Forget losing weight or reading more, the one thing you should do in 2018 is visit Taiwan’s capital city. Partly because it’s an awesome place, but mostly because it’s where I’ll be living soon.
Last September I decided to do a reconnaissance mission to Taipei to see if I would enjoy living there. I’ve worked in Japan for almost three years but recently I started to miss the street food and pace of life I had when I was in Thailand. And of course I’d love to go back to Chiang Mai, but I know that I’d miss the technology and convenience of Japan. Word from colleagues and nomadic friends was that Taiwan would strike just the right balance for me.
After visiting, I decided they were right. Here’s a list of things that persuaded me to move there and therefore should persuade you to visit me.
I guarantee it’s a better investment than a gym membership you’ll never use.
1) Explore Ximending
The description of my Airbnb misspelled Ximen as 'Simon', so of course I had to stay there. Also because I’d heard it was the fashionable, subculture-y, street food-y area of the city where the cool young people hang out. Expect graffiti, lots of coffee shops and a street full of cinemas. Plus endless shopping.
It’s basically like a Chinese version of Tokyo’s Shibuya or Shinjuku. By that I mean slightly less Uniqlo, lots more bubble tea and chicken feet.
What more could you want?
2) Eat beef noodle Soup
There’s no shortage of awesome street food in Taipei but the one thing that stood out for me was beef noodle soup.
Succulent chunks of beef - not the anemic slices of meat you might get in most noodle soups - plus firm, freshly made noodles in a hearty broth. Served at a plastic table you’ll be sharing with random natives.
Here’s a very cool place to eat it recommended by a genuine Taiwanese person:
Search for 老王記桃源街牛肉麵 on Google Maps. As you approach, it’s this place:
Try it and thank me.
3) Marvel at the jade cabbage
The National Palace Museum in Taipei houses almost 700,000 Chinese artifacts, from traditional pottery to calligraphy. The highlight for me though was the jade cabbage. A piece of green and white jadeite, carved into the shape of a leafy green vegetable with a locust on it.
You might have to fight off the hordes of Chinese tourists to get a good look at it, but seriously, as cabbages go, this one is pretty badass. And apparently it’s an allegory for female virtue. So there’s that.
Does your local museum have cabbages made of jade? No, that’s what I thought.
4) Eat the best steamed dumplings in the world
That's probably dumpling hyperbole, but whatever. These are good and sort of famous.
I tried a lot of different food in Taipei, including the usual pork buns (delicious) and stinky tofu (disgusting), from weird blood cake on a stick when I was feeling adventurous, all the way to Pizza Hut when my stomach was angry. Which I'm sure had nothing to do with the blood cake.
A highlight was going to the original branch of the famous dumpling restaurant Din Tai Fung. Although it’s worldwide now, the best xiaolongbao (steamed dumplings) are reportedly still here.
If you’re not sure how to eat xiaolongbao in the proper way, they also have special instructions.
I'm sure you'd manage to get one in your mouth without the diagram, but they are a bit slippery, so it's nice to know you're doing it right.
5) Visit Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
Of all the sightseeing spots I hit, Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is the one I recommend. It’s an impressive building, an interesting history lesson, and a bit of a spectacle if you catch the changing of the guard.
To explain the significance of the hall in the most flippant way possible, here’s my brief and hopefully not too offensive history of Taiwan:
Pre 1600: Tribes frolicked around the island
Around 1600: The Spanish, Dutch and Chinese turn up and fight over gold
1885: The Chinese come out on top and the Qing Empire declares Taiwan to be China’s 22nd province
1895: Ancestors of my Japanese students defeat the Chinese and Taiwan becomes a Japanese colony
1945: After WW2 goes tits up for the Japanese (to put it mildly), Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese Nationalist Party, the ruling party of the Republic of China government, claims Taiwan back again
1949: In China, the Chinese Communists defeat Chiang Kai-shek’s regime, forcing them to retreat to Taiwan and use it as a base to fight back against the mainland
1950: Looking to further prevent the spread of communism, the US patrol the Taiwan Strait, preventing an invasion and then giving aid, which modernizes the economy in Taiwan
1975: After Chiang Kai-shek dies, his son Chiang Ching-kuo pushes Taiwan through rapid political and economic transformation, although also continuing a policy of “no contact, no negotiation, no compromise” with the Chinese mainland. The strategy being that Taiwan’s success would highlight the shortcomings of the communist system and they’d recover the mainland. This is not to be confused with Caesar Milan’s policy of “no touch, no talk, no eye contact” in the Dog Whisperer, although I guess they are sort of similar
1987: After Chiang Ching-kuo’s death, the transition to democracy fully begins and people gradually start to view themselves as Taiwanese rather than Chinese
2000s: The situation stays tense but relations with Beijing gradually improve, allowing tourism and more economic exchange whilst maintaining the political status. Most people in Taiwan seem to prefer de facto independence and there is little push to unify with the mainland anymore. China is still pissed off
2017: Simon visits Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and has a very pleasant day. However, he wonders why exactly the hall celebrates liberty when Chiang Kai-shek seemed like a massive dictator. He decides to research Taiwanese history later on the internet and instead purchases a cucumber-flavoured fizzy drink from a vending machine, which comes in a Pikachu-patterned can.
This confuses him further.
6) Climb half way up Elephant Mountain
For a perfect view of Taipei and the famous 101 Building as seen in the cover image of this blog post, take a walk up Elephant Mountain, a hiking trail on the outskirts of the city. You don’t have to trek all the way up, just to the first platform where you’ll find some boulders to climb onto and admire the skyline. The name comes from the shape of the mountain rather than the wildlife, but it's a nice little hike and the sort of view that will make you want to come back.
So I guess my new year’s resolution is to finish climbing to the top. Who's coming with me?
Use Disqus or Facebook to leave a comment below and let me know when you're coming.