in an effort to start crossing things off my list [because 101 things to do in Taipei is a long one] I took an afternoon trip to the National Palace Museum last week.
a little bit of background: the National Palace Museum houses one of the world's largest - and arguably, the best - collection of Chinese art and antiquities in the world. the collection has caused a bit of controversy over the years, wrapped up in the complicated relationship between Taiwan [Republic of China] and mainland China [People's Republic of China.] when the ROC government left China to establish itself in Taiwan during the Chinese Civil War, they transported several thousand crates of important artifacts with them. the PROC claims that these were stolen, the ROC claims they were taken for protection from the destruction of war. the ROC has indeed kept the collection safe: the National Palace Museum is built like a vault, with storage going deep into the side of a mountain.
history lessons aside, my neighborhood is just on the other side of the mountain from this fortress filled with priceless artifacts. relations between Taiwan and China have been much improved in the last 60 years, but let me just say that I know I probably live in one of the safest areas of Taiwan.
you'll soon notice that I have no photos from inside the museum - because they are not allowed. anywhere. I had to content myself with exterior shots [while dodging selfie sticks and featuring prominently in the back of several people's photos] and a stroll through the adjoining Zhishan Gardens.
the gardens were full of winding pathways, ponds and streams, and covered wooden structures. not many flowers - but still a great escape from the crowds inside the museum when you need a breath of fresh air.
the upside to not allowing photos inside the museum: it forces you to simply enjoy and appreciate the artwork. the downside for blog readers: you'll just have to imagine the gorgeous calligraphy and intricate carvings. there were plenty of paintings and pottery as well, all strictly Chinese in origin. I was sorely tempted to break the rules when I walked into the exhibit in 304 and saw the display wall: tiny boxes of light, each with a small jade carving inside.
but if I start breaking the rules, then who's to keep the tour groups from following suit? their leaders - speaking softly into microphones while waving tall red flags - were having a hard enough time keeping everyone in line.
a few of the more interesting things I discovered inside the museum: an incredible calligraphy piece which turned out to be poem about eating crabs, a tiny jade carving appropriately named "dragon roaming among flowers" and the strangest of all - a man sitting on a bench, trimming his face with an electric razor. [not an exhibit, an actual man.]
image via Taiwan Today
but by far, the most popular item in this museum is one entitled "jadeite cabbage with insects." can we take a moment here to just love how quirky Taiwan is that this - cabbage - is their most valued artifact? and that brown bit in the background is the "meat-shaped stone" which is essentially a carving of a hunk of pork belly. Taiwan loves food, and I love Taiwan.
look no further than the gift shop for evidence of the obsession - I have never seen so many cabbages in my life. they have everything from notebooks and necklaces to wine bottle stoppers and phone cases, and every kind of keychain or magnet or figurine you could ever imagine... all decorated with or in the shape of this cabbage. my absolute favorite [because it was so over the top] was the umbrella. yes, an umbrella that is made to look like this jade carving when it is collapsed and wrapped up.
I know... I totally should have bought one.
I know... I totally should have bought one.
I may not have photos from the interior [or a cabbage umbrella] but I still enjoyed my visit to the Palace Museum. it's definitely worth a visit if you have interest in Chinese art - and worth revisiting when they shuffle the collection every few months.
admission to the museum, including the gardens, is 250NT [less than $8 US.] you can reach the National Palace Museum from the Shilin MRT stop by taking a short cab ride or hopping the R30 bus. I would highly advise visiting on a weekday morning. crowds during weekend afternoons can be crushing. bring your zeal for jade cavings and cabbage, and enjoy!