Taiwan: Looking for Buddha in Yilan and Hualien, and…

IMG_2290…nobody’s eyes, because you won’t find anything there, not somebody else’s, anyway, though maybe your own, if you’re capable of turning the mirror inward. But the outer world is always handy for a clue or two, a clean well-lighted place for books, or adoration, or something similar, like a good place to place a cushion in meditation, or a good place to witness in awe the indescribable majesty and magnitude of creation, the ineluctable modality of this slow cool world…

Taiwan may have a population slightly larger than Sri Lanka’s twenty-plus million, but it’s only a little over half the size, and much more developed, including high-speed trains that California would drool over, so that means you can zip down the west side of the island in little more than a half-day—but not the east side, not quite, not yet, almost. That’s the more nature-laden indigenous-peopled sparser half of the island, with not too much in between, except along those same coasts…

IMG_2250But first stop is Yilan city, just about an hour from Taipei, but decades away in development, never to be the city in question, always to be second-place, but not necessarily second-best. For this is a mid-level city of middle-class Chinese in a middle-class country, built from scratch from hard times and hard work, hard efforts trumping hard luck…

This almost seems like a city stuck in the 1950’s, and that ain’t bad, before all the malls, and all the smart-phones, before all the social media, and all the anti-social tedium, just anti-Communist to a fault, and that ain’t Chiang Kai Shek’s fault, he just capitalized on it, until they needed the democracy to ratify the capitalism, and even now it’s still just mom-and-pop, and the shop down the block. If you want glitzy malls, then go to Singapore, or Bangkok, or KL, or even Beijing, for all I know, and I don’t care. I like it like this…

The city has a sense of humor, dinosaurs enshrined in the architecture, and a nightly night market, defined as wherever two or more meal carts park within shouting distance of each other and the rest is history. But that’s not what I’m here for, neither that nor tourism. I’m here for Buddhism. So I look for Buddhism up the hill at Fo Guang University, and the prospects are good. I think maybe I’ve finally decided what I want to do when I grow up…

IMG_2256So I apply to study for my MA in Buddhist Studies, with transcripts and other details to be delivered later, details upon details and more details. But this trip ain’t over yet, so I continue down the road to Hualien, near Taiwan’s best-known tourist site, Taroko Gorge, just an hour by train, and no brain-drain…

Here you can speak English like an American without tears, almost just like ringing a bell, which I’ll avoid like the plague a year from now, but for now it’s just fine, so I can eat meals and make deals, and otherwise have my being. It’s cheaper here, too, lotsa’ competition, so the magic hand of the marketplace makes itself felt…

In all fairness, it’s not that the level of English is bad elsewhere, just that the average bloke has no need for it, not like Thailand, where everyone has a smidgen of pidgin, just in case, but nobody speaks it very well, whereas here it’s the opposite: those who speak can generally speak well, but everyone else could care less—unless they’re in the tourist industry, one way or another…

IMG_2294So the gorge is nice, until I’m full to over-flowing, and the river’s little canyon ain’t bad, either. My only glitch is that I almost get stuck, buying a return train ticket three days in advance, and it’s almost too late, only seat available at six in the morning, this on a run with dozens of trains per day—whew! That was close. No, it would not be good to be stuck in Hualien while my flight is taking off in Taipei…

I pay my respects to the Buddhist center Tzu Chi, but mostly just chill, literally, and try to stay out of the rain. This California climate does have its rainy season. I didn’t say Southern California. There’s a ‘Japanese-y’ feel here, and that’s not entirely by accident. They ruled here for a generation of two, and the place is geologically and geographically probably more an extension of it than mainland China, not a sea-based nation traditionally. And it shows in the food…

There is lots of seafood here, not to mention sushi, which is fast-food currency, easily available in every mom-and-pop at little more than a dollar a shot. I only wish I could try more options on the street, which are many and varied, but problematic for a non-Chinese speaker. Hey, it’s problematic for a non-Chinese reader (since the usual method is to mark your own X on the typical menu-cum-order pad)! So most places simply don’t make the extra effort, given the relatively low number of white-bum tourists, though a few do…

IMG_2305In China proper, they’d just charge extra for the extra service, though, so at least they don’t do that here, though they might ignore you. Yes, it’s true, and rather freaked me out when it happened, and that in a place with English written under pictures on the wall. Maybe the English-speaker wasn’t there that day. At first I was pissed, but held my tongue, until I realized there was no aggression intended, just shame, so easily solved—once I get up to speed in Mandarin, putonghua, as they say on the mainland, no dualling languages…

I’ve got this, IF I come back to study. My only other dislikes are manageable, too, sidewalks given over to motorcycle parking and brown rice only available DIY from supermarkets. At least they have supermarkets, no guarantees of that on the mainland, though Thailand is full of them. What else? The carpenters don’t know how to hang doors to fit tightly, but I won’t tell–oops! I just did. I finally found the glitzy section of Taipei on the rebound, but by then it’s too late. I like this place…

 

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