was nice to walk around and see the shrine in peace. Both the shrine and the fort were my favorite parts of my visit to Tamsui.

Day 4

On my third day in Taipei I decided to go to Yingge. A community in southern New Taipei known for its ceramics. Yingge was a cool little place that had streets lined with palm trees and a lot of neat galleries with different types of ceramics. After seeing what different types of ceramics they had I went to the Ceramics Museum. This museum was nicely organized with some neat exhibits about the history of the ceramics in Yingge. It was really nicely done.

Before leaving Yingge I decided to go and walk around one of the parks there. Yingge means Warbler Song; the town received its name from a rock that sort of looks like a warbler. The rock has had many legends associated with it. It was a nice walk to see it before heading back into Taipei.

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That afternoon I did some shopping and went to the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. This area used to be a tobacco factory, but has since been turned into a cultural area with different cultural and creative exhibits. It reminded me of Redtory in Guangzhou.

Day 5

On my last full day in Taipei I decided to go to Yangmingshan National Park. This park is north of Taipei and is huge. It’s also beautiful. I took the Mt. Qixing trail and went up to Qixing Park and to the peak of Mt. Qixing. To accomplish all that required the climbing of a lot of stairs. When I mean a lot of stairs I mean I overexerted myself and strained my left leg. It was worth it though. The area around the peak of the mountain was amazing. When I got close to the peak I started to see butterflies. There were so many butterflies up there. I had never seen that many butterflies fluttering around outside of a butterfly preserve. It was truly dreamlike walking around the tall grass, the wind blowing, and the butterflies flying all around. It was truly magical.

Later that day I went to the Martyrs’ Shrine in Taipei. This shrine was much bigger than the one in New Taipei. Both were quite unique and special. The Shrine was beautiful and it was a nice way to end the day.

Day 6

I left Taipei on my sixth day. My flight was delayed, but I eventually made it back to Guangzhou. It was an enjoyable trip. I learned a lot about Taipei and liked what I saw. While this was my first impression of the city, it did give me a positive outlook on it. Now to make the decision of whether to move there.

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Hanoi Discoveries

At the end of April, Jun and I went to Hanoi, Vietnam. We had heard a lot of great things about the city, from the architecture to the food. What we experienced did not do justice to what we read and heard about the city. Hanoi is an old city with a lot of character to it. There are the beautiful colonial and Vietnamese architecture, there is the fusion of Eastern and Western food, and then there are the people. Vietnamese people are some of the nicest and kindest people I have met in a long time. As a result, our stay was quite memorable and special.

Day 1

Our hotel, the Legacy Old Quarter Hotel, was located in the Old Quarter of the city. This part of the city is its heart. There are a lot of winding streets and alleys that you can get lost in and find some pretty neat things. The first thing we noticed when we got to the hotel was how nice and helpful everyone was. The manager of our hotel greeted us and gave us some advice on things to see and things to avoid. He was genuinely concerned about our stay and wanted us to enjoy it. That was great.

After we had settled in, we ventured out to explore the Old Quarter. We walked around the city and discovered that we could get our hair cut on the street. Both of us hadn’t cut our hair in quite some time and we decided to give it a try. It turned out well for both of us.

On our walk that day we went to Hoàn Kiếm Lake. There’s a legend on the lake that a famous warrior king returned his sword to the lake. Hoàn Kiếm means “returned sword.” Legend describes the gods giving King Le Loi a magical sword to drive out the invading Chinese. Afterwards while he was on the lake he met a giant turtle. The turtle snatched the sword and took it down to the depths of the lake, thus returning the sword to the gods. There is a building on the lake called Tháp Rùa Tower, or Turtle Tower, where legend says the event occurred.

Day 2

The next day we went exploring some of the more cultural parts of the city. We first went to the Temple of Literature, a famous structure dedicated to Confucius. The temple also houses the Imperial Academy, which was Vietnam’s first national university. The temple was built in 1070. The complex was beautiful and quite peaceful. One thing that struck me was how Chinese some of the architecture look, typical of East Asian, traditional architecture, but that the Vietnamese style of this architecture added some complexity to the structures we saw. It was an interesting and beautiful interpretation.

After the Temple of Literature, we walked to the area dedicated to Ho Chi Minh. We first went to the One Pillar Pavilion and the Ho Chi Minh Museum. The most interesting thing we found at the museum was outside it. There was a vendor selling sandals made out of tired. Apparently during the war, soldiers would wear sandals made from these tires to traverse the terrain of Vietnam. They were really neat.

After the Museum we walked around the Ba Đình Square where the mausoleum to Ho Chi Minh is located. After experiencing the square we decided to walk to the West Lake. As we were walking we passed by the Ho Chi Minh Presidential Palace Museum. It was a gorgeous building and a nice example of the French colonial style of architecture.

When we got to West Lake, we decided to get some lunch. One of the neatest things about Vietnam is the street food. Practically every corner of the Old Quarter you can find people eating on the street. We found a place that looked good and decided to eat lunch there. The food was quite good and we enjoyed our meal.

