Saturday, May 16, 2009


Taipei is an intriguing city. Perhaps because it's covered in a nearly perpetual blanket of smog accompanied by the pungent aroma of Chicken Asses, Rooster Balls and Pig Blood Popsicles, it's all too easy to hole yourself up in your hotel. I finally had a chance today to venture beyond the Sheraton Taipei, and I'm glad I did.

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.

The Museum is flanked by 228 Peace Park, a small patch of greenery which -- while originally built by the Japanese -- stands today as a memorial to a bloody massacre. In 1947, a group of protesters, angry over police brutality against Taiwanese civilians at the hands of the then-reigning Kuomintang government, staged a demonstration on this site which led to more than 10,000 deaths, ushering in a period called the "White Terror" during which thousands more Taiwanese were killed, imprisoned or vanished.

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.


Beth said...

I like these pictures much better than the crazy animal bits and pieces from the previous posts! :) Seriously, it looks like there are many beautiful areas and plenty to see there. I'm glad you got to go exploring and find a little natural beauty...of the NON-animal kind! Hugs, Beth

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Great that you had a chance to venture out and sweat out some dead animal stuff :o)

garnett109 said...

Better not piss with those cops,you'd be in for a caning

Webster said...

Aah, 90 degrees with 90% humidity; It brings back memories of the summer I spent in Okinawa in 1977. I was either sweating outdoors, or freezing inside in the air conditioning. It was lovely after nightfall, however.

A nice day of sightseeing. Thanks for the pictures.

Joann said...

Thanks for the pics and the interesting history. I hope you are finding better stuff to eat... maybe I should go there for my next vacation and look forward to losing weight!! = )

Rose said...

Great photos!

Thanks for sharing.

Take care, Rose

emikk said...

Wow, what a place!

Saltydawg said...

If you can forget all the vile food, it does'nt look like a bad place after all.