Taipei

Taipei is the first new city I’ve been to in years. My last trip was more of a vacation than anything, as I had just revisited my two favorite cities and even stayed in a couple of the same hotels as I had previously. As fun as that was, I knew for my next trip I was in need of a bit more adventure.

Now Taipei is a city that’s always intrigued me. I never had a really good idea of what it was like. With a place like Tokyo or Hong Kong, there’s a fair bit of popular media I can draw from, with movies like Lost in Translation, Enter the Void, any of Wong Kar-wai’s films, and some fairly prominent photographers making their careers shooting in them. But Taipei was always a mystery to me. I figured this to be a good thing, as it would allow me to go in with a fresh set of eyes.

As far as my photography equipment is concerned, I’m becoming rather set in my ways. I’ve experimented with a wide range of gear and film over the years and have just about settled on what I like. So to anyone who’s read my previous posts from my trips to Asia, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that the cameras I brought with me are the same old Minolta XG-M with 50mm f/1.2, 28mm f/2.8, and 135mm f/3.5 lenses, my Fuji GS645S medium format rangefinder, and my somewhat-new favorite Ricoh GR digital. Although 2 out of those 3 cameras are starting to experience issues which will unfortunately necessitate their replacement before my next trip (including the GR, which is inexplicably dying a mere 10k shutter clicks after buying it new). Then aside from the cameras, for film I shot only Portra 400 on this trip, both in 35mm and 120 formats.

So with Taiwan being exactly 12 hours off of Boston, and leaving on a red-eye flight Friday night without any effort spent ahead of time getting adjusted to this huge difference, a lot of my time exploring here was spent in some unusual (for me) hours. One of the first things I wanted to do was go check out the Taipei 101 tower, as I have an affinity for large buildings and unique architecture, and Taipei 101 certainly fits that bill. So I left my hotel just before sunrise and started the ~2 hour walk down there.

I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, so traveling is really the only time I get to experience this time of day. It’s so oddly serene.

This was my first real good glimpse of the tower. Don’t let its size fool you though, it was still a ways off at this point.

I find it difficult to describe how I felt walking up to Taipei 101. I’ve seen quite a few of the world’s tallest structures, but something about this one just felt so.. imposing. It’s just monumental in scale. It probably helps with most other buildings surrounding it being so small in comparison.

The way it’s broken up into segments makes its size all the more apparent as your eyes trace it all the way up to the top. The bottom segment on its own would be humongous, with its giant footprint and being roughly 500 feet tall, and it just keeps going up from there. Unfortunately getting any closer than this didn’t make for very interesting pictures with just my 50mm lens, but it was pretty crazy just walking around. I’ve never felt so small.

I was in Taipei for 5 days, and stayed in a hotel just south of the main train station in an area called Zhongzheng. This place was so cool. Tons of awesome, cheap food, great pictures, convenient for easy transportation via the trains, and just had a great vibe. Most days I was out and about before the sun came up, so where ever I was headed I was sure to snap a few pics on my way out.

Then during the day the whole place just comes alive. There are restaurants everywhere and they all smell amazing. One of my new favorite things to eat is called a pepper bun, or hujiaobing. Basically from what I could surmise it’s minced pork seasoned heavily with black pepper and some other spices, rolled up with green onions in dough and baked in an oven. Delicious.

There was an entire block on the western edge of this area which was full of camera stores. Only a few had any film and their Portra was fairly expensive, but I didn’t have much of a choice so I had to stock up. This trip was sort of last minute, as I bought my plane tickets on a Monday and left that Friday, so I didn’t really have time to order any locally before I left.

At night this place can get a bit crazy as well. Apparently there’s a few schools around here, so once they get out all the kids come and spend their nights walking around and enjoying the nightlife.

Even the alleyways around here are filled with places to eat.

I was able to stay up late enough towards the end of my stay here to be able to venture out and do some night photography elsewhere as well.

Here in Taipei were probably the most friendly people I’ve ever encountered, right up there with Thailand. It really made shooting so fun and engaging, as everyone who noticed me taking their picture would give a hearty smile and wave afterwards, as this girl did moments after taking this. Stuff like that really helps me connect with the people and places I’m shooting in, which lends to much better pictures. Contrast that with a place like Morocco where everyone would either scowl or yell at me, causing me to feel very unwelcome and apprehensive about taking out my camera. Just another reason Taipei was quickly becoming one of my favorites cities.

I really liked this scene. I just imagine living there, with the rooms in your apartment perpetually lit with the eerie glow from that 7/11 sign.

One morning I decided to go check out a place called Liberty Square. The entrance to this square is this gigantic archway, complete with a person conveniently placed at the base for scale.

Inside is a huge stone square leading up to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, which is flanked by the National Theater on one side, and Concert Hall on the other.

Here’s a shot from atop the staircase of the Memorial Hall. I had the best seat in the house for the daily flag raising ceremony taking place.

Just around the corner from there is a very peaceful park. In fact, it’s called Peace Park.

This is the Hsing Tian Kong temple.

And this is the Dalongdong temple.

Back in the city now, one of the things I consistently wish I did more of when I get back and go over pictures from a trip, is actually get inside buildings and shops when shooting. I spend a lot of time walking around and taking pictures of the city I’m in, but rarely venture inside places unless it’s somewhere I actually need to be. This trip I made a conscious effort to change that, and made a habit of just strolling into places that looked interesting.

Alluding to what I mentioned earlier with the people being so friendly, some of these shops just had one lone person in them, probably waiting for customers to come in. Lots of places I travel to I wouldn’t want to bother someone in this situation, but in Taipei I never thought twice as they always seemed to enjoy the company.

