After nearly three months of being married, we can finally say that we aren’t living out of a suitcase! We’ve officially settled ourselves in Hsinchu and this week commences the beginning of our year as ‘laoshi’, or teacher. We’re only teaching English for four hours a day, but since we’re just getting started those four hours really translate into about six hours of planning, four hours of struggling through lessons. But more on that as we actually get a few more teaching days under our belt! For now we must rewind nearly a month to our arrival in Taiwan.
We rolled into Taipei after a long but uneventful flight, and made our way to the Happy Family Hostel. The staff was extraordinary, and didn’t complain about the heaps of luggage we brought with us, or the fact that we decided to stay for four nights although we had only reserved one. We also Couchsurfed with an awesome Taiwanese couple who put us up in their gorgeous apartment with great rooftop views. After not really knowing what we were eating for a few days, it was quite a relief to have locals navigate the night market cuisine for us!
With about a week to enjoy the city before our 9-day intensive training program began, we tried to take full advantage of seeing all the sights Taipei had to offer. We must admit, at first we weren’t sure how we felt about Taiwan. It took about an hour to find food everyday (and it still does) due to the communication barrier. It was also really really really stinkin’ hot. And, for some reason, everything we kept looking for in our trustworthy Lonely Planet didn’t actually exist.
But somehow, throughout the week, whatever reservations we had totally disappeared, and we were pretty sad to say goodbye to Taipei by the end of our three weeks in the capital city. So, without further ado, here are some of the highlights from our week before training.
2-28 Peace Park
On February 28, 1947, a massacre known as the 228 Incident heralded the beginning of Taiwan’s martial-law era. This park (actually the oldest park in Taipei) is now dedicated to the memory of those massacre victims, and a large steel monument stands in the center as commemoration. It is a great place to walk around, taking in the quietness while watching Taiwanese practice taichi.
Taiwan is a primarily Buddhist nation, and temples to various gods are present all over the city. It’s pretty amazing to see traditional places of worship nestled amongst high-rise complexes and international chains such as Starbucks; regardless of religious beliefs, no trip to Taipei is complete without visiting at least a few of the numerous temples. The Confucius Temple is devoted to the memory of Confucius, China’s greatest teacher, and offers free tours and classes to further the tradition of education. This temple values simplicity, and lacks some of the adornment popular in other temples. The Longshan Temple is one of Taipei’s oldest, and dates back to 1738. It is a multi-denominational temple worshipping Buddhist, Taoist and Matsu deities. The Xingtian Temple is one of Taipei’s busiest, and is dedicated to Guangong, the god of war and martial arts. At many of the temples in the city you’ll find people praying with long incense sticks and leaving food for the gods. It is also common to see people throwing small oracle blocks to the ground. This is a method of fortune telling, in which ‘yes/no’ questions can be answered via the way the blocks land.
Danshui is located along the river just north of Taipei City. We spent an afternoon maneuvering through the bustling Gongming St and waterfront walkway, where street vendors, performers and carnivalesque games are plentiful. After we had enough of the crowds, we took the ferry over to Fisherman’s Wharf, famous for its sunsets. Unfortunately, we missed the sunset and didn’t escape the throngs of people, but the trip was still worth the glimpse of Taipei’s nightly glow from the river and the stately bridge pictured on the Taipei metro passes (and above).
Sun Yat-sen Memorial
Sun Yat-sen is considered the founder of modern China, and this building serves as a memorial as well as a social and educational center. There is a pretty good museum that provides information on Dr. Sun, although little of it is in English. We also happened to catch the changing of the guards, which was surprisingly worth stopping to watch.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial
The Taiwanese people have a sort of love-hate relationship with Chiang Kai-shek. To really understand the late President and Dictator it’s best to do some research on the politics of Taiwan. For now, the controversial memorial with the colossal Chiang Kai-shek statue still stands, and a visit to the hall is a must. The grounds are gorgeous and include the National Theatre and National Concert Hall, and the area is popular amongst locals looking to relax.
National Palace Museum
We don’t normally do museums, but the National Palace Museum actually made our busy itinerary, and we’re glad so glad it did. The museum has the world’s largest collection of Chinese art, liberated from China before the KMT came to Taiwan (again, we won’t go into Taiwanese politics..just do a google search). Some of the pieces date back thousands of years into Chinese history, including Buddhist artifacts inherited from the Forbidden City. We’ve heard that locals like to joke: “If China ever attacks Taiwan, run to the National Palace Museum…they won’t bomb there because we have all their national treasures”. Good to know…we guess!
Food has been kind of hit-or-miss for us so far. We won’t go into the details as there will be much more to come on food throughout the year, but above are some of the more delicious meals we’ve had throughout our time in Taipei.
One of the great things about Taipei is that in a matter of minutes you can get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and escape to the surrounding natural areas. We originally went in search of Elephant Mountain, supposedly a great place to take pictures. As usual, we didn’t end up where we had planned, but the hike was absolutely beautiful with incredible views of Taipei City. Plus, while most Taiwanese hiking tends to be more like stair climbing, we found a great place to climb up the side of the mountain using ropes. It got much steeper and rugged than displayed in the picture!
This Oolong Tea was enjoyed from Maokong, where views of Taipei City are stunning and teahouses plentiful. Definitely a romantic spot for couples at night!
So there you have it! Taipei for beginners…or should we say Taipei 101! (badoom cha :-p) We’re already in love with Taiwan, and we can’t wait to share all the new and exciting things we learn throughout our year here!