Remembering Taipei

Location | New York City

About 4-5 years ago, I spent 2 summers in Taiwan. In 2004, I lived on a mountain near the Qizhang (七張) MRT stop (Mass Rapid Transit) station on the main green line going through Taipei. Everyday I would go outside and wait for a van that would take me down winding roads down near the subway station so I could go to class. Oh right, I forgot to mention that I had gone to Taiwan to spend 4 months studying Mandarin Chinese. I hate to admit it, but I really did not learn much… and I totally regret it.

In 2005, I got an internship with the Taiwan Tech Trek program. They sent me to work for 5 weeks at the National Palace Museum in Taipei. During the program I lived in Danshui, near the northwest coast of Taiwan. If you know the geography of Taipei, I essentially lived on opposite ends of the city.

Taipei is such a mishmash of things. In 2005 I wrote an “award-winning” essay [note: when I saw “award-winning” it means I won an award for it, but it’s nothing special, it was for my internship program] about the contrasts between old and new Taipei. You could find a beautiful modern bridge, but underneath the bridge you’d find a fisherman in an old rickety boat. These contrasts can be found all over Taipei (and the rest of Taiwan for that matter).

Taipei is a tricky city to describe because it’s so different depending on what parts of the city you visit. For instance, if you’re visiting Danshui (where I once lived), you’ll get a tourist’s paradise. Cute little shops selling trinkets, Taiwan foods, restaurant stalls, and a smelly fisherman’s wharf. In Shilin, you get the largest night market in the city, where you have vendors (illegally) selling items in the street, store after store with goods, and food everywhere. For first time visitors to Taipei, it’s good to note that Shilin Night Market isn’t actually located at the Shilin Station, it’s located at the Chientan Station.

We made friends with this guy, he's awesome!

We made friends with this guy, he's awesome!

Or if you go to the Taipei 101 area, you get a posh shopping area where it’s very clean and tidy. Or Hsimending, which is equivalent to Shibuya in Tokyo, an area crowded with young people and a lot of fun things to do. If you go to the Gongguan or Guting areas, you’re in the college districts, where National Taiwan University (aka Tai-Da) and the National Taiwan Normal University¹ (aka Shi-Da) reside.

In 2005, I was working at the National Palace Museum in the Shilin district of Taipei. To get there, you’d want to get off at Shilin station and then walk out the entrance to the end of the street under the subway overpass. There are several buses that will take you to the museum. The Museum completed remodeling in 2006 (boo, a year after I worked there).

Entrance to the National Palace Museum

Entrance to the National Palace Museum

Fact: The exhibits at the museum change 4 times a year, but the museum houses so much stuff in storage that even if you went back 4 times annually, it’d still take you 11 years to see everything they had in the museum.

If you really wanted to know, behind the building there’s a giant vault that leads into the mountain the museum is built on. The doors are about 20-30 feet high and the security there rivals that of the CIA. Very few people have access to the inside of the vault and visitors can’t see the vault door. In reality, you need a special key card to even get back there (heh, which I managed to get my hands on one). Not that anyone probably really cares, but if you look at the picture below, I marked where the vault entrance is… oh wait, that might be a matter of national security… but then again, it’s probably impossible to even get into a vault. Even if someone was crazy enough to attempt it, they’d probably find a way to get the schematics let alone look at a Google Maps image of an red x. :)

Red X marks the spot!

Red X marks the spot!

What other interesting things can I tell you? Oh, the man made famous by the image “Tank Man” aka the “Unknown Rebel” who faced off against a line of tanks during the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests has been rumoured to be working at the National Palace Museum as an advisor to ceramics. Funny thing is, if so, I probably met the guy, but no one would know his history as he has used a pen name in the past and hidden his identity.

The best thing about Taipei is the night markets. Although the MRT stop running at midnight, night life extends far beyond those hours. Night markets stay open until the early hours of morning, KTV (karaoke) places are open 24/7 and you’ll always find food no matter what time you feel hungry.

Taiwan has the largest collection of 7-11 convenience stores versus any other place in the world.  You’ll often find at least a 7-11 and maybe a Family Mart on every corner in Taipei. The best things to buy inside? Tea eggs, snacks and anything from their large assortment of juices.

There are other great things to do in Taipei, but I’ll wait until I get there to document correctly and show you.


¹The word normal in the university’s name derives from a usage now archaic for most English speakers. A “normal” college trains teachers. In the first decades of the twentieth century the term was still commonly used in reference to teacher training institutions. The word recognizes the leading role such institutions play in establishing educational standards—norms—for their societies. (from

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10 2009

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