Taipei is a friendly city whose allure lies in its blend of Chinese culture with a curious fusion of Japanese, Southeast Asian and American influences.
In many ways this 300-year-old city is like a living museum. The Taoist temples buzz with the prayers of the hopeful; the wooden boards of Japanese-era mansions creak under the feet of visitors; while the treasures in the National Palace Museum date back 5000 years. Merchant villas to military barracks have been restored, reworked and now live again as a museum or a shopfront. From the heirlooms of a tea merchant to the memories of a cemetery for the victims of the White Terror, Taipei is a city that takes great pride in celebrating its history – the triumphant and the tragic.
The Weird and Wonderful
Taipei's oddness is one of its charms. It may be inspired by the kawaii (cutesy) culture of Japan, but there's a lot of home-grown humour in there, too. In the puppet museum you will find a strip-tease marionette; the idea of chocolate sauce on a steak is nothing out of the ordinary; themed restaurants transport you to a world where hotpot is slurped from a toilet bowl; and a park installation invites you to cycle a stationary bike whose pedals power an eerie-sounding pipe organ.
Having Fun with Food
Dining out is so popular that many studio apartments in Taipei don't have kitchens: eating out is cheap, casual and tasty and many families do that or get takeaway most nights of the week. Indeed dining out is the best way to understand the Taiwanese. Whether you're getting your fingers greasy sampling snacks at one of the night markets or sharing dishes at a Taiwanese rèchǎo (stir-fried) joint, the defining characteristic is the element of fun. Yes, that is an invitation to try stinky tofu. While you're at it, you might as well have some Taiwan Beer, too!
With its lanes of blackened walk-ups and countless shopfronts, the city may look like it was thrown together in a hurry, but look again. Great care has been taken to make it a truly liveable place for people: public transport grids the city well and is fast, reliable and cheap; every few blocks there's a park with a generous supply of benches, shelters and flowers; good (and often great) coffee is available everywhere; the MRT has courtesy umbrellas free for rainy days; and a clean and free public toilet is never far away.