Getting a feel for Taipei

As strange as it may seem, I came to Taiwan because it was in East Asia, where I was travelling on this trip, and not because I’ve always wanted to come here. So, when I arrived, I wasn’t sure what to do.

I knew two facts about Taiwan:

  1. In the 1980s/1990s, Taiwan used to be the manufacturing equivalent of China today. Made in Taiwan was not a good advert for quality then, despite the reality.
  2. I once heard an interview with Taiwan’s first government Digital Minister, Audrey Tang, a computer geek who has written open source software. We’re all probably using software they contributed to; they’re a rare example of a minister who has knowledge of the department they’re in charge of.

But that knowledge was of no use today as I wondered what to do!

I searched online for highlights of Taipei and picked two places I could walk to. Usually, my plans for any day are fairly fluid. I set a destination, typically to travel by foot and if something interesting appears, I explore it. Sometimes I don’t get to the destination. There are more interesting things to see than there are hours in the day. I once made the mistake of thinking that only the places recommended by guidebooks and websites are worth seeing. They’re not. There are many interesting places that don’t make it into travel guides.

The first place I chose was the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. I headed to it in the afternoon and, along the way, took some photos of the varied architecture.

I did eventually reach the memorial hall. It was a popular destination and impressive. It reminded me, just because of the scale not the grandeur, of the Taj Mahal. It’s a huge monument to a former president of China.

The next stop was the equally impressive Longshan Temple. Lots of people had come to worship, even though it was early evening. I observed several people shaking wooden blocks (shaped like red orange slices) and throwing them on the floor. I learnt later that they were asking a question and the way the stones fell was god’s answer. Sometimes there was no reply.

I wanted to buy some food to cook in the hostel because my diet had been a bit haphazard in Japan. By having something to cook, I knew that after a day out, I wouldn’t need to look for a restaurant.

Google Maps said there was a Carrefour nearby. I don’t know what a French supermarket chain was doing in Taiwan, but I hoped it stocked what I wanted.

On the way to find Carrefour, I came across a night market. It was sprawled across several streets and filled with people. The market had mostly food stalls but there were stalls selling shoes, mobile accessories, clothes, bags, and other stuff.

After wandering around the market, I finally reached Carrefour and bought wholemeal pasta, passata, and a chilli paste to perk up the sauce. For breakfast, I bought muesli and soya milk. That would keep me going for a few days.

And this was my dinner, which I enjoyed a lot despite its simplicity. As a woman wisely said to me later: sometimes you just want a simple healthy meal.

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