I’m a week behind in blogging about interesting things I’ve done in Taipei. That is what happens when you are both busy and lazy! The busier I get, the lazier I am. Anyway, last Wednesday my teacher took my class out to the National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院, or Gúolì Gùgōng Bówùyùan, or just Gùgōng), after which we paid a visit to the mother of all night markets (夜市, or yè shì), Shilin Night Market.

At the National Palace Museum, we looked at many beautiful examples of calligraphy and watercolor from the mid- to late Qing Dynasty and viewed gorgeous curios, including a little boat with tiny men and microscopic working doors carved from a single olive pit. The main attraction, however, was the famous Jade Cabbage, a realistically-rendered bok choy carved from a slightly-later-than fist-sized chunk of the stone (photo from here):

I spent several minutes gazing at the cabbage, along with several other curious museum-goers. I admired the jade, which turns from grayish-white to dark forest green, and the ingenuity of the carver in using the natural colors of the jade to perfectly mimic the different shades of green in a bok choy. I gazed upon the translucent, unfurling leaves, which must have been hard to capture so delicately in so hard a stone. Mostly, however, I wondered how the hell did a jade cabbage become the hallmark exhibit of a museum that houses the largest collection of art in the world from one of the greatest civilizations human history has ever known? What brilliant PR person thought this up? What kind of genius marketing team managed to create the cult of the jade bok choy?

In a July article, Wall Street Journal reporter Leslie Hook explained the mystique and artistry of the precious veggie:

“This simple cabbage is a masterpiece first because it stands apart from a long tradition of idealized perfection in jade carving. A jade masterwork is typically flawless, cut from a stone without cracks or variations in color. The piece of jadeite from which the cabbage is carved, however, is not only fraught with cracks but also boasts cloudy, opaque patches, which are visible in the white part of the cabbage’s stalk…

“…under the bright lights, the artist’s genius is in full flower. Rather than let the stone’s flaws be a deterrent, the artist worked them masterfully into his design, using cracks in the jade as leaf edges. The jade’s “cloudy” patches, where the white stone is less translucent, mimics the way that frost can change the texture of a vegetable after freezing, explains Chang Lituan, the curator of the collection. The sculptor also incorporated the natural variations in the color of the stone, which ranges from a translucent white to a rich green, into the design, achieving a remarkable realism.”

The jade cabbage is displayed in the same room as another one of the National Palace Museum’s signature pieces, the meat-shaped stone, a large piece of agate that was carved to resemble a chunk of fatty pork. When I last visited the museum in December, it was being renovated and the jade cabbage and meat-shaped stone were displayed in the same case. Now they are separated, which I kind of find disappointing. Put them together, throw in some noodles and you have yourself a nice lunch.

I don’t want you to think, however, that I’m hating on the jade cabbage. Not at all! In fact, I later went to the museum’s gift shop and purchased a jade cabbage keychain, a jade cabbage postcard and a business card holder with one of those little changing pictures that switches between an image of a jade vase and–guess what–the jade cabbage.

Here are a few more pictures from our visit to the museum:

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Some of my classmates in front of the museum (our teacher is in the baseball hat and sunglasses).

Some of my classmates at Shida
Here is 5/8ths of the class in the museum: Florence, me, Maggie, Amy and Jon

Afterwards, we went to Shilin Night Market, which is divided into two sections. The food section is housed in a covered structure next to the Jiantan MRT station. Basically, you walk in one end, and walk out the other several pounds heavier and with a few millimeters more of fat clogging your arteries. The food market has rows upon rows of stalls selling every kind of meat, vegetable, fruit, carb, sweet and drink you can imagine, mostly deep-fried.

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This is just one aisle in the market and it’s not jam-packed because we went on a weeknight.

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This is a pretty typical drink-stand menu. I can’t read most of the characters yet, but I bet it says something like “sugar, sugar, sugar, water, syrup, jelly, sugar, fruit, sugar, cream, sugar, sugar water, sugar, water, cream, soda.”

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Mmm… sausage.

The other part of the market is outdoors, and features streets filled with stalls and stores selling everything from name-brand sneakers and watches to bargain-rate trendy dresses (some of them really quite cute) and dried fruit. We saw this store, which at first I thought was a cosplay outfit purveyor:

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On closer inspection, however, I realized that it was more of a coshos store. There was some pretty raunchy lingerie in there, but I couldn’t take any more pictures because the guy in the lower left-hand corner shoo’ed us away.

We took respite from the heat in a snow ice parlor. Snow ice is similar to shaved ice, but unlike shaved ice, which resembles a giant snow cone in a bowl, it is shaved in long, thin sheets from a block of milk-ice and has a nice, light creamy texture.

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I have no idea what was more awesome, the delicious snow ice or the parlor’s intriguing decor (photo by my classmate Maggie):