Article/Photos Cellist Chang Chenchieh
“If Keelung (基隆) is my spouse then Taipei is my favorite mistress.”
I was born in Keelung but chose to make Taipei my new home when I moved back to Taiwan from Vienna. Over the past 26 years, I have watched Taipei transform from a congested city with poor air quality to an orderly metropolis with convenient mass transit. As Taipei has grown into a hospitable place to live, it has fostered an energy that seemingly pervades every corner of the city.
A Lively Morning at National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall & Guangfu Market
Let’s begin this introduction to Taipei at National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. Each morning the grounds of the hall are filled with a boundless energy created by the tai chi practitioners, the dancers, and others doing exercise. The dynamic atmosphere is reminiscent of “Morning Mood," a composition from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite. After morning exercise, it’s time to explore the nearby Guangfu Market ( 光復市場), which shows why one of the best ways to learn about a city and the lifestyle of its residents is to visit a traditional market.
One of my favorite stalls is run by a vendor who refers to all male patrons as “classmate," and of course I’m no exception! He somehow picked up the ability to converse with market goers in Indonesian and Vietnamese, and he offers complimentary basil and sweet basil to customers. His infectious joy and obvious love of vegetables give me a positive start to each day. Next to the market, a vegetarian steamed bun shop with an extensive menu always has a long line of people, with many customers walking away with several boxes.
The Markets and Temples of Old Taipei
To experience old Taipei, head to the charming stalls of the recently renovated Yongle Market (永樂市場), near Dihua Street, and try a pair of classic dishes: chicken (pork) rolls (雞卷) and sailfish rice noodles (旗魚米粉). As I browse this market, the Strauss operetta Der Zigeunerbaron playing in my head perfectly fits the mood. Exploring the temples is also highly recommended. Head to Lungshan Temple (龍山寺), a busy Class II historical site that is near Herbal Lane (青草巷), a place best found by following your nose. The city’s other must-visit temple, Xingtian Temple (行天宮), banned the burning of incense last year, an environmentally friendly decision which I deeply respect. This rare type of incense-free prayer (the only exception to the rule being ceremonies to restore a soul which has been frightened away) is one of Taipei’s many special traits. Consider enhancing your temple visit by listening to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.
Satisfying the Senses
Taipei is well known as a culinary capital. Restaurants that I highly recommend include Yamato (大和), a popular Japaneserestaurant with excellent sushi at attractive prices, and San Want Hotel’s (神旺大飯店) Chao Ping Ji (潮品集), which offers Chaozhou-style dim sum, including shrimp rice noodle balls that are beloved by my daughter. Older diners love the authentic Zhejiang and Ningxia-style cuisine at Rong Rong Yuan Restaurant (榮榮園), and the French restaurant at The Landis Taipei (亞
都麗緻大酒店) features excellent service and food, underscoring the diversity of cuisine available in the city. Any trip to Taipei should include use of the popular YouBike bicycle sharing system, but choose your route carefully. I recommend Renai Road due to the shade of this leafy thoroughfare. At night, enjoy a concert at the National Concert Hall (國家音樂廳). The hall’s pipe organ, which is composed of over 4,000 pipes, is unique in the world for having an Asian-style exterior. The best way to experience the sound of this impressive instrument is from a rendition of Bach’s renowned Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.
The perfect antidote for exhaustion from such a busy day lies about half an hour outside the city, where you can relax the body and soul and wash away your troubles at the hot springs of Beitou or Yangmingshan. To further enhance the experience, listen to Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
While you should use your senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch to experience Taipei, it is even more important to open your heart to better understand and appreciate this city.