Sunday, June 28, 2015

Exploring Taipei!

大家好! Hello! My name is Betsy Janus and I am a graduate student in Asian Studies. I’m here in Taipei, Taiwan on a Sigur Center grant for Language Study. I'm so thankful to for the Sigur Center for this opportunity! I will be studying at the Mandarin Training Center at the National Taiwan Normal University. I arrived last week and will stay here through August. Some initial thought on my first days here are that Taiwan is great, but extremely hot! Taiwan is very clean and orderly. I would also say that it is more orderly than my visit to Rome! There was a line to get onto the escalator in the metro- and for those of us who ride the Washington Metro this will be a big deal- all of those that were standing stood to the right! If only we could have that order in the DC metro! The people are very helpful, assisting when asked and even when I have not asked but look confused. It does set an example to maybe have a little more patience with the tourists in DC. A little kindness definitely went a long way towards making me feel welcome in Taipei.

I have had a few days before my classes started so I used that time to visit some of the sights in Taipei. I visited the Chiang Kai-shek memorial. It reminded me a little of the Lincoln memorial with the large statue in the middle of a marble hall.

Me in front of the bronze statue of Chiang Kai-shek
Every hour they have a changing of the guards ceremony. The precision stepping and drill work were impressive to see, especially in the intense heat of the day.

Drill work!
There was also a museum below the hall, telling the story of Chiang Kai-shek’s life. It included various artifacts, including a number of his books and pieces of clothing. It was interesting to see both his bullet proof car and the chairs that he used to be carried around when he was on his estate. Chiang Kai-shek lived a time of great change and the juxtaposition of these two objects showed this time of transition. The museum of course was a very positive outlook on Chiang Kai-Shek’s life, but that would be expected from a memorial commemorating his life.
Chiang's bullet proof car
The chairs used to carry him around 

I also visited the National Palace Museum. The museum moved to its current location and building in 1965 and consists of over 600,000 artifacts, many of them coming from the Qing court. The breadth of the Chinese civilization was on display and the artifacts included were magnificent. China’s history  It was a very impressive collection and was almost exhausting to visit! The four main artifacts that people see to visit are an ancient cauldron and bell and a carved jade cabbage and a piece of jasper carved to look like a piece of pork. They were impressive to see but I must admit that I found the exhibit on pottery and porcelains to be much more impressive. This exhibit included pieces from the nomadic times up to the 20th century, which showed the range and evolution of pottery in China. I found the delicate nature of the porcelains to showcase amazing human artistry.  There were stunning colors and artistry exhibited throughout the museum, but especially in that exhibit. The delicate painting and intense colors were beautiful. Another exhibit that I enjoyed was on scrolls and calligraphy. There were a special collection showing embroidered work. The color was vibrant and the needlework delicate and exact. These were very splendid works of art.

Palace Museum in the distance- set back in a wooded hill

From my perspective as a volunteer at the Freer/Sackler, which are the Asian Art galleries of the Smithsonian Institution, this was a truly amazing collection to see and from which to learn. Many of the labels were in English, which was immensely helpful; this also gave me a perspective on the hardships that foreign visitors can experience when visiting museums in the US. While the pieces’ beauty spoke for themselves, learning about the background of the objects and meanings of the symbols made the visit even more meaningful. I was thankful for the background provided.  

Finally, I also visited the tower of Taipei 101. With an observatory on the 89th floor, Taipei 101 gave broad, sweeping views of the city. It was a little misty on the day I visited so many of the mountains surrounding the city were shrouded. It also has one of the fastest elevators in the world, traveling from the 5th floor to the 89th in about 26 seconds. It was very good that the elevator moved that fast as it was packed!

Some views from Taipei 101

These sites were a great introduction to Taipei before classes start. I’m looking forward to starting classes and to exploring more of the city!

Betsy Janus, M. A. Asian Studies 2016
Sigur Center 2015 Chinese Language Fellow
National Taiwan Normal University, Taiwan

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