Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Taiwan - Last day in Taizhong (pt. 1)

I just found out I had been misspelling almost all of the Chinese words on this blog. As a result, I've probably been pronouncing many of them wrong as well. That's just swell. American tourists look bad enough as it is.

One of my rare gripes about the language in Taiwan is their non-use of the pinyin system. I'm not a fan of their total adherence to traditional characters either. Otherwise, the language is really interesting and fun except for those two details. Some days, those two details can really wreck a day. You can say a lot of things about China, but they were REALLY smart to make the switch to simplified characters.

Anyways, the last day of week two went as follows:

After finishing up the last of our week's work in Dr. Cheng's lab, we went to lunch somewhere nearby the science-museum. Dr. Huang, in one of his more and more prevalent moments of dry humor, had the girls and I thinking that the restaurants around the museum where all pretty upscale and that we would have to eat at McDonalds. The look on Kathryn's face was too delightful for words. We ended up eating at pretty fancy italian place instead, and I actually enjoyed it a lot. Throughout the trip, I've made it my goal to try as much as is safe to do so. Accordingly, I've been a little irritated when Dr. Huang or the others have suggested getting food that we could get back home. It just seems ridiculous to me to travel halfway around the world just to do the same stuff you can do at home. I did manage to get over my frustration though, as it is very interesting to see how other places portray different cultures, almost as much as it is to see the differences between how wrong the common American perceptions of Chinese culture are.

The science museum was definitely the highlight of the day, though the main chocolate exhibit was strangely disappointing. For all the people jostling around trying to see it, the only interesting things on display were the various scultures made out of chocolate, though they were pretty sweet. HaHaHaPUN. Actually, I was sad to find that we were only a llowed to look at the chocolate renditions of the terra cotta warriors or the Taipei 101. Neither were we allowed to eat the dim sum meal that was sculpted out of chocolate. It was very conflicting because the whole place smelled delicious but there was despicably solid plate glass between the displays and my mouth. Adding insult to injury, everything in the gift shop was apparently priced by Persian princes, so I couldn't go the legal route to fulfill the cocoa monkey that had been strapped to my back.

In all seriousness, the chocolate displays were really impressive and inspired. I saw some stuff done with food that I would never have the creativity nor the patience to complete, although that may be because that thought train would go something like: "Hey, I bet I can carve this into something INMYFACE!" ~insert the sound of starving raptors eating birthday cake~

The rest of the museum was much more interesting, partly because the legends on the permanent exhibits were both in English and Chinese, and partly because the displays were six kinds of awesome. I was pretty much floored by the animatronic dinosaurs that greeted me upon entering the main museum. Rating them on my scale of fantasticness, they had a score of three crying children.
It's like the metric system, but understood in the U.S.
I think they should have done better, but I'm not sure the youngsters in the room realized that the robots seemed to react to those around them. I was really expecting one to ask me if I was John Connor. I really like them. My inner nine year-old very much wanted to spend the entire time taunting playing with the dinosaurobots, but I decided that asserting dominants over robotic placeholders of extinct deathdealers was probably not the best example to set for the children that were already scared and confused by my lack of exposure to sunlight and blonde hair.

After glaring menacingly at some uppity velociraptors for next year's christmas card, I moved on to the exhibit of the human body. I'm not sure exhibit is the right word, as the majority of the museum's two top levels were dedicated to explain one aspect of Homo sapiens or another. Whether it was about human development, birth, and even death, the exhibit was astoundingly thorough. It's interesting, because in my use of the word "development", I mean it in the broadest sense possible. For example, the aforementioned T2000's could be seen as part of the human exhibit, as they were part of the evolutionary process that resulted in Neanderthaland and my more distant cousins. I think the one word that really described the exhibit was "thorough." You could start at a display about the origins of life and make your way up the Darwinian path to displays of Egyptian mummification and even cryo-preservation.

That last display scared me a little, mostly because I was under the impression that the only people who were crazy enough to pursue cold storage-based immortality died sometime after World War II. While I can see the benefits of cold-storage for things like space travel, I am a firm believer in death. It's not an issue that really bothers me at all until people try to cheat the system.

For a while I wanted to be a mortician because I thought I would be a good fit for the work given my comfort level. Part of the reason I'm no longer engaged in mortuary science was the realization that many people are vehemently opposed to accepting death as innevitable. It really surprises me how many people go about their lives as if there will always be another day to get their lives in order. Worse yet, just as many people spend enormous amounts of money to prolong the suffering and consequences of a life lived under the impression that tomorrow was soon enough. In a nutshell, my problem was that working as a funeral director would ensure that I eventually had to deal with everyone of those individuals. I couldn't stomach it, and switched.

Another thing that found strange, although not for the reasons you might expect, was the thermal imaging video of a recently deceased person cooling off. As I've said, death is something that bothers me, but I am very aware of how much it bothers others. I was simply surprised to see the cooling video and the artifacts that accompanied it in an otherwise family-friendly museum. 1000 year old mummies (out of their sarcophagi) and Incan burial masks (silver with red paint to symbolize blood – used to try and revive the recently deceased) are not things that would be on pedestals in an American museum. I'm not sure where I stand on the issue.

Too be continued. In the meantime, feel free to let me know what you think about shielding children from things like death.


  1. very intriguing post...

    i must say that i am bothered by death. I am not afraid of it, but it pisses me off - because it is not inevitable. sure, today death is a given, but sooner or later the biological causes for death will be found and countered. I wonder what will happen then... does everyone deserve to live forever, i dont think so. do i? no. i wish though that i could see the day death is put on the shelf.. think about all the geniuses through out time.. most of them had a reassurance near the end of their lives or simply kept getting better all along the way. what if divinci had lived for 700 years.. what would the world be like today? just a thought.

  2. Given enough time, I'm pretty sure Davinci would be the supreme benevolent overlord of Earth, bitterly engaged in conflict with moon-based rebels.

    On a more serious note, I really don't look forward to the day when people's Best-By dates fade away. I think you do have a point, there are some individuals who could do a great deal without the fear of passing on, but I would argue that at least part of what motivated those individuals was their limited time for accomplishment. There isn't a whole lot of reason to pursue perfection today (or ever) when there is an infinite number of tomorrows. Honestly, I think immortality would cheapen life.