Historical Treasures @ National Palace Museum, Taipei

I think one of my biggest regrets on my Taiwan trip was not being able to spend more time at the National Palace Museum. We spent too much time at Tamsui, and by the time we got back to the city it was already 4-5pm. Granted, the museum closes at 9pm on weekends, but the group I was travelling with (a bunch of Aunties and a group of young students) weren’t too keen on looking at a bunch of artefacts and we had to leave early.

D:<

This is why I don’t want to go in a group. Even if a group trip is in order, one should always travel with like-minded friends/family.

Anyway, the National Palace Museum has one of the largest collections of ancient Chinese artefacts (close to 700,000!) in the world. Most of these were saved from China during the Japanese occupation, and were safely in Taiwan by the time of the Cultural Revolution.

Spanning across several floors and multiple halls, I’d suggest spending at least half a day here if you’re a culture/history buff like me. The items on display are sensitive to light so they don’t allow flash photography; and no photography after 6pm.

Hall with antique furniture. On the right is a Chinese ‘couch’. No cushions – people were used to sitting/lying down on wooden platforms back then. In the middle is a small portable table for tea, or playing chess. Can also be converted into a bed – how cool is that?

Another exhibition hall had a collection of Buddhist deities from various regions and different eras. Each had a unique ‘style’ reflecting the artistic/cultural sentiments of the time period.

An interesting piece: a golden lotus flower (the lotus flower is a prominent symbol in Buddhism) holding tiny Buddha figurines.

Seals. In ancient days, for a royal edict to be passed, it had to have the stamp of approval. Literally.

Painting and calligraphy. The characters were so painstakingly aligned they looked almost printed.

Ming vases, characterised by their trademark blue and white colours.

Coloured inks. To get the ink, one usually had to whet the ink stone to get the desired liquid and consistency.

Secret kungfu journals.. I mean, Imperial books.

That’s one giant paintbrush!

Intricate golden cups/trophies studded with precious jewels.

Block of jade.

Decorative items fashioned from white/green jade: Perfume and snuff bottles, vases, rings, bangles.. etc

Mini jade abacus

Decorative plaque

Unpolished jade block.

A special exhibition with a mini ‘cabbage jade’. The original jade block wasn’t a high grade one, but the artist skillfully turned it into a ‘cabbage’ shape to hide its flaws.

Beautiful lapiz lazuli plates and pendants. Great colour. 🙂

‘Go’ set made from semi precious stones.

Had to leave early, but we managed to catch a performance downstairs where a group of elderly personnel sang and played traditional instruments.

Back at our hotel, we had MOS Burger for dinner! Always wanted to try it coz we don’t have it in Malaysia.

The beef with bacon and egg was amazingly good !

Shifen – Old Streets, Sky Lanterns and The Broadest Waterfall in Taiwan

Hey guys! So we were previously in the scenic gold-mining mountain town, Jiufen, the setting that inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away anime. We took it one step further the next day and headed to… Shifen.

 

…..

 

Ok sorry bad pun haha. You know I’m terrible at these things. Jiufen in Chinese literally means ‘nine portions/points’ and Shifen is +1, or ‘ten portions/points’. Unlike Jiufen, though, Shifen was a coal mining town, characterised by train tracks running through its Old Streets. Trains still run through, although now they carry passengers instead of coal.

Public transport from Taipei takes approximately two hours. If possible, I suggest going on a weekday to avoid the crowds, because trains will be super packed. My parents are elderly, so what I did was rush in, book a spot, and then gesture for them to squeeze over the sea of people so they could sit. My mum finally appreciated all my previous efforts (she usually only complains): “You organise things well.”

If I had planned the itinerary, knowing my parents can’t walk around too much, I’d usually arrange for private transport to take them everywhere. I’d rather pay for the extra expenses because it’s difficult to ask a couple nearing 60 to stand in the train for two hours, when they aren’t very strong/healthy to begin with. But since this trip was organised by my cousin, we had no say in where/how to get to places.

See, mum, now you know 😛

Switching trains at a station.

We finally arrived at Shifen Station. Look at the crowd!

