Sunday, September 27, 2009

Confucius' Birthday 孔子誕辰日

As the world was getting ready to go to work on Monday morning, a gathering of faithful disciples of the great sage and teacher Confucius, ceremonial participants and a smallish group of curious onlookers made their way to the Confucius Temple in Tsoying, Kaohsiung to commemorate the day of his birthday about 2,560 years ago.
I was a little in two minds as to whether to go or not. I wasn't sure if the ceremony would be held here and thought it might start very early, say at 4:00 a.m. However, since I could not take good pictures in the dark, I waited until nearly 6:00 a.m. before leaving for the 15 to 20 minute bike ride to get there. I was greeted by this huge gate. Fortunately, the smaller red gates on the left had been opened and in I went.
This brought me into the following courtyard, and another gate. These gates weren't open and I had to go round to the left and enter the Temple forecourt from there.
I thought I might as well have been standing somewhere like the Forbidden City in Beijing. It was about 6:20 a.m. I was told that the ceremony would start at 7:00 a.m. sharp. At least I hadn't missed it.
Just before the 50-minute- long ceremony commenced, various participants took their positions.
The people dressed in red appeared to perform various duties like carrying incense, etc.
The people dressed in yellow appeared to be elementary school children. At least they hopefully can carry on the tradition in the future.
The people in black were modern-day disciples of Confucius, people no doubt who study Confucius' writings in depth. Many of them looked as if they could have been university professors. After all, you almost have to be one to understand the Four Books.
This was the first time I had ever tried to attend this ceremony. Many years ago when I studied Chinese in Taipei, the ceremony there was held very early and there was no way that I could get up at such an unearthly hour.
This is the entrance to the "front gate" from the inside of the courtyard.
I very much liked the mix of colors - red, yellow and black.
When I was a student of Chinese in the early 1980s in Taipei, one of my teachers spent about six months teaching us a lot of passages directly from Confucius' writings in classical Chinese.
I also had a teacher named Kung (孔), who claimed that she was the 75th-generation descendent of Confucius. At least she was somehow able to trace her ancestry that far back. At the time she taught us, she was in her 60s, and was an expert in Chinese literature.
In the past, one of the research institutions where I worked held a conference on "Confucianism and Economic Development". While the evidence isn't conclusive, Confucianism is believed to be partly responsible for the economic success stories of Taiwan and several other Asian countries.
Carrying incense.
In the olden days, these axes would no doubt have been real.
Standing guard on the other side of the gate.
Several "consecrations" were held.
The children who participated posed for a photo afterwards.
I decided to get my photo taken, too, for the record.
Outside the temple complex is a wall with a lot of engaving on it.
This close-up picture of the wall reminds me of Confucius. That is how I imagine he was.
View from a bridge crossing the Lotus Pond. The building on the right is the one where the ceremony was held.
Looking towards Gu Mountain in the other direction from the Confucius temple. Although it was about 8:15 a.m. on a Monday morning, everything seemed so peaceful. Somewhere in the distance, the city of Kaohsiung was bustling with people going about their daily business.

Monday, September 14, 2009

"I would rather be a chicken's head!"

Not a big running track, but this track at the nearby Wenzao Ursuline College of Languages has a good surface and is completely surrounded by buildings so one doesn't hear the sound of cars. So far I haven't seen people use it (the summer vacation is very hot after all), but I do hope to try out my running shoes here as it gets cooler. I will need to bike home (5 minutes) to have a shower, as I haven't seen those outside showers like we had in Hawaii.

There is a well-known saying in Chinese that states "I’d rather be the head of the chicken rather than the tail of the ox." When I first came to Taiwan, I had not had much work experience before (as in the U.K.), but what particularly surprised me was that most people who gave me name cards had the title of "President" or something similar. Of course, a few might have been big powerful bosses, but the vast majority were "one-man bands" or else very small businesses with just a few family members as employees. However, it was these "small businesspeople" who had a huge part to play in Taiwan's phenomenal economic success story.
The Library at the Wenzao Ursuline College of Languages is less than five minutes by bike from my home. This is a great place to work at in the mornings, although one is never sure of being let in as they limit the number of outsiders who can use it on any given day. However, the library is full of books in French, German, Spanish and Japanese, if only I had the time to read them. If I cannot get in, I can usually bike to the Golden Lion Lake reading room (see below) in at most ten minutes.

When I finished college in England, I did not have a clear idea of what I wanted to do as a career, and at the time the only options were to be an employee of any firm that would employ me. Hopefully, the firm I joined would help me further my career, but invariably the firms I joined were at most stepping stones to an uncertain future and were usually quite slippery, meaning that I did not easily make it from one stone to the next.
The Golden Lion Lake, five minutes by bike from my home. This is the view from the bridge I ride across to go to the reading room where I often work late afternoons.

Even in Taiwan, after going back to school for a few years to study Chinese, I looked for a job that would give me a steady paycheck, and while I had some nice working environments (like well a air-conditioned office, and even a plush carpet in one case), I was generally in one of two situations. The first was where I had a steady, not-too-demanding job, but where it was not really possible to save much money or advance my career. The second was where I had a very demanding and challenging job with quite good pay, where I was able to save, but I had little security for the future as I never knew quite what would happen next.
The Golden Lion Lake reading room. This air-conditioned public reading room is open six days a week from about 8:30 am to 7:45 pm. A place I often go to from 5 pm until it closes (when there are few people). I can spread my work out on the table.

I guess that, apart from issues like job fulfillment, pay, career development, etc., I have never been a good team player. In most group activities, whether in paid or voluntary work, I have always tended to be at the far back of the orchestra, and in such situations I have felt frustrated, unable to follow my dreams and have felt my life has been wasted.
Burning paper money to appease the spirits during ghost month. This is so much part of the traditional Taiwanese culture here, that these kinds of fires are being seen all over the place.

So for the time being, I am "doing my own thing" as regards work, supporting my family and preparing for the future. I strategize and make plans on my own, and I mostly work on my own. I am not trying to further the cause of any organization, save my own reputation. I am, however, seeking to pursue excellence in what I do. In fact the work I do is little understood, perhaps not surprisingly since it involves the Chinese language, but I am convinced that if I can keep pace with the new developments constantly taking place, I am confident that as a chicken's head as opposed to an ox's tail, I can still continue to find my way in this increasingly integrated but at times unsteady world.
Tables laid out for an offering during the ghost month outside a temple next to the Golden Lion Lake.

I continue to swim regularly, although with both children now in full-time education, I am currently unable to devote as much time to sports as I would like, and work is often a higher priority. Hopefully, my swimming will not slow down too much before I have the chance to visit Hawai'i again.