Friday, August 10, 2012

TAIPEI: Days 4 and 5

My camera sensor's being gathering dust as a result of it falling out of my pocket occasionally (I know, makes no sense, right?), so forgive the black spots.

Thursday August 9.

We were focusing on one MRT line today - the red Tamsui Line (淡水線), which passes through many of Taipei's most famous landmarks.

Our first stop was to the southern end of the line - the Taipei system is weird in that past this station, the line diverges into a green and an orange line headed south and southwest respectively.
After Sun Yat-Sen died in 1925, Chiang Kai-Shek (蔣中正), his protégé, took control of the Kuomintang.  A year later, his Northern Expedition (北伐) subdued the many warlords that remained after the Qing fell in 1912 and united China under the KMT banner.  However, by this time, the idea of communism, from newly "freed" Soviet Russia, had been gaining steam, first in Shanghai, where a young Mao Zedong first rose to power within the ranks of the growing movement.  In 1927, just one year after the Northern Expedition united China, the KMT and the Communists, which then were a major force, had a schism which would eventually lead to the Chinese Civil War.  It was during these years before the Japanese Invasion that Mao became the most powerful leader in the Communist Party, and during these years that popular sentiment in China turned away from the KMT - Chiang was brutally trying to destroy the communists every way he could, and wasn't concerning himself with any other matters.

After the Japanese had surrendered in 1945, they returned their colony of Taiwan to "China".  Very soon afterward, the Civil War broke out in its entirety.  As everyone knows, Mao's Red Army took complete control of mainland China in 1949, and Chiang and his (few) remaining KMT followers fled to Taiwan, expecting a triumphant return within a few years, and therefore still claiming governance over "China", and by extension, Taiwan.  It is this ambiguity -intentionally continued by both sides of the Strait in the want of peace - that gives Taiwan its current curious position in world politics.

For the better part of the latter half of the twentieth century, both sides of the Taiwan Strait experienced brutal, militaristic forms of government, Mao's misguided but all-powerful social policies such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution directly or indirectly killing well over a hundred million people in the mainland, and Taiwan existing under continuous martial law until 1989.  Chiang died in 1975 under this military rule, which immediately began building a monument in his honour, which would serve as the centrepiece of the provisional capital Taipei (which was looking more and more like a permanent home!)
Taiwan really loves the Lincoln Memorial, because within this building is a statue of a seated Chiang, like Sun in his hall.

Over the last decade, work has been done to make the area more of a cultural centre and less of a monument to a man who may not have been the greatest ruler ever (something that the Taiwanese can discuss openly!), including this performance venue.

Next, we headed out to the National Palace Museum ( 國立故宮博物院), which houses one of the best collections of Chinese art and writings in the world.
This place also has a curious history behind it.  When the Nationalists fled here in 1949, they took with them some of the most valuable items that their predecessors had taken from the Qing Forbidden City in Beijing.  For years, they languished in storehouses, while the leadership of Taiwan kept holding on to the dream of retaking the mainland.  Eventually, they decided that they needed to be put out on display to the public.
The collection spans the whole of recorded Chinese history, from the bronze age Shang Dynasty (商朝) in the second millennium BC to 1900's Qing heirlooms.
The most famous work in the museum is the jade bok choi  - a piece of jade that possessed a range of colour from white to dark green that the anonymous artist carved a stick of bok choi out of.  It stands out as a work of supreme craftsmanship as the colouring, which looks completely correct as a piece of bok choi (the leaves are vibrant green, the stalk is pure white) is completely natural, and was there before the artist began his work.
Oh, and there are no photos allowed to be taken inside.

We then headed up to Tamsui (hanyu pinyin Danshui), the northern end of the line.

If you're wondering why a lot of these places have two English names, it's because the former Taipei government, under now KMT president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), used the PRC's romanization standard "hanyu pinyin" to romanize their place names, while the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) government created its own, tongying pinyin.  After Ma came to power over the entire island in 2008, he rendered tongying obsolete.

Approaching the station:

Apparently, the place is very good for watching the sunset, but it was raining when we went.
So we ate.
Stinky tofu!  This stuff is actually left to ferment for a while before serving.  Horrible stench.
Massive, massive cones of soft serve.
A quick, wet walk down the main street,

and we're off to our dinner tonight, another night market.  But this one's indoors!

The Shilin Market is the largest night market in the city, centred around the covered complex here.
The top floor is miscellaneous goods, while the bottom is a giant food court-like thing.
Yeah... the Taiwanese can't do Cantonese.  Sorry.

Finally, we got off the Tamsui Line and went to Taipei 101 for a bird's-eye view of our final night here.
Even at 8:30, about an hour before the ticketing booths closed, there was still a line to get up.
According to Guiness, these are the fastest elevators in the world.


The Living Mall, a ploppable landmark in SimCity 4.
(I know, I'm such a nerd.)
Crap, I didn't do any west, did I.

The centrepiece of the observatory, quite literally, is this thing.
A giant steel ball.  It's called the tuned mass damper, and it is supposed to counteract outside forces acting on the building, such as typhoon winds and earthquakes, to keep 101 stable.
It's the largest one on the planet, and also the only one publicly visible.

We get back down to earth, a deserted mall:
And call it a day.

Friday, August 10.

We went to the Discovery Center, finally, today.
Pretty interesting, but nothing five days in Taipei hadn't already told us.

Back on the High Speed Rail to Taoyuan International:
\Oh, they're finally building a train from the Airport to the HSR station.  About time!
And wait for the plane.
not this one.
Definitely not this one.
Is it this one?
A warm ham and cheese sandwich on the hour and a half long ride back:

And on the ground in Hong Kong, we head back to Castle Peak Bay for even more seafood.

Pissing Shrimp!

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