Nearby is the Shifen Old Streets; quaint little shophouses selling souvenirs and food. They’re gimmicky but charming all the same.

Resident mimings at a storefront. Them Taiwanese sure know how to use cute animals to market their items; be it cute dogs or fluffy cats. 

As I said earlier, the track runs straight through the center of town. When there are no trains, visitors can simply walk onto them or cross over to the other side. There are people at the side who will blow a whistle whenever a train passes (usually every half hour or so) so visitors can make way.

Shifen is also known to be a place where you can release Kongming (Sky) Lanterns, owing to its rural location (no air traffic around!). There were many South Korean and Japanese tourists milling about, writing their wishes with large calligraphy brushes before releasing the lanterns into the air.

Our group got one too. I think I’m not supposed to spoil the wish by telling you about it; let’s see if it comes true. 😛

An obese doggo. It looked more pig than dog; probably has too much to eat from kind strangers.

Got some soft and fluffy egg puffs as a snack. 

Bamboo strips with well wishes written over them, hanging prettily from a string.

Next, we trekked about 20minutes uphill to the Shifen Waterfall; the broadest waterfall in Taiwan. The walk isn’t too tough, but me being unfit, was a little winded by the time we got to the bridge.

Crossing the bridge over part of the Keelung River.

Calm and tranquil Keelung River. The water was a beautiful jade-green colour, lined with lush vegetation on both sides.

The river abruptly comes to drop – the line is so clean it looks like it was carved by something – cascading about 20ms below. It measures 40m across.

Beautiful scenery. Hike was worth it! 

More obese doggos at the local shop. This was rather unfriendly though; growled at me when I got close.

Geese by the river. Apparently geese make great guard dogs. At least, according to anyone who has ever been pecked by a goose.

Another miming. The cats here are rather slim; it’s just the doggos that look like pigs.

Walked back to Old Streets and the station, where we waited for a train that would take us back to Taipei.

FB-cover photo? 🙂

GETTING THERE 

From Taipei Main Station, take the train to Ruifang station (an hour). Alight at Ruifang, head on to the opposite platform and take another train to Shifen (30minutes).

Ximending – Taipei’s Busiest Shopping District

Hey guys! Still blogging about my trip last month to Taiwan – there’s lots of things to see and do here. After a long day of travelling and sightseeing in Jiufen, we were pooped – but one does not travel and not try to get in as much visiting as possible! Despite our tired and sore muscles, we dragged ourselves to the shopping district of Ximending later that evening. Good thing it was very near to our hotel 🙂

Ximending is like the Times Square of Taipei; an elaborate maze of neon signs and shops selling every article imaginable – clothing, phone/tablet accessories, electronics, cosmetics, food.. you name it, they got it. There are also cinemas, spas, massage parlours and quaint little cafes catering to tourists. On a weekend, this pedestrian-only zone is a vast sea of humans (sometimes walking dogs or toting small ones in their bags). The Taiwanese have a love affair with pet dogs.. as we shall soon see when we stopped by a place for dinner.

I am very much a cat person, but I like dogs as well so the sight of this floofy Golden Retriever at a storefront immediately compelled me. The shop is called Ah Mao (literally fluffy /furry) Risotto Restaurant. 

The inside was cosy (albeit a little stuffy) and cheerful, with murals of cute animals decorating the walls. There were also loads of Golden retriever pix, presumably of Ah Mao. Not sure if original dog, as I noticed later there were two dogs.

Ngaw that face.

Just looking at that happy smile makes you happy too, no?

The only thing sold there is risotto. They offer chicken, seafood and vegetarian options. I opted for the pork one which came with an onion-y/tomato-like base and a slice of garlic bread. Bread could have been crispier (it was kinda soggy) but the rice was warm and satisfying.

AH MAO RISOTTO RESTAURANT

Wucang St, Sec 2,  武昌街2段48之1號 Taipei, Taiwan
+886 2 2388 8098

More exploring…

A movie theatre showing an erotic film? Curse my inability to read Chinese characters, haha. 

There was a huge crowd milling about one of the intersections, and we decided to be nosy as well. There were several street performers putting up shows. This black dude surprised everyone by speaking impeccable Mandarin (again, putting me to shame :P) and did some amazing stunts involving a tennis racket and him contorting his body through it. Hm.

