Museums and Temples in Taipei

After a lateish breakfast I set off northwards towards the Confucius temple. This was really well laid out (plenty of English) and explained the basic concepts of Confucius’ teachings as well as having amazingly intricate detailing within the architecture. The temples here seem so lavish after the relative simplicity and refined grace of the Japanese shrines. The differing architectural styles have put a new wind into my sails, otherwise I think I might be fully templed out by this point in my holiday.

Emerging from the temple, I found myself caught in a large procession, all wearing matching yellow and purple hats and following a dragon towards Baoan Temple. I have absolutely no clue what the event was and couldn’t find it anywhere online when I returned to the hostel, but it was fun to watch, even with the increasingly heavy rain.

I wanted to visit Taipei Fine Arts Museum but on arriving found that it is currently closed for renovation. Unwilling to have walked through the rain for nothing, I visited the Story House next to the museum.

Built in 1913 by a tea merchant, this quaint little Tudor-style house seems extremely out of place halfway around the world from England. Inside there was an array of different Chinese woodworking plains, which as a crafting and handiwork enthusiast I couldn’t help but admire. There were a couple of lovely art pieces made from the wood shavings and I really enjoyed looking around.

With the rain only worsening, I headed to the National Palace Museum via Cixian Temple. I ended up spending the entire afternoon here, my imagination captivate by lustrous paintings and intricate carvings. My favourite exhibit was one of the temporary ones named Story of a Brand Name and was succcinctly summed up as “The Collection and Packaging Aesthetics of the Qing Emperor Qianlong”. This brevity does not do justice to the exquisite attention to detail that Qianlong afforded his collection. In the creation of unique cases and boxes for each item, new pieces of artwork were born. Small display boxes were carefully constructed to house jade marvels, each shelf specifically shaped for each piece. All in all, a trove of beauty and the part of me that strives to create order in all things was most pleased.

A close second in terms of favourites was some of the intricately carved jade and gemstone artefacts. There were also a number of ivory pieces that were stunningly carved, including fourteen balls all contained within one another and carved from a single elephant tusk. While these displays of ivory were undeniably amazing, the killing of elephant and rhinos is much less so and I was most pleased to see the following sign:

A visit to the Shilin Night Market concluded the day and left me pleasantly full with delicious street food.

Taipei, First Impressions

My first though on seeing Taipei through the train window is “grey”. This was mostly likely because of the rain and a severe lack of sleep. Walking to my hostel to drop of my luggage, I was once again struck by the lateness that everywhere opens at in East Asia. Despite it being almost nine, the only open cafe I passed was a Starbucks and so my breakfast consisted on a cinnamon roll and the largest feasible sugar and caffeine monstrosity. After recovering from some minor brain freeze and dropping of my luggage I made my way to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

The huge square in front of it was almost deserted, the early morning and light drizzle deterring most tourists. An amusing observation was seeing so many people in winter coats even though it was somewhere around 18 degrees, practically shorts and T-shirt weather after the biting temperatures and wind of Japan. I dread having to readapt to Singapore’s humidity in just over a weeks time. The art exhibition halls within the memorial building were very nice, I particularly liked the information they had about other museums and memorials that remember the darker events of the 20th century.

The little I could see of the changing of the guard (aren’t tall people annoying?) was very impressive, almost perfect synchrony without a word spoken and lots of guns twirling. There were also a couple of pieces of snazzy footwork where I could hear the K-pop music playing.

I next had a look around the 2/28 Memorial Museum. This gave a really good explanation of the events that took place in 1947 between the people of Taiwan and Mainland Chinese. The English signage was limited but the museum provides a free audio guide so it is still worth going. The only downside was the length of each audio clip meant one was left awkwardly hovering around waiting to move on.

After the museum I wondered around a little more of Taipei, visiting a couple of temples, notably Longshan Temple with appropriately cool dragons on its roof, and looking around the historical Bopiliao block and Dihua Street with its huge bags of dried mushrooms, fabric shops and a few souvenirs. I also visited the red house which showcases a number of local artisan stall ranging from melted bottles and leather work to jewellery, clothes and homemade soaps. It was very stylishly put together and would be a could place to by something for an alternative souvenir.

Visiting the War Memorial of Korea

Most people have heard of the Korean war, a war that started in 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea on 25th June 1950 and ended in an armistice on 27th July 1953. It was a war between communism and democracy that not only irreparably tore apart a nation but also its people and their families. Entering the grounds of the War Memorial of Korea, one is immediately greeted by the Statue of Brothers.

I cannot give a just explanation to the full symbolism of this moving piece so will give only the text of the accompanying plaque and allow the reader to reach any further conclusions:

“The Statue of Brothers is an 18 meter wide and 11-meter high symbol of the Korean War. It consists of the upper part, lower part and inner part. The upper part of the statue depicts a scene where a family’s older brother, an ROK officer, and his younger brother, a North Korean soldier, meet in a battlefield and express reconciliation, love, and forgiveness. The lower tomb-shaped dome was built with pieces of granite collected from nationwide locations symbolizing the sacrifices made by our patriots. The crack in the dome stands for the division of Korea and the hope for reunification. Objects inside the dome include a mosaic wall painting that expresses the spirit of the Korean people to overcome the national tragedy and a map plate of the 16 UN Allied Nations that dispatched troops to the war. The links of iron chain on the ceiling signify the unbreakable bonds of a unified Korea.

After viewing the rest of the outdoor exhibition, a collection of tanks, planes and boats from the Korean War, I walked in laden silence through the galleries that enshrine marble slabs, each bearing row upon row of names, what will be the final footprint of those who fell as time gradually erases all else.

The museum itself was extremely interesting, detailing not only the Korean War but also some of the Korean Peninsula’s turbulent history and the events leading up to the war. Fortunately there was plenty of English explanation boards and while visiting a museum that documents wars and some of the suffering experienced during them cannot be called enjoyable, it was certainly informative and moving. To anyone else who visits my only advice would be to avoid the times when tours are being led around as they really disturb the atmosphere the museum clearly worked hard to achieve.

“In remembrance of the Korean soldiers and UN military participants who lost their lives in the Korean War, the respect towards the warriors (1,300 identification tags) has been embodied as tear drops. The iron thorns symbolise the horror, suppression and danger of the tragic war. The circle on the sand below represents the wave of the drop.”

Shaking off the cloud that had begun to form over me, I made my way to Itaewon for a late lunch and spent the rest of my afternoon looking around the various shops. I was amazed by the array of items on offer and found myself pining after a good many pair of boots. I think my favourite site though was a little street vendor that sold only scarves, knuckle dusters and nunchucks.

Two Americans, an Australian and a Brit walk into a Korean restaurent…

To finish the day I went out for a lively and enjoyable dinner with three others from my hostel. We ended up in a restaurant that served only one dish, beef on the bone in some kind of broth. It was most delicious and after some confusion over having to pay first, we were even complimented on our chopstick use (I think).