Small rewards in a city of grime and noise

LAST RESORT Taipei

Taiwan, they say, is shaped like a teardrop. At the tip is the island's biggest city, Taipei. And the "provisional capital of the Republic of China" is truly a city to make you weep.

Since it became a bolt-hole for deposed Chinese nationalists fleeing the march of Mao in 1949, Taiwan has been performing economic miracles. But when you step off the bus in Taipei, the biggest miracle is that anyone would live there. Achieving rapid economic growth, it seems, involves spreading successive layers of grime and noise across a sprawling city of three million. The civic symbol of Taipei is the exhaust pipe.

Yet the tourist may find that a couple of days of poisonous fumes and aural anguish can bestow a series of small rewards.

Just east of Shih Lin underground station, for example, the proprietor of a statue shop has purloined designs from all over the world and strewn them across the roof of his premises: an equestrian Napoleon, a soldier raising the US flag after the battle of Okinawa, not forgetting a larger- than-lifesize Michelangelo's David. You can't miss it: just look for the miniature (but not very) Eiffel Tower on the roof.

Close by, the National Palace Museum is the city's most imposing building and has the most remarkable contents. The Imperial Chinese art collection spent years being shunted around mainland China to evade first Japanese troops, then Communism. So a small island with 20 million people finds itself with a collection vastly disproportionate to its size. Among all the grandeur and glitter is a series of cartoons by one Lu Hung, a hermit who drew cartoons that embrace art and poetry. So ornate is the calligraphy that the division between words and images is blurred with each deft, sharp stroke.

It is similarly difficult to determine what precisely you are going to have for lunch. Owners of the noodle shops that lurk in every alley will invite you to choose your meal - and in some cases meet it. The vegetarian may not enjoy Taipei, but carnivores with more appetite than imagination may well.

Spiritual needs can be satisfied at the Lungshan temple, a tableau of serenity. The calm is shattered intermittently by the shriek of a mobile phone, whose owner immediately stops communing with deities and starts dealing. Taipei is a city of percentages, and no one wants to miss out on theirs.

Simon Calder

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Assistant Manager

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hotel in Chadderton is a p...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk