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Taipei: Indispensable Global City

Oct 31, 2014
2014 / October 2014

Horace Greeley’s advice to enterprising Civil War veterans — “Go West, young man” — might also apply today. But in this century, it points further west, across the Pacific to Taipei, where enterprise is flourishing on the island of Taiwan. The bustling, cosmopolitan city lies at the core of a region devoted to bridging the East and West and expanding into the future.

As Northern Taiwan City, the translation of its name, spells out, Taipei perches on the north end of Taiwan, in the Taipei Basin along the Tamsui River, about 16 miles southwest of the Pacific Ocean port city of Keelung. Together the two cities make up a metropolitan area with almost 7 million residents, many descended from the 2 million Kuomintang compatriots of Chiang Kai-shek who decamped here from Communist China in 1949 when the island was called Formosa. Well-educated and wealthy, the refugees set about transforming the country from its agricultural base.

Using capital from their crops to develop industry, the new class of land reformers “developed industry through agriculture and agriculture through industry.” Infusions of U.S. aid along with government planning and universal education led to huge advancements. Textiles and apparel followed the original agricultural impetus, and subsequently technology rose to the fore as the region evolved into one of the high-tech centers of the world, with small and medium-sized manufacturing firms making up about 85 percent of business.

From 1951 to 1962, the economy grew by an average 9 percent per year while transforming itself from a recipient of U.S. aid to an aid donor and major foreign investor, with expenditures primarily centered in Asia. By the 1960s, the economy earned the nickname “Taiwan Miracle,” and its capital city is still going strong, sustaining its reputation as one of the high-tech centers of the world as a leader in semiconductors, electronics and IT.

Trade has been the engine of rapid growth from the beginning, delivering an economy that ranks among the largest in the world by purchasing power and gross domestic product. Originally exporting to America and Europe and then adding Japan, Hong Kong and mainland China as major trade partners, the total value of trade increased fivefold in the 1960s, tenfold in the 1970s and doubled again in the 1980s. In 2013, exports totaled $305 billion, up 4.3 percent from 2012 and surpassing the $300 billion mark for the third year in a row. With almost full employment and virtually no inflation, the Taipei metropolitan region flourishes, with its $48,400 per capita GDP second only to Tokyo’s.

Government support has been key to progress. The technology industry was virtually non-existent until 1980, when the farseeing finance minister Kwoh-ting Li established Hsinchu Science Park, Taiwan’s “Silicon Valley,” to foster scientific and technological advancement and innovation. Now the area, within commuter distance of Taipei, encompasses 400 firms in the adjacent Industrial Technology Research Institute, home also to the world’s top two semiconductor foundries: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and United Microelectronics Corp. Taiwan ranks as the fourth-largest producer of solar-powered batteries and the largest LED manufacturer by volume. Cooperating with international suppliers, the country has become the research and development hub of the Asia Pacific region.

Along with introducing the concept of venture capital to fund high-tech startups, the government took a strong lead in nurturing and raising awareness of local industry. Ecosystem incubators support entrepreneurial projects. In a three-pronged marketing approach, government programs promote made-in-Taiwan products, approach emerging markets and invigorate existing markets. To that end, a network of Taiwan Trade centers operates around the world, with new branches recently opened in Kuwait, Myanmar, the Philippines and key cities of mainland China. In the United States, Taiwanese interests are overseen by the Washington, D.C.-based Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, which operates seven offices in New York City managing cultural, investment, trade, education and tourist affairs.

Annual Young Designers’ Exhibition at the Taipei World Trade Center © Moophoto | Dreamstime.com

Annual Young Designers’ Exhibition at the Taipei World Trade Center © Moophoto | Dreamstime.com

Two enormous exhibition spaces, the Taipei World Trade Center and nearby Nangang Exhibition Hall, help host an ambitious program of seminars and trade fairs to promote the region at home and overseas. Starting with the Taiwan Trade Fair, held in Nanjing in 2009 to help small and medium-sized companies establish their brands, the program has grown extensively, with 32 international trade shows organized in 2013. The annual Sourcing Taiwan convention drew 600 buyers to meet with 2,200 Taipei companies and generated $5 billion in business. “Trade with the U.S.” large-scale procurement meetings helped boost purchases made by overseas companies. Upcoming events in Taipei include the Innovation Match-Making Show and the Parent & Baby Industry Show, with medical services, cultural and creative industries, franchising opportunities, IT services, management consulting, the film industry and food technology also targeted for attention.

