On our first full day in Taipei, we took a tour of the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial, Longshan Temple, and the National Palace Museum, led by intrepid tour guides Wong Li-ling and Fannie Lai.
The Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial was undergoing restoration, so a large scaffold and its white safety netting wrapped around the upper, shrine-shaped part of the memorial. We learned from our tour guide that the Memorial has 89 steps, to represent Chiang Kai-Shek’s age when he died, and that it has been at the center of a discussion of how Taiwan should relate to the founder of its contemporary political state.
We took the elevator to the fourth floor, and watched the changing of the guard in front of the enormous statue of Chiang Kai-Shek. Following Chiang Kai-Shek’s gaze, the memorial looked out over a grand courtyard at the National Theater and the National Concert Hall, where we will perform in a few days. On the ground floor, the tour guides took us around an exhibit displaying important artifacts from Chiang Kai-Shek’s political and military careers.
The next stop was the Longshan temple, where Buddhists and Taoists gather together to pray. The temple is over two hundred years old, and the architecture is beautiful.
The tour guide narrated what goes on at the temple on a regular basis: people bring offerings of cakes, fruits, flowers, burn incense, toss stones, and pray to various different gods for success and wisdom. Several Gleeks took the opportunity to light incense and throw moon-shaped stones to ask the gods for advice on their own love lives and career plans.
We ate lunch on the bus, a lunchbox of rice, cabbage, a tea egg, and a chicken cutlet, and then drove to the National Palace Museum.
Students from the local Taiwan International School who had done extensive training with the museum docents gave us a guided tour of the museum, demonstrating their knowledge of the artifacts and their ability to navigate the large holiday crowds. As we listened through our headsets, we learned about emperors who put their stamp of approval on artwork, emperors who fell in love with their consort’s younger sister, emperors who consoled their wife over the loss of their son by commissioning a group of chicken tea cups, emperors who created the first standardized weight of rice, emperors who build bells to commemorate their victories- many years of decadence, but also ingenuity and beauty. The museum was filled with ceramics, bronze, jade, paintings, and even some furniture, and painted a rich picture of Chinese history.
Meanwhile, Lite, the A Cappella subset, left early from the tour to rehearse at the Management of New Arts building. After a somewhat rushed subway ride across the city, the subgroup was led to a the eleventh floor of the building, which (lo and behold), was a steinway piano shop. Lite rehearsed it’s repertoire for the upcoming concert, then was taxi-ed out to the National Palace Museum, had lunch on the steps of the museum, and went in to join the rest of the group.
The final stop of the tour was a foray into the famous Shilin night market. We went to an underground food court and ate the local street food (cheap yet very yummy) in smaller groups. Then those wanting to head back to the hotel and sleep climbed back onto the bus; this counted most of us, as jet lag was kicking in. However some others chose to stay at the market, explore, barter with the shop owners, and play some of the endless games proposed.
Authors: Curtis Wu and Jeffery Durand