taiwan, day 4

Today we take a drive through Yangmingshan National Park, up over the pass and down to the coast. We stop at various points in the park to get out and take pictures, but the Gobe is still wreaking havoc in our part of the world, so the views aren't as great as they could be. Supposedly, the city of Taipei is out there somewhere, but for all we can tell, it might've disappeared off the planet. I'm still finding the English translations on signage pretty fricking adorable.

We get to the coast in a couple of hours and find our way to the Jingmu Museum. Apparently this guy is a fairly famous (in Taiwan) Chinese sculptor who has been producing since the early 80's. The museum has intentionally left off any descriptions of his work, which he barely even titles, under the direction of the artist who, according to our guidebook, wants the viewer to interpret the pieces for himself and make the art his own. Personally, I find this kind of annoying as I'd like to learn a little more about the guy and what his motivations are. I think everyone else is happy there aren't a lot of things to read though, as I warned them beforehand that I like to read every single word when I go to a museum. The few displays we find that have any explanations at all are fairly horribly translated, so the struggle to glean any information out of them overrides any absorption of knowledge. Oh well, the sculptures are still pretty interesting. There's a huge sculpture garden out back with a truly astounding volume of work displayed, which I think everyone ends up finding to be a pretty enjoyable experience. All three of them, at least once, exclaim how much fun they're having. I guess they have a lower opinion of museums than I.

We stop for a late lunch at some small coastal town I've since forgotten the name of, where I walk into the restaurant feeling fairly nervous. All week everyone's been teasing me about making me eat squid legs and octopi heads and eel brains, so every time we go out to eat I steel myself for what might possibly be a pretty revolting experience leaving me simultaneously nauseous and hungry. After we park the car, we walk along the road looking at the wares in an open air market—wares being things that are 'swimming' around in plastic tubs of water ready for you to select them, take them home and eat them. The fish smell is overwhelming and pretty nauseating. Plus, it's hot and humid. By the time we get to the restaurant I'm fairly certain I won't be eating anything. Luckily, they picked out fairly benign things and everything came to the table cooked and pretty delicious. I typically like to be really removed from my food sources. I know this is not in vogue right now among the more enlightened set, but I don't really care. I'd much rather go to the store and get everything pre-packaged without any extraneous body parts attached. Plus, I'm still more vegetarian than not and anything having to do with handling meat kind of grosses me out. Not that I would ever turn down a hamburger or anything. (Don't worry, I realize this makes me a hypocrite.) I do find it pretty fascinating though, the culture of picking out something live to eat and then a few minutes later it shows up on your table ready to be digested.

By the time we get back to home base, I'm feeling pretty overwhelmed and assaulted. Everything is so dense here and it seems like there are people everywhere. I cajole M into going to the gym with me. I run for a bit and feel re-energized and better about life in general. An aside: even though there are plenty of treadmills open, the one I am on is constantly surrounded on all sides by a rotating gaggle of little Chinese women. I can't decide if it's because of how enamored they are with westerners or just what's showing on the particular television screens above those particular treadmills.

The Chinese are an unfailingly polite and seemingly happy people. They honk their horns at other drivers (and pedestrians) and they'll run you over in a heartbeat, but you never see anyone arguing or flipping each other the bird. And they go out of their way to help westerners navigate through their world. I'm constantly amazed by this actually, because I can't imagine that it's not highly annoying to have to try to understand a language you don't know just because some dumb tourist can't be bothered to learn your native tongue. I overcompensate by using the few phrases I know over and over again to let them know I'm not entirely ignorant of the annoyance factor.


dylan said...

I'm enjoying these writeups, thanks!

Next time you go to the gym, try a treadmill away from a TV and see what happens. Maybe you're more fun to watch than the tube!

Kate T-C said...

I just wanted to leave a quick note to say that I'm really enjoying your travelogue, Sean. I love how honest and thoughtful you're being about this write up.

Also, don't worry about annoying strangers with questions. I think the rest of the world is actually much less up-tight than we are in the States. Most people in other countries (aside from Italians, I think) find American tourists completely darling, especially in our most annoying and awkward moments.