We had a very lazy morning. So lazy in fact that several times we’d set to depart came and went while we sipped coffee and decided not to move just quite yet. Eventually we tossed Plan A out the window and created Plan B.
Our apartment is one block away form the Sun Yat Sen Memorial. So it’s a short walk to one of the major things to see in the city. As we went outside it was immediately apparent that things had changed. The day looked similar to yesterday but it was blessedly cool and dry. Sort of counter-intuitively, with the cold has come the classic Asian-city smell of the sewers wafting on the breeze. It’s not entirely unpleasant; it’s just very… noticeable.
Sun Yat Sen is revered in Taiwan as the Chinese civil war in the first part of the last Century was inextricably tangled up with moves for Taiwanese independence and the various invasions of Taiwan and its subsequent liberation. His massive memorial is dominated by an interior hall where he sits on a huge chair and looks out at the world. At his feet two soldiers stand constant guard.
The soldiers stand on silver boxes, completely immobile for an hour at a time: At first glance they look like a pair of those buskers that stand still until you toss them some money. They are incredibly immobile. Every ten minutes or so an usher comes past and adjusts their clothing or the way the tassel on their gun falls, treating them as it they were a statue. At the top of the hour relief comes in the form of the changing of the guard. It’s a ceremony that’s hard to take too seriously (and this from people who’ve sen the Greek changing of the guard ceremony). There’s a lot of bashing of gun buts, crashing of boot heels, and shouting of orders – at the end of which the immobile soldiers have been replaced by a new set.
Guard changed, we bought some biscuits at a local market and ate them in the Chinese garden watching turtles and goldfish compete in the murky pond. I suppose all gardens here could be called Chinese gardens, but this is a particularly Chinese garden.
In the late afternoon we walked about a kilometre north to Taipei 101. The building, which was until relatively recently the tallest in the World, dominates Taipei but it’s designed in such a way that you don’t fully get a sense of just how big it is until you’re in the high-speed lift with your ears popping as you hurtle upwards at over 60km per hour.
The view from Taipei 101 is fabulous and gets better as the Sun goes down and the city’s lights come on. There’s an open-air viewing area on level 91 that is securely hemmed in with metal bars. The way the bars are cut means that the wind slices through them and resonates, making a sound like someone running their finger round the rim of a wine glass. It’s quite eerie.
Inevitably, the core of the building is filled with tourist shops. We laughed to see the virtual reality experience: At first just at the idea of coming to the top of a huge building just to put something over your eyes and then at the extra reality created by a guy with a fan and a squeeze-bottle of water. We did try bubble tea, for which Taiwan is famous – and it’s good we tried it there for the experience because none of us like it as a drink.
Inside the building is the tuned mass dampener. You don’t build something like Taipei 101 in a city plagued by typhoons and earthquakes without giving a lot of thought to keeping it stable. One of the ways they do that is with a big counter-weight. In Taipei 101 this takes the form of an enormous golden ball hanging exposed in the centre of the building. It was a very cool bit of engineering – although we were happy enough not to see it in action.
We stayed long enough at the top of Taipei 101 that we again had to change our plans. Instead of going to the night markets, we had dinner in the food court at the base of the building. Then we wandered home taking photos of Taipei 101 from the ground as we went.