Since we get so little vacation time with my current contract, one extra day off, I thought, warranted a quick trip out of the country. Part of my goal of living in Asia again is to see as many places as I can while I’m over here. Passport stamps and subway cards to different cities are like little treasures to me.
Although Taipei’s economic success has a longer running history than Korea’s, one of the most striking things about the city is that it still has all the rabbit warrens of snaking alleys, side streets, and numbered lanes that run off the main streets. It’s a city with a huge amount of character, and good maps (and even a couple folks spotted in alleys with GPSs) are a necessity for getting around without losing too much time. The first day was a little rough getting around, but by Sat., I felt like I already knew the basic layout. It has a great subway system, and even more useful, extremely helpful and talkative people.
I stayed at the Eight Elephantshostel, which although a little college dorm like, had some great people staying at it. There are some folks that live there all the time, and some local folks from other Taiwan cities that use it for a weekend launching pad. It was eclectic and the staff was extremely helpful, and like everything else, down a maze of numbered lanes (off of Jinjang street).
I took a wrong turn at first at stumbled on something that turned out to be really common in the city: little temples tucked in between concrete walls. Much like the Hindu street temples in Nepal, they seemed to be in constant use, with folks dropping in for a few minutes to light incense and pay respects. The scent of incense mingles throughout the city with the scent of rotting stinky tofu. Actually, I thought Taipei in general smelled a lot like Beijing, although it is infinitely cleaner.
It was pretty hazy, so these pics didn’t come out that great, but you can see the detail of the largely Confucius temples here surpasses most places for the detail of their artwork.
Since it was so rainy on Friday, I decided instead of heading to the park I wanted to see, to use the back-up plan of hitting one or two of the museums in town. My interest in religious architecture, and role religion plays in both comforting and controlling the masses brought me to choice number one: The Museum of World Religions. This museum was designed by the same folks who made the incredibly powerful Holocaust museum in Washington, DC. I’d say they are both well worth the visit if you happen to be in their respective parts of the world.
The museum is a little hard to get to. The closest subway station is Dingxi, but the museum (and the Pacific Department store next to it, which is the most useful landmark) are quite a few blocks away. I couldn’t find the free shuttle bus to the Dept. store, and was pretty hungry, so I wandered into a market are to find some noodles. The guy at the noodle shop that had pictures I could point at turned out to not only be super friendly, but super fluent in English as well. Something that turned out to be much more common than in Korea. Loads of people not only spoke English, but were willing, and even seemingly happy to use it. When I asked if he could help me with directions, he hadn’t heard of the museum, but called them for me, and wrote down the address in Chinese and said if I got lost again, just to ask anyone on the street. I’m telling you, Taipei is a weekend ramblers dream.
The museum is gorgeous, with relics from every major religion, and a few smaller ones in a stunning main hall. It also has models of some of the world’s most amazing religious structures. I snuck a picture of this one, which is going to be next top of my list of things to visit. The Borobudur Buddhist shrine on Java in Indonesia. You can also see models of the Dome of the Rock and Notre Dame in the background.
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