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Taipei is an enticing mix of influences


Taiwan has had a complicated history, and it’s the mixture of Chinese, Japanese and Western cultural influences that make the capital Taipei such an enticing place for tourists, writes Benjamin Weir.

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“When she poured the tea and added hot water it danced inside the pot,” brew master Ronnie Lin says.

“She” is the Queen of England and, according to the story, when her majesty brewed the tea the leaves shimmered as if they were dancing. She named them Oriental Beauty.

The highly prized blend of oolong tea comes from northern Taiwan and was given to the Queen by a merchant, or so the legend goes.

Lin is presiding over a tea tasting ceremony in the capital Taipei and the ceremony has a distinct set of steps, including how long the water is boiled for, how long the tea must sit and, most importantly, how the tea is drunk.

The master says great importance should also be placed on how the tea smells.

“If the tea suits, you will feel very relaxed and good, then it is a tea for you.”

Lin believes young Taiwanese need to embrace the traditions as a remedy to their busy lives.

The residents of Taipei could certainly use some calm. It is one of the world’s most densely populated urban areas, and home to 2.7 million people. Their lives are busy and fast-paced.

My hotel the Grand Hyatt Taipei offers me the perfect sanctuary, as well as an incredible view of the city’s tall skyscrapers, including one of the largest in Asia, the Taipei 101.

Wandering the streets, I also notice many western franchises and learn that the city has more 7-Eleven convenience stores per square metre than just about anywhere else in the world.

But it’s not the city’s growing western influences that make it so interesting.

Taiwan has a complicated history that you can’t escape – even by drinking tea.

Our ceremony is being held in a Japanese-style house with sliding doors, plenty of wood and a tiled roof in Taipei’s Zhongzheng District.


The Yoshan tea shop in Taipei. Photo: Facebook

The Japanese left in 1945 but the city has been unable to cover over their footprints. They remain in the architecture, the city’s many Japanese supermarkets and restaurants, and the country’s love of baseball.

The city is also dominated by the influences of China, which deems the island a renegade province. More than two million mainland Chinese nationalists fled to Taiwan after the communist gained power in 1949.

Being dominated by other cultures means Taiwan is often overlooked on the tourist map, with travellers more likely to visit the Great Wall or Tokyo’s cherry blossoms.

This is a shame. Existing as a cultural melting pot of Chinese, Japanese and Western influences makes Taipei an enticing place for tourists.

Craving authentic Japanese food? Taiwan has a live seafood market of nearly 2000sqm, similar to Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market, with small sushi and wine bars among live fish sellers.

Like Chinese art? Taipei’s National Palace Museum houses nearly 700,000 pieces of ancient Chinese artefacts and artworks spanning 2000 years from the Forbidden City, which the nationalists brought with them when they fled the mainland. Among the rarest is a piece of jade crafted to look like a piece of bok choy cabbage, carved during the Qing dynasty.

Taipei’s National Palace Museum. Photo: jshyun/flickr

Taipei also has enough western influences to make the city easy to navigate for English speakers. With the language compulsory for schoolchildren, most people under 40 have a grasp of English.

Unlike mainland China, there are less issues with pollution and smog – nor is there a need for a holiday visa for Australians to visit Taiwan.

Street food vendors have menus in Mandarin, Japanese and English, and the upmarket shopping malls are packed with all kinds of western brands imaginable. They’re all connected by a metro system considered among the best in the world.

This makes Taipei fast and easy to navigate, enabling you to sample its rich history and culture.

Getting there: Taipei sits on the northern tip of Taiwan and its airport is about 30km from the city centre. Qantas flies direct to Taipei from Sydney, while AirAsia offers flights from Sydney via Kuala Lumpur.

Staying there: The Grand Hyatt Taipei offers rooms with a stunning view of Taipei 101, one of the largest skyscrapers in Asia, and is strategically located in the heart of the city. Prices start at around $A280 per night.

Playing there: Yoshan Tea offers a one-hour tea tasting experience, during which you get to roast your own tea and take some home. Price $A30 – $A40.

Addiction Aquatic Development fish market: No. 18, Alley 2, Lane 410, Minzu East Road, Zhongshan District, Taipei.

National Palace Museum: No. 221, Sec 2, Zhi Shan Rd, Shilin District, Taipei City.

The writer was a guest of the Grand Hyatt Taipei.



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