Dharma Cowgirl Goes to Taiwan
That’s right folks. This Dharma Cowgirl is going to Asia. Yeehaw!
Thanks to the encouragement, recommendations, and advice from several of the Fo Guang Shan nuns who work at my school, University of the West, and the generosity of the temples in both Taiwan and Los Angeles, I will be standing shores of fair Taiwan this time next week. This, my dear friends and readers, has been an exercise is patience and acceptance like no other! But I fear it is nothing compared to what awaits me.
I will be attending the International Youth in Chan Seminar 2011 at Fo Guang Shan temple in Kaohsuing, then staying after an extra week to volunteer and sightsee. The seminar was advertised shortly after classes let out in the spring. For most of my classmates, who had begun making their summer arrangements in January, this was far too late. Luckily, I had been relatively unlucky in finding something fabulous to do with my time off. I recognized what a wonderful opportunity it was when I saw the flyer. The Fo Guang Shan Temple would be providing everything for the attendees once they arrived in Taiwan – transportation, food, lodging, lectures, meditation, etc. But getting to Taiwan? Well, it took less than two minutes to find the cheapest airline tickets were far out of my league.
However, no less than three nuns caught me in the halls in the following days to ask if I was applying. When I sadly told them no, they informed me that the local sangha, Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, would be sponsoring airfare for a few luck applicants. I jumped at the chance and shortly found myself making the long bus ride down to Hsi Lai on a warm day in June wearing my nicest blazer to interview with a lovely nun at the temple. She seemed more interested in making sure I would be comfortable on such a trip than on determining if I was worthy of the sponsorship. It’ll be very hot and humid, she warned. They’ll serve mostly Chinese food. I assured her I would do just fine in these conditions. She told me I should know in about two weeks if they would be able to pay my airfare. We said our polite goodbyes and I made the long bus ride home again.
I waited. And waited. And waited. And asked the nuns at my school if they’d heard anything. And emailed the temple as a reminder when three weeks had passed. The acceptance came from Taiwan. Then, in the fourth week, news came from Hsi Lai that they would, in fact, sponsor my airfare. Yeehaw! I was going! They would let me know about travel dates.
I waited. And waited. And waited some more. The temple in Taiwan emailed to find out my arrival date and time. I sent a note to the local temple and very politely, tremulously asked if they knew this yet. It felt very much like looking a gift horse in the mouth. After all, they were being exceedingly generous. It just wouldn’t do to make a pest of myself. So I waited some more. When are you leaving for Taiwan? friends asked. I shrugged and smiled and told them I don’t know yet, but I was sure the temple would let me know soon. This was repeated for a number of weeks. I emailed again. Oh, sorry, they had been busy, they replied, but would let me know as soon as the tickets were purchased. The seminar was only three weeks away. Then two weeks. Then one week. I asked the nuns, but they hadn’t heard anything. Should I email again? I risked it. Yes, yes, they hadn’t forgotten me, I’d be leaving August 3rd and they’d let me know when the tickets were confirmed. I waited another day.
Today, finally, with six days to liftoff I can say with honest certainty that I am going to Taiwan. The e-ticket confirmation from China Airlines made it to my inbox this evening. It is now printed and hanging in a place of prominence above my computer monitor.
It shouldn’t have been such an ordeal. After all, I really didn’t do much of anything. That, it turns out, is far, far harder than it seems. I’m used to being in control. I’m the one booking tickets and hotels and reading maps and plotting routes and deciphering timetables. Most of my travel in the last decade has been accomplished solo, and even when I’ve been with a group, I tend to take charge of some aspect. In London, I was the only one who could understand the tube maps (beautiful maps, those). When I’m not in control I find something to be in control of. It’s one of my most basic functions. But this has been entirely out of my hands.
And it’s only going to get worse. You see, I speak exactly two words of Chinese.
I can say hello (nihao) and thank you (xiexie). I’ll be depending very heavily on those two words for two whole weeks. I bought a ‘Mandarin Chinese 101’ kit, but the tonality of the language has me stumped. Whereas Japanese is like algebra, Chinese is like gibberish and I can’t make heads or tails of it. I have no doubt it is a beautiful and highly intelligible language. Just not for me. I’ll be relying on other people to take care of me, to show me where to go, when to go there, what to do, and how to do it. There will be no “controlling” anything, only letting go. That’s the real price for this journey.
So I’m going to Taiwan. I’m going to live in a temple with a bunch of nuns for a couple of weeks, sit in meditation, get up early each morning to chant, eat whatever they put in front of me and say xiexie (pronounced shayshay), listen to lectures or translations of lectures about Chan, mingle with other international young (under 35) Buddhists, travel around Taiwan, help out in the English-language translation center, generally try to learn something or other, and, above all, let go of my precious illusions of control.
Wish me luck. ‘Cause I have a feeling I’m gonna need it!