Author  Justin Howe

In July 2019, I traveled to Taipei, Taiwan for the 3 Weeks Express program at National Taiwan Normal University’s Mandarin Training Center. It was an amazing experience, and I’m so thankful that the Hsuan Hua Foundation helped me to make it a reality.

The program was a lot of fun. We studied for three hours every morning and then had cultural classes and field trips in the afternoons. They placed me a level higher than I was expecting, which was really nerve-wracking at first—but once I caught up to speed, the class pushed me to improve more quickly than I would have thought possible. In the end, I was quite proud of what I learned, and I was grateful to my teacher for believing in me. I can still hear her saying ting yiting, ting yiting (聽一聽): listen! She told me that listening was what I needed to work on the most. She would fit right in at DRBU.

My classmates were very sweet and befriended me even though I’m quite shy around new people and have a hard time making friends. I was forced out of my comfort zone both pedagogically and socially—and both were really good for me.

I loved my calligraphy and Chinese painting classes. I found out that even the small amount of calligraphy training I had at DRBU gave me confidence with the brush that few other people in the room shared. It’s amazing what a little practice can do. As a gift at the end of the class, the calligraphy teacher gave us all bookmarks, and we could ask him to write whatever we wanted on them. I still have mine. It reads zhihui ruhai (智慧如海), “wisdom like the sea.” I thought it was a good fit for a bookmark.

I had a wonderful time inside the classroom and out. Taipei must be one of the world’s best vegetarian cities; there were outstanding vegetarian restaurants and buffets everywhere, which was a huge relief because finding vegetarian food while traveling can be pretty tricky sometimes. But I didn’t just go for the food! Trekking around the city and countryside left me with several cherished memories.

The Yehliu Geopark features stunning scenery and rock formations called candle rocks, produced by the action of the waves and tides, that exist nowhere else on Earth.

Another DRBU student, Yanik Davison—who has since graduated—was also attending the program, and one day we traveled together to the suburb of Beitou, famous for its hot springs. While there, we also visited the Beitou Public Library, whose architectural design is world-renowned.

Another day, Yanik and I climbed Xiangshan (象山; Elephant Mountain) in Taipei. It was a steep and vigorous hike that rewarded us with sweeping views of the city and its signature building, Taipei 101. The mountain was home to many delicate butterflies—and just as many enormous spiders waiting to catch and eat them. In the six paths, everything has its opposite complement.

Eventually, Yanik and I parted ways, and I went to find the Guan Yin statue tucked away among the trees. This awesome image is 25 or 30 feet tall, and I felt so happy to bow before it and offer water at its altar.

After that, I tried to find my way down the way I came up but somehow got lost and ended up descending the far side of the mountain, passing numerous Confucian and Daoist temples along the way. In the end, I found my way back to the subway, none the worse for wear. Getting lost just made for more adventure!

But my best memory was visiting the DRBA branch monastery in Taipei for a Sunday Guan Yin session. Everyone was so welcoming! We recited together all day, and they even asked me to give a short talk after lunch. A few days later, several laymen from the temple treated me and Yanik to lunch and gave us souvenirs to remember our trip. Their kindness really touched my heart.

Actually, everyone I met in Taiwan was kind. And somehow, Taiwan felt familiar; Taiwan felt like home. I have such fond memories of it, and I can’t wait to go back. I enjoyed it so much that I want to go teach English there, and hopefully learn Chinese at the same time. I’m not sure when the conditions will arise, but when they do—Taiwan here I come!