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Capital Amusements

Our capital city doesn't have the international reputation of cultural capitals like London or Paris, but a closer look at Taipei reveals delightful hidden corners just the same.

Follow us on this colorful route through Taipei Shilin area's cultural scene – from the old to the new, from the “untouchables” to artworks you can take home.

The Taipei of Modern Arts

Seemingly built with giant white Lego pieces, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taiwan's first modern art museum is nearing its 27th birthday this year.

The museum hosts intriguing modern art shows and collects representative works of Taiwanese arts, in addition to promoting art education, including nurturing artistic talents by giving them exhibition opportunities, and international exchanges. The museum always provides visitors with high standards of aesthetic experiences in a direct and powerful way.

The museum's collection includes more than 4,000 works covering the many aspects of modern art with art forms spanning from oil paintings to sculptures.

A system that has filed the artworks digitally represents a further step for Taipei into the world of contemporary arts, while the museum's free Internet access humanizes the place, creating a perfect gathering point for art lovers.

The museum's spacious design with high ceilings sets no limit to the displayed artworks. Numerous square walls of windows integrate the beauty inside and outside.

Built with a square opening smack in the middle, the museum features an outdoor coffee shop, adding a bonus relaxing element – a successful tactic that closes the gap between cultural arts and our daily lives – I think I've just found myself another amiable writing corner. There's a bookshop around the corner to the café, too.

Tickets to enter the museum are NT$30 for adults and NT$15 for students from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Special exhibitions are priced accordingly.

Priceless Imperial Treasures

The greatest Chinese cultural treasures are nestled in northern Taipei's Shilin area at the world-famous National Palace Museum. Originally founded in 1925 in Beijing's Forbidden City (hence the “palace” in its name), the museum was established in Taiwan in 1965 after about 600,000 treasured artworks were brought over to Taiwan during the Chinese Civil War between the Kuomintang (the Nationalist Party) and the Communist Party in 1949.

Arguably Taipei's most celebrated attraction, the history-full museum has evolved over the decades – with upgraded facilities and an expanded collection, now numbering more than 650,000 pieces; the museum houses the finest of Chinese art and culture in the world.

Since it's basically impossible to see everything there, where shall I start? With the superstar crowd pleaser of the museum: the Jadeite Cabbage.

The Jadeite Cabbage is a part of the collection of Dazzling Gems, Imperial holdings from the Qing Dynasty. The bok-choy cabbage, cleverly carved from a single piece of half-white, half-green jadeite, symbolizes the advanced techniques of Chinese art, even from that era. The famous Meat-shaped Stone (that amazingly, really does look like a piece of pork) is also displayed in the same room.

Another must-visit section of the National Palace Museum is the Classical Civilization quarter with precious four-century-old Hsia Dynasty artifacts. Near the entrance of this sectioned area sits the Mao-kung Ting that is dated 827 B.C.E, an impressive urn with ancient Chinese inscription that reveals King Hsuan's hopes for his kingdom – it reveals the sophistication of Chinese writing at the time.

Several atmospheric restaurants like Silks Palace Restaurant and Fuchunju Café offer visitors an excuse to linger at the museum and take in majestic views of the place. Sanxitang Teahouse, on the third floor, serves delicate Eastern-style snacks and an assortment of soothing teas.

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Capital Amusements
An overview of the grand National Palace Museum. (By James Topley, Special to The China Post)

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