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25 Things You Should Know About Taipei

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There's one Taipei filled with food vendors, who hose down dishes on narrow streets lined with historic buildings. There’s another Taipei that’s gleaming with shiny, record-setting skyscrapers, equipped with some of the world’s fastest elevators. It’s this juxtaposition of old and new that best captures life in the capital city of the subtropical island of Taiwan. Before you visit, file away these 25 facts about Taipei:

1. While mining sulfur in the summer of 1697, Qing dynasty official Yu Yonghe described the muddy marsh that is now Taipei as a basin lake which formed because of earthquakes. He also deemed it “inaccessible and unvisited.”

2. Now, within Taipei’s 105 square miles, there are 9555 neighborhoods, 456 villages, 1,043,797 households and 2,702,809 residents [PDF].

3. Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan have stayed in Taipei’s Grand Hotel, a 14-floor Chinese-style palace nestled in Yuanshan (Round Mountain). The 500-room landmark was established in 1952 and ranked one of the world’s top 10 hotels by Fortune in 1967. The building is decorated with more than 200,000 dragons, including a century-old bronze one plated in 24-karat gold. And underneath the hotel? Two secret tunnels rumored to have led to the Presidential Office and the Shilin Official Residence—one that’s 220 feet and another that’s 279 feet long.

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4.
Lunar New Year (this year on February 8) is the biggest holiday for the Taiwanese. The place to shop for all your celebration needs? Dihua Street Section 1 in the Dadaocheng area near the Tamsui River. The historic district, which dates back to the Qing period, is lined with traditional shops selling medicinal herbs, teas and wholesale fabric.

5. When it opened in 2004, the 1667-foot-tall Taipei 101 was the world’s tallest building. Although Dubai’s Burj Khalifa stole the title in 2009, the 101-floor structure (which has an additional five floors underground) now has a different claim to fame, thanks to Popular Mechanics: "World's Toughest Building." A 730-ton damper helps steady the Xinyi Road tower, which sits 660 feet from a fault line on an island often hit by typhoons. Contained inside the massive structure: a 828,000-square-foot mall, including a 1200-seat food court and three-star Michelin restaurant. To ring in 2016, a 238-second, $1.51 million fireworks display, designed by French pyrotechnic company Groupe F, launched from the skyscraper.

6. Taipei’s bike share program, Youbike, which began in 2008, now has 200 stations with 6538 bikes and 55.8 million rentals since the program's launch. The best part? The price for a 30-minute rental is a mere 15 cents.

7. Unique architecture peppers the Taipei skyline—including two new buildings scheduled to open this year. Currently on the horizon is the Taipei Performing Arts Centre in Shilin, which features a large orb protruding from an otherwise-minimalist framework. Designed by Rem Koolhaas and David Gianotten of OMA, it will house a 1500-seat "grand" theater, an 800-seat "multiform playhouse," and another 800-seat "proscenium playhouse."

The other structure is the Tao Zhu Yin Yuan Tower, also known as Agora Gardens, conceived by archibiotect Vincent Callebaut. The residential tower in Xinyin twists 90 degrees in a double helix form to accommodate its eco-friendly vertical farm design.

8. Just this month, Taipei-born Tsai Ing-Wen made history when she was elected the first female President of Taiwan. The 59-year-old Cornell University and London School of Economics graduate will become the most powerful woman in the Chinese-speaking world when she takes office May 20.

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9.
Of the 1,769,428 motor vehicles registered in Taipei, 970,865 of them are motorcycles [PDF]. Locals call the sea of vehicles going down a ramp a “motorcycle waterfall.”

10. Food is such an essential part of Taiwanese culture that locals often greet each other by asking, “Have you eaten yet?” And nowhere is that foodie fascination more visible than in Taipei's night markets. The most famous is the Shilin Night Market, with more than 500 stores and vendors, where the competing scents of chicken cutlets, oyster omelets, pan-fried buns and stinky tofu pull visitors in every direction.

11. Another sign of Taipei’s food obsession? The two most famous pieces of the 696,373 objects at the National Palace Museum are meat and cabbage. The 7.4-inch tall Jadeite Cabbage has two insects on its leaves, symbolizing fertility, while the 2.2-inch Meat-Shaped Stone, made of jasper, is a replica of stewed pork.

