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Taipei: Where Modern Meets Traditional

Feb 1, 2004
2004 / February 2004

Taipei, Taiwan’s frenetic capital, has matured from its original role as a temporary city into one of the world’s most important capitals. Exiled Chinese nationalists who arrived in 1949 were preoccupied with dreams of a triumphant return to the mainland. As a result, they paid little attention to the city’s infrastructure and economy. Once reality set in, however, the expatriates set to work building the foundation of what has become the heart of its burgeoning economy.

Today, Taipei can boast the world’s tallest building. The 1,667-foot-high testament to the city’s expansion and secure standing high on the global economic pecking order will open for business next October. Radiating from this new monument, miles and miles of high-rise office towers and luxury condominiums stand on land once cultivated for rice paddies.

As in many burgeoning cities, modern coexists with ancient here. In the shadow of major thoroughfares, small alleys are lined with a dazzling variety of specialty shops and food markets. Traditional Chinese culture and lifestyle remain evident in the form of ancient temples, elaborate religious processions, ubiquitous herbal medicines and vociferous bargaining
at local market stalls.

Taiwan remains strong and economically vibrant. As the world’s 14th largest foreign trader, this commercial power can attribute its vitality to an explosion of exports and private investment.
Industry has shifted its focus from low-cost, labor-intensive production to high-tech goods and services. Taiwan’s electronic and information industries now rank third in the world.

Many of the larger exporters, once under license to produce foreign brands, are now exporting products under their own labels. Taiwan’s computer manufacturers, Acer and DTK Computer, compete on the world market. ProKennex is a leading sporting goods manufacturer. Since its entry into the World Trade Organization in 2002, Taiwan’s extensive fishing industry (deep-sea, inshore and coastal, along with fish breeding) has focused on improving ports and increasing income. The initiative has had a trickle-down effect. In a population of 22 million, the average person in Taiwan now enjoys a standard of living that’s well above the world’s average.

Taiwan is beginning to climb out of the economic slump that began to plague Asian markets in 2000. Taiwan’s economy grew about 5.19 percent during the second half of last year, after having been slowed by SARS and the war in Iraq at the start of 2003. Foreign trade continues to show steady growth, which is attributable to a modest growth of the global economy and the
government’s plans to increase public construction projects. Perhaps ironically, the Taiwanese people are growing more distant from China at a time when their economies are becoming more
interwoven. China is currently relying on Taiwan’s guidance and brainpower as it moves to build a strong, stable economy.

Foreign importers and exporters keep up to date with information provided by services like the China External Trade Development Council (www.cetra.org, tel 886 2 2725 5200, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

), a nonprofit foundation funded by the business community and headquartered in Taipei. With 28 branches worldwide, CETRA’s services include providing local contacts, trade
information, product design and trade education. Another helpful resource is the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council (www.us-taiwan.org, tel 703 465 2930, [email protected] wan.org), a Virginia-based
group that fosters relations between the two countries and helps its members succeed in the Taiwanese market by identifying decision-makers, arranging appointments and providing information about new business opportunities.

Although Taipei has emerged as a modern, international business city, business is still conducted in a very traditional manner and foreigners must be educated on the local customs. The Chinese prefer to conduct business with people they know, and if they do not know you they generally do not trust you. Significant time should be allocated to fostering a sociable climate in which business relations can incubate. Be prepared for enthusiastic eating and drinking, which will play a major role in your acceptance. Just be aware that this gracious hospitality should never be confused with true friendship.


Predictably, given the booming economic climate, Taipei’s hotels tend to cater to the business traveler. Many of the most familiar international hotel chains are represented.

Far Eastern Plaza Hotel
Part of the well-regarded Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, the Far Eastern Plaza Hotel goes out of its way to accommodate the business traveler. Public areas and guestrooms are decorated with Asian accents, including a prized 10th century Buddhist statue. There are 422 rooms, a fitness center and two outdoor swimming pools, one of which is heated for year-round use. It is conveniently located in a high-rise commercial complex.
Far Eastern Plaza, 201 Tun Hwa South Road, Sec. 2
Taipei, Taiwan, tel 800 942 5050 or 886 2 2378 8888
fax 886 2 2377 7777, www.shangri-la.com
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)



Grand Formosa Regent Hotel
The 538-room Grand Formosa Regent Hotel, situated in the heart of the downtown, is an ideal base for conducting business. Upper floors boast expansive city views. All the essential amenities are offered. There’s a heated swimming pool, health club, and some of Taipei’s best restaurants.
Grand Formosa Regent, 41 Chung Shan North Road
Sec. 2, Taipei, Taiwan, tel 800 545 4000
or 886 2 2523 8000, fax 886 2 2523 2828
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)