Of course I still did a lot of photography on the streets as well. Here you can catch a glimpse of something you’ll never see in America. People actually stopping and pulling off to the side of the road to use their cell phones.

I’ve never seen so many scooters in my life as I have in Taipei. They seem to be the preferred mode of personal transportation.

Most of the restaurants here do not have English menus, so I had to make do a lot of the time with pointing at things that looked good and hoping for the best. I was never disappointed.

Here is a little mini-adventure I went on one day up to Maokong Tea Mountain. It’s a relatively small mountain southeast of the city, and is normally accessible via gondola from the Taipei Zoo.

However, after arriving at the Zoo bright and early I found out that the gondola service was suspended due to a lightning storm. Luckily there was a large group of people at the station in the same boat as me, so I teamed up with a small family and we split a cab ride to the top instead.

The view from up there is amazing. The sides of the mountain are covered in tea fields, and the misty weather had a really cool fog rolling in over the mountains. I had my raincoat on just in case, but didn’t really end up needing it too much as it barely rained out while I was up there hiking around.

Basically every building up there is a tea house of some sort. Most of them seemed pretty touristy, but the tea I had was pretty good. The scenery was okay too I guess.

After checking out the tea mountain, I started making my way over to the Chih Nan Temple. There were three paths I could take to get there from Maokong, either take the gondola right to the Zhinan station (not running, and most boring of the 3), hike straight down and then up to the adjacent mountain (quicker, but less scenic and more strenuous), or take the long winding road around the valley between the two mountains (very scenic views, not a lot of elevation change). I chose option 3 as it would also take me by a few restaurants and I was getting hungry.

Unfortunately the temple, which is built right on the side of the mountain, was being renovated when I was there. Most of it was still accessible however so I was able to roam around inside and rest my legs a bit.

By the time I was done the gondola was back up and running, so I hopped on and started heading back to the city. It was right around then that it started absolutely pouring out. Good timing, I thought.

Here’s something that I had never seen (or more appropriately, smelled) before. Stinky Tofu. It’s a hard thing to describe without sounding negative. Instead I’ll just post a blurb from its Wikipedia entry: “From a distance, the odor of stinky tofu is said to resemble that of rotten garbage or smelly feet. Some people have compared it to the taste of blue cheese, while others have compared it to rotten meat. It is said that the more it smells, the better its flavor.”
I did not try it.

Instead I found places like this, where I had amazing xaiolongbao (or soup dumplings). This one lone lady was both cooking everything and ringing up the customers. There was also a line out the door for this packed little restaurant which I waited in for a good 20 minutes. One thing I was told about Taiwanese people before I came here was that they will not hesitate to wait in however long of a line they need to for good food. The longer the line, the better the restaurant.

Here are the dumplings being prepared for the chef.

Here are a few residential areas which were all nicely landscaped.

This is the big Tamsui River which runs through Taipei.

This skatepark had a really cool entrance. These are all motherboards out of old PCs, all grouped according to type and bolted onto the wall.

And here were a couple of guys loading these old CRTs onto their truck. It looked like they might have all been part of an installation, like a video wall straight out of the 1980s. Really cool, I wish I could have seen them all set up.

Ran into a few stray cats here and there. They all seemed really friendly, although it looks like this one had been through some stuff.

I believe this little park was in the Daan district, close to Taipei 101.

Here’s a quick little section on the night markets in Taipei. I meant to spend more time shooting (and eating) in them, but I was usually in bed pretty early due to the jet lag. So even most of these ‘night market’ pics were taken just as they were setting up around sunset. This first one is one of the bigger ones, the Raohe St Market.

Even just as everyone was setting up it was already starting to get busy. It was probably a madhouse at night.

This is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. They start with raw slices of beef (on the left), cut them into bite-size pieces, then use a blowtorch to sear them on a grille in about 10-15 seconds. Then you get your choice of seasoning and they toss them in a box with a skewer to eat them with. I’d probably eat these every day if we had them in Boston.

Some chicken sausages, again with your choice of seasoning. Good, but not as good as the steak.

What would a picture series of an Asian market be without a shot of some raw meat on hooks.

Earlier I mentioned the number of scooters I saw while hanging out in Taipei. Some roads I’d walk down I’d just see scooter after scooter go by me, without a car in sight.

They had really clever traffic rules for the scooters that I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else. Scooters don’t make left-hand turns at busy intersections. Instead if they need to, they veer off over onto the road to their right, and get in these little white boxes out front to wait for the next light, then just go straight. Seems a lot safer, and more efficient as you don’t need as many green left arrows at the lights, allowing fewer light cycles for everyone else.

Most places downtown had special parking just for scooters. Everywhere else they just seemed to use the edges of the sidewalks.

I wish I had spent more time in Taipei, but I only had 2 weeks for this trip so I had to cut it a bit short. I still have a huge list of things I wanted to do that I just didn’t have time for, like hiking around Yangmingshan park, walking the narrow streets in the old town of Jiufen, climbing up Elephant Mountain to get a birds-eye view of the Taipei skyline, and hiking around the Taroko Gorge in Hualien, just to name a few. I was more than okay with this though, as I know for sure I’ll be back soon and wanted to leave some stuff for next time.

My flight to my next destination left pretty early in the morning, which I never do, but I figured I’d already be awake anyway and I really wanted to start shooting in my next city.

The train ride there offered me views of the sunrise that made it all worth it.

I don’t want to give away my next destination just yet, but here’s a little hint ;^)

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  1. By Hong Kong Part III on October 23, 2018 at 10:22 pm

    […] so let’s get into it. I went over my gear and film in a bit more detail in my Taipei post but to sum it up these were mostly taken on Portra 400 with an old Minolta SLR and a 50mm f/1.2 […]

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