Not really traipsing as we had the convenience of riding a bus when moving from place to place, but we did do a lot of seemingly directionless walking at the spots we were brought to.
This day was to be the last full day of the Life and Ch’an seminar. Everyone was already mentally (and in a way physically) “exhausted” by this point, so it was really advantageous to us that we were brought to places where we could just roam around freely. I woke up from my cushion-less bunk bed at Fo Guang University’s Women’s Dormitory and took a quick shower before proceeding to the courtyard where everyone was assembling.
As we would be starting early, we had breakfast on the spot – no longer having time for a proper meal at a dining hall. We were still munching on our food (sealed drinks and dumplings, if I remember right) while we trooped to our respective buses for the first stop of the day’s itinerary.
I was a bit confused as to what Wanglongpi was supposed to be. I first thought that we were brought there to observe the agricultural and aquacultural innovations of rural Taiwan. But then I noticed there were no farms and very few fish ponds. Much later we came across a scenic lake view, complete with landscaped gardens, bridges and paths.
It eventually became apparent to me that we were simply brought there to see the beauty of Yilan’s natural scenery. It was a very peaceful place and some wildlife can also be observed. Not very impressive, but not a waste of time either. Before long, we returned to our buses for the next stop.
NATIONAL CENTER FOR TRADITIONAL ARTS
This place was the highlight of the day due to the sheer amount of time we spent here. The NCTA is a government-run complex made up of museums, stores, architectural exhibits, gardens, theaters and wide open spaces where live performances are frequently held.
Upon getting off our buses, We assembled at the entrance of the premises and were given brochures to the place. We were simply told to assemble at the same spot at a specific time, at which point we would then proceed to our next stop. Being the natural loner that I am, I then took that as my cue to just wander the grounds.
My first impression was that the grounds were vast (it has large ponds within it) and very well-maintained. At the back of my mind, I kept on thinking that if Taiwan’s government can afford to spend a lot on conserving its “traditional arts”, then it’s probably a truly rich country. It’s quite depressing in hindsight if you come from an underdeveloped country like the Philippines where the government can’t even get its act together and provide basic services to people properly.
My attention was caught by a puppet show that was being performed in one of the roofed areas some 20 meters from the entrance. Being a puppet show, the audience was mostly composed of children, but with a few grown ups as well, mainly tourists like me. The dialogue was in Chinese so I didn’t understand it, but I stayed long enough to get an idea of what was going on. Puppet shows have a way of transcending language when communicating an idea, and this was evident when in certain parts a group of blonde Russian kids in the audience would break out in laughter along with the majority Taiwanese audience without being cued to do so.
I caught the show at its tail end so I was soon walking again and snapping shots of whatever catches my fancy. I came across this traditional Chinese house that was seemingly out of place. From what I could gather, it’s a life-size exhibit of the house of someone important in Taiwanese history. I’m just not sure if it’s a faithful replica or if it’s the actual house that was transplanted part-by-part (like the way the did in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bataan.)
I spent a lot of time under the sun before I eventually tired of all those UV rays and decided to find out the attractions indoors. I came across a lane of cafes and souvenir shops that were located at two rows of faux-early 20th century buildings on both sides of a partially cobble-stoned road.
Many were lining up for the shops that sold iced milk teas and other treats, while there were some interesting souvenir shops too. The one I spent most time in was the shop where all the puppets made for the shows were exhibited. The level of detail and refinement in the construction of those puppets and their costumes was simply mesmerizing. Take a look:
What I like about taking a look at those souvenir shops was that there were no annoying salesladies who tailed customers every moment, (unlike what goes on in malls in the Philippines.) The shopkeepers were content in letting prospective customers roam around their stores freely, looking through stuff and even taking pictures. Lots of interesting trinkets and items were being sold. I thought of buying a brightly colored top for my nephew, but at that time he was still too young to operate such a toy, so I ended up just enjoying the air conditioning of the shops and not buying anything at all.
Outside the shops, the noontime sun was blazing and I obviously wanted to stay in the shade as much as possible. I looked at my site map and saw that there was a large indoor exhibit venue that I have not explored yet, so I set off for that. I had to endure a few moments of being under the sun as the exhibit venue was not exactly contiguous to the shops.
Along the way, a live performance of sorts came barreling down the cobblestone road. It was a group of people in old soldier costumes, with some of them sporting Hitler-type moustaches. The central figure was shouting things in a loudspeaker while he was on top of a small float that was made to look like an office table. I didn’t stick around to find out what all of that was about.
Anyway, I finally reached the venue and was pleased to find out that it was gloriously air conditioned. There were a number of art exhibits that we were allowed to view, most important of which was an exhibit of ancient Buddhist images and artifacts from different parts of the world. Probably a priceless collection so I eagerly went inside to begin viewing. Unfortunately, taking pictures and videos was expressly prohibited so I could not take high-quality photos of the exhibits. That however did not stop me from discreetly taking a video. Using my phone, I held it close to my chest so that the display would not show. I made 2 attempts at this, one of which you can see below:
And here’s a link to the other video.
(Personally, I never saw the wisdom in preventing photos and videos in museums. This is something I’ve discussed in a previous entry.)
After I was done viewing the exhibits, I suddenly realized I haven’t had lunch yet and that the time of our departure was nearing. I quickly headed for the “food court” and found the place packed with people – many of whom were also wearing either baby blue or pink. So there I was alone and hungry, and at a loss as to how to communicate what I wanted to eat with the Chinese-speaking food sellers, who by then looked really tired and stressed due to the sheer volume of people giving orders.
Luckily, at that moment, Jemar and his companions arrived and like a veteran, he somehow communicated to the food seller (by means of hand signals) what I wanted to eat. Thanking Jemar, I then looked for a seat. The first floor of the food court was packed so I was forced to proceed to the hot and humid second floor where I promptly started to sweat profusely as I took a sip of the hot soup that came with the meal.
By the way, I ordered a meal with a healthy serving of beef. It’s the first time I’ve eaten meat since the day I left for Taiwan. Since we were outside of the temples and monasteries, the prohibition did not apply, but I still jokingly covered my food with my hands when one of the Venerables passed by. I was expecting the meat to taste spectacular, but it was just generally “okay”. Probably because the vegetarian meals we were served in the monastery and temples were of such high quality that we didn’t end up missing the taste of meat that much.
After lunch, I joined the bandwagon and purchased iced milk tea for myself to wash down everything I ate and also to deal with the early afternoon heat. By that time many of us seminar participants were massing towards the exits to proceed to our buses. Many were in the souvenir shop near the exit to take advantage of the aircon while waiting. Once Andrea and Justin showed up, we then went back to our buses.
TAIWAN THEATER MUSEUM
I already posted a slideshow of the Taiwan Theater Museum previously. This was where we spent the last couple of hours prior to returning to Fo Guang University for the closing ceremonies.
By the looks of it, not many people visit this museum (or maybe it’s because it was a weekday.) Certainly, our group accounted for 90% of all the people who visited that day. The museum is clean and well-maintained and, thankfully, they allowed photos and videos within the premises.
All this time I’ve been taking a lot of pictures. But I did stop once in a while to see things with my own eyes. It’s too easy to fall in the trap of endlessly snapping photos and then realizing upon your return that you’ve spent more time operating the camera than actually looking at things.
Interesting as they are, the exhibits got repetitive at some point and some of my fellow participants spent the remaining time outside of the museum. A few of the westerners even played frisbee at the wide parking lot. A few more minutes passed and our visit was over. Back to the buses, and back to Fo Guang University.
(To be concluded.)
= = = = = = = = = =
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