Friday, 15 April 2016

Shifen Old Street

BBQ Steamboat Lunch@SongJiang Rd
After we left from the Grand Hotel in Taipei on the same day, we proceeded to our Steamboat BBQ lunch that located at 104, Taiwan, Taipei City, Zhongshan District, Songjiang Rd, No.152, 3rd floor which is famous for the locals and tourists too.
Signage Pole leading to BBQ Restaurant
BBQ Restaurant (大戈壁蒙古烤肉)
This BBQ Restaurant which is close to the Taiwan Cooperative Bank, This big restaurant out side exterior looks like an office building, packed with foreign tourists like us outside. A word at the stairwell, inscriptions reads 'Lingnan Eighty Elderly Rugged Bold Word Wind' 
 Lift at Lobby Building
This old lift at the building that takes you to the BBQ restaurant at 3rd floor. Some locals and tourists would prefer taking the staircase instead of waiting for the lift.
Hubby (yellow) walking down the staircase
Bamboo Poles built around the staircase
What surprised me is the bamboo poles were installed around the staircase from bottom to the top at the end. I presume that the owner of the building did this, is to prevent 'playful' children and young adults as well as elderly from mishaps or falling down and injured themselves while roaming around the staircase of the building. Will Singapore follow this at all buildings, hotels, housing estates as well as shopping centres. Safety precaution is a must.
BBQ Restaurant@3rd floor
We reached the BBQ restaurant, was greeted by 'laughing' buddha and two white lions at the door before entering the restaurant. It is very spacious dinning restaurant with full of yummy foods as well as desserts.
Spacious dinning
photo credit by BBQ Rest
It is like an old fashioned style restaurant and lots of space. Our meals can be found a few of Taiwanese foods. Most tourists are from Korea, Japan, Singapore as well as the mainland China.
Row of Meats
Look at the whole row of meat is also very spectacular sight, choice of beef, chicken and pork. I am more curious about how comes no lamb? Mongolian steppe wind-swept pastures of cows and sheep. I think pork and chicken are the best choice to fill with other ingredients.
Pork and Chicken chosen
 Raw meats and veg filled in a Bowl
Varieties of seasoning
Finally, added together with seasonings and there are lots of varieties of seasoning you choose. Each is also marked national language: Soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, sugar, lemon juice, rice wine, pepper and pineapple. Remember Yuantaizu Mongolian barbecue all the types with an addition of pepper, I have added a little of each seasoning as if I am doing a chemistry experiments. 
Raw foods given to the staff for frying
Then we queued in a row at the hot zone (frying) but luckily, not many visitors and tourists as we came in earlier as expected. I put my bowl on the table shown an 'arrow'  (pic above foreground) waiting and the staff would take our bowls to fry in a big pan-wok stove in mins.
Done: Dishes Fried bowl
Other dishes from Mongolian BBQ area
Mongolian barbecue area, hot zone, Mala Tang area, deli, grass jelly and lettuce, dessert snacks zone as well as beverage area welcome you to feast on it.
 Steamboat BBQ
We sat on the 'round' table, shared with others, a large pot of hot soup divided into two different soups - normal soup and spicy soup.
Varieties of Sweet Desserts & Herbal Hot Punch (pot)
After a meal, we had a DIY dessert in the burning grass jelly and cooked lettuce. Many visitors on burning grass jelly are very interested as they choose and fill up as they like. Burning grass jelly in the area is expected to have a variety of full of red beans, barley, peanuts, green beans, soybeans and so on. I picked some barley, green beans, jelly and top up with hot herbal punch in a bowl. It's yummy and sweet, anyway I didn't put much sweet plums. There is an dessert snack area too.
After we had hearty lunch at the BBQ restaurant, we proceeded to the Shifen Old Street (十分老街) to release the sky lantern at the old railway track.
Slope road to the JingAn Suspension Bridge
 JingAn Suspension Bridge (静安吊桥)
Finally, we reached to our destination, walked up the slope would take us in 8 mins to reach the bridge called "JingAn Suspension Bridge (静安吊桥)", a 128-meter-long span connecting the villages of Shifen and Nanshan, is one of only a few well-preserved pedestrian suspension bridges in Taiwan. Jingan Suspension Bridge was originally used for transporting coal. After the operation was ended, the government renovated it to become a pedestrian bridge. But we would give it a miss as we decided to go Shifen Old street instead.
