Taipei Taiwan Travel Guide for First Timers

If you are planning a trip to Taiwan for the first time, there are several areas worth visiting to make the most of your trip. While there are multiple beautiful, historic areas, the following are my personal favorites for Taipei travel. Please feel free to use this as a sort of personal Taipei travel guide when planning your Taipei vacation.

Taipei 101

We start our Taipei tour at Taipei 101. This is a skyscraper located in the Xinyi District. In 2004, it was listed as the world’s tallest building at 1,671 feet. It held that title for 6 years until the Burj Khalifa in Dubai eclipsed Taipei 101 in 2010. The tower boasts 101 stories and features an outdoor observation deck on the 91st floor like the Empire State Building in New York City where you can see beautiful views of the surrounding areas.

The bottom five floors of Taipei 101 feature a luxury shopping mall with upscale shops such as Burberry and Louis Vuitton. On the 88th floor indoor observatory, you can see the 730-ton mass damper, basically a giant ball that acts like a pendulum to counteract the buildings sway during high winds. Without this damper, people on high floors can actually suffer from motion sickness from the constant swaying of the building! Taipei 101 is a city icon that is visible for miles across the city. Every New Year’s, Taipei 101 attracts tens of thousands of visitors to see its spectacular fireworks display.

Ximending Shopping

If you are into shopping, you can’t go wrong with Ximending. This is the shopping area in the Wanhua district of Taipei and is considered to be the fashion capital of Taiwan. On weekends, Ximending streets are closed to traffic and becomes a pedestrian shopping mall. The area is popular with street performers of all types and, because it is a hotspot, you can catch celebrities hosting small outdoor concerts, album launches, and other events.

Ximending is also famous for its “Theater Street” where there is a concentration of several movie along Wuchang Street. For history buffs, though, the most famous theater in the district is the Red House Theater which was built in 1908 during Japanese occupation and is still an operational theater with regular performances.

Yangmingshan National Park

If beautiful sights are what you look forward to when travelling, then I can’t recommend Yangmingshan enough. It is the largest natural park in Taipei. Yangmingshan is great for hiking and has numerous trails that can last an entire day or just a couple of hours. Popular trails include Seven Stars Peak which will take you to the highest peak in Taipei at 1120 meters (3600 feet) or see the stunning waterfall of the Juansi Waterfall Trail.

Each February through March, Yangmingshan is the site of the Yangmingshan Flower Festival when several varieties of flowers such as azaleas, camellias, and especially cherry blossoms reach their peak bloom. Every evening of the festival, cherry blossom trees are illuminated for a particularly romantic sight. Visitors can also have lunch and dinner at one of many restaurants such as The Top or Grass Mountain Chateau for spectacular vistas of Taipei below.

Between the beauty of the cherry blossoms and the views of the city, Yangmingshan is a well-known romantic spot for lovers all over Taipei. From April to May, when calla lilies reach full bloom, you can pick your own lily flowers for only a few dollars at one of several flower farms.

Lastly, don’t miss out on Yangming Shuwu, also known as Yangming Villa, the beautiful summer retreat of the late president Chiang Kai-shek. Yangming Villa house and gardens are maintained as they were when occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Chiang. The house is a two-story traditional Chinese home, with reception rooms and offices on the first floor and the Chiang’s personal residence on the second floor where their paintings and personal photographs are still displayed. The gardens are especially beautiful in the Spring when the flowers are in bloom. As a bit of trivia, it’s been noted that several bushes are planted in bunches of five – to symbolize the “5-star” rank of General Chiang.

National Palace Museum

Next, we find ourselves at the National Palace Museum which opened in 1965. If you love history, this is the place to be! National Palace Museum has a humongous collection of 700,000 permanent exhibits of Chinese Imperial history and artwork that spans over 2000 years plus prehistoric Chinese artifacts and artwork that dates to the Neolithic era, or better known as the “Stone Age”.

The most popular item in its collection is the Jadeite Cabbage. Carved during the 19th century, it is a piece of jadeite that has been shaped to resemble a head of Chinese cabbage and has a locust and a grasshopper camouflaged in its leaves. Legend says the sculpture is a metaphor for female fertility, with the white cabbage stalk representing purity, the green leaves of the cabbage representing fertility, and the insects representing children.

