Thursday 20 October 2011

CKS Official Residence

On my last morning in Taipei, I decided to spend the time I had before my flight, visiting Chaing Kai-Shek's official residence. Chaing Kai-Shek was President of the Republic of China for 26 years. His Official residence in Taipei was situated just outside Taipei city centre. Here is my little story of my visit to the Official Presidential residence and gardens.

Emerging from the Shilin MRT station (exit 2) Taipei city centre feels a world away. Large open boulevards, sans cars sweep in both directions and the mid morning sun's rays glisten off of 2 or 3 storey buildings. Turning left, a big dark cloud in the distance threatens the peace and calm of the sunny day.

Following the signs along a small hutong (alleyway) and over a zebra crossing, heading further from the buildings towards the green of trees and mountains I realise why CKS chose this location for his Official residence. Soon the modest sign for the CHK park comes into view:

A small collection of elderly Taiwanese stand together practising TaiChi in front of small boards detailing a small atrocity ignored by the government. I cannot read any of the Chinese (traditional characters), but the pictures document official looking foreign and oriental dignitaries at meetings, alongside pictures of victims with terrible wounds and burns.

Continuing into the gardens, past a small cafe playing old Chinese love songs, I can see gardeners in each part of the park, planting, watering or pruning the plants. They are all past working age and presumably volunteers. This pride in their country and it's upkeep is something I greatly admire about the Chinese, Taiwanese and Koreans. In the UK these jobs would probably be carried out by hard working eastern Europeans, paid a pittance. 

It is september, the heat is bearing down still, and the gardens are mostly wilting. Autumn's hardy plants are being bedded in. I pass a sign for the western and eastern garden but continue on looking for the Official residence. Upon arrival, I am asked to wait 两分 (2 minutes) before entering through the gates and again waiting (this time 三分 - 3 mins). I am handed an official leaflet along with a computer printout of information in English, before being approached by an older Taiwanese lady who enquires, in mandarin whether I can speak it. I reply, as usual, '一点点,' only very little. She then begins speaking in near perfect English and I realise there will be no problem communicating. 

She takes me through the front door, past about 10 young other guides/staff, who presumably don't have the confidence in English to take me around themselves. As my friendly guide takes me through into the first reception room, we are followed at a small distance by the fascinated younger staff.

No photography is allowed inside the building, so I'll just describe what I saw, and was told.

1. Vesibule.

In this room, there are 4 paintings on the wall. They are (replicas) of Madame Chiang's (Soong Mei-Ling) work. This is the room where guests (often Foreign dignitaries) waited upon their visit to the house. Further into the room, my guide points out a heating/cooling unit on the wall. She says this is typical of an American Style. It looks rather old fashioned to me, but I nod along smiling. I can only assume she knows more than me and that is true.

She also points out one of the many fireplaces within the ground floor of the house. Something, which those acquainted with the Taiwanese climate, she says, find astonishing. It is unusual to have a fireplace here because it is never particularly cold. She speculates that the reason could be Chiang's advanced age when he lived here, or the location of the house, surrounded by mountains.

2. Small living room.

Here Chiang once entertained Eisenhower and Nixon (Tricky Dicky 3 times - "Maybe he wanted to live here!"). A small round table, housing three seats underneath, is where President Chiang played games with any children who visited.

3. Banquet Hall.

A modest sized dining room, despite it's grand name. Here there was a long rectangular, and another small round table. The Chiangs liked to sit in the centre of the long table when entertaining, to be able to speak to their guests more easily. The small table was for more intimate dinners between the two of them.

4. Large living room.

The large living room has two sets of furniture, suitable for both Western and Eastern visitors. Madame Chiang's original artwork survives to this day upon the wall and a picture of CKS's mother hangs above the fireplace.

We pass a set of Chinese chess, and she asks if I know how to play. I say no, but knowing what her reaction will be, I tell her I can play mahjong, which is not a complete lie as I have played on a few occasions before. This has the desired effect and she then asks if I am "美国人?" (American). "英国人" (British) I tell her. She's interested in my year in China, and tells me that she lived in New York. We are now getting on pretty well, and chat some more about mainland China.

I wasn't able to visit the upstairs of the house, which I was pretty gutted about, so I missed: President Chiang's first and second dens, Madame Chiang's bedroom, studio and study, another dining room and President Chiang's study. 

After my tour of the house was complete I left to photograph the outside of the residence, and wander a little more around the gardens.

Madame Chiang's car

The outside of the house
The best picture I could get of the flag

Quit bugging me
Bedding in the hardier Autumn plants
Mountains in the background
Roses of course
The western garden. Plants in jeans. As you do.

On yer bike
The Eastern garden gate
The victory chapel. The Chiang's place of worship

The victory chapel continues to host Christian worship services today, which in the past were attended by Eisenhower and Nixon. It is also where Chiang Hsiao-Yung (CKS's grandson) and Chiang Hsiao-Kang (CKS's adopted son's son) were married.

A Chinese greenhouse

Last remaining blooms

President and Madam Chiang
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1 comment:

  1. Love the photos and your descriptions. You really bring it all to life, I think you should write a book when you get back!