Over the Christmas break, I took a short vacation to Taipei, Taiwan to attend my buddy Andy's wedding. Andy's wedding was at the Shangri-la hotel on Christmas day so I spent Christmas with Troy from Ark Design, my buddy Jim from high school who lives in Taipei, and some old friends from Japan who also attended Andy's wedding. I also cruised around town with Troy and Jim showed us around the rest of the time. Overall it was a good trip.
It's important to remember that technically Taiwan is not a part of China although China claims ultimate rule over Taiwan. Whenver Taiwan tries to declare independence, China pretty much says, “Fuck off dude. If you try, we'll send some armies over to fuck you up so don't even bother.” However, the United Nations recognizes Taiwan as an independent country if I remember correctly. Taipei is pretty much a huge hustling and bustling city and is the capital of Taiwan. If you didn't know, Taiwan's exponential financial growth took place 20 years before China's so most of the cities are fairly well developed with a pretty strong middle class. There are very few if any villages outside of the cities with brown water and no electricity like most of rural China. Taipei is cleaner than most cities in China and the people are generally more polite and a bit more civil than people in China. Now I'm not saying that the Taiwanese are the most polite people in the world because most Chinese people in general are pretty much on the rougher no bullshit side and a bit shady in general. Sure I'm stereotyping, but remember that stereotypes exist for a reason. The whole thing about Chinese drivers (especially older short Chinese ladies behind the wheel of a big Benz) sucking ass at driving is very true. If you dare to find out for yourself, go and spend an afternoon driving through Monterey Park, CA on a Sunday and experience it for yourself, but steer clear of the little Chinese ladies with their giant D&G shades and their big ass S550s.
In Taipei there's plenty of night life, shopping, and public transportation is cheap as hell. Even taking taxis everywhere you'll still have plenty of cash left over if the taxi driver doesn't jack your ass with a couple extra turns across town. If you take buses everywhere which are less than 50 cents (US) a ride, you're even further ahead. Shopping for locally sourced goods like clothing, accessories, shoes, etc. is pretty damn cheap especially at the night markets. If you want to buy stuff at a night market, no matter what do not pay what the shop keeper says at first. YOU MUST GRIND THEM on the price just like those cheap ass Chinese rich kids do to save $10 of your hard earned money as a shop keeeper. You an often get ridiculously cheap deals at night markets and smaller shops. Shopping for western brand name stuff at the malls is actually a bit more expensive than the US. This is especially true with the Euro baller brands (e.g. LV, Gucci, Moschino, etc.). There's plenty of night life in Taipei also. If you're a single guy you might enjoy the various hostess bars, “bath” houses with optional massages, or K-TV spots (private karaoke rooms with chicks you pick out kind of like Rush Hour 2 to entertain you). You'll want to make sure you go with a local if you want to check out these kinds of spots because you'll get seriously reamed or jacked otherwise since most of these spots are run by organized crime. But there's plenty of legit things to do also with plenty of night clubs, bars, pubs, restaurants, etc.
Here's a store full of US$5-12 women's shoes. This was at a subway station. Imagine how cheap stuff is at a night market.
Steve Aoki was in town and spinning and a big club called Luxy. This pic was taken from the lighting booth (Andy has super VIP access) where I was watching a girl control the club lights and lasers (it was pretty cool to see how it was done). I don't even think the DJ was even really mixing. He was on stage spraying champagne and throwing chicks into the crowd from stage while curiously songs were mixing by themselves. Could it have been pre-recorded? If you think the name sounds familiar that's because Steve Aoki is Devon Aoki's brother. Devon is the strange looking chick in Fast & the Furious 2 with the pink S2000. Their father Rocky Aoki is the owner of Benihana restaurants too and the past sponsor of the Tarzan's drift Viper.
Taiwan's pop culture isn't really too original and what is popular tends to come from other countries like the US or Japan. At Luxy, Jim and I ended up in the hip hop room where the DJ was spinning your typical radio play hip pop. The DJ was doing a pretty good job if you're into hip pop, but the funniest shit was the hype man. Yes, that's a Chinese Lil' Wayne you see on stage. Whether it was a Rihanna track, a Ti track, Kanye, etc. he would get on the mic, jump around on stage, and chant a couple lines with a well hidden Chinese Lil' Wayne sounding accent. It was hilarious! The chicks on stage were pouring free Cuervo Tequila shots directly into the mouths of club goers.
Here's a bar that is basically a wannabe Hard Rock Cafe. I believe this is where all the ex-pats go to hook up with local Chinese chicks looking for love from the white man. Or Filipino hookers that hang out, party with lonely guys, and hope to go home with them at closing time. There were even people dancing on the bar Coyote Ugly style.
