Taiwan Day 2: Taipei

Well we got up a bit late today. Close to 9am. I was awake closer to 7, but Jenn was sleeping so sweetly I couldn’t bring myself to wake her. But in my searching around the internet while she slept I found that there was wifi all around Taipei through this iTaiwan program. You’re supposed to register before arriving, but the system didn’t seem to mind me backdating by a day. With an account you get 30 days of free internet all around Taiwan, with hotspots at most major landmarks and government buildings (including train stations). What a wonderful idea! One thing that makes travel stressful sometimes is not having the information you need to get around, and being able to more or less rely on having wifi when you want it at a train station for instance makes the experience in Taiwan nicer. I can’t imagine it costs much to run.

Pam and Chuck start getting after us for still being in bed and I had to get Jenn up and on the road.

Our first stop for the day was Longshan temple. It’s a Chinese temple built centuries ago, and rebuilt after the war. A lot of the art from other destroyed temples had been removed during the war to safe places and were consolidated here after reconstruction.

We didn’t know exactly how to get there, but I put us right next to the Taipei Main Station for a reason, and so we followed the signs to the MRT. They have ticket vending machines and maps in English which made it pretty easy. You find where you’re going (Longshan Station in this case) and then it tells you how much the ticket costs per person with a number over the station you’re going to. You select the price shown for your destination and the number of tickets and put in your money. It’s that easy.

Everything goes smoothly and we pop out right in front of Longshan temple with a lot of other local tourists and temple visitors. The temple itself is incredibly ornate with amazingly beautiful carvings and pillars. The temple grounds themselves are filled with visitors, nearly all local, burning incense, making offerings, and praying. I’ve always wondered what happens to the offerings of things like oranges once they go bad. Are they tossed out daily? Do the monks eat them daily? The grounds though aren’t as big as I imagined and it doesn’t take us long to see everything. It reminds me of one of the community halls in Hoi An we visited, but on a grander scale. Chuck though is over temples so we move on to try to find ourselves some lunch.

With iTaiwan we actually have Yelp on our phones so we look up our area and find a highly rated burger joint. It’s a couple blocks down the road so we navigate ourselves there only to find that it’s closed, seemingly permanently. We asked at a hotel next door but they weren’t really able to point us in the right direction. A man speaking a little bit of English though is listening in and is happy to try to point us in the right direction to be what we guess to be the direction of a grocery store. It’s ok, we walk that direction anyway, it’s mostly on our way to the station, and we figure if we don’t find anything along the way we can always eat at the Taipei Main Station. Sure enough though we stumble across a little tiny place that looks to be some kind of chain with a line out its door. They have an interesting menu with stuff that seems from the outset to be sort of western, but very much a local take, like Western-Asian Fusion for breakfast. We order our meals and the prices are very reasonable. The food is interesting, though nothing to write home about.

From here we walked back to the Longshan train station and catch a train to the Chiang Kai Shek memorial, it’s on the same line and has its own station. The memorial isn’t just a memorial but is flanked by the beautiful National Theatre and National Performing Arts Center. The two theatres are done with the traditional roofline you see on buildings like the Forbidden City, while the memorial itself is built more like a giant pagoda made of white marble, all impressive in scale. At the memorial there is an hourly changing of the guard in front of a large statue of the man himself. We manage to arrive partway into the ceremony as the new guards have arrived, and the old guards and leaving. It looks like a painfully uncomfortable job, but they take it as serious as can be. The guards left to their posts stand on raised stands and do not move or blink. A minder straightens out their uniforms once they’re in place and comes by the pad down their faces with a handkerchief. After the ceremony was finished and everything settled down, we walked around the rest of the place and made a quick stop at one of the two koi ponds filled with families and their children.

From here we caught a short train on to Taipei 101, the 8th tallest building in the world. It gets its name for the 101 stories it houses, with observatory floors on 88, 89 and 91. I didn’t give it much thought, but when I paid for our tickets I paid for all 4 of us in cash, and didn’t bother to try the credit card, which was a big chunk of the money I’d withdrawn at the airport at $20 each. I wish I’d put an extra few seconds of thought into it. The main observation deck has at its center mostly shops, and along the glass windows along the outside are various stations showing bits of history of trivia in short video clips. One of the screens is like a large touch screen with a panorama of the city slowly going from day to night and back again with landmark icons. When you select an icon on this panorama it shows you details about it, which turns out to be pretty useful because we find a few things we’re interested in for tomorrow.