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Another historically significant landmark on our trek to learn about the history of Taiwan is the Chiang Kia-shek Memorial Hall. This is a national monument that was built in honor of former Republic of China President Chiang Kia-shek. The memorial marks the geographic and cultural center of Taipei. It is the most visited attraction by foreign tourists. The pagoda style memorial hall has a presidential library and museum on the ground level.

The main hall features a large, seated statue of Chiang Kai-shek, much like the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The memorial hall and its surrounding Liberty Square plaza encompasses 60 acres and includes many ponds and garden spaces. The plaza also houses two of Taipei’s performance art buildings, the National Theater and the National Concert Hall.

Beitou Hot Springs and Public Library

My favorite place to visit while in Taiwan is an area called Beitou. Beitou is a mountainous district north of Taipei City and is most known for its hot springs and its magnificent public library. The mineral waters from the many natural geothermal vents in Beitou are famous for their healing and therapeutic properties. An entire industry of hot springs bathhouses and hotels have sprung up in Beitou offering aroma therapy, massages, and hydrotherapy. There are a lot of places where tourists can soak their feet in the hot springs stream. Be sure to visit the Hot Springs Museum. When it was built in 1913, it was the largest public bathhouse in Asia at that time. Today, the museum offers a glimpse at its bathhouse facilities and Beitou’s history.

Next, visit the Beitou public library. Its wooden structure that fits seamlessly into its Beitou Park setting. Through use of eco-friendly features and design, the library is Taiwan’s first “green” building. The library opened in 2006 and was built to reduce the usage of water and electricity. To do this, architects used large windows to allowing in natural light and a solar panel roof to provide the electricity needed for operation. Also, the library collects rain water to be stored and used to flush its toilets.

Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf

Our final stopping point is Tamsui. Tamsui is located on the western tip of Taipei and our favorite place was the Fisherman’s Wharf. We learned that not only do the restaurants that dot the Fisherman’s Wharf boardwalk provide the freshest seafood available, it also provides breathtaking sunset views. Fisherman’s Wharf still functions as a harbor for local fishermen and they proudly provide harbor for 150 vessels! Our favorite walk is across the “Lover’s Bridge” pedestrian bridge, named as such because it opened on Valentine’s Day 2003.

Its architecture resembles a sailing ship’s masts. It was about a 3-minute walk across the bridge, which at sunset is magnificent. Lover’s Bridge is also a great place to catch the yearly fireworks show and concert that the city hosts each year to celebrate Chinese Valentine’s Day (which occurs in August and not February 14th). Another way to experience Tamsui is to take a ferry from the Tamsui Ferry Pier and disembark at the Fisherman’s Wharf. The ferry is a cheap way to see terrific views of the Tamsui waterfront. A one-way fare costs only $2 USD and takes only about 15 minutes.

People Who Inspire: The “Unsinkable” Maggie Brown

Margaret Brown was more than just an American Socialite and Philanthropist; she was a woman with a big heart and a love for people. Maggie had a humble beginning which may have given her the concern for the less fortunate that made her famous. Born as Margaret Tobin on July 18, 1867 in Hannibal, Missouri, to Irish Catholic immigrant parents living in a two room house, she had three brothers, a sister and two half sisters. Her parents were both widowed very young.

When Margaret was eighteen she and her older brother Daniel moved to Leadville, Colorado, with her sister Mary Ann and her sister’s husband. In those days mining in Colorado offered many a chance at a good job in the industry or in businesses that served the miners and their families. Maggie lived with her brother in a small house and found work in a department store. Margaret eventually met and married J.J. Brown.

Maggie had a chance to marry rich men that made their fortune in mining and tried courting her. Instead, she married a self-educated entrepreneur. When asked about that she stated:

“I wanted a rich man, but I loved Jim Brown. I thought about how I wanted comfort for my father and how I had determined to stay single until a man presented himself who could give to the tired old man the things I longed for him. Jim was as poor as we were, and had no better chance in life. I struggled hard with myself in those days. I loved Jim, but he was poor. Finally, I decided that I’d be better off with a poor man whom I loved than with a wealthy one whose money had attracted me. So I married Jim Brown.”

The couple were married on September 1, 1886 in Leadville at the Annunciation Church. Over the next three years they had two children, Larry and Helen. In 1893 everything changed for the Brown Family. J.J. was responsible for the discovery of gold at the Little Jonny Silver Mine owned by Ibex Mining. Switching from silver to gold production made the company rich and turned around the ninety percent unemployment rate among miners in Leadville. Ibex gave him 12,500 shares of stock and a position on their Board of Directors.