Pingxi (平溪) and Shifen (十分) are both towns rich in culture and history and provide a nice glimpse at Taiwan's beautiful natural scenery. Events such as the Sky Lantern Festival draw visitors year round to create a Chinese Lantern (天燈) with a wish written on it to set into the sky above.
Row of wooden houses
How Shifen got its name, there used to be 10 families living in the town (ten portions). Shifen Old Street is the most famous stop along Pingxi Branch Rail Line. The 13km rail line was originally built in 1918 to transport coal and was re-purposed as a tourism route in 1992. All the shops sell either sky lanterns or souvenirs.
Stopper Pulley
Releasing sky lanterns (放天灯) is a significant ritual in Taiwan and the most notable places to do that would be Pingxi and Shifen. It’s a fun experience for most visitors like us to Taiwan as well as the locals too; there’s just something very alluring about being able to write our wishes on a lantern which would carry our prayers to the sky (祈福), thinking of it as a direct courier service to heaven.
Hubby wrote wishes words with a brush
We were using a calligraphy brush to doodle on the lanterns, wrote Chinese and English words on a lantern which is a colourful paper lantern that you can write your well wishes on it, and then send it off into the skies for good luck. 
Wishing lantern
 Posed with a lantern
After we wrote our well-wishes on a lantern, shared with a family of four. We posed for a group picture, using my mobile phone by a kind lady of a group.
 Shopkeeper lighted a fire on a lantern
Then a shopkeeper helped to light a fire before releasing the sky lantern in the sky in the hope the heaven will hear us our wishes.
 Again posed with lighted lantern
Releasing Sky Lantern for Good Luck
Finally, we released the sky lantern (放天灯) into the sky and hope the heaven will see to our wishes and to be heard our prayers. It was kinda surreal for us to watch it rise. Do you know what will happen to the sky lanterns after it released? Well, apparently they stay in the air for 8 to10 mins, floating to the mountain behind and then fall back to the ground after the candle finishes burning. The shop pays workers to pick up the fallen lanterns and afterwards to dump it away. Some says that the locals collect the fallen lanterns and sell them to be re-cycled, and even make more money out of collecting/selling the fallen lanterns. Well, it's not bad anyway as long as they earn extra income.
The row of shops along Shifen Old Street are close to the train line. It’s also pretty spectacular sight and yet dangerous that the visitors actually stand on the tracks to release the sky lanterns, and have to shun when a train comes along. 
I saw the other group releasing sky lantern into the sky and they were very happy and delighted to see it flew to the sky. Some people like to do this in the evening or at night, cos you'll be able to see the lights from the lantern more visibly. It's up to you, because I think that at daytime means you can see better and clearer, also better at photo-taking everywhere, even though night time may be prettier but very dark and hardy see the row of shops which is dim at night.
Fire is seen inside a lantern
Talk about an oncoming train and an adrenalin rush. But don't worry, the shopkeepers are well prepared and very familiar with the train timings and will ask you to get off the tracks before the trains pass through on the track or when we hear the sirens of the train.
A red lamp is seen in the centre
You can see a 'red lamp' (centre) is seen at the far end of the shops that gives a warning to the visitors about oncoming train pass through when the lamp light is on.
Row of shops selling lanterns
The row of shops are selling these lanterns, and prices vary, depending on which one you choose. You have those with single colors, two colors, or the most expensive ones which come in four colors. So I chose two colours (red and yellow) instead, the same goes to the family of four.
Each color is supposed to represent something different: Red for good fortune, Pink for romance, Peach-red for decisions and opportunities, Orange for money, Yellow for success in school or career, White for health, Green for growth, Blue for hope, and also Purple for idealism.
Behind me, a lantern above the sky
I stood posed on the railway track with the row of shops on each side, behind me is a lantern that had released in the sky. It was indeed interesting and it is less dangerous to walk along the track. By the way, the railway track is still in use, and every once in a while, a train passes through and everyone has to scram off the track. The trains are quite slow as if the train driver knows the presence visitors around, releasing the lantern on this track.
