Monday, August 26, 2013
An old friend has worked for nearly two years to restores his childhood home on a busy street in central Tainan. I toured the interior of the home on a previous trip, just after restoration began. The house has been unoccupied for nearly 40 years. We side-stepped around crumbling tiles and edged up narrow, dilapidated staircases connecting the four levels. Overall, it was a mess. But through the rubble, I caught glimpses of its former grandeur. Features such as high ceilings, original wooden beams, and the large central courtyard were hard to miss. Much has changed since my last tour. All of the details of craftsmanship seemed to pop out. From intricate retro modern window frames, a series of sliding front doors constructed of Taiwanese grown juniper, trim on the tile work and, around entry ways, windows, and mirrors. Restoring the building to its original form has become one of my friend’s primary ambitions. Replicating the detail and the craftsmanship has proven to be painstaking and slow and process.
During my travels, I observe that many small cities in Taiwan often showcase this type of preservation. When the Taiwanese encounter old features from a bygone era, they become heartsick and transported back to that earlier era. I gaze upon a painting, the shop owner explained, “This is of life in Tainan as it existed roughly 120 years ago.” She continued, “It was a time when everything was simpler, and people were good.” The word good she used for good was 乖guai (first tone). If the words get drawn out a bit, it’s an example of onomatopoeia. This restorative energy has caught on here in Tainan. Here are some pictures of the home, as we tour it by night.
Friday, August 23, 2013
Lessons from Li Lao Shi
I met with Teacher Li and mentioned that I want to bring my son to Taiwan for part of his grade school education. “That's good!” he said. “That's what you have to do. You're almost 40. You have to bring him along with you, so he has a strong impression of what his father did.” Then he chimes in with his joking nature, “Teach him how to earn Chinese money.”
He is joking, but he knows it is no joke, and continues into one of his philosophy raps. Such is the way of Teacher Li. “How many PhD's are there in the world today?” he queries. “So you know that a PhD doesn't mean a crap. But in this new world that your son will live in, how will people achieve value? It’s important to be able to do something that brings value. Remember my nephew? The one who was a straight-A student and went to England to study? He hurt himself and had a hard time studying ever since. Now he is training to be a chef in a famous kitchen here in Taiwan. After you graduate from school, what do you have to do?”
I've heard this particular rap a few times. So this time, on cue, I tell him the answer, “Get a job.” He replies, “Yes, get a job, so why not get a job right off, get to your goal sooner, and save yourself a whole lot of trouble?”
Li Lao Shi is an amazing character and, as a fortune teller, he knows the other side of the story. He's just waiting to see how much of the story we can piece together to create a guide for achieving the best life possible. As a fortune teller, this must be one of Teacher Li's favorite subjects.
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
The following is an attempt to capture the experience of my most recent tea buying trip to Taiwan. I know that many of you haven't been to Taiwan. It’s a beautiful, vibrant island. Yet there remains a huge cultural gap that is not easy to navigate. People have different ways of knowing and doing, so there is a lot of room for disconnect. The tea table is a place where connection is established regardless of these cultural differences. At the tea table, we begin to understand each other, if for nothing else, to normalize our own experience. To tell a joke, to laugh, and to drink tea together; life doesn't get any better than this...
This is the result of one to two decades of work: learning, exploring, recording, meeting people, forming and maintaining relationships. This all takes time and much of it can't be rushed... at the risk of missing it.
So let us begin on a little adventure I'm going to call “gutting my memory.”
Entry into Taiwan
As I step off the plane, it’s approaching 6:00 am in Taipei, Taiwan. At this early hour, there is no need to hurry, so I buy a bus ticket headed south to Tainan, the old Southern capital. The bus trip requires two legs, with a transfer in Taizhong. Upon arriving in Taizhong, I decide to make the stop worthwhile by searching out a traditional breakfast and visiting tea friends. After the long trip filled with icky airplane food, I was starving. I can almost taste the steamed buns and fresh soy milk. I remember a great breakfast place next to a tea shop that I want to visit so I take a cab from the bus station, hot on the trail of steamed buns... and they did not disappoint. They were so good that I ate two servings, and walked around the corner to my friend’s teashop. As soon as I stepped in the shop, the room started to tremor. In the chaos I heard someone say, “Earthquake!” The shop owner started to chant some Buddhist scriptures as I felt the floor sway underneath us. The walls swayed to and fro and the owner’s wife moved toward them to make sure that none of the expensive tea ware fell from the shelves. It was all over before it started, but what a welcome! I spent the morning selecting tea and tea ware and before long it was time for lunch. After lunch together, I continued my journey south. This earthquake was most severe in Nantou County. Well, this trip has already started out with a bang and I couldn't help but think that it promises to be a good one.
Thursday, August 08, 2013
This is a tea love story. Vast universes and ecosystems are experienced and discovered with each infusion. Each sip lingers, holding court in the bodies central channel, from the lower intestines to the throat and nose. It can be felt from the soles of one's toes to the neurons in the brain. We experience tea.
It doesn't say, but I wonder what kind of tea inspired this tea love poem.