Taiwan: Day 1 – Night in Taipei
Downtown Taipei is an incredibly intricate tapestry of modern consumerism and intelligent design. The lights are bright, the scene is ecclectic, and the energy being exuded is full of optimism. There is new construction. There are crowds of well-dressed people speaking English as well as they do Mandarin. There's plenty of bustle in Taipei, but refreshingly it's without the hustle.
Every bench on just about every alley is being used. People are resting, taking breaks, talking to one another, enjoying their coffee rather than slurping it down as they move quickly from one task to the next. The city of Taipei has provided its residents with a number of serene seats to unwind and the people are utilizing that space. The juxtaposition of steel, glass, and greenery is outstanding. It was quite wonderful to observe.
Mopeds seem to be the preferred transportation with young couples zipping down the city streets, in between the numerous buses that continue to shuttle more residents into the center.
At one point the world's tallest building, Taipei 101 looms largely over the area. Unlike the Empire State Building or the former World Trade Center, however, the vertical behemoth you see before you isn't just a stack of offices as high as the eye can see. It's something much more user friendly.
Taipei 101 is a gigantic, never-ending, beautifully-designed, awe-inspiring shopping mall. It's without a doubt the greatest mall I've ever experienced. Imagine every retail outlet in Vegas, from the Venetian to Caesar's, all crammed into one space with twice the inventory, along with an additional 200 stores we never see in the U.S.
If you can picture that in your head, you might start to come somewhat near to what Taipei 101 offers. All I could keep saying to myself was, "My wife would absolutely die!"
It's not like it's a mall full of sad Old Navy jumpers and shitty Armani cast-offs. Each store is like an individual work of art. I thought this golden delight above was a Tory Burch, but it was actually a beautifully-curated tea shop with a detailed selection. I don't drink that much tea, but I blew through $60 in about two minutes. I was deeply moved.
The fashion on the Taipei streets is also modern and, more importantly, smart. Despite the dominance of big brands on the billboards, no one was painfully whoring their labels for everyone to see. It's more about looking good, than looking expensive. Doc Martins, black tights, a sweater dress, with a discreet Chanel purse? Well done.
Into the neon night we went, a balmy 70 degrees, walking from the hotel towards the restaurant where we would meet Mr. Lee, the owner of the King Car Company, for a special banquet style dinner.
Mr. Lee was busy deciding who would sit where around the lazy Susan. Seeing the final arrangement, I didn't understand the nature of the positioning, but I soon discovered the strategy.
In Taiwan, it's tradition to drink only when inviting someone else from the table to drink with you. If you want to take a sip of wine then you must make eye contact with someone else and raise a toast in their honor. For that reason, the whisky was poured into thimble-sized glasses that hold probably a third of an ounce. It's completely deceiving, however. No one tells you in advance that you'll probably engage in forty to fifty toasts over the course of the evening (and you're expected to drain your glass each time). I started faking it after about the fifteenth raising of the glass. I don't think many other people were following my lead, however. Things got absolutely nuts in a hurry. It was an incredible dinner full of heartfelt speeches and feelings of true friendship, fueled by endless shots of Kavalan single malt. The meal was delicious, but I'll remember the comradery more than the food.
Around the family-style table in Taiwan you'll find great bottles of whisky, but you won't sit there nosing the glass, trying to coax out each detailed aroma while some ridculously pompous guy talks to you about the history of distillation and the importance of enjoying each sip. You're here to drink. You're going to enjoy each tiny glass while you do it, but the main focus is on the person across from you rather than the liquid in the glass. I think we all really enjoyed that aspect of the evening. I don't think I've ever had that much fun with a bottle of whisky.
Thankfully, I managed to get home and into bed rather early. A few hours of shut-eye was exactly what I needed before rising early in the morning for our flight to Japan. I climbed out of bed around 4:15, opened the blinds, and began organizing my images into something somewhat tangible. The city was still moving.
I'm excited to see what today holds for us.