It didn't take me long to find the National Theater and Concert Hall, Taiwan's largest national performing arts center. The building looks like a traditional Chinese palace with its imposing stone facade and bright, orange tiled roof, but it's actually a modern structure, commissioned in 1975 by the Kuomintang government. To my surprise, I learned that my own company, Philips Electronics, played a major role in its design and engineering.Directly across from the National Theater and Concert Hall is the monumental Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall honoring the famous former President of the Republic of China who died in 1975. Chiang Kai-shek was considered a reformer, so in designing the monument, the Taiwanese people wanted to make a statement. According to the official propaganda, "The key concepts of the architectural design are: to convey the spirits of Chinese culture; to create a style with novelty and distinctiveness; and finally to use the most modern architectural technology in order to achieve practical and economical purposes at the same time." In other words, no one wanted to break the bank on this one. It's imposing but stark.
The Memorial Hall is surrounded by lush gardens with two ponds designed to reflect the principles both of the Ming Dynasty and the modern unification of China. The ponds are stocked with colorful carp and surrounded by hills, which -- according to officials -- "provides an ultimate sense of relaxation to make visits worthwhile." In my opinion, it would have been more relaxing if it wasn't 90-degrees outside with enough humidity to send even Chiang Kai-shek running for cover.
I continued my walk until, quite by surprise, right behind a street vendor selling a foul-smelling delicacy called "Stinky Tofu," I stumbled upon the National Taiwan Museum. The Museum -- built in 1908 by the Japanese who ruled Taiwan at the time -- features collections including specimens of Taiwan's indigenous animals and plants. I didn't go in, having already seen enough of these animals on my dinner plate to last a lifetime.
Perhaps that's why the police presence today in Taipei seems so much more subdued. The Lone Bumpkin standing in front of the Taiwanese Presidential Palace (pictured above), is actually a Police Officer in disguise. I was driving by in a taxi when my driver stopped, laughed and, in broken English, yelled out the window, "Hey you Tourist, who do you think you're fooling?!? Everyone can see the wires hanging out of your ears ... we all know you are an Undercover Cop!" I urged him to drive on before he started another rebellion.