March 31, 2011

Floral capital

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I had a free day in Taipei today, and finally had the chance to visit the 2010 Taipei International Flora Exposition today, some 5 months after the expo opened.  My last few trips back home had always involved weekends and public holidays, which are never the best times to visit expos unless one wishes to fight the crowds and line up for hours.

Upon entering the grounds, I lined up to get into the EXPO Dome (爭艷舘) as it seemed the logical first stop.  There was a long line and it took me a while to get inside.  Unfortunately this was a pretty big waste of time.  I wasn't impressed at all with what was inside - there was too little and mostly of poor quality.  I did appreciate a couple of set-ups where they tried to show people some environmentally-friendly way of beautifying the concrete jungles we live in.  I walked through the building in a hurry, not wanting to stick around.

My goal today was to photograph beautiful and exotic flowers, so I put my telephoto lens to work, along with the close-up attachment to get me in real close.  It's been a few years since I last had the opportunity to use the close-up filter...  Anyway, I spent a long time walking around trying to find the flowers which were blooming perfectly, being patient not just looking for the perfect specimens, but waiting till the breeze died down so there was minimal shake.

I really enjoyed some of the different gardens put together by various countries.  While some of the Southeast Asian nations simply showcased typical gardens (庭園) with vegetation, water and gazebos - without much floral presence, I much preferred the flower gardens (花園) which provided us with lot of beautiful colors.  I especially enjoyed strolling through the spaces designed by the Netherlands, Bhutan and the Royal Horticultural Society, where they have taken pains to label all the different species on display.

Then there was the Omani fort... which looked as cheezy as the Greek temple or the Thai royal barge... but all was forgiven when I saw the humongous and stunning rose garden in front of the fort.  Most of these beauties were in full bloom, and I was completely dazzled. I honestly don't remember seeing any roses on my trip to Oman in 2007, but the Sultan does love his flowers and they were everywhere in Muscat.

I did line up again to get inside the Pavilion of Regimen (養生舘), with its display of rare and old bonsai.  Pretty amazing to gaze as a bunch of manicured old trees, starting at 70 years and all older than me.  The really big one outside is estimated to be 550 years old...

The Pavilion of Future (未來舘) was my final stop at a pavilion, and turned out to be well worth the time spent in line.  It houses different types of rare and exotic plants from around the world, starting with ones from the tropics.  As one starts to move up from the ground level, the visitor enters the realm of "meaty" plants like cacti, followed by plants from more temperate zones and eventually alpine climates - with corresponding drops in temperature.

Although there were clearly parts of the expo that I found less-than-impressive, this was actually  more enjoyable than I expected.  Not having been to a flora expo before, I actually came to appreciate the enormous difficulty of putting one together.  After all, this isn't like visiting your local florist where they display the freshest flowers from all over the world just as they bloom.

Different types of flowers will bloom at different times of the year, and even then the timing will vary depending on the fluctuation in temperature.  Each flower also has a limited amount of time during which it is in bloom.  Now imagine trying to put together a flower bed composed to 10 different types of flowers, and wanting all of them to be in full bloom together, for as long as possible... One can have a sense of how difficult this could be, and how each exhibitor needs to constantly replace wilted flowers so that its display does not appear lifeless.

It's a shame I waited this long to come see the expo.  With less than a month to go, I guess my chance for a return visit will be pretty slim...

P.S. A gripe I have about the expo relates to areas where the organizers could have improved in terms of being environmentally-friendly.  Due to the large amount of trash generated on a daily basis - especially from the need to serve thousands of meals and drinks - there are numerous trash receptors placed on the grounds.  However I discovered that many of these receptors are placed directly in front of recycling bins, which made it inconvenient to recycle trash.

The other issue is with the plastic proximity card used as entry tickets.  While I appreciate that some visitors may wish to keep them as souvenirs, I was among those who did not.  As I did not see any boxes collecting used tickets at the entrance/exit, I walked up to the ticketing booth and offered to return my ticket.  I was then told that these tickets cannot be reprogrammed and reused.  For an expo where several pavilions and numerous displays focused on sustainability and being eco-friendly, this little missing detail seemed pretty ironic...

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