Let me just say that with the word “warmth”, I am referring not only to the weather, which is just perfectly warm and not unbearably hot, but also to the people, who made me feel like at home.
From March 14th to the 25th of this year, 2017, I enjoyed this beautiful island and some of the things it has to offer.
The plane landed a little before midnight, and the people working in the airport must have been tired from a long day, yet they were smiling and welcoming. Have you seen those country advertisements where all the people looks friendly and amiable? well… I felt like I was in one of those advertisements. And I knew my stay there would be amazing.
This is my first morning in Santo Domingo
I was on a business trip, there was an expo and I had some clients to visit, so I could not go sightseeing too much, but what I saw was awesome.
An economy on the rise
Dominican Republic economy is rising and people is willing to invest on new technologies and innovative products. Being so close to the US they have inherit some of their way of making business.
All the people who I had meetings with were very friendly and easy to deal with, hard-working but not stressed, punctual and professional, but flexible, and over all smiling.
So, if you are reading this from a business point of view, then I recommend you to try Dominican Republic.
A place of history
Dominican Republic, and specifically Santo Domingo is home to a few of the “firsts” in America, for instance, the first Cathedral and the first military base. And they are taking good care of their historical places. The Cathedral even has aircon, and even if you are not a Catholic to make a prayer, it is inviting to sit for a moment and enjoy its beauty.
First Military Base, Ozama Fort
It is a beautiful area full of shops, cafes and souvenirs. Walking in this area is a must if you visit Santo Domingo.
This was my favourite Cafe, Affogato Cafe.
Revolution and Patriotism
All Dominicans love their country, they are not only welcoming but very knowledgable of their history. And they are eager to share it with you. I know I might have missed visiting some places but the ones that I did were stunning.
These are some of the monuments remembering their independence and battles.
This is the independence park in Santo Domingo
And this is the monument in Santiago. Santiago is the second largest city in Dom. Rep. It is smaller, but also beautiful. On top of this monument you can get a view of the city. Breath taking.
Yes, it has magnificent beaches, white sand and crystal waters. And yes, people love to dance. Everywhere there is music, salsa, merengue, reggae, and the newest trend “dembow”.
But, if dancing is not for you, there is also the night restaurants and bars in the colonial area. They have live music, delicious food and great drinks. My favorite of these all was the “Pat’e Palo”. Which translated to English is “Wooden leg”, which as you can imagine refers to the pirates. How magical can this place be?
The only down side of Santo Domingo is the traffic, but they have Uber, which makes everything easier. And they even have Uber on Motorcycle.!!!!
You gotta try it. You won’t regret it
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Now, just for you, a Sushi Flower, from a sushi place in Agora Mall in Santo Domingo!
Say good words – Do good deeds – Thinking good thoughts
The first time I went to Fo Guang Shan was in the Summer of 2013. Dad was visiting me in Taiwan for a few weeks and I wanted to make his stay unforgettable. While I was looking for places that we could go I remembered that a few friends had shown me some magnificent pictures about this place. I have been in Taiwan since 2009 and I wondered why I did not hear too much about it before and as it turned out, it was new!!! It opened in December 2011. Well, at least the Memorial Center did. The monastery was built in 1967, but until recent years they decided to be open for the public.
I have experience the temple in two different ways, as a tourist and as meditation practitioner.
Discovering with Dad – Tourist
Of my first visit I remember being dumbfounded by the vastness and beauty of the place, there is no denying of that. But I also have a strong memory that it was sunny and very hot. What I am trying to say is the real reason I enjoyed that day was not because of the place but because I was with dad and we were both excited taking pictures at the details. Here are some pictures of things you perhaps did not notice.
However, something happened that day, that without knowing at that time, changed my life. Dad and I were exploring the main temple and we noticed that at entrance on the right side there is a table with some brochures, candles and other paraphernalia on it. Behind it, there was a smiling venerable. (a “venerable” is alike a monk, but they do not use this word, so I will be refereeing to them as “Venerable”). She saw us and with a friendly tone started talking to us with her best English. Small talk at the beginning and the then she handed me a brochure of information of a monthly retreat for foreigners. I did not pay much attention, but dad seamed to encourage the idea. I left the temple with a “maybe I will come”.
