Taipei is a warm city that draws people in with its intriguing fusion of Chinese culture with influences from Southeast Asia, Japan, and the United States.
This 300-year-old city resembles a living museum in many respects. The National Palace Museum’s treasures date back 5000 years, while the Taoist temples hum with the optimistic prayers of the faithful and the wooden floors of houses built during the Japanese era groan under visitors’ feet. Military barracks to merchant villas have all been renovated, brought back to life, and are now used as museums or storefronts. Taipei is a city that takes great delight in celebrating its history, both the triumphant and the terrible, from the antiques of a tea merchant to the recollections of a cemetery for the victims of the White Terror.
One of Taipei’s appeals is its oddness. It may have drawn inspiration from Japanese kawaii (cutesy) culture, but it also has a lot of humour from the United States. A strip-tease marionette may be seen in the puppet museum, chocolate sauce on a steak is not unusual, themed restaurants transport you to a world where hotpot is slurped from a toilet bowl, and a park installation invites you to ride a stationary bike whose pedals drive an unsettling pipe organ.
In Taipei, eating out is so common that many studio flats lack kitchens. Eating out is affordable, informal, and delicious, and many families do that or order takeout most nights of the week. In fact, the best way to grasp Taiwanese culture is via dining out. The key ingredient is fun, whether you’re getting your fingers dirty at a night market tasting appetisers or sharing meals at a Taiwanese rècho (stir-fried) restaurant. Yes, you are encouraged to try the stinky tofu. You might as well sip on some Taiwan Beer while you’re at it!
The city may appear to have been cobbled together in a hurry with its lanes of darkened walk-ups and innumerable storefronts, but take another look. The city has been carefully designed to be a truly livable place for people, with public transportation that is fast, dependable, and affordable; parks every few blocks with plenty of benches, shelters, and flowers; good (and frequently great) coffee available everywhere; complimentary umbrellas on the MRT for rainy days; and a clean, free public restroom nearby.