I have been a failure. Based on what I’ve written over the last few weeks, you would think my life has become mundane. Au contraire, I have been a busy bee flitting from trip to trip. The first started with a long weekend in Taipei.
I wrote about the food of Taipei, and don’t get me wrong, the food was a highlight. Every time I think about Taipei I get a little hungry. But there was so much else packed into three days.
The best place to start is the beginning. I was planning the trip with Hamish, my brilliant film-producing friend. This was my first time traveling with him, and that is always a scary feeling. But one of my goals this year was to expand my circle of friends that I could travel with. This came at the recommendation of just about EVERYONE.
I kid you not, every single person has an opinion about the choice to travel alone. It is almost never something positive. It is a long string of… “How dangerous!” “It must get so lonely.” “Who do you talk to?” To respond, if you’re smart, it’s not dangerous. I have an extensive inner dialogue going at all times. And I subscribe to the Dr. Seuss philosophy, “All alone! Whether you like it or not, alone is something you’ll be quite a lot!” And frankly, I like being alone. I’m practically nursing multiple personalities, so alone does not equal lonely. Now, all of this sounds like I was not entirely enthused to be traveling with Hamish, so not true. We agreed on all the major travel questions. Did we have the same budget? Were we interested in the same things? Did our energy level and sleeping schedules match? Did we have the same objective for the trip (eat our weight in Taiwanese food and see some sights when we came up for air). Yes, yes, yes and fantastically yes.
But I digress. Our day started at 4:30am in Japan. There was running for the train, me lagging, missing the train, catching the next one and still making it to our flight with abundant time to spare. Thank you Haneda Airport for being outstandingly efficient, and wondrously empty before 7am. The flight whirled by in a huff of movies, sleeping and questionable food. I’m talking about you, unrecognizable green goop that was neither matcha flavored or any other discernible taste.
From the airport, we hit the ground running. Songshan airport is really convenient. If you are flying into Taipei for a short stay, this is your airport. Cab fare from the airport to the main station is infinitesimal. After dropping out bags at the hotel, we took another taxi from our hotel to the nearest train station, Ximen station. This later turned into a thing of shame. Who knew Ximen was only a 10 minute walk? One of the bellhops gave us a disgusted look when we asked him to hail us a cab to Ximen. I’m certain he uttered to himself, “lazy foreigners.” We used the subway to get around for most of the trip. The subway system in Taipei is navigated easily. There are a few lines, but they practically all run north to south, and the signage is stupefyingly simple, you would have to be daft to get lost.
First, we visited Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. This memorial hall is to Taipei what The Great Wall is to Beijing or The Eiffel Tower is to Paris. It is the quintessential look at Taipei. When I first saw it, I was struck by the beauty, and how unique the coloring was. The four sides of the structure are similar to those of the pyramids in Egypt. It’s made of white marble. The roofs are decorated with deep-blue glass as part of the reflection of blue sky and bright sun. It adds a touch of grandeur. The garden is planted with red flowers. The colors of blue, white and red express the National Flag and the spirit of freedom, equality and brotherhood.
Still, the blue and white felt vaguely reminiscent of something I had seen in Beijing. After doing some reading, it turns out the architecture of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall was inspired by Tiantan, or the Temple of Heaven, in Beijing. It is really important in Chinese culture. Can you guess which is which?
Chiang Kai-shek (Taipei) are the first two.
Inside of Chiang Kai-shek was a museum that told the political history of Taipei. As well, we saw the changing of the guard. It might have been only a slightly entertaining thing to watch had Hamish not mentioned that when he first saw it he imagined it to Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation. As I watched it was impossible to get the image of the super sharp movements not to go in sync with Rhythm Nation. Now, I share this video with you, and defy you to not mentally hum the song while you watch.
Inside Chiang Kai-shek are also places for international art performances. They are National Theater and National Concert Hall. World famous musicians (such as the great cello performer Yo Yo Ma and the great violinist Shao Lian Lin) and renowned playgroups have conducted performances there. We decide to take in a show while we are there. And in this renowned theater that has housed some of the greatest musicians of our time what do you think we get to see. B.Box of Brother and Sister II. The show is part Taiwanese traditional opera, part hip-hop beat box dance-a-thon, part slapstick comedy show, part every weird thing that theater can throw at you. It began with a take of Red Riding Hood told from the perspective of the Wolf crying that he is the way he is because he was physically and emotionally abused as a pup.
Should you be thinking that this story sounds a bit heavy for an afternoon opera, you would be mistaken. The story was still told as a comedy with Red Riding Hood picking up random stuffed animals scattered around the stage. The show was all in Chinese, and the subtitles on the side were handled a little bit weirdly. They would stick on one set of lines for maybe 7 minutes, leaving me super confused as to why Red Riding Hood was hopping around with stuffed animals, and why the Big Bad Wolf was break dancing. Then, suddenly all the lines from the elapsed time would flash by in about 25 seconds and stick again. This cycle and the fact that I had been awake for 13 hours already lead me to sleeping. I went in about out for the better part of an hour and finally woke up when the story got into more of the traditional opera. It turns out that Red cleaned up very nicely in traditional
garments and the story entirely changed. There was about 15 minutes of serious opera when suddenly there are cans of silly string.
Silly string was definitely the last thing I was expecting when walking into this show. Two hours after we had sat down for the beginning the lights came up. There was some speaking in Chinese, then a translation in English that this was the intermission. Hamish and I looked at each other in disbelief and horror. We walked out of the theatre and did not return for the second part. I’d like to think we got our moneys worth.
After all that, we were really still just at the half-point of our day.