Woke up the next day with an image of somebody – might have been Sam or Pavel – leaving the room and wishing me well. I was still sleepy enough to not make sense of anything. Later on, after a few more minutes of dozing off, I realized that my 3 roommates were gone (they’ve taken an early bus going back to Fo Guang Shan Monastery in Kaohsiung) and that I too had to quickly take a shower and pack my stuff for the trip going to Taipei.
Like the previous day, we had breakfast at the dormitory courtyard while waiting for the bus. It was a bit disorienting seeing everyone no longer wearing the pink or baby blue shirts that was our “uniform” for the entire length of the seminar. Today we were wearing civvies and it was like meeting each other for the first time again.
We were waiting for a bus that would take us to the Yilan train station. And from there, it would be an hour or two before we reach Taipei where we would spend the night before flying back to Manila the next day. We were told that there was only going to be one bus and it was likely that it would be packed, with a lot of people standing. Fortunately, ours was the first dorm that the bus picked up passengers from, so we were able to get seats. Those from the next dormitory almost didn’t get any free seats anymore.
It was a short trip going to the train station. But since Fo Guang University is located high up the mountainsides, the way down was very scenic and a treat in itself. Eventually we reached our stop and alighted. We reassembled at the sidewalk as Dave gave some reminders before proceeding to the train stations. Here’s what we looked like:
I’m not sure if it was because the hour was early or because Yilan is sparsely populated, but it was a weird feeling when we were dropped off at the Yilan town center near the train station. There were too few people and it was too quiet for a town of that size. For somebody who has lived in Metro Manila all his life, seeing a highly-urbanized town with very few people is a novelty. You’d almost always expect a steady flow of vehicles and people on the roads for a town this size. As it is though, you’d have to stand for a full 5 minutes on the sidewalk before another human being comes your way.
Like everything I’ve seen in Taiwan so far at that point, Yilan town is clean, pretty, and well-planned, though not very modern. The town was built at the very foot of the nearby mountain range, so everywhere you stand in the town, the mountains are an imposing presence. Nothing negative about it. It still adds to the town being very picturesque.
At the train station, we let Dave and Marlon purchase our tickets. As the next train to Taipei wasn’t due to arrive for the next half hour at least, we still had some time to roam around, but mostly just go to the nearby 7-Eleven. Personally, I felt that the earlier breakfast was a bit lacking so I bought one of those triangular nori-wrapped rice treats that I first tasted upon arrival in Taiwan. (They’re addictive!)
We apparently spent too much time there because we were notified that the train was arriving in a few moments so we dashed towards the station where all our bags were and quickly went to the boarding gate. What made things slow was the fact that to go from the boarding gate to the elevated platform, we had use a makeshift “elevator” that could only accommodate around 4 or 5 people at a time, so it took a total of 3 turns. The last ones who made it to the platform got to board the train almost literally by the skin of their teeth.
As our tickets had preassigned seat numbers, we didn’t get to travel to Taipei as a group. We were scattered throughout different train cars in pairs, and for our particular car, my seatmate was Chingbee.
It’s been a while since I’ve ridden long-distance trains (back in 1997, in Australia.) These past years I’ve gotten used to the mass-transport LRT-types that mostly just travel within one city. This would be the cause of one blooper just before we arrived in Taipei.
The train ride was mostly uneventful, but not being used to long-distance train travel, I misjudged the amount of time it took for the train to travel from the penultimate station to the Taipei station. As a result, I took my bags (as well as Chingbee’s) near the exit to wait for the train to stop. And I waited. And waited. What I thought would be a 5 minute stretch actually lasted for some 15 minutes.
Now, long distance trains function like airplanes in the sense that every now and then, a foodseller with a cart would go from car-to-car offering to sell them to passengers. And like in airplanes, the width of the food cart occupies the entire width of the aisle. This was where the problem arose because all our bags were blocking the way – because I placed them there – thereby preventing the food seller lady (who was dressed like a flight attendant) and her cart from entering our car. I sheepishly apologized as she returned to the car she came from, and I think she cursed under her breath. (Sorry!) Good thing this sort of thing happened at the small covered compartment between the cars so my embarrassment was minimized.
Anyway, I was relieved when we soon after arrived in Taipei and walked towards our lodging place. I consider this to be my actual first time in Taipei. When we arrived in Taiwan a week back, the Taipei airport could not really be considered to be in Taipei, in its truest sense. (In the same way that, say, the Dumaguete Airport is actually located in the neighboring municipality of Sibulan.) And in any case, we didn’t get to see much as it was still dark then and we went straight to Kaohsiung.
Our lodgings were to be in Taipei Vihara – a building that is mostly occupied by Fo Guang Shan. It includes a temple, a TV station, a newspaper publishing house, a dormitory, a canteen and some administration offices that handle Fo Guang Shan’s affairs in Taiwan as well as its branches around the world.
Being able to stay here for free was an extra act of kindness extended to us by FGS. Supposedly, all expenses outside of the seminar needed to be shouldered by us, but they made an exception in the case of our lodgings. (The next day, they also did us the courtesy of providing us transportation going to the airport for our flight back to Manila.)
While our dorm rooms were being prepared for occupancy, we proceeded to the temple at the top floor to pay our respects to the Buddha. The custodian of the temple welcomed us and explained the significance of the statues and illustrations all around the temple. Dave, having a working knowledge of Mandarin, translated for her as we did the necessary rituals.
(Once again, I can’t help but notice how the outfit of the female temple custodian is identical to the ones worn by FGS ladies in a similar role in the other temples, including Manila.)
After the brief visit to the temple, we momentarily went back to where our bags were in order to place them inside the dormitory rooms assigned to us (which were by then ready.) The rooms were for 2 people each, and for that day, my roommate was Marlon. It was also approaching lunchtime at that point so we once again partook of the kindness of FGS by having a free lunch at the building’s cafeteria. Initially, we were told that we needed to bring our own utensils (chopsticks and food bowl) for lunch. But it turns out that cafeteria had a stack of those that we could use.
The food was obviously free so we could not complain about the quality. It’s just that there were certain food items that we wanted more than the others. At some point, Melissa, one of our companions, “hoarded” most of the delicious-looking food remaining and we thought that we had to settle for the less-appetizing ones, but it turned out that the cooking staff would refill the tray that contained that. So we were happy.
We occupied a table by the window that afforded us a view of one side of the city. The panoramic view wasn’t too good as the building wasn’t too high, but we didn’t mind. We just spend an entire week sightseeing, and we certainly didn’t mind taking a break from that.
Later on, we were joined by some Taiwanese friends of Dave and Marlon who worked for FGS. I found it a bit ironic that Zoe, one of the Taiwanese friends (she’s at the left in the picture above) was actually using a spoon and fork while eating from her mess kit, while the rest of us were using chopsticks.
It was a short lunch. Personally, I could not wait to explore Taipei. At that time we only had around 24 hours left before we fly back to Manila. Some of us were leaving that same evening, so we were itching to see as much of the city as I can. A few others, like Melissa, actually already got to tour Taipei as part of their 3-day cultural tour under the seminar, but they are likewise excited to explore Taipei, mainly for the shopping opportunities.
So at roughly lunch time on our penultimate day in Taiwan, we all stepped out of the Taipei Vihara building to plot our course for the rest of the afternoon and evening.
Next: Last 24 hours in Taipei
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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