National Palace Museum

Today we finally made it to see the National Palace Museum here in Taipei. One website says that the National Palace Museum is “one of the four best museums in the world, in a class with the Louvre, the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.”

This museum is amazing. It has a HUGE collection of Chinese artifacts, which date from as early as 6000 BC up to the early 1900’s. Their collection totals around 700,000 items, but the museum is only big enough to display a small percentage of their collection at one time. The Museum’s website states, “It has been calculated that for any given time period, the percentage of items that can be put on display in proportion to the entire National Palace Museum collection is as follows: calligraphy and paintings, approximately 15%; antiquities, approximately 6.4%; books, approximately 0.07%; and documents even less.” They rotate exhibits every few months, but it would still take approximately 12 years of visits in order to view their whole collection. Due to the space crunch, several portions of the museum are currently being renovated and expanded. This was actually GOOD news for us, because it means that the tickets we purchased today are good for one free visit between now and December 31st.

We’ll probably actually make many more visits between now and the end of January, as we didn’t give ourselves nearly enough time today and we still need to take the guided tour. We also want to do some more reading about China’s history, so that we can have a better understanding of each of the dynasty’s and the major events. So our plan is to read up on a certain period, and then go visit the museum and look at their exhibits related to the time period covered by the reading. We hope that this will help give us a better context for what we’re seeing at the museum, and that what we see at the museum will help us understand how the events of the period were being expressed in art, craftwork, and writing.

Some of the coolest things that we saw today were the miniature carvings. One of these carvings is actually an olive pit (maybe a little larger than a pit from a kalamata olive) that has been fashioned into a boat. The picture doesn’t do justice to the amazingly intricate detail of the carving. There were also tiny bottles with intricate paintings. However, these paintings aren’t on the exterior of the bottle…they are painted on the inside of the bottle, using a tiny brush inserted through the bottle opening. Among the oddest things we saw today was this rock that looks exactly like a slab of some of the pork we find semi-regularly in our lunches. Meat layer, fat layer, skin and all. Apparently, it’s one of the museum’s most famous pieces.

Tomorrow promises to be interesting as well. We’re planning on visiting the Wanhua district of Taipei, which is one of the oldest neighborhoods. Among the things we’ll see there are the Longshan Temple, one of the oldest and most popular temples in Taiwan, and Huahsi Street. Huahsi street is more popularly nicknamed “Snake Alley.” Why? Check back here tomorrow to find out!!!

Teaching ESL in Vancouver

We had our first field trip with our new students today around Stanley Park. Twenty kids is a handful when it’s just two of us and there’s the language gap. The only negative incident was when some of our kids accidentally kicked a soccer ball into another kid’s face near Second Beach. The dented child’s family were tourists from the U.K. and the mom was pretty mad. But what can you do?

Three of students are from Taiwan (the rest are from Korea), and although we’re not supposed to play favourites, we’re extra glad they’re there. Some of the kids had their first picnic ever today. This is Jessica and “Joanne” from Taiwan.

There were three tourist-friendly raccoons that had our kids pegged from a mile away. We had to work fast to keep them from trying too get too cuddly.

You have to audition to be a busker in Vancouver.

The wheels on the bus go lound and lound…

It’s green here.

And we have slugs.

And flowers.

Dragon Boat Festival 2006

We’re back, and the pictures are up!

It was a fun day. The festival was like a big fair – carnival games, music and dancing, lots of food, and in the middle of it all, the dragon boat races. In Taiwan the winning team has to climb up on the dragon’s head and snag a flag with their team’s colour at full speed right at the finish line. We didn’t see anyone fall in, but we had the camera ready just in case.

If PEI got big enough we could enter a team, but for now we resigned ourselves to taking goofy pictures with the dragons, eating lots of food, and taking it easy. We attempted stinky dofu again, on a stick this time. It’s an aquired taste (which we have yet to aquire). It was gross, and juicy. And the lady cooking it was wearing a mask, and we don’t blame her! It was a rare cool day, but even with a breeze and cloudy skies we felt sticky all day long from the humidity.

In the photos you’ll see little bird eggs on a stick, spirit money stuffed in the dragon’s mouths on most of the boats, the teams approaching the finish line and their teammate stretching for the flag, and lots of other stuff, including a whole dragon boat team walking and singing on their way to their waiting area, entirely naked save for some (not enough!) spandex.

Quick! Call PETA!

Chou-chou here.

The big cats have gone to bed. I overheard them snickering and laughing a few minutes ago. When I got into their computer, I found… THIS!

