Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Preserving the Maritime Past

One of the Evergreen Maritime Museum's goals is to teach visitors about the importance of Taiwan's nautical history and how it relates to that of mainland China and the rest of the world.

In some of the most moving scenes of Cape No.7, the domestically made movie that dominated local box offices in 2008, a Japanese man departs aboard an ocean liner, never to see his Taiwanese girlfriend again. Set at the end of World War II, the scenes offer a reminder of an era when ships provided Taiwan's main connection to the rest of the world. The lyrics of many of the popular songs of the time also reflect the emotion of this scene from the movie, expressing the sentiments of women lingering at piers, longing to see husbands or boyfriends who have yet to return from a voyage at sea.

Visitors to the Evergreen Maritime Museum (EMM) in Taipei are able to recapture some of this rich nautical history as they learn about Taiwan's--and the world's--long, intimate connection with the sea. Through its displays and exhibitions, the museum illustrates how Taiwan's history is intertwined with the ocean and educates visitors about the important role that today's shipping industry plays in Taiwan's export-oriented economy.

Located in downtown Taipei, the museum is housed in the building that served as the former headquarters of the Kuomintang--the present ruling party. The building was purchased by the Evergreen Maritime Museum Cultural and Educational Foundation in 2006. Surrounded as it is by important offices of the central government and located in Taiwan's administrative center, the museum offers visitors a respite from the area's prevailing ambience of political solemnity.

The exterior of the museum is unremarkable and as there is no clear sign indicating its presence, some visitors are even forced to ask traffic police for directions. However, once they venture inside, visitors are enveloped in an atmosphere more of the sea than of the land, as the museum's interior is decorated with many of the features found on ships. There are round portholes for windows, three levels of white painted "decks," buoys and masts festooned with the flags of seafaring nations from around the world.

With a floor area of 9,000 square meters, the EMM is the largest maritime museum in Taiwan. Its primary holdings consist of marine artifacts, models and maps, most of which were collected by Chang Yung-fa, the chairman and founder of the Evergreen Group, Taiwan's largest transportation conglomerate. Chang worked his way up through the ranks of local shipping companies to become a captain before going on to found Evergreen in 1968. In order to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Evergreen Group, the museum opened its doors in 2008, with Chang donating more than 4,000 items to its collections.

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