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Taiwan: Exotic experience

tppMOHAMED EL HEBEISHY: Whenever we say China, we think of mainland China, or rather the People’s Republic of China as it is officially known. But have we ever thought that there could be another China? Join Mohamed El Hebeishy as he travels outside the box to the Republic of China … or rather Taiwan. It all started in the 1940s. After Japan’s defeat in World War II, the island of Taiwan came under the control of Kuomintang (Chinese National Party), the same government at that time controlled the whole of China. Nonetheless, and in 1949 things took a different turn when the Kuomintang government lost the Chinese Civil War to the Commies. They were left with not much of a choice but to seek refuge in Taiwan. That was a mass exodus of about two million people. Putting politics aside, what does Taiwan offer its visitors? Food, food, and food. May be some sightseeing and shopping as well.
Run a quick search on Google and food will pop up as one of the main attractions in Taiwan. The capital, Taipei, is literally dotted with night markets, where you can find endless stalls of eateries selling all sorts of Chinese delicacies. For the Taiwanese, it is their day-to-day affair, but for the visiting tourist, it is different, exotic, and yummy. Don’t come back from Taiwan before you have tasted oyster omelette, grilled squid, and noodles (comes with endless versions as you are the one who pick and choose the ingredients). For your drink, go for nothing but Bubble Tea. Taiwan’s national drink is a cold milk tea that comes with sago seeds (hence came the bubble in its naming). It is dehydrating (it can get hot and humid in Taiwan), it is refreshing, and it gives you the sugar surge that will keep you going for another few kilometers. Yes, you will be walking a lot while in Taiwan (so don’t worry that much about the extra calories you are getting). The capital Taipei comes with a handful of sights that strongly warrant a visit. Topping the list is the former holder of the world’s longest tower title — Taipei 101. On Dec. 31, 2004, Taipei 101 with its 508 meter knocked out Malaysia’s Petronas Towers (with its 452 meter height it had reigned as the world’s tallest building since 1998).
Six years later though, and in 2010, Taipei 101 lost its title to the UAE’s colossal Burj Khalifa with its 828 meter height. Being a Muslim myself, I am always keen on visiting mosques wherever I travel. It is always interesting to note the differences in Islamic architecture. The Taiwanese capital’s largest mosque is Taipei Grand Mosque. It was first built in the 1940s, but the number of Chinese Muslims immigrating from mainland China increased, and a need for a bigger mosque was imminent. The current building was inaugurated in 1960 and declared a historic building in 1999. Shopping in Taipei is a must do activity. The night markets carry more than just food, so head to Shilin Night Market for touristic nicknacks, cloths, and accessories. If it is brands you are looking for then head to any of the shopping malls that pepper the city. Taipei City Mall is actually an underground one that runs for about 825 meter connecting metro stations along Civic Boulevard. Personally I am more of an outdoor person, the idea of shopping underground is a bit claustrophobic to me; I prefer a stroll in the pedestrian area of Ximending. It has everything you are looking for. Taiwan is not all about the capital, as there are other towns and attractions a stone’s throw away from Taipei. The mountainous town of Jiufen offers a different experience with its elevated views of the coast and the amazing Old Street.
Old Street is the prime tourist attraction of Jiufen with its narrow alleyways zigzagging though the town. It is often packed with tourists and offers a great opportunity to do your souvenir shopping with a huge array of all sorts of trinkets, from fridge magnets to traditional Chinese dresses. One very peculiar Jiufen souvenir you don’t want to miss out on is the gold and coal chocolates. Paying tribute to Jiufen mining heydays, Sophisca sells gold chocolate, made with edible gold leaf, and coal chocolate, made with healthy and natural bamboo coal toner.
Speaking of gold, if you make it to Jiufen, then you would want to add Jinguashi Golden Waterfalls to your itinerary. As the name might imply this waterfall comes with some sort of a golden color. In my opinion it’s more coppery than golden; nonetheless, it is a phenomenon courtesy of a chemical reaction that started to occur with the mining for copper further upstream. Statistics of the Taiwanese Tourism Bureau puts the number of total foreign visitors in 2015 at almost 10.5 million with about 18,000 of them coming from the Middle East; that is less than 0.2 percent. Taking into account what Taiwan has to offer, and the country not being an expensive destination, I think this number will be changing in the near future.

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