Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Taiwan pt. 4 (4/4)

After a day full of sunshine and spring-like warmth, I came back to Taipei amidst a dreary, foggy, wet night which would then continue onto the next day. My intention for my last full day was to ride the cable car to the Maokong tea plantation which also overlooks the Taiwan city skyline as well as the surrounding mountains, temples, and tea gardens in Maokong.

Before I went ahead with my planned itinerary, I made a visit to the National Palace Museum. The museum, interestingly enough, is one of the top 5 museums in the world, and located in all places, Taiwan and not mainland China. Its top recognition comes from the many thousands of Chinese artifacts located throughout the mainland, including those from the Forbidden City that it contains. The question is why are they in Taiwan, and not in China? One of the bigger reasons is that during the Cultural Revolution, Mao's political opponent Chiang Kai-shek and his supporters fled to Taiwan, and with it, came along the boxes and boxes of priceless antiques which were left unopened for several years until the Taiwanese government turned it into a museum. Many have argued that without this move, the artifacts would have been either missing, destroyed, or sold off during the Cultural Revolution which was an attempt at erasing the past, and starting a new socialist society from scratch which would later happen in Cambodia during the 70s.

Upon arriving at the museum, there were several older Chinese tourists from the mainland with their cameras ready. The stereotypical behavior of Asian tourists sadly remains the same. Their incessant need to photograph everything in sight takes away the appreciation that one should have when visiting a place of historical meaning, and the understanding of what went on. The palace was huge and imposing. Entering inside, I was overwhelmed with the countless exhibition halls to visit. There were jade rooms, porcelain, Buddha culture, ancient calligraphy, pottery, artwork, and furniture. The museum gave a detailed insight on the meaning of these priceless works, and how each dynasty influenced Chinese art.

Afterwards, I made a 40 minute subway commute to the Maokong cable car, probably the smoothest subway commute I've had in all my years of commuting. Very little fanfare and fewer people. It was raining which would hinder my ability to get a good view of Taipei from Maokong. I took the 30 minute cable car ride which went through 3 stops. There was hardly a line, and it was remarkably inexpensive (NT 50 = $1.75) compared to Hong Kong's cable car ride which was significantly more with the nearly 2 hour wait. The ride itself was somewhat disappointing with the lack of water, trail views, and having to deal with a foggy skyline which almost completely blanketed Taipei 101.

I've been having to deal with sore blisters on my feet during a good part of my trip, and visiting a place that requires walking was a challenge indeed. Despite the rainy weather, I was fortunate to not have to deal with the obvious tourism exploitation that has occurred at this rural plantation since they put the cable car line in. Despite the commercial tourism appeal, Maokong has a very distinct personality that doesn't seem at all affected by the tourism ambush. There were many local teahouses, little tea farms sprinkled everywhere. It was a rather beautiful, scenic walk with the view of the city not too far yet I'm in the arms of nature as I can feel the droplets hitting my head and making my backpack rather moist. It was refreshing, and a world away from the manic nature of urban life. I visited the Jongshan Temple which also offered a direct view of the city from afar. Being in Taiwan and Hong Kong, I have never been as exposed to temples as often as I have until now. I visited a small tea museum which offered different collections of tea art. Coming downstairs, I was beckoned by one of the ladies working there, and she was fixing me some nice oolong tea. I took the mini-bus back to the starting point, and found some great street food which sold some nice dumplings, tofu soup, and noodles.

It was almost getting dark, and I headed back to the guesthouse. I was already fatigued at that point, and was focused on getting my stuff packed to go back to Busan. I was relaxing at the guesthouse for awhile and talked with Doris, and her father Stephen. Her aunt would consistently ask me each day if I was going to be there for breakfast the next day which made me feel as a guest, warmly appreciated. I said my goodbyes to the Belgium couple I had befriended during my visit.

After thinking about calling it a night, I thought about making one last venture outside. I thought about one of the street markets that's several blocks away. I decided to give it a try, and I arrived at the Ningxia Street Market which quickly became one of my favorites. The market was glowing with lanterns, shops, and food ready to sell. It was quite lively, and as I passed each stall, the crowds became more crowded. Each shop was offering a sample to all of their customers. There were many places where you can buy bags of gummy bears, lifesavers, sour candy, Jelly Belly's. Then there were places that sold herbal medicine, fruit mixes, shoes, various kinds of pastry. Around the block, a man or woman would have a megaphone to encourage customers to come in to their store, similar to how it's done in Korea. However, there wasn't any pressure from store vendors to buy their products which was in return a great relief from the previous street market experiences in Vietnam. I came back to the guesthouse feeling more satisfied than ever about my experience in Taiwan, but sad that it would soon have to reach its conclusion.

I readied myself the next morning, and Doris' aunt fixed me one last breakfast. I said my goodbyes to the two Korean people I met, and finally said my goodbyes to Doris' family for the wonderful hospitality they had provided me during my stay.

I took to the HSR along with the shuttle bus to Taoyuan which took about 40 minutes. I arrived at the airport, and as I got into my gate, I noticed how there are few places to eat inside, but how many nice souvenir shops were available. This normally spells trouble for me as I'm an avid collector of souvenir art (not the kind of tacky souvenirs that would say “I love....”). I bought myself a nice Chinese portrait scroll of a mountain and forest with the characters written above it. As I was walking around the terminal, I noticed that there was a prayer room (one for christianity, the other for buddhism, and the other for Islam).

I left Taiwan with an appetite for seconds. There were many places that I have yet to check out such as Kaohsiung, the famous gorge, and the uncharted east coast part of the country. I was awestruck by the generosity of the people, the accessibility around the main cities, and the charming personality that it has. I hope to make another future visit before I leave Korea for good.

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