…Or, how I ate my way through Taipei in five days and lived to tell the tale. (Part 1 of several parts)
This was a company-sponsored bonding trip that happened mid-2013. Yes, a bit late to be posting it now more than a year later, but you know how it is — sometimes things just pile up! So Taiwan. Had to admit, it’s not on my travel bucket list (I don’t really have an actual list; but when pressed on where to go, I can name a few places) — in fact, it’s not even top of mind of places that I would consider visiting. Blame a friend’s comments more than a decade or so ago when she was on a business trip to Taipei and had a miserable time of it because ordinary people didn’t speak English and there were not enough signages in English to make your way around on your own. But since then, had heard great things about Taipei and Taiwan in general, so when the office went for a trip there, I was excited. Who wouldn’t be, when it was practically a free trip to go gallivanting?
First Day: Getting to know you, Taipei
As soon as we checked in to our hotel and dumped our bags in our rooms, we went off exploring. The hotel was located in the Ximending area, which I was told was one of Taipei’s commercial areas — with lots of shops and of course, food carts, little cafes, hole-in-the-wall places where one can get any kind of Taiwanese street snacks imaginable, which you eat, streetside basically. First stop, get some delicious fried chicken nuggets and mee sua (flour noodles). Our gustatory adventure was starting.
(Top two photos) Crossroads at the Ximending area; (middle row) a leather goods shop, queueing up for fried chicken, gray and colorful — practically the words to describe the surroundings for the whole trip; (bottom row) queueing up for mee sua, nothing beats a bowl of mee sua on a rainy day… except maybe sharing it with your girlfriend or boyfriend
When you’re traveling, there’s always a tendency to make sweeping observations about a place or the people based on what you observed. Professional travel writers caution against this because you are, after all, an outsider looking in, soaking up a place for a temporary period. One doesn’t get to know a place until one has lived in it and experienced it for a while, I think. So when I do a travel post, I try not to make sweeping generalizations about a place. Though in Taipei, I think it is safe to say that it’s ambulatory culture has given rise to a travel experience that is at once delightful and interesting. All over the place, there are little shops, carts, vendors selling food items all designed to be eaten while walking — in bite-sized pieces that can be consumed from a packet, a stick or little bowls as you stand on the sidewalk. It’s a very informal and fun way to dine.
The Red House
Right near Ximen MRT station is an imposing octagonal brick structure known as The Red House. Once Taiwan’s first market, it is now a cultural and artistic center housing little boutiques, a movie theater, a pub and cafe and various other interesting establishments. For the artistically inclined as well as for those who want to shop at curated boutiques, this is an interesting place to visit. The original structure was designed by Kondo Juro, a Taiwanese architect who was educated in the West. His design for what was once the market, was based on an octagonal and cruciform-shaped plan, which has been maintained till the present. In 2007, The Red House came under the jurisdiction of the Department of Cultural Affairs, which them commissioned the Taipei Culture Foundation to manage the place. The result is a vibrant environment of arty and fashionable shops and an engaging nightspot. We managed to tour part of the facility, along with the boutiques (but of course!) but did not manage to see the movie theater or how the area would be transformed at night.
Interesting finds at The Red House: (Top row) Old-style mural; the cafe; “The Cradle of Cultural Creative Dreams” is the picturesque name of this part of The Red House; (second row) the first two photos are from a fashion exhibit that was in the main lobby, the third is the mannequin in front of a shop; (third row) cute mascots at the entrance of several boutiques; I saw a lot of these during the trip, which I had assumed were a way for shop owners to advertise their establishments; (fourth – sixth rows) different goods on display. Oh, if only I had lots of cash then to shop! (Tip #1: if you’re going to Taipei, bring shopping money!)
When I started writing this post, I had thought that I would be able to cram everything into one post. But there were just so many highlights to this trip, that I couldn’t write it all at one go. So I decided to do it in parts. This is Part 1. Part 2, on Taipei’s famous night markets, coming soonest!
Addresses and such:
The Red House
No. 10 Chendu Road, Wanhua District, Taipei City 108, Taiwan, R.O.C.
Operating hours: Sun – Thur, 11am – 9.30pm; Fri – Sat, 11am – 10pm (closed on Mondays)