Leaving the temple, we drove along the broad, tree-lined avenues and smaller, more built-up streets of Taipei, passing by the President’s office and eventually pulling up in front of an office block. On the third floor, it appeared there was a Mongolian Restaurant – “the Gobi Desert” – where lunch awaited us.
Well, lunch for ourselves and several other coach parties, because the huge room was full of visitors from all over the world and the noise and hubbub was overwhelming! To begin with, I chose to visit the Taiwanese buffet, choosing a selection of hot and cold food on the basis that some looked familiar and other things looked, well, curious. Our choice wasn’t made easier by the Asian practice of mixing sweet and savoury and yes, that pink thing is indeed a slightly sweet, faintly strawberry flavoured piece of upholstery foam… (No, of course it isn’t, but to tell the truth, it might as well have been! Serves me right for being silly)
But in spite of the crowds, there was plenty to eat and the Mongolian buffet was a good way of ensuring everyone got to eat exactly what they wanted, regardless of their mealtime preferences. But oh, the noise!
So, bearing in mind I was eager to get a picture of the road crossing signs, I slipped outside a little early with a couple of friends, to take a few minutes to stand and stare, to watch life go by in Taipei on this Friday lunchtime. Sure enough, there was a pedestrian crossing nearby, so I could snap the animated sign. Well, I could indeed snap the “stop” one, but the green man is animated and moves so quickly that this was all I could manage
Wearing his hat, the green man walks quickly along and this little sign has as much detail as the motorcycle sign we spotted earlier. I find these little things so fascinating and took a short movie which I’ll sort out later.
Across the road was a bustling street, which we’d have loved to have explored, but time was pressing and we needed to be at our next destination before 1 o’clock.
We were going to see the changing of the guard at The Martyrs’ Shrine.
We needed to unbonnet beforehand, too.
No sooner had we arrived and taken our places, than the five guards appeared from the side door and began the ceremony.
They had a slow, five-stage marching pattern which was so controlled and precise, if a little strange to watch.
Not a wobble, not a waver. One of our friends commented that they must practise yoga, so controlled were their movements, so perfect their balance.
We were kept at a respectful distance as they neared the Martyrs’ Shrine itself and noticed the path worn on the stone, because one movement involves their sliding their feet along the ground. How many times do they follow this literally well worn path? On the hour, every hour!
It took quite a while to go through the somewhat balletic moves to change the guards on the podium, but everything was conducted with the same precision as the march. Remarkable.
Whilst we stood and watched, two young men in dark suits watched and controlled the small crowd who were watching.
And, most amusingly, as we followed the retiring guard back to the gatehouse, one of them did a little titivating of the new guard. Adjusted his hat, pulled down his tunic and generally tidied him up, as our mothers did before we set off for school. Fascinating!
We made our way back to the gate behind the retiring guard, who continued the slow, controlled pace and five step pattern as they went.
What handsome young men; what a fitting tribute to the people who gave their lives for their country. What a great ceremony to watch!
The last stop of the day was the National Museum. It’s a special place because it contains the best collection of Chinese objects of historical interest as they were brought here when the Nationalists came here to escape the Communist revolution. There are significant pieces here and unsurprisingly, everyone wanted to see them.
The place was awash with large groups and in spite of Tina’s efforts with a microphone and headsets, we didn’t seem to be able to hear and see at the same time. Most of the particularly popular items to see – including the Jade Cabbage – had lengthy queues and we rapidly got frustrated with the pushing, shoving, claustrophobic headsets and particularly the huge groups gathered around, and hiding, many of the exhibits. So, discarding headsets, we peeled off and explored on our own, deliberately avoiding the crowds and heading for the quieter areas.
The two highlights for us were the porcelain and the calligraphy and portrait sections. The delicate shapes and subtle light green glazes in the porcelain displays were lovely, but we were both stunned by the artistry and precision of the 15th century Zhu Yunming’s calligraphy. Large scrolls, perfectly preserved with still dark blacks and vibrant reds in styles ranging from almost-printed precision to artfully casual scrawl. Wonderful – and all the more impressive when my hero pointed out that it was all completed around the time that Richard III was alive! We also admired the stylised, yet clearly true-to-life portraits of Genghs Khan and Kubulai Khan as Emperors, with their podgy faced concubines.
We’d had enough by then, so we pottered around the (equally crowded) shop, and took some photos outside, since none were permitted in the museum. As fast as one group finished, another took their place however and yet again, it was the presence of the group who predominated over the individual.
Such a full day left everyone a little overwhelmed and the journey back to Keelung was a quiet one, accompanied by Tina’s beautiful rendition of her favourite songs and the quiet, slow breathing of a few sleepers!
Would we be back in time for Trivia?!