Taipei is a busy city of more than two and a half million people situated at the northern tip of Taiwan. Founded by Chinese traders in the 17th century, the city became the country's capital in 1885 and, like the entire country, has been occupied at various times by the Dutch, the Spanish and the Japanese.
Today, the city is a thriving hub of business and tourism that will feel familiar to anyone who has spent time in any of the world's big cities. There are English signs everywhere, American fast-food stops and clothing and shoe shops with recognizable names like Benetton, Sketchers and Aldo. The city's Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system is easy to navigate, and if you keep your eyes on the towering Taipei 101, you can usually figure out which direction to go.
Like the world's big cities, Taipei is crowded. Locals and tourists alike compete for space, motor scooters are an ever present danger and skyscrapers dominate the horizon. But interspersed among all the noise are pockets of quiet and reflection. Temples, like churches in the Western world, are everywhere, and two of the city's most popular tourist sites -- the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall and Martyr's Shrine -- request respectful silence.
Not all of the city's tourist attractions are quiet, the most notable exception being the National Palace Museum, which receives thousands of visitors a day. Originally located in Beijing's Forbidden City, the more than 600,000 objects in the collection were moved, first to China's south to avoid the Japanese invasion in 1931, and then to Taiwan in 1949 because of the civil war between the Nationalist Government and the Communists. With the largest collection of Chinese cultural and artistic objects in the world, tourists, especially those from mainland China, flock to the city to visit it.