The coming months I forgot about the temple but the idea of going back and experience that retreat lingered in my head. Then it happened, one of my best friend told me he found about this activity and, from one day to the other, decided to join. He told me all about it and I was fascinated with his experience. I had to go. Without hesitation we signed out for the next one, which would be held in March 2014.
Re discovering of the temple – Meditation
For three days we experience the monastic life. Waking up at 5 am and then quickly getting ready for joining the morning chants in the main temple. There was a sea of people, but it did not matter because everybody moved in order and being mindful of each of their movements. When the chants were over, we were directed to the main dining room, where more than 2000 people could fit, however that morning we were no more than 300. Everybody entered in order and in silence and at 6 o’clock they served the breakfast. For 15 min nobody spoke and just focused on the first meal of the day. At 6:15 everybody was finished and in less than a minute everything was picked up and cleaned. Impressive.
All the meals were served and carried out this effective and thoughtful manner. Every course was vegetarian, needless to say, and it was deliciously well done.
During the morning, we shared the temple chores with the venerables. We got simple things like planting flowers, so it was a beautiful task. In the afternoon and before dinner we were taught meditation, starting out from the most known one, sitting meditation, to walking meditation and even meditation white drinking tea. We laughed, we learned, we grew, we became better. No one told to me change religion or to forget mine, or that I was wrong, we were there to experience and learn just what we wanted, or let’s say, what we needed, and they respected that.
Breathing – Meditation
What can I say? Once was just not enough, so on December of the same year, I joined my second retreat. This time, it was more focused in developing meditation skills and instead of doing so many activities, we mostly stayed in the meditation hall.
This time we were asked to remain silent and be truthfully mindful and aware of everything we were doing. This time we went meditation in different parts of the temple. I do not remember the names of all the places, but here are some pictures for you see.
It was beautiful, I felt so much in contact with nature, with trees, with the birds, with the wind and of course, in contact with myself. Remembering to breath, being aware of the involuntary movements of my body, realising that I am in control. Relaxing, letting go, breathing, seeing life from a different angle, living, existing, breathing. Yes! Breathing, it is amazing how we can easily forget to properly do such simple task. Realising that we are all connected, that this blog is here because you would read it, and because you would read it, I sat today to write it, and so you affected me and I have affected you.
Chinese New Years – Tourist
The experience was life-changing and mind opening. I am not changing my religion, but I adopt what is useful for me from other beliefs. The next retreat I was able to join was the one held for Chinese New Year in 2015, the year of the lamb. There were less teachings and close to no meditation activities, but the temple offered a big meal to celebrate the new year and there were, parades and lanterns all over. Definitely a hectic time for the temple. Also, if one was able to visit all the key places of the temple, they would give you a temple souvenir, which I still keep very dear.
After that, I was convinced that the best way to spend CNY for foreigners, was to go to the temple. So next year, in 2016, the year of the monkey, I took mom, who was visiting me, along with two other friends to Fo Guang Shan. I was finally able to tell mom all what I have seen and explain all what I have learned.
We walked around the temple more than once and experience the greatness of the place. Then, at night, fireworks. Do you think the temple is beautiful? Now imagine it being illuminated with fireworks! It is simple breathtaking. The newest part of the temple was recently completed, so we were able to take pictures from this new angle.
The retreats were an amazing experience and I wish I could do them again, but the temple has stopped doing these activities for foreigners. It is only held once a year during the month of July and it lasts for 1 month. It would be a little hard for me to join, but I will never forget what I lived and learned.
One more time – Tourist
Now it is 2017. I was happy to hear that some of my foreigner friends were looking forward to go, and without thinking too much I joined the group. We were a big group, we were 22!!!
It felt good to see all those places again. The memorial center is impressive, but my favorite part is the monastery, after all that is where I spent most of the time during the retreats. I remembered doing meditation in the Buddha land, the mesmerizing morning chants in the main temple and the secluded little shrine on the top of the hill. I hadn’t been to that little shrine since the first retreat. It is a little far away and the road is a little steep. When I finally reached it, the venerable there, offered me and my friend who was walking with me, water and candies. She even turned on some relaxing music, just for us. The 10 minutes that I spent there brought back flashbacks not only of my experiences but also of the lessons learnt.
