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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Evergreen Maritime Museum

Finding an entry ticket for Taipei's maritime museum as a bookmark reminded me that I haven't written a post about this amazing, little-known maritime museum, tucked away in a city suburb well away from the sea.  There was a great deal that was marvelous about this find, and a few things that were mysterious.

First was the entrance gate.

"Evergreen" seemed such an odd name for a maritime museum, but then I forgot this for the moment, as we went into the truly amazing ground floor.

This is looking down on it from above.  Though it is dominated by an enormous model of a dhow, the vessels around it grab the attention.  First, there is a Lanya canoe (indigenous Formosan), complete with equipment

Based on a dugout keel, this carvel-built canoe was made on Orchid Island (Lan Yu), off the southeast coast of Taiwan. The natives who build in this style are Taos, an aboriginal tribe predating the Han Chinese who mostly populate Taiwan now.  This specimen consists of 27 pieces of wood, with four tiers of strakes surmounting the keel -- according to what I learned at the Aboriginal Museum (near the famous National Palace Museum), this means that it is crewed by four paddlers. Both bow and stern are raised, but appeared to me to be identical, though there were eyes painted at one end. The decorations are most impressive, representing waves, and -- I was told -- ancestral images.  No outrigger -- which I find fascinating, when it is considered that the Austronesian migration that populated the Pacific came from Taiwan, 5000 years ago.

Elsewhere in this grand foyer are the huge model of a dhow, three models of gunboats, and an exhibit dedicated to the great admiral Zheng He, who led an expedition to the Indian Ocean 1405-1433 AD.

As well as a model of his treasure ship, there are warrior-type models of Zheng He flanked by two military officers. 

Cameras were banned in the higher floors, but of course we wanted to explore.  After buying a ticket for 100 New Taiwan Dollars (about $3 US, the whole of which goes to charity), we put away our cameras and took an elevator to the fifth floor, as instructed.  This was dedicated to the History of Ships -- but to our surprise, the wonderful models were all of European ships.  

The fourth floor had another great display of models -- of ocean liners, 20th century war ships -- and modern cargo ships, where I found out why the museum is called "Evergreen."  The cargo ships were all container ships, owned by .. guess what ... the Evergreen Company, the sponsor of this wonderful maritime museum. 

As the brochure told me, the Evergreen Maritime Museum was founded by the Chairman and Founder of the Evergreen group, Dr. Y. F. Chang, who supplied most of the artifacts, and gave it a place in the Chang Yung-Fa Foundation building. So, it is understandable that there should be a generous space devoted to Evergreen container ships.  There were some great interactive displays, where I found out more about loading, sailing, and docking a huge container ship than I ever expected to learn. 

For a historian, the third floor was even more interesting, as it focused on Taiwan and the sea, covering the East India Company, the opium trade, and the story of Taiwan's prominence in modern maritime trade -- from the point of view of Evergreen, of course.

The third floor held another surprise -- an exhibit called The World of Maritime Paintings ... mostly European maritime paintings. There was even one by Geoff Hunt, who created the covers of the Patrick O'Brian series.  Interestingly, though, there were also many pierhead paintings -- ship portraits made to order for clipper ship captains -- or created in the hope that they would buy them. While the artists were not named, they were probably Chinese.

And so down to the mezzanine, overlooking the magnificent display on the ground floor.  Not many exhibits there, except a case that held, rather touchingly, models and wreaths made by crew of the various Evergreen container ships, labelled -- somewhat to my surprise -- as "Sailor Scrimshaw."

Oh well, never mind.  It was a great experience, highly recommended.  Taipei is indeed a city of surprises.

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