Sherwood Taipei
Another prime address, the Sherwood Taipei is especially well-suited for the business executive. Enter through a gracious, antique-laden lobby. The hotel’s 348 rooms are well-equipped. Service is excellent. A 24-hour business center and an indoor swimming pool round out the package.
Sherwood Taipei, 111 Min Sheng East Road, Sec. 3
Taipei, Taiwan, tel 886 2 2718 1188, fax 886 2 2713 0707
www.sherwood.com.tw, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)



Grand Hyatt Taipei
This 856-room Grand Hyatt Taipei is part of Taipei’s World Trade Centre. If you’re attending a conference at the convention center, it’s a logical and convenient choice. The hotel has a well-equipped fitness center staffed by personal trainers, a swimming pool and a wide variety of restaurants.
Grand Hyatt Taipei, 2 Song Shou Road, Taipei, Taiwan
tel 800 223 1234 or 886 2 2720 1234, fax 886 2 2720 1111
taipei.grand.hyatt.com, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)



Grand Hotel
Boasting traditional Chinese palace-style architecture and set regally on a hill overlooking the city, the Grand Hotel is the grande dame of Taipei hotels. Widely hailed for its over-the-top service and gracious hospitality, it’s equally popular among locals and visitors who arrive to dine in its excellent restaurants. The tranquil, slow-moving locale is not the most convenient. Some say the Grand Hotel’s act is a bit tired, but the price is right.
Grand Hotel, 1 Chung Shan North Road, Sec. 4
Taipei, Taiwan, tel 886 2 2886 8888, fax 886 2 2885 2885
www.grand-hotel.org, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)




Sophisticated Taipei offers a wide variety of cuisines from around the globe, but why bother? This megalopolis on the rise boasts some of the world’s best Chinese food. As the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” In 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek arrived in what is now Taipei, he shepherded more than 1.3 million soldiers who brought with them cuisines from virtually all of China. Foodies will revel in the fact that this fantastic regional cooking-ranging from refined Cantonese seafood to Shanghai-style “furry crab”-remains a tradition. With only 20 percent of its land cultivable, Taiwan has long relied on the sea for its food supply, so it’s no wonder its local cuisine tends to be heavy on seafood. Mostly on the mild side, indigenous dishes include fried stream shrimp and stir-fried fish with peanuts.

Chances are good that if you are staying at a Taipei hotel, you won’t have to walk far to find good food. Most fine-dining establishments are concentrated in hotels. Service is generally
included. If not, it’s appropriate to leave a gratuity of 10 percent.

For elegant Cantonese cooking that can compete with Hong Kong’s finest, try Tsai Fung Shuen in the Grand Formosa Regent. The chef prepares seafood fit for an emperor. Dinner menus begin at about $36. A spec ial Shark Fin soup menu is about $27 and lunch menus are available for about $20. Also in the Grand Formosa, you’ll find the less formal Tsai Yi Lo-favored by locals and visitors alike for its excellent dim sum. The elegantly appointed Golden Dragon Restaurant at the Grand Hotel is also renowned for its Cantonese kitchen and dim sum. Reservations are necessary, particularly for Sunday lunch. To experience true Taiwanese cooking, go to Lai Yuan at the Taipei Westin Hotel, where mouthwatering Shanghai cuisine also is featured.

Yearning for Peking duck? Yi-Yuan, also at the Westin, is the place to go. For spicier fare, Hunan Garden in the Sheraton Taipei Hotel serves some of the region’s best.

As long as you’re in Taipei, a dumpling restaurant should be on your lunch list. The place to go is Din Tai Fung (194, Xinyi Road, Sec. 2, tel 02 2321 8927)-a popular, casual spot that specializes in Shanghai-style dim sum. Reservations are not accepted, so it’s best to arrive early if you want to indulge in the lighter-than-air dumplings that are so popular they sometimes sell out. Din Tai Fung opens at 11:30 a.m. While waiting for a table, you can watch the cooks skillfully rolling out the dough. Don’t miss the special dumplings-soup is inside the thin skin-with a tasty pork filling.

For the full range of Chinese cuisine and the “show” that comes with it, visit one of the night markets. At Shihlin you’ll find specialties such as oyster omelet, stir-fried squid, Danzai noodles and spring rolls. Be sure to try the sweet potato French fries.


Taipei is laden with malls and shopping centers offering everything from high-end European designer clothing to antiques and handicrafts. The Galleria, boutiques located below the Grand Formosa Regent Hotel, and The Mall, a European/American shopping center at the Far Eastern Plaza Hotel, cater to a young, trendy crowd seeking designer fashions. Perhaps more interesting to visitors, especially when it comes to gift shopping, the Chinese Handicraft Mart at No. 1 Xuzhou Road, and the Guanghua Commercial Plaza, which features a jade market that’s open every day. It’s also home to Taipei’s oldest computer shop where the latest technology is offered at
reasonable prices. Along Dihua Street in old Taiwan, you will find 100-year-old shops selling traditional products from all over the country. Night markets, such as Shihlin, are full of local color and are best for handicrafts (cash only). The National Palace Museum’s gift shop has high-quality reproductions.

