TAIPEI - Taiwan

Population: 3 m
Area Code: (+886) 2
Time Zone: GMT +8
Currency: New Taiwan dollar (NT $) = 100 cents
Climate: sub-tropical; average temperatures: 12C/54F - 18C/64F (Feb); 24C/75F - 33C/92F (Jul)
Chiang Kai-shek International Airport: 40km/25 miles.

In the popularity stakes of finalists among the Far-Eastern metropolises, Taiwan's capital could not home for more than an honorable mention. The gold medal would go to Hong King for business and pleasure; the silver to Singapore for law and order, and the bronze maybe to bangkok for chaos and charm. Taipei has always tended to be unfairly dismissed as the 'Ugly Duckling' - not least by its own citizens, who still refer to it as the "provisional capital". Certainly no one has ever thought to call it the 'Pearl of the Orient', anyway - not even in jest.

Architecturally speaking, Taipei still suffers from the Bonn syndrome. It's a provisional capital whose shadow no one ever bothered to endow with substance. Unlike the German 'world village' on the Rhine, however, from 1978 the sprawling metropolis sitting in the broad basin formed by the Tamsui and Keelung rivers has sprung wildly upwards and outwards without a detectable overall plan, following the sudden lifting of the ban on skyscraper construction. Clogged by the myriad vehicles which symbolize its new prosperity, the road system has been struggling to catch up ever since. Recent attempts to improve the resultant ugliness are bearing fruit, however, as sparkling glass-and-steel facades dwarf the concrete drabness of the early boom years.

The pioneering spirit is still in evidence, too. Taipei's go-ahead approach rests on a wide manufacturing base; not only the traditional textiles, but electronics and plastics are increasingly major foreign-exchange earners, with exports ranging from toys to luxury yachts. However, you will search in vain for the cast conglomerates common to America or Japan. Many factory complexes have already been transferred to the mainland, and in any case, most companies here are still predominantly family concerns, with small payrolls to match. On the small or large scale, connections - Kuanxi - continue to determine the A and O of business relations here.

Having become the hub of one of the continent's most prosperous nations within the space of less than fifty years, Taipei and its citizens are also amongst the most image conscious. The years of xenophobia and isolation and the traditional thrift of past generations seem at first sight largely forgotten in the race for designer fashions and status imports. On the leisure scene, coffee shops and karaoke bars almost outnumber the traditional teahouses. Jealously guarded, however, is the quintessential Chinese heritage, brought over by immigrants from the Middle Kingdom across the centuries, and much in evidence in the lavish temple festivals or the East, is in itself worth the pilgrimage to Taipei for the treasures amassed by an imperial dynasty over the centuries.

* Taiwan
* Taipei
* The Sights and Attractions in Taipei
* Place to Stay and Hangout in Taipei

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