10/26 Make Me One With Everything
Before proceeding further, I should send a picture of Stephen Chen, who has been our chief guide and organizer of the ride; he looks far more formidable in his cycle gear:
To pick up our thread, the exhausted troops slept in and rose late to savor a succulent breakfast, 5-star Taiwan hotel style buffet. Afterwards came the opening of bike boxes and a bike assembly bonding experience. Stephen Chen arrived at 10:30 to take us around to some Taipei City touristic attractions, starting with an open-air market two or three blocks long and wide, featuring every imaginable — and some unimaginable — varieties of meat and fish and vegetables in the most splendid displays.
We tarried for an couple hours, tasting and gawking, and completed our tour with glasses of fresh squeezed juice from sugar cane. Excellent.
And now it was time to cross the street and enter one of the literally hundreds of temples found all over Taipei. This one is Taoist, and like all other temples of this kind, it is decorated with fancy tiled roof lines and elaborate ceramic creatures like these resplendent dragons:
There is much to learn about Taoist beliefs, and we all moved through the stages of honoring one or another of the gods, bowing and lighting incense to help get our wishes in good position for fulfillment. The first things to do is to identify yourself, your age and where you are from, and then get your wish out front. This will help the god know who’s asking and where to make the gift. It’s all done silently, mercifully. Still, I gave a false name, just to be on the safe side.
Just down the street, also by the market, was a Confucian temple, much more reserved by way of decoration, but unmistakably a place to pray for wishes — often wishes connected with academic success of one kind or another. Wisdom wishes…perhaps too familiar!:
After such sights and sounds and smells we were running out of gas, so Stephen dropped us off at an indoor food court serving all manner of traditional Taiwanese cuisine.
Having fed ourselves fat on delicious local food, we headed towards one of the famous tourist meccas of Taipei — the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial, a gigantic architectural structure that appears to be a cross between a religious temple and the Lincoln Monument, complete with a thirty five foot statue of a seated Chiang Kai-Shek.
Below the steps (89 in all, like the number of years he lived) is a vast paved square, with an elaborate theater building on one side and a Music Auditorium on the other.
Our public day was now over and we returned to our hotel, resting up for dinner, which Stephen Chen had arranged at a small restaurant nearby which happened to belong to a friend of his. There we would meet his team of five assistants and were told to expect some live entertainment from a talented pair of musicians. The restaurant owner had cleared his whole lower floor for us and began to serve the meal, which I can only describe as an Asian fondue, with vegetables and meat and fish and tofu on platters to put into pots of boiling water.
Little did we know that the talented musicians Stephen had referred to were his own daughters, age 14 and 17, who gave the most charming and guileless performances of singing with guitar accompaniment, and guitar and violin pieces.
The evening, then, ended quite literally on a happy note, and we headed back to the hotel for another good night’s rest. Tomorrow we would get on the bikes at last and see something of Taiwan’s blandishments outside of its main city.