Thereafter, we bought some souvenirs and they look great hanging by the window at our home.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Grand Hotel in Taipei

It was wet and humid weather in Taiwan and it was cool weather today. We had travelled many places in Taiwan since 10th Apr 2016.
Delicious Breakfast
But before that, we had a free hearty breakfast provided by the hotel before we embarked our journey. It was such a lovely breakfast in the morning.
Grand Hotel Front Gate
This is Grand Hotel (圓山大飯店) where our founding father, late Mr Lee Kuan Yew visited and stayed 24 times since 1974. Many young generations are ignorant about the history of Grand Hotel and the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's frequent visits.
Grand Hotel was established in May 1952 and the main building was completed on October 10, 1973. It is owned by the Duen-Mou Foundation of Taiwan, a non-profit organization, and has played host to many foreign dignitaries including late Mr Lee Kuan Yew who have visited Taipei.
 Lush flowers garden
Grand Hotel has a history of up and down according to the fengshui as it sits on the mountainside. In June 1995 a fire broke out on the roof during renovation work, and a lack of ladders and high pressure pumps allowed the fire to destroy the roof and Presidential Suite, leaving three upper floors heavily damaged by water. The hotel was forced to cut back operations for almost two years, and when the roof was rebuilt, the two dragon heads on the ends of the roof ridge were rotated 180 degrees to point inwards. Traditionally a symbol of rain and water, the dragons were enlisted to provide protection against fires in the future. It would be a real shame if the Grand cannot return to its former years of grandeur and splendour. There is a lot of history in and around the hotel, from its distinguished registry of guests to its tie-ins with shrines and dragons and legends like the two underground escape routes tunnelled into the mountainside and leading to nearby parks.
Grand Hotel (圓山大飯店) with two Stone-lions
There are the stone lions - Chi Lin (seen in the pic above) outside near the archway entrance to the hotel were donated by the family of Lin Ben-yuan, builder of the Lin Family Gardens in Banqiao, under coercion from the Japanese. Interior rooms in the main building are small, ageing and have no windows. The pair of stone lions on the plaza dated back to a century ago, when a Shinto temple was built on the present hotel site. As demanded by the Japanese colonial officials in charge, the prestigious Lin family of Banciao dedicated the lions to the Shinto temple. With powerful sculpted lines, the southern-style lions look sharp and alive despite the fact that they are smaller than the new ones under the hotel’s memorial archway.
Dragon Head seen (rooftop) with Flying Rafters & wooden brackets
The flying rafters on roof edges of the hotel and the wooden brackets supporting crossbeams are an embodiment of historical Chinese culture. A set of sacred monsters squat on the protruding rafters, while Shachihokos—curving beast-shaped ornaments made of tiles— rest on the main ridge and the vertical ridge of the roof below. The powerfully constructed wooden brackets are presented as such splendid, refined architectural pieces of art that many are in awe of their beauty.
Rumour had it that secret passages ran from the hotel to the nearby Shilin Official Residence and further Presidential Office Building for Chiang's convenience.The truth was uncovered after the 1995 fire, as part of the safety commission that was conducted. The secret passages were revealed to be two air-raid tunnels, each of them 180m in length leading to nearby parks, not to the presidential residence or the emergency headquarters as rumours had suggested
Late Mr Lee, FM Frederick Chien & his wife
Late Mr Lee was the hotel's most frequented guest. This picture (above) is Foreign Minister Frederick Chien (left from Mr Lee) and his wife Mdm Chiang (right seen shaking hands) welcoming our Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1974 at the Grand Hotel.
Left: Elizabeth Tayler (1932-2011)
The distinguished visitors have been the Shah of Iran and the kings of Jordan and Thailand, Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) and Singapore’s founding father, late Lee Kuan Yew (1923-2015), who (Mr Lee) had stayed at the hotel at least 24 times and once was so impressed with the level of service that he requested that the hotel butler to accompany him throughout his visit to Taiwan. Late Ms Elizabeth Taylor visited at Grand Hotel in Nov 1979 and was accompanied by Mrs Soong and her two secretaries on a tour of Taiwan including Sun Moon Lake. She also went on a boat cruise to a temple on an island in the lake.
