Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Thoughts on two days in Táibèi

On Sunday, after my family reunion discussed in the previous post, I travelled from Melbourne to the Táiwānese capital of Táibèi via Hong Kong. Though the flights were much shorter than on my only previous overseas trip, the combination of them with an arduous cycling and rail trip to Spencer Street and Castlemaine left me extremely tired by the time we settled in at the Fullarton Hotel in the southeastern part of central Táibèi.

My brother spent a year in Táibèi (which in Chinese loosely means "North Terrace" - which coincidentally is a street in Clifton Hill near where I lived from 1996 to 1998) over the summer of 2002/2003. As a result, upon settling in Táibèi we spent the afternoon walking round the campus of Táidà University, seeing the places my brother lived at during this period. On the whole, in comparison to my experiences at other universities, Táidà seemed rather run-down: some of the rooms were even grotty - though in densely-packed Táibèi a lack of cleanliness was something I always noted travelling on the Metro and even on the freeway from Táoyuán Airport. Táidà still had some interesting points, most significantly the cubic Periodic Table in the science department.

On the second day of our trip to Táibèi we travelled, after great difficulty finding an entry, up Táibèi 101, which at 382 metres is that tallest building in the world. It cost us a greta deal of time and money to get up the building, with the most direct entry completely closed to the public and actual entry being in a terribly crowded queue which required me to give my backpack to the desk at which I got tickets for around 14 dollars each for me, my mother and my brother. The view, however, of Táibèi's night skyline was stunning and definitely worth fourteen dollars. We could see the whole area of Táibèi proper, as well as the mountains to its west, which were a luxuriant green.

Another highlight was the National Museum, which we visited the morning before travelling to Táibèi 101. There was a remarkable number of old artifacts and paintings from pre-1911 China that I had never seen before. The paintings from this period were especially beautiful, and also noteworthy was the range of materials used for the very old objects. Apparently rhinos were present in China thousands of years ago, judging by the carved materials from rhino horn in the museum - a fact I never knew beforehand! (Sad to say, Táiwān remains the leading buyer of rhino horn in an age when rhinos are critically endangered).

The food has also been exceptional. although we have drunk coffee - a very Western thing - and also eaten Western breakfasts with irresistible sweet cereal, the Chinese food we have had has been wonderful. The noodles in particular have been exceptionally varied and tasty, and I have learned to use chopsticks to a degree I never anticipated beforehand.