Corin Anderson (magellanic) wrote,
Corin Anderson

National Palace Museum

When I’m traveling I both tend to, and prefer to, wake up early. I have only so many hours of vacation, why use them up with sleeping in? So several times this morning I wake up, check the time on my phone, and go back to sleep waiting for the alarm to ring. I finally give up at 7:43; I get up, cancel the 7:45 alarm, and get on with the day. I plan to pay back my sleep debt in the States.

Melinda and I eat lightly in the house and get ready to depart. Last night Melinda made plans to meet “Chloe” at the museum at 10, and we don’t want to be late. This plan is at odds with Mr. Lin’s plan to drive us to the museum in the afternoon, stopping at Taipei 101 along the way, so we bear some bit of unhappiness about following our own plans. But it’s all fixed now (evening time) – we’ll visit Taipei 101 tomorrow (and the glass museum Wednesday). So we head out, find a cab easily, and head toward the museum. Part-way there we realize we’ve forgotten the gift for “Chloe” (few more serious faux pas exist) so we return to Mr. Lin’s house, pick it up, and head out again. Still plenty of time to reach the museum.

The National Palace Museum houses innumerable artifacts from Chinese culture, some dating back 7000 years. It’s one of The Places to See when visiting Taipei. We meet “Chloe” at the museum – recall, she’s the daughter of one of Yulin’s schoolfriends, the one who cut Yulin’s and Melinda’s hair in Tainan. Chloe (now without quotes, since I now have met her) is professionally but casually dressed and speaks flawless English (she went to college in England). We introduce ourselves to each other and dive into the exhibits. We know we can see only a fraction of the museum in our day so we choose the bronze, ceramics, jade, and calligraphy sections (two of the four floors).

We are not alone in the museum, by any means. First, there’s the tour groups: groups of 8 – 20 visitors, usually Chinese (from the mainland) but sometimes Japanese and with the occasional Caucasian, surrounding a leader who carries a pole with a totem (a flag, or a wind sock, or a toy hand) above his head and who narrates each artifact or room as the tour passes by. Tour groups arrive in tour buses, and there are scores of buses in the parking lots. (There are also demonstrators in front of those buses, holding “Falun Dafa is good” signs; they, too, know that these buses are filled with tourists from mainland China.) We never enter a room in the museum without a tour group entering or exiting within a minute or two. Second, there are the school groups: groups of 20 – 40 students, aged 10 – 18, wearing identical uniforms but for their serial numbers embroidered on the front, and with a guide just like the non-school groups (including the leader pole). Both kinds of groups seem to race through the museum, stopping at artifacts only long enough for the leader to say a few words before moving on. The groups will crush non-group visitors who stand in their way, but the crush is soon gone, so if you can survive the tsunami you’re safe. Third, then, are the individuals, such as our group. Individuals make up maybe 20% of the visitors in the museum, I would say. Most individuals wear headsets and listen to recorded explanations of the artifacts. We opt to not, in part because audio tours are slower than we are and in part because we want to be social among our group of three.

The artifacts and layout of the museum is sort of strange at times. Overall, the museum is targeted at those people who know the history and want to see the artifacts – there’s less interpretation of each piece than there is at, say, SF Asian Art museum (where Melinda and I have spent three days visiting). Exhibit halls are arranged by dynasty but within a dynasty the time periods may go back and forth; also, the bronze exhibits were sort of all over the place. But it was okay overall for us. For me, I enjoy looking at individual pieces, thinking about the hands that carved or painted them, wondering if the artists ever thought their pieces would exist hundreds if not thousands of years later. There’s a room in the jade exhibit showing how jade is worked (drilled, cut, etc.), and on display are some discarded pieces of jade, cut or drilled imperfectly. Melinda posits whether her and my glass objects will one day appear in a museum, examples of what glass looks like from someone just beginning to learn.

