tomorrow we leave hualien…

The days here have been so long–especially because they begin for me at 3:30am–it is hard to believe that our time here is nearly at an end. We leave tomorrow and take the train back to Taipei for out last two days in Taiwan. 

I wish I could describe the quality of frantic serenity/serene franticity? that the Abode is steeped in. It is beautiful here, even tho the mountain mists hang low and we have seen the sun only for a couple of hours since we arrived a week ago, it is peaceful, lush and alive.

Everyone works hard and effeciently, and at the same time they exude a joyful radiance that only increases when they are bringing you “cha” (tea) or a flower to smell or a cookie to eat. There is much work to be done just to keep the Abode going; preparing the food, growing the food, cleaning the buildings, tending to the grounds, welcoming and caring for visitors, and much much more. 


Riding Off to the Fields


Steaming the manto


Tending to the Garden

Today we worked for a while in the factory, adhering labels to all  natural bug repellent which they sell.  


 They also make soaps and candles here, essential oils and ceramic items. But the larger work of disaster relief and caring for the sick, the poor, the elderly around the world is the true Tzu Chi gift. –Check out their web site Tzu Chi.

It is difficult to express the extent to which we two white haired, white, old “mei guo ren” ladies, have been embraced and cared for, for no other reason than we are connected to Ge Bin (one of Alex’s Chinese names) and they love and value him so. Or maybe that is not the case. Maybe they have just been so generously welcoming to Mama and Ahmah, just because. That is what they do, how they live, and how they practice their engaged Buddhism. 

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Over the hump

It is hard to believe we have been here for six days…and we have only four full days left.

Because it is 6:38 and my bed time here is 7:45, this post will be short and sweet. From the morning chanting, to the helping out in the kitchen,  

  removing the pits from the longans, to an interview with Master Cheng Yen, it has been a long and wondrous, strange and emotional day. Wan an.  

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Hualien and the Jing Si Abode

A pre breakfast walk through the Da an district, noodles and then we headed to the train station to catch the train to Hualien. Since arriving yesterday afternoon we have been immersed in a sea of kindness, generosity, beauty, strangeness and love. I am not sure that any description I attempt can do it justice.

My mother and I are staying in a guest house down the road from the Abode. 

  It is tropical here, with magnolia trees, orchids, palms, and a plethora of snowy white egrets. We were exhausted from the ride, still feeling the jetlag, but when we came into dinner we were ambushed with loving welcomes and curiosity about Alex’s Mama and Amah.

We crashed early on the “sturdy” –read rock hard–beds in the guesthouse  and I was asleep by 8pm, in preparation for waking predawn for the chanting and darma talk. The plan was to meet Alex at 4:10 am, but we crossed wires and were each waiting for each other in different places. I was freaked out among strangers and didn’t want to “waste ” the fact that I had virtuously gotten myself up, so I followed the line of women into the hall inadvertently sitting in the section reserved for the nuns and lay boddhisattvas. 

The chanting was amazing, rich deep resonant, but for me impenetrable since they were chanting a sutra in Chinese. I was enveloped in the sound, punctuated by drums and gongs and bells and bows. The darma talk that followed was in Taiwanese, so I was left with my own thoughts and feelings–always compelling.

Finding Alex and my mother, I tried to let go my frustration at not being able to understand–I was thinking alot about Julie, my exchange student from Denmark, who spoke excellent English, but still it must have been exhausting, working so hard to understand what was going on around her.

We were late to breakfast, and then were honored to be swiftly invited to join Cheng Yen, the darma master’s table to eat breakfast with her.Breakfast was manto–an airy bun like thing, peanuts, a delicious nut/sesame paste spread and porridge. 

After breakfast Alex translated the Master’s message in which she stressed the unrelenting passage of time, and urged us to waste not a moment. 

We were then taken on a whirlwind tour of the Toroko Gorge, guided by Alex’s roomate Ming Chun. The gorge has been cut through the marble and granite mountain, and abundant “pu bu”–waterfall–grace the cliff faces.  

Tomorrow after the morning chanting and darma talk, we are slated to help out in the factory where they make soap, candles and essential oils. It is the least we can do to repay the extraordinary warmth and care with which we have been received.

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metro and more…

after another successful breakfast buffet adventure, we headed out on the metro to visit the Da Ai TV station…located in a beautiful buidling with warm wood floors, that just happens to be shaped like a lotus, the tv stations produces a myriad of Tzu Chi productions, including the videos for which Alex does the English subtitles. 