12. When residents hear Beethoven’s “Für Elise” playing in the streets of Taipei, the whole neighborhood rushes outside … for the garbage truck. The “trash doesn’t touch the ground” system requires Taiwanese citizens to deliver their rubbish straight to the back of the truck five nights a week in government-sanctioned blue bags. This eliminates the accumulation of garbage in bins that can attract cockroaches and rats. The upside: The time waiting curbside often turns into prime time for neighborhood gossip.

13. After Typhoon Souledor hit Taiwan last August, photos of two Taipei mailboxes, which were blown to a tilt, went viral. By the end of the year, the red and green Chunghwa Post boxes on Longjiang Road ranked as Taiwan’s most popular tourist attraction of 2015, according to Yahoo-Kimo.

14. The Taipei metro system, which began operating in 1996, has a daily average ridership of around 2 million, as of a December 2015 report. But there's no cramming and pushing here: Thanks to the “Waiting Line” drawn on the ground, the locals line up in an orderly manner.

15. Oscar winner Ang Lee, who directed 1995’s Sense and Sensibility, 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2008’s Brokeback Mountain and 2012’s The Life of Pi was born in Taipei on October 23, 1954. He gave his home country a shoutout in his 2013 Academy Awards acceptance speech.

16. Also born in Taipei: Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, who served under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009. She made history as the first Asian-American woman to ever be appointed to the President's Cabinet.

17. Bookworms, night owls, and anyone who falls in the middle of that Venn diagram should make it a point to visit the 182,986 square foot Eslite bookstore location on Dunhua Road, which has been open 24 hours a day since 1999.

18. The restaurant Din Tai Fung, which specializes in soup dumplings (xiaolongbao) started as a cooking oil company founded in Taipei in 1958. When profits stalled, the owners started to supplement their income by selling the dumplings. Business took off so well, they rebranded in 1972—and soon had locations in Australia, China, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States … and a Michelin star.

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19.
Taipei’s 1972 victory at baseball’s Little League World Series was just one of 17 championship titles for Taiwan—setting a record for the most wins, ahead of Japan with 10 and the state of California with seven.

20. The Formosan blue magpie is the official city bird of Taipei, as elected by the residents. The creature has a scratchy voice and a lengthy blue and white tail, and tends to reside in forests between 984 and 3937 feet above sea level.

21. Taiwanese airline EVA Air’s Hello Kitty planes operate 11 flights—including a direct flight to and from Houston—out of Taipei’s main international airport, the Taiwan Taoyuan Airport. Another two routes run from Taipei’s city airport, Songshan, to Tokyo and Shanghai. Amenities include more than 100 Hello Kitty-themed items, including napkins, cups, utensils, toiletries and rice crackers.
 


22.
From December 6, 2013, to May 5, 2015, Taipei’s Maokong Gondola was also decked out in Hello Kitty after the beloved Sanrio character was chosen as its official mascot. Today, the cuteness is gone, but the 2.5-mile system is still worth checking out. It runs from the Taipei Zoo at the bottom up to Taipei's largest tea growing area, Maokong. Thirty-one of its cabins feature transparent floors, giving passengers a birds' eye view of the action happening underneath their seats.

23. Taipei’s Beitou district is known for its hot springs, which fill the air with the odor of sulfur. During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, Japanese soldiers would bathe in the steaming waters, believing the springs would heal what ailed them. The Beitou Public Bathhouse was built in 1913 and was the largest bathhouse in Eastern Asia at the time. It was abandoned after World War II, and turned into the Beitou Hot Springs Museum in 1998.

24. Watch out, Silicon Valley: The number of tech companies in Taipei Neihu Technology Park has grown from 600 in 2001 to more than 3000 today. More proof of Taipei’s technological influence? YouTube cofounder Steve Chen and Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang were both born in the capital city.

25. No need to worry about international roaming charges in Taipei. The city has free public access Wi-Fi (there are more than 100 million registered accounts). The city is in the process of tripling the number of hotspots to 9000.

