Taiwan: A snake market, immense treasures and an oversized hotel in the capital of Taipei.
This article is part of a diary based travelogue from a six month journey in 1985 to several countries in East and South East Asia: Japan, Taiwan, China, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
Tuesday 29.1.1985, Taipei
The airline was Taiwan’s own China Airlines and is not exceptionally good. But it brought me here from Okinawa, Japan. The flight arrived in the middle of the afternoon, suiting me well. (The ticket cost me 100 USD.)
I found my hostel and received a bed in a dormitory doing not much more the rest of the day. I had dinner on a street stall of the dirty, cheap sort, but still safe enough I believe as the Chinese generally cook their dishes so well.
- TAIPEI HOSTEL (395-2950 + 395-2951), 11 Linshan North Road, lane 5; Cross the street by the Sheraton, enter the first little side street diagonally across from the Sheraton. Follow this to the end, about 50 metres and the hostel is on the left hand side. Take the elevator to the sixth floor. The place has many travellers but could have been cleaner. The price is less than 3 USD. Map
Wednesday 30.1.1985, Taipei
A grand museum
Many would argue that the biggest sight is the National Palace Museum. This museum was built by the Kuomintang people to house all the art objects they had collected and moved over to Taiwan prior to fleeing mainland-China in 1949.
Judging from the enormous amount of treasures, it seemed as if they had completely removed any valuable object in China, apart from those that were bolted or cemented. (Later in China I was to become strengthened in this suspicion of mine).
It was truly overwhelming what I saw. The exhibition is arranged chronologically by dynasties and what we did see was in fact only a minor portion of all we could have seen. The rest is stored away and taken out in a rotation system so that everything in some years will have been exhibited at least once.
On my way to the museum I passed by the Grand Hotel, a large complex (box) built in ancient Chinese style. At once, it looked like the entrance to a gigantic temple and was simultaneously a terribly ugly tampering with Chinese tradition, and an impressive building. I was in any case shocked.
The Snake market
I had met a Canadian. We both had this intention of going to the Snake Market and left together, that same night. However, at first we went to the Lungshan Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the city and really worth a visit.
The Snake Market we had heard and read a lot of, and certainly the name alone whispers of excitement. On that basis we were somewhat disappointed as there were few snakes and it was not particularly exciting what we saw.
The butchering of the snakes seemed to consist of ripping them up length-wise; hanging them on a hook and let them twist in a death fight for a while before the customers in the restaurant inside were served this delicacy. It was fresh food in any case.
Apart from this, the killing of small tortoises was the most bloody we saw. First they were stabbed onto a wooden board with an awl. Then the throat was cut and the blood dripped into a glass. This was mixed with liquor and offered the spectators on the street. We thanked no.
The surrounding area was lively with all kinds of street vendors, small shops; street stalls for food, and so on. And all this was inside a conglomerate of small, pleasant backstreets.
Thursday 31.1.1985, Taipei
After having seen what there actually was to see in Taipei I had decided to go south on the island. The scenery is supposed to be nice there.
Taipei was in my opinion large, dirty, grey, boring, noisy and with heavy traffic; not offering me any reward for staying longing. I was nonetheless glad that I had been able to see the city on my own, and am able to know better what I’m talking about. Others, whom I met in my hotel, felt the place was alright. They had been staying there for weeks. Different taste perhaps.
It turned out to be very problematic finding the right place to buy a bus ticket. I was not planning to leave until tomorrow, so there was no big crisis. Now I was sent from one office to another and became rather annoyed in the end. I eventually ended up successfully. The next time I’m taking a bus from Taipei to Suao on the east coast I will go to the garage/depot behind the railway station, slightly to the right along the street that runs parallel with the tracks.
Of course, it proved unnecessary to buy a ticket in advance, but I learned anyway where to go the next morning.
The introduction to this journey to East and South East Asia.
Previous chapter: Okinawa: Mild winds, cherry blossoms and a WW2 history.