I went back to Taiwan recently with my parents to visit relatives and to take a short tour around the island.
Flickr: Taiwan 2006
I'm not a tour person. I loathe tours. I hate having my schedule on someone else's timetable, and not having the time necessary to adequately explore a place (and take photographs). Amazingly though, the tour worked really well for my parents who never seem to be able to get anywhere on time, because they actually managed to be ready early.
The tour started simply enough -- the itinerary stated that we'd do Taipei on Day One -- Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world, the National Palace Museum, and Chiang Kai Shek Memorial before departing for the city of Taichung. Our visit to Taipei 101 was anti-climatic -- we didn't really get close to the building, nor did we get to go up it -- instead the tour bus took us to a location near the city hall and gave us 10 minutes where we could take pictures of the Taipei 101, before shuffling us off to the National Palace Museum. The Chinese obsession with jade was entirely too apparent, as every likeness imaginable was captured within jade carvings.
The highlight of the museum is the Jade Cabbage, which was part of the dowry of Concubine Jin in the Qing Dynasty. According to the story, the Jade Cabbage was originally part of the dowry of her sister, Concubine Zhen. When Emperor Guangxu chose them as concubines, he prepared large dowries for them. Concubine Jin loved jewelry, so her dowry was money and valuables. Her little sister Concubine Zhen was fond of books, so her father gave the priceless jade cabbage to her. When Concubine Jin discovered that there was no jade cabbage in her box, she became angry and cried. In order to comfort the elder sister, Concubine Zhen gave the treasure to Concubine Jin, thus making it part of her sister's dowry.
I didn't get much out of the museum -- far too many people, and displays too crowded. The museum has exhibits constantly in rotation, as only about 12,000 of the 620,000+ pieces are displayed at any given time. For more info on the museum, NYTimes has a good article detailing the source of these treasures and the history behind them.
Taipei is a city I'd very much like to revisit and explore without the constraints of a tour bus. They have a metro system, and they are currently constructing a Shinkansen (bullet train) instead of another highway to connect other areas to Taipei.


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