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IKEA's New Collection for Tiny Apartments Is Inspired by Life on Mars
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Living in a city apartment can feel claustrophobic at times. As Co.Design reports, the Swedish furniture brand IKEA took this experience to the extreme when designers visited a simulated Mars habitat as research for their latest line of housewares aimed at urbanites.

The new collection, called Rumtid, is tailored to fit the cramped spaces that many people are forced to settle for when apartment-hunting in dense, expensive cities. The designers knew they wanted to prioritize efficiency and functionality with their new project, and Mars research provided the perfect inspiration.

At the Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, scientists are figuring out how to meet the needs of potential Mars astronauts with very limited resources. Materials have to be light, so that they require as little rocket fuel as possible to ferry them to the red planet, and should ideally run on renewable energy.

IKEA's designers aren't facing quite as many challenges, but spending a few days at the simulated Martian habitat in Utah got them thinking on the right track. The team also conducted additional research at the famously snug capsule hotels in Tokyo. The Rumtid products they came up with include an indoor terrarium shaped like a space-age rocket, a set of colorful, compact air purifiers, and light-weight joints and bars that can be snapped into modular furniture.

The collection isn't ready to hit IKEA shelves just yet—the chain plans to make Rumtid available for customers by 2020. In the meantime, the designers hope to experiment with additional science fiction-worthy ideas, including curtains that clean the air around them.

Air purifiers designed for urban living.

Furniture joints on bubble wrap on black table.

Modular furniture holding water bag.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images courtesy of IKEA.

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8 Projects That Reenvision the Traditional Cemetery
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Globally, nearly 57 million people died in 2016. If you happen to be a cemetery caretaker, you might be wondering where we managed to put them all. Indeed, many cemeteries in the world’s major cities are filling up fast, with no choice left but to tear up walkways, trees, and green spaces just to make room for more graves.

In response to these concerns, a variety of visionaries have attempted to reimagine the modern cemetery. These plans tend to fall into one of two camps: Biologists and environmentalists have brainstormed alternate methods for disposing of bodies, some of which are said to be better for the planet than the traditional methods of burial and cremation. Meanwhile, architects have looked at ways of adapting the burial space itself, whether that means altering a traditional cemetery or creating something new and more ephemeral. Here are just a few of the creative ideas that have emerged in recent years.

1. VERTICAL CEMETERIES

As cemeteries started running out of ground to dig, it was only a matter of time before they started building up. There's been a lot of talk about skyscraper cemeteries in recent years, although the idea dates back to at least 1829, when British architect Thomas Willson proposed a 94-story mausoleum in London.

"The vertical cemetery, with its open front, will become a significant part of the city and a daily reminder of death’s existence," says Martin McSherry, whose design for an open-air skyscraper cemetery with layers of park-like burial grounds was one of the proposals presented at the Oslo Conference for Nordic Cemeteries and Graveyards in 2013. Another recent plan by architecture students in Sweden suggested repurposing a cluster of silos into a vertical columbarium (a place to store urns). Brazil’s Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica was one of the first places to implement this vertical concept back in 1984, and at 32 stories high, it currently holds the Guinness World Record for the tallest cemetery.

2. REUSABLE GRAVES

For much of human history, graves were often reused, or common graves were dug deep enough to accommodate multiple bodies stacked one on top of the other. “Our current cemetery design is actually a pretty new thing,” Allison Meier, a New York City cemetery tour guide (and Mental Floss writer), tells us. “It wasn’t normal for everyone to get a headstone in the past and we didn’t have these big sprawling green spaces.”

Now that many urban cemeteries are filling up, the idea of reusing plots is once again gaining popularity. In London, it’s estimated that only one-third of the city’s boroughs will have burial space by 2031. In response, the City of London Cemetery—one of the biggest cemeteries in Britain—has started reusing certain grave plots (the practice is legal in the city, even though grave reuse is outlawed elsewhere in England).

Across continental Europe, however, it's not uncommon for graves to be "rented" rather than bought for all eternity. In countries like the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and Greece, families can hold a plot for their loved one as long as they continue to pay a rental fee. If they stop paying, the grave may be reused, with the previous remains either buried deeper or relocated to a common grave.

Meier says she isn’t aware of any cemeteries in New York City that have started reusing their plots, though. “That’s a tough thing for Americans to get on board with because it’s been a normal practice in a lot of places, but it’s never been normal here,” she says.