Boosting tourism is another thrust of government support. Taipei lies within a scenic area with hot springs, bicycle paths, museums and historic sites. The city’s tourism website offers guidebook theme packages and discounts for art and design, slow food, and historic and cultural sites in four different areas of town. The past year saw increases in cruise passengers and a surge in visitors from mainland China now outnumbering those from Japan.

As the economic focus of the country, Taipei faces the challenges expected in a highly concentrated export-oriented economy. Taiwan must import most of its energy needs, around 98 percent. Besides competition from overseas, the predominance of small and medium-sized enterprises offers less room for growth, leading some human resources to seek opportunities elsewhere. While the smaller, labor-intensive industries continue to decline and move offshore to regions with cheaper work forces, they are replaced with more technology-intensive and service industries as Taipei gears up to find solutions to the future’s emerging needs.

Already improving energy efficiency, the government continues to invest in renewable energy and other “green” improvements. Innovators in Taipei are developing outdoor LED lighting to sustain the growth of bamboo, devising wireless sensor networks to monitor insect threats to crops, recycling coffee grounds into odor-resistant textiles, and fabricating glass that can be adapted to create transparent smartphones. Already riders can pop into convenience stores and pick up hydrogen cylinders to fuel their scooters, a nonpolluting combustion that emits only water. Designated to be the World Design Capital in 2016, Taipei’s theme will be “Adaptive City — Design in Motion,” demonstrating why cities must be able to adapt to citizens’ demands.

Improved relations with the mainland have resulted in preferential treatment, offering foreign investors a liaison to the rapidly growing markets in greater China. Touting its favorable business environment — efficient industrial clusters, complete infrastructure, political vision, stable economy and abundant capital funds, sound legal framework and intellectual property protection, sophisticated human resources and desirable lifestyle — Taipei welcomes international companies as it forges toward emerging as an indispensible global hub.

Things to Do in Taipei

A trip to the top of Taipei 101, which for six years, until 2010, was the world’s tallest building, provides a good introduction to the city. In order to withstand earthquakes and typhoons, it was designed with great stability, and besides taking in the view, spectators can walk around a platform surrounding the 660-ton steel pendulum suspended inside the tower to offset gusts of wind.

The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial © Roland Nagy | Dreamstime.com

The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial © Roland Nagy | Dreamstime.com

A must-see site, the National Palace Museum houses one of the world’s finest collections of Chinese art, much of it imperial treasures from the Forbidden Palace, which the Nationalists brought over from the mainland. Visitors can gape at nests of intricately carved concentric balls created out of single pieces of ivory, dollhouse ship models complete with miniature passengers and crews, glorious porcelains and calligraphy.

Two leaders are memorialized in grandiose monuments. An entire city block park surrounds the pagoda-roofed tribute to Dr. Sun Yat-sen, and visitors to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial can see the Generalissimo’s limousines, desk, medals and uniforms on display.

In the northern suburb of Beitou, a region of hot springs, bathhouses offer a range of treatments and opportunities for relaxation including soaks in the sulfurous waters, massages and foot baths. More hot springs, waterfalls, volcanic craters, bamboo forests and flower festivals are found in Yangmingshan National Park.

It’s no wonder shopping is a paramount activity in one of the world’s most densely populated and prosperous commercial cities. Ultramodern malls in Xinyi sell familiar export goods such as Gucci, Prada, Hermès and Chanel. Young people frequent the shops in the Xi Men Ding neighborhood. Also popular are the night markets, rows of booths crammed with T-shirts and clothing, souvenirs, street foods and opportunities for walk-in foot massages. Weekends, find amulets and a paradise of flowers at the Chien-Kuo jade and flower markets.

Shopping in Taipei © Wayne0216 | Dreamstime.com

Shopping in Taipei © Wayne0216 | Dreamstime.com

Foods from every Chinese province arrived with Chiang Kai-shek’s refugees, and the breadth of cuisines makes Taipei one of the world’s exceptional gourmet capitals. Fine restaurants and street markets sell an array ranging from dim sum to Beijing duck to the specialties concocted of snake meat served at “Snake Alley,” the Huaxi Street Night Market. The daring can try a thimbleful of the potent local Kinmen Kaoliang fermented sorghum liquor.

Themed Taipei Pass booklets offer guides and discounts to various attractions in different areas of the city.


