Taiwan: Epilogue

This is absolutely the last entry of this series and I must say I’m relieved that I’ve already come to this point.  As I’ve already mentioned before, the events of this series occurred more than 1 year before and I’m eager to blog about my more recent travels.  I originally planned to have this epilogue as the last part of the previous entry on Taiwan, but since that was getting to be too long, I just decided to create a separate entry for it.

WAITING

Took a last shower before packing our stuff and vacating our dorm rooms.  We then spent the last few hours in the common area just watching TV and munching on some snacks before the bus picks us up to bring us to the airport. The common room had lots of bite-sized snacks that we stuffed our faces and our pockets with.  Hopefully, this didn’t leave bad lasting impressions with the dorm staff.  Speaking of dorm staff, one of them approached me and began talking to me in Chinese, probably thinking I was Taiwanese too.  She got the hint when I just stared at her blankly while trying to process what she was saying.

This is Antoinette.

Later on, our group in the common room was joined by Antoinette, who would also be on the same flight as us going back to Manila.  Antoinette is actively involved with FGS as a musician and has lent her great singing voice in performances during the seminar.  She was a pretty visible figure throughout our stay and has apparently been doing this sort of thing for a few years now.  She’s also a professional musician here in the Philippines.

LEAVING

When the bus finally came to pick us up, we received one final treat from Fo Guang Shan – we were given meal packs and drinks for us to consume on the way to the airport (which was about an hour away).  We could not thank them enough for everything they’ve provided us throughout our stay.  Venerable Miao Jing saw us off as we boarded the bus.  She’s actually the Abbess of the Mabuhay Temple in Manila, but she’s staying behind for a bit more time in Taiwan.  Andrea also surprised us when she showed up to see us off.

My last [vegetarian] meal in Taiwan.

Tourist buses are a bit different in Taiwan than the ones we’re used to in the Philippines.  For one thing, they have huge luggage compartments, making the passenger area have a much higher elevation and making it appear that the bus is a double-decker (with the driver being at the “lower deck”.)  As a consequence, it’s possible to sit at the very front just behind the windshield.  I’ve always wanted to do this and that day, on my last bus ride in Taiwan, I had my chance.

I took a video of this session, but due to the personal nature of the individual sharings, I decided not to post it here.

Probably being energized by the meal, Marlon and Dave took the initiative to lead an impromptu post-event sharing on our experiences during the seminar.  The bus had a sound system so we made full use of this as each of us hilariously recalled the most memorable experiences we had and the things we learned.

Sitting at the very front of the bus wasn’t that big of a deal as I originally thought, probably because the bus was just running at a leisurely cruse, and also because I spent a lot of time looking backwards due to the aforementioned sharing session.  Before long we arrived at the airport.  Since we arrived too early for our check-in time so we just placed all our bags in one area where they can be watched more easily. 

We must have spent about an hour or two whiling away the time by either sleeping, surfing the net via Wi-Fi, or walking around and exploring the airport.  With the help of Tessa’s directions, I was able to find my way towards the arrival area, where there were a lot more shops.  I spent my remaining money buying as many of those triangular nori-wrapped rice treats that I was getting addicted to (from 7-Eleven.)  I was able to eat them back at home in Quezon City.

I made it back to the departure area with still a lot of time to spare, and when we finally lined up to check in, Dave and Marlon once again took charge and collected all our tickets to consolidate the claiming of the boarding passes and baggage check-ins.

From that point, it was a long, long walk going to the boarding gate.  The Taipei international airport is huge.  I felt as if I walked the length of a few city blocks just to get to where we needed to be.  Here, it would be a necessity for old people to be transported via wheelchair because it will simply be too tiring if the attempted to walk on their own.  The airport management should consider having Segways or motorized wheelchairs for rent.

Along the way, we passed by an expansive duty-free shop and a few exhibits.  Since I didn’t have any U.S. nor Taiwanese dollars left, I wasn’t interested in checking out the duty-free shop anymore.  But the exhibits made me stop and linger a bit.  There was also an interesting prayer room that catered to 3 major faiths (Buddhism, Islam and Christianity.)  The rooms were pretty unimpressive and plain, but the sign outside was definitely eye-catching.

We settled in on the comfortable seats at the boarding area.  There, we were joined by other Filipinos who were either OFWs in Taiwan or also tourists, like us.  One woman kept on remarking (to no one in particular) how much she misses Philippine food and that she’s had enough of the supposedly bad-tasting food of Taiwan.  Since that was completely at odds with what I thought of Taiwanese food, I speculated that she’s probably an OFW who wasn’t particularly having a good deal at her place of employment such that she had to settle for substandard Taiwanese food.  I was at first annoyed at her, but upon considering what she has probably gone through, I let her be.

The plane arrived and we boarded it in almost no time.  And just like that, our Taiwan trip came to an end – quiet and unceremonious, but very satisfying.

LAST WORD

I promised to tell a few readers about how they would be able to take advantage of this same opportunity given to me, but unfortunately, the months prior to the inclusive dates of the 2013 seminar coincided with a time of high tension between Philippine-Taiwanese relations (due to the shooting of a Taiwanese vessel illegally fishing within Philippine territory by the Phil. Coast Guard, resulting in the death of a fisherman.)  There have been reports of Filipinos being mistreated in Taiwan and so I could not in good conscience recommend anyone I know to go to Taiwan at that time.  The situation did simmer down at the time of the start of the seminar, but by then, it was too late to join.  Hopefully, 2014 will be a much better year for Filipinos to join the seminar.

With that out of the way…

Many, many thanks are due to Fo Guang Shan for making it possible for hundreds of young people from around the world the opportunity of learning about Buddhism and about Taiwanese culture.  I personally was overwhelmed by how much generosity the organization has extended to us – essentially complete strangers – by letting us experience this significant and large-scale activity at almost no cost, and with almost nothing in return.

Equal thanks go to the Fo Guang Shan Mabuhay Temple in Manila for accepting me as a member of the Philippine delegation to the 2012 International Youth Seminar on Life and Ch’an.  Very special thanks also go to Dave Albao (who was then still part of the Mabuhay Temple), who was with us every step of the way – from the initial interviews up to our return in Manila.

I would also like to thank my college friend Jen Adams-Juan who shared with me this opportunity in the first place.  (If you remember, she was also the one who shared with me the could-have-been free trip to Bali which I talked about here.)  In the years since our college graduation, Jen and I have had a couple of ups and downs in our friendship.  She shared with me this opportunity during one of those “ups”, but we now sort of find ourselves in a “down”.  (Jen, if you’re reading this, I want you to know that I owe you and anytime you want to call in this favor, my door is always open.)

While I could not say that I now know a lot more about Buddhism than before the seminar, merely being exposed to the practices and the adherents expanded my understanding about the religion and its believers in general.  It wasn’t apparent immediately upon my return, but 1 year after the seminar, I could see marked changes in my belief structure.  I’m now much less rigid and much more flexible on how I view matters of religion and faith.  I tend to acknowledge more that all faiths have a portion of truth in them, and no religion has a monopoly in this.  I found the value in quiet contemplation and I’m now less-impulsive in my actions as a result.

I had a great time in Taiwan, and I am very grateful that I experienced what I did.  I’d say all that was spent on my by Fo Guang Shan was not wasted and I hope the organization continues to offer this to more young people.

==========

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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