Saturday, August 31, 2013

La strada / 天生我材必有用


   I participated in the bread-fruit tree festival held by TAI Herbarium of NTU two weeks ago. Some retired professors were invited to give introductory talks. One of them was probably so thrilled to be back in the limelight that he rambled on. His speech was so long that the host had no choice but to skip the last professor's talk. However, Dr. Li Xueyong didn't want to let go of the precious chance. Despite his hoarse voice, he mustered all his strength, speaking with so much energy and passion. He kept mentioning his discovery about the flowers of the mahogany tree, which aroused my curiosity. People used to believe that the flowers are bisexual, but according to Dr. Li's discovery, it's one of two flowers that "pretends" to be the female. (About this part of the explanation, I am still doing research about it, so  please bear with my really poor translation.) 


   One day when I was walking through the campus of NTU, I came across the big-leaf mahogany trees, and it prompted me to look for more information online. The seeds are spread by means of the wind dispersal. How the seeds come out of the fruit and how they travel far to start their new lives intrigue me, so these topics become the theme of my learning postcards for days. 


   My favorite part is about how the mother tree, in order to make the seeds grow into well-developed plants, send them on flights with the help of the wind because if they fall under the canopy of their mother, the seeds will die because of lack of sunlight or they'll be eaten by other creatures. The seeds are structured like helicopter rotors, which makes them spin and fly in the wind. 


   The writer of the webpage ends the introduction with really wise words: By studying the structure of the big-leaf mahogany tree, we can learn that every part of the plant serves a specific kind of function. Likewise, there's a purpose behind every design of the world, and I recall the life lesson I have learned again and again: Everyone has his or her life journey. I don't have to worry or play God, and often the answers I can't find are in the universe. 


   The new semester has started. I have revised my teaching concepts and methods. I know one day my small seeds will leave me. I shouldn't overprotect them. On the contrary, I should focus on how to make them fly better so that they'll go somewhere they dream of in the future.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Boundless / 沒有界線


Soon after I met the yellow waterlily, I came across an article about it in the High Speed Rail magazine on one trip. It was not until then that I learned the flower was once on the verge of extinction. It dawned on me that there are so many forms of life on earth, but I have no idea of their existence. They rise and fall at their own paces, having nothing to do with my life at all. However, if I am given just one chance to know it, I am sure I won't miss it when seeing it afterwards. I used to believe that is called coincidence; yet now I think it's because everything, every being and every story in this world is inter-connected.


   Before turning 37, I decide that I don't want to miss any life right next to me or in front of me. Therefore, about ten days ago, on a postcard sent to Shaggy, I came up with an idea: I am going to draw a plant/an animal on a daily postcard. In one year, we'll put 365 postcards in a small suitcase, sending it to anyone who's interested in the private exhibition.


   Shaggy, who's taking courses on Taiwanese culture, responds to me as shown above. Her mail will be part of our traveling exhibition too. 


   As Virgos, we are both attached to the old people and in desperate need of a sense of security, but we are learning to live otherwise. From now on, our life is going to be boundless....

Sunday, August 25, 2013

we're all in the dance 2 / 圈圈相連 2


Yesterday I went to a workshop on astrology. Meichien asked me what I have been up to in the past year. I then listed all of my new experiences, both long-term and short-term ones.


   Today I attended a workshop on making herbarium specimen.


   Though it wasn't hard, most of us still couldn't get it right.


   As the senior volunteer demonstrated for us, I couldn't help exclaiming that this is a form of art too. And it was a lovely coincidence that the ecology teacher I had met in the Youth Park earlier in August was in the same classroom as me. 


   Next it was another workshop on framing posters. The lecturer, Mr. Lin Ren-hsin, happened to be the tour guide for our cultural tour at the end of last year. 


   When seeing Mr. Lin at work, the senior lady next to me made the remark: By looking at how the teacher brushes off the dust, I can tell he's a good husband candidate. Wow, I didn't know that the lady is even more romantic than me....


