With dragon-boat racing, ceremonial dumpling eating, and the UK’s Royal Ballet dancing into town, Taiwan’s capital city is a scintillating place to be in June, says Dimitri Bruyas
What makes a city unique? What is it about a travel destination that attracts so many travellers from far and near? Perhaps it is the breathtaking scenery, the deep-rooted culture or the mouthwatering cuisine. But for Taiwan’s capital city, it is all of these and more. Taipei is the epitome of a multifaceted destination where East meets West. Need some convincing? Take a look at our pick of what’s happening this month.
The Dragon Boat Festival is a major event celebrated in early June. Legend has it that the celebrations mark the passing of the famous Chinese poet Qu Yuan, who threw himself into the Miluo River on the fifth day of the fifth month in the lunar calendar, when his homeland was defeated by the Qin state in 278 BC. The tragic event is widely considered to be the origin of today’s Dragon Boat racing as well as the popular rice dumplings, or zongzi, wrapped in bamboo leaves, which are available before, during and after the festival.
One of Taiwan’s dumpling sellers
The races recall how local followers of the poet rushed onto boats in the hope of saving him, while the rice delicacy resembles the treats they threw into the river to prevent the fish and evil spirits from devouring his body. For centuries, eating zongzi has become a tradition for the Chinese to honour the poet’s uprightness. Enjoy the tasty dumplings while watching the races that start in the early hours between 31 May and 2 June at the Dajia Riverside Park, a quick taxi ride from downtown.
This summer is, for sure, a season of nostalgia, as the capital city marks its 130th anniversary with a contemporary art exhibition at Taipei Fine Arts Museum. Cloud of Unknowing: A City with Seven Streets runs until 17 August, featuring 25 artists from Taiwan, Hong Kong, mainland China and Japan who examine memories of the busiest streets in Taipei through various mediums.
The Taipei Fine Arts Museum
Another must-see museum for first-time visitors is the National Palace Museum, whose permanent collection features tens of thousands of antiquities, paintings and scrolls of calligraphy, as well as half a million rare books and documents from various Chinese dynasties. The museum is also displaying an impressive selection of Famous Works of Modern Chinese Painting and Calligraphy, until 25 July. The contemporary artworks and scrolls in calligraphy illustrate the birth of modern art in China between the late Qing dynasty (1644-1912) and the early Republican era (1912-1949) through the works of several artists from the northern, eastern and southern parts of the country.
The National Palace Museum
And if you like contemporary music, book seats for Wu Bai and China Blue’s upcoming concert. On 14 and 15 June, expect a full house at Taipei Arena where the legendary band is getting back to basics, performing hits that have forever changed the local music scene, ranging from the ballad Drifter’s Love Song to disco’s You Are My Flower.
Last but not least, the UK’s Royal Ballet is presenting the tragic tale of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet, between 27 and 29 June, at Taipei’s National Theater. Choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan, this production brings a contemporary interpretation to Sergei Prokofiev’s classic score while remaining true to Shakespeare’s tragedy about young lovers whose families are sworn enemies divided by a bitter feud.
Without a doubt, Taipei in summertime is chock-full of sensuous sights and sounds. And if you head to the spectacular and recently opened Mandarin Oriental, Taipei, you can taste the city, too, with classic Cantonese by way of dim sum delicacies at restaurant Ya Ge. Or enjoy a cocktail with the super-stylish crowd at the exciting new venue in town, MO Bar.
Dimitri Bruyas is a French writer based in Taiwan, specialising in architecture, food and contemporary arts