Captivating the world with the best of the best
By: Erika Grace R. Lapitan
Headed home after a long day of work, I was riding a public jeepney when I heard two students talking about what country they would spend a weekend in, given the chance and the money. One said she would spend it in London to visit the Buckingham Palace, while the other said it would be in New York to shop at Gucci, Chanel and Louis Vuitton.
Overhearing their conversation, I can’t help but answer their question in my head. If I were given the chance and money, I would rather go to a nearby country and spend a day or two discovering its sceneries.
One of the places I would visit for a weekend off is Taiwan in China. The place once known as Formosa may not have the palaces of London or the branded shops of New York, but the Island still has its own treasures to be proud of.
Full of the hustle and bustle from different transport systems, Taipei’s main railway station is always the starting point for tourists who want to see the different attractions of the Island. Located in the Zhongzheng district, the station was built back in 1989 to replace the old and temporary station built during the Japanese occupation. Services inside the station include the Taiwan Railway Administration, where passengers can board a train to travel to the eastern and western parts of the island. The Taipei Metro and the Taiwan High Speed Rail also transports tourists to different attractions of the city. You can likewise find the Taipei Bus Station in the building.
There are also shops and food courts, as well as an underground mall, luggage and locker spaces, and parking lots for the travellers’ convenience.
Some walking distance from the station is the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Built in honor of the former president of the Republic of China, the building is probably one of Taiwan’s most popular landmarks because of its unique and remarkable features.
The exterior boasts of an octagonal roof made of blue glazed tiles, white marble walls identical to the pyramids of Egypt, and a garden planted with red flowers. The three colors of blue, white, and red depict the flag of the Republic of China, as well as the spirit of freedom, equality, and brotherhood. You enter the main hall by you going up 88 steps, equivalent to the age of Chiang when he died. As you go past the double doors of the hall, one can immediately see a large bronze statue of Chiang Kai-shek wearing a traditional Chinese dress. On the background, a Chinese inscription of the words Ethics, Democracy and Science are seen, along with the phrases “The purpose of life is to improve the general life of humanity” and “The meaning of life is to create and sustain subsequent lives in the universe” on both side walls. The webbed ceiling, on the other hand, is adorned with the symbol of the Kuomintang (Chinese National People’s Party). What make the place more interesting are the historical accounts found in the library, museum, and exhibits that document the life and works of Chiang Kai-shek. You can also catch the hourly changing of the guards, which puts a quirky spin to the destination.
Another memorial hall worth visiting is the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, built to commemorate the contributions of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the founding father of the Republic of China.
Hosting different educational tours and cultural events, the memorial hall’s prevailing aspects are the main hall where a statue of Sun Yat Sen stands, a performance hall for exhibits, a vast library containing over 300,000 books, the lecture hall, and the theater. Outside the main building, visitors can see the surrounding gardens, then head to Lake Cui or the Emerald Pond.
Similar to the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, the hourly changing of the guards is also an attraction.
A Stage worth Seeing
After visiting the memorial halls of the prominent presidents of Taiwan, don’t miss the chance to see a world-class performance in the twin performing arts venue of the National Concert Hall and Theater located at the Liberty Square in Zhongzheng district.
Completed in 1987, the structure was designed in a traditional Chinese palace style, complete with the conventional yellow tiled roofs and red pillars. Sometimes called as the National Chiang Kai-shek Cultural Center, the venues have hosted a variety of local and international acts such as the great cello player Yo Yo Ma and the American organist John Walker. They are also considered as two of the first modern performing arts founded in Asia.
Aside from the watching different stage productions, visitors can also spend time roaming around the garden outside the building. There are also guided tours in the cultural galleries and libraries for tourists who want to learn about the story of performing arts in Taipei.
Another edifice that holds rich historical accounts of Taiwan and mainland China is the National Palace Museum. Located in the Shilin district of Taipei, the museum shares its antiquity with the Palace Museum found in the Forbidden City of Beijing.
Designed by Huang Baoyu, it was completed in the early and middle decades of the 20th century, but due to inadequate space for showcasing more artifacts, the museum underwent a series of expansions from 1967, 1970, 1984 and 1996. Today, it holds more than 696, 000 pieces of significant Chinese artifacts and artworks. It is also hailed as one of the largest national museums of the world.
Giving visitors an overview of the Qing and Ming dynasty, the first floor holds special exhibits, religious sculptures, galleries, and rare books as well as furniture used during the said dynasties. The next floor showcases paintings, Chinese ceramics, and calligraphies. Interactive videos guide tourists through the displays.
The third floor features weapons, ritual vessels, and a jade collection of teapots, jewelry, and the famous jade cabbage. Lastly, the fourth floor houses the Sanxitang Teahouse, which offers delicious dim sum and teas.
Outside the building, Zhishan Garden and Shuangxi Park marvels tourists with its numerous ponds, waterworks, and wooden Chinese Pavilions. The two-story residence of Chang Dai-chien, a popular Chinese painter, can also be found near the National Palace Museum.
Straying away from the capital city of the Island, one can see great destinations in the Nantou County. The second largest county, as well as the only landlocked area in Taiwan, Nantou is considered as the heart of the island.
Attractions found in the area include the Sun Moon Lake surrounding Lalu Island. The lake together with the island gives one a feeling of serenity and peace, as well as the opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Another is the Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village, an amusement park divided into three parts: the European Garden, Aboriginal Village Park, and the Amusement Isle. The Amusement Isle holds the Mayan Adventure (a suspended roller coaster) UFO Adventures (a free-fall ride at 280 feet) and the Gold Mine Exploration (a log flume ride with a 50-foot final drop). The European Garden holds a gothic clock tower, roman fountain, miniature train, and the Ritz Palace. The Aboriginal Village Park is an outdoor museum above the Amusement Isle. This represents the different tribal community of Taiwan. A Buddhist monastery called Chung Tai Chan Monastery can also be visited in the county.
101 for a Reason
Skyscrapers have been a big trend in cities around the world that it comes as no surprise that Taiwan has its own skyscraper to brag about. Formerly known as the Taipei World Financial Center, Taipei 101 has truly penetrated the world of skyscrapers with its height of 508 meters.
Surpassed by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa and preceded by Malaysia’s Petronas Towers, the structure might not be known today as the world’s tallest building, but it is now recognized as the world’s tallest “green” building for its eco-friendly features. Containing exactly 101 floors above ground, the structure is said to withstand typhoon winds and earthquake tremors through the tuned mass damper suspended from the 92nd to the 87th floor.
Aside from having office floors, the tower includes shopping malls, restaurants, communication floors, a conference center, and a Private VIP Club on the very top. Indoor and outdoor observatories on the 85th floor to 89th are also open for visitors to have a stunning view of the entire city and the surrounding waters.
No Matter What
Chances and opportunities knock only once, but it doesn’t mean that you have to go far just to appreciate and experience an adventure beyond the call of daily life. Taiwan may not be the top destination for some, but it can still take one’s breath away.
So let me ask you the same question: If you were given the chance and the money, what country would you spend a weekend off? Would it also be in Taiwan? Or is it some country you’ve always dreamt of? No matter where it is, always remember to cherish the moment and have fun.