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Last December 4, 2013, we flew from the Manila Airport
Terminal 3. We had to wake up at 3:00 am, as it was a 2-hour drive to Manila
and we had to be at the airport 2 hours before boarding.
Since Taipei, Taiwan is only a
one-hour-fifty-minute flight from Manila, before we knew it we have landed in
Taipei. Taiwanese Rotarians met us and we took a big tourist bus, which brought
us to the Grand Hotel, about an hour’s drive from the Airport.
Since we were booked at the Ambassador Hotel, we took a
cab and it was only a ten-minute drive as it was quite near the Grand
Hotel. The last Rotary Zone Institute to
be held in Taipei was in November 2008 and it was also held at the Grand Hotel.
Below is a short history about Grand Hotel…
Grand Hotel literally means "Yuanshan Grand Hotel"
Chiang Kai-shek's retreat to Taiwan in 1949, Chiang felt it was difficult to
accommodate foreign ambassadors, as there weren't any five-star hotels in
Taipei. Thus, he wanted to build an extravagant hotel to treat foreign guests.
His wife Soong May-ling suggested to build it on the old Taiwan Hotel on
Yuanshan Mountain, the site of the ruins of the Taiwan Grand Shrine, a Shinto
shrine during the Japanese rule. Chiang decided on Taiwanese palace-style
architecture to promote Taiwanese culture to the West through its extravagance.
Taipei based architect Yang Cho-Cheng was responsible for the design of the new
hotel. The hotel was established in the May of 1952, but it was expanded
several times before it became the landmark, as it is known today.
1968, the hotel was rated as one of the world's top ten hotels by the US
Fortune magazine. And finally, in the Double Tenth Day of 1973, the main Grand
Hotel building was completed, making it an instant Taipei icon. It is a famous
landmark located atop a hill overlooking Taipei City and is owned by the
Duen-Mou Foundation of Taiwan, a non-profit organization, and has played host
to many foreign dignitaries that have visited Taipei.
June 1995, a disastrous fire broke out on the roof during necessary
reconstruction and refurbishment, and because neither ladders nor high pressure
pumps could reach the fire, the roof and the upper floors were destroyed. Not
until 1998 did the hotel recover from the damage and became fully reopened to
the public. Following the fire, the two dragon heads on the roof were rotated
180 degrees to point inwards. As dragons are traditionally a symbol of rain and
water, this was intended to symbolize preparedness against a future fire.
hotel's roof is currently the world's largest Chinese classical style roof.
With its vermilion columns, the roof makes the hotel a visible showplace of
Chinese architecture and culture. The hotel itself contains numerous objects
d'art, wall panels, paintings, carvings, and significant restaurants. Dragon
motifs are frequently intertwined throughout the various structures that make
up the hotel, earning the hotel the name "The Dragon Palace". Besides
dragons, lion and ume (plum) flower motifs also make a significant presence in
of the eight guest levels represent a different Chinese dynasty, as reflected
through the murals and general decor. The hotel has a total of 490 rooms. The
rooms facing south have a panoramic view of Taipei City. The presidential
suite, as the hotel claims, has former President Chiang Kaishek's desk and
Madame Chiang's dressing table.
since the opening of the hotel, rumor had it that some secret passages ran from
the hotel for Chiang's convenience. The truth was uncovered after the 1995
fire, as part of the safety commission that was conducted.
secret passages were revealed to be two air-raid tunnels, each of them 180m in
length leading to nearby parks, not the presidential residence or the emergency
headquarters as rumors had suggested. The western passage is equipped with a
slide for the disabled as an alternative to the spiraling stairs. The exits are
obscured with concrete walls, thus escaping public detection for decades. The
tunnels have a maximum capacity of about 10,000 people. As of 2005, the tunnels
are closed to the public except for special events, when hotel officials invite
the press and public inside the tunnels for a tour.
Philippine senator and opposition leader Benigno Aquino, Jr. was at the Grand
Hotel on August 20, 1983, the day before he returned to the Philippines and was
assassinated. In his pre-return interview at his suite, Ninoy anticipated the
worst that could happen upon his return.
