Yesterday I begrudgingly took myself up to Guandu station, an hour each way by public transport, to meet my teacher and a couple of other people for some kind of trip she had organised for us. If I am strictly honest, I had not been listening when she explained the details. I didn’t want to spend my holiday Monday on a school trip. But having grasped that it was something to do with Buddhism, I decided my best option, given my own strong dislike of religion, my teacher’s fondness for me, and the fact that you cannot politely turn down invitations in Taiwan, that it was best to just switch to auto-pilot, smile politely and nod at everything I was told.
It was a pretty surreal experience. We walked into a huge, terrifyingly Soviet-type building, and removed our shoes so as not to upset the marble floors and expensive interiors. Then we were herded by a bunch of old ladies (not nuns, volunteers) into a small cinema to watch a film about the charitable organisation in question. It was all in Chinese and mostly consisted of devastating shots from the Chengdu earthquake a couple of years ago. I was NOT emotionally prepared for this at 10am, and I find scenes of children in distress upsetting at the best of times. I’m not sure what the purpose of the film was — well I am, who am I kidding, it’s about getting people to cough up donations — but the effect on me was one of pure hatred. I don’t expect to be made to cry in the name of the Buddha. I know the old ladies’ intentions were good, but I do not approve of using such base methods, particularly when in such a huge, plush and comfortable building. Organised religion really pisses me off… plus James has explained to me in great detail how those charities work in contrast to real humanitarian organisations like the International Red Cross and MSF (not that I forgive those bastards for taking him away from me either).
Then we were herded to a broadcasting room, where I was bullied and pushed into the spotlight to do a fake broadcast. I was reading Chinese off a tele-prompting-thinger (actual name I swear), and it was the most patronizing bullcrap… I was meant to be introducing a shot of “little black friends” singing a song in Chinese “in thanks to the kind charity of our organisation”. These “little black Africans” are “most grateful for our support and charity and are spreading the seeds of love”. One of the volunteers pointed out which were the boys and which were the girls, when the kids were on screen, as they obviously felt this could lead to confusion. Again, good intentions but it makes me cringe…
More humourously, here are a couple of shots of me — looking awful for so many reasons (surprised, awkward, unwashed hair because we had no hot water at home that morning, slightly tear-stained from previous activity, embarrassed because I read out “my name is 0 0 0” instead of substituting my own name… I could go on).
They offered to provide me the recording on DVD for 200NT but I declined. Sorry, little black friends.
Then came a long and dreary visit of some museum… sorry, brain switched off… combination of museum + religion + all in Chinese… I was quite entertained by the obvious tension between the two tiny volunteers who were showing us around. They kept interrupting each other and pointing out each other’s mistakes… not very zen.
Then we had lunch, which was interesting, and I talked with one of the other volunteers who was a bit less loopy. She applauded me (with two fingers, for discretion) for my vegetarianism, as well as praising me for my buddhist behaviours aka holding my bowl in one hand and taking on other people’s unwanted greens (sweet potato greens are delicious AND good for you). It’s ironic that I was her favourite, seeing as I probably was the most cynical of the visitors. That said, I do like their approach to food; at the canteen, each person is expected to remove the unwanted elements from their bento box and place it in a tray, for others to eat. Then everyone washes up their own box — no disposables here, it was like a haven from the hideous wasteland that is Taipei. Consequently the entire staff of 300 produced less than a small bucket’s worth of wasted food, and no paper/plastic waste at all.
This is a huge part of the organisation actually — recycling. This is a way of creating funds and of protecting the planet, a double whammy.
When they were discussing it at the museum I wasn’t that interested, but then we go to visit the recycling area and that was much more… real.
This place is apparently PACKED in the mornings. Elderly volunteers love to come and sit at these tables, and cut around pieces of waste paper to separate the precious white edges from the scribbled/printed bits.
And another favourite pastime is the copper-wire stripping area. Looks just like your average Taiwanese home actually.
Then it was back to the modern, comfy cafe to receive a mountain of literature and gifts. Part of me is very appreciative of the kindness and well-meaning of these people. Part of me just rebels, again and again, at so many aspects of a religious charity, especially the brain-washing. The constant presence of the Mistress’ shiny shaved head on every wall, the constant gushing about how amazing she is… it’s definitely a personality cult. I can’t seem to explain, other than the fact that I just cringe at the sect-like feeling of it all, specially when there are obviously huge donations coming in to allow for the construction of such a massive building.
No real point to this post, actually, other than to document yesterday. I don’t want to bash Buddhism in particular, just thinking out loud… I do like the re-usable chopsticks they gave me though. I do find disposable chopsticks easier to handle, but I have been feeling guilty for a while thinking about the environmental impact they have. Apparently China uses 45,000,000,000 (450 億?) chopsticks a day? that seems extreme, but would represent 2 pairs of chopsticks per person, per day, so even if those figures are inflated, it can’t be far off. EDIT: my maths must be terrible. That would be 40 chopsticks per person per day. Still, scary number of chopsticks being used.