Sunday, September 03, 2006

National Palace Museum

When Chiang Kai-Shek fled mainland China during the Communist Revolution, he didn't leave empty-handed. In fact, he took just about every important Chinese cultural artifact of the past 6000 years and brought them to Taiwan. The result is the National Palace Museum in Taipei, one of the most famous landmarks in Taiwan.

It is really hot in Taiwan right now. It is about 98 degrees and humid. Spending time indoors is a good thing, but it is even better when you can look at invaluable jade sculptures and bronze antiques. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed in the museum, but I managed to flick this one of a Buddha statue outside the exhibition halls without getting caught.

As we were walking in, I caught a glimpse of a guard doing something curious. He had Steve Irwin-ed a snake near the main entrance to the museum. He took a minute to pose for a picture, then carried it off to what I can only assume was an airplane occupied by Samuel L.

There were two particular pieces that we saw worth noting. The first was the "jade cabbage." It is a jade scuplture of a Chinese cabbage with a grasshopper and katydid sitting on its leaves. The painstaking detail of the carving can only truly be appreciated in person. It is one of the most famous jade sculptures in the world and people come from all over to see it.

The second piece was an ornament made of ivory that is known as "latticed balls within balls." It is had to describe exactly what this is, but basically an artist carves a single piece of ivory into several concentric spheres that can freely rotate inside each other. The particular piece that we saw had 17 balls and amazingly intricate artwork embedded on the outside.

We stayed in the museum until it closed at 5:00PM, and then headed back to the van. The view from the parking lot was pretty nice, so I took a pic. I can hardly wait for where we are about to go next: the Night Market.

Taipei 101

Taipei 101 might sound like a class you would take freshman year, but it is actually a building in Taipei. In fact, it is the tallest building in Taipei and is currently the tallest building in the world. It provided a good "crash course" for me to learn about Taipei and get an idea about the layout of the city.

We left homebase around 10:00AM and hopped in my cousin's van. The drive into the city is about 45 minutes, and there was quite a view as we entered. As we approached Taipei 101, we could begin to appreciate just how tall this building is.

The first 5 floors of the building are an upscale shopping mall, very similar to the Time Warner Building near Columbus Circle in Manhattan. There are stores like Dolce & Gabana, Coach, Louis Vuitton, Brooks Brothers, etc., spread around these floors. One of the strangest things I saw was at a store that sold message chairs and devices. Called the iGallop, it is a message chair that imitates the motion of a galloping horse. I was under the impression that this motion leads to saddle sore, not a relaxed and refreshed back.

We got tickets to ride the elevator to the 89th floor of Taipei 101. "101" represents both the number of floors in the building and "going beyond the best". The elevator goes from the 5th floor to the 89th floor in under 30 seconds, making it the worlds fastest elevator. While on the 89th floor, I walked around and learned about the city with the help of an audio guide. I learned interesting facts like "the population of Taipei is 2.6 million" and "there are four mountains surrounding Taipei city and they are named after animals" (I forgot which four animals . . . bear, elephant, leopard, ?).

From the 89th floor, we walked up to the outdoor observation deck on the 91st floor. The deck reminded me of the Empire State Building's observation deck, with a tall, hooked fence surrounding the edge. From here we could see the very top of the building and a hazy view of the city.

After riding back down, we stopped for lunch in the food court in the lower level. I had what I would call "seafood noodle stew" from a Japanese fast-food noodle restaurant. It consisted of shrimp, clams, noodles, half of a boiled egg, tomato, cauliflower, garlic, Chinese broccoli, and hot spices (pepper). I washed it down with an apple soda called "Apple Sidra".

Having oriented ourselves with the city from above, we headed back to the van to go to our next destination: the National Palace Museum.


I slept good. Real good.

After waking up at about 8:00AM, I took a much-needed shower. Dad, grandpa, uncle, and cousin were already up and having breakfast. I joined them and had a bao tse (steamed bun with vegetable filling) and warm soy milk. Add a banana and some tea and it was a nice wholesome breakfast. My cousin gave me some dried ginseng, which you chew on for health.

We have a big day planned ahead of us. Back to the action. Blog you later.

We made it!

I'm sitting in my uncle's living room right now, watching the Twins/Yankees game live on ESPN. I go to the other side of the country and I do the same thing I do at home. Weird.

The flight from Osaka to Taipei was quick; it was supposed to take 3 hours and we made it in 2. During this short trip, I sat next to Rei and Mario from Boston. They are on their way to visit Rei's family in Taipei. As veterans, they shared some Taiwan favorites with me. Hoping that we can meet up later in the trip.

Upon arrival (approximately 9:00PM local), we gathered our luggage from the claim and waited for my aunt and uncle. Since we were a little early, they weren't there yet. My dad found them among the dark-haired droves and we hopped in the van.

As we drove through the outskirts of Taipei, I finally realized that I really am here. I'm on the other side of the world and there are many things that are similar and different. The landscape is littered with neon signs, some familiar, some not. Seven 11 seems to be a staple, along with KTV (karaoke) and scooters. More on this later.

We arrived at my uncle's house. It is very reminiscent of a New York apartment, particularly the 4th floor walk-up aspect. My people live here: my grandparents, my aunt and uncle, their two children (my cousins) and their spouses, and my cousins' children (11 total). After dropping off our luggage in the guest room, we went upstairs to visit Ama and Aba (grandma and grandpa).

We sat down and talked with grandma and grandpa for a while. Grandma immediately reminisced about the time she spent in Minnesota with me when I was born. We looked at pictures from my cousin's wedding in Dallas and my graduation from Rice. I was amazed at how sharp my grandparents are. The do not show their years.

We went back downstairs and my uncle came in with a box full of food, mostly fruit. There was lychee, bananas, and mango, along with treats from the bakery and Taiwanese Coke (which is more like root beer). We sat around and talked (well, Dad translated) and ate and drank until late.

Laying in bed was a comforting feeling. Looking forward to some deep zzzzz's.