My first visit to Taipeh (spelled with an h then) was as a gawky teenager in the mid
1960’s, on the second leg of a tour to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan as a college
graduation gift from my mother who accompanied us together with my 3 elder
brothers, two cousins, and several friends. The tiny Taipeh airport then was
located near a grassy field very close to the city and we were whisked into a
hotel in no time. Taipeh was like a sleepy dragon waiting to awaken. We had an
unforgettable visit with a family friend who was married to an American serviceman
at their place located near the Peitou district. Our visit to Yangmingshan
National Park was especially memorable as I still remember vividly the lovely
temples, the glorious mountain scenery and the cool, crisp weather.
After that first visit, there were several more...this time
as the spouse of a Past District Governor...Ben and I were in Taipei for our
first Zone 4 Institute on December 12-14 in 1986 with about 150 RI Officers in
Asia Zone Four attending. The Rotary club of Taipei hosted this. In 1994 the
Rotary International Convention was held from June 12-15 in Taipei City and PDG
George Huang chaired this. The venue was held at the huge Taipei World Trade
Convention & Exhibition Center and guests of honor included R.I. President
Robert Barth and R.I. President- Elect Bill Huntley. We stayed at the Grand
Hotel then, but in subsequent Zone institutes we stayed at the Howard Hotel
then back again at Grand Hotel. In Ben’s stint as Regional Rotary Foundation
Coordinator from 1996 to 1998 we revisited K.L Malaysia, Bangkok, Thailand,
Hong Kong and Taipei (which included Taichung and Kaohsiung).
On our last visit there, in 2008, the first thing that
greeted us as soon as we entered the lobby was an enormous flower arrangement.
Right in the middle of the gigantic lobby was a huge Chinese console table
topped with a blue and white vase filled with violet phalaenopsis orchids,
which we thought were artificial, but upon coming closer and touching them, the
orchids turned out to be real. They were strewn all over the hotel in smaller
arrangements, which served to unite the overall hotel decor. Soon after we
checked in, we were quite famished so we partook of the High Tea buffet at the
left side of the lobby. The menu selection was so much; we had a more than
25-course buffet dinner.
In 2008, we also visited the Palace Museum by taking the
Hotel Shuttle Bus that left the hotel every half hour. The bus dropped us at
the main MRT station and quickly reached Shinlin station. Then we took bus no.
340, which deposited us right in front of The Palace Museum. We were able to
tour the Museum for only three hours, so we vowed to come back a few days
For this 2913 Institute, spouse
Betty Hsu of the Rotary Club of Taipei, arranged a tour of Jun Ming Museum for
all the spouses. After the Opening Ceremonies on December 6th, all
the spouses assembled at the lobby at 9 am the next morning and we took 4
tourist coaches for a long trip to the world-famous outdoor museum (about an
hour and a half by bus to the mountains near the Yangminshan National Park). We
missed the 12-course lunch at the Grand Ballroom hosted by Taiwan’s President
Ma but we didn’t mind as the tour buses drove us through some of the most
spectacular views of verdant hills and rugged coastlines of Northern Taiwan
before reaching the world-famous Juming Sculpture Museum in the Jin Shan
District, which was surrounded by lush forests and lovely mountains. The
spouses had a great time getting acquainted with each other as we represented various countries in South East
Asia. We were all shivering in the cold mountain air but enjoyed promenading
through the various sculpture pieces in the outdoor exhibit.
Some sculptures were detailed like
the countless soldiers, some were simple but a lot of them must have been
sculpted from massive rocks. Others must have been formed with cement but all
of them depicted a lot of simple body movement especially the Taichi series.
Our Bus “C” Group coming from seven countries included
an exchange student form France and a lady from Africa posing for a souvenir
photo. The large massive rock sculpture below is the most famous landmark at
At a Merienda hosted by the Philippine
Ambassador to Taiwan, PRIP MAT Caparas spoke words of wisdom to the PDGs which
included 5 lady PDGs.