One of the coolest bits though is the actual center of floors 88 and 89 which house the world’s largest spherical tuned mass damper. I’m a bit of an engineering fan, so this is almost the draw for me as much as the tower itself. Any building of size is going to get some sway caused by the wind, there is some flexing to the building as well, and this causes a spring like harmonic oscillation. A tuned mass damper works by having a massive weight suspended at the top of the building. As the building sways with that oscillation, the inertia of the mass wants to keep it where it is, so shocks are connected to the mass damping the motion of the building against the inertia of the mass. It’s a pretty cool idea, and it’s pretty commonly used, but it’s always hidden away. Taipei 101 has one of their mass dampers on display with descriptions and movies of it moving during hurricanes and earthquakes, even with little cartoon mascots.

While we were walking around Pam bought a jade necklace on the 89th floor, and on our way out she gets interested in other things picks up some more trinkets.

It’s well past lunch time now, and at the bottom of the tower is the famous Din Tai Fung. We have a couple branches back home in Los Angeles and we love eating there, but this is the original (or just down the street from the original?) I was a little worried Pam and Chuck wouldn’t enjoy their lunch, except that of course they’ve done great all trip and have always enjoyed the food all along the way. I really couldn’t tell you if there was a difference between the Taipei and Los Angeles branches, they’re that similar. It’s like McDonalds in that McNuggets taste the same in Yanghuo China as Illinois USA. While everyone got themselves in order I went to go pay for the meal, only my credit card didn’t work here either. They pointed at the receipt that said Visa and I tried to ask if it was because it was a Mastercard but they didn’t understand. Credit card problems strike again! Being on my own up at the front I just paid with cash, so there goes another chunk of what I withdrew! I really don’t want to have to hit up an ATM just for like $30, and pay a $5 ATM fee, and then a foreign transaction and foreign exchange fee making for a very expensive $30!

Our last stop for the day is the National Palace Museum. It’s getting kind of late, but the museum is open until 9pm, and with our late start to the day we’re kind of needing a late end. I needed some help figuring out how to get there by public transport and 2 trains and 1 bus later we’re there. We don’t have a ton of time by the time we arrive, and our feet are getting tired, so we kind of blitz through. The museum has a massive collection, and they only show about 1% of their total at any given time. I’m sure that’s partly down to the size of their exhibit space being a bit small, but really for us that’s for the best. They have a really nice introductory room showing what was going on with other civilizations around the world so you could see what was going on in Europe or the Americas when the Qing Dynasty was in power. It really brought into prospective the Mayans who had quite a long bar going from ancient times right up to the Columbian Exchange.

We spent the most time in the Jades exhibit, especially since Pam had just bought a couple pieces of Jade jewelry, and I learned that there are really 2 types of jade: Jadeite and Nephrite, and they often look quite similar. The coolest Jade piece was one made to look like a bok choi with an accurate green on the top and a white stem with a grasshopper on top. The sculptor had taken a not particularly valuable piece of jade because of it had this coloring, some cracks and discolorations, and worked it into something truly amazing. Sadly, I wasn’t able to take any pictures of my own, so the picture you see in this journal is an official image from the Creative Commons.

My favorite item in the museum though was this ivory ball that had been carved into 14 nested and independently rotating spheres, each intricately carved. My mind is blown with how you could make something like this. Apparently the artist had made individual tools with the correct curvature for carving out each sphere as every sphere deeper has a smaller radius and thus a tighter curvature.

After that we were beat and headed back to our hotel by 1 bus and 2 trains. We sure have this system figured out now though, and Taipei is really pretty easy to get around by public transport.

Next to our hotel a street vendor is selling these deserts that we are calling macaroons, though they really aren’t. They’re brightly colored and sandwich some kind of filling kind of like a macaroon, but are cooked like and have a texture more similar to a pancake. The fillings they had varied from peanut butter and red bean paste to blackberry. We ordered one to try and loved it so much we bought 3 more.

One thing that hasn’t been super easy has been exchanging money, it’s the weekend and the banks are closed, and the hotel won’t exchange money but we’re told the mall will, so Pam and Jenn headed out a bit to try to find it while I watched a bit of a movie called Layer Cake about an English mafia guy. They came back over an hour later without luck and frustrated. Maybe tomorrow things will work out, we might have just enough money to make this work as long as our lunch stop takes credit cards.

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