The capital and largest city of Taiwan, Taipei is home to 2.7 million of a total population of 22.5 million inhabiting this prosperous island nation 100 miles east of mainland China. One of the wealthiest cities in Asia, and a worthy rival of Singapore and Hong Kong, Taipei is the financial and commercial hub of an economic powerhouse that ranks as the 14th strongest economy in the world.
Through the years Taiwan’s democratically elected, pro-Western government has enacted innovative policies and reforms that have spurred economic growth and enhanced its standard of living which is well above that of neighboring countries including China, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. A pacesetter in high-tech development and manufacturing, as well as one of Asia’s leaders in international trade, it is also the home of the world’s tallest building — Taipei 101 — which became an instant icon at its official opening in October 2003.
Taiwan’s economic boom, which began in the mid-1980s and accelerated through the ’90s, continues its upward momentum into the first decade of the 21st century. In the past 20 years it has evolved rapidly from an agriculture-based economy into one of the world’s most dynamic newly industrialized nations. During the 1990s its gross domestic product grew at a phenomenal 6.2 percent a year, which put it well ahead of both the United States (3.2 percent) and Japan (1.2 percent) during the same period. Both inflation and unemployment have stayed low, and its exports earn more than US $220 billion in foreign exchange reserves annually. Taiwan is the world’s top producer of notebook computers as well as the leading manufacturer of computer chips, and other major industries include electronics, plastics, chemicals, glass, cement, iron and steel.
Taipei-based companies have made major advancements in the biotech industry, and Taiwan also produces quality gold, marble and porcelain items. It also exports some of the world’s top sports gear. Other major exports include electrical equipment, clothing, textiles and toys. The government’s move to lower trade barriers and end subsidies to protected industries has further stimulated the economy and allowed the Taiwanese to enjoy a steadily rising per capita GNP that is now around $14,000 per year.
Taipei 101 is an appropriate landmark for a city and a nation that aims high and seeks to soar above the competition. The first skyscraper to surpass the half-kilometer barrier (1,671 feet) took five years to build at a cost of $1.6 billion. Shaped like a gigantic bamboo stalk, the striking metallic blue structure dwarfs all nearby buildings and can be seen from as far as 20 miles away. It takes just 37 seconds (Guinness world record speed) to zoom in pressurized elevators from ground level to the observatory on the 89th floor where the vista reveals breathtaking views in all directions.
Much of the city’s business activity is concentrated in the vicinity of Taipei 101 in the area known as the Xinyi (East) District. This fashionable part of the city exudes a sleek, contemporary look as steel and glass high-rise apartments and office buildings are intermingled with a mix of upscale department stores, boutiques, restaurants and hotels. Adjacent to Taipei 101 is the Taipei World Trade Center, a four-in-one complex that also includes the Taipei International Convention Center and the International Trade Building.
Taipei is the site of Taiwan’s parliament as well as government offices that are located in Taipei City Hall near Taipei 101. City Hall also houses the Discovery Center of Taipei, which offers foreign visitors insight into the history and development of Taipei beginning well before it evolved into the modern metropolis it is today.
Taiwanese are experienced in the Western style of doing business and pride themselves on attention to detail and quality personal service. More natives speak English than in many other Asian countries, which facilitates business transactions. It is important that visitors adhere to various rules of etiquette when attending business meetings, such as greeting the older person first and going through the double-handed presentation of business cards. Punctuality also is appreciated as appointments should be made well in advance. One also should be sure to allow for delays caused by Taipei’s traffic congestion. Deals often are finalized at elaborate banquets where repeated toasts to new partnerships, health and prosperity are exchanged.
Taiwan actively encourages foreign investment in the development of tourist facilities and last year Taiwan welcomed a total of 3.37 million international visitors. Japan was the leader with more than 1.1 million arrivals followed by Hong Kong with 425,000. The United States was a close No. 3 as just fewer than 400,000 Americans spent time here in 2005. Although primarily a destination for business travelers, a major new marketing campaign dubbed “Tourism Flagship Plan” was initiated on Jan. 1. Its goal is to double the number of leisure travelers within three years. Four key promotional highlights — cuisine, night markets, hospitality and the ease of travel in Taiwan — are the focus of the campaign which also will involve upgrading transportation, hotels, restaurants and travel services in Taipei and at other tourist destinations around the country.
