21 January 2017 Saturday Taipei,Taiwan to Ashland, Oregon

21 January 2017  Saturday

Goodbye to Asia and Banyan trees with their sprawling roots. and packed my Wax Apples for the airplane ride. Too bad we cannot find Wax Apples in the States.

Taipei Airport is very new and very nice, the New Year decorative display had one of the swankiest to be seen. No escalators. Instead, the newest innovation and a much more practical one.:A moving floor ascends to the next level, eliminating all those clunky ribbed steps that are so hard to place your luggage on. Why did nobody think of that before? Maintenance must be greatly reduced.

The new upscale approach includes the shops, limited to Gucci, Prada, Coach, etc, just as in the Taipei 101 building.  I paid $3 for one Godiva chocolate. It was good, but not that good, and I will not do that again, but it is all that was available. It almost makes one long for Sears & Roebuck.

At Taipei Airport, even United appears to be going upscale. At check-in, the staff was exceptionally gracious and helpful.  The waiting area was beautifully decorated in soft grays and  blues, with dark gray seating couches, cushioned, no less; indirect light, sufficient to read by but without glare. No blaring TVs. All quiet peaceful, except for a boisterous little boy, who was busy being a boy. Along the wall, in another area, were large lounges for stretching out fully. 

All this elegance was rather diminished once we were on theUnited 747 with our forward neighbor’s back seat jammed into our faces. Seeing the consideration other airlines have for their customers raises questions about the United customer policy.  Maybe their Board of Directors all moved over from Monsanto. 

Back to Ashland and back to my beautiful Marnie-dog. It was a wonderful trip.

Waiting Area

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20 January Friday SunYatSen Memorial & Taipei 101, Taiwan

20 January 2017  Friday  Taipei 101

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.

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19 January 2017 Thursday Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan

19 January 2017  Thursday   Palace Museum Taipei , Taiwan 

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?

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18 January 2017 Wednesday Taipei, Taiwan

18 January 2017  Wednesday

Taipei, Taiwan

Today, on the way to the street market, we passed a restaurant with a Polynesian-Aboriginal theme. So busy looking at the curious carved wooden statues, we forgot to check the menu. We also passed the house in which Loretta was born and where she grew up. Now rented, it is the older style architecture of Taipei. I say “older” because construction sites and new buildings are fast pushing out anything  less than recent. An elegant Japanese-syle office was one of the more attractive new buildings we saw.

Then, we passed a local temple, the house of the god that protects the community and which was clearly enjoying good support from its community. Organized religion is alive and well in China. Many shrines and temples are to be seen, and many practitioners are visiting with offerings and bowing with hands in prayer. To the right of this local temple was a furnace (you can see the smokestack in the second photo) for burning the Hell Money, the imitation currency that is manufactured and sold for use at funerals or in ceremonies of ancestor worship. When the Hell Money is burned, the money goes to the spirit world for use by the deceased.

Just a little before and to the left of the local temple was a recycling store. Large plastic bags stuffed to overflowing with unusable extras surrounded one small Chinese man, who appearing to be sorting it all, but so slowly that I should think he shortly will be buried in it before he is done. Too bad all that stuff cannot be burned and sent to the spirit world for their use before the world of the living is buried in it.  

Come Spring Festival, many of the streets are taken over by small vendors. The street markets are decorated with lines of  colorful  small flags stretched overhead.  Everything anyone could ever want and every kind of local food is available. Everyone is preparing for the New Year celebration, and everyone is shopping. Walking through the street market is not for those who are distressed by crowds. Walking is walked at the pace of the rest of the walkers, shoulder to shoulder, elbow to elbow.

In the middle of the path of the marching shoppers, in a self-made circle,was the only beggar I have seen, a woman displaying deformed legs, a picture straight out of nineteenth-century China, who lay down on the macadam – a brave act –  or sat up, by turns, and who was never trodden on.

In the street market we were walking through,were both temples and shrines. A very large market space was dedicated to the God of the City, whose bright gold statue sat between Fu Dogs. Before the City God smaller statue (a much larger statue was in an area behind) was a table laden with sugar-laden candies and sugar-laden packaged items. China’s sugar intake must be rising, for you know that all those packaged items are primarily sugar, whether in China, which historically was not a sugar consumer, or America.

The Temple of the City God has become a Temple of Matchmaking. where young people go when seeking a spouse, so this temple was crowded with younger couples and apparently single people making an offering. Many were standing before the table of offerings, head bowed in devotion. Of course, the City God would encourage matchmaking, which leads to babies, which leads to an expanded economy.

Near the temple of the City God was a small colorful shrine with many flowers and offerings, which Loretta said was a shrine of the local merchants.  Such are a common site within markets. 

Near the shrine of the local merchants was a shop that sold decorations and objects for worship in temples. Huge masks, bold and scary, for processions and ceremonies; large, vivid red hangings embroidered with bright gold, everything red and gold and oversized. In America, decorations for Christmas and New Year’s are red and gold, but also white and silver and blue and even green. The singularity of the Chinese New Year color scheme leaves no room for concern over which color to choose.

