Sunday, October 13, 2013

I (Heart) Taipei

You know those T-shirts that so many places sell with the heart and the name of a place following? I really should have bought one on my latest trip. 

Korean expat crew with the lucky groom

My reason for being in Taipei was a happy one... I was celebrating the marriage of one of my Samsung coworkers and his lovely bride. After several weeks of hard work in the office I was ready for some much needed vacay, and Taipei in September was the perfect place to visit!

Xiaolongbao at the world-famous Din Tai Fung; round one of many

The wedding itself took place at the W Hotel in the eastern part of the city, and was one of the happiest, simplest wedding ceremonies I have been a part of.  It wasn't casual ... people were still wearing suits and dresses... but the air was so relaxing that we could have been at a beach. In the evening we enjoyed a sumptuous 12-course meal and a lively after party.

But little did I know that this wedding would represent my whole trip to Taipei... enjoying delicious food and breathing in an extraordinarily relaxed atmosphere in the whole city. Taipei was smaller than I had imagined, not nearly as crowded as my home in Seoul. Basically, Taipei is a much nicer version of mainland China. It is not rich but it is also not poor. The Taiwanese people seem very happy and confident about life. Food is quite good and everything is refreshingly inexpensive. Night markets are alive with activity and the clubs are hopping with activity on weekends. The air is clean and the green mountains shimmer on the city's outskirts.

I checked off the usual tourist boxes in Taipei: a couple memorials (Sun Yat Sen, Chiang Kai Shek), took some photos with the second tallest building in the world (Taipei 101), and observed the Chinese antiquities at the Palace Museum. I also spent an afternoon feeling Zen at a hot spring. But the highlights were clearly the food... such a variety of unique and delicious (and did I mention inexpensive) dishes. Beef noodle, xiao long bao, flavored tofu, hot pot, bubble tea, shaved ice...mmm mmm!! Night markets are full of unexpected treats as well: juices and fried things and meats and seafood and rice.  Such a variety. I dined at the famous Din Tai Fung twice in four days and that was not a mistake. I understand now why the long lines of tourists queue outside.

Hello Kitty Airways!!

Oh, and I must mention that I arrived in Taipei on a Hello Kitty themed plane. If you fly Eva Air from Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, or Los Angeles, you can experience the weird cuteness of this too.  The airline commits very hard to the brand: Hello Kitty check-in areas, Kitty pillows, Kitty dining utensils, Kitty shaped vegetables on the in-flight meal. It is ridiculous and over the top, yet somehow the happy cartoon feels quintessentially Taipei. I fell in love with the people and the vibe of the city during my visit, and I will be back.

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