We pass the previous two days fairly quietly, only tackling one major thing per day. I think we're all getting tired. On Thursday we head downtown to pick up M's sister's friend for lunch and a trip to Yingge, a small town somewhat close to Taipei that is known for its selection of pottery by local artists. The friend, who is married to a U.S. army diplomat, lives in a swanky condo in a swanky building right across the street from the Taipei 101 (that big building I talked about the other day). Seriously kids, you have not seen the likes of this (and our tax dollars are paying for it). The parking garage has fountains and marble floors and marble walls and artwork in glass cases. Yes. You read that correctly—the parking garage.
One thing I really like about China is that you can take a picture of anything and everything here and no one looks askance, but this time I get yelled at by the security guard for taking too many pictures with the warning that I not post them to the internet. So if anyone asks, you didn't see these here. Capish?
Yingge is a cute little town, I imagine it would be called quaint by others' standards, but it still seems just as densely packed as everywhere else in Taiwan to me. And people drive like maniacs. I do find a nice little piece of Taiwanese art for a really cheap price though. I can't believe how inexpensive things are here.
On Friday morning, M and I go the gym again. This time I don't feel like running so I just lift weights. I don't know if it's true of all the gyms here, but they pack a lot of equipment into kind of small spaces at this one and I find it a little difficult to maneuver. About halfway through my workout, I go to the front desk to buy some water and say, 'Can I have some shuay mo, please?' The attendant looks at me blankly so I say it again and get the same reaction. Finally, I just point at the case and say, 'Water.' That does it. Apparently, I am wrong about what I thought was Chinese for water.
For lunch, we head to a market to have 'the best sushi in town'. To understand this correctly, you need to imagine if someone in the States said, 'Let's go to King Sooper's to eat fried chicken at the deli. It's the best you'll ever have.' But even I, who kind of hates sushi, have to admit that it's pretty darn good. The experience here is thus: you show up, you bring your own beverage, you get whatever they have that day. Apparently, some days are really, really...gross. But today we get pretty lucky and nothing arrives that has legs and brains and eyeballs still attached. Whew.
After lunch we hit The National Palace Museum—a...history museum that is more focused on artwork than artifacts. When The Nationalists left mainland China and seceded to Taiwan they shipped a bunch of Chinese historical art pieces over ahead of them. Now, of course, mainland China wants them back, but the Taiwanese aren't giving them up. The museum has over 300,000 pieces that they rotate constantly. Our tour guide says that it would take 12 years to see every piece. There are some really interesting pieces here, including one that is made of 21 concentric balls carved out of ivory each nestled inside one another. Apparently they were carved out of one tusk. An hour and a half is way too short a time for me to really feel like I got much out of it, but our tour guide was very knowledgeable and it was nice to get the extra information that the displays didn't provide.
The people here do really drive like crazy people, treating traffic more like a river than an orderly progression. It's not uncommon for people to turn left in front of cars coming straight from the other direction. This attitude carries over in how the Chinese treat personal space in crowds. It's fairly common for people to just walk directly in between you and an exhibit, even stopping in front of you so they can read the display that you're reading. Or for a mob of them to just surround you while you're looking at something, trapping you there until they're ready to leave.
At dinner, M's 4-year-old nephew teaches us how to ask for water in Chinese. It is 'schuay' but I had the inflection wrong.