Monday, January 26, 2009

Emptiness is ... a town called Taipei

NI HOW ! Hello from Taiwan! Happy Chinese New Year to one and all !!

Had heard so much about Taipei i jumped at the chance to come here
I needed to leave Thailand after 30 days to renew my visa on re-entry

so i chose Taiwan as i'd always wanted to visit here - and i had already been to a few of the more obvious places closer to thailand.

i must admit i did little or no research before i arrived in Taipei a few days ago... and it came back to bite me in the ass, big time!

Apparently most of the city's inhabitants [6 million] are from out of town so they go back en masse to the countryside to spend the 'holiday' with family

That left about 20 people and me in this normally teeming fast-paced city for the entire time i've been here - as you can see from the above photo of a street that is usually a thronging heaving flow of shoppers at that hour

Here is a pic of the main street outside my hotel at midnight on New Year's Eve... silly me, but i had great expectations of the raucous shennanigans complete with Chinese dragon dancing troupes and a sky filled with fireworks...

but oh no - not even a banger!

i was told that New Year is a quiet time to be spent at home with your family, eating some nice food and playing ma-jong into the wee small hours on the kitchen table... what bliss, what joy... what?!!

But perhaps the funniest thing of all - a simple over-sight... it could happen to anyone, no really -

i didn't realise it would be the dead of winter here so i arrived from balmy sunny Phuket in shorts and a singlet


it ... is ... FREEZING !! [and windy, grey, with occasional showers of rain]

the first thing i had to do was go out and buy the right clothes - see photo above

that said, and all joking apart, i have managed somehow to make the best of it and had some incredible experiences along the way

met some very interesting characters and got a few insights into the Taiwanese mentality... mostly the people i met were bemused as to why i came at this cold empty time of year

i, of course, was at a loss to explain myself

everyone took me under their wing and really took time to chat

but perhaps the most amazing thing happened tonight...

it was very difficult today [new year's day] to find anywhere to eat dinner - of course everywhere was closed! - but i managed to find a tiny noodle place run by two old ladies with no english and no menu

while i was in mid-flight trying to mime what i wanted from what i thought they might sell, some passers by came to my aid and translated til i got fed

i had actually been walking around for about two hours by then so i was very tired and hungry so i tucked in

i was obviously loving each and every lip-smacking spoonful [i even had seconds] that a local man who was also eating alone in a different corner smiled over

so i gave him and the food the thumbs up, saying 'very good, really good, yummy!'

he left before i did and, as he passed by, said 'Happy New Year' in his best english pronunciation

when it was my turn to pay and leave, one of the old ladies behind the counter told me the man in the corner who left had bought my dinner too.

i walked off into the dark streets with tears of gratitude on my cheeks...

how wonderful!

i recalled how the Buddha taught that Emptiness [Sanskrit Shunyata] is not a cold void as the english word might suggest

rather, emptiness is more appropriately translated as a vast openness ...

this openness to life, to all living beings, has at its core a warm heart that beats with love and compassion for others.

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