Monday, September 30, 2013

Taipei: A Museum And A High Rise

This morning we visited the National Palace Museum, an amazing treasure trove of Chinese history. Since no photography is allowed inside, our only photo is a shot of the exterior.
We wandered around it for three hours. Even though we didn't arrive early, the tour groups didn't hit until we had been there for an hour and even then they didn't get in our way that much. To put it more accurately, we went where the tour groups weren't and managed to see quite a bit.

This collection has a rather amazing history:
In 1931, shortly after the Mukden Incident Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Government ordered the museum to make preparations to evacuate its most valuable pieces out of the city to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army. As a result, from 6 February to 15 May 1933, the Palace Museum's 13,491 crates and 6,066 crates of objects from the Exhibition Office of Ancient Artifacts, the Yiheyuan and the Hanlin Yuan Imperial Academy were moved in five groups to Shanghai.[8] In 1936, the collection was moved to Nanjing after the construction of the storage in the Taoist monastery Chaotian Palace was complete.[9] As the Imperial Japanese Army advanced farther inland during the Second Sino-Japanese War, which merged into the greater conflict of World War II, the collection was moved westward via three routes to several places including Anshun and Leshan until the surrender of Japan in 1945. In 1947, it was shipped back to the Nanjing warehouse.

Evacuation to Taiwan

The Chinese Civil War resumed following the surrender of the Japanese, ultimately resulting in Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek's decision to evacuate the arts to Taiwan. When the fighting worsened in 1948 between the Communist and Nationalist armies, the Palace Museum and other five institutions made the decision to send some of the most prized items to Taiwan.[10] Hang Li-wu, later director of the museum, supervised the transport of some of the collection in three groups from Nanjing to the harbor in Keelung, Taiwan between December 1948 and February 1949. By the time the items arrived in Taiwan, the Communist army had already seized control of the Palace Museum collection so not all of the collection could be sent to Taiwan. A total of 2,972 crates of artifacts from the Forbidden City moved to Taiwan only accounted for 22% of the crates originally transported south, although the pieces represented some of the very best of the collection.
Fortunately, the only invasion from Mainland China is that of throngs of noisy tourists. We've previously mentioned that they don't enjoy a good reputation here (although their spending is welcomed) and they are probably the cause of the assignment of a number of employees to carry around little signs asking people to speak quietly. No, it doesn't seem to do a lot of good, as recent Trip Advisor reviewer pointed out. We've never seen such a sign displayed anywhere.

We utilized our two-day MRT pass to travel from the museum to another one of Taipei's "must-visit" places, Taipei 101, the world's tallest building between 2004 and 2010, and still the third tallest building in the world.

Despite the overcast day and the downright corniness and commercialism, we managed to enjoy ourselves.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Taiwan: Taipei Sheraton Grande

Our check-in at the Sheraton Grande Taipei Hotel is friendly and efficient. Before we know it we are in our spacious room on the 15th floor. Happy Hour in the Lounge starts in a few minutes.

We'll be there.

Taiwan: Riding The HSR (High-Speed Rail)

Mr. Wu says goodby to us in the HSR station, nervous and polite to the end. We can't help but think he's happy to get rid of us. We suspect he may not even be an official guide, but perhaps an educated person who "speaks English" and was willing to help out a guide-friend who wasn't available. He was told to escort us right to our train car and seems very happy when we tell him that isn't necessary.

The HSR station is as modern and glistening as any airport. There are plenty of English translations available, and we make our way downstairs to wait to board our train. The Taiwanese are proud of the HSR with good reason, although it no doubt cost the taxpayers a lot to build.

Our train is already in the station and attendants are changing the direction of the seats and attending to some cleaning chores. Before long we board and find it spacious and modern.

Once we start, it's clear that it's not only a very fast train (the fastest speed recorded on the moving sign was 298 kph or about 185 mph) but a very smooth train. Our train leaves punctually at 1:30 p.m. and travels the 345 km (214 mi) between Kaohsiung and Taipei with ease, arriving on time at 3:06 p.m. with two intermediate stops.

Another representative of the tour company, "Brian," is there to greet us. He is a sales representative, not a tour guide, but his English is the best of any of the employees we have encountered. The drive from the station to the Sheraton Grande is only about five minutes and we have arrived.

A Nippy Japanese Car

We've already introduced you to the Zinger.

It turns out the Japanese build a Suzuki Nippy too.

Nine-Cornered Bridges And Other Sights

 Excise can be taxing.

"Fierce Sex:" Something Is Fishy In Kaohsiung

As Mr. Wu and we visited a small aquarium in one of the parks - really more of a collection of fish tanks on two floors - we enjoyed some of the signs almost as much as we did the often-beautiful tropical fish.

Taiwan: Day Tour Of Kaohsiung

Shortly after 9:30 a.m. a very nervous Mr. Wu picked us up in his SUV. His English is not as strong as Bill Wang's, whose English is not as strong as Lau's English. We find out that Mr. Wu is a graduate of the Taiwan naval academy, but that his career was in the infantry. We gather he is now retired, and whatever time he says he spent in Pomona California did not really improve his English.

We have only a vague idea of most of what we saw, but we reinforced our impression that Kaohsiung is quite a lovely city.
We drove by two of the late President Chiang Kai-shek's residences but chose not to go inside. We did catch a glimpse of the old presidential Packard (?) parked in the garage.
We also saw groups of school children and other tourists eager to visit the same sites.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Taiwan: Onward To Taipei

Bill Wang dropped us off at our hotel about 5:00 p.m. and was embarrassingly grateful for our generous tip. He looked after us very well from start to finish and even made sure we got the senior citizen discount for the high-speed train back to Taipei.

Last night we walked over to the river and nursed a beer while a middle-aged band performed nearby. One of the singers and her husband had lived for years in New York before returning and we enjoyed a nice little chat with them. The music was Chinese pop and generally pentatonic although she made a game effort at "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You."

This morning we'll check out of the hotel and one Mr. Wu will provide a city tour before dropping us off at the high-speed train. The trains are built by the Japanese and apparently even faster than the Japanese Bullet Train. What intrigues us that they seem to run quite often - more of a subway schedule than a train schedule - and we'll be back in Taiwan in about 90 minutes.

Kathy is finally beating her cold and we're looking forward to the day.

Taiwan: Henchun Chuhuo - A Real Gas

We drove back north across a "mountain pass" (as the Taiwanese call it) and stopped at Henchun Chuhuo ("releasing fire" in Mandarin), a place where  natural gas seeps to the surface and results in visible flames.

Despite the dire warning signs, illegal vendors at the top apparently sell "popcorn, sweet potatoes, and eggs" for do-it-yourself cooks.

When we were there, an entrepreneur was busily involved with cooking potatoes or at least something wrapped in aluminum foil and shaped like potatoes. Our guide, Bill Wang, told us that the police probably weren't too interested in pursuing such trivial crimes.

No, it's not exactly Yellowstone or New Zealand's Rotorua but it was mildly interesting.