Inside Main Entrance looking out Front Gate
Grand Hotel's Main Entrance
The glass doors serving as the gate of the hotel are Rectangle in shape and elegant in style. Upon a closer look, six archaic Chinese characters meaning “long live the Republic of China” are framed on the glass. This not only demonstrates the creativity of the designer, but indicates the historical background of the hotel.
Century Old Golden Dragon in front of the Restaurant
The Century Old Golden Dragon (above) outside the Golden Dragon Restaurant (completed on 29th May 2014) is also reputed to be from the Japanese era. The Golden Dragon Pavilion and Golden Dragon Restaurant opened in 1956. The bronze dragon, which spurt water from the mouth, was merely made as basic front-gate decorations for the Japanese Shinto. When the Shinto was demolished for building a new hotel, construction officials decided to keep the dragon in the original form and display in front of the Golden Dragon Restaurant. The dragon was further gilded with 24K gold during a second round of refurbishment in 1987. This dragon is particularly special because it is three-claws , unlike thoes four or five-claws dragons were found in traditional Chinese art.
Century Old Golden Dragon Spurt water from its mouth
During the WWII, the brass dragon in the Lung-Shan Park was melted to build cannons. Although the Taiwan Shrine was ruined in the war, its brass dragon survived miraculously. This hundred-year old brass dragon was henceforth known to world-wide. In 1952, late Mdm Soong Mei-ling, wife of Foreign Minister Frederick Chiang, selected the den of dragon tail to build the Grand Hotel, the 1st world-class hotel in Taiwan in order to greet the state VIPs. The Grand Hotel becomes a Holy Land for Int'l tourists. Most people came to worship the brass dragon, the Grand Hotel plated the brass dragon with gold in 1987. The guest of the hotel, especially from Japan, the geomancy of the Grand Hotel is blessed and they come to worship the golden dragon praying that their dreams may come true.
Chiang Kai-Shek
The Grand Hotel is said to have more than 200,000 sculptures of dragons scattered throughout its premises, from the ridge line on its roof through its fourteen floors of guest rooms and function rooms, out through the magnificent lobby and down the hill to the gate at the entrance to the hotel grounds. Originally built by Chiang Kai-shek (above pic) as a showcase to present Taiwan’s best face to visiting foreign dignitaries as he felt Taipei had no proper hotels for hosting foreign dignitaries. 
 Grand Hotel's Lobby
Flower-shaped caisson ceiling@hotel lobby
A plum flower-shaped caisson ceiling rests on top of the hotel lobby. The décor of the ceiling contains various blessings. Five golden dragons’ surrounding a pearl indicates the arrival of five different types of luck. “Attaining eminence step by step” is symbolized by “23”—the total number of dragons, as “three” is a homonym for “rising” in Chinese. With 16 phoenixes and one large plum blossom, the ceiling further signifies “making profits continually,” a phrase pronounced the same way as “16 plus a flower” in Mandarin. Traditionally, the caisson ceiling is a symbol of prosperity, believed to be heralded by dragons and phoenixes.
 Grand Hotel's Bar & Cafe
Dragons on wall Structure
The Grand Hotel features traditional palace-style architecture, bright red and gold decorations, stately archways and a brilliant yellow tiled roof. With a history dating back to the early 1950s and beyond, the Grand Hotel has played host to leading government figures from around the world.
Grand Hotel Souvenir Shop
Beside this, there is a Grand Hotel Souvenir shop which was opened in August 2012 facing the staircase leading to the Century Old Golden Dragon.
Memorial Archway
Closeup: Stone Tablet (Shigandang)
At the foot of the stone steps that lead to the memorial archway, four powerful, free-flowing Chinese characters “Jian Tan Sheng Ji” in the calligraphic cursive style are chiseled on a large stone tablet. They are the works of much-revered politician Yu You-ren, and are believed to mean “Yuanshan is a sacred land” upon verifications from various resources. Because of this sculpted statement, the stone tablet has contributed the elegance and popularity of Yuanshan over the last century.
Now in 2016, the Grand Hotel has been in operation in 64 years.