Note: Attorney General Rob McKenna and fellow attorneys general are in Taiwan this week as guests of the Taiwan Ministry of Justice, reciprocating for years of visits from Taiwanese prosecutors to the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) Summer Meeting.
Taipei Impressions - Day Three (Oct. 10)
Our Saturday was dedicated to tours of Taiwan's, and China's, long history and modern accomplishments. We began with a stop at Hsing Tien Temple in Taipei, a large, three-temple complex that is predominantly Daoist but features elements of Confucianism and Buddhism . Built in the 1960s, the main temple is painted brilliant red, gold, green and blue. It is dedicated to three leading Daoist deities. Hundreds were praying along with a priest who was seated before the largest shrine, leading prayers with the aid of a gong and drum. Incense smoke filled the air, rising towards the heavens and carrying the prayers of the faithful ever upward. Under a large roof, wide tables held plates of fruit and other treats that were there to be blessed, then returned home to those who were not personally able to attend the prayer service. A large majority of those who were praying were older women, many of them elderly. Our guide, a temple volunteer dressed in a simple blue tunic, explained that most were praying for their families. I guessed that among the students in attendance were some who prayed for good results in school entrance examinations.
We departed Hsing Tien Temple for the National Palace Museum, easily the most famous of Taipei's cultural attractions. Housing over 600,000 artifacts and art objects from 7,000 years of China's history, it is the largest collection in the world, surpassing that of the Forbidden City in Beijing. (I recall a Forbidden City tour guide making pointed comments about the items on display there versus the huge number that Chiang Kai Shek and his government removed when they decamped to Formosa in 1949.)
The National Palace Museum is a gorgeous facility that any Smithsonian manager would be happy to adopt. State of the art exhibits include many that are rotated three times annually, so that about one-tenth of the collection is on display at any one time. The permanent exhibits include the very best examples of bronze-age pieces, delicate thousand-year old ceramics, and intricate Qing-dynasty ivory carvings.
Whipsawing from the ancient to the hyper-modern, we arrived after lunch at Taipei 101, the stunning skyscraper which dominates the city's skyline. The world's tallest completed and operating building includes eight pagoda-shaped sections containing eight floors apiece. (Eight is considered the luckiest number in Chinese numerology.) At its base is a glitzy six-story shopping mall which houses one of every high-end and couture store I've ever heard of, and more than a few that were new to me. For a Saturday afternoon, the stores were very quiet -- another sign of the global recession, it appeared.
The building's 89th floor observation platform, however, was quite busy. In addition to its panoramic views it also contains a unique tourist attraction: The 666-metric ton "Damper" which is suspended near the building's top and moves counter to the building when wind causes it to sway. We were there on a very windy day, yet this massive counterweight reduced the building's perceptible motion to almost nothing. It's also quite beautiful, a huge golden sphere supported by enormous stainless-steel shock absorbers. I admired the combination of engineering genius and aesthetics; utility transformed into art. Also, transformed into a marketing scheme, as tiny versions called "Damper Babies" were on sale as Taipei 101's official cartoon mascot.
From the world's tallest skyscraper (for now) to one of its most famous river gorges, we headed to the domestic airport for our short flight to Hualien City and nearby Taroko National Park in Taiwan's mountainous eastern region.
All the best,