His boyfriend/girlfriend must be one happy camper. 😀

I walked up and down the food street trying to locate this, but couldn’t find it. 😦

GETTING THERE 

Ximending is the entire area around the subway station. Just alight at Ximen station (Green line). It’s rather dead in the daytime but night is another story 😀

Quanji Temple, Jiufen, Taiwan

While visiting the historic gold mining town of Jiufen in Taiwan, the Old Quarters aren’t the only thing worth checking out. Just a short bus ride away is the gold museum which chronicles the town’s rich mining history, and nearby is the Quanji Temple, accessible on foot. Be careful of the local wildlife though:

The 20 minute walk is quite scenic, with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and the coastline.

The temple is home to the largest statue of Guan Gong, the Taoist god of War/Justice, which sits atop the building and can be seen from miles away. The copper statue weighs some 25 tonnes!

Typical Chinese temple architecture – arching roofs topped with phoenixes and dragons, cloud motifs, lots of red.

A separate gazebo area.

Stone murals depicting different scenes of Guan Gong / Guan Di (literally ‘Lord Guan’) – as a scholar, as a brave general, etc.

Taoist gods are usually real life figures who have been deified (is that a word?) ie worshipped as deities, the way Saints are in Catholicism. Guan Yu was an actual historical figure, a general in the early Han dynasty who was respected for his loyalty and sense of justice. As with myths and legends, his conquests were fictionalised over time, especially in the Chinese epic Romance of the Three Kingdoms. He is often portrayed with a long beard and a red face, wielding a giant glaive.

Trivia: Chinese businessmen often have a statue of Guan Yu installed on their premises. The policemen in HK also pray to Guan Gong. Know who else prays to him? The triads. Interesting.

Inside the temple is a small open air courtyard with a dragon fountain.

The small shrine inside with Guan Gong’s statue, surrounded by an elaborate gold tapestry and wooden altar. We offered up some joss sticks for prayers.

 

View from the upper floor. Colourful motifs and decor !

While waiting for the bus back we met this sassy little girl and her doggo. I felt like it was a good glimpse into the life of everyday residents here, so I took a shot. 🙂 

Had a great time at Jiufen; I think it’s a highly recommended spot to visit while in Taiwan so remember to put it on your list!

Jiufen, Taiwan – The Town that Inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away

Another day in Taipei, Taiwan! We allocated a whole day to spend at Jiufen, a decommissioned gold mining mountain town originally built by the Japanese, popular for its historical alleyways and Japanese-influenced architecture. I was especially excited to explore the place after finding out that it was the inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away anime, which I loved watching as a child.

To get there, we had to take a shuttle bus from Ximen, which leaves in the morning and returns in the evening. The ride takes approximately 1 hour. We got lost looking for the bus stop, but managed to catch it in time.

There’s usually a long line.

Jiufen sits on the mountainside looking out to the coast, so we got scenic views while we were going up its narrow, winding roads.

The bus stops right at the entrance to Jiufen’s ‘Old Streets’, a narrow maze of claustrophobic alleyways lined with shops. The uneven cobbled paths branch out in various directions, often with stairs leading down or up unexpectedly, some even passing through stores and archways. This haphazard quality gives it a quaint charm, although the paths can get a little confusing.

Food is prominently displayed at store fronts while cooks prepare them fresh for customers, smells wafting into the cold winter air. Colourful lanterns and awnings create a canopy, allowing sunshine to filter down. There are teahouses and boutique hotels, shops selling souvenirs, Chinese herbs, snacks and all sorts of paraphernalia.

Resto staff preparing a batch of fishballs and tofu stuffed with fish paste.

Mini opera dolls depicting figures from popular plays, such as the monk Xuanzang and his disciples from Journey to the West, Hell Gods and more.

Giant vats bubbling with fishballs, meatballs, squid balls, etc.

Dozens of tea eggs stewing in a cauldron.

Malt candy in various flavours.

Dogs at store fronts are a thing here. Ups the cute factor.

A museum of scary masks.

still from Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. See the resemblance?

