And now, the end is near…

Que up the Frank Sinatra; My Way…

We shared our last Taiwan Rotary dinner this evening.  It was a combination 1744th meeting of Taichung East Rotary Club and farewell to District 7390 GSE team dinner.  It was one of those bittersweet nights filled with joy for what we’ve shared here and knowing that we will soon join our loved ones back home.  On the other hand, such sadness to have this experience that has touched all of our lives so deeply be coming to an end.

Rotary District Governor Joy was there to host us this evening, just as he was the morning after we arrived.  Joy asked us each to speak about our time here.  He really wanted to know what Taiwan has meant to us.

The theme from all of us was the unbelievable kindness, hospitality, openness, and love that was shared with us here.  Lisa noted so well that every host family was even more kind to us than the last one was.  Hillary gave some specific shout outs to a few Rotarians who really touched are hearts and made our time together extra special.  Yo, Mickey! (Chest pound, fist pump, peace).  I was so glad Claire noted that her home is open to any of our new Taiwanese family whenever they are in PA.  A sentiment that is shared by all of us.  I don’t know what Kent said, because he gave his comments in Mandarin.  I can tell you however it got laughs, applause, and when he speaks Chinese, our new friends are both impressed and appreciative.

We will all miss this beautiful island and the people that make it so great.  I believe we can all say, “I Love Taiwan” and know that there will be a piece of this place and its people in our hearts forever.  Listening to my team members share their thoughts tonight and the conversations we’ve shared on this trip, I believe none of us are the same people that left Harrisburg on March 17.  This truly is a life altering experience.

I do not know the words that can express the gratitude I feel to Taiwan Rotary District 3460 and our home Rotary District 7390 for giving us this opportunity.  Thank you does not seem to be enough, but it is what we have.  So with the Chinese word we have likely used here the most, I say Xiexie.

 

 

 

921 Earthquake Museum

If you recall one of my posts from our first week in Taiwan, we visited Shih-Gang dam which was damaged in an earthquake.  The earthquake was one of the biggest to occur in Taiwan and we have heard of it frequently on our trip as it changed the lives and landscape of the country forever.

Here it is known as 921, as it occurred on September 21, 1999 at 1:47 am.  The quake registered 7.3 on the Richter scale destroying over 50,000 buildings, railways and other infrastructure totaling $10 billion USD in damages.  There were over 11,000 people injured and 2,415 lives lost.

One area of the fault line opened up directly under a school, that has now become the museum with much of the destruction preserved.  The museum is a great facility with many hands on activities that get children engaged in learning.  How and why earthquakes occur is demonstrated.  There are building blocks and models to understand the science that goes into construction with floating foundations and structural support.  There is even the earthquake experience which is a movie going through the events of 9/21 while you sit on a vibrating and quaking floor.

The museum is a great memorial to remember those who were lost and to educate the next generations about a danger that is ways present in Taiwan.  To see the destruction captured in time is a sobering reminder of the power of nature that is out of our control.

 

 

Tea Ceremony

The tea ceremony, in it’s many forms, captured my interest a few years ago. It brings together a two aspects of my life. I love tea, and take a hobbyist’s interest in collection, proper storage, and correct brewing. And when I began to study and practice meditation, I found it in many iterations as a meditation form, from the dizzyingly elaborate Japanese tea ceremony to the simple sharing ceremony practiced at my Sangha’s retreat.

Two days ago, I was overjoyed to be permitted to attempt to perform a Taiwanese Gongfu Cha.

First, I watched the instructor and host run through the entire process twice. To the best of my memory (and with the aid of some notes):

First, boiling water was poured into a clay vessel with a lid and spout. Then, this was poured from the clay pot into a line of tall porcelain cups, lined up neatly with ornaments facing the guests. This “warmed” the pot and cups.

While the cups warmed, dry tea was poured into a wooden trough to measure the proper amount. A brass stylus was used to push the tea from the trough into the clay pot. This was covered with more boiling water, lid replaced, and left to sit for forty seconds (according to the tea variety we were using.)