I am sure you have probably seen that Fo Guang Shan is a must-see in Taiwan, but if at the time you read this the retreats are being held again, Fo Guang Shan is a must-experience in your life!
Thank you for reading, here is an origami crane for you
I should have started this blog years ago. I should had written all my experiences here. I should had made better record of what I have seen, experienced and thought through all these year. But I didn’t, so now I will.
This blog is not intended to be a record of my life in this foreign place. This blog is so much more, but it is inevitable to talk about being here.
Perhaps, the reason I am writing about Taiwan is because tomorrow is their “birthday”, as they like to say. Or at least that’s how they always explain to me what they celebrate on the double ten-day.
Oh Taiwan! What not to say about you? I have been here with you for seven years. I have done and learned one million things, and yet as times passes by I realised there are still a billion new things to discover from you.
Year 1. Studying Chinese
I was like a baby, become aware of everything. With big eyes to try to observe as much as possible. Paying attention to the details and trying to remember as much as I can, because I wanted to do it again later.
I wanted to show everything to my mom and dad. I knew they would come one day, so everything new I did, I pictured myself explaining it to them.
I perfectly remember this day at the chinese breakfast near the place where I used to live. I ordered a Chinese omelet with bacon and cheese, not because bacon and cheese were my favourites, but because it was the only thing I could say. But it didn’t matter, I was happy with my meal. I imagined my mom sitting in front of me and enjoying the same breakfast just because it was a new experience.
At that at time, my roommate and best friend was Edgar, one of the best friend I had in my life. But this post is not about him. We didn’t know anybody, and for the first 4-5 weeks it was like that. The two of us against the world. The Marco Polos of our time. We had some help from the office-girls in the language center. It was not their job to introduce us to Tainan, but they were our angels. Dora, Ashley and JiaJia. I am still thankful to them for being so kind to us.
After about a month we got to know some other foreigners, who slowly pointed us to the right direction, sometimes reluctantly, sometimes eager, nevertheless it was only on us to succeed or fail in this quest. We began going to classes and soon the adventure became normal life.
First Christmas, first new year, first chinese new year, first spring, first birthday, then summer and just in a blink we were already in Taiwan for 1 year. For me it helped that mom came to visit and help me settle a few things.
After 1 year we had succeeded. We were both accepted into THE UNIVERSITY and were ready to begin. Our acceptance was a little problematic, as we were both not accepted in the department we wanted, but we would start nevertheless and then change to achieve our dreams. Nothing would stop us.
Year 2. First Year at University
We were like a 5-year-old children. Eyes still wide open and still eager to discover.
We went to our first class with high hopes and enthusiasm. We had survived one year of Chinese language and this was now our most important tool to survive. Now I was able to order a little more than just bacon and cheese omelets. Now I could actually make friends. And I was determined to become the best student in the class, make my family, my country and most important myself proud. I could see myself standing tall on graduation day. I was going to be the best.
How long does it take to break a person? Well, the positivism lasted for about 3 months. I was trying really hard but it was impossible to approach the professors, the assistants were never to be found and my classmates cared as much for me as one cares when a fallen twig breaks. You see it on the ground, step on it to hear that breaking sound and then continue your way. Those were my “lovely” classmates and I was the twig. Edgar and I were in different departments, so we started to distant from each other. Sometimes there were days in which we didn’t see one another at all. One year passed and I was feeling lonely and broken. But the show had to go on, it would go on. And I? I would NOT fail. I had cross the world for this I was going to get it. So I transferred university.
Year 3. Nantai University
I felt like a teenager now. I had learned plenty of things and I was pretty much able to take care of myself. Specially with my new life at Nantai University.
It was great! It all started when Darby, from the international affairs office, received me in his office with a big smile and with out many obsticles accepted my application. Once again, I had encountered an angel. And things could only get better.
My classmates were the best. Maybe you are thinking, this is not important, but it is.