On a happier note, the merchants, probably those of the small shrine, were having a banquet. Round tables with red cloths and silver ware filled  a cordoned-off side street. At the far end of the table-filled area, the jazzed-up stage hardly needed live entertainment, so flamboyant was its lighting display. We inadvertently walked through the kitchen area where the first course was being put together on  large white  serving plates: a scooped out lobster or lobster-like crustacean, its antenna yet waving midair, its meat piled in front of the carapace. These words may squelch the appetite, but the put-together plate presented a mouth-watering dish of food. 

Finally, overwhelmed with noise and crowds, we entered a newly remodeled building, now an elegant art gallery, selling pottery fine china, and prints. The modern and the antique were combined, as is the fashion in expensive interior design, and on display was an old stone rice grinder for making rice flour. On the other side of the skylight well, hanging plants and vines drifted down the three-story wall  On the second floor was an elegant tea room, but we passed on the opportunity to enjoy its cushioned comforts and the ten-dollar-per-person a cup of tea, rare though it was. 

Stores were dark by the time we headed for the hotel, but not too dark to see an unusual juxtaposition: between two stores selling expensive women‘s clothes was a store selling bathroom plumbing fixtures, the toilet prominently featured in the forefront..

The view from hotel window at night glowed with the multicolored lights of the city of Taipei, a city that does, in fact ,sleep.

Merchants Stage

 

 

 

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17 January 2017 Tuesday  Grand Canal Museum

17 January 2017  Tuesday  

Up at six, showered, packed, breakfasted (oh yes), ordered the taxi, and ready to meet Guang at the Grand Canal Museum. Not. An hour later, no taxi. Finally, my taxi arrives to take me to the museum, just as Guang’s taxi arrives to bring  her to my hotel. Why is that?

We opted for the museum and met one of the individuals who had been involved in making the Grand Canal a historic site, who had written a wealth of books and taken as many photos on the history of the Grand Canal. Hit pay dirt and great contact.

Guang gave me this colorful New Year’s decoration that must be hung with the pointy side above the fish upwards, This brings good fortune and prosperity to the house that displays it. (The photo does not catch the details well; I am learning the limitations of the IPhone camera.) Looks closely, and you can see the little fish in the upper right. The large center figure is fu, which means “good luck.” The New Year’s greeting is “Fu dao  nien nien yao yu”  福到 年年有余. “May good fortune and prosperity come to you in the new year.” YU means “fish” and also “abundance.” DAO means “arrival” and “upside down,” which is why you turn the FU upside down to remind the viewer of the homonym and that in this case you are wishing to ensure the arrival of abundance. Is all that clear? Probably not. Chinese language is full of homonyms and subtle complications. I wonder if Westerners can ever appreciate the language.

Back to campus and lunch and off to Professor Shen’s office. The campus is built on wetlands, and at its edge is a wetlands preserve Thus, the many streams and lakes that lie throughout its landscape, but more interesting was the bridge-walkaway we went over to reach the building that houses the International Center offices:  Large rectangular  pillars spaced apart but closely enough to reach with the next step. The pillars rise high above the water level, and I imagine the height accommodates changing water levels.

The Hangzhou airport is a good hour away from Hangzhou, so I left the hotel before six by taxi (this time taxis were available). Asian airports are daunting. Big. Crowded Wall to wall to ceiling people. Someone spoke English, and I found the right line to wait in for my boarding pass.Then I waited in line to go through Immigration. Next, waited in line to go through security,  Ticketing began at 7:20; the plane left at 9:20. I pretty much needed all that time –  three hours – at the airport to prepare for the flight, plus the hour to get to the airport. Flying requires a great deal of prep time.

Nor are flights for the tired and weary. The Chinese never seem to be weary. In America, the USA traveller finds a seat in the waiting area and pulls out his Smart phone or his computer or his book (only the older generation pulls out a book) and quietly absorbs himself in his interests, He may talk quietly with his neighbor, but generally, things are pretty low key  Not so in the Chinese waiting area. Everybody is interacting with everyone else in a very loud voice, The volubility continues as the Chinese wait in line to board. The Chinese are perpetually vocal and irrepressible. Everyone always seems to be at a party. “What is she saying? Why is she so angry” I asked Guang, when I heard the grandmother shouting at her grandson. “She’s not angry,” said Guang. Then I understood she was just being a normal Chinese person, speaking in a norma Chines voice. 

The EVA flight was a delight. I flew cabin,economy, but the seats were roomy and  comfortable, as well as attractive. The cabin of the plane was beautifully designed. And the staff! Everyone dressed in sharply pressed uniforms performing in  a gracious, professional manner. Why cannot we have airlines like that in America? Flying EVA was a great experience, even though I landed dead tired and close to midnight.

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"The world is so full of a number of things, I am sure we should all be as happy as kings."- Robert Louis Stevenson