By this time it was apparent that we would never have as much sleep as we wanted or needed because there was simply not enough time. The past nights were always spent competing with others in doing the laundry and sometimes, practicing a dance number (more on this later.) It’s a good consolation that, so far, we have been given excellent and comfortable lodgings with air conditioning.
But whatever we lacked in terms of sleep was overcompensated when it came to the food. I’ve gone on at length in the past entries on how bountiful each meal was, and this day was no different. Upon waking up and proceeding to the mess hall, we were greeted by a vast array of vegetarian viands that certainly looked impossible to finish by their sheer volume. Since good food has always been my acknowledged weakness, it was hard to play the modesty card as I kept on returning for more after each plate. I was hardly the only one though, so I guess that’s okay.
Since we were all apprised of the day’s schedule the previous night, everything went by like clockwork. At the appointed time, we’ve washed up, packed our stuff, took out the bedsheets and pillowcases and boarded the bus. The buses started to move a few meters …but then inexplicably stopped for a long time. Eventually, we did find out the reason for the hold up. Apparently, there were 2 participants who were unbelievably discoverd to be still sleeping in their room. This was discovered when the other bus was conducting their headcount while beginning to leave. (And just like that, Jemar’s infraction the previous day was more or less forgotten already.)
Before proceeding to the first official destination, we stopped by a shop to buy pasalubong. It’s really great that the organizers enabled us to have this chance.
THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL SCIENCE
Despite this whole trip being primarily religious in nature, part of this day’s itinerary was spent at the Museum of Natural Science in Taichung. This seemed like a good prospect at first because I like museums.
What happened however was that we were made to watch a movie about the history of man-made flight at the Center’s IMAX-like theater. It was supposed to be visually stunning but I found it rather boring. So boring that I even found myself sleeping during a few segments.
The only exciting part was when the guy beside me left his iPhone at the arm rest of his seat, which I only noticed around 2 minutes after he had gone. So I took the phone and dashed to the exit to return it to him before he completely leaves the theater still unaware. Luckily, I came upon him on his way back inside, so the phone was promptly returned to him. He was very thankful.
After the unsatisfying film, we were given some free time to roam the area to view the exhibits. I found the name of the museum a bit misleading because aside from “natural science”, a lot of the exhibits also involved anthropology, applied science and technological innovations. In any case, I wish we just skipped the film and just went straight to viewing the exhibits. We were only given access to a small area of the entire museum compound and I pretty sure there were a lot of other exhibits that we were not able to view.
So generally underwhelming is how I would describe this part of the trip. It was only a small consolation that I saw a replica of the traditional houses of the inhabitants of Orchid Island – a Taiwanese Island whose inhabitants are ethno-linguistically related to the people of Batanes. (And if you know me, I’m crazy about anything Batanes.)
Somewhere along the way en route to the next destination, we even found some time to sing a few songs in the built-in videoke of the bus.
TEMPLE IN TOUFEN
The stopover at the FGS temple in Toufen Township (Miaoli County) was supposed to be just for lunch before finally proceeding to Yilan County further up north. But this outwardly humble-looking temple turned out to be the most generous in terms of feeding us, the participants.
The visit started out as it usually did. We all took off our shoes and did the usual gestures and prostrations to give respect to the Buddha, after which we listened to a little talk by the resident abbess. Once the obligatory gift-giving and picture taking was gotten over with, it was time for lunch.
The lunch was epic. So epic that at one point, when everyone was already full, Gabo had to go up in front and tell everyone to relax and prepare ourselves because the temple staff were still cooking and were due to serve more dishes. And they did.
I attempted to sit with people whom I did not know yet and try to make new friends, but I did more eating and digesting rather than conversing with my seatmates. I felt it would be such an insult to the temple staff to not even sample the new dishes that came out. And that’s how I ended up eating more and more food even after I’ve already had dessert. in the middle of it all, we even managed to sing a birthday song to Gabo.
What seemed like a never-ending lunch eventually came to an end and we all walked around to explore the small temple compound. The abbess and the other venerables then interacted with some participants at the temple’s courtyard in a much more relaxed atmosphere. The abbess even told a story about one of the trees in the courtyard, but I was talking to someone else so I didn’t hear the complete story.
A while later, it was time to go and we all had a series of group photos taken before we started walking towards our buses.
TEMPLE IN THE MOUNTAINS
From the cities the dot Taiwan’s western coast, our buses took us further inland and up in the mountains for a drastic and dramatic change in scenery – the Lingshan Temple in Yilan county.
If you look at a topographical map of Taiwan, you would see that the island is very mountainous at the center, with the lowlands found mostly at the coasts surrounding it. If merged with a political map, one would also see that most counties in Taiwan have both an access to the sea, as well as a foothold in the island’s mountainous interior. Yilan is one such county. Since Yilan faces Taiwan’s eastern coast, our buses actually traversed the center of the island to get to Yilan on the other side, rather than taking a coastal route, which would have lasted longer.