   Best of all, Mr. Lin gave a short free lecture on printmaking at the end of the workshop. Watching the video of how ukiyo-e is produced, my heart literally leaped. And it turned out that Mr. Lin still remembers me. All I can say is, we are all in the dance. I wasn't exaggerating when I said I had done MUCH during the past year!  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Miss Sun Rides the Subway / 太陽小姐搭地鐵


My story Miss Sun Rides the Subway was on the list of chosen works for the picture book contest held by FETnet. Please vote for me here. Thank you so much! 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Encountering my self / 遇見自己


I traveled across several cities to visit Shaggy. Standing in front of the wall of her room, I made an effort to recognize my hand-drawn postcards. However, I've always changed at such a fast pace that it took me some time to find my past self. 


   Upon seeing this postcard, I was overwhelmed with a sense of familiarity, but the words told me that it didn't have anything to do with me. Then Shaggy uttered: It IS your postcard. I got it. The postman added the final touch and thus prepared a huge surprise for me more than one year after the mail was sent. It was amazing to be reminded of Giant's Causeway while I was physically so far away from it. 




   I thumbed through a book written by the Japanese author Aoki Yuka taken from Shaggy's shelf. A quote really impressed me: 

   I kind of regret learning too much, but high art is too difficult for me. I only feel like making art that can represent me. I didn't have to think about complicated things when I was little. All I did was draw happily. I hope to share my works with people instead of caring if it is defined as art. Just like in my childhood, people were pleased to see me draw and collect my drawings for me. It's enough if my works can touch others. 

   It will be enough to make something out of nothing and then kind of move people. If drawing can do that for me, it is more than enough. 


   Whenever I encounter my past self, I also feel kind of touched....

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Museum tour in NTU / 台大博物館群散步之旅


There are ten museums in National Taiwan University, and guided tours are held regularly every Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Each tour includes a visit to three museums. Today my companions are Jenny and her eight-month-old baby Ian. As we walk along, Jenny, an alumna of NTU, is surprised to learn the rich collections of the university.


   The first museum on the tour every Wednesday is Museum of Anthropology. The major is never a popular one among incoming students, but the collection is definitely amazing, housing mainly the objects and artifacts from fourteen aboriginal tribes in Taiwan. In the picture is the canoe rowed by the Thao on Sun Moon Lake


   The Thao depend much on the fish in Sun Moon Lake, so they invented innovative bamboo fish traps. 


   The totems of the aboriginal tribes are wonderful inspirations for the cultural creative industries. 


   The Paiwan people, who can be found at the southern tip of the Central Range and the eastern coastal mountain areas, are known for their wooden carvings. 


   The Tao tribe, living on Lanyu, is the only one without the tradition of headhunting. They rely heavily on the ocean, and their native canoes are not only of practical use but also known for their artistic value. 


   The second museum of the day is TAI Herbarium, which highly interests me. It is a lush piece of land with three outdoor gardens, including the wetland plant garden, the Japanese plant garden and the fern garden, which is open only on guided tours. 


   There will be a bread-fruit tree festival on August 17 in the herbarium, which is this coming Saturday. 


   Two weeks ago the ecology teacher I met in the Youth Park told us that small-leaved Barringtonia can be found on the campus of NTU. I am very lucky to have seen some in bloom today. It takes much time to observe a flower so that we can see every stage of its growth and death as well. 


   Yellow water lily, native to Taiwan. 


   The highlight of the day is the fern garden because it is only accessible with the company of a tour guide. Our campus guide, a student of NTU, says he often lingers outside the iron gate, wondering what's inside. 


   The tour guide compares the garden to the Jurassic Park. It's really amazing to learn that ferns are as old as dinosaurs. The ferns in the photo are tall and thick enough to cover a person! 


   The fern garden is not huge at all, but it's so full of life. I am looking forward to working here in the coming months. 