Visitors to the city who want to combine business with sightseeing should hire a car and driver, which is the most expedient way to negotiate Taipei’s traffic. At the top of the must-see list is the National Palace Museum, which recently completed a two-year renovation and contains one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of Chinese art and artifacts brought here from the mainland. More than 700,000 items are on display with outstanding exhibits of calligraphy and jade. Another place well worth visiting is Chiang Kai-shek’s Shilin Residence, the former estate of Chiang and his wife, Soong Mei Ling, that was shrouded in mystery and off-limits for many years before finally opening to the public in 1996. Also included on many city tours is Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall containing a 25-ton bronze statue of the former president who is still revered by many Taiwanese as a national hero.
There is still a tense relationship between Taipei and Beijing as the People’s Republic of China maintains its long-standing position that Taiwan is a rebel province, while the democratic government in Taipei maintains a pro-U.S., anti-Communist policy. Many Taiwanese have relatives on the mainland as a large number of the 2 million Nationalists who fled Communist China in 1949 with Chiang Kai-shek came from China’s Fujian province. Taiwanese are still prohibited from visiting China and Chinese cannot come here — however, there is talk that this policy may be reversed in the near future and travel will be allowed between the two countries.
This imposing 14-story, 490-room hotel features traditional palace-style architecture complete with vermilion pillars, stately archways and a brilliantly tiled roof. There are 10 restaurants and private dining parlors serving cuisine ranging from dim sum and steamed dumplings to fresh seafood and grilled steak. It is also well equipped to handle conferences and meetings with 10 fully equipped meeting rooms and an International Conference Hall and Auditorium for up to 400 guests. A glittering selection of Chinese gems and jewelry are on display and for sale in the lobby, and the 8,000-square-foot Presidential Suite doubles as a museum with its collection of rare Chinese works of art. $$$
1 Chung Shan N Road, Sec. 4
tel 886 2 2886 8888, fax 886 2 2885 2885
GRAND HYATT TAIPEI
This 856-room hotel in the trendy Xinyi district is one of the city’s most stylish properties. Among its attributes — an expansive lobby featuring live piano music, an indoor waterfall and a swimming pool wired with underwater stereo sound. The intimate Zigazaga Lounge is one of Taipei’s favorite watering holes for business travelers to meet for a before- or after-dinner drink. $$$$
GRAND HYATT TAIPEI
No. 2, Songshou Road, World Trade Center
tel 886 2 2720 1234 fax 886 2720 1111
SHANGRI-LA’S FAR EASTERN PLAZA HOTEL
Ideally located just a short walk from Taipei 101 and the Taipei World Convention Center, this 43-story, 422-room ultra-luxury hotel offers terrific views of Taipei 101 from the highest floors. Maintaining Shangri-La’s reputation for attentive service, it offers guests ultimate pampering in the Horizon Spa on the 40th floor, which blends Western and traditional Asian treatments. Past hotel guests include Bill Clinton who reportedly enjoyed dining in the popular Shanghai Pavilion on the 39th floor. The hotel also boasts the highest outdoor swimming pool in Taiwan. $$$$
SHANGRI LA’S FAR EASTERN PLAZA HOTEL
No. 201, Dunhua S. Road, Sec. 2
tel 886 2 2378 8888 fax 886 2 2377 7777
TANG KUNG BARBECUE
This always crowded, moderately priced buffet restaurant offers a choice of meats, vegetables and sauces cooked on a huge sizzling barbecue stove in full view of diners. Meals begin with hot soup delivered to each table in a steaming charcoal cauldron containing a mix of chicken marrow, scallions, ginger, garlic, tomatoes and other vegetables. This is also a great people-watching place and a favorite of families who gather around the circular tables. $$
TANG KUNG BARBECUE
2 Fl. 283, Sung-Chiang Road
tel 886 2 2502 6762
DIAN SHUI LOU
A bridge, waterfall, and stone carvings enhance the interior design of this downtown restaurant that is especially popular with Taiwanese businessmen entertaining clients. The menu features primarily Jiang-Zhe cuisine (from Jiangsu and Zhe-jang provinces near Shanghai). Among the specialties of the house are steamed dumplings with a variety of sweet and savory ingredients such as minced pork and vegetables. Other traditional Jiang-Zhe dishes include braised tender ribs with vegetables and steamed carp with sweet and sour sauce. Favorite desserts are steamed rice balls in red dates and steamed mashed taro with vanilla ice cream on top. $$$$
DIAN SHUI LOU
61 Nanjing East Road, Section 3
tel 886 2 2542 8060
INFO TO GO
It takes about 50 minutes to go by taxi or bus on the highway connecting Chiang Kai-shek International Airport (CKS) to downtown Taipei. Many of the downtown hotels provide limousines for their guests (prices vary). A taxi ride will cost about $40. For more information about Taiwan, visit the Korea Tourism Organization Web site at www.go2Taiwan.net.
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