Tuesday, May 22, 2007
A few years back, my favorite poet at the time was Adrie Kusserow. At poetry readings for Urban Spaghetti, I always read one or two of her poems, particularly, Hunting Down the Monk. There is a feeling quite like looking deeply into the eye of a bird in Adrie's poetry. I cannot speak or breathe for fear of disturbing the moment, nor can I look away. I learned a lot from her poetry. As an anthropologist, she studied Tibetian Buddhism and wrote about it. Not doubt that influenced my decision to go and stay the night at The Light of Buddha Mountain near Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The monastery is a sprawling temple complex which houses a university, meditation center, lodge and many artifacts. I stayed the night at Pilgrim's Lodge. Foguangshan is apparently the main center for Buddhism in southern Taiwan. I got scolded for photographing something I wasn't supposed to photograph. I'm not entirely sure what it was and I didn't even get a good photo. That's one of the drawbacks to being illiterate.... not knowing what is sacred in the temples. Generally, there are signs that show a camera with the "no-no" circle when photos are not permitted, but here there was no such sign. I tried to photograph the sunset at the top of the mountain in Buddha Land, but the trees limited my view. And what does one think about at sunset while standing amongst nearly 500 identical buddha images looking down the mountain and over southern Taiwan? Many things. But apparently, the wrong things in my case. No, I did not expect to find "enlightment" in any way, nor be inspired to write great poetry. Maybe that was my mistake. The following day I left the monastery a bit more relaxed, but none the wiser.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
From Hualien to Ilan, the scenery is spectacular. Unfortunately, the train went through so many tunnels that I only caught glimpses of the ocean. The mountains are against the edge of the island which means there are sheer drops directly to the ocean.....hence the tunnels. Going this route by car or bus would have given a bit more of a view and a lot more of a thrill. If I were to stay another year here in Taiwan, I would request a transfer to the east coast. It is cleaner, has a cooler temperature, is far less crowded and the traffic is even slightly better. There are more earthquakes, but since the ground is more solidly rock, the earthquakes are felt less than where I live in Chiayi City. For awhile, I considered going ahead and signing a contract for another year here, but I know it would be a mistake. I need to return to the United States. While in Ilan, I visited the Center for Traditional Arts again, mostly to get another look at the puppets. The photos here are from the center. My camera was soon to break down and need repair, so photos are limited. Here, in Ilan County, I tried a soak in a hot springs. That was definitely interesting, though I can't say it cured any ills or rejuvenated the spirit to any great extent. On the top floor of the hotel was an aviary with beautiful and colorful birds. It was dusk when I went there, so the photos are not very clear. I will post one just to give an idea of what it was like.
Monday, May 14, 2007
From Taitung, we took a train up the east coast to Hualien, Taiwan. For this part of the journey, the train went inland, somewhat away from the ocean. I wished I could have gone up the east coast by car. This island holds enormous adventure for those people who do not have to travel by public mass transport. From the very beginning of my time here in Taiwan, I have wished I could have a car and a good map. My scooter is too vulnerable and far too powerless to make any long trip. The east coast is truly incredible. The photographs you will see here do not do the area justice at all. And, only one day was spent in Hualien/Taroko Gorge. I am told the Cross Country Highway is totally breathtaking. "Chicken" that I am, I think I would have to live here for more than one year to get up the courage to travel that route though, as it is a very hazardous highway, especially during rainy season when mudslides are frequent. We stayed at an artist's backpackers hostel close to the train station and had a great family style "Mexican" meal there(prepared by a young surfer dude with a gold tooth) with English speakers. Ha! We even passionately discussed politics and for a few minutes it was almost like being back in America. Art magazines and journals were plentiful as well as attention from a strangely manicured dog who seemed to know more about life in Taiwan than any of the humans wandering in and out of the hostel. As luck would have it, Amy and I shared a taxi through Taroko Gorge with a young couple from Hong Kong. This was perfect as English is spoken by most people from Hong Kong and the spoken Chinese, though not the same, is understandable between Hong Kong and Taiwan. After we visited Taroko Gorge, we stopped by the ocean and spent about an hour there. Taroko Gorge is quite beautiful. Yet, it is not more beautiful than some of what I remember from America. It is definitely a place to visit when in Taiwan.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
On April 4 I was in Taitung, Taiwan. I went with another Ohio teacher, Amy. We visited an active archaeological dig, something I have always wanted to do. It was in Peinan Cultural Park. The excavation there is ongoing and the ruins are said to date back about 5000 years. The Puyuma tribe lived there and a huge grave yard was discovered in 1980. After that time, archaeologists uncovered building and homes as well as household items. Unfortunately, my camera was beginning to fail and so many of the photos have lines through them. We also visited a temple and began a trip out to the Three Immortals bridge, but changed plans as we realized it was much, much farther away than we thought.
It is over 9 months now that I have been living in Taiwan. I will return to the United States in July. I've had many exciting adventures here and will no doubt have more in the coming months. There are many things I miss about my country. Some of the obvious things are of course my family and friends, my garden and even my car. Ha! But one thing I have missed most tenderly, is Heydude, my dog.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Divine intervention might be suitable words to describe the environment on the day of the Lantern Festival in Taibo. Low gray clouds swept into the area on a breeze dense with moisture unable or unwilling to let loose as rain. The gray of the enormous sky served as a neutral background to emphasize the costumes of the performers and the colors of the lanterns on display. The steady beat of the drums reverberated across the plain adding an almost ominous feeling of anticipation. Wanting to be close to the stage, I had gone to the site several hours before the dances were to begin so I could reserve a good area to take photographs. It was during those few hours, and the following ones, that I came to learn a few more things about the cultural differences between Midwestern America and Taiwan. It seemed perfectly logical to me that I could quietly take position to view the ceremonies, wait in place for an hour or so, and have an unobstructed view. That isn't the way it works in Taiwan. Five minutes before performances begin, hordes of people push and shove their way to the front and sardine themselves in leaving not even enough space to shift weight from one foot to the other. I could go on, but since I am a guest in this country, I will refrain from releasing any more pent up frustration at my attempts to photograph what I saw that day. Most of the photographs I was able to take are of performers before the actual performances began. Don't get me wrong.... I was delighted I was able to attend and this will be one of the long remembered events of my time spent in Taiwan... but I was very weary by the time I arrived back in Chiayi, hours later. Although, I don't think any of these photographs have captured the environment nor what I saw there. I did take a number of videos, and while I was unable to hold the camera steady, due to the crowds and weariness, they do capture the sounds of the day which are equally meaningful. There was a procession of performers through the town and to the open area where the stage was located as well as a second stage for some of the musicians and seating for what I assume to be dignitaries. The Dragon and Lion Dances were performed first, as is likely traditional. Several of the groups of performers were directly from Japan. The aboriginies from Alishan performed as well as numerous groups from throughout Taiwan. It was a mix of traditional and contemporary dances. The traditional costumes were exceptional. Lanterns made for the occasion were scattered throughout the grounds with a huge gray pig high above. A pig for the "Year of the Pig" obviously, but no explaination, other than commercial advertising, for the Chuanghua Telecommunications cell phone replica that hung from a rope on the pig's neck.