Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Taiwan: Around Taipei in less than a day

We made a day trip to Taipei the day after that tiring journey to Nantou. Our first stop was the main office of MECO where me made a courtesy call to Gen. Edgardo Espinosa, resident representative of MECO Taiwan. We then proceeded to the Ministry of Transportation and Communications for a courtesy call to Mr. C. T. Su, Director General of the Tourism Bureau. With all those appointments, our entire morning was gone.

So after lunch, we went straight to the National Palace Museum. It is said to house one of the best collections of Chinese artifacts. In fact, the collection is quite controversial and is the subject of a dispute between the Mainland and Taiwan.

The National Palace Museum was established in Beijing in 1925 with the expulsion of the last emperor Puyi. In the 1930s and 1940s, the artifacts, which consisted of the valuables of the former Imperial family, were moved from place to place to avoid falling into the hands of the invading Japanese.

During the final years of the Chinese Civil War, Chang Kai-shek ordered the transfer of the museum collections from Beijing to Taiwan. This transfer remains controversial with Mainland China who considered it looting. While the Taiwanese argue that if the artifacts were not transfered, many would have been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.

The existence of the collection in Taiwan is also a cause for controversy among independence supporters who see it as a symbol of association with the Mainland. But despite all those controversies, it is an impressive collection. There was an extensive renovation on-going when we visited. But the museum was finally reopened in December 2006 after four years of renovation.

After the museum, we proceeded to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. I would consider this the most defining landmark of Taiwan and thus a must visit for any visitor. Completed in 1980, five years after Chiang Kai-shek's death, the octagonal memorial hall rises 70 meters. It is a white structure with blue glazed glass tiles. A total of 89 steps lead to the entrance representing the age of Chiang Kai-shek when he died. Inside the hall is a large bronze statue of the late general. The hall is found in a 240,000 square meter park which also contains the National Concert Hall and National Theater.

At the time we were visiting Taipei, Taipei 101, now considered the tallest building in the world, was near completion. I remember them pointing it to us while we were on the road. I had wanted to visit the Longshan Temple but we didn't have time anymore since we had to rush back to Taichung for the festival. But before going home, we passed by the Huaxi Street Tourist Night Market which was near Longshan Temple, to eat dinner and do a little shopping as well.

Huaxi is also known as "Snake Alley" and is famous for the many small restaurants which serves about anything that walks, crawls or swims. There were of course a lot of snakes. They were used in various ways such as snake soup, snake blood or bile wine, and snake meat. Snake is believed to be one of the best aphrodisiacs according to the Chinese.

But the one thing I could not take was seeing the turtle meat! Looking at turtle meat in one pile, without their shells, made me want to puke! Remembering what I saw made me think of where these restaurants actually get their supplies. It's economically-challenged but naturally rich and diverse countries like ours which lose our wildlife to the dinner tables and traditional apothecaries of East Asia. In fact, the latest brouhaha in Tubattaha had to do with a boat filled with stuffed turtles!

I obviously did not want to eat anything exotic after seeing the turtles. I couldn't remember what it was but it was definitely beef, chicken or pork with vegetables. If only we had more time to go around. But the group had to rush back to Taichung to attend to the giant lantern.
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