Monday, July 14, 2014

Not Your Typical Taipei Field Trip

Like drunkards returning home from an all-nighter, we staggered away from the bus as the sun broke through the horizon to the left of us. We were tea people returning home after one of the most epic tea adventures ever. As we started out the day before, the plan was to take the high speed rail to Taipei, tour an artist's home, attend a spring roll festival, visit Taipei tea spots, meet elder tea teachers, and either sleep over or head back. The plan was left open, with room for flexibility. We got most of the way through it and here's what actually happened.

As soon as we got to Taipei, I broke off with Teacher Wang for a tour of Yang Po Lin's home / studio and a visit with the artist himself.
Teacher Wang had arranged the tour and invited me along the night before. I had no idea who he was so she quickly filled in with some background information. She made YPL out to be a national treasure. In short, he was an extraordinary artist who came from nothing and had a tough childhood.

We woke up early, at 7 am, to get on the 8 am high speed rail to Taipei. A big group of us were headed up. As our party convened at the rail station, I was temporarily alarmed to find that the party consisted of seven or eight upper middle-aged Taiwanese women. The scenario seems overwhelming this early in the morning. This dynamic presents a high level of cultural difference. But, after getting more sleep as we floated over the magnetized tracks at a speed that I am generally uncomfortable with, interacting with the group started to seem like it would be interesting. A friend of Teacher Wang picked us up at the Taipei Station. The driver, originally from Tainan, was using GPS to guide us to YPL's home. Although it guided incorrectly at first, we eventually made it to the windy mountain road that led to the house.

We parked the cars at the end of the drive ,which was more like a jungle road lined with a maze of shipping containers. The containers showed signs of use. My guess was that they were being used for work, storage, or something else completely. They defused some sort of creative energy and were in the process of being consumed by the jungle. I wanted to stay and explore, but the party was being whisked forward. Within the Taiwan jungle, there lay a public art piece. I wanted to slow down again and take it all in, but I would then be holding up the line, which wouldn't be polite, so I struggled to keep up. Upon entering, we were informed that we could take pictures, but were not to specifically take a picture of a particular piece, not to try to capture a piece in a photo. I wasn't really sure what this meant, so I observed. What I saw was mind expanding. I later learned that he rarely allowed people into this space, but Teacher Wang had insisted that we meet him here as it was vital to her research. He had agreed and he was a tolerant and gracious host. His assistant brought us personally specialized coffee, and he signed our names in one of his books if we chose to buy one. Of course I did and the copy of his rendition of my name is here:
My name in Chinese: 陳博倫
As he states in the English Preface – Craziness and Self-Discipline: “I was born in the most destitute fishing village of Yuanlin County.” His fate, to go from destitution to extreme wealth in the span of a lifetime, was a result of his creative endeavors. It was impressive, but I couldn't help but think that he was not yet satisfied. As I was clear that accomplishment and apparent success do not rid us of feelings such as emptiness or loneliness. I wanted to ask him, “Are you there yet? Have you reached your goal?” He probably would have said that each and every moment his goal is to be in the flow. Creating his vision and bringing it to life is the goal.

I signed his guest book with something to the effect of, “Your creative spirit leaves a path of inspiration in its wake,” or my best version of that in Chinese. He read it over and smiled because I used some strange Chinese words, but said that it was understood and acceptable. I am always glad to be understood...

As we piled back into the cars for the ride back down the hill, all of us were changed. Changed in the soul and serene. If you want to know what happened next, wait for me to brew up this next cup of tea...

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