Yet another spectacular meal, tofu salad, dumplings, peppery edamame, and much much more, and then we trotted across the street from the hotel for foot massages. At first, mom didn’t want to go: she figured since they weren’t all booked up like the Thai foot massasge place up the street, they probably weren’t very good…but they were right there so we indulged. Before Alex got there with the cash to pay for the massages, we relied on pantomime to communicate which toes were vulnerable, and what temperature would make my mother comfortable!

in the end we all had happy feets 


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day 2 and Da ai

began the day with an aborted walk to a near by park…the air was heavy, hot, humid, we turned back before reaching the Da an forest park. On the way we passed parks and trees,   

  and a quiet holiday morning of commuters…this week is an independence day holiday for Taiwan, so people are off for a four day weekend; there were parades by our hotel. 

we ventured out to breakfast sans Alex, so we were on our own for ordering and paying. wonderful  sweet helpful customers who spoke english guided us through the delicious breakfast buffet, and we mangaged to overeat yet again.  we spent our morning napping and browsing SOGO, the local department store and some amazing hi end boutiques. Things are not “pieni” here, but “gui”–lots of opportunities to practice our math to find out that the 5400 on the tee shirt tag actually meant 180 US dollars. 

Alex took us to a vegan restaurant for another delicious meal of pasta, for them and risotto for me. Luckily the four miles we trekked will keep us from blowing up like balloons.  


We ended our trek at the Da ai (Big Love) store, an enterprise of Tzu Chi, that uses post recyled materials–plastic bottles, etc., to make clothes, bags, etc. The dedicated volunteer salesforce, outfitted my mother in a lovley traditional Chinese style vest and blouse, and I bought a new solar powered rolly bag for my computer. The profits from these sales all got to Tzu Chi, so it was a win win, in addition to being totally fun.  


We were then treated, by Johann’s mother in law, to a royal 8 course meal with artisanal local teas, more Monkey heads mushrooms, veggie “escargot” and other delights shared with Alex’s work team and their friends and family. The food kept coming, and miraculously we kept finding room to keep on eating. We were sent home with boxes of cookies just in case there was even a smidgne of room left…

Sleep is still elusive, and comes at the most inopportune moments. Now, the rain is beating against the window, and at 5:49 am it is dark as night. We will see what the day will bring


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Heavenly dinner

after a deeply exhausting three hour nap I ventured out in our neighborhood…a soft dusky wind was stirring and the neon lights were glorious. passerbys friendly and very courteous to not block my photographic perspectives. Met Alex and his wonderful team of TzuChi volunteers and was taken to the 98 building…jio ba–where each floor is another resturant. We ate in a vegetarian gourmet place whose name was poetic but too hard to rememer in my jet lagged fog…IT was a six course meal and you get some choices of type of entree and soup–everything was out of this world including an herbal tonic that soothed and healed my jangled traverler’ bones. Conversation ranged from Mandarin tones to the Monkey’s Head mushroom–which was amazing!!–to the strong roots of faith of which the Buddha spoke. Couldn’t have imagined a more perfect inaugural dinner to our trip. Grandma begged off and dozed listening to her book on tape. Headed out now to find the Da an Forest Park about a mile away.  


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a day of firsts…

my first glimpse of Taiwan peaking out of a sea of clouds,  

and my tuchas’ first heated toilet… meet the e’loo!

Alex picked us up at the the airport and brought us back to the hotel…we had tai food for lunch, and now naps are pressing in as a necessity.


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hong kong layover…

spectacular mountains ring the airport…starbucks, McDonalds and Popeyes spattered among noodle and congee fast food

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perpetual nite…

After a brief flirtation with the sun…it made an appearance as we reached the Pacific, and then set gloriously. It has been night ever since. We are finishing up hour fourteen and the sliver of moon that has been accompanying us is still bright and present. They try to simulate day and night in the cabin by turning the lights on and off and by feeding us a meal that signifies morning. 

Hong Kong in an hour. 

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Off to Taiwan…

It is 9:005 pm and my mother and are trying to stay awake….our taxi comes at 11:15 pm to take us to logan, our fifteen hour flight to Hong Kong, leaves at 1:45  am. Oops, make that I am trying to stay awake…she’d down for the count. An auspicious beginning to our adventure!


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