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Afterward we went to Trấn Quốc Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi. The pagoda is on a small island. It had a beautiful pagoda with a number of Buddha statues that went around it. The gardens at this temple were beautifully kept and it was a nice sight. When we finished our time here we continued our walk around the lake and found a smaller temple, Đình Làng Yên Phụ, that faced the bigger temple. This one was more for locals and when we went we could see that the gardens here were used by the local residence for their personal use. It was a nice juxtaposition to see how temples were used in the city. Hanoi has a lot of temples that are in different neighborhoods in the city.

Day 3

On the third day of our trip we decided to take a tour of the countryside. We first went to the ancient capital Hoa Lư. In the late 10th and 11th centuries, Hoa Lư was the capital, as well as the economic, political and cultural center, of Đại Cồ Việt. The local warlord Đinh Bộ Lĩnh founded this independent kingdom in 968 AD after many years of civil war and rebellion against the southern Chinese.

The area was nice and we got to see the temples dedicated to the first two emperors of the Vietnamese Kingdom. The surround landscape was beautiful.

After having explored the capital, we went to the village of Van Lam where we first had lunch and then went on a boat cruise along the Ngô Đồng River to see the Tam Cốc, or three caves, section of the river. The boat cruise was amazing. Our boat was steered by a woman who used her feet to paddle the boat down the river. The landscape surrounding the river was beautiful. There were mountains that surrounded both sides of the river and rice paddies along the banks of the river. While going down the river, we went through three caves. It was really cool to see the mountains from a distance and then to pass under them. Jun and I really enjoyed the boat ride and thought it really fun.

When we returned to land, Jun went bike riding with the rest of our tour and I walked around some of the rice fields. It was nice to have some time to myself and enjoy the landscape. This part of Vietnam was really beautiful.

Day 4

On this day we decided to go to the Citadel of the city. This is where the old Imperial Palace stood. The palace itself was destroyed by the French, but remnants of it still exist. The north and south gates of the Citadel are still present and these were the first two things we saw. As we walked into the Citadel we noticed that there were a lot of more modern buildings inside it. These buildings were used by the military during the war. In one of the buildings we found a bunker {name of bunker} that was designed to be used during bomb raids on Hanoi. It was both interesting and creepy to visit them.

Afterwards we went and had lunch in the Old Quarter. When we left the restaurant we saw a woman carrying her baskets up the street. One of the sights that you can see in Hanoi are women carrying two baskets connected by a long stick. These baskets can have a number of things of them: fruits, vegetables, breads, and lot of other things. It’s one of the more unique things of Hanoi that make it an interesting place.

Our next destination was Hỏa Lò Prison, also known as the Hanoi Hilton. During the colonial period the prison was used by the French to inter revolutionaries and enemies of the colonial government. After independence, the Vietnamese used the prison to house prisoners of wars. It was humbling to learn about its history and to see the different cell blocks.

To cap this day we went to see a movie at one of the shopping complexes in Hanoi. We were able to see Captain America: Civil War in 4D. This type of experience was new to me. In addition to 3D visual effects, we were able to experience movement and smells as well. I’m not quite sure if it added anything dramatic to the movie, but we were still able to enjoy the movie.

Day 5

Our last full day in Hanoi, and we wanted to have a relaxing one. We decided to go to Long Biên Bridge in the morning. The bridge is famous being scary. It was built by the French and was designed for a time different from now. Before we got to the bridge we had to go through the Old Quarter. We first past the remnants of the old City Gate and then the more modern Hanoi Mosaic Mural. The mural was quite cool. It’s long and broken into different sections with a different theme and style. The art lover in me really enjoyed seeing it.

Once passing these two places we found the bridge. At first we weren’t sure how to get onto the bridge until we found the train station. Once we did we were able to walk from the station along the side of the bridge. There are concrete slabs that are placed on side bars that serve as a walking platform. Some of them were loose and some were crumbling. It was a little terrifying to walk along the bridge, but we decided to see how far we would be able to go. In the end we were able to see a different side of the city. The bridge crosses the Red River. The area around the river is still used as farmland. And it was quite dramatic to move from city to countryside quickly. On the other side of the bridge the city starts again. So this area was a distinct part of the city, but yet still separate from it. After exploring this area, we headed back and I was quite relieved.

After that we went to explore some of the smaller temples in Hanoi. These were beautiful because of their simplicity and use. The first temple we went we were able to listen to a woman singing a chant. It was quite peaceful. The other temple was slightly bigger, but it was equally beautiful and calming.

One of the things I wanted to do in Hanoi was to go to see a water puppet show. It’s such an amazing piece of folk culture. Puppets are used to tell stories about legends and ordinary people, but the puppets are on and in water. I’m not quite sure how they do it, but the show was fun and amazing. Jun and I really enjoyed it; we were glad we went to the puppet show.

The last thing we did in Hanoi before we left was to go to the night market. The market goes across a large area of the Old Quarter and you can buy and eat a lot of things here. It was a nice was to end our trip.

The next day saw us leave Hanoi and go back to Guangzhou. We both had a great time in Hanoi and hope that we will get to go back to this wonderful city one day.