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Tripping out in tantalizing Taipei
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A TYPICAL city girl, I simply cannot get enough of traveling to other big metropolises, and Taipei has always remained on the top five of my list.

So I was excited about my first trip to Taipei last month, where I visited renowned travel spots, including the Palace Museum, the 509.2-meter Taipei 101 building, the 24-hour Eslite Bookstore, the Ximending area in Wanhua District frequented by trendy young people, as well as some of Taipei's famous night markets.

What impresses me most is not the number of high-rises (Shanghai has more tall buildings) or the prosperous arts scene, but the food culture known for its variety and good value.

Last but not least, people in Taipei are so friendly and polite that I believe if I stayed there for one month, I would become a better-tempered person.

For one thing, they don't talk loudly in public. Palace Museum Surrounded by mountains, Taipei's Palace Museum is the pride of Taiwan. For those interested in Chinese culture, it is a must-see.

It is ranked among the world's four best museums, alongside the Louvre in Paris, the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The museum has a permanent collection of more than 600,000 pieces of ancient Chinese artworks, including jade, bronze, porcelain, enamel and traditional Chinese paintings and calligraphy. Most of them are from private collections of China's ancient emperors.

To show the vast collection, the displayed items are rotated every three months due to the lack of space. About 15,000 pieces are on display at one time, which means it will take nearly 12 years to see all the treasures. Photography is prohibited inside the museum.

I was fortunate enough to have dined at the Palace Museum's Silk Palace restaurant, one of the most luxurious and exclusive restaurants in Taipei. The set menu includes a series of exquisite dishes inspired by and named after some of the most treasured items in the museum, such as the Jadeite Cabbage and the Meat-shaped Stone, both from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

The Jadeite Cabbage is a piece of jade carved into the shape of a Chinese cabbage. If you take a close look, you will find two grasshoppers camouflaged in the "leaves." The natural shades of the jade were interpreted into the color variations of a real cabbage through the craftsman's skills.

The Meat-shaped Stone is another piece of jade in the hues of agate, which has been cleverly transformed into a piece of pork cooked in soy sauce in the traditional Chinese way. The various textures of the stone vividly represent the layers of skin, fat meat and lean meat. Taipei 101 Taiwan's tallest skyscraper is also one of the tallest buildings in the world. Standing 509.2 meters, it is the city's landmark, featuring 101 floors that include offices, entertainment facilities and a shopping mall.

It also has the world's fastest elevator, which takes visitors only 37 seconds to reach the observatory on the 89th floor from the 5th floor. The view of the city from the observatory is simply amazing, be it day or night.

The shopping mall downstairs is home to hundreds of fashion brands, from luxury houses to mass-market brands.

Not far from the landmark building is the Xinyi Place of Shin Kong Mitsukoshi, the largest department store chain in Taiwan, the Warner Village that offers a wide selection of movies, eateries and stores, the New York Department Store loved by the youth, as well as the Xinyi branch of the city's well-known Eslite Bookstore.

The cheesecake at Eslite's coffee shop on the second floor is worth the calories and the food collections sold on the same floor, ranging from traditional Taiwan pastries to tea and pickled fruits, make excellent gifts. City outskirts Tamsui is a seaside town in the outskirts of Taipei where remnants of Taiwan's early Western contacts are well preserved. One of the town's most popular tourist spots, Hong Mao Cheng, or Fort of the Red-haired Barbarians, was once home to the British Embassy back in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

There are some local dishes that you must try, such as the fish ball soup, crispy fish, iron-hard preserved eggs that have been repeatedly stewed in a mix of spices, and "a-gei," a unique style of oily bean curd.

Chiu Fen is a small town surrounded by mountains, which features an old street and labyrinthine alleys. It reminds me of Shanghai's Zhujiajiao watertown. There are lots of vendors and small shops along the long, narrow stone street, selling all kinds of souvenirs and local food. A stop at one of the tea houses or noodle shops is a must, while the Taiwanese-style barbecue sausages and the icy white gourd tea are highly recommended. Night markets Besides food, the vendors and small shops sell clothes, shoes, jewelry and gifts. It is always so crowded that one has to be swift enough to maneuver. Beware of pickpockets, as we were warned by the locals.

My personal favorite is the Tonghua Night Market, which is not far from the Xinyi District (where Taipei 101 is located). My favorite night market snacks include fried stinky tofu, fried chicken fillet, the oyster omelet that is made with a slightly spicy source, as well as all kinds of ice tea and shaved ice.

Most important, compared with those sold in Shanghai's Taiwanese restaurants, they are more authentic (of course) and much cheaper. A plate of fried stinky tofu served with pickled vegetable is about 60 NTD (US$1.80), and the shaved ice with four different ingredients costs only 45 NTD.

(Shanghai Daily September 12, 2009)

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