Today, we took the obligatory sightseeing trip to the Palace Museum. We set out on foot on the main north-south artery of Taipei, Zhongshan Road, the street on which Chiang Kai -Shek (蔣中正, 蔣介石) lived and the street of the Grand Hotel. It is Spring Festival time, and the city is everywhere decorated with bright red paper lanterns and imitation firecrackers. Frankly, despite the Chiang Kai-Shek important history connection, I was more intrigued with the store window we passed
This store window featured a lion with a mane and ruff made of fluffy white cotton balls. Along with his bright red costume, he looked like a highly stylized Santa Claus. Loretta had no trouble recognizing the Santa Claus as a lion, no doubt because she is Chinese, or rather Taiwanese, and because the lion was on steps. Americans would have great trouble.
A pair of lion statues guard and man (lion?) the steps of the New York Pubic Library and are a common sight in America, the male lion (Power), with a globe, the world, beneath his paw, and the female lion (Nurture), repressing a playful cub with her. paw. The lion as mystical symbol derives from India Buddhism and became part of Chinese culture as early as the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), with lion pairs traditionally to be seen before Imperial palaces and lesser government buildings.
Since the lion often stands at the base of steps, the New Year celebratory window lion is standing on steps. But I would never have thought of all that if Loretta had not explained it to me and if I had not checked out Wikipedia.
Returning to the store-decorated windows, that on the other side of the store featured a more easily recognizable (for me) God of Money.
Once we reached the Palace Museum, extended step-climbing was demanded. Part of the way up, we veered to the right and, for 20 NT, walked through the Zhishan Garden, a lovely space with a large pond fed by a dragon’s head spouting water. Banyan trees, small waterfalls, running streams, pavilions, and an extraordinary stand of magenta plants under a very large tree. Birds were busy making a bird racket with bird songs, and sparrows were chipping.
Some crafty sparrows were visiting a concrete building with a fourth side of grate. In one side of the building, was a peacock. who was too busy eating to display his tail. In the other side was a small hen and a very plump blue bird twice her size, probably a Cockatiel, who needs to be put on a reducing diet..Whatever the species, he was clearly a bit of a bully, chasing the poor chicken around in spurts, until she flew up to a window ledge. Fortunately for her, he was obviously to plump to fly. Cockatiels are “largely nomadic” (Wikipedia), for which I was grateful. It seemed a strange pairing, and for both birds to be confined to a gray cement prison with a only a gray cement floor and nothing else to scratch – such cruelty. No wonder the fat blue bird chased the hapless fen. Nothing else for him to do.
Once inside the museum, large tour groups are the first thing to impress the visitor. A tromping mass of forward movement,and a rather disconcerting one.
I was told the museum has some 650,000 holdings We spent a great deal time looking at things, but considering 650,000 items, we saw only a fraction of what must be there. As I understand it, the collection was brought to Taiwan by Chiang Kai-Shek, and Mainland China would like to have it returned. In the meantime, clearly, everything is being well taken care of. But I do not understand why porcelain has to be displayed in such dim light.
We saw splendid Buddhas, and I took photos of three of them for Tsutae, who sculpts splendid Buddhas herself. I was impressed as well by the Qing furniture and saw a splendid teak table with elegant carvings around its edges that I would like to have as a research and work table for myself.
Museum-viewing stimulates the most terrible hunger pangs, but the Museum has no restaurant.That was good, for one of the nicest things we did was to walk back to the street through the Green Walk, a board pathway on the hill, in lieu of some of the flights of steps. A line of trees on either side of the walk meet their branches above to create a gracious green bower.
Once on the street, restaurants appeared just as scarce. The best thing about the one restaurant we finally located was its location. Next to it was a German preschool with a colorful facade, and, next to the preschool, the only Aboriginal museum in Taiwan. We saw the usual baskets and wooden tools of a hunting-gatherer society, a nose flute, and well worth the visit were the woven fabrics with strong colors and stunning intricate designs.
Like all native peoples throughout the world, theTaiwan aboriginal groups are struggling to survive and struggling to maintain their culture. Their land is being taken over by developers to build high-end housing and tourist attractions. So it is in America, except that in America, the desolate land of the reservations on which the Native Americans live is scarcely suitable for high-end housing but great for minerals and oil extraction and pipelines. And then there are the casinos.
Returning home on the bus, I was comfortably settled into my seat, delighted not to be walking, when Loretta, intrepid Loretta, who never gets tired, says that we have to get off here and go on the MRT. Why? We are so comfortable, but too late. We are off the bus and climbing more steps to the Mass Rapid Transit stop, We wait for the train, which is above ground at this point, and it is interesting indeed to see how clean and attractive is the system and its trains. Most impressive are the fences that line the tracks, separating people from tracks, and gates that open for boarding when the trains arrives.
One of the most beautiful things we saw at the Museum was a warming bowl, a fluted bowl with celadon glaze, the only existing warming bowl from Southern Song era. The museum sign did not specify Norther Song or Southern Song, but surely it is Southern Song era, the period of wealth and opulence, This warming bowl was used to warm wine (how does anyone know that?). Were I a museum employee and were I asked to move or touch or breathe on that single warming bowl, I would just leave. What do you suppose would happen to a person who dropped that warming bowl?