How are the chicks in Taipei? Walking around during the day I didn't really see anything too special, but just like Whodini said, the freaks come out at night. The last time I visited Taipei was 2004 and I will have to say that the women in general are a more fashion conscious now than back in 2004. It is plainly obvious though that fashion, hair, and makeup for both fashionable men and women are pretty much taken right out of the pages of Japanese fashion magazines.
The one thing that absolutely kicks ass in Taiwan is the food. No, I'm not talking Panda Express or Pick Up Stix fake ass Chinese food with the orange chicken, egg rolls with chopped cabbage inside, and generic chow mein. The American's idea of Chinese food is fine once in a while, but I'm talking about real deal Chinese food. Taiwan's standard cuisine is similar to China's, but personally I think it tastes better. I'm talking about beef noodle soup, dumplings, beef pastry “burritos”, pork chop rice, green scallion pancakes, spicy hot pot (like Shabu-Shabu, but way better), etc. I'm not into the internal parts of animals such as intestines, gizzards, tripe, etc. (I was born in the US and can't hang with the hardcore shit), but I enjoy just about everything else on the Taiwanese menu. Best of all? The food is very reasonable. Even if you want a burger, a Big Mac combo was $3. I didn't waste my time on American food during my visit though. Taiwanese cuisine is too good to pass up while you're there.
Taiwanese hot pot is super tasty, extremely flavorful, and can be super spicy (see the right hand side). I enjoy Japanese food, but Taiwanese hot pot pretty much puts Shabu Shabu to shame in the “cooking meat in a boiling broth with vegetables” category.
A common Taiwanese dish is pork chop rice. While it may not look like much, each bite is a guaranteed burst of flavor. The rice part of it (right hand bowl) is the perfect blend of beef, gravy, vegetables, starch, and spice. This dish is one of my favorites.
On the way to the airport Jim, Troy, and I decided to get some dumplings from the famous original location Din Tai Fung as spread out here on Jim's SAAB 900 dashboard while we pulled over before getting on the expressway to gorge on dumplings. We had to squeeze in every morsel of Taiwanese food while we could.
Din Tai Fung has a location in Arcadia, CA where people wait 2 hours to get a table to eat these dumplings. The ones made at the original location in Taipei rock the shit out of the Arcadia location dumplings. When you pop one in your mouth, the meat juice and dumpling skin blend to encapsulate your taste buds with a rich flavor you cannot experience anywhere else.
The Shangri-La hotel in Taipei is the bomb. The rooms are decked out with dark wood paneled walls, marble bathroom with a big ass tub and giant shower, king size bed, a good view (if you're high up enough), and located in a busy part of town so it's also convenient. It's not super cheap, but Andy picked up the tab on the rooms. What a cool guy huh? Anyhow, I highly recommend the Shangri-La hotel if you're going to visit Taipei.
For tourist attractions, Taipei isn't exactly the most interesting place in the world. I would probably stick to: Chang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, the Taipei National Palace Museum, Taipei 101, and the Fu-Shan Gold Mine. Chang Kai Shek is the dude who got kicked out of China when Mao the leader of the communist party took over China during the cultural revolution. Mr. Shek then went to Taiwan, tricked the leaders and leading scholars of Taiwan of the time into having a big meeting and had them killed, and then proceeded to rule over Taiwan. Was the guy good or bad? I don't know, but he's partially responsible for Taiwan's economic position in the world today so they built a huge memorial hall and park to honor him. The Taipei National Palace Museum is cool if you are into Chinese history. Basically the way my buddy Jim explained it to me, Chang Kai Shek stole most of China's historical artifacts (as old as 7000 years) when he left China and brought them with him to Taiwan. The stuff you see in the museum is his loot. It's a good thing he did because those commies taking over China probably would have destroyed it all during the cultural revolution anyway. All of it is quite interesting if you dig history though. Taipei 101 is currently the world's tallest building with a massive shopping center, a pretty trick giant counterweight ball damper system to counteract building flex during high winds, and a bad ass view from the top. The Fu-Shan Gold Mine is where the Japanese set up a gold mine to strip Taiwan of it's natural treasure during Japan's occupation of Taiwan pre WWII. Personally I like to check out old stuff and old technology. The gold mines have plenty of old tech. They also have many displays trying to explain how the Taiwanese were not slaves working at the Japanese mine. Uh yeah…I find that hard as hell to believe since Japan basically raped and pillaged the important parts of Asia pre-WWII. There isn't much touristy stuff to check out beyond these. Spend the rest of your time on food, night markets, shopping, and night life during your stay. I think all you really need to cover Taipei is 4-5 days in my opinion.