During this forty seconds, the warming cups were emptied into a receptacle with a decorative, perforated lid. Each movement was graceful and deliberate, but not slow. Movements to the left of the host were performed with the left hand; on the right, with the right; the unused hand rested on the edge of the table. The cups were twisted slightly, the clay pot given one firm shake, to empty them completely. Each implement had it’s proper position on the table, to which it was returned after use.

After forty seconds, the pot of steeped tea was poured into a small, lidless pitcher, which gave it an opportunity to cool down slightly. From this pitcher, it was distributed among the tall cups once again, all in a row, and placed in front of the guests one by one with the slightest bow of the head, and the host served herself last.

The tall cups were used to breathe the scent of the tea, and then each guest poured it into a small bowl on a saucer. The tea was consumed from the bowl in three sips. We were encouraged to “chew” the tea in order to taste it properly.

After watching this twice, I took a seat as host and gave it a try.

Our host studied the tea ceremony for twenty years with several different teachers, and to my eyes at least she was flawless. I forgot steps, forgot my hands, and spilled tea all over the table. But attempting to keep in mind proper posture, motions, process, and placement was indeed a meditative focus. And smiling encouragement of my teacher, as well as the honor of participating in the tradition, was an absolute joy.

Article for Rotary Club

I went with my host mother to her local Rotary Club meeting and they were discussing the magazine that they put out every week for the club.  It’s apparently hard to get people to write articles for the magazine because not enough people have time to contribute.  I had mentioned to my host mother that I have a minor in professional writing, so she asked if I wanted to write an article for them.  I had to do it in one day, so it’s a bit rough, but here’s what I sent to them:

For the past 20 days I have been touring Taiwan with a group of Americans, all of us from Pennsylvania. We have been hosted by the Taiwanese rotary clubs, who are taking us to many different local sites and showing us places in Taiwan that most visitors do not get to see.  So far I have seen very generous, intelligent, and protective people who are doing everything they can to give us a window into their lives.

Though the schedule has been heavy and the hours have been long, we have managed to enjoy ourselves a great deal. I realize it is not easy to cram an entire culture into a one-month trip, but we are doing our best to experience as much as possible.   So far we have seen historical buildings, beautiful landscapes, interesting museums, and impressive factories.  Most recently with the local club, we have been to the M Radio Station and the National Taichung Theater.  I have learned how radio stations work, the technology behind creating playlists and conducting interviews, and the details about applying for a job and succeeding as a DJ for a radio station.  I have seen incredible architecture and the unique functions of the new theater building—as well as all the special artistic touches included by the designer.  For me, this is a testament to the spirit of the Taiwanese people, who are willing to take risks and incorporate new technology fearlessly.

We were also taken to the Taichung National Museum of Fine Arts very recently. I found these artworks to be a wonderful reflection of what makes Taiwan so unique. It has a great mixture of traditional art—like paintings, drawings, and sculptures, but it also has these fascinating modern mediums—virtual reality and optical illusion works made of light and glass. This says to me that the Taiwanese people are not afraid to experiment.  They are curious.  They look to the future, but honor the past.

Finally, before we left our most recent host families, we were invited to experience the new Divecube Hotel which has recently opened in Taichung City. It is one of only three diving hotels in the world and is a marvel of engineering. It allows you to practice scuba diving right in the middle of the city, with a large pool that does down over 20 meters.  The instructors showed us how to use the equipment and went with us as we explored underwater caves and a sunken ship designed inside the depths of the pool.  It was incredible.  I have never had such a surprising and exciting day!  And afterwards they served us delicious desserts and coffee at the hotel restaurant.  Again, a great example of Taiwan, which seems very traditional on the surface, showing that they are also on the cutting edge of the hotel industry.

It is this combination, this wonderful balance, that I most admire and envy.  It is this spirit that I would like to take home to Pennsylvania and share with my friends and family.  I hope the friendships I have made in Taiwan will last after this week, when I will head back to the United States.  I definitely believe that the things I have seen and experienced in your country will stay with me for the rest of my life—and I very much hope I will be able to come back to Taiwan again soon!

And since I figure an article is as good as a blog post, that’s all you folks are getting until I blog again…

~Hillary

Mealtime!

We are honored guests here in Taiwan! Guests here get fed. And fed a lot!