Time Off

The National Palace Museum, perched on a northern suburban hillside, is Taipei’s jewel. It contains the world’s greatest collection of Chinese art, spanning 5,000 years of Chinese
history. Originally, it was part of the Chinese imperial collection in Beijing, which dates back 1,000 years to the early Sung dynasty. The best of the collection is on permanent display, while additional treasures, including paintings and artifacts made of jade, porcelain and bronze, are featured in rotating exhibits. The 700,000-piece collection is so enormous that only 10 percent can be displayed at any one time. The remainder is stashed away in tunnels extending from the museum to the nearby hills. It is worth timing your visit to coincide with guided English-speaking tours that start at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. If that’s not convenient, audio guides are available. There is also a traditional-though barely known-Chinese garden called Chih-shan. (It’s closed on Mondays.) The San His T’ang Tea Room is the place to go to nibble on traditional Chinese snacks. Yang Ming Shan, a mountain where minerals were once mined and sold to Japanese and Chinese traders, stands above the museum.

Old Taiwan includes Lungshan Temple (Dragon Mountain), named for two Buddhist goddesses: Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy, and Matsu, the goddess of the sea who aided fisherman. Originally built in the 18th century, the temple was last rebuilt in the 1950s and remains a fine example of Chinese temple design. Taiwanese come to Lungshan to pray for favors, many of which involve requests for good health and prosperity. The temple is open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. It’s just a few blocks from the Hushsi Street night market and Snake Alley, where many of the restaurants feature snake soup and other regional delicacies.

Go back in time to ancient China at the Lin Family Garden, replete with flowers, artificial mountains, rocks and ponds, man-made pavilions and bridges. Altogether, it is a fine example of classical Chinese-style landscaping.

For a getaway, such as a day of hiking, head to Yangmingshan National Park-a mountainous area just a short distance fr om Taipei. You’ll see waterfalls, lakes, rice paddies and volcanic craters, steaming hot springs and amazing cherry and azalea blossoms in the spring. True adventurers can go white-water rafting on the Hsiukuhuan River, about 90 minutes from the capital.

Combine business with pleasure at any one of 12 area golf courses that welcome visitors. Most major hotels will make the arrangements, including reserving rental equipment and caddies. The magnificent Ta Shee Resort in Yung-Fu, just over an hour south of Taipei, is top-notch. In Taoyuan, close to Taipei, there are golf days designated for nonmembers at three clubs-Taoyuan Golf Club, Taipei Golf Club and Marshall Golf & Country Club. The Taiwan Golf & Country Club was constructed in 1919 during the Japanese occupation and is near the old seaside town of Danshuei, an hour north of Taipei by car. The town is known for its old-fashioned shops, which sell antiques, and for its fresh seafood restaurants. Be aware that many genuine Chinese antiques, ancient coins and artwork cannot be taken out of the country. It’s best to inquire before you buy.

For detailed up-to-the-minute information, call the Tourist Information Hot Line at 02 2717 3737. It is open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Getting There

Taiwan is about 100 miles from the southeastern coast of the Chinese mainland. The tobacco-leaf-shaped island is 245 miles long and just about 89 miles across at its widest point. It is located halfway between Japan and Korea to the north, and the Philippines to the south. Travelers arriving from the United States have several options. Taiwan-based airlines are known
to offer excellent service. China Airlines (tel 917 368 2000, www.china-airlines.com) operates daily flights from the United States. including nonstop service from Los Angeles and through
Anchorage, Alaska, from New York. EVA Airways (tel 800 695 1188, www.evaair.com), a Taiwanese carrier affiliated with the Evergreen Group, flies nonstop from Los Angeles to Taipei, and from New York (Newark) through Seattle. Northwest/KLM (tel 800 225 2525, www.nwa.com) also connects the United States and Taiwan through Tokyo, but service requires a change of aircraft and a layover. Chiang Kai-shek International Airport is about 25 miles southwest of Taipei. The ride from the airport to downtown should take 45 to 60 minutes, depending on the traffic. Major hotels provide transportation to and from the airport, but there is usually a charge. Visas are not required for stays of up to six months.

Down to Business

Dress Code

Traditional business attire (suits and ties for men) is expected in business settings.


Shaking hands is the standard form of greeting. While a slight bow is a sign of respect, don’t overdo it.

In the Cards

When meeting someone for the first time, present your business card with both hands, accompanied by a slight bow. If possible, have your card printed in Chinese on the reverse side. Your hotel concierge may be able to handle this.

Social Code

You may be offered tea, cigarettes or betel nuts. It’s polite to accept the gesture. You may also present a small gift to your business associates. Packaged food is always welcome.

Travel Tip:
Mandarin is the national language, although many Taiwanese speak some English. Taxi drivers generally speak only Chinese. It’s a good idea to arrive with a card bearing the name of your destination written in Chinese, along with the approximate cost of the taxi ride.


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