Sunday, February 20, 2011

“Nihao” Taiwan - Part 2

Saturday: Day Two. First on the agenda was the National Palace Museum. They have free English tours twice a day, so we made our way to the 10am tour. I can’t even tell you how many people were in the museum, it was packed! First, it was a Saturday morning, and second, it was just after the Chinese New Year. This means that everyone gets a week to one month off of work/school. We took our trip at a peak vacation time, but it was worth it. In the museum we looked at the famous jade, iron, steel, ceramic pieces. It was breathtaking. In the ceramics display, our guide pointed out the best/most famous piece, and believe it or not, it was nothing special to the regular eye. However, being so simple was an understatement. The piece reminded me of a bathtub; however, it was only 6 inches long, 4 inches tall, and 4 inches wide. It was a beautiful turquoise color. The reason it was the most famous piece is that it had no flaws. It was perfect, no bubbles, no chips, nothing. As our guide said, most people would skip over this piece for a more ornate, eye catching piece.
National Palace Museum

After pictures outside of the museum (no cameras allowed), we made our way back to the Shilin train station. While debating our next move, we saw a stand for Chinese pancakes. I had read about these being famous, so naturally I wanted to try them. We settled on the Chinese Yam flavor with basil and corn wrapped up inside of the pancake. It was delicious!

Early Saturday afternoon, we boarded the train bound for Longshan Temple. This was just southwest of the main train station. Longshan Temple is the most well known temple in Taipei, perhaps all of Taiwan. It was crowded...ridiculously crowded actually. After the Chinese New Year, people go to the temples to pray for a good year. They give offerings of food and other material things to the god(s). Since we visited right after the new year, we got to see this in action. There was so much good, beautiful food, being placed on tables as gifts to the god(s). The temple itself was a color sensation. When it comes to comparing Japanese and Taiwanese temples, the Taiwanese temples win hands down for color wheel use, intricacies, and overall appeal...sorry Japan, but I still love the Japanese temples. We walked through the temple, dodging hot ashes at every move and after our nostrils were completely full of incenses, we walked outside to look for......a bubble tea shop. After wandering around, we never found one. Instead, we found several food shops and bought different types of bread-type goodies.

Saturday night we found our way to East Taipei for a different side of Taiwan. We walked through a mall and eventually settled on a Thai restaurant, something we aren’t privileged to in Japan (the Japanese just don’t do spicy). As usual, I had curry and it was pretty good. After an early dinner we walked to the Taipei 101 Tower. This was the real reason we went to East Taipei. We walked by the city hall and the exhibition center (which was hosting a book/stationary expo). At the Taipei 101 Tower, we were told that the weather conditions meant we couldn’t go outside and wouldn’t be able to see much. January through March is the rainy season in Taipei, so it didn’t shock me. However, the price tag did. $15 to ride in the world’s fastest elevator, up 97 floors in 37 seconds. I only paid more for 5 things in Taiwan (hostel, dinner, duty free items)! At the top of the tower, we were greeted with a picture display of Taiwan through the years, mainly the past 100 years, as 2011 is the centennial of Taiwan (well, the Republic of China - Taiwan). The pictures told a great story and as I was reading the captions, I could think of numerous people who would love to be reading these things ( father especially).

After the tower, we mistakenly got off at the wrong level after the tower and ended up in the food court. My mistake lead us to nothing other than bubble tea!!! It was pretty cold outside, probably about 45 degrees, but bubble tea sounded amazing (and it was). With our bubble tea in hand, we walked over to the Taipei City Hall and experienced the 2011 New Years Lantern Festival. For those of you who don’t know, in the Chinese zodiac, 2011 is the year of the rabbit. It occurs every twelve years, so those turning 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, 72, 84, and 96 this year are “rabbits”. Which means, I am a rabbit, so this is my year! woo! The lantern festival had hundreds of displays. First, we saw 5 lanterns, all representing different things: personal health, good luck in school, good luck in business, overall health, and “your own personal wish”. We took turns at all the stations, and if the white lanterns turned red, that meant our wish would be fulfilled. Lucky for me (and for everyone else), the lanterns turned red, meaning all of my wishes will be granted this year!
5 Lanterns and the Taipei 101 Tower

Taipei City Hall

We walked over to the concert area, and there was a girl group who performed famous pop songs (think Lady Gaga, Kesha) and oldies. After getting a few laughs, we walked through the actual lantern display. All the displays used the rabbit as a central piece...I’ve never seen so many rabbits in my life! At 9pm, this HUGE rabbit lantern starred in a once a day water and music show (think Bellagio). It was pretty cool to watch and when it was over, we called it a night and went back to our hostel. We really clocked in the numbers for walking, I can’t imagine how many miles we walked, but I was exhausted!'

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