On Tuesday, in my Physics 151 class, I got to the point where I talk about falling objects, and also about terminal speed/velocity. There’s an example in the textbook and in my notes where (in order to understand drag) there is a discussion of shooting a styrofoam ball straight down off the Empire State building, and then studying the resulting settling down to the terminal speed due to drag balancing the weight, etc, etc….
Just when I came to the Empire State building I stopped and asked if anyone knew which was the world’s tallest building (by three of the four measures that count: highest structurally, highest roof, and highest occupied floor…so no communication structures…..ok Toronto?)… Actually, it did not take long to get the correct answer……after all, we are a major Pacific Rim city, and USC has a large number of asian students….. and I learned from a conversation with our President the other day that USC is one of the main US destinations for students from Taiwan. So yes. The answer was Taipei 101, which is in Taipei (appropriately). I then realised that precisely one month before that very day – December 31st – I was still on my Walkabout (see also here) and I was at the top of that very building! I mentioned this to them. So it was appropriate to modify the example we were discussing to use Taipei 101 instead of the Empire State Building.
So it is a fantastic building, both inside and out. It has a huge shopping complex in the lower part of the building – very glossy, by any standards (and I should know since I have some of the glossiest shopping areas not far from here in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood) – and clearly a source of delight for locals and tourists alike. I wandered around that for a bit, just to see something different. It had been almost a month since I’d seen so much overtly Western stuff (all the big name boutiques and what-have-yous) , and it was sort of interesting to see it…. Recall that it was still close to
Newton’s Birthday, oops, Christmas Day and so the whole shopping fever thing that you know from here in the West was still in evidence. (Recall that I cancelled Christmas to go there and hide, but I could not hide form it completely.) One interesting thing I noticed about the fancy stores (example of how popular the stores are?) is the fact that there are queues to get into some of them, with a doorman and a little taped-off area for people to wait to get in when others have left….. I guessed they were enforcing some maximum capacity guideline, but did not check since I had no business going into any of them (I get my Gucci, Donna Karan and Louis Vuitton, etc, stuff in Beverly Hills, where else?! ) Or maybe it’s just a way of seeming extra exclusive…. The Gucci doorman seemed rather put out when I tried to take a picture of his splendid red rope. Maybe he was upset that there was nobody waiting at it, unlike Louis Vuitton a few doors down?
The basement contains stuff of legend. It has a food hall with hundreds -I am not exaggerating- hundreds of asian food outlets from all over the map of asian cuisine. I actually spent quite a bit of time down there. Not eating, but figuring out what to eat. I was completely dazed and confused about all the choices…..
TAIPEI is mnemonic for Technology, Art, Innovation, People, Environment, and Identity. 101 represents the concept of striving for beyond perfection.
Enough of that…. back to the tower. So up to the fifth floor you go by conventional means, buy your ticket, and then go to the The Elevator. I put that in capital letters because it is the first of several amazing things I’d be told about again and again on the tour (how tall, how much steel, how much concrete, what kind of earthquakes it can survive…..etc). The Elevator is an express elevator that moves at some incredible speed. I’ve forgotten the numbers (hey, it was a month ago, and I’m not as young as I used to be. [Update: 1010 m/min, apparently]) but they were impressive. But I did take a picture of the glowing diagram in The Elevator that tracks your progress up the building, tells you your current floor and speed and time elapsed. You can see from the picture that this is at the end of the journey, and it took 37 seconds. This is apparently in the record books for this height gain. And you hardly feel a thing (which was good, since I’d just come up from the food hall)….
The observation points at the top are wonderful. I could look out at the city and surrounds in all directions and admire the splendid view of the….clouds. Yeah…. it was a cloudy day, but actually this was really an impressive extra, since you can look down on the clouds (wow) and since it was also reasonably windy, there were several chances for part of a view to clear and you’d see a dramatic piece of the city appear in bright sunshine for a few minutes, and then fade from view again. I loved it.
Another thing you get to see is one of the stabilizers. These can be found in a number of buildings, but this is apparently one of the only buildings that allows you to see one of them as part of the display. It is basically a giant (Huge!) several-ton lump of metal (sorry, forgot the numbers …800 I think) which is movable. It is on a fantastic hydraulic system, and when the building is doing something dynamic (I don’t know…swaying alarmingly from side to side?) the building’s computers (I imagine….or maybe a dedicated experienced trapeze artist in a booth somewhere?) adjust the attititude of this giant lump of metal to compensate. Wow. I thought it was quite splendid…Wanted to jump down into the pit onto it and give it a bit of a push, actually, but decided against that (partly because it would not be likely to budge, and partly because there was this rather beautiful and elegant woman nearby who I did not want to think (or find out) that I was nuts…. oh, and because it would be a stupid thing to do).
So upon returning to the ground, I set off to walk back across the city for the rest of the afternoon to return home, in order to get a feel for it. One last look up at the wonderful structure (taking the picture next down from the top, on then left, and later the lovely shot of it in the distance you see at the top, as night fell as I walked out of the neighbourhood), and then I set off. Notice how the design is both ultra-modern and reminiscent of the ancient as well…..looks a bit like a stick of bamboo? Got it in one! This is one thing I love about Taiwan….that juxtaposition of old and new. I’ve spoken of this in earlier posts. Here’s another example. I crossed the road from the Taipei 101 building and went half a block and was treated a completely unexpected (and welcome) sight: There is a little patch of ground right there, with a man tending vegetables in a garden! How’s that for ultra-modern rubbing up against the ancient? I do hope it is still there next time I go. I’ll be so sad to see that garden gone.
So a exactly a month later by the calendar, on Tuesday 31st Jan, while the class was solving the little drag-on-styrofoam-ball problem, one of the students asked me quietly, “What were you doing up the Taipei 101 building a month ago”. My reply? “Shooting styrofoam balls off the top, of course!”