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English>>Life & Culture

A city of contrasts

By Ruby Gao (Shanghai Daily)

08:13, September 10, 2012

Tamsui Fisherman's Wharf is a scenic spot in Taipei popular with photographers due to the great sunsets and its spectacular evening views. (Photo from Shanghai Daily)

Taipei offers an intriguing blend of modern conveniences, great food and a traditional way of life represented by many temples. Ruby Gao takes a stroll around the city.

Food lovers, the spiritually inclined and Chinese art or history buffs will likely find much to their liking in Taipei, the biggest city on Taiwan Island.

The island's distinct history blends traditional Chinese and Japanese culture and this can be seen around Taipei, a city with some amazing contrasts in architecture and the attitudes of locals.

There are many flat and box-like uninspiring buildings to go along with modern skyscrapers and old temples.

Lonely Planet described Taipei as the "world's ugliest city" while Zhu Deyong, a famous Taiwanese cartoonist, once said: "Taipei, on one side is like an appealing piece of cake while on the other, is as disgusting as a piece of excrement."

Xinyi District is the newly built CBD area known for Taipei 101, the world's second tallest building at 508 meters. It is shaped like a growing bamboo shoot, a symbol of traditional China. The 101-story skyscraper features an indoor observatory on the 89th floor and an outdoor observatory on the 91st floor. Both offer 360-degree views.

Much of the rest of city outside Xinyi is lined with dark, old, shabby box-like buildings built in the late 20th century. However, some old lanes feature small brightly painted wooden houses that have been converted into flower shops, cafes, boutique stores and bakeries.

Much of these mom-and-pop businesses have been opened by young locals with overseas experience or office workers who got bored with their nine-to-five career life.

Around Zhong Xiao Road E., Taipei's commercial center, some buildings may seem unremarkable from the outside, but take a look inside and gape in amazement at the creativity of some of the city's designers. Many of these buildings feature the workshops and exhibition rooms of artists and designers.

An example is Huashan1914, a creative park renovated from an abandoned factory that features post-modern art.

Japanese influence

Chinese settled on Taiwan hundreds of years ago but the island was colonized by Japan in 1895. It remained under Japanese rule until 1945.

This Japanese influence can be seen in the language, city construction and lifestyle: Taipei's fine dining scene is dominated by Japanese food; locals enjoy baseball, which is a popular sport in Japan. Even public signs are often written in Chinese, English and Japanese.

Ximenting, known as the "Shibuya of Taipei," is a good place to learn more about the trail left by Japanese.

The area was built in the late 19th century by Japanese, who decided to establish an entertainment center, following the example of Asakusa in Tokyo. Today it's said to be the best place to see the latest Taipei fashion trends. Plenty of high school and university students dress in styles trendy in Japan in this area.

Local experiences

Baibai and suansuan

There's a popular saying locally that goes like this: "When there's baibai (bowing to the statue), there's blessings."

Taiwan has thousands of temples and Taipei offers some of the best on the island.

Visiting temples is still a big part of life for many in Taipei. People will burn incense and bow to statues in temples to pray for good luck.

According to different wishes, they choose different temples. For those praying for love, locals visit Xiahai Chenghuang Temple near Dihua Street (61, Section 1, Dihua Street). There is a statue of Yue Lao, an old man under the moon who is considered China's Cupid.

The staff here invites you to eat a piece of xibing, biscuits and cookies donated by those who have had their love wish fulfilled after praying at the temple.

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