Betel Nuts and Jade Cabbage
letters from Taipei
By: Mark St. Germain - Jan 11, 2017
"Mother" Taipei cuts the crust off your bread, whether you're being served toast or a sandwich. I don't know where the crusts go, there's not another crumb on the plate.
Neatness is essential. There are no napkins. Occasionally, there will be some small squares of thin paper like those put under a bar drink, but that's luxury.
It's probably a good thing. There are no trashcans, so you have to bring whatever trash you have back home or to work, if it's allowed.
Any trip should be leisurely. Lights allow at least 60 seconds for a pedestrian to cross the street. If you feel leisurely, there's no reason to panic when the time gets to single digits. Mother Taipei tacks on another ten-fifteen seconds just in case.
The only people who seemed to be in high gear are taxi drivers, because they literally are.
The first one we had never stopped laughing. He would point to Kate in the mirror and say, "Beautiful Lady", then to me and say, "Handsome Big Brother". When he laughed revealed a black hole where his tongue and teeth would have been.
All day he chews betel nuts. Chewing a single nut is like having six cups of coffee, so you can imagine what chewing them all day produces. There are government warnings about this mind altering habit, but that and the prospect of oral cancer doesn't faze the drivers. They're too busy laughing.
The second driver was more serious, seething when we passed a Chinese Tourist Bus. From there to the National Palace Museum he complained loudly about the Chinese. The only two words we could pick up, partly because he said it dozens of times, was "Thank God!”
We got off at the palace and thanked God.
The Museum is enormous, stuffed with Chinese Antiquities the government refuses to return to China. Someone who went to the Bejing Museum said it felt empty, many cases displaying only their loss.
The biggest draw of the Palace Museum is, brace yourself, the "Jade Cabbage". It's a carving of a small cabbage that people line up for hours to see. Maybe it's the carved bugs on it that are the attraction. We were devastated to find that the Jade Cabbage is off exhibit because they're building a more elegant display for it.
We tried to make do by viewing the "Meat Shaped Stone", which is just what it sounds like. A cube of jade meat.
It's no cabbage.
Maybe our luck would have been better if we first stopped at one of the many Street Shrines. They're in house size buildings, in the back of grocery stores, and visible in people's yards. Flowers and fruit are left as offerings. I didn't see any collection plates.
But speaking of Christianity, despite the country being overwhelmingly Buddhist, the Taiwanese love Christmas. Santa Clauses greet you at the airport, and the holiday's such a favorite that many businesses leave their tree and decorations up all year.
In the park was a large, plastic statue of Jesus surrounded by lambs. Even Jesus couldn't escape the country's cuteness.