3. A FLOATING COLUMBARIUM

A rendering of a floating columbarium
BREAD Studio

Ninety percent of bodies in Hong Kong are cremated, according to CNN, and niches in the city's public columbaria are at a premium. The average wait for a space is about four years, sparking concerns that Hong Kongers could be forced to move their loved ones' ashes across the border to mainland China, where more space is available. (A space at a private columbarium in Hong Kong can be prohibitively expensive, at a cost of about $128,000.) To address this issue, a proposal emerged in 2012 to convert a cruise ship into a floating columbarium dubbed the “Floating Eternity.” Designed by Hong Kong and London-based architecture firm BREAD Studio, the columbarium would be able to accommodate the ashes of 370,000 people. Although it's still just an idea, BREAD Studio designer Benny Lee tells CNN, "A floating cemetery is the next natural step in Hong Kong's history of graveyards."

4. UNDERWATER MEMORIALS

An underwater lion sculpture and other memorials
Neptune Reef

Land may be limited, but the sea is vast—and several companies want to take the cemetery concept underwater. At Neptune Memorial Reef off the coast of Key Biscayne, Florida, human ashes are mixed with cement to create unique memorials in the shape of seashells and other objects of the client's choice. The memorials are then taken by divers to the ocean floor and incorporated into a human-made reef designed to look like the Lost City of Atlantis. Eternal Reefs, based out of Sarasota, Florida, offers a similar service.

5. SPACE MEMORIALS

Not a water person? Try space instead. Elysium Space, a San Francisco-based company founded by a former software engineer at NASA, offers a couple of “celestial services.” At a cost of nearly $2500, the Shooting Star Memorial “delivers a symbolic portion of your loved one’s remains to Earth’s orbit, only to end this celestial journey as a shooting star,” while the Lunar Memorial will deliver a "symbolic portion" of human remains to the surface of the moon for a fee of nearly $10,000. Another company, Celestis, offers similar services ranging in price from $1300 to $12,500.

6. HUMAN COMPOSTING

Shoveling soil
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Critics of burial and cremation say both are bad for the environment. To address the need for a memorial method that doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, waste resources, or release carcinogenic embalming fluid into the soil, a number of eco-friendly options have emerged. One such innovation is the “mushroom burial suit," a head-to-toe outfit that's lined with mushroom spores designed to devour human tissue and absorb the body's toxins. Another company, Recompose, espouses human composting—a process by which a corpse would be converted into a cubic yard of soil, which could then be used to nurture new life in a garden. The procedure isn’t legal yet, but the company plans to work with the Washington State legislature to make it available to the general public before eventually rolling it out nationwide.

7. DEATH AS ART

Many innovative proposals have emerged from the DeathLAB at Columbia University, including a plan to convert human biomass (organic matter) into light. The design—a constellation of light that would serve as both a memorial and art installation—won a competition hosted by Future Cemetery, a collaboration between the University of Bath’s Centre for Death & Society and media company Calling the Shots. John Troyer, director of the UK-based center, says they're working on raising funds to install a concept piece based on that design at Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol, England, but any usage of actual biomass would have to be cleared through the proper regulatory channels first. According to DeathLAB, the project would save significant space—within six years, it would more than double the capacity of the cemetery orchard where the memorials would be installed.

8. VIRTUAL CEMETERIES

As virtual reality technology gets more and more advanced, some question whether a physical cemetery is needed at all. The website iVeneration.com, founded by a Hong Kong entrepreneur, lets users "create virtual headstones anywhere in an augmented reality landscape of Hong Kong, including such unlikely places as a downtown park," as Reuters describes it. In Japan, one online cemetery allows the bereaved to “light” incense, share memories of their loved one in comments, and even grab a virtual glass of beer. Similarly, an app called RiPCemetery created a social network where users can craft a virtual memorial and share photos of the deceased.

However, Troyer says he doesn’t believe technology will ever usurp the need for physical spaces. “A lot of the companies talking about digital solutions talk about ‘forever’—and that’s very complicated with the internet, because the virtual material we create can easily disappear," he told the The Guardian. "The lowly gravestone has been a very successful human technology, and I suspect it will last … I would go with granite.”

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