|Hong Kong to Taiwan – 75 minutes. We flew in over sectioned paddy fields and many small dams, to Chiang Kai Shek airport and boarded the bus to Taipei, the capital city, 45km away. The surrounding country reminded us of the S.A. South Coast, but with rice not sugar cane.
In Taipei the first stop was the Martyrs’ Shrine, built like a Chinese temple with a gold roof. The ubiquitous Chinese lions (this time of white marble) stood at the base of the steps to the shrine. There were four young guards, two in and two out. They stood like statues, in spite of perspiration running down their faces and flies on that – until one of us put his foot on the threshold of the shrine.Then there was action! At the two sides were shrines commemorating their war heroes and giving the history of the Republic of China i.e. Taiwan. After watching the Changing of the Guard, we were ensconced in the Ambassador hotel.
Lunch at the hotel was “dim sum” – small portions of Chinese food on trollies brought to the tables. Diners’ choice.
In the afternoon we explored the surrounding city blocks. We visited a large temple where many people were praying to their gods. They individually offered fruit, then lit josh sticks, then prayed, then either threw “bones” or got fortune sticks.
On the following day we were taken on a tour of the city. Temp. only 31 but very high humidity. Couldn’t see far because of smog – there was much traffic and many people wore “surgeons’ masks” to obviate the fumes. Many buses, taxis, motorbikes and scooters – most with two people, or families e.g. dad, mom and one or two children. Buses had girl clippies who opened and closed the doors, gave passengers wet face cloths on boarding, guided reversing drivers by means of blasts on a whistle. Many cars had bird-cum-bell buzzers for reversing. All the police wore revolvers. Just out of the city were large round gun turrets covered with green nets, with soldiers and anti-aircraft guns all facing mainland China.
We were taken to the Grand Hotel – very smart, with “old Chinese” roof and gate. All monuments, temples, parks etc have the latter, which consists of two high pillars connected by a roof. The hotel was decorated in gold, red and green with enormous red pillars around the exterior and in the massive lobby, leading to a very wide staircase i.e. all on a colossal scale.
On to the National Palace Museum, which was very large, with “old Chinese” style exterior and modern interior; all marble floors and electronically controlled showcase doors. There was an exhibition of porcelain dating from 2500 B.C. – an immense 4-legged soup pot with holes in the handles for sticks to facilitate carrying when hot - artifacts of jade – red-lacquered porcelain – carvings of ivory – olive pip carving (viewed through a magnifying glass) – tiny bottles painted on the inside. Really wonderful treasures.
On the way back to town we stopped at the Chiang Kai Shek memorial. It’s truly beautiful, with a massive “gate” leading onto an enormous square plaza, with the building (white with a blue roof) at the far end. Money for this was all donated by individuals.
Once on the other side of the city, the road climbed the mountain overlooking Taipei, passing the University of Chinese Culture and an orchid nursery, to Yangmingshan Park where we spent some time walking about the extensive grounds, looking at a floral clock and posing by yet another statue of Chiang Kai Shek. Then downhill again, passing terraced vegetable gardens and hot sulphur springs with steam rising from holes in the ground.
We visited a pottery/porcelain factory and watched various processes – clay moulding (potters’ wheels motor-driven, with a human moulder), handpainting, spraying. When baked at 1000 C the spray melts and the picture shows.
That evening we were taken for a Mongolian barbecue, were we chose very thinly sliced meat and veg, and spices. Our bowls were piled high! And taken to a circular stove with a roaring fire inside it. The contents were thrown on top, stirred and returned. On each table (Chinese tables are circular, for families) was a small stove like a hurricane lamp surrounded by a water-filled minature moat. Underneath each was a small fire. Using bamboo chopsticks, we held pieces of chicken and pork in the water, which cooked them in less than 30 seconds. They were then dipped into a watery sauce – delicious! Because of an electricity failure, all the lights went out; there was plenty of light from the fires though – and it was Very Hot. In fact, when we opened the windows, the usual hot blast felt quite cool!!
From there we went to the Hoover night club and saw a spectacular show – singing, dancing, magician, lion dance, trapeze artist, sharpshooting from a unicycle, balancing on chairs (an interior circus, but better). Tired but happy, we were in bed by midnight.