Sights from Street Level – Tai Pei Day 3

One of the dangers of being in Tai Pei during this time of year is the fact that at any time you might be caught in a rain storm. We have already been caught in a couple of them, and we have learned that it is important to always carry around an umbrella just in case one of these storms breaks out. But on the other hand, when it is beautiful outside, it is important to take full advantage of it an enjoy the weather while it lasts. This is what I did yesterday as I wandered the streets of the city, and saw some of the older sites that it has to offer.

Even though, Tai Pei is not as big of an international city as some of the other ones in east Asia such as Bangkok, Hong Kong, or Singapore, there are a lot of east Asian influences that have come to this city and shaped it into the way that it is right now. It has at various times been occupied by both the Chinese and the Japanese and at one time, I think that the Dutch controlled this little island. You can see this influence in the city’s architecture, culture, and food. There is also a mix of old building that blend in with the more modern skyscrapers to give this city a lot of character.

But it is the culture that really stands out when you walk through the older streets of the city. Many times on my walk, I came across temples and shrines that marked the older Taoist spiritual connection. Even though each one of these temples had a specific deity that was worshipped there, many shrines were set up to various entities that people could come to worship or give offerings to. The Lungsham temple was a great example of this. The main focus of the temple was meant to be for Guanyin, but many people came to pay their respects to some of the other shrines. The more popular ones were for the god of literature and the god of war, but by entering the place, you could feel the respect that was given by the people who came here to worship.

But even though there were many Taoist temples in the city, there were still many places where old Buddhist monuments still stood. They were not as prominent, but it showed that blend of eastern Asian cultures existed in this town.

It made for an interesting day of seeing the different corners that Tai Pei had to offer. It was refreshing to see the city was not all about shopping and eating, but also was about that spiritual connection that all of us search for to give our lives meaning. There were many times on this walk that gave me that slight respite that allowed me to feel that the connection I was making was not only about the culture that was here, but was a more personal experience that allowed me to slow down and understand the world better from my perspective. This is what a day of seeing the city from the perspective of the people brings.

And of course there was always a moment to find some food as well. You are also able to finding the blending of cultures here as well. We stopped at a sushi place in the heart of the shopping district during lunch. I’m not sure, but it looked like all of the signs were in Chinese even though this is a typical Japanese dish. We were also asked to talk in the limited Mandarin that we knew to order even though what we were ordering came from a different part of east Asia. It made me think that even though there is not a huge western influence in this little corner of the world, it is nice to know that they are still willing to blend cultures together to create a new one that is fun and delicious at the same time.

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Tai Pei 101 – Taiwan Day 2

One of Tai Pei’s greatest landmarks is Tai Pei 101, the large skyscraper that looks over the city. It wasn’t always here, but it has become one of the most recognizable buildings ever since its completion in 2004. It is not only because of its unique architectural style, but also because it is the eighth tallest building in the world. It begs for anybody that comes to this town to come and visit it and see what it has to offer in the inside.

Of course when you get inside, you are only allowed access to three of the top floors where the observatory is, and the bottom six levels where the mall exists with its pricey shops and amazing food court. Many people who come here head straight up to the top level to overlook the city. It is a great way to get your orientation to the sprawling landscape, and look at the little neighborhoods that you might want to visit while you are out here. It is also a great place to watch the weather that comes rolling through this city next to the ocean. It apparently gets battered by mother nature quite a bit, which makes this place a bigger marvel because why would they create such a place if they knew that a huge storm might take it down at any time.

But that is what makes this an engineering landmark as well. When they designed the building, they installed a wind damper. I had no idea what this would be, but looking at it made me understand how something like this could make a building like this safe from typhoons and tsunamis. Basically it is a huge ball that is supported in the inside of the building by steal cables and a hydraulic system, so when wind does batter the building, this 660 metric ton weight will take the brunt of the force. They claim that by having this device at the top of the building, it makes it 40% safer against the forces of nature, and you won’t even feel the building sway during one of these storms.

How do I know about all of this you ask. Well, like all other places in Asia, whenever something needs to be explained, what better way to do it than create a couple of cute cartoon characters to explain it to the world. Cur the Damper Babies, a collection of strange characters that tell all about the wind damper in a video constantly playing and switching through different languages right behind the wind damper.

All of the excitement of being so high above the landscape can make anybody hungry, and the food court on the bottom level offers many options for meals that should satisfy any person. The most popular place is easily the dim sum restaurant, Din Tai Fung. During lunch, there is a two hour wait to even get a table in the restaurant, but you can always put your name in and go wandering around the rest of the mall while you wait.

It is worth the wait to because the food is amazing. The danger is that you will always want to order more than you need, but I would recommend getting a won ton, a dumpling or two, and some type of soup to supplement your meal. You will leave the place satisfied even though you had to build up an appetite while waiting for you food to appear.

Tai Pei 101 is the perfect start to an adventure out in this city, and I would recommend going there first to get a little taste of what this town has to offer.

