In early November, I (Merge) visited Taiwan on the MS Westerdam. Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China, is an island nation in East Asia, characterized by its robust economy and rich cultural heritage. The nation’s economic strength is largely attributed to its advanced technology sector and significant global exports, particularly in electronics. The first city we docked at was Keelung, which for all practical purposes is the port for Taipei City, the country’s capital. There are some local sights in Keelung City, but I was a girl on a mission. I really wanted to visit Taipei City for two reasons – to see the giant pandas at the Taipei Zoo, and to visit the Taipei 101 skyscraper. We were in port for only one day, so I decided to give Keelung City a miss and head straight to the big city.
Getting to Taipei from the Keelung port was really easy. All I had to do when I exited the port was cross the street and walk about 200 m, and the Keelung train station was right there! One inexpensive ticket later (less than USD 2), I was on the train which took just under 45 minutes to get to the Taipei Main train station. I followed the well-marked signage to the metro system and purchased a one-day pass for TWD 150 (<USD 5), and I was set! I headed straight for the Taipei Zoo.
The Taipei Zoo is recognized as one of the largest zoos in Asia, both in terms of area and the variety of species it houses. Established with a commitment to conservation, education, and research, the zoo plays a significant role in wildlife preservation and public awareness. When I arrived, I was surprised to see how crowded it was. Lots of groups were there, and given the similar attire, I assume that it must have been Friday field trip day! The zoo is home to a wide range of animals, including indigenous species and exotic wildlife, but I had a single goal in mind: I headed straight for the Xinguang Giant Panda House.
The Giant Pandas represent a significant aspect of this zoo’s commitment to wildlife conservation and education. These pandas, a symbol of international conservation efforts, are part of a collaborative program with China aimed at studying and preserving this endangered species. The state-of-the-art panda facility is designed to replicate the natural habitat of these animals, ensuring their well-being while enabling researchers to observe their behavior in a controlled environment. There are three resident giant pandas – mom Yuan Yuan and two cubs – the older Yuan Zai, and the younger Yuan Bao, both females. The father, Tuan Tuan passed away in November 2022. I was fortunate enough to spy mama and both girls, but was only able to snap photos of mom Yuan Yuan; the other two were too fast and/or elusive.
Since I had some time, I also stopped in at the Formosan Animal exhibit area that features local fauna. Formosa is the Portuguese name for Taiwan and was in use until the mid-1960s. I was able to snap some good photos of the Formosan wild boar and the Formosan rock macacque.
Very pleased with my zoo visit, I next made my way to Taipei 101, a downtown skyscraper famous for its seismic engineering and a symbol of Taiwan’s economic and technological advancement. Taipei is renowned for its modern skyline, blending traditional Chinese culture with a contemporary urban setting, and the observatory at the top of this building gave me great views. Once holding the title of the world’s tallest building, Taipei 101 stands at 508 meters and is noted for its distinctive architectural design, which draws inspiration from traditional Chinese aesthetics.
The building is designed to withstand the region’s frequent earthquakes and typhoons. One of the most notable features in Taipei 101 is its massive tuned mass damper (TMD), which is a pendulum-like structure suspended between the 87th and 92nd floors. This 660-ton steel sphere, the world’s largest and heaviest at the time of construction, acts to counteract the building’s movement during strong winds and earthquakes. When the building sways, the pendulum moves in the opposite direction, absorbing and dissipating seismic and wind energy, thereby reducing the amplitude of mechanical vibrations. The structure of the building is designed to be flexible, allowing it to bend with the wind and seismic forces rather than resisting them rigidly. This flexibility reduces the stress on the building, preventing structural damage during strong gusts or seismic activity. It is anchored by deep foundations extending into the earth, which provide stability. The building also utilizes a series of enormous core columns connected by steel outriggers and braces. These columns and the core structure give the building additional strength and stability. High-performance steel and reinforced concrete were used in its construction, which have greater strength and flexibility. Finally, the building’s tapered design, resembling a Chinese pagoda, also helps in reducing wind resistance. The façade incorporates a series of setbacks that reduce wind pressure on the structure.
My goals for the day fulfilled, I returned to Keelung to board the MS Westerdam, thoroughly contented with my travels for the day.