I have just returned from a two-week solo trip in Taiwan where I did wonderful hikes, met hospitable people, and ate too much at the night markets. Two weeks was not enough time to explore this little island in its entirety, so I focused on exploring the north, using Taipei, the capital, as a base. And yet, I have not visited what is probably the most famous monument of the nation: the Taipei 101 skyscraper.
It must be said that even before arriving in Taipei, I was not sure that I wanted to visit Taipei 101. I do not particularly like going to a place just for the sake of saying that I went there. And there were so many things that I wanted to do, see and explore in two weeks and as Taipei 101 didn’t interest me that much, I did not really want to spend time there.
But (there is always a but!), Taipei 101 is not just any building. From 2004 to 2010 (until the construction of the Burj Khalifa), it was the highest skyscraper in the world. And, a fact that was of particular interest to me, Taipei 101 was designed to resist to earthquakes and typhoons, in a region where these natural disasters are not unusual.
So, on my first day in Taipei, at the end of the afternoon, when I was a little weary of having spent the whole day walking and exploring the capital and as the jet lag was beginning to kick in, I decided it might be a good time to visit Taipei 101. It seemed like a perfect, uncomplicated visit to conclude this first day and observe this city that would be my home for the next two weeks.
So I jumped on the subway and headed for the skyscraper (and as the building has a subway station in its name, it is rather easy to get there).
Taipei 101 is impressive from the outside. The architecture blends the modern and traditional genres, and recalls the Asian pagodas (the building is even sometime compared to a bamboo shoot). The skyscraper has 101 floors (hence its name) and measures 509 metres high. And now that I was at the base, I was starting to be pretty excited to get to the top.
To access it, you have to go through the shopping centre at its base, go up to the 4th floor and there, between some luxury shops, is the place where you can buy the tickets to access the observatory of Taipei 101.
I decided to buy my ticket at a vending machine. Small surprise, the ticket costs 600 Taiwanese dollars, the equivalent of $25 CAD. It may not seem like much (climbing to the top of the Empire State Building or the One World Observatory in New York costs much more), but compared to everything else in Taiwan, it’s a bit expensive. But I still bought my ticket for a scheduled visit thirty minutes later and I walked around the souvenir shops, patiently waiting for the moment when I could access the elevator.
When the time came, I showed my ticket to the security guard in front of the elevator, and he kindly pointed out that what I was giving him was the receipt, not the ticket. I quickly searched my pockets, looked around, retraced my steps … then I came back to the vending machine where I bought my ticket. I then noticed that it was written in capital letters, “DO NOT FORGET TO TAKE YOUR TICKET”, and that is exactly what I had done. I bought my ticket, got my receipt, but completely forgot to take my ticket. Ticket that was no longer there, obviously.
There was a long queue at the counter and I doubted my ability to negotiate a refund for a ticket I had lost. Buy another ticket or not? I was not sure that I wanted to …
So I left, angry with myself and my carelessness. And since I did not want to leave completely empty-handed, I decided to stop at the next metro station, the one leading to Elephant Mountain (in Chinese: 象山 – Xiangshan). Failing to go to the top of Taipei 101, the mountain would allow me at least to appreciate the view …
I ignored my fatigue, the scorching heat and the crowd of tourists (my frustration was an excellent source of motivation) and I climbed the steps to the observation platform at the top of Elephant Mountain. And from there, I had a great view of Taipei and its famous skyscraper. The setting sun, the light fog, the hundreds of dragonflies fluttering all around allowed me to live a magical moment. I quickly forgot my lost $25 and my failed visit.
And in the end, like the times when I did not visit the Turning Torso in Malmö or the Grundtvig church in Copenhagen, I thought this non-visit would make a good story …
Moral of this story: read ALL the instructions on vending machines. And when you are angry, frustrated or depressed, climbing to the top of a mountain is sometimes a good cure!