Dokodemo Door!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Journey to Taipei, Day 1

Despite the ferocity of a volcanic eruption in Kyushu, our flights to Taiwan and back were not affected one iota.

So, our first day in the Republic of China was basically a sojourn into the city center of Taipei and a quick trip on the metro to the nearby city hall. There, it was possible to walk by the Sun Yat-sen Memorial, a large structure erected in the early 1970s to commemorate the founding father of post-imperial China.

Dr. Sun Yat-sen, China's analogue to George Washington, is one of the few 20th century figures who is revered in both Taiwan and on the mainland for his attempt to lead a republic in the wake of the collapsed Qing Empire. The weak republic foundered and devolved into the warlordism and chaos of the 1920s; the last years of his life were devoted to trying to pick-up the pieces of the shattered country.

The building's concrete eaves were (somewhat) painted to mimic what you'd find in the Forbidden City in Beijing. While visiting this place, one could be forgiven for imagining that sun Yat-sen was actually buried there. (In reality, his body lies in Nanjing in the People's Republic.) The grandiose memorial mainly has to do with the fact that the Republic of China's legitimacy rests on it being the sole continuation of his regime.

Alas, we didn't feel like making more than a cursory glance around the memorial and we barely had a look at the bronze statue inside. We only passed through because the subway station happened to be next door. We were actually on our way to the more modern and interesting spectacle a mere three blocks to the south: Taipei 101, aptly named for its 101 floors. It stands 509 meters to the top of its spire and held the title of world's tallest building from 2004 to 2010 until the construction of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. (Future second-tallest buildings are apparently under construction in places like Shanghai, Shenzhen and Seoul.)

At the foot of the building is the Taipei 101 mall, the country's most ostentatious high-end shopping center. The interior was being festooned with red and gold banners in preparation for the Lunar New Year which was slated to begin at the end of the week.

Okay, so you want to build what was, at that time, the world's tallest building? And you want it in an area which is subject to typhoons and earthquakes? My, how ambitious.

Fortunately, there are a variety of engineering tricks which help to make this edifice one of the most stable buildings on Earth.

For starters, stretching-up the core is a cluster of jointed supports that are not unlike the human spine. Tremors on the ground therefore find it difficult to be transmitted upwards. In the top, there is a 730-ton pendulum in a metal sling, the largest of its kind in the world, made of welded steel plates. It acts as a counterweight to push-back against typhoon-force winds. The top of the building is therefore too heavy to be swayed out of place. It sounds very unnerving but it all seems to work, apparently.

And it's visible from all around, making Taipei 101 the signature landmark of the city. I took this at dawn:

So did we go to the top?

No. There were low clouds on that day and the open-air observatory was closed. We felt it wasn't a good idea to go up if visibility was poor. Yes, yes, I know. Very disappointing. That'll be something for me to do on the next trip there, I suppose.

Next up: The National Palace Museum and the Shilin night market!


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