Explore: Six Cities | Taipei City
Community Issue | Exploring Six Cities
Asia is home to numerous sprawling cities that rival the allure of New York with world class luxuries and cloud piercing skyscrapers, like Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai, and Singapore. Taipei City, on the other hand, is an often overlooked, understated knockout of a metropolis with cultures as glorious as its shining neighbors.
Taipei City is a relatively small place with a rich history dating back to the Qing Dynasty in the 18th Century. The city is the heart of Taiwan’s politics and economy. Its strong ten billion dollar tourist industry is ranks 14th in the world. With a little over two million inhabitants in the center of Taipei, and roughly 104 Sq miles, it is also one of the most dense cities in the world. A big chunk of the population in Taipei peaks at age 65. The birth rate continues to lower as the country develops and disperses its people to other growing areas of Taiwan. Still, the spectacular city continues to grow into a contemporary society that blends the wonders of its early culture with the freshness of today’s technology-driven existence.
The people of Taipei are among most hospitable in the world. Without malice or ill will, they have a symbiotic approach to the city and its inhabitants. If you are ever stranded or confused in Taipei, you will be astonished by the helpfulness of the people without expecting anything in return.
The streets show quite a contrast from day to night—the people of Taipei are workaholics and spend their nights exploring the city’s busy LED-lit displays, jumping from clubs to karaoke bars and diving in to the endless offerings of epicurean delights offered at its famous night markets. The gleaming shimmer of Taipei 101, the world’s second tallest skyscraper, provides a breathtaking backdrop to the taxi and motorcycle packed roads. Many of the city’s industries have moved on from factories to tech, leaving huge factories abandoned. Today, many of these buildings have been rebuilt to host an enclave of arts, shopping spots, and restaurants to play host to a thriving cultural renaissance—perfect for a city with a high concentration of middle class households.
When it comes to food, one cannot want for more in Taipei. All sorts of cuisines can be found in the city center, from chicken feet to foie gras; Japanese to Mexican at all price points from dirt cheap to extravagant. The locals love traditional Chinese cooking but also obsess over traditional western burgers with all the fixings imaginable.
The Taiwanese are big spenders on tech and always carry the latest gadgets. They work hard to afford a lifestyle that is ahead of the curve—all part of the culture’s quest to live life to the fullest.
It can be said that Taipei is one of the most progressive cities in Southeast Asia—with a passionate culture that emphasizes quality of life while embracing ideologies rooted in happiness for all. The city is gay friendly; boasting one of the largest Gay Pride celebrations in Asia, where self expression is unabashed. This attitude of openness extends to the people’s personal style that often borders on androgyny, to the point that a westerner can be puzzled by Taipei’s society’s loose definition of masculinity. Even though the state of mind of its people gear towards freedom of expression, the Taipeinese are a very private people. They do not throw caution to the wind often, they do not kiss in public, and are never lewd. Instead they are more reserved despite their embracing social stance.
Across the board, Taipei is an inspiring city with a lot to offer tourists and locals alike. Numerous historical sights, several modern art museums, and unparalleled public transportation that includes hi-speed trains and an immense subway network. Taipei bustles like any big city, but is relaxed in a way that only island living can offer. What more can one ask for?
See the 6-page photo essay on Taipei City in the Print Edition.
Photos by Gemma Vidal. Text written in collaboration by Jeremy Joven and Gemma Vidal