One of the prettiest structures here is the Grand Teahouse, which looks like the setting for an olden day film. There are red lanterns hanging at intervals, green terraces overhanging with plants, and bright yellow windows framing a wooden structure. The view is said to be especially beautiful at night (unfortunately, couldn’t stay that long :/)

View from a terrace into the valley below and the sea beyond.

Small temple built into the mountain side.

Hungry from all that exploring, we popped into a random restaurant for lunch, enticed by the glossy yellow chickens hanging on the racks.

And a huge wok filled with young bamboo shoots and fatty pork, swimming in a light orange broth.

Also steamed Shanghai-nese soup dumplings. 

Being a tourist place, food prices can be steep. I opted for a minced pork rice.

And pork balls. 

We spent a few more hours taking in the sights, before hopping back on to the bus downhill for our next stop: the gold museum.

A helpful guide on getting to Jiufen from Taipei City here

 

 

Eating Stinky Tofu (and a bunch of other stuff) @ Raohe Night Market, Taipei

 

Taiwanese people love to eat, and they love to eat at night. So what do you get? Dozens of night markets peddling all sorts of goodies until the wee hours of the morning. These are very much like our Malaysian pasar malam, occupying streets and sidewalks that are otherwise normal thoroughfares during the day. You’d have read about my visit to Fengjia Night Market, the largest of its kind in Taichung City, in a previous blog post (link here)

In Taipei, there are also loads of spots to check out, from the ever popular Shih Lin Night Market to the Keelung Temple Night Market, each with their own specialties. For this trip, we were headed to Raohe Night Market in Songshan district.

Popped into a pharmacy and saw this – took me awhile to figure out that they were face masks lol.

Just a short walk from the Songshan subway station, we came to the street which was bustling with activity, sights and smells. One of the oldest night markets in Taiwan, it measures 600m from start to end, with Ciyou temple (built in the Chinese Qing Dynasty) at its northern entrance.

Food isn’t the only thing you’ll find – there are stalls selling cheap electronic goods, gadgets, phone accessories, clothing, souvenirs, decorations, and more.

Food displays to entice customers. What with the close quarters, food being placed out in the open and people milling about, it’s not exactly hygienic…but I guess that’s part of eating at a night market. 😀 It’s fascinating to see snacks being grilled on an open fire and served up piping hot on the spot.

The ubiquitous Taiwanese sweet sausage. I tried something called ‘Dachang bao Xiaochang’ or Small Sausage wrapped in Big Sausage (literal translation lol), which is a Taiwanese favourite consisting glutinous rice stuffed into sausage casing. Like a giant sausage/rice dumpling.

Fried shrimp looked good so I got some too…but they lied. Tasteless.

Colourful candy on sticks and in jars.

Assorted braised goodies. Braising in dark sauce (lou) is like a thing in Taiwan.

And finally… the famous (or infamous?) stinky tofu. I’ve tried it once (read on my first experience here), and I was curious as to how different it would be in Taiwan, which is like, the home to stinky tofu lol. Despite its awful smell, it has a weird addictive quality. As my bro puts it, the more you eat it, the more pleasant you find it. Which is true tbh.

We got one from a stall (you can smell it from a mile away), which was deep fried and served with pickled vegetables, a dash of chilli oil and seasoning. Fluffy and crispy on the outside, the tofu was soft and spongy on the inside, with a distinct, fermented taste. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I’m actually missing its taste as I write this, haha!

Pretty lantern displays outside the market.

Getting to Raohe Night Market is easy; just hop on to the Green line and alight at Songshan station.

Visiting Taiwan’s Tallest Tower – Taipei 101

 

When mentioning modern Taipei, one building comes to mind. Looming over the city skyline, the iconic Taipei 101 in Xinyi District stands at 509m, with 101 floors, and is visible from miles and miles around. It used to be the tallest building in the world from 2004 until the Burj Khalifa opened in 2009. Now it holds eighth place.

Exiting from the subway, we craned our necks upwards and felt really tiny against the massive monolith. From our vantage point, It seemed to tower straight to the heavens…

Some interesting facts:

  • Designed to be both resistant and flexible, the building can withstand typhoon winds up to 60m/sec and strong earthquakes, making it one of the most structurally stable buildings ever constructed.
  • It is only 660ft from a major fault line.
  • Its foundation is reinforced by piles driven 80m into the ground.