Here's Troy on the left and Jim on the right in front of the Chang Kai Shek memorial hall. Inside of the hall is kind of a Lincoln Memorial type of giant statue, but a Chinese version.
At the Fu Shan gold mine, a small resort was built for Emporer Hirohito of Japan to chill out and relax while his slaves collected the gold that would allow his country to take over the world…or so he thought. In the back of the cottage was what appeared to me to be the world's first miniature golf course.
Here's the view from the 80 somethingeth floor of Taipei 101. The elevators are so fast that they have aerodynamic implements to ensure efficient operation. They are the world's fastest elevators with pressure equalization so your ear drums don't pop wide open.
Andy and Georgia's wedding was pretty damn nice. It was an indoor winter wonderland. Andy is the proprietor of Apex-Pacific and is repsonsible for the distribution of Apexi parts world wide outside of Japan. Apex-Pacific is also one the main distributors of Cosworth performance parts in Asia. Andy also has several other tuning parts related businesses in Australia and the US. I met him about 12 years ago in Japan when I worked at Apexi USA. We kept in contact throughout the years, partied in different countries (when we were younger and single), and did a little business here and there. At his wedding were also some of my old co-workers from Apexi, a couple guys from Tomei, a couple guys from Nismo, and a couple guys from apr (the Super GT, GT 300 team that has nothing to do with the carbon stuff in the US). It was fun hanging out and celebrating. Celebration #1 was the wedding, celebration #2 was the all you can drink party at the Shangri-la rooftop bar, celebration #3 was another all you can drink night at a big ass happning club called Luxy. As you can see there was plenty of celebrating. Good times…
A virtual indoor winter wonderland complete with smoke machines and all. It wasn't so much a wedding (they got married in Australia several months before), but more of a celebration. Either way it was pretty damn nice and the food was good. And of course the Glenlivet and sodas were good too.
I'm not sure how Andy hooked up with Georgia. Georgia is pretty. Andy is not hahah. How does that work? Anyhow, it was the Andy and Georgia show. Various family and friends came on stage to speak to the guests. There was a live band and a dude who sang old school love songs. Like the Frank Sinatra old school Italian mobster type songs. It was pretty cool.
Since it was Christmas day, Andy broke out the Santa suit and bag of gifts for all the kids. The kids were diggin it. I think he had a blast doing it too.
Here I am about 4 scotches later on the way up to party #2 at the roof top bar. L to R is Jun from Tomei Powered, me, Mr. Kitazawa chief engineer at Ark Design, and Mr. Nagai who is the data acquisition guy for the Super GT GT300 Corrolla Axio and Autobacs Garaiya (coincidentally the cars use Cosworth/Pi displays and loggers). Jun is the reliable one who hooks me up with Tomei stuff for my BNR32 GT-R since Eiji is too busy with the girls all around the world. Both Mr. Kitazawa and Mr. Nagai are OGs who came originally came from HKS way back in the day. Mr. Kitazawa was one of the brains behind the original legendary HKS EVC boost controller (yes, the one with three knobs) while Mr. Nagai was one of the brains behind the original PFC-FCon (yes the one with dip switches, a pot, and a 16k EPROM). They would both move on to Apexi in the mid 90's and create stuff like the Power FC ECU and AVC-R boost controller. Mr. Nagai taught me quite a bit about the Power FC and tuning in general. He was the guy who trained me for electronics development the Apexi way during my 4 month stay in Japan in the late 90's. We did some of the extreme seasons testing for the original Mazda RX-7 Twin Turbo FD3S Power FC. Or more like he let me tag along and learn. It was fun blasting around the Yatabe oval at 260 km/h for 30 minutes at a time (we had to refuel) with only seat belts on (Yatabe is where the Top Fuel CRX flew off the track at 190mph with an aluminum roll cage) and the A/C on during the middle of a brutal sticky ass humid hot as hell Japanese summer. We blasted for an entire day from sun up to sun down as part of the base map validation. Anyhow, it was great to run into these guys again and hang out.
Cars in Taiwan are mostly commuter cars since the taxes are ridiculous (I think they are 50 or 100%!). The bulk of modified cars are either base WRXs, base Lancers, or base Mirages made to look like STis and EVOs. There's quite a few of these. Once in a while you'll see a baller Ferrari or Lambo. You also see the occasional real EVO or STI, but they are rare. Andy was rolling around in a genuine white EVO 9. Don't expect much for cars in Taiwan…
So that was about it. I hope you enjoyed my take on Taipei. I know I did.