Saturday, June 13, 2009

Guest Blog: A View from the Top

Since I have been so busy lately, my husband, Mike, decided to write a entry about his recent trip to Taiwan. There will be more from me soon. In the meantime, Mike...

“When you come out of the train station, look for the tallest building.” I was doubtful about the helpfulness of these directions for finding my accommodations in Taipei. I had come to this part of Asia to visit my Mom of all people. I had seen her only once since my wedding five years ago, so I jumped at the opportunity to see her when I found out she would be presenting at a conference in Taiwan. She and her friend Sharlene agreed to my idea of staying in a hostel in Taipei – Sharlene was actually quite excited about it as her family runs one in Miami. The hostel was located in a high-rise next to the Shin-Kong Life Building, once the tallest in the city.

The directions foreshadowed one of the surprise highlights of our visit. While we enjoyed the spectacular Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, dined on wonderful street food at the night markets, and were fortunate to be in town during the annual dragon boat races, the Taipei 101 building, which replaced the Shin-Kong as the tallest, turned out to exceed our expectations.

As someone who is skeptical about superlatives, I am always curious how people reach their conclusions when they claim "biggest", "tallest", "fastest". By my own research, the Taipei 101 currently holds title to the tallest building in the world, but will soon to be surpassed by three others already under development. The building is modeled after a bamboo stalk, the sides flaring about every 10 stories. The elevator ride up to the spire was the first surprise – the fastest elevator in the world (not confirmed by research) was amazing – 87 stories in 37 seconds and pressurized in such a way that your ears don’t pop.

At the indoor observation platform, we were directed to get headsets that provided a guided tour from 14 points around the deck - complete with views and exhibits about the building, the city, and the Taiwanese culture.

Living in Asia has made me realize how little I knew about the cultures in this region before I arrived, and how amazing they are. What I discovered at the Taipei 101, is that MOST of the tallest buildings in the world are in Asia. In fact, 10 of the 12 highest buildings in the world are located here – notable exceptions are the Sears Tower in Chicago (#5) and the Empire State Building in New York (#10). A few months earlier, I had visited #3, the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, which was already familiar to me because Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones went sky-diving inside it in “Entrapment”. But I had never heard of the others in the top ten - 3 of which are in Hong Kong, and 4 of which are on mainland China.

With all the talk about how Asia is going to overtake America in terms of global leadership – this experience makes me wonder if they already have.

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