Saturday, October 9, 2010

Culturally Taiwan

Yo readers, apologies for the unannounced hiatus. Frankly it took me a little less than 2 days to book an air ticket and fly to Bangkok - to look for Ms Rehau, my friend, who's posted in Bangkok (and will be coming back soon). So I haven't been posting because I've been living it up for a week in Bangkok! ;)

So here I am now, let me get back to posting about Taiwan, just a couple more posts to wrap up this trip.

In my previous post on our first day back in Taipei, I forgot to mention an important destination we visited that day - the National Palace Museum ("Gu Gong"). Gu Gong in Taipei housed a small portion of the collection of rare books and artefacts that originated from the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City in Beijing. Read more about its roots here.

As no photography was allowed, I am unable to show you pictures of the artefacts we've seen. However, the most notable and famous works can be easily found in wikipedia. Some examples:

The Jadeite Cabbage

Meat-shaped Stone
Images above courtesy of Wikipedia

How cute is that? Jade carved to look like cabbage, and agate stone carved and dyed to look like a piece of meat. In my opinion, these 2 artefacts are the best representation of Taiwan, due to their strong, pulsating food culture.

The next day, early morning, our guide Francis brought us to a special destination outside of the package itinerary - the Grand hotel or Yuanshan Hotel. The iconic landmark is built on a hill and is visible from nearly everywhere in the city of Taipei.

The grand archway of the hotel

In 1995, a fire broke out and destroyed the roof and parts of the upper floors, it was only in 1998 that the hotel recovered and reopened to the public. It's said that the dragon heads on the roof were rotated to face inwards after the fire, to symbolise better preparedness against future such incidents.

Notice the inward facing dragon head?

As mentioned earlier, the Taiwanese were steadfast believers of fengshui, hence it goes without question that fengshui elements were majorly considerations in the architechural designs and when deciding the placement and positions of certain structures/sculptures.

The stone lions near the entrance

Here are pictures of the interior of the hotel. Dragons, lions, flowers dominate much of the decor. The ornate carvings on the ceilings, red-carpeted flooring, majestic floral displays and dragon sculptures created a sense of old world grandeur, a most appropriate location to impress foreign dignitaries visiting Taiwan, as well as us jaw-gaping tourists.

A picture of Ms Song Mei Ling, the third wife of Taiwan's late President, Mr Jiang Jie Shi, with a foreign dignitary. She was a highly educated woman, and she advised the building of the hotel on this site.

Francis mentioned also, that the hotel had secret passages rumored to be leading to the presidential residence or emergency headquarters. It's too bad we weren't staying in this hotel (5-star, and host to a long list of distinguished guests) as part of the tour package, though it used to be included.

Having visited such a strong fengshui-influenced destination, next on the agenda was to meet with some of Taipei's renowned fengshui masters.

Based on your birth date and time according to the lunar calendar and your name in chinese characters, the fengshui masters are able to determine which element (gold, wood, water, fire, earth) you belong to and the characteristics that generally define people of that element. They will also encourage you to draw floor plans of your home. This will ultimately lead them to advising you which elemental 'pi xiu' would suit and enhance the prosperity of your home or for yourself. A pi xiu is a Chinese mythical hybrid creature resembling a winged lion, and is considered to be a very powerful protector/guardian to practitioners of Fengshui.

The pi xiu, depending on its size, could cost a couple hundred S$ to a few grand. We weren't much believers of fengshui, so we did not get any.

The huge display pi xiu represents the 5 elements.

 Guess what element is this?

 Guess what element is this?

So far, it's all been cultural. Next up, FOOD and more. 

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