Sunday, August 19, 2012

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Taipei Guest House, Taiwan

8/19/2012 Taiwan Explorer

The Taipei Guest House 臺北賓館 is an official building of the government of Republic of China (a.k.a. Taiwan), administered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and commonly used for meetings with foreign officials. It's located in Zhongzheng District, right between the Presidential Palace and the former East Gate. The building is surrounded by a wall and heavily guarded throughout the year, it's only once per month, that the general public is allowed to enter the premises and visit the building's interior and the surrounding gardens. A week ago I was strolling around the area and I noticed, that a public exhibition is held inside from 5th-19th August. I always wanted to visit the Guest House, but for some reason I never found the time to do so. This exhibition was a great chance to finally see it, but I could not go alone, I had to take my wife. Today was our lucky day.

A brief history of the Guest House


The Guest House used to be the Residence of the former Governor-Generals of Taiwan during the Japanese occupation between 1895 and 1945. The original building, which was completed in 1901, was a bit smaller than the one of today (see photo on the left). Today's Guest House dates back to 1911, when renovations and alterations (that lasted until 1913) turned it to what it is: A mish-mash of various European styles such as neo-Baroque, neo-Renaissance, Victorian and neo-classical Greek elements. The only distinctly Japanese thing related to the Guest House is the garden at the back, which is nice, but not too impressive, as it's quite small. The building was thoroughly renovated between 2002 and 2006. Since then it's regularly opened to public once per month (source).

The historic significance and the exhibition

The Guest House, at that time the Governor-General's Residence, used to host various officials from Imperial Japan, who visited Taiwan during that period. The most prominent guest was the 22 years old Hirohito 裕仁 (at that time Japanese crown prince), who stayed in the building during his visit in 1923. On April 8th 1952 the Guest House was chosen for the signing of the Treaty of Taipei 中日和平條約, which was signed between Japan and Republic of China. The treaty came into force on August 5th, 1952 (source), which is about 60 years from today and explains the fact, that the Guest House was open to the general public for more than just a day in August: The exhibition displayed the official documents from this important historic event, as well as exhibited documents of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Declaration and the Japanese Instrument of Surrender (source). A part of the exhibition was dedicated to Diaoyutai Islands 釣魚台群島, which are under Japanese control, but historically belonged to China. Taiwan's government is trying to use diplomatic means to achieve the retrocession of the islands and used the occasion to display various historic maps and documents, that support its claims. It was interesting to read.

The title of this brochure is definitely not easy to comprehend for laymen.

Our visit of the Taipei Guest House

The Guest House is barely seen from the nearby Ketagalan Boulevard.

Rushing to the entrance along the long wall.

The poster of the exhibition.

After we entered, we had to go through a little security check, which included a scanning machine commonly found at airports. They went through our bags, but all in all, the process was fast and the security staff were friendly. We had to dress properly (no sandals and shorts) and photos were not allowed inside the building.

We were not allowed to cross to the other side of the red rope.

A visitor.

We had to follow the way, that was laid out for us.

The rooftop featuring neo-classical Greek elements. Looks a little like Koo's House in Lukang.

The front garden had a Mediterranean character.

We were closer to the entrance.

A lovely fountain.

A look back.

We soon entered the building.

The inside of the building

The interior was the highlight of the visit, because one could smell the history of the first part of the 20th century. It seemed to me like a mix of Victorian Britain and Habsburg. There were 17 fireplaces located throughout the building, all with imported tiles from Britain. There was also a lot of golden ornamentation on the walls and ceilings, it somehow reminded me of the palaces I've seen in Vienna (let me emphasize "somehow reminded"). When we came in, we were quickly approached by an older lady, who briefly explained the history of the building to me (in English), which I found very nice of her. We spent about 20 minutes exploring the interior together with the exhibition, before we went to the back yard and saw the Japanese garden. Since photos weren't allowed inside, please check this Taiwanese blogger, who shared a lot of photos from the Guest House's interior:

Yunchihchiang.wordpress.com: 百年回眸,台北賓館隨拍

The Japanese garden behind the building

A Japanese pavilion.

Sadly, we were not allowed to stroll around the garden.

The pond.

A black swan.

The backside of the building

This patterns resembles a lot of buildings from that period in Slovenia.

One example would be the Kranjski Deželni Dvorec.

I see a mix of Habsburg and Greece here.

Another angle.

The eastern part of the garden.

The eastern side of the building.

The spire on top of the tower.

The first floor.

Guardian lions.

Another view on the garden.

When and how to go to the Guest House

If you're interested to see the Taipei Guest House, you will need to pay attention to the few dates the house is open (only 12 times per year) - In 2012 it's on following days: 16. September, 13. October, 3. November and 1. December. You need to carry your ID or passport, which may or may not be checked. However, there will be a security check like the one I described before. Visiting times are from 8.00 to 16.00 (source). Finding the house is very easy. Go out at NTU Hospital MRT Station at Exit 1 and walk straight towards the Ketagalan Boulevard. The Guest House will be on your left.


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