Sunday, December 31, 2006

This is life 20: Cultural Ballast 2 @ Forbidden City, Taipei

Taipei's another famous national museum which houses large amount of relics, antics and treasures orginally located in the Forbidden Palace in the capital city of Beijing.

This museum attracts a large number of tourists and from all over the world.

This musuem is located in the hilly areas of Taipei.

There are residencial areas dotting the opposite hills, probably the higher income earners of Taipei living away from the noisy city centre.

It is likely that the treasures housed in this musuem will be shipped back to their original location if the island and the mainland finally become one common official country.
In the meantime, the Taiwan flag seems to fly up high, and proudly.
Unfortunately, no photo taking is allowed in the musuem because those 8000 year old antiques will disintegrate with presence of the camera flash.

Only psuedo relics placed outside the museum can be taken for some cultural ballast over over-shopping, over-consumerism and over-gluttonary; to remind one's cultural roots and a moral counterbalance.

But it seems shopping and consumerism just never ends.


Friday, December 29, 2006

This is life 19: Taipei's Night 2, Night Market

Ningxia night market, one of several night markets in Taipei.

Upon entering this night market, Singaporeans will find themselves among the crowd of locals, and hardly anyone with the look of a tourist can be easily found here.

In other words, this place is really for the local Taiwanese, and free from the tourist trap, but a traveller's paradise. Within this long and narrow street, motorists are still able to travel through, which is of course perculiar to Singapore.

Within all this frenzy, food, mostly local food can be found. However, Japanese influenced Taiwan, even contains a sashimi counter. From rotten beancurd, to seafood, to dumplings. The closest resemblance any Singaporeans can think of, will be the food street in Chinatown of Singapore. However, the food street in Singapore is definetely a tourist trap, meaning that, no Singaporeans in their sane mind, will ever go down to that psuedo food street for dinner. Ningxia night market is really different and indeed an eye opener.

One of the treasures found in Ningxia market. Japanese pancake with red beans (NT10 each), overflowing red bean paste. With light, crisp outer layer, accompanying the wonderfully blended, generous amount red bean paste has got to be a gastronomic experience. It comes with yam and cheese as well. After tasting this, similar versions found in Singapore shopping centres can be now declared as utter rubbish.

A similar version can be found in Geyland Singapore.

Soya milk in Taipei. For better or worse, this soya milk is not really anything spectacular. After the taste of the Japanese pancake, the heart will probably need a rest from the shock and surprise induced.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

This is life 18: Cultural Ballast in Taipei

The exterior of the Taipei City Hall may seem peaceful. But images of the fights during the parliarmentary meetings had to come to mind.

Just across the city hall, visitors to Taipei can explore Dr. Sun's museum for some cultural ballast from consumerism, commericialization of the city centrel.

Travellers from Singapore can feel the aura of nationalism, democrary in this large, magnificent square with the red-blue Taiwanese flag.

This is the statue of Dr. Sun, who studied for reasons that might seem awkward to Singaporeans, that is, to save his own country.

Unfortunately, no photo taking is allowed in the museum itself, however, it is indeed good news that the entrance to the museum is absolutely free. There are numerous historical details about the lifelong achievements of Dr. Sun as well as a library.

Although the exterior may look traditionally Chinese or ancient, the interior has modern furnishings.

As well as modern neighbours.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

This is life 17: High Up in Taipei 101

The prelude to the highest point of the world, highest man-made structure it is. Before the journey up to the top of the world, there is a price of NT350(S$17.50) to pay and there is a long queue for it - a true reflection of the outside world.

Once tourists get into the lift, they will be transported up into the sky of 89th floor, travelling in the world's fastest elevator.

It takes approximately 40 seconds for the journey, according to the crystal screen. Of course, this screen ignores the time for loading and unloading of passengers and the queuing up time.

Once out of the lift, the view of the surrounding areas of Taipei can be enjoyed in a 360 degrees surround view. From rivers to the mountaineous ranges; from musuems to jammed traffic. To experience the cold air of the sky, it cost an additional price of NT100, otherwise the view can only be seen behind closed windows.

Just like being on top of the world, everything below seems so small, so insignificant. It could be pollution; or winter mist. The air up over here is much fresher.
But from the insignificant, this structure seems like a sore thumb, of no particular function, except an attempt to impress the world over. The second tallest building is probably one-tenth of its height.

Of potential target for the missiles across the Taiwan straits, the higher it is, the easier to aim it down accurately.

Taipei 101 shines even at night.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

This is life 16: Taipei's night 1

Shilin in Singapore will mean those franchise outlets in air-conditioned malls, selling psuedo-Taiwanaese food. After experiencing Shilin of Singapore; the pirated form, it is now time to embrace copyright laws, and purchase the original taste.

It is simply difficult to imagine that Shilin in Singapore can be transformed to a massive night bazaar over in Taipei. This night market, fortunately for Singaporeans, can be conveniently accessed by the train systems. Right before exiting the train station, the frenzy of the night, the chaos of the people can be felt.

