My pilgrimage to Taiwan actually began when I left Chengdu in China. I had made friends with several families there of Taiwanese descent and was also involved in teaching several private students from Korea. After two years in Chengdu, I was thinking of leaving. I had looked at another kindergarten job in Ecuador but my attention was caught by a non-governmental organization in Washington, D.C. that wanted to establish a school for children in Nepal. I let my impulsive nature make the decision — I am a bit of a gambler, but with my life, not money. I think if you are not willing to love the element of chance in your life, you’ll be safe but never learn anything. You won’t be ready for the changes that this world will put you through. So, off I went — back to Nepal. I was early on the scene. The N.G.O. only had a plan and no offer of funding as yet. I took off for the countryside, taking my mountain bike with me, and explored the village where the project was proposed to be located. To make a long story short, the whole thing fell through. I met the project director and after mutual agreement, we decided the whole scheme was unworkable as it had been conceived. So, there I was in Nepal without a job. The job search began and I became a teacher at a large, Catholic school with 4,500 students located in Keelung, Taiwan. Keelung is the third largest port in Taiwan and is on the country’s northern coast — about an hour’s drive out of Taipei.

There’s not much to write about a teacher’s job anywhere. It is the usual classroom routine that all English teachers know so well. Taiwan is a beautiful island and has every right to be called a green jewel. I walked around Keelung many times upon the surrounding hills that overlook the harbour and sea. I went for walks along the coast, bathed in the sea, bicycled around the countryside, and visited Taipei a few times. I went to a beautiful mountain resort and bathed in hot, volcanic, sulphur water. I had a sulphur mud bath that made me feel completely grounded for the first time in my life. I enjoyed social camaraderie with fellow teachers and got to know some good people from South Africa. My only regret is that I couldn’t learn to scuba dive while I was there. There are some beautiful temples in and around Keelung, and, especially, on the coast in several nearby fishing villages. There is also a mini nuclear power plant — similar to the one I saw while in China. I don’t think these plants are the way to solve our energy problems. They may make sense economically and on a piece of paper but that’s not the real world. The poison they breed is not meant to be a part of our world’s environment. Countries that choose them are opting for their own future environmental problems, in my opinion.

I remember another, happier day in Taiwan, when I volunteered to help a Buddhist organization in Taipei. I went into the city for the day and found my way to their center containing a very good vegetarian restaurant. I would recommend it to any traveler. I was there to record my voice reading some Confuscian texts. I don’t remember what I read that day but I do remember it made sense to me as I read it. The world we live in has had many good teachers. Why is it that we forget all the lessons they tried to teach us or corrupt the purity of the messages they bring us? When we develop a religion or a faith into an institution then the survival of that institution becomes more important than the experience of learning from a good, living teacher. Perhaps, the religious institution we know as the Catholic Church still has to learn that lesson. Many individual priests or others working within the bowels of this beast are not themselves to blame for what their institution has created in this world. But, if they persist in maintaining a lie and manufacturing ignorance their day of judgement will also come.

When I left Taiwan, I thought I was ridding myself of this beast — the monkey of religion that wants to ride on the back of us all. I didn’t know the school I would be working for in Thailand was another Catholic institution. I jumped out of a frying pan into the fire. It was a lesson for me. I had a Christian upbringing. My own father was a pastor — for a while — until he finally became a simple man, a postman. I had to struggle with his example for many years until I developed the strength to walk away from dependence upon faith in a religious belief system. Faith in one’s self is all anyone needs. The kingdom of heaven truly does reside within each one of us. It is only when we search for it outside of ourselves that we get lost. This seems to be the hardest lesson of all to learn. I have probably been acting it out for most of my life. It is time to let my own experience be my teacher and trust in it. It has gotten me this far in life. It can only help me realize it was always with me — this kingdom of the heart. Why do we always forget this? We should be finding others to create a community of like-minded people who derive emotional nourishment through helping others. This is service to others as it should be defined. We will never let it become a religion. It is simpler than that. It is family, friends, and lovers. It is a tribe — one that can move through space and time expressing the freedom to choose when, where, and how we each as individuals practice the art of living.  It is an important choice to make — to disavow the ‘death cul-ture’ that most countries program their citizens into accepting!  Deprogramming or unlearning is now the ‘name of the game’!

Taiwan taught me that it is still part of a larger, Chinese family. Family members may squabble and fight amongst themselves, but they don’t commit genocide based upon blind religious intolerance, greed for power over others, or a racist mindset. This is service to self. I was very angered at a apology given by the Canadian government for the lives of native children lost in so-called religious homes. The American government still denies its own genocide upon the native population of America and won’t even consider an apology (I hope to someday write a mini historical essay detailing genocide by the American government — one that paints a ‘truer’ picture of recent world events. It will be a condemnation of American hypocrisy.  See my Rants page.) America stands upon its ‘holier than thou’ bully pulpit and dares to criticize the Chinese government for human rights violations. This is not to say that there haven’t been any but America’s stance is ludicrous. It is the behavior of a madman acting out his own demonic possession (Should we remind Bush who instituted torture or pardoned a psychopathic killer destined for death row?  Should we ask his father why he signed off on involuntary sterilization for native Americans in Alaska?  The racist mindset is apparently alive and flourishing among WASPs.)  Taiwan may be divided from mainland China by political differences but these are only imposed limits. I believe China has one soul and common culture. I don’t believe this Chinese soul would commit genocide on its own people. I would bet my life on that while at the same time guarding myself from ever again naively trusting in any government or institution. That is an important lesson to learn in life. Don’t abandon your family, friends, and lovers. Learn to trust them and build a community from that. The rest of the world’s people who have forgotten this are hopelessly lost. Pray for them because they need to remember that this is what’s important in life.

Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, my birth place in America, while I was in Taiwan. One month later, a typhoon also passed over Taiwan. It brings home to me what Mother Nature can do to us anytime she wants to.  A little bit of ‘Divine Wrath’ is all it takes to remind us of that!   We all get caught up in our own hurricanes — the world of our feelings and desires swirling all around us. When we get upset and lose sight of the calm eye of that hurricane, then we have lost our ‘center’. We get caught up in negative emotions and make mistakes in our lives. I try to remember this everyday — and not forget it when I go to sleep. Thailand doesn’t see too much of typhoons, tornadoes or wind storms. The only one I remember was a thunderstorm that sprang up one day in Mae Sot and destroyed a number of trees at Pattaravitaya School. Of course, the December tsunami of 2004 woke everyone in Asia up!  Is there a message in this for us somewhere? I can imagine a Tree of Life and a Tree of Knowledge. I believe we can safely eat the fruit of both trees — all religious symbology aside. I would only expect that religion would demonize the experience of learning to keep all of us ignorant of what reality is. If we were to compare the two governments’ responses to two supposedly natural disasters (Hurricane Katrina and the Chengdu earthquake) we might learn which government’s actions were more compassionate. You be the judge. Use your own ‘pair of normal eyes’ and look at the world the way it really is — not through your ‘death cult-ural’ blinders.

Dhane, Dec. 31, 2008

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