Sunday, December 4, 2011
Taiwan, Ilha Formosa, "The Beautiful Island" - a strong case can be made for here being the undiscovered gem of Northeast Asia. Most travelers to this region overlook Taiwan on their way to China, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea. However, it looks like things are starting to look up for the "renegade province" - Lonely Planet, for one, has listed Taiwan as one of the top ten countries for travel in 2012.
Nevertheless, there is one thing that Taiwan can't change - the fact that it's an island, and not necessarily a large one at that. What this means is that there are a finite number of things to see and do, and places to visit, before ennui sets in. Before you start pitying the jaded foreign resident, however, spare a thought for the locals, who went through all the major possibilities long ago (in many cases, more than once), and have truly "been there and done that". What this means is that when something genuinely new appears on the leisure front, everyone, plus their grandmother and the family dog, has to go and see it. And seeing as most folks are working 5 days a week plus a couple of Saturdays per month, this leaves just one day - Sunday - to get out and do something different. Which is a long-winded way of saying that we were part of the crowd this afternoon at the "River of Wisdom: Moving of the Riverside Scene at Chingming Festival" (yes, that is the official English title; link) exhibition 智慧的長河: 會動的清明上河圖, located in what looked like a warehouse near the T'aichung High Speed Rail Station 高鐵台中站 in Wujih (Wūrì) 烏日.
Like everyone else, we decided it would be best to get there in the morning, you know, in order to "beat the crowds". Which meant that we ended up waiting for about 90 minutes in a long line that snaked its way from the parking lot to the other side of the building housing the exhibition. Fortunately for me (though not for many of the locals) it was sunny and warm today, and I came prepared to kill some time:
Eventually we made it inside (for a Taiwanese queue, things were relatively well-organized). At this point you may be asking yourself "What is the River of Wisdom?". A fair question, but one to which I'm still not sure of the answer. From what I could work out, several hand-painted scrolls, the original dating from the Song Dynasty 宋朝 in China, and a couple of updated versions from the Ming 明朝 and Qing Dynasties 清朝, illustrating daily scenes from Chinese life from long ago, have been brought together in one place. The scrolls were very interesting to see, if you could make out the images through the mass of humanity trying to get a close-up view. Large projections on the walls overhead helped somewhat, but it's times like these that I'm truly thankful for being 6'3" (189.5cm). Here is the official English explanation:
Now that you fully comprehend what was going on, here are a few images I was able to capture:
As fascinating as the images on the scrolls, they were not the main reason why everyone came today. The crowd-puller was in another room: a long diorama that reproduced the scenes from the scroll with moving images of people and animals that strove to bring to life just what things were like in the China of yore. Here is my attempt at capturing the scene (and the crowds):
Fortunately, there are better-quality clips to be found on YouTube:
Eventually we made our way out of the exhibition room, and filled our famished stomachs on thoroughly unhealthy but extremely satisfying fried food stand grub. "The River of Wisdom" was fascinating to see, but was it worth the time and crowds? Unless you're a true Sinophile, I'd have to say no. Although the crowd was pretty well-behaved by Taiwanese standards, it was still hard to appreciate the spectacle, not to mention all the small details, over the loud din, while trying not to bump into, or get bumped by, other visitors. The light show created by all the digital cameras and cell phones was also a distraction, though I have to admit I was as guilty as everyone else in this regard. Perhaps if "The River of Wisdom" were a permanent fixture, and not a temporary exhibition, there would the space to walk slowly along the long diorama and really take in what all the figures on the screen are doing. But here in the cultural wasteland of central Taiwan, you have to take advantage of the few opportunities that come your way, even if it means having to plunge headfirst into a sea of humanity.
Having gained wisdom, we strolled over to the HSR Station, where Amber was excited to see a couple of trains pull out, as well as to have the chance to run around on the lawn outside:
My wife, being a true Taiwanese, then suggested we go back to Fengyuan (Fēngyuán) 豐原 in order to do some shopping at the T'aip'ingyang Department Store 太平洋百貨公司 there - apparently, her daily horde quota hadn't been satisfied at "The River of Wisdom" exhibition. After making a few purchases, she suggested having dinner in Miaotung 廟東夜市, a "food street" that is Fengyuan's only claim to fame in Taiwan:
Which just goes to show that in Taiwan, you can never have enough elbows to rub while you're out and about. And as if to prove the point, on the way home, we passed by, you guessed it, another throng of people, this time listening to a campaign speech by a candidate for the Legislative Yuän 立法院, whose image on a video screen I was able to grab as we drove by:
The candidate, Jacky Chen 陳清龍, is running as an independent, but he has received the backing of the People First Party 親民黨. This explains why I was able to get a glimpse of the leader of the PFP (and candidate for president in the Jan. 14 elections), James Soong 宋楚瑜, standing on the stage as our car passed by.