[台北 / tái běi]
Taipei is a tough little city whose beauty lies in its blend of Chinese culture with a curious fusion of Japanese, Southeast Asian and American influences.
In many ways this 300-year-old city is like a living museum. The Taoist temples buzz with the prayers of the hopeful; the wooden boards of Japanese-era mansions creak under the feet of visitors; and the pilfered treasures in the National Palace Museum date back 5000 years. Merchant villas to military barracks have been restored, reworked and now live again as a museum or a shopfront. From the heirlooms of a tea merchant to the memories of a cemetery for the victims of the White Terror, Taipei is a city that takes great pride in celebrating its history – the triumphant and the tragic.
The Weird and Wonderful
Taipei’s oddness is one of its charms. It may be inspired by the kawaii (cutesy) culture of Japan, but there’s a lot of home-grown humour in there too. In the puppet museum you will find a strip-tease marionette oozing knock-kneed naughtiness; the idea of chocolate sauce on a steak is accepted; themed restaurants transport you to a world where you eat hotpot from a toilet bowl or in a hospital ward for dinner; and one of the top souvenir items of the city is a larger-than-life cock-shaped pineapple sponge cake.
Having Fun with Food
Dining out is so popular that many studio apartments in Taipei don’t have kitchens: eating is cheap, casual and tasty. Indeed going out to eat is the best way to understand the Taiwanese. Whether you’re getting your fingers greasy sampling snacks at one of the night markets or sharing Chinese dishes at a Taiwanese rèchǎo (stir-fried) joint, the defining characteristic is the element of fun. Yes, that is an invitation to try stinky tofu. While you’re at it, you might as well have some Taiwan Beer too!
People First Taipei
With its lanes of blackened walk-ups and countless shopfronts, the city may look like it was thrown together in a hurry, but look again. Great care has been taken to make it a truly liveable place for people: public transport grids the city well and is fast and cheap; every few blocks there’s a park with a generous supply of benches, shelters and flowers; good (and sometimes great) coffee is everywhere; the MRT has courtesy umbrellas free for rainy days; and a clean and free public toilet is never far away.
Thanks to Lonely Planet for the content sharing.