Loretta and Harold have been giving me a crash course in Chinese language, culture, and history. I was taken to the Sun Yat Sen memorial, an enormous and imposing building (with a row of magenta flowers across the street). Within are extensive exhibits and displays and photos of Sun Yat Sen and his cohorts.
Every hour on the hour, in the main hall before the oversized statue of a seated Sun Yat Sen, is performed a Ceremony of the Guards. Beautiful young men with perfectly formed bodies. dressed in perfectly pressed black suits, white helmets, and white gloves. carry their rifles with great precision and enter the hall with a stiff,stylized march: Knees up at exactly forty-five degrees, fists thrust forward at the end of the sharply extended arm. A great deal of heel clicking, foot stomping, rifle twirling, and stiff movement comprises this serious, impressive, and dignified march. Sun Yat Sen must be pleased, wherever he is at the moment.
Moving from military discipline to utter chaos, we wandered through a street market. Fruit is expensive this time of the year; much is imported, except for these red Rose Apples (as they are called in the States), a cross between a crispy pear, an apple, and a plum. Loretta recalls that the ones she ate as a child were much smaller and not as sweet. They are not very sweet now, except to Asians. but quite tasty, and they are the only local fruit to be found.
On the streets of Taipei, the primary mode of transportation appears to be the motorbike, as it is termed. At times, packs of motorbikes fill the street, and no cars whatsoever are to be seen. The trains and buses of the public transportation system used to be always crowded and seats at a premium, but now, seats are usually available, for anyone, who possibly can, has purchased a motorbike. The riders are an aggressive lot, barreling down sidewalks, charging through the center of street markets, all with little regard for foot traffic, wherever it may be, taking over sidewalks for parking and leaving less and less space for those who prefer to or who must walk.
In Taipei, where people can walk it is common to see women carrying small dogs. (Women do not carry large dogs; large dogs will not tolerate being carried, and large dogs are too large to carry.) It is the new fashion statement. The carried dogs appear happy enough, but who would not be happy with all that attention. If it lessens the population explosion, we are all better off.
We found a lunch place where you can have all the miso soup and rice that you want. How much rice and miso soup can one eat?
Then we went to Taipei 101, now the fifth tallest building in the world, but for several years after completion of its construction in 2004, the tallest building in the world. The interior is the current modern statement: white and glass. Silver rails on escalators spool in a long coil from top to bottom as far as the eye can see down the escalator well of the 101 stories. Splendid New Year decorations spanned at least five of those stories. And the stores that fill the hundred and one stories? Floor after floor of Gucci, Prada, Coach, etc etc., empty of shoppers, some empty of salespeople. If one goes into Mukashi, the place is always mobbed, any time of the day.
The Taipei 101 is primarily a tourist destination. For $20, one can ride in an elevator to the top of the hundred and one stories at the speedy rate of a mile a second, and at the end of the elevator ride is the Observatory, for which you paid your twenty dollars to enter. The Observatory offers the anticipated panoramic 360-degree view of the city of Taipei. Unfortunately for me, Taipei was fogged in, and mostly I saw banks of gray fog. What I could not miss were the shops, the opportunity to pay for the unrequested photo taken as I entered the speedy elevator, and the opportunity to buy the infinite number of souvenirs created by designers who have seen too many video games. That was the top Observatory floor. Below is a another floor ,where you will find the speedy going-down elevator. On that floor are acres and acres and acres of jewelry display cases, without shoppers, though better manned, or rather womaned, by salespeople.
In contrast to the stores below, with their few customers, the Observatory was well stocked with panorama viewers, despite the lack of view to be seen. If I were the CEO of the corporation managing the Taipei 101 building, I would not be sleeping well at night. But maybe it is just a write off.
Still raring to go, Loretta took me to the Taipei City Hall. Notice in the photo, if you can, the cartoon character on the upper left of the City Hall entrance. In the entry hall, an oversized Teddy bear occupied a large space. Students were taking photos of themselves with bear in background.
Old photos of Taipei from the earliest days of photography leave even the professional historian amazed at the changes seen in Taipei. Such is the world we live in today.Three more generations and babies will be born with a pre embedded chip in the head, pre-programed to engage in a wireless world.