There was a food market, selling mostly Taiwanese food. Unlike a Singapore hawker centre, they do not have a common area for stalls and seats. Each stall usually has their own seats and it makes eating more exciting because customers can move around the market to try different food. The place was packed, all filled with the heat, hot food and flashing neon lights. It gets the head rolling, the blood pumping and the gastric juices oozing.

It was like a random error when settling down for a stall just because they seemed to be much patronising crowd. The oyster omelette was quite pleasing as it was not too oily but the sauce coming with it was too foreign a taste. Rice with beef was interesting because the rice was chewy with fragrant sauce, but beef must be expensive in Taiwan; only a small scratch of beef came with it. The squid soup had a smell that was similar to that of the drain nearby and the squid came in huge chunks that required teeth of the jaws to slice through.

After sampling some unenlightened Taiwanese food, it was time for the most famous drinks of all, the bubble tea. This was the moment for redeeming Taiwan's reputation. The drinks were not too sweet, superb in taste, had a really wide variety, stall owners were still quite polite despite all the frenziness, the pearls were of the right texture and were defined, the cup was really huge, probably 700ml, and price very reasonable (NT20-35; S$1-S$1.80).

The whole market covered a large area, spanning across streets, stretching for rows of shops. People filled every corner, jammed the stalls, squeezed through each other. If anything in Singapore resembles such a situation, it will probably have to be Chinatown during the Chinese New Year. Luckily, for Singaporeans, they only experience such a situation for a few weeks of the year. In Taipei, such circumstance is likely to be a permanent sight every day of the year, including even Mondays and deep into the night.

The stalls sell food, fashion, pets and almost anything. Temperatures then was air-conditioned temperatures of around 21 centigrade. Imagine walking in the open spaces, with air-conditioned switched on, it really makes shopping more efficient. With such efficiency, the famous chicken cutlet was spotted. It attracted crowds in Shilin, Singapore and also attracted crowds in Shilin, Taipei. However, the difference was that the chicken cutlet in Taipei, came in whole big pieces, and sometimes with bones. Althought this is much inconvenience, the most important difference was that the taste in the original Shilin was really great. There was not much oil to be felt and once a bite started, it just continues. It is really very unlike that of Shilin, Singapore, where after just the first taste, the oiliness deters any further eating. The 'no-cutting' policy is likely to maintain the crispiness of the chicken and prevent it from turning into soggy pieces of oily slabs of meat. Here in Shilin, Taipei, chicken cutlet, for a fee of NT45, can be enjoyed as real food.


Friday, December 15, 2006

This is life 15: Taipei by Train

Taipei has a fairly efficient transport system, including the train system around Taipei. Prices are comparable to Singapore, from NT20 to NT55 (S$1.00 to S$2.75) for single trip tickets.

Singapore's newspapers recently published on how spoilt Singaporeans are because they keep complaining about overcrowded trains. The newspapers selectively chose crowded cities like New York and Tokyo and deliberately excludes Taipei. The reason: Taipei's trains are efficient and come within 3 minutes in most cases and seldom has the problem of overcrowding.

Of course, it is only natural to think the SMRT is the number in the world. The trains in Taipei have fire extinguishes lying by the door, unlike Singapore, which is kept neatly in a compartment; organised and manageable. The stations are relatively old; without the polished walls that Singapore has. The trains does not instruct passengers on how to deal with terrorist attacks or to report when discovering any suspicious articles. Neither do they have securities who would check passengers' bags. So, taking the trains have an increased risk of being attacked by a bomb.

Ironically, everyone in Taipei keeps to the right when taking the escalators and allow spaces on the left for the others. And everyone queues while waiting for the arrival of the trains. When the train arrives, passengers get to alight first, followed by boarding passengers. All these orderliness provide an interesting contrast, which is quite rare in Singapore.
They have much less seats in their cabins and from observations, it is likely that Taiwanese give up their seats more willingly.

The central heart for the Taipei train system.

For Singaporeans, it will be quite a wonder why the Taiwanese build a train station specially to cater to one particular hospital.

Shilin, the number one place to be.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

This is life 14: Introduction to Taipei

It will be extremely mind-boggling to realise that ten-thousand missiles are aiming towards the island of Taiwan, and the Taiwan lies in the earthquake and typhoon belt.

It was a hilarious welcome to Taoyuan airport with this funky advertisement in pink. Are Taiwanese friendly or freaky?

With a contrasting change, the queues for the immigration counter were not at all a welcoming sight. Singapore's efficiency was to be nostalgic.

For the economy class passengers, taking the cheaper mode of transport, the airport shuttle, will be an ideal way of getting into the city centre. A bus ride cost NT125 (S$6), brings passengers to the Taipei Train station. The taxi, while brings passengers directly to the destination, cost a staggering ten times the amount.


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