Taiwan: Closing Program at Fo Guang University

There was still enough sunlight when we were dropped off at Fo Guang University that enabled us to appreciate just how beautiful the surroundings are, and how well the university’s buildings were built and integrated with the mountainside topography. 

I’d imagine it would be very conducive for learning and inspiring, even.  I definitely think that surroundings and environment are very underrated aspects of university life.  It’s something that needs to be learned by Philippine educators.

While walking with the crowd, I was once again reflecting on the sheer amount of resources that pour into Fo Guang Shan.  From it’s humble beginnings after the last world war, Venerable Master Hsing Yun has managed to build an institution that is as influential as it is culturally significant in Taiwanese society. 

They have enough donors to build schools, temples and monasteries, and there’s even considerable leftover cash to allow a thousand young people each year to undergo this Life and Ch’an seminar for free.

THE PERFORMANCE

The South African delegation.

So it finally comes to a close.  There was a sort of bittersweet sentiment as we were assembling in the covered courts for the closing program.  It was commendable how the organizers managed to keep everything within schedule, even with the unforeseen delays.  But at the same time, it was slowly sinking in that all this would soon be over and we would be returning to our jobs and/or studies.

This sentiment quickly turned to terror once I was reminded that we still had to do the dance number that we barely practiced for.  Dave was always telling us to be like flowing water and be open to any challenges and difficulties, and I tried hard to put the idea of this dance number at the back of my mind during the entire seminar.  But now, the day has finally arrived and, guess what, we were performing first.

So while the speakers were still delivering their addresses one by one, we, the Philippine delegation, were huddled in some hidden corner trying to rehearse for one last time.  By the way, the Philippine delegation was not composed purely of Filipinos.  We also had a Pakistani (Abrar), a Russian (Alex) and a Lithuanian (Pavel) among us.  They were part of a group of mixed foreign and Filipino participants of a 6-month retreat under the auspices of Fo Guang Shan in Bacolod.  Joining the seminar in Taiwan was part of their “retreat”.

Anyway, we were thankful for them and particularly to Alex (who has a background in theater arts) who acted as our main choreographer.  Their group already performed the main parts of our “performance” in past events and we were there to just fill in the gaps, so to speak, and be background dancers essentially.

The Indonesian delegation.

We were very nervous as we made our way backstage to wait for us to be called.  Along the way, the Indonesian delegation – in their attractive and brightly-colored costumes – shouted, “GOOD LUCK, PHILIPPINES!” in our direction.  Unfortunately, my companions did not seem to hear this, so I was the only one who shouted back, “THANK YOU!”  And to emphasize the point, I made the traditional Buddhist gesture of gratitude with palms met and with a slight bow.

Anyway, so this was how it turned out:

That’s me on the left, looking lost.

I prefer not to describe every excruciating detail, except that as the performance went on, the only good thing about it is that it took us nearer the end of the performance.  As we exited the stage, we were met by Venerable Miao Jing presumably to congratulate us, and I wasn’t able to do anything but exaggerately shrug and gave a nervous smile.  But it was finally over, thank God.

FOOD, FUN, FIREWORKS

Perhaps to drown our feelings of embarrassment, we immediately went for the food that was by then being bountifully served.  As always with Fo Guang Shan gatherings, the food was excellent and they seemingly prepared with 3 or 4 servings per person in mind.

The Venerables (monks) seated a few rows above us.

We Filipinos all assembled in one area where we ate our dinner together while watching the other country delegations’ performances.  We were supposed to perform at a stage just outside outdoors, but an early evening rain temporarily derailed those plans.  There were around 4 or 5 more performances before the rain stopped and we all relocated to the seats outside the covered court.

A portion of the outside grounds. If you look closely, you would see they built an elevated garden. Some of what we ate that night were harvested from that.

Almost the same angle, at night.

By the time we relocated outside, we were mostly done eating and we tried to mingle with our friends from the other delegations while the other performances were ongoing.  It was hard to pay attention to the later performances given that most of them were purely in Chinese.  When that was done, that was when everyone just got together and said their last goodbyes while taking pictures with each other.  Some would be staying behind for another 2 weeks for the Buddhist retreat back in Kaohsiung, but for most of the participants, like me, this would be the last time we would be seeing our friends from the other delegations.

To cap off the night, we were treated to a fireworks display.  I chose the wrong lens (50mm prime) when shooting the fireworks, so a lot were out-of-focus shots.

It took a few moments before the smoke cleared.  And finding nothing else to do, we trudged back towards the dormitory for a well-deserved sleep.

 

Last view of the FGU women’s dormitory at night.

= = = = = = = = = =

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

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