Having just got back from China (“the mainland”), Hong Kong and Macau coming to Taipei was intriguing as much for the novelty of completing “the set” of Chinese countries but to see how mainland China might have turned out. Well, at first glance, it seems like only Macau has not joined the super-modern cities club that is so prevalent amongst the likes of Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Taipei.
Taipei has all the accoutrements of a modern city. Soaring city-state buildings that defy convention and gravity like the Taipei 101 (500m tall) next door to my hotel. Brand new, ultra efficient and totally soulless new airport that is 50 km from the city center. Traffic that is dense and reckless and the ever present pall of pollution. But there’s a Starbucks on almost every corner and Micky-D can always be seen a block or two away. The malls are marble and steel and Gucci, Prada and Ferragamo are all in residence.
So my delight of yesterday was wandering into the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall just in time to see the changing of the guard. A more elaborate and exaggerated procedure would be hard to find with 5 soldiers, in perfectly white uniforms, performing a bizarrely choreographed ballet that exchanged two guards for two more. Danny Kaye would have marveled at the perfection and the preposterous moves made to march two soldiers off a dais and two on to the same dais. They were devoid of expression, eyes in fixed gaze ahead, and following a ritual that had been performed a hundred thousand times before: but its was clear that this was a solemn duty and deserving of their very best and they gave it. Honoring their founder and their country they did their duty.
Just a block apart from this Tin Soldier display in the traditionally styled and quite magnificent memorial hall is Taipei 101. Towering over the city and dwarfing all at 500m tall (1650 feet) it is a glass and steel monument to architects and engineers but it shouts out its Chinese heritage proudly. Ignoring the right-angle and the tradition of narrowing to a point, 101 flares out in 9 segments that look like food containers stacked one atop another. At the observation deck 380m high (1250 feet) you can see the whole of the city and most of the island on a clear day.
Well worth the trip.