Other than gawk and take pictures, there is also a shopping mall to explore at the base of the tower. Had a quick lunch at the food court with a bowl of fluffy white rice topped with various braised and waxed meats.

Getting There

Take the subway to Taipei 101/World Trade Center on the Red Line (Xinyi- Tamsui). The station exits directly at the base of the building.

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, Taipei, Taiwan

Possibly one of the most recognisable landmarks/tourist attractions in Taipei is the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, dedicated to the former President of the Republic of China and whom many associate with the founding of modern Taiwan. So of course we couldn’t miss it while we were exploring the city! But first, a ride on the local subway…

Like in many major cities around the world, you purchase a subway card which can be topped up. London has the Oyster Card, Hong Kong uses the Octopus (what’s with all the seafood?), LA has TAP… and Taipei has its EasyCard. Self-reload stations are super convenient and easy to use – you simply place your card, put in the money, and it’ll top it up automatically. No small change? Don’t fret. There are staff-manned kiosks that will help you exchange your note to smaller ones.

Taipei’s subway system is divided into several lines, identified by colour. Be sure to get a map if you’re planning to use the LRT, coz it’s really quite useful and takes you to most attractions directly. For Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, we hopped onto the green line from Ximending and alighted two stops later.

If you’re unfamiliar with Taiwan’s history, this is a good place to get started. As some of you may know, Taiwan doesn’t have a very good relationship with China, since the latter considers Taiwan as part of China, while Taiwan wants to be recognised as a sovereign nation. This split can be traced back to the Chinese Qing dynasty, which annexed the island to Japanese rule in 1895. After the fall of the Qing and Japanese surrender came two groups fighting for control: the Communist Party of China, led by Mao Zedong, and the Chinese Nationalists (Kuomintang/ ROC), led by Chiang Kai Shek. In fact, Chiang was a popular choice, and before the infamous portrait of Mao was hung at Tiananmen Square, it was Chiang’s portrait in his place.

In-fighting resulted in the Chinese Civil War, and the ROC fled to Taiwan, where they continued to claim to be the legitimate government of China. They represented China at the UN until 1971,  until this claim was squashed when the People’s Republic of China (PRC) assumed China’s seat, bastardizing Taiwan’s claim.

Chiang Kai Shek served as the leader of the Kuomintang, and effectively ROC, from 1928 and 1975. Modern views are a mixed bag – some see him as a national hero who led the victorious Northern Expedition to subdue Chinese warlords (hence his popularity in China before) and achieving Chinese unification, while others see him as a champion of anti-communism. Less popular views of him come mainly from his political authoritarianism, charges of graft and ruling over a period of imposed martial law… which did not make him very different from the communist regime he was so against.

The memorial, a large white and blue building made from concrete and marble, is topped with a deep blue pagoda-like roof and smooth, squarish sides. There are 89 steps leading up to the hall, representing Chiang’s age when he died in 1975. The hall faces a large square, flanked on the sides by the National Theatre and the National Concert Hall.

 

The Front gate shares the same colour scheme and design.

The National Concert Hall. 

View of the square.

Inside is a bronze statue of Chiang Kai Shek, with a Taiwan flag on each side. We were just in time for the changing of the guards! (hourly)

The change was slow, deliberate and precise. It took a good 10 minutes. Aside from marching, they also did some gestures with their gun-bayonets (?) and military salutations.

Downstairs is a museum dedicated to CKS, with various memorabilia such as paintings, letters, official documents, and even the car he used to ride in to functions/events.

Sedan chairs used to carry Chiang while on visits to villages.

Replica of the President’s office.

I like how they have water stations at tourist attractions around Taiwan! 🙂

Passing by a small but nicely kept park while on our way back to the train station.

CKS Memorial Hall is one of those places you must go to to experience a slice of Taiwan’s culture and history. Entrance is free.

CHIANG KAI SHEK MEMORIAL HALL 

No. 21, Zhongshan S Rd, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan 100

Opening hours: 9AM-6PM