First of all, I'd like to congratulate Andrea and Taharqa Patterson on the birth of their twin daughters this morning. You guys are awesome. My trip to Taiwan has officially been one-upped. You can go abroad anytime, but you only procreate, on average, 2.6 times (if you're American). I'm a little bit overwhelmed by the fact that when I get back, they'll almost be a year old.
So, my first week in Taiwan has been hot and humid, but for the last three days it has rained almost constantly because of a typhoon passing by on the southwest coast of the island. It wouldn't be so bad if it were not for the fact that for the last two days we've been on a field trip in the center of Taiwan, so it's been a pain. Yesterday we toured a stunningly beautiful Buddhist monastery--it would be more accurate to call it a palace. One of the most memorable parts was on the ninth floor where there was a large marble white Buddha in a white hall made out of white ceramic tiles. The ceramic tiles had a highly reflective surface, causing the statue to appear as if it were floating on a white pool of water. There were two other Buddhas in the flanking halls, but I forget what they represented. There were a lot of Buddhas: there was a hall of ten thousand Buddhas on copper plates, there was a gold-plated "magnificent" Buddha flanked by two white marble "healing" Buddhas on the fifth floor, and lots of bodhisattvas and dharmas. I'm glad I got a good introduction to Buddhism at Wesleyan, so I wasn't totally lost when the nun was explaining the tenents and history of Buddhism. Even so, there were a lot of Buddhas and gods to keep track of. I don't know how some people do it. I have a hard enough time maintaining a relationship with One.
After the temple we toured a brand-new multi-lingual school connected with the monastery, and then went to a "paper church"--which turned out to disappoint everyone. We all thought we were going to a church made of paper. Instead, we found ourselves at a random glass-plated building in the middle of nowhere. Maybe the paper was inside the glass walls? Lame.
Today, we went to...how do I even phrase this? An aborignial-themed amusement park. It was a bit like Disneyland: you take cable cars over the mountain to get there, there are fast food restaurants all over the place, and almost all the employees are wearing aboriginal-style costumes. I didn't really have a good time. I didn't want to go on the roller coasters (speed+height=do not want) and it was raining the whole day, so I walked around with a couple of the students from the program and cultural ambassadors. I wore an absurd yellow poncho that made me look like a giant soggy duck, and I still got wet. I went to a aboriginal culture show, but I didn't understand any of the Mandarin spoken, and I don't know any of the aboriginal history, so to me it just looked like a bunch of people dancing in brightly-colored costumes. There were some model houses with some fake people inside to show what life was like. At that point, I didn't really care. I just went inside them to get out of the rain.
Later on, we went to a carnival warehouse with some small roller coasters and other little rides. I'm pretty sure it had absolutely nothing to do with Taiwanese culture, but going on the rides was fun after a long, bothersome, wet day.
I've been here for a week and a half now, and I'm realizing one thing is for certain: I'm not in China. When I told family and friends I was going to Taiwan, many of them replied, "Oh! You're going to China! How wonderful!" Even then I knew that there was some differences, after coming here, I can say for certain that Taiwan is NOT China. First of all, it is CLEAN. Even though there are squat toilets, almost all of the public bathrooms are clean and are supplied with toilet paper, sinks with running water, and soap. The people are much friendlier and polite. No one has stared at me, called out to me, or solicited me. There is much greater freedom of expression and religious practice, and an atmosphere much more conducive to discussion. And did I mention it rains a lot here?
Tomorrow we're going to look at some more stuff (train station? Earthquake site? Pagoda?) and then we're going back to Taipei. I can't wait. I don't like being in a place without a subway for more than a couple of days. Pictures to come, promise.
OMG PLZ PLZ PLZ STOP RAINING. KTHNXBAI.