Margaret donated her time and effort to working in a soup kitchen that served the needy families of Miners down on their luck. She was outspoken when it came to woman’s rights and very active in the Suffrage movement to gain women the right to vote. Maggie assisted in fundraising efforts for the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (completed in 1911). She also worked with Judge Ben Lindsey to help destitute children and establish the United States’ first juvenile court, which formed the model for the modern U.S. juvenile courts system.

Margaret’s social views were not supported by her husband who had very sexist beliefs about the role of women in marriage and society. Sadly, these views were typical among most wealthy men and their socialite wives in those days. Although it never happened to her, women were regularly and legally whipped by their husbands for most any infraction. These might include serving dinner late, having a messy house or failing to properly supervise children. Maggie also managed to annoy J.J. and others by wearing oversized women’s hats to draw attention to herself and her causes.

In less than a year the Browns were wealthy and in 1894 they bought a Victorian Mansion in Denver. In 1897 they built a summer home near Bear Creek in Southwest Denver. Margaret helped establish the Denver Women’s Club with other wealthy wives. The club’s mission was to improve the lives of women through education and philanthropy. Maggie embraced her new role by getting involved with the arts and becoming fluent in French, German, Italian, and Russian.

Margaret Brown became a wealthy socialite, but she despised snobs. Maggie gave successful parties attended by many of Denver’s well known socialites. However, even after starting an association which celebrated French Culture (which was a favorite of wealthy women in those days), she was unable to gain entry into Denver’s most elite women’s group, Sacred 36. Members of that group attended exclusive parties and dinners hosted by Louise Sneed Hill. Brown called her “the snobbiest woman in Denver”.

Maggie’s early feminist views constantly annoyed her husband and some of the more influential members of Denver Society. In 1909 Margaret and J.J. signed a separation agreement. As religious Catholics they never divorced, but lived apart for the remainder of their lives. The two still communicated in a friendly way and cared for one another. Margaret received a cash settlement, maintained possession of their homes and received a $700 monthly allowance to continue her travels and social work.

Margaret Brown spent 1912 traveling throughout the Middle East and Europe. While in France she received a message from Denver saying that her eldest grandchild was seriously ill. She booked First Class passage on the RMS Titanic which was the very next passenger ship leaving for New York. Her daughter Helen was supposed to accompany her, but she decided to stay in Paris to continue her studies. Brown was transported to the Titanic aboard the tender SS Nomadic at Cherbourg, France, on the evening of April 10, 1912.

On April 15, 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg at around 11:40 pm. Less than three hours later it slipped below the surface. During the rush to save as many as possible, Maggie helped other passengers get into their lifeboats, refusing to board her own. She was finally persuaded to leave the ship in Lifeboat No. 6. The brash Brown was later called “unsinkable” by a newspaper which reported on her stubborn refusal to leave the ship until she had helped as many as possible to board lifeboats, as well as her other actions to save lives and help survivors.

As the Titanic sank Maggie urged Quartermaster Robert Hichens to turn the half empty lifeboat around and look for survivors. Hichens was afraid the lifeboat would either be pulled down by suction from the Titanic or swamped by people trying to get into it, so he refused her request. Passengers from her life boat later told the press that Brown then threatened to throw the crewman overboard. After the Titanic Survivors were picked up by the RMS Carpathia, Brown organized a committee of First Class Passengers to help Second and Third Class Passengers. They provided essentials and even arranged for counseling.

Margaret Brown ran for a Senate seat from Colorado in 1914. She abruptly ended her campaign to return to France to work with the American Committee for Devastated France during World War I. Afterward, she used her new found fame as “The Unsinkable Mrs. Brown” to speak out for literacy among women and children, and better working conditions for Miners. Maggie also continued to push for women’s rights and raise money for worthy causes like the Red Cross.

During the 1920s Maggie fulfilled a lifelong ambition and became an actress. The desire the public had to meet her because of all the publicity she received brought people out in large numbers. Her fame as a Titanic survivor and her outspoken brashness made her an instant success in the world of theater. She outlived her husband, but on October 26, 1932, Margaret Brown died in her sleep at the Barbizon Hotel in New York City. An autopsy revealed that she died because of a brain tumor. She was buried with J.J. Brown in the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury, Long Island, New York.

