So every now and then, a friend comes to visit or happens to be passing through Taiwan and we decide to meet up. It’s always a good time and Taiwan is a great place to show off. In my opinion, Taiwan has that perfect mix of natural beauty, modern familiarity, and slightly gritty third-world-esque ambience.
My most recent visitor was a friend I made while traveling through Vietnam about 10 years ago. I had just finished my first year teaching ESL in South Korea. Back in those days, if you managed to complete your yearly contract without becoming so traumatized you fled in the middle of the night OR without traumatizing the students so badly you lost a class, they’d give you a bonus. The bonus was usually the equivalent of one months pay. My school was part of a fairly popular chain so I was paid about 2,000 USD per month.
I had managed to pay off a credit card and amass a good amount in savings so I decided to do what any young, dumb, twenty-something traveler free of an exhausting job would do; go backpacking through Southeast Asia for three months.
The trip started in Hanoi and I slowly made my way down to the south where I would then make my way into Cambodia. Tip: Always make sure to have a few blank pages when traveling through Southeast Asia because these countries love BIG flashy visas! I learned this the hard way.
Anyways, getting from the north to the south is fairly easy and can be done any number of ways. I had a whole month and so mostly took buses and even a taxi here and there when the distance to the next city was shorter. Along the way, I came to the city of Danang, located in the middle.
Now the whole reason for going to Danang was for two things: seeing the temples in Marble Mountain and enjoying some swimming and sun at China Beach. For both of these activities there was one place recommended to me by the various people I met on the backpacking circuit.
Hoa’s Place wasn’t known as the most fancy or easy to get to, but it was known for having that certain kind of “Vibe.” Apparently people would book for a day or two and wind up staying a week or more. This is definitely what happened to me.
The crowd at Hoa’s Place was one of the best and during my stay I managed to make a few friends that I still keep in touch with randomly. One of these people was a cheerful German guy we called Volker.
Most of my time there was a blur of sightseeing, swimming, and of course drinking, but one moment really stood out. It involved a massive jellyfish.
China Beach had some of the clearest water I had ever seen so not only was this an idyllic setting to swim in, but it really helped us to avoid being stung by the jellyfish floating around. When we spotted one washed up on the beach one lazy day, we couldn’t help but wonder at it. Seeing this, Volker regaled us with a story about him and his brother throwing jellyfish at each other as kids. We were a bit shocked at this and asked if getting hit by the jellyfish hurt. “Oh jah, of course it did.” he replied and then picked up the jellyfish to demonstrate. Me being the avid photographer, had to get a picture. “Does it hurt???” I asked. To which he yelled, “Yes! My hands are burning!” I’m not sure if maybe he was joking… and that’s my story of Volker.
So when Volker contacted me out of the blue and said he’d be in Taipei for a few days on business, I agreed to take the train up to meet him. Lucky for Volker, he arrived after a particularly wet and chilly cold spell. It was a beautiful and clear Sunday so we decided to do some wandering around the city.
Our first stop was the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, which seemed like the most iconic thing-to-do. We walked from the Taipei Main Station and it was about a 20 minute walk, give or take. Walking in Taipei is quite different from most Taiwanese cities, in that there are actual sidewalks to walk on devoid of random bike and/or scooter traffic. It’s a very pleasant walk, but probably not in the heat of summer.
If walking to the park from the train station you’ll probably see the Front Gate first. It’s located in the west on Zhongshan South Road and is also known as The Gate of Great Centrality and Perfect Uprightness. The way it’s placed puts it directly across from the actual Chiang Kai Shek Memorial located on the east end. A very beautiful sight when lined up.
Now if you’re coming from the MRT station then you’ll come up within the park itself right near the Gate of Great Piety, which is located on the south side off Aiguo Road. Coming in from this way you pass the National Theater and enter into the complex.
Once past the National Theater, you’re in the square and can see the Front Gate in the west, the National Concert Hall in the north across from the Theater, and the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial in the east. It’s incredibly striking when surrounded by these buildings.
Once you’re up the staircase, you’ll see a large room with a very friendly looking bronze statue of Chiang Kai Shek complete with the Chinese characters for “Ethics, Democracy, Science.” These were the main elements of Sun Yat-sen’s program for making China a more prosperous and free nation known as “Three Principles of the People.” They were also the motivation behind Chiang Kai Shek’s political ideals and beliefs.
Unfortunately, the Memorial was under construction and Taiwan hasn’t adopted the Western custom of just drawing an image on the front, but here’s a picture anyways. Me and Volker about 10 years after Vietnam.
If you’re more interested in museum pieces and the story of the man behind the structure, there’s a wealth of information and exhibits located inside the buildings. It was late in the day so we were in a hurry and after exploring a bit we headed off for Long Shan Temple. Unfortunately, old habits got the best of us and we stopped to sample some of the local beer at a Family Mart.
Taiwan Beer is the local brew and the Jin Pai (Gold Medal) Lager tends to be the favorite amongst locals and foreigners alike. Another less favorite is Kirin’s Bar Beer, but I’ve never been a picky drinker and having grown up on cases and cases of Natural Light this brand definitely found a place in my heart. Also, who can resist when it has this amusing rally written on the can:
Work for fun, study for fun, live for fun
Challenge for fun, think for fun,
Strive for fun… Whichever life you choose,
Don’t forget Bar,
Every time you have a Bar,
The world will be full of fun.
Obviously the beer break led to a quick decision to forget Longshan and go explore some night markets instead, which will be the subject of the next post… Gan bei!