Monday: A-Bei and A-Um decided to take us exploring the countryside on Monday. We visited two markets that are popular places to go on the weekends. One area had a suspension bridge over a river that ran from the mountains. It was a beautiful area, being surrounded by the green mountains. Apparently, it’s a great place for people to hang out by the river and barbeque. We then went to the site of the largest deity I had ever seen! It is still under construction, but the statue is essentially finished. We will have to post pictures when we get back, it’s pretty incredible. We also got to see a 300-year-old temple, we didn’t take any pictures of the inside but the intricate carvings on the pillars were magnificent. Every time I walk into one of these old temples, I am just awed by the history, culture and tradition of Taiwan.
Wednesday – This was our first bus ride into Taipei. We were actually staying the night in the city because the funeral was on Thursday. Once we arrived to Taipei, we went directly to the Tzu Chi Hospital, where a monk led us through another prayer service to help my father in the afterlife. When the service was over, we walked out of the room to be greeted by three or four police officers, guarding one of the rooms. I happened to look inside the room as we walked by and there was a body covered by a sheet on a gurney. Hmmm, didn’t know what that was about and didn’t think anything of it until later that night when we saw on the news that a Taipei councilman had been shot five times by a lone gunman and killed and his body was transported to the Tzu Chi Hospital! Holy crap, that’s crazy! And as of now, he has not been caught. All that they have to go on is a surveillance video taken of the suspect leaving on a moped.
Thursday – I really won’t go into the details about the funeral. I will mention that the funeral was a traditional Buddhist funeral, a lot of bowing, kneeling, chanting, incense burning and chanting. This was the first Chinese funeral I had ever been to and it was emotionally and physically exhausting. After it was all said and done, we went back to my aunt and uncle’s house to rest before heading back to Hsinchu. While there, with Yuejing (aka Sau Sau, A Um’s oldest son’s wife – cousin-in-law for those of you keeping score at home) took Bob and me to the Shilin Night Market (Taiwan’s largest and most famous night market) to look around. It was incredible, the amount of people and food and stores. A couple of streets are shut down every night for this night market. We didn’t stay very long so I will definitely have to go back before I return to St. Louis.
Friday – Friday was a relaxing day. We slept in, did some laundry, read books and tried to relax. In the evening though, we went out to dinner with A Bei, A Um, Uncle Simon, Cousin Steve, his wife Yuling, and their three adorable kids. The dinner was a traditional 10-course meal, and Uncle Simon and Bob got into some of the local Taiwan Beer. It’s capitalized, because it’s actually called “Taiwan Beer”. There are two varieties, and Bob liked both very much. He said they are halfway between Budweiser and Heineken in terms of flavor. The only problem is that Uncle Simon, still jetlagged, could not keep up with Bob, although he tried, valiantly. It proved to be his undoing. After the meal, Bob, Chris and I went over to Cousin Steve’s house to chat and check email.
Saturday – Chris, Bob, Uncle Simon and I woke up early and took the bus to Tzu Chi, where we began the journey of transporting my father’s remains to Yang-mei, a Buddhist mausoleum. Again, it was a long, complicated, and emotionally draining experience. After we left Yang-mei, Chris and Uncle Simon went back to Hsinchu while Bob and I went with Sau Sau back to Taipei where we checked into a hotel that was adjacent to the Living Mall. The three of us explored the huge mall, and had a good time doing it. The defining feature is a round building that the rest of the mall is wrapped around which contains the main department store. After that, Sau Sau left us, and we went to dinner with the 4th Aunt (Si Gu Gu) and Uncle, and their children and grandchildren. Again, we had a splendid traditional meal with many exquisite courses. Cousin Richard had brought out for the occasion an aged bottle of Kaoliang, and Bob found it much to his liking. We returned to the hotel to rest up for tomorrow, it was going to be a busy day…
Sunday – After checking out of the hotel, Cousin Steve and family, who had been in Taipei for a concert the previous night picked us up, and we went first to the National Palace. This museum, which we had stopped by briefly before but not gone in, houses some of the oldest and most spectacular artifacts of Chinese history. The most famous piece was the jade cabbage, a piece of jade sculpted to look like some cabbage. Combined with the second most famous piece, the “meat stone” (unsurprisingly, a piece of rare stone carved to look like meat), and you start to get the idea that Chinese sculptors might not have been very well fed. Food was always on their minds! Speaking of food, we had some snack and a tea service in the restaurant at the Palace and heard a woman playing some traditional Chinese music. After lunch, we journeyed back to downtown Taipei to the tallest building in the world (for now), Taipei 101. We rode the world’s fastest elevators to the observation deck where we could see the entire city. It was awesome. After a good bit of picture taking and listening to the free audio tours (in English, no less!), we returned to earth and toured the mall that takes us the bottom six or seven floors of the building. We ate dinner at the snack street there – we had Chinese food, while the kids jumped at the chance for KFC, naturally. After dinner, we took leave of Taipei 101 and went down the street to Eslite Bookstore. It was basically a six story department store except for books and things related to books. Totally awesome. After that, we returned to Hsinchu and promptly went to bed. It had been a long day, but a fun one, and we were quite tired.
Monday – We slept in and relaxed for the morning. In the afternoon, we met us with my Mom’s siblings and went to rent bicycles and tour the park areas along the Taiwan Strait. Of course, this being Taiwan, these were no normal bicycles. Bob and I snagged a tandem bike, my sister got a low-rider cruiser bike (would have looked right at home in South Central) and the adults crammed into a six person pedal-powered carriage. The path we took wound through some quiet woods before opening up to the Strait (really, the part of the Pacific Ocean that separates Taiwan from Mainland China) and it was really beautiful. Bob took interest in the assorted armaments that must have been put in place to discourage the Communists from invading the island, but we all agreed that the sea was quite nice. There was a strong breeze, which kept us cool (if a little sandblasted) and it was a nice bike ride. Upon returning the rentals, we met a group of my mother’s siblings’ friends at a local restaurant for a (you guessed it) 10-course traditional Chinese dinner! Again, the food was excellent, and they were all impressed with Bob’s chopstick skills.
Which brings us to today. We actually haven’t done much these past two days, just passing time and trying not to suffocate from the heat and humidity. How does a country that excels at making electronics/computers not be able to figure out central air for the home? I just don’t get it.