National Museum of Taiwan History

I am delighted to offer a review of the  National Museum of Taiwan History (Tainan).
This piece is written by guest blogger Taiwanxifu, an Australian mom now living in Taiwan and blogging about local food and culture.

During a recent visit to Tainan, friends strongly suggested that we visit the newly opened National Museum of History. I was not so keen at first: would this be an overly nationalistic interpretation of Taiwan’s modern day history, I wondered? And would our toddler get bored?

I need not have worried. The visit to the Museum ended up being one of the highlights of our visit. Taiwanxifu Toddler had a ball enjoying all the interactive exhibits, Mr Taiwanxifu reminisced about things he remembered from growing up in Taiwan, I learnt some new things about Taiwan, and yes, we will definitely visit again.

The first thing you notice when you arrive at the newly constructed site in the industrial suburb of Annan is the huge solar powered panels surrounded by a lush water park. The museum is not only committed to preserving Taiwan’s history, but also to sustainability as well. More energetic visitors can climb up behind the panels to observe the view, but we were content to wander around the water-lined pathways to the entrance. When we next visit I will take a picnic lunch so that we can explore the park surrounding the pond behind the Museum. 

Our favourite exhibit was the mock railway trip. Crowded with school children on excursion, we were lucky to get enough spare tickets. The old-fashioned train rocked and swayed as if in motion, passing a cartoon depiction of Taiwan’s recent history – from modern Taipei featuring Taipei 101, to colonial Japanese days with women wearing kimonos, the arrival of Koxinga’s ships attacking the Dutch, and finally through lush fields with indigenous people chasing deer. The children on the train had a wonderful time during the 15 minute slideshow, squealing each time the train lurched during mock bomb raids and spear throws. After the show, the train departed via a ‘tunnel’ that opened through a waterfall into an open-air park featuring oversized sculptures of Taiwan’s indigenous culture and aquatic biodiversity.

The second floor is dedicated to a permanent exhibition about people’s lives in Taiwan – Our Land, Our People: the Story of Taiwan. Wax figures are used to depict various scenes from social history. I loved the statues of a family assembling Christmas lights together. At one time it was common for companies to subcontract out simple production to families. My husband remembers how his family used to make crochet bags together in the early 1980s; to this day his brother can still crochet just as well as any competent grandma. Also on the second floor was an old-fashioned classroom, complete with wooden desks that you could sit on and a sign reminding students not to speak dialects (students were once fined if they spoke Taiwanese at school). And father and son posed in front of a picture of a rickshaw driver: my husband’s grandfather used to pull rickshaws during the Japanese colonial period, beaten more than once for his efforts by humorless soldiers.

The top floor features traveling exhibitions. The current one is about the history of Tainan city. Unfortunately, this exhibit did not include English signage although the permanent exhibitions are well marked. Still, I enjoyed looking at the old maps and antique items from Tainan’s early city. And once I discovered how to play it, took part in the touch-screen virtual temple ‘bai bai’ ritual, where you were allowed to ask for a particular fortune if you chose the right deity to ask.

The Museum opened in October 2011. To celebrate its grand opening entry is free during its first year of opening. Its new building is architecturally interesting, but for visiting families the modern facilities provide conveniences such as adequate lifts, and bathrooms that include breastfeeding spaces, nappy changing areas and even toilets designed for little people.

It is around twenty to thirty minutes from central Tainan (less from the High Speed Rail station), but is unfortunately not well serviced by public transportation. There is a bus service, but it only comes infrequently. But there are adequate car parking spaces so driving is probably the best option unless you go by taxi – the one way fare to Tainan is around NT$300. Museum staff will recommend taxi companies but will not book a taxi pickup service, which may be difficult without functional Chinese.

Website: http://www.nmth.gov.tw/enmain/
Address: No.250, Sec 1, Changhe Rd., Annan District, Tainan City 70946, Taiwan Telephone: +886-6 -3568889


The Museum of World Religion (Particularly Kid's Land)

After years of trying to organise a trip to Yong He and the Museum of World Religions, we finally made it earlier this week.  In retrospect, it's a good thing we waited.  My kids are now old enough to appreciate the main section of the museum as well as the Kid's Land area.  And wow, what a beautiful, inspiring place this museum is!

Now, I'm not a religious person but I do appreciate others' beliefs and spirituality in general.  I found this museum the perfect place to introduce my children to the ideas of others, and to calmly contemplate life, death, and meditation.  My children were enchanted by the models of the places of worship from around the world, and also by the wall where you can leave your handprint and wash your hands in water.

In the main area, you can watch a short video about religion, and at the end, you enter into a chamber that introduces the cycle of life and meditation in different religions and cultures.  I absolutely loved this meditation room.  You can watch a touching video of people of various religions going through their personal meditations.  My children were really taken by this, and have been asking questions about the different people they saw in the presentation.

In addition to the main area, you can pay separately for entry into the Kid's Land area.  When you first walk in, birds flutter above you and make a few noises that may scare little ones to begin with.  The sweet scent of the forest drifts through the room, and animals pop up all around you.  There are many little hidden treasures in the forest.  Beyond the forest is a room with a big toy to climb on, little reading area, and kiddy bathrooms.  We spent an hour playing in there, as the kids' imaginations took off after walking through the magic forest and watching the short video.

For me, the only frustrating thing about going into the museum was the lady who worked out the fee for us.  She asked us where we were from, and as I said "Taiwan", we missed out on what I later realised would have been a 20% discount on tickets.  Also, it took her a few minutes to work out exactly how much it cost us to enter.  But, once we were in, wow, it was just fantastic.

The museum is right next to Sogo, so you can park your car in Sogo carpark for 30NT/hour, and eat lunch in their food court, too.  That department store also has an ESLITE kids' bookstore.

Address:7th floor, No 236, Chungshan Road Section 1, Yungho District, New Taipei City,Taiwan


Animated Chinese Stories for Children

This morning, I recommended some sites on my blog to adult learners as an addition to the traditional textbooks.  I am pretty sure I missed this site, which is used by both of my children's teachers to help their students stay interested in reading and learning Chinese characters.  The characters on each page light up as the reader tells the story.  The books are quite popular and the kind that educators would choose for their children.