Posts Tagged ‘religion’

A strange education

On Tuesdays, I am scheduled to teach a 2-hour advanced class with 7 registered students. However, every week I have fewer and fewer people, and I had only one woman to teach tonight. Fortunately, she was fine to just chat for most of the session and based on the material we covered in the book, I was able to get answers to some questions that have plagued me since I arrived.

In a recent post, I asked my sister for some answers about Buddhist ceremonies and services, but she didn’t have much information.  I asked Gan and she wasn’t entirely sure how to explain what I witnessed at the gym.  Her first guess was a funeral, but I saw no portraits.  Her second suggestion was a birthday celebration for the Buddha, or some specific incarnation’s celebration, but when I told her about the banner, she downgraded the likeliness.

These questions led to her describing the scheduled observances of traditional Taiwanese religion.  Now, coming from a Western religion that has a history of weekly, daily, and hourly observances in public groups, I am deeply confused by other religions that don’t have these kinds of frequent and formulaic ceremonies.  The only thing I’d seen in my time in Taiwan was tables of offerings and the burning of ritual money on seemingly random days (and the occasional parade, which is easier to understand).  After nearly a year and a half, I now know that these take place on the first and fifteenth of each lunar month!  The gods worshipped on these days can be any or all of the wide selection of gods, ancestors, and deities, including Buddha.  However, the following days (the 2nd and 16th) are for businesses to honor the god of fortune, 財神爺. I am so happy to have answers.

As for the title of the post, among our topics of discussion were American geography and the (un-)importance of state capitals, Taiwanese politics and history, two-party systems, and Taipei’s progress in the last ten years.  We also touched on language and language education, especially in Taiwan.  Gan called languages other than Mandarin 鄉土語, which is something I’d like to address later.  A strange education indeed!

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Midterms have sprung upon me suddenly, so instead of going hashing today and whiling away a good 6 or 7 hours in travel, running, laughing, and drinking, I decided to stay home and focus on my speech, powerpoint presentation and essay.  I’m not super-pleased, but on the bright side, I let myself wake up naturally (which was a bad idea, as my body decided on 6:58) and had none of that leaden dread that can happen in the mornings.

In keeping with my goals of more activity and more air conditioning, I went to the gym after a healthy breakfast of bacon and fried onion-thing-bread.  I paid my 50元 for an hour using the long thin room on the third floor, but on the way up the stairs, I was distracted by chanting.  From the third floor, I could see a large Buddhist service on the basketball courts.  The music was pleasant, but even after reading the wikipedia page I found based on the 南無阿彌陀佛 banners, I’m still perplexed on the structure and significance.  I guess I’ll find out next week if it’s a recurring service in the community center, or just a one-time event.  There seemed to be sign up tables as I passed by the 2nd floor landing, but I was too cowardly to ask questions with my paltry religious vocabulary and I was worried distractions would sap my workout resolve.

The gym itself was nice enough: not too big and with a comfortable mix of genders, sizes, and dedication.  I tried a rowing machine just because there were some people I could watch to check myself (and for some dragon boat nostalgia, although the motion was utterly unrelated), and some free weights, just because they’re the same in every language.  Now that I think about it, though, they should have been in kilograms… I would feel so much buffer if my arm work was done with 4kg weights!

Now to write a presentation on the Chinese Chicken Little.

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Chinese waily-pipes

Noisy parades and festivals are very common here, but I usually don’t understand the reasons.  Today is May Day (and Labor Day), but my calendar doesn’t show any Chinese holidays on the schedule.  However, as I was coming home from the hash, I could hear all kinds of ruckus, and when I reached the top of the MRT stairs, I saw a fantastic parade coming around the corner through the drizzle.  It seemed to be in honor of a land god nearby, or perhaps a Daoist temple society.

There were palanquins and pagodas and marchers and musicians and horses and tapestry banners.  It was amazing!  I got some video and photos, and I learned at least one thing about ceremonial celebrations!  I talked to a musician as they took a break right by my lane and answered a burning question of mine.  See, until now, I’ve called the caterwauler heard at funerals and any other festive occasion “Chinese bagpipes” or just the “waily pipes.”  Being curious about their name and construction, I jumped on the only musician standing apart to take a closer look and ask questions.  They’re called Chinese shawms or 鎖吶 and they’re pretty sweet!  They look like a simple flared metal cone with a tiny fanned double reed.  Wikipedia says they’re made of wood, but I don’t know about that…  To be honest, as soon as I saw they had reeds, I should have guessed the English would be shawm, but to be fair, that’s not a word that I frequently have to grasp for.

The parade went on a little while longer, but the fireworks are still going in shifts every half hour, it feels like.  I sincerely hope they’ve decided to call it a night at 10:40pm, but my realistic side is telling me not to be a fool.

Unfortunately, my bluetooth is acting up again, and I’m going to have to take care of the photo/video part after some trouble-shooting.

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