To get to the Lingshan Temple, our bus had to go through mountain passes with significant forest cover. And we, participants, had to cross a concrete bridge over a mountain stream and then follow a path that led straight up to the temple. The temple itself was not of the typical basic design as one would see in the cities. Given the mountainous terrain of the surroundings, the Lingshan Temple was built around the existing topography. Buildings had different elevations and there were many stairways and sloping paths that connected the temples to the gardens and other areas.
Once we arrived, we were welcomed by the temple caretakers with snacks and different types of teas. We were even served home-made Taiwanese ice cream, which up to now have a hard time describing, and the closest adjective I could think of is that it tastes different.
The whole point of going here was to enable our group to have team building activities, as well as the usual imparting of wisdom from the temple abbess, Chueh Nien. [Curiously, for the past 2 days, all the heads of the temples we visited had been women (abbesses) and no men (abbots).] Our first activity was a type of group dynamics, which had us divide into groups of 10-12 people and proceed to the mountain stream while forming lines-with our hands on the shoulders of the one in front of us. Once at the area of stream, we were then made to do some “exercises” supposedly to improve the flow of energy in our body (or something to that effect.) This video will show you exactly what those exercises were like:
It was more difficult than it seemed because of the hard and uneven surface that we were lying on. Fortunately, it didn’t take too long and we were then given some free time to frolic at the stream before being called back to the temple complex where we were given a bit of a tour of the surroundings by the venerables. We learned a bit of the history of the temple, especially the part where it was explained that the area used to be infested by rats and snakes before it was eventually developed to be what it is now.
(At this point, it bears mentioning that another group of participants had arrived with basically the same itinerary as we were, except that they were exactly an hour behind us. This meant that we were on a strict timetable, lest we unduly delay the group that came after us.)
We had another far more exciting activity afterwards, and this involved pairs wherein one had to walk through a pre-determined course blindfolded, while the other gave purely instructions on how to avoid obstacles and choose the right path. Due to the fact that we were an odd number, I didn’t get to have a partner and was not able to experience the blindfolded part of the activity. However, I made the most of it by helping another pair go through theirs. The activity was made more difficult by the fact that at this point, it was already nighttime, and even the person not blindfolded had to make an effort to look for the right path.
The whole point of the activity was trust, and this was sufficiently explained in the talk later delivered by Abbess Chueh Nien when we were once again gathered in the temple itself. The abbess also talked at length about other things, such as her multi-religious background, and the fact that since first stepping into the temple as a young Malaysian-Chinese nun a couple of decades back, she has never left the complex since then. (Commitment!)
The talk was soon over and, quite expectedly, we were each given a small parting gift. Once we stepped outside, we then discovered that the next group was already outside waiting for their turn to receive the wisdom of the abbess. We went straight to dinner afterwards, where the scene was a bit chaotic – probably because we were all so hungry, and partly because the tables in the common area were irregularly arranged. Take a look:
The only thing I remember about that dinner was the fact that I made friends with a young Chinese girl from Virginia named Yunly Wang. It also began to rain hard by this time and we began to worry about how we would go back to the buses without getting too wet. Some of the western participants made light of the situation and just threw all caution to the wind by getting themselves wet under the rain. Thankfully, the rain did stop at some point and we all got back to our buses relatively dry.
SLEEPING ON HARD BEDS
We were to spend the night at Fo Guang University (FGU), also in Yilan County. As it was already nighttime, we would not be able to properly see the university surroundings until the next morning. Our building assignments were given at the bus. By some unusual quirk in the plan, the boys were to be housed in the women’s dormitory. I made a humorous quip about this which only the westerners understood.
Anyway, the room assignments were a bit of a free-for-all. We were just given the specific floor and the specific room numbers that we could occupy, and it was up to us to apportion it to ourselves. We had the advantage of being there early, so we easily got rooms. I had a new set of roommates (and possibly the last) that night, with fellow Filipino Jemar, Pavel from Lithuania, and Sam (same Sam of the previous night.) The bunk beds we slept on had no cushions nor pillows, so we had to find a way to sleep comfortably. Thankfully, the rooms had airconditioning and it somehow helped. (We heard that some participants in the other buildings had no aircon.)
Since FGU also was the point of convergence of all touring groups, we got to meet up with my Filipino friends in the other tour groups. I walked around at the vicinity at night looking for something nice to photograph, but with the limited view, I soon went back to our room and tried to sleep.
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This entry is part of the Taiwan series dated July 19-27, 2012:
1. Gallery: Fo Guang Shan Main Shrine
2. Gallery: Feng Chia Night Market
3. Taiwan: The International Youth Seminar on Life and Ch’an, day 1
4. Taiwan: The International Youth Seminar on Life and Ch’an, day 2
5. Taiwan: The International Youth Seminar on Life and Ch’an, day 3
6. Taiwan: The International Youth Seminar on Life and Ch’an, day 4
7. Taiwan: Tainan & Taichung, with Lukang in between
8. Taiwan: Science and Religion
9. Gallery: The Taiwan Theater Museum
10. Taiwan: Traipsing around Yilan
11. Taiwan: Closing Program at Fo Guang University
12. Taiwan: Leaving Yilan, Arriving in Taipei
13. Taiwan: Last 24 hours in Taipei
14. Taiwan: Epilogue