   During the walk, we've run into many graduates and students of NTU. They don't hesitate to talk to us or give us a hand. Besides, being really brilliant, they ask advanced questions on the tour. Jenny also sees the possibility of working as a volunteer in the future. Looking back on this summer break, I came because I felt my life was so narrow. But I've found new possibilities along the way. What a lovely gift from God! 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

I am not discouraged. / 我不沮喪。


The only classes I am assigned during the summer break are those given to the girls who flunked their English. My head aches when it occurs to me that I have to repeat what I said during the past semester one more time. I figure it will be much more pleasant to read the summer reading novel--Secret of the Andes. Personally I find it an excellent book, but since I know my students well, I can predict that only a handful of kids have started to read it. 


   The girls might be too innocent to know that it's not my thing to explain the story sentence by sentence. My belief is that it's impossible to learn a language well without doing any reading. I trust them though they are not good at English. I put them into groups to do the reading together. 


   My students might not be the smartest, but they are willing to be trained. Each group comes with their summary of the chapter assigned after six hours of hard work. 


   And what I am most looking forward to is the part where the girls have to pick their favorite quotes and illustrate them. I take out the notes they have made over the past few days and yell like a madwoman: Let's erase all the detestable English words with acrylics! In fact, I have had a neck cramp, but I can't help jumping and shouting in excitement. I feel like a kindergarten teacher; the only difference is that my students don't have the passion of children. Throughout the process, they act as if they were my quiet puppets. 


   After the summer camp for children in July, I have had a hard time trying to figure out something: How come our instincts to draw disappear with time passing? The five-year-olds, who can draw freely and wildly, turn out to be teenagers who are into nothing but staring at their cell phones in ten years. Because of this, I'd like to apply to the same teaching plan to the teenagers. The novel is so full of images. I believe that we all have imagination, and thus we can envision the pictures in our heads.  


   While we are discussing the novel, I try to give the girls an image of the Andes by asking if they have been to the Taroko Gorge. Surprisingly, only 5 out of 22 have been there. Well, maybe I can't say the parents have to be all responsible for this, so I give a very sincere piece of advice: You are about to be 18. I think you can go on your own soon, and you shouldn't miss such beautiful natural assets! 


   This is the easiest quote to illustrate. It interests me that we feel unsafe about what we don't know as we age.


   The llamas play an important role in the book. Llama-humming is described as wind-and-water music, like wind rippling over the water. 


   I am about to start my 12th year as a teacher, but in many ways it feels I've just begun. The outer environment is getting less and less ideal, but amidst all the chaos, I think I can always stand my own ground. It was discouraging to think that I always have a bigger dose of enthusiasm than my students, but after this summer, I have gained a new perspective. I so firmly believe that I can make a difference, no matter how small it is. 

New interest / 新興趣


Many people are surprised that I went only as far as the central Taiwan this summer. I have not traveled far physically, but mentally I have gone further than the previous years. For one thing, I signed up for the volunteer program held by the NTU museums. Though I don't even know the ABC's of plants, I am thankful to the herbarium for giving me a chance. And it strikes me again that as long as I desire to learn something, the whole universe is united to give me a hand. This summer, whatever I do, it is related to natural plants. 


   I fell in love with the elegant Japanese cedar when I was traveling in Wuling Farm. Last week I received another letter from my best friend Chi. She wrote that we had been broad, but it was a shame that we had never taken a trip within Taiwan together. We should go somewhere together with her boy.  Upon reading her words, I couldn't help imagining how beautiful it would be for us three to walk under the cool shades of Japanese cedar. 


   In fact, I'd always had a thing for plants, but the problem was, I couldn't bear their names in mind. Amazingly, the ecology teacher I had met two weeks ago in the Youth Park enlightened me. Now when I pass by trees, I will pause to observe them and try to remember them. I am very lucky to have run into someone so magical as that. 


   I love the aerial roots of banyan trees. They take the world into their embraces. 


   There's something else bigger I think of as the guideline of my life now: The answers to all our problems lie in nature. Better yet, I don't have to go all the way out of town. There are clues in something as small as a flower. 


   Now I won't forget to say hello to hibiscus. 


   One night while I was taking a walk in Da-an Park, I was attracted by the beautiful leaf shape of the fiddle-leaf fig. The tree thus becomes very different from the others for me. It also gives a poetic touch to my night....