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Visiting Taipei

Aired June 13, 2012 - 05:30:00   ET


SANDEE CHAN, SINGER: We are in Taipei's Xinyi District , it is a really touristy area. Over there is what everyone recognizes, Taipei 101. Around Taipei 101 there are a lot of 5-star restaurants and shopping malls. But if you cross the street, you will arrive at a completely different part of Taipei. This place is very unique. When I was growing up in the 1980s there were many military villages in Taiwan. This was the first one and it has been preserved.

During World War II, troops arrived here from mainland China. They needed a place to settle, so they built these houses. They thought they would return to their homeland very soon. So this was built as temporary housing. As new families arrived, they kept dividing the houses. You can see how they are stacked in a row, very close to each other. By Taipei 101 you see the famous brands, but over here you can find a lot more local products. I like how this area has been transformed into a relaxing place. The city is usually very fast-paced, but here you can slow down.

Right now we are just south of Taipei's city center. This is the edge of Treasure Hill. The bike lanes you can see over there are the longest bike lanes in Taipei. Since the 1940s people from all different cultures have lived here. They transformed this slope by building these houses. Once you see the temple, you will know you are in the right place. This area is managed by the Department of Culture, so a lot of artists live here. But there are still about twenty original residents living here. There are a lot of Taiwanese artists as well as artists from other countries. You can use this directory to figure out where you want to go.

Each artist is different, so each time you come here it is a different experience. You can take your time, walk around, and you might enjoy something different. You get a sense of what it is like to have a slow- paced relaxed lifestyle. Places like this are rare in Taipei. Here people's every day existence deals with art in a very natural way.

NICK KEMBEL, WRITER: Right now we are in a city called Jong-Po which is just south of Taipei City, and this is actually one of the most densely populated urban in the world, there is something like 20 thousand people per square kilometer here.

So at first glance, this may look like any street in Taipei City, but when you look a little closer you realize all the writing is in Burmese because we are on Little Burma Street. During the Chinese Civil War there was a campaign into Southeast Asia and a lot of the national army, when the war ended, they just ended up staying in Burma and more recently because of political oppression in Burma a group of them decided to migrate to Taipei City. There was a wave in the Sixties and another wave of migrations in the Nineties. Most of them now live in or around this street here.

Across the street we have Da'an Park which is referred to as the lungs of Taipei because it is the biggest park in the city center. And on this side of me we have the Taipei Mosque, a well-known point except to the street that begins just beside the mosque known as Zhongzheng, it is a street of all Japanese houses and I want to show you guys that today.

A lot of these houses are still standing today and these beautiful trees have grown in and formed a canopy over the street and it really gives it a unique feel, like nothing else in Taipei City that I have seen. I would say in the case of Taiwan specifically, compared to mainland China, there doesn't seem to be any harsh feelings or resentment regarding the Chinese occupation and supposedly, elderly Taiwanese people who lived here at that time retained a sort of affection for the Japanese. The Japanese actually made a lot of infrastructural improvements in this country, they built schools and they built universities, the railway lines and they developed the hot springs. It is only in the last few years that people living in these neighborhoods have started to lobby the government, asking them to restore and preserve buildings like this.

We just got off the MRT line at Dan Shwei (ph) and if we had gone a few more stops we would have gone to Bei To (ph) which is the most famous hot springs area in Taipei City, it is the only accessible hot spring in Taipei City, but instead I am going to take you guys to a lesser known spot, it is part of the same hot spring source, but few people know about these, and you just have to take a little taxi up the mountain to get there. It's called Shing He Lu (ph).

This one is called Chan Tan (ph) -- in Chinese it means River of Soup, in Chinese you can say--or one way of saying taking hot springs is soaking in soup. There's a volcano sitting right beside Taipei City, it is called Yang Ming (ph) mountain, and right now we are essentially in the foothills of the mountain, there are hot springs all over the mountain, this is one of many of them, but this river here is all hot springs run water. A few things to know before you go inside, the men will be going in the blue curtain here and the women in the red, and once you go through, there is no clothing allowed, so be prepared for what you see.

I live in a huge Metropolitan city but thirty minutes on the MRT and I am in a place like this up on a mountain.


KEMBEL: This hotel was built by Chang Kai-shek, who came over from Mainland China with the Nationalists back in the late 1940's. And he actually built this for Madame Chang Kai-shek, he built it for his wife. And of course at the time they also built it because they needed to house all sorts of foreign dignitaries, everyone from Richard Nixon stayed here, Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela. Actually there is an interesting story about the two dragon heads. I believe in the 1990's there was a big fire that destroyed the roof of the building and some of the top floors, and the reason they couldn't stop the fire was because there wasn't any ladders or any hoses that were long enough to put it out, so it actually burned for quite a period of time and then, I think it was about three years before they completed the roof that you see now. What they did was, they took the two dragon heads and they actually turned them inwards, because the dragon is thought to be able to bring rain and the rain could extinguish the fires. At least until this day it has worked, there hasn't been any fires at the hotel.

Actually this is pretty cool, we are going into an area that is usually restricted to just staff. think it is pretty cool that I am going to be able to show you this little secret here. It is an escape hatch. Basically when they built the hotel, the addition on the hotel in 1973, they added two escape routes for the VIPs, just in case they wanted to escape in the event of some sort of emergency, or from an attack from Mainland China. Now of course at the time the tension between Taiwan and Mainland China was pretty serious. So there was potential that they could need these escape routes.


Imagine if you are in a hurry to get out of the building, this would get you out pretty quick. As you can see it is relatively kind of your average airy house (ph) built in the 1970s, whatever that is, but it is kind of the story behind it, kind of this idea that you need something like this in a time of tension with another country. There was a very real fear that there could be an attack.

This is the Shilin District in Taipei, one of the most upscale neighborhoods and just looking around it looks like any old neighborhood in Taipei but actually it has a very cool hiking trail which goes straight up the mountains, and this is the Shan Shang (ph) hiking trail. So the Elephant Mountain hunting trail. Apparently it looks sort of like an elephant, I don't know if it really does or not, but it is one of the beast mountains, so we have a panther, an elephant, a tiger and a lion. That is four.

This is a heavy camera, we should go this way. Beautiful shots. We are really lucky to live in a basin like this. So even if you get tired of traffic and the hustle and bustle there is always somewhere you can go hiking, you can pretty much go in any direction and find mountains with paths, kind of like the one we are on now. Is it hot enough for you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See any tall buildings you recognize?

KEMBEL: Well, obviously that is the big one there, Taipei 101, which is the world's second tallest building. You can see the Grand Hotel way off in the distance over there. When I first came to Taiwan about fifteen years ago, this was like fields. There were pretty much only two or three buildings in this whole area, the rest was all kind of green fields with people growing crops and slowly but surely all the farmers moved out and all the developers moved in. I mean, I like the fact that there are so many mountains that surround Taipei, you really get the feeling that you can have kind a healthy outdoor existence, even though you live in one of the most densely crowded places in the whole world.