A Touch of the Divine—The Final Day of Study Abroad: Taiwan
Master’s student and Student Services Coordinator, Kate Broderick is studying in Taiwan for a three-week intensive study of Chinese language and culture, based at Tunghai University in Taichung. The program was made possible by a scholarship from the School of Arts and Communication at Florida Tech. She will be chronicling her experience over the next three weeks on our blog.
It will be a miracle if my heart does not shatter into a thousand pieces today, because—alas—today is the last day of my studies in Taiwan. I am determined to squeeze every ounce out of the day into as many adventures as possible. The agenda looks quite promising—we are going to Sun Moon Lake. Eric and I had mentioned to the coordinator at the CLC in Tunghai University that we would have liked to visit Sun Moon Lake, which was not originally on our program plans. She called some people and that’s how Eric and I currently find ourselves in the backseat of a car headed toward Nantou, a county in the center of Taiwan.
Our first stop is the Puli. Puli is renowned throughout Taiwan for its high water quality (in fact, rumor has it that the girls in Puli are some of the most beautiful in Taiwan because of the water). Puli was virtually wiped off the map in 1999, when the 921 Earthquake occurred, killing 2,415 people and causing NT$300 billion in damages. The Taiwanese focused on rebuilding Puli as a sustainable eco-tourism spot, and it is clear by the copious amounts of tourists that their plan has succeeded. We stopped first at the Puli brewery, famous for its production of rice wines. There are three major occasions for wine: when your daughter get s married, when your son comes of age, and if your daughter dies prematurely. At the birth of a child, parents bury large jars of high quality alcohol, and during one of the three above occasions, the wine is dug up and shared with friends and family.
Our next visit is lunch at the Paper Dome. The Paper Dome is a tourist highlight—it is an entire building reminiscent of an oversized gazebo, comprised entirely out of paper. I have an amazing type of seasoned rice with cashew nuts for lunch. The chef wrote the word “loving” on the side of my plate in a caramel sauce—it completely suits my mood, as right now I am loving every aspect of Taiwan.
Finally, bellies full, we arrive at Sun Moon Lake! As we drove through a tea farm, our guide told us that we would be visiting the water treatment center, where the Japanese, during the period they occupied Taiwan, built a network of dams. To be honest, I was not expecting to be impressed—it sounded so industrial! But, like always, Taiwan far exceeded my expectations. The center is actually a tourist destination, housed in a chic ultra-modern building home to an art museum and aboriginal pottery display. Here, I learn the history of Sun Moon Lake. The lake received its name from its unusual shape—it looks like the sun and crescent moon delicately pressed together. It was discovered by an aboriginal tribe chasing a white deer, who fell in love with its beauty. Gazing at the water, it is not difficult to imagine why.
The lake is a glassy, soft blue, with a slight green turquoise tinge to it. The shore of the lake is hugged by lush emerald mountains that stretch far into the heavens until clouds kiss the mountain peaks. It feels as if I am seeing something that humans are not meant to see—as if I am glimpsing a small piece of the immortal, a tiny sliver of heaven. My eyes could devour the sight of the tranquil water and towering mountains and wispy clouds until the earth stopped spinning; but time presses on, and we have other sights to see! I tear my gaze away from the lake willingly—only because our next stop promises to be as ethereally beautiful.
Thank God we are attempting our next stop at the end of the trip! I have three weeks of walking, hiking, and climbing behind me, or else reaching the next location would have killed me. We are climbing the 954 meter-high Shabalan Mountain in an effort to reach the Ci En Pagoda. The pagoda was built by the first president of the Republic, Chiang Kai Shek, in memory of his mother. Climbing to the top of the pagoda will place you exactly 1000 meters above sea level, giving you a pristine view of Sun Moon Lake and the surrounding mountains.
After exhaustedly climbing down the mountain, we stop for a quick respite at a peacock pavilion. The hillside is dotted with numerous peacocks lazing in the sun or displaying their plumage in full splendor. The scenic picture is slightly spoiled by the piercing crowing of the peacock—a mix between a garbled cluck and a tortuous caw. Who would have known peacocks were such noisy birds? The view reminds me of the delicate Chinese watercolors detailing the elegant birds.
Our final stop of the day is to meet the divine—we pull up to the Wen Wu Temple overlooking the jade-like waters of Sun Moon Lake. The temple is protected by two flaming-red, ferocious stone lions. They tower at least 20 feet into the air in a truly imposing display. Walking past the temple guardians, we climb a final step of stairs before gaining entry into the temple. There are very specific rules of entry regarding temples in Taiwan: pious visitors must enter the temple to the right, view the temple in a counter-clockwise rotation, and exit at the left. We enter through a small door at the right of the temple. Immediately I notice the thousands of prayer charms dangling from every possible place in the heart of the temple. The tinkling of the prayer charms sound like fairies laughing in the wind—each charm possesses a tiny pink bell that chimes ever-so-softly in the light evening breeze. On the back of a gold medallion affixed to the charms, thousands of temple-goers have written their prayers and wishes. There are three levels to the Wen Wu temple: the first level is a shrine to the god of Literature, where thousands of hopeful students present test-papers in hopes of achieving “all-pass,” a perfect test score. Climbing a second set of stairs, we reach the sanctuary of the valiant god of War. Reaching the final level, we arrive at Confucius’ place of worship, home to the only seated image of the sage throughout Taiwan.
The final experience at Wen Wu temple can only be described as surreal: a perfect ending to a perfect stay in Taiwan. The air is thick with incense, soft winds playfully caress my hair, and the faint tinkling of thousand of chimes echo throughout the twilight sky. There is a sense of finality to the moment—in this moment, I finally accept that I will be leaving Taiwan. But, like the yin and yang—the eternal pair of opposites—I also realize that this farewell is not final. The same winds that send me home will be the same winds that welcome me back to Taiwan one day. Although this chapter is ending, my story with Taiwan is far from over.
I am truly thankful to Florida Tech and especially the School of Arts and Communication for giving me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Knowing that I have such an amazing university waiting for me in Florida is the only reason that I am getting on the plane tomorrow. As I leave Taiwan, I feel as though I am leaving one home; but as sad as leaving is making me, I am happy to be returning to my real home at Florida Tech.