Why I Travel – Taiwan Day 1

Do I think traveling is important? Do I think that if a person stays within the confines of their home and their community that their view of the world is limited and they really do not understand it even though they may claim that they do? Do I believe that it is important to feel uncomfortable in a new society in order to find out who I really am and what I really believe in?

Of course I do.

Many people have told me that I am lucky to be able to live the life that I have, but I live this life because it is the one that I chose to do. I love being able to take off from time to time to go to crazy places in the world and look at the weird way that they perceive humanity. I love the fact that when I go to these places and meet the people there, I meet more people like me. These people have the same hopes, the same dreams, the same fears, and the same preconceived notions of how the world should be run.

I have learned that the more we think we are different, the harder it is to realize that in actuality, we are all the same. Yes, our customs might be different, and we might look up to different gods, and follow different structures within our governments, but when you get down to the heart of it, we all are the same. There is only one way that you can realize this as a person, and that is to get on that big plane, and visit a place that you know is going to be dramatically different than the one you are from. If you really want to learn this, you should pick a place that scares you a bit. You might see some weird things as you wander around, but in the end, you will be a wiser person because of it.

This is my hope as I explore Taiwan on this break. The first day has only been a train ride to my apartment, and a quick dinner before bed, but it has already proved to me that this will be a weird and wonderful place to explore. I will share more of that experience in the days to come.

Above the Tweets

Please do not feel pity for the hunchback
‘Cause he had the perfect view of beauty.
Even though companionship he did lack,
Which some think is how you find yourself free;
Instead, he got to look down on the crowd,
And judge them based on their humanity.
Something is not true ’cause you say it loud
But not always for that society.
From his perch on top of the cathedral,
He is free from the pain dealt by their words,
He does not need to be hurt by their ills,
Making all his friends from the carefree birds.
Don’t regret what it is you never knew;
Instead, sit back and enjoy the view.

Reunion

As the breeze blows over the patio
Allow me to refill your empty glass.
There is not a place where you need to go
And you should never let a moment pass.
You know you enjoy the conversation
As we let the time of the night tick by,
For our memories are the connection
Of where our relationship really lies.
Though it may be that only once a year
That our lives are able to intersect,
It is these little moments that appear
That move my heart with the greatest effect.
I want to thank you for the night’s meal,
Also the way the time makes me feel.

Laughter on the Outside

I have forgot what it means to be dry
Because I have lived in this rain too long.
I hope my personal weather will sigh,
Allowing the time with the sun the time to be strong.
Until then I will sit under this cloud
With my drenched clothes clinging to my body.
A fool in the rain can never be proud,
Punishment for never being naughty.
I will continue to wear my smile
‘Cause others depend on the attitude.
Dripping laughter will become my style,
Never expecting any platitude.
Will any ever understand my pain,
Just a wet man, standing in his own rain?

The Ultimate Boon – Experiential Education Day 3

I love teaching the Hero’s Journey, not because it is really cool to see how many stories fit into the archetype, but because it is fun to think about how it applies to our lives. We all get to go through the journey so many times, and if we look at each adventure we have from this perspective, we can grow so much as individuals. But the only way that we can do this is by looking for that ultimate boon every time we leave our houses to go on one of these adventures. This is the thing that makes the experience worth our time. It is what we can look at as a symbol of how we have grown. Sometimes it is something physical that we can hold on to, but most of the time, it is held within a memory of how we were before the experience, and how we have changed because of it.

This is why the experiential education trip I went on with my student became so meaningful. It was an adventure that they needed to go on. They could not avoid the call to adventure, and there were many trials along the way that pushed all of them to their limits. I can’t remember how many times the students came up to me and told me that they had reached the apotheosis. Keep in mind that they are teenagers, and they all believe that they have reached that they have reached the moment when they have died, ready for the moment when they could experience their rebirth. And they all wondered when they would get to cross the return threshold and go back to their bed. But none of them thought about what they brought back with them. This is the thing that will last the longest from the trip, and for each of them, it was something different from the trip that allowed them to connect with the reality of who they really are. This is really applying what they learned to the real world. It is that ultimate boon that will make them resilient to the problems of they face in the future, and overcome them.

So as the trip closed down and we finished up the final moments, I enjoyed the fact that I got to see so many of these young men and women grow as individuals. I could see them make those connections as well, but that was because we framed the trip under the context of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. It forced them to look for meaning on the trip, and when you are looking for meaning you usually will find it. This is the type of education that transcends the traditional classroom, and should be implemented in more schools across the world.

So the next time you go out on your next trip, I challenge you to look for your ultimate boon. Like many heroes before you, what you find might not be what you are looking for, but it will definitely be what you need. It is what will make that adventure one of the most memorable ones you have ever been, and you will find a little piece of yourself that you never knew existed before. It will make your next trip, more than just a vacation. It will become an epic adventure.