Most of our meals have been in restaurants, served Chinese style. That means you sit a round table, usually 10 people. There is a large lazy Susan in the center. All dishes are served family style. A meal tends to have 10 dishes! Each seat tends to have a small plate, a small cup, a small glass, chopsticks, and a spoon.

Drinks are family style as well. Usually tea (no rhyme or reason to hot or iced. Sometimes both on the table!) Often a juice or water. Beer is in large bottles – liter size. I’m told Taiwan Beer (yep, brand name!) is similar to Heineken. It’s an incredibly low alcohol content. At the nicer dinners there is also whiskey. Even I know it’s *really* nice whiskey. It usually arrives with one of the Rotarians and is poured into small pitchers on each table. Taiwanese tradition dictates that you can’t drink alone. So if you want to drink, you toast someone! One hand holding the glass, one underneath. And you must toast the other tables! Especially your host!

Most meals have started with a Japanese appetizer – sashimi and the like.

There’s often a whole fish – steamed or breaded and fried, with a pan sauce. Pro serving tip: only take the top half. Then someone will remove the spine and the bottom half is eaten.

We’ve also had a lot of pork belly, brased, with greens. It was particularly great with bamboo!

A meal usually has two different soups. There’s a pork and greens that feels like it’s directly from Central PA. A fish ball soup like gefilte fish. Yummy chicken soup – sometimes it’s the whole chicken!

Rice dishes vary. Sometimes we just fill up our bowl. There’s also a rice cooked with sweet potato – amazing!! And then there’s a very sticky ‘rice cake’ that usually has pork mixed in and tiny shrimp on top.

The other dishes vary by restaurant and cuisine. So many good things!

I’ve also been in Japanese restaurants (I had the most AMAZING flounder sushi – lightly seared and a mouth feel like butter). These have still been served Chinese style!

There are multiple influences on cusine here. There is the people native to Taiwan – tribal, similar to Polynesian as far as I can tell. Then there is Hakka, decended from mainland Chinese over 300 years ago. During the early 20th century, Taiwan was controlled by the Japanese. And post WWII, Taiwan is back under Chinese rule. So many years of culinary history means every meal is amazing. I’m eating way too much!

We just had a wonderful visit to the Lin Family Historic Residence! We learned many things about Chinese History in Taiwan. The Lin family made it’s money by farming, having a standing army, and by selling camphor to make smokeless gun powder. It’s a great perspective on a period of history I know little about.

That was followed by a quick visit to the Lin Family Garden. The garden was on the grounds of Ming Taing High School. We had a snack of cake & lattes (or tea) prepared and served by the high school students. We were joined on our walk by a Rotary Youth Exchange Student from France and some of the English Language students. They were so excited to talk to us!

We are off to the Earthquake Museum. On September 21, 1999 Taiwan was rocked by a major earthquake. We saw the damage at the dam, and have seen temples and buildings post reconstruction. It will be intriguing to learn more!

Alice

Yesterday’s lunch destination was extra special.  We were at Lita’s Paradise, a boutique hotel/restaurant.  (I highly recommend it if you find yourself in Taiwan.)  Before our meal we had a presentation from Alice, the daughter of the owners.

Alice shared her Student Rotary Exchange experience and how it has changed and defined her life.  She described herself as a quiet and shy person who had been bullied and didn’t have much confidence.  Her first few months with her host family in Brazil was difficult also.  She was struggling to learn Portuguese and living in a small rural town, when she was accustomed to city life.  Her host family gave her the ultimatum of learn the language or go home.

She worked hard to learn and got better every day.  In an effort to show her host family she cared and wanted to be there, Alice asked to prepare a meal.  Eggs, tomato and green onion was a traditional dish she knew from home.  With that meal it all started to turn around for her time there.  By the end of her trip she was the best Portuguese speaking exchange student and she made friends she will have for life.  She couldn’t believe when more than 100 people turned out for her farewell party.

Since that time, she has backpacked across Mexico and wrote a book about that experience called 45 Days in Mexico, has a cookie shop at the family business, has consulted on menus for restaurants in Taipei, giving a TED talk, and more.  She’s 19 and a senior in high school.  WOW!

Oh, and the food was amazing!  Both in presentation and flavor.