We head out for lunch around noon, to a Thai restaurant that Chloe knows about near the MRT station. The restaurant, Lacuz, is trendy and filled with “young people” as Melinda likes to refer to the 25-and-younger crowd here. During lunch we hear the occasional explosion of laughter from one table, or see the guests at another table play wrestle with each other. We order, like, 6 or 7 dishes, each sort of small, to get a wide taste of what’s offered. Surprisingly, the waiters take away some dishes that aren’t empty yet – it would probably be gauche to protest, I suppose, so I let the fried chicken disappear. We eat until we’re content, we play-fight over the bill, and Chloe pays.

Over lunch we finally get a chance to talk with Chloe without interruption by tour guides or jade cabbages. She majored in computer science and … something in undergrad and business administration (I think?) for her masters; she’s now a business analyst with OfficeMax. She went to England in order to go to a well-known school (she could have gone to the US but not all schools in the US are universally recognized by the government as “good schools”). She’d intended to work in England, but job prospects two years ago weren’t great so she returned to Taiwan where she is today. We talk a little about her work and about life at Google. She’s interested in the engineering process at Google, because that’s in part what she does at OfficeMax (develop specifications for business processes, send them to a third-party development team, etc.). We talk a bit about Taiwan, Taipei, Tainan, the US, etc., as well. Chloe’s never been to the US; we invite her to visit us in San Francisco anytime.

We taxi back to the museum to finish our tour. When we first arrived, and again now, I notice signs in the lobby of the museum, reading 70-75 and fluctuating. It looks like these signs display ambient noise levels in the lobbies; yes, it would be 70-75dB in there, I could believe it. Throughout the museum ushers and signs remind people to be quiet and to not photograph anything; I guess noise is an issue (I’m not sure why non-flash photographs would be an issue but I obey). We finish our tour with a visit to the gift shop where we buy some souvenirs and gifts and head out. We taxi to the MRT station, say our goodbyes to Chloe (who’s disappointed that we weren’t staying for dinner – we’ve now been surprised by two protocol missteps in one day) and take the subway (elevated train at this point, in fact) back to the house.
We arrive at the house by 5p as promised but learn that Paul and Martha won’t be home until 6:30. I doze for a while, Melinda checks that the New York Times is still online, until dinner and our hosts arrive. We soon hear voices outside and say our hellos to Martha, just returned from China (well, just returned from church, actually; returned from China earlier in the afternoon). Martha’s English is excellent and I’m happy to be able to converse with our host directly and fluently. We chat for a while, the house keeper sets out dinner, and we eat. Too many good dishes: salmon soup, a fish dish, chicken, pork in hot chili peppers (only a tiny bit spicy), two vegetable dishes, sweet potato, noodles with shrimp, and rice. Yes, that’s a lot of food, and a lot of it will be left over for tomorrow. We talk over dinner but Mr. Lin doesn’t eat much and soon wanders off to play with this stereo system. We’d brought him some CDs as a gift, they didn’t sound right to him initially, and he was trying to figure out why.

So, this stereo system. Mr. Lin is an audiophile and he has a professionally-installed sound system in his living room. Amps, players, a turntable (Mr. Lin owns 2000 LPs and the turntable needle is made from unobtanium), speakers from the set of Back to the Future, a video projector, DVD player, and seven remote controls. After much fussing with the CD we gave him, and a call to one of his friends, he decides that the CD is okay after all, not defective (the CD has 5.1 channels but his setup can’t play the xCD, or something). I’m suitably impressed, and I tell him so, but to be truthful I can’t tell the difference between this setup and my own at home. Well, not entirely true: when he runs his setup at 80dB the sound is still pure, whereas my setup would rattle. I think I’m blessed with not being fussy in this department.

After dinner Mr. Lin gets to show off his AV equipment by playing the Four Seasons on vinyl and playing a Roy Orbison tribute DVD. Both are nice but if I close my eyes I can’t quite feel like I’m actually in the night club shown on the DVD. Mr. Lin wants to also show us a movie but we beg off in order to wrap up the night. We have more things to do tomorrow so we need to get to sleep!

It’s still warm out, and in, but the air conditioner and a fan in the room keep us cool enough.
Tags: travel
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