Sasha Chou Marketing Manager, Taiwan Tourism Bureau, New York City

The people of Taipei are educated and have a worldwide view; we love to travel and know how to enjoy life. We’re very Westernized, but one thing to observe is a Cantonese custom if you are served tea. Westerners tend to say, “Thank you,” but we merely tap the table beside the cup to show appreciation.

The city is so convenient. Taipei has the highest concentration of 7-Eleven and FamilyMart convenience stores per capita, and you can do everything there — buy food, pay bills, purchase train tickets. You can drive around the city, but it also has good public transport, all of it interchangeable on the EasyCard. Taipei was just named second-safest city in the world, and it’s open 24 hours, so you have the night markets and all-night bookstores, and you don’t get bored.

As for business, the government welcomes commerce, constantly updating facilities and exhibition halls, encouraging new hotels, installing highspeed trains and making it an easy place to work.

The Blue and Green parties are always squabbling, but we are a democracy and there is freedom of speech. People protest for their causes; we speak our minds, and from the heart.

Taipei is a metropolitan city, but it is very close to nature. In 20 minutes, you can go up to the mountains, go biking, hiking and enjoy nature. I like to go to Yangmingshan National Park. There are cafés and bars, and you can have a drink and watch the lights of the city or take a ride on the Maokong Gondola to overlook the town. Visitors like to stop at the village Jiufen up in the mountains to get a taste of tradition.

The new Taipei Dome stadium complex will bring more sports to the city. And we are encouraging cruise lines to stop and visit. Keelung has the infrastructure to handle all types of ships, and Royal Caribbean has invested in our outlying island in Penghu. We recently joined with Hong Kong to launch the Asia Cruise Fund, which will subsidize and promote cruise tourism.

Taipei Info to Go

International flights operate from Taoyuan International Airport, which lies about 30 miles west of the city. Songshan Airport, within the city, serves domestic flights and some routes to Japan and mainland China. International Health Liaison Centers at the two airports provide medical care and consultation to international travelers in an effort to raise the image of Taiwan’s high-quality health services. A shuttle bus connects Taoyuan Airport with Taipei Station, the comprehensive hub for subway, bus and conventional and high-speed rail, all of which use a contactless EasyCard.

A Taipei MRT train above a city street © Worldcitywonderlust | Dreamstime.com

A Taipei MRT train above a city street © Worldcitywonderlust | Dreamstime.com

Taipei: Just the Facts

Time Zone: GMT + 8
Phone Code: Country code: 886 City code: 2
Currency: Taiwan new dollar
Entry/Exit Requirements: U.S. citizens must have a valid passport that will remain valid for the period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays up to 90 days.
Official Language: Standard Mandarin
Key Industries: Electronics, communications and information technology products, petroleum refining, armaments, chemicals, textiles, iron and steel, machinery, cement, food processing, vehicles, consumer products, pharmaceuticals

Where to Stay in Taipei

Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel, Taipei Taipei’s tallest hotel offers a sophisticated East/West décor. Besides the spa and fitness center, enjoy the 43rd-floor outdoor swimming pool with stunning views of Taipei 101 and nearby mountains. No. 201, Sec. 2, Tun Hwa South Road $$$$

Grand Hyatt Taipei Linked to the Taipei World Trade Center, the Hyatt is convenient and elegant, with guestrooms overlooking the nearby mountains, excellent cuisine, a 24-hour gym and an outdoor heated pool. 2 SongShou Road $$$$

The Sherwood Taipei Minutes from the Wenhu Line Metro, the Sherwood has 343 contemporary guestrooms with filtered fresh air, an Executive Business Center and an extensive 20th-floor gym abutting an indoor pool with French doors leading outside. No. 111, Sec. 3, Min Sheng East Road $$$$

Restaurants in Taipei

Din Tai Fung Taipei boasts six branches of this popular restaurant specializing in juicy dumplings. Most convenient is the shop in Xinyi, but at any branch savor the dainty pastries with savory fillings. No. 194, Sec. 2, Xinyi Road, Da’an District $$

Formosa Chang Seated at “traditional” wooden tables and stools, diners enjoy lu rou fan (braised pork rice), the signature dish at this restaurant which brings street food into mass production. No. 146, Sec. 4, Chongqing North Road $$

Tang Find fresh, straight-from-the-market Taiwanese cuisine served in a comfortable setting at this low-key restaurant with a handwritten menu offering around 20 original dishes each day. No. 18, Sec. 3, Jinan Road, Da’an District $$$

Read more about Taipei 101.


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FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.


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