That's It, Ladies and Gentleman. And now, Q&A.
I think I am just about ready to go home--my interest in getting out and actually doing things seems to be fading away dangerously. Yesterday I found myself watching a Korean infomercial I could understand about six words of, rather than leave my hotel room (I did leave eventually, and have an excellent evening meal of snails and mussels). So this will probably be the end of my regular updates.
However, I think it might be interesting to answer some of the questions the readers (if any) of this journal might have. Email questions to email@example.com over the next three or four days, and I'll post a final message later with some answers.
After arriving in Taipei on July 26, I found the place more similar to the mainland than I had expected. Or at least more similar to the richer coastal southern parts. One big difference was the motor scooters, which are absolutely everywhere, including the sidewalks, often parked in masses I found difficult to get around. I only averaged one near-miss encounter with a scooter per day, which was less than I had expected.
The unsimplified traditional Chinese characters were instantly recognizable, which surprised me since I didn't learn very many of the simplified Commie ones from the mainland. In Hong Kong and Macao there are some signs with the more complex traditional characters, but in Taiwan they were all like that.
However, the old Wade-Giles transliterations were not always used in Taiwan, with some signs having the pinyin instead. Actually, there seemed to be multiple transliteration schemes in use, and sometimes the same street (with the same name in Chinese characters) would have differently transliterated signs at different points along its length.
One of my principal reasons for going to Taipei was to see the National Palace Museum. This museum has easily the best collection of Chinese art in the world, containing all the best stuff from the emperors' art collection in the Forbidden City. The collection was moved out of Beijing in the early 1930s to keep it from the Japanese, and then a selection was moved to Taiwan in the last days before the fall of the mainland Nationalist regime in 1949. There definitely are some gaps (regional art schools, archaeological discoveries since the 1930s, items from China's more politically divided eras), but it still represents the best efforts of over 1000 years of art connoisseurship. Every hall contains at least five or six items that would be the pride of a whole museum of Asian art anywhere else in the world.
The museum is undergoing renovation, and only about half of the displays were open. I guess the rooms for the paintings are more difficult to build, since only a few paintings were on display. But the ceramics, jade, carved wood and ivory, and books were well worth the admission. The whole museum is supposed to be open by the end of the year. Definitely see it if you get the chance.
It's hard to single out one item among the dozens of amazing pieces there, but I'd say I was most impressed by a set of miniature ivory baskets. Each basket (with a connected chain) was carved from a single piece of ivory. There were ten of them, with the nine smaller baskets able to nest into the largest. And the biggest one was only about an inch wide, 1.5 inches long, and maybe half an inch high (or circa 2.5cm x 4cm x 1cm, for metric types).
If a trip to Taiwan isn't in your immediate future, you can see some of the collection at the museum's website (be sure you have a fast connection).
Chiang Kai-Shek's memorial in the middle of Taipei is also worth a visit. I found it very similar to the Ataturk mausoleum and I wonder if that was deliberate. The mannequin of Chiang in his recreated office was not as lifelike as Ataturk, though. The office's maps and globe had interesting borders for the Republic of China, including all of Mongolia and bits of India and Soviet Central Asia. Chiang was evidently a Cadillac man; he had one from 1955 and one from 1972, both black sedans.
Chiang also liked medals. He got military honors from most of the WWII allies, and from various anti-communist Latin American states later, and he also gave himself a new medal every year or so. The Latin American medals were definitely the most impressive-looking.
While in Taipei I also visited the currently tallest building in the world, Taipei 101. It will only hold the record for another year or so before a building in Dubai overtakes it. The observation deck is probably the best one I've seen, with awesome views in all directions, and a very informative audioguide included in the admission charge. You can also see one of the mass dampers, which keep the building from swaying much, even in strong winds.
And from Taiwan I went to Seoul, by way of Hong Kong. On the way from Hong Kong to Korea I ended up flying over the same airport in Taiwan that I had left in the morning. Landing in Hong Kong was one of the minor miracles we are all so used to nowadays--the plane came down out of thick clouds with a visibility ceiling of maybe 100 yards, ending up exactly at the end of the runway and bumping no more than usual.
In Korea I felt at once at home after having been in China--being able to read street signs, even if I have no idea what they mean, is apparently very comforting to me.
I hope at least a few people have found this journal interesting or entertaining, and I know that writing it has definitely added to my enjoyment of the trip. Thanks again to Pijus for handling all the technical stuff--I'd never have tried to do it on my own.