Tuesday, January 11, 2011

International Travel - Part 2

As mentioned in my last post, I had the opportunity to visit Taiwan this past summer.  The first several days of the trip were filled with meetings and amazing dinners presented by our extremely gracious hosts.  However, our busy schedule kept us from "playing tourist".  Luckily, the day before we returned home, we had some time to do some sightseeing.

That morning, a colleague and I walked over to the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall.  Even though it was not open yet (though we did manage to get inside long enough to take a picture of the giant statue of Dr. Sun), we did enjoy walking around the park, watching many groups of locals practicing tai chi, gong fu or just dancing to music.

Incidentally, I loved how polite everyone was! 

We also wandered over to Taipei 101, which until last year was the tallest building in the world.  

After marveling at the dichotomy of the statues of a happy family standing in the middle of a designated smoking area...

...we took the World's Fastest Elevator up to the observation area on the 88th floor (which took maybe a minute?) and gawked at the view for a few minutes.

Then we pondered the wisdom in waving to window washers dangling 88 floors above the ground.

Before I really started to feel dizzy, we headed back down to ground level and I took a cab over to Longshan Temple.

Apparently, I've been watching too many movies with sweeping landscapes of peaceful temples, because I was completely unprepared for how packed and busy Longshan Temple was.  I was also unprepared for how cramped it felt within the city; it seemed impossible to me that anyone could experience a moment of peaceful solitude for worship.

I overheard one of the many (loud) tour guides state that the temple, which was originally built in 1738 by Han settlers, is still an active institution where locals conducted worship.  It's also a major tourist attraction in Taipei, which explained why so many worshipers seemed content to ignore this intrusive foreigner who insisted on taking some pictures.  I was able to steal away to a quiet place and observe some of the locals conducting worship.

Many worshipers brought offerings of flowers or food, which filled table after table throughout the temple.

One of the more poignant memories I have from that visit was my observation of a woman using red crescent-shaped pieces of wood to ask questions of the god or goddess she was kneeling before. 

She would carefully raise the pieces to her lips, whisper her question, then throw the pieces upon the ground.  According to one of my Taiwanese hosts, the final position of the pieces determined whether the answer to her question was a yes, no or ask again later.  It was an intensely personal scene and very moving to watch.  

There were many such moments to observe, and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity!

After taking a final moment to appreciate the incredibly beautiful and detailed artwork in the temple...

...I returned to my hotel to grab some lunch before taking a bus tour of the northern side of the island.  More on that in the next post!

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