I have had an incredible time over the past two weeks as we have celebrated Chinese New Year and Peace Day here in Taiwan! I wish I could share all of the stories of our festivities but I don’t think I’d ever stop writing, so I will just pick my favorites instead.
To begin, we decided to ring in 2015 (year of the goat!) with our friends from the Buddhist temple that we met in January. It was an amazing cultural experience! They showed us all of the traditional activities going on and helped us participate in them. One of my favorites involved asking Buddha a question and then randomly selecting a numbered Ping-Pong ball from a box. The number corresponded to one of several pictures of the Venerable Master posted on the wall, and accompanying it was the answer to your question. According to my wonderful translators, I was told “Do not overthink, just do what feels right in your heart”. Those of you close to me know that sometimes I practically think a situation to death, so this is definitely sound advice for me to work on! Throughout the rest of the night we meditated, chanted, and watched a traditional dragon dance, followed by one of the cutest children’s programs I’ve ever seen. It was fantastic, but it was just the beginning of our adventure.
On New Year’s Day, we left on a 5 day trip to explore Taipei and go camping in Taroko Gorge. I can’t even come close to describing the beauty of the Taiwanese mountains! We spent two days surrounded by the most stunning peaks, flora, and rock-faced tunnels. A breathtaking ravine cut through the base of the cliffs, and we saw the coolest wildlife! Small, zippy lizards shot across the stone wall enclosing our campsite, and as I was hiking one day, I saw a wild monkey watching me through the trees. I heard rustling coming from some nearby branches and turned to see him hopping from limb to limb. We both froze for a moment upon realizing that the other could see us, and then almost as quickly as he had come, he was gone. Overall, the trip was fantastic! It was filled with hot springs, hikes, riding scooters along winding cliff-side roads (interrupted by one minor scooter crash), and snuggling 6 people into a 4-person tent. When the time came to pack up camp, I was so in love with that jungle that I never wanted to leave! Taipei was also cool, but I unfortunately got sick on our first night, and after getting hooked up to an IV of fluids and drugs, my saint of a roommate helped me hightail it home! I did get to visit the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, Peace Park, and Taipei 101 before my body betrayed me, so I still consider it a success.
Even with all the amazing experiences that I’ve had so far, my favorite was a hike that we took on Peace Day. We decided to go to Pingxi for the Floating Lantern Festival where you write your New Year wishes on paper lanterns, light them, and send them up into the sky. It was very fun, but not as fun as the journey there, which involved stopping in one of the villages along the way to visit some waterfalls. It was probably the most wonderful hike I’ve ever been on. There was a soft drizzle leaking out of the ashen clouds that stretched across the sky, and though the final destination was stunning, the path itself was what made it spectacular. It was riddled with the most interesting views and attractions, and I loved that the trail was so varied that it never got boring. There were stairs, sloping dirt paths, rope bridges that swayed as you crossed them, and at the end, to reach the final waterfall, you had to use ropes and cables to climb the stone steps carved into the mountainside. The cool, clear springs, towering bamboo shoots, striped trees, and natural soundtrack created by the humming and chirping of creatures in the distance made us all feel like we were in an enchanted forest. One particularly ethereal pool at the base of the last waterfall was so enticing we couldn’t resist taking a dip! The stone chamber encasing it was covered by a ceiling of vibrant, emerald leaves which shielded us from the rain, and the streams of light piercing the fog and illuminating the cavern bounced off the slick rock floor, making it shine dimly. I never want to forget the details of that day! Hopefully if I write them all down I will be able to remember them as vividly as I experienced them.
I will wrap it up here, but I hope you all are having an amazing new year so far!
Xīnnián kuàilè! (Happy New Year!)