Monday, 11 November 2013

Taipei Day Three: Rain Forces Alternate Plans

The wind was blowing so hard I had trouble steadying the camera to take this!
This morning there was light rain but we thought we'd press on and head to Yangmingshan (陽明山) or Mount Yangming, an hour's drive from Taipei. It's the closest cluster of mountains near the city and were formerly created by volcanoes about 2 million years ago.

Heavy fog made it impossible to visit Yuanmingshan
Our guide told us that there's still thermal energy below resulting in hot springs for visitors to soak in.

However when we got there, the wind was so intense, blowing the rain combined with heavy fog we couldn't see much and our guide was worried it wasn't safe. Just waiting for our car to turn around and pick us up, my umbrella flew open the other way, while my mom's trousers were pretty soaked.

Inside the tea house on the fourth floor of the museum
So much for Yuanmingshan. We immediately decided to go back to the National Palace Museum and check out a few more things in detail. While there were some tour groups there it wasn't as busy as when we went on Saturday afternoon.

Armed with audio guides we checked out the jade section, where the Chinese considered jade to have strong spiritual powers and we could see its progression from being a useful tool for cutting things and skinning animals, to objects revered in rituals and for decoration.

Our bowl of delicious Taiwanese beef noodle!
The carvings are so impressive, particularly the relief ones -- how did they do that? And cut perfect circles to create the bi discs?

We also saw the exhibition on snuff bottles. I didn't know that the powder inside these small elaborately decorated containers was actually high quality tobacco ground into a powder, fermented and then sealed.

And because the powder was imported from the west by missionaries, the powder didn't do so well in humidity. As a result the containers were designed with a small opening, large body and spoon-stopper.

The entrance to the National Geographic photo exhibition
Then we had lunch in the tea house on the fourth floor of the museum, an airy place with views of the area. The menu is limited but was good. The highlight was the Taiwanese beef noodle, large chunks of meat that were tender with thick wheat noodles in a flavourful broth that came with pickled vegetables and peanuts.

Perhaps the highlight of the day was checking out the photo exhibition put on by National Geographic to celebrate its 125th anniversary. My cousin recently went to Taipei and told me about it so I'm glad I was able to see it (thanks to the weather).

Looking up at Taipei 101...
National Geographic was founded in Washington DC on January 13, 1888. It describes itself as a "unique scientific educational institution" that "has been a media for the dissemination of information". Its second president Alexander Graham Bell and first full-time editor Gilbert H Grosvenor said that "pictures are the language of the magazine", and Bell gave the order to "use pictures and plenty of them".

We saw 150 stunning images from the Society's back issues, many I have not seen before, others looked a bit familiar. There were the first pictures of Tibet in 1916, the first underwater picture in 1927 and the Society sponsoring people like Jacques-Yves Cousteau, newcomer Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey.

There was a picture of the discovery of the Titanic by Bob Ballard in 1991 and the first American team to trek up Mount Everest in 1963 with 19 climbers and 32 sherpas.

Looking down from Taipei 101... when the fog cleared a bit
Visitors also got to read the back story about the pictures such as one of a wolf jumping from one small ice floe to another in mid air. The dramatic shot was taken by Jim Brandenburg who has taken pictures of wildlife for 20 years but thinks in that time he has only taken seven good ones!

There's a picture of a lion cub who place its paw around the back of the neck of its mother that looked so human-like, that there were a number of inquiries for a copy of the photo when it was published in 1986.

Another amazing one is of a hummingbird in flight in Panama as it collects nectar from a flower. The picture is so sharp that the viewer can clearly see the detail of the features, lots of colour and each feather had edges of gold.

The massive wind damper on the 88th floor
Steve McCurry's haunting photograph of an Afghan girl in 1984 was actually rejected at first and then a photo editor looked at it again and put it on the cover. A few years ago McCurry managed to find the same girl again, now a grown woman.

Before dinner we checked out Taipei 101, that was for six years the tallest building in the world until the Burj Khalifa in Dubai took over in 2010. Every eight floors is one section and there are eight sections that are meant to create the look of bamboo. There are 101 floors in total and it takes only 37 seconds to get up there.

The building is able to withstand earthquakes thanks to the world's largest wind damper, a massive yellow ball held up by pulleys so that if the building sways one way, the ball and pulleys counteract it in the opposite direction. So the mascot of Taipei 101 is called "Damper Baby"...

Staff hard at work making dumplings at Din Tai Fung
We had to go through a massive strange coral museum and showcases of coral jewellery before we could take the elevator to go down. It took us 45 seconds to get down, mostly due to wind resistance.

Dinner was at Din Tai Fung, conveniently located in the basement. We arrived relatively early after 6pm so we were practically able to walk in as they don't take reservations. We ordered a few items we'd never tried before, including xiaolong bao made with black truffle, another with shrimp and loofah vegetable, and a plate of stir-fried Chinese fiddleheads that were fresh and slightly crunchy.

A plate of Chinese fiddleheads that were tasty and crunchy
To end off the evening we checked out Eslite, the 24-hour bookstore and it was relatively quiet, people wandering around or sitting on the floor reading books and magazines. We are expecting more light rain tomorrow...

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