Sunday, November 04, 2012

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Visiting the Office of the President, Taipei, Taiwan

11/04/2012 Taiwan Explorer

While on the other side of the Taiwan strait, in fancy new Beiping, everything seems to be approaching a massive lockdown due to the communist bigwig convention 2012, in good old Taipei life couldn't be better. We had a beautiful sunny day yesterday. It was perfect for visiting the colossal red-bricked palace sponsored by Imperial Japan that is today known as the Office of the President of the ROC 中華民國總統府, the country's center of power. Since it was so warm, a free time activity in front of the famous landmark attracted a lot of people, especially kids, who were playfully running around with kites. I bet you won't see something like this in the Celestial Dynasty these days and that's not only because of the cold weather near Zhongnanhai.

Taiwan (Republic of China)

Things are different in the democratic Republic of China (Taiwan) and that's clearly reflected in the attitude of the government institutions towards its citizens. Sure, it's far from perfect and let's not go too deep into daily politics. I'm just trying to look at the bigger picture here. The building, that was designed to be the most prominent symbol of Japan's bloody expansionism and later became the center of power for the Chinese government in exile, has transformed into something much bigger: It's today Taiwan's presidential palace. Taiwan and the ROC are slowly melting into one entity, on paper and in people's hearts. This phenomenon was obvious during the recent Double Ten Day celebrations and the trend will continue. I'm always very interested to visit places around Taipei, that might not be your average White guy's must-see destination. Of course I have no idea what an average White guy looks like, but what I can say is that I didn't see a single non-Asian visitor in the palace during my two hour long visit. Based on the languages I heard, the majority of visitors were either Taiwanese or mainland Chinese. There were also a few Hong Kongers, Japanese and Asian Americans in the mix. And then there was I.

How do you visit the presidential palace?

The presidential palace is partially opened every week day in the morning and on certain weekends for almost a whole day. I have checked the schedule on the official website and marked Saturday, November 3rd in my virtual calendar. I have no idea, what it means to be partially opened from Monday to Friday, but for the yesterday's visit no advanced booking was required. We had to enter from the northern entrance right next to the Bank of Taiwan and not from the Ketagalan Boulevard. You need to bring your ID, ARC or passport and don't bring any knives, guns or equipment for spying (self-explanatory). Taking photos is allowed inside, but they told me I can't use my iPad (the use of smartphones was ok, though). I've no idea why, but that's how it is.

It was one of the most beautiful days of the year in Taipei.

I've taken a lot of pictures, but obviously, I can't publish all of them here. First of all, I don't want to spoil the pleasure for future visitors and reveal too much, but at the same time I would like to offer a preview, perhaps more people will be interested to add this kind of visit to their Taipei travel itinerary.

The tour overview

While you have to enter the complex from the side, you enter the palace at the main entrance. Inside there is a certain path laid out for visitors, so you don't really get to see everything. Upon entering you will soon arrive at the 16.5 m tall Entrance Hall, that is ornamented with Greek double-pillars and presents a bust of the father of the ROC Sun Yat-sen. Walking further, you will be led one floor up to the Auditorium, the venue for official gatherings and ceremonies. A painting of Sun Yat-sen under the ROC flag is the focal point here. Next is the Rainbow Room, which is used for banquets. It exhibits beautiful paintings by local artists. After you're done with these rooms, you will be going downstairs and reach the North Garden with lots of exhibitions along the way to the South Garden. Right before leaving at the back of the building, there will be a souvenir shop with affordable prices, but limited choice.

Let me show you my photos from the tour around the palace:

This is the entrance for visitors.

We're approaching the main entrance.

Close to the tower.

The Entrance Hall

Images from the Entrance Hall - note a cardboard cutout of President Ma.

There were orchids everywhere.

The Auditorium

Cardboard versions of President Ma and his VP Wu, who was often ignored.

Sun Yat-sen's painting.

The auditorium as I was leaving it.

The Rainbow Room

Beautiful paintings admired by visitors.

Playful little girl.

This painting is named "A Bumper Season for Mullet". The artist is Chen Huei-tung (2005), depicting fishermen in southern Taiwan.

Leaving the first floor

This is how we left the first floor.

The gardens

This is the North garden.

The tower as seen from inside.

The South garden.

A girl taking pics of herself.

The exhibitions

The part, where I spent most time on, were the exhibitions along the gardens. They display the history of Taiwan before and after the ROC, the history and architecture of the Presidential Palace building and the history of all the presidents since 1949. A room is dedicated to Taiwanese achievements in high-tech industry and another one to the development of the country. Yet another features ROC's foreign relations and the gifts the presidents have received. Below is a small fraction of the things you can see there.

A short video introducing the palace.

History of flags over the ROC territories of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Mazu.

The US bombing of Taipei destroyed parts of the palace during WWII.

These are some of the proposed designs for the palace, that were not implemented.

A duplicate of the Seal of the ROC.

Instrument of Japan's surrender.

Two, perhaps three rooms cover all the ROC post WWII presidents.

The exhibition shows notable moments of every president, including Chen Sui-bian, who is currently in prison. The transition to democracy and the Wild Lily Movement are highlighted, too. In fact, I found Lee Teng-hui's part most interesting.

This is part of Taiwan's technological achievements: Asus Zenbook.

This part is dedicated to foreign relations of the ROC.

This exhibition focusing on Taiwan's development made my wife shake her head.

In conclusion

If you're into history of Taiwan, visiting the presidential palace should definitely be on your itinerary. The highlights for me were the Entrance Hall, the Auditorium and the gardens. I liked the exhibition on the history of the building and the timeline of the ROC presidents. You can see a lot of original footage, which is something you will hardly find online. All in all it was a very interesting experience walking around a building so rich in history and so important for Taiwan. All the exhibitions are of course one of the interpretations on certain events, don't visit, if you expect a polemic discourse on issues.

• Related: My photos of the Office of the President from outside>>

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Pinyin: Zhōnghuá Mínguó Zǒngtǒngfǔ
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