Margaret Brown’s fame as a heroic Titanic survivor helped her promote historic preservation, and commemoration of the bravery and chivalry displayed by the men aboard the Titanic. During World War I she worked with the American Committee for Devastated France and helped wounded French and American soldiers. She was awarded the French L├ęgion d’Honneur for her actions, activism, and philanthropy.

‘Remote’, But Still ‘Present’: The Secrets to Managing the Virtual Workforce

Did you know that according to The State of the Remote Job Marketplace by Flexjobs “3.9 million U.S. employees, or 2.9% of the total U.S. workforce, work from home at least half of the time, up from 1.8 million in 2005.” And, “It is predicted that 38% of full-time staff will be working remotely in the next decade.”

Believe it or not, “Remote workers are made up of almost equal numbers of male and female at 52 and 48 percent respectively, with the average age coming in at 46 years old.”

Although popularity may be growing in this relatively new commuting option, not all companies are prepared to manage remote workers. And let’s face it, not everyone is cut out for remote work.

Working remote for over twenty years for my own company, and gaining my Masters degree online as well, I feel I have mastered the art of being ‘remote, yet present’.

Let’s consider the minimum skills required to work remote. The person should be:

Tech savvy (able to utilize all of the remote software for project management, time tracking, file sharing and all types of communication)
Organized (able to log, order and prioritize files on and offline, as well as manage their time effectively)
Honest (able to commit to the same work hours per day with minimum supervision and log those hours accordingly)
Trustworthy (able to complete the assigned work and meet deadlines with minimum supervision)
Professional (able to conduct themselves the same as they would in an office environment during meetings, including proper business attire during video conferences)

Additionally, the remote worker should have an environment set up that is quiet, free from distractions and have all of the necessary equipment, to conduct their work each day. For example: reliable Internet, a printer, and a desk. All of these requirements should be documented in some type of written format and signed by all parties when agreeing to remote work.

Some of the software solutions I use for my remote consultants are:

One Drive for file sharing.
Join.Me for screen sharing, phone and video conferences.
Smart Sheets for collaborative project management tracking.
Google Hangouts for online chats.

Now that we have defined the minimum skills required, we will define what is needed by employers to manage them effectively. The two most important challenges that must be addressed with remote teams are participation issues and meeting expectations, such as completing tasks and meeting deadlines. Many remote workers find it hard to self-manage their time appropriately in a remote setting with minimal supervision.

This is why it is especially important to have frequent check-ins in both teleconference and video conference formats. This will make it easier to identify problems earlier, rather than later, and clear up any miscommunications. Usually, these check-ins fall under the responsibility of a project manager or supervisor.

So, what are some ways employers can effectively manage their virtual teams? I’ve outlined some of my own tips that I use when I am managing large teams below:

#1 Conduct a brief icebreaker for the first five minutes of weekly calls that allow everyone to participate and get to know each other. i.e. Describe your state without saying the name of it while participants try to guess where you are from. Remote work can sometimes feel isolating, so personal connections such as this improve the synergy of your team.

#2 Get everyone to sign a remote work Honesty and Integrity contract, which includes the skills I listed above).

#3 Develop a standards and guidelines document for all deliverables to ensure overall consistency.

#4 Use agendas for all meetings and stick to the times allotted for each discussion topic, and distribute a recap/action item summary after each meeting. Remember to be flexible when scheduling meetings, as many remote workers live in different time zones.

#5 Assign tasks based on each person’s skill set. There is nothing that will decrease a person’s morale than having them work on something that is not within their job description or skill set. Take the time to ask if unsure.

#6 Be available. I always make sure I am on the assigned chat tool with the team or available by phone for my consultants when they have questions. If you have to jump on a quick screen share session, than do so. It’s better than having your remote worker confused and producing an incorrect deliverable.

When all of these aspects of remote work come together, the results can be positive for both remote workers and employers.

Remote workers save money on items such as gas, tolls, work clothes and childcare, because “Work-life balance, family, time savings, and commute stress are the top reasons people seek flexible work”.

On the other hand, employers gain “increased worker productivity and efficiency, improved recruitment and hiring, reduced employee turnover, decreased real estate and overhead costs, greater employee engagement and satisfaction, and positive environmental impacts”.

So before you decide to put in for a telecommuting role, be sure you have the skills, tools, and environment to do it effectively. And, as an employer, before you open up the option of telecommuting to your employees, or hire external remote freelance workers, be sure to have some guidelines and standards in place first. Believe me, it will save you a lot of headaches in the future.