Taipei: a city full of friends you’ve never met

By Win Flanders

Our abiding memory of Taipei is of the people, their kindness, helpfulness and enthusiasm for introducing strangers to the delights of their city. What fun it was to be the only Westerners stopping in our budget hotel, so cheap we were rather apprehensive as to what it would be like but we need not have worried as it was wonderfully clean (as was the whole city) and comfortable. Guide books had told me that not many people speak English in Taiwan — how wrong they are! Even the housekeeping staff had sufficient English to marvel at the difference in height between them and us! Our hotel was very convenient for the metro which was so easy to negotiate; perhaps if the signs had only used Chinese characters we might have been in difficulty. The Mandarin/English dictionary that I armed myself with is like new, opened, unnecessarily, only once. Only breakfast was served at our hotel (I never did succeed in getting what seemed to be English sliced bread to brown in the toaster!) so we had to find somewhere to eat in the evening. We were admitting defeat outside one cafe where only a Chinese menu was displayed when a customer gave us the history of the cafe, told us it served the best noodles in town, took us inside and then translated the menu for us! Was it the excitement and hustle and bustle of the night markets that made the snacks so tasty? And the cake shops … So many delicious cakes to choose from and not enough time in which to try them all!

Stop along a street and there will be someone offering their help. Not enough to give directions they actually go out of their way to take you! A lady took us to the bus for the National Palace Museum — what treasures are displayed there — but we remember the delight on the bus driver’s face when he saw us waiting to return to the city, the same driver who had taken us there. We presumed that we didn’t have to pay as, when we had offered money, the driver had waved us into the bus. As we reboarded the bus the driver said: “You pay when you get off!” We were given a history lesson as we were walked a kilometer to the Botanical Gardens where we were fortunate enough to be lent binoculars so that we could watch a very rare bird feeding her young; I feel very ashamed that I no longer remember its name. In Yangmingshan National Park an old man puffed and panted back up the hill with us to make sure that we did not miss the most amazing fungus. We did lots of wandering in the city and became involved in many wonderful things by accident: — Celebrations for the 103rd birthday party of the National Museum — games to play, musical entertainment and attendants insisting we tour the museum as it was free! — How many temples are there in Taipei? We found quite a few hidden away. Incense, chanting, offerings and a plastic straw converted into a dragon, a treasured souvenir. — Sitting on the steps of the National Theatre watching the rehearsal for a military display; I’m sure we were more amazed by the intricate marching, rifle twirling and playing of the military bands than by the Barbie pink dog wearing a pair of sunglasses that sat beside us! What a good thing that we had decided that we should see the CKS Memorial! I was very impressed with the pair of darned socks on display as well as the changing of the guard!

An amazing sight that doesn’t get mentioned in the guide books is the massed ranks of hundreds of motor scooters waiting at traffic lights! On our cycle ride down the river to Tamsui we only encountered one busy road junction, thank goodness!

How sad we were to see the ground crew waving us goodbye as we taxied away from the stand and started our journey back to Heathrow.