I’m not sure whether to laugh, or cry, or go throw up now. In any case, I’ll be on my best behaviour for the next few days!

Same planet, different worlds

Everyone lives a combination of stories. We embody these “world-stories” to various degrees through the way we navigate life as individuals-together. We are being written into these stories, and in/with/through them we interpret our existence: our identity, place, and meaning in the world. We shape and are shaped by the world-stories in which we live.

What you’re seeing in this picture from our hike on our day off is a family in Taiwan burning spirit money to a deity on top of a mountain in Taipei county. Bundles of money are wrapped in colourful paper that looks like it came from a child’s birthday party (cute dinosaurs and that kind of thing). Their shiny SUV was parked close by. The stack of packages in the foreground was one of two that this family was offering. Given how fast they were burning it, we assume this was an all-day affair. Were it not for the smoke and the haze in the distance, you’d see Jhonghe and Yonghe cities forming the distant horizon in the background. The yellow sign on the left does not say “Please do not swim in the baptistry,” but rather something about if you want to drink the water you have to say a certain prayer three times. We don’t have enough Mandarin or cultural savvy to ask about their business politely, but we assume something big was happening in their lives (crucial business deal? grave illness?). We hope one day to have the language and culture skills to hear, understand, and enter the stories of people like this.

On the Air, a feast, and more pictures

Busy day off. First to the radio station, where we recorded the latest PEI radio ad for the English Summer Camp in Vancouver. We originally had kids from the school doing parts, but the clips we recorded at school weren’t good enough for the radio station people. So Mingdaw and Zhi-ling pretended to be kids and we re-recorded at the studio. It’s a little… well, you can hear it for yourself on the video page.

After that, Mingdaw and Charles took us all to Taipei 101. It was raining. But there are still some interesting, if not foggy, pictures from the top of the world’s tallest building. I’ll get those uploaded soon (it’s too late tonight).

After Taipei 101 it they took us all to a fantastic restaurant serving dishes from Shanxi province in China. We met up with Angel there (Charles’ wife) and had some of the best food we’ve had yet.

There are a ton more pictures on the photos page. We added some new galleries and updated others (see the dates by each one). Among them, a labelled satellite map of our neighbourhood showing the places we frequent, shots from the park, and more (including an audio recording of the infernal musical garbage trucks). Next up will be some profiles of local characters we’re getting know, and the Taipei 101 photos.

Free drinks & a night on the town

jessicalaozhaosmall.JPGWe’re trying to become “regulars” on our street, where we know the people we see everyday by name and can stop for a visits whenever we’re coming or going . And now we have time. Saturday we went in to work early and left at 5pm. That gave us the whole evening to run around. (We’ll have pictures up soon of all this stuff, except Old Zhao’s drunk friends).

We stopped in at the Ling Family fish soup place to visit Lao Zhao. He had three rich friends visiting. They were apparently in the mood to (loudly) bless Old Zhao and anyone else with the evidence of their wealth, which in this instance means sharing some bites of the “most expensive fish in Taiwan – from Thailand” (our chopstick proficiency exceeded their expectations… which must not be that high), admiring a diamond-encrusted Rolex (“cost ten-thousand one-hundreds”), a couple dixie cups of red wine (to which we’re attributing some of their extra-good mood), and a question about something to do with any sisters I might have. A good time was had by all, largely owing to the fact that the particulars regarding the question about my sisters were entirely lost in translation. It’s nice to have locals we can drop in on and hang-out with.

localtemplesmall.JPGAfter that we took off for the local night market, which we hadn’t visited yet. It’s smaller than the Shilin and Keelung, but only about three blocks off the opposite corner of the park. To get there we practically walked right through a temple – the same one that Old Zhao and I sat outside when we were looking for someone who would cut a waiguoren’s hair for $200NT. Pictures will be up soon. We had dinner at the night market, which this night was corn on the cob roasted in sticky spicy sauce, sushi, bao-zi (steamed stuffed bun), fruit juice blender drinks (kiwi, starfruit, watermelon), and fruit-on-a-stick that you pass under a chocolate waterfall.

Taught our first Sunday morning English class (part of our contract), which is our only adult English class. We used The Message for part of the text, and that seemed to go over really well. We’re contemplating eventually joining the choir as a means of extra Chinese exposure… it would only mean an extra hour or so on Sunday, and we already stay for the choir lunch anyway.

Pictures are back-logged severely. If you haven’t checked out the photos page in the last week or so, then there are a bunch of new pictures, and I will have a ton more probably Monday night (your time).