When you are the foreigner, the stranger, the different in an unknown culture with a difficult language as is chinese, you need friends. My new classmates made life bearable again and then actually enjoyable.
We became great friends, we supported and cared for each other.
My professors were approachable and the assistants were always there to help. So I was learning, I was acquiring the knowledge and tools I came here for. And soon I was back on the road for excellence. Ok! Maybe not the number 1, but very close. Begin the only foreigner in the class and in the department, it was not easy, but I had the proper environment to succeed.
Edgar did not transfer with me and a little while after, he decided to leave and I didn’t see him anymore.
It was a period of many changes but I was adapting. My chinese improved and now I was finally able to actually understand my classes. I could maintain complete conversations and give longer explanatory answers. I was able to understand their culture a little bit better. I was not feeling like a zoo animal anymore, I became part of the city, part of Tainan.
Year 4 and 5. Continuing
I was like a young adult. I was sure I had everything under control.
I stopped looking for new things to discover. All the new experiences came to me by chance, and I never said no to them. Karaoke? Let´s go! BBQ in the middle of the road? Let’s do it. Gear bike? Let’s learn! Guest at a Chinese wedding? Eh, yeah why not! Stinky tofu? Bring it on!
It was also in these years that I started teaching English. Many people who come to Taiwan do it, but not everybody. For me, it is one of the best experiences. As a student, you see a lot of people who are about the same age than you, but how about spending time with children, with adults? I became charged with their energy and their knowledge.
Halloween with Tiffany and Olivia
My only regret was that I did not start earlier. I am still teaching now, and I love my students and my classes. Thank you all for sharing a little piece of your life with me.
Regarding university, it was time to start bachelor graduation project. I had to choose my advisor, because the coming years would depend on that. I took a little longer than usual but then I finally started at Prof. Lin lab. He is a high important figure in the university and in Taiwan, and yet his heart is humble. I was oblivious of who he really was, until I graduated, but I was lucky to be his advisee. Now I consider him to be not only my professor and advisor, but my friend. With his help I was becoming the scientist I always wanted to. Experiments, research, methodology, discussions, that was my life. And I loved it. I was in the lab from 8 to 5, and I would have stayed longer, if I didn’t have to teach. I loved my lab. Sometimes I would go back home with some weird smell on my clothes and some other times I had strange stains on my finger that would not wash off for weeks. But I loved it.
Dad came to visit, and since I was a more experienced in the art of living I Taiwan, we enjoyed our time together. That was a nice boost to continue. A little after dad left, both my advisor and the chairman suggested I should stay in the lab and continue with master’s. I took some time to think about it, but if I did, I could finish in only 1 year. So, it was the perfect plan. The topic? Well it was inspired on my pets. If you are curious to know my pets, go to my other blog, Jupiter, the Jubilant.
I started my relationship with Thomas, the love of my life, who not only makes me happy, but completes me. We already together for my bachelor graduation day. I finished as the fourth in my class. I had succeeded. I survived and persevered all these years, and it was only the start. That summer I was invited to Japan for nanotechnology courses. After discovering the nano world, I did not want to leave it.
Year 6. Master’s
I was a mature adult at this point. I knew exactly where I was going and how to get there. I did not only think I was in control, I actually was. Almost nothing was new and just a handful of things would amaze me.
My thesis, as any normal one, had its up and downs, but it was overall going well. At this point I need to thank my friend Miguel, who was indirectly part of this journey and has been one of my mentors in life.
Then it hit me, all the things that I experienced in Taiwan, happened a long time ago. Most of them when I first came. So… Let’s do them again! and I did, I went to those places one more time. With a new perspective it was like I was doing them for the first time. And I understood one things I kept telling me all these years:
Circumstances, depend on the people, a time and a place. The more one tries to understand them, the more one will realise there are too many variables.
It is true! The more one learns, the more one realises we don’t know anything. I would never fully comprehend Taiwan, I couldn’t experience the same thing two times.
I knew this all along, but it was until then that I truly grasped it.
Mom came to visit me again to be with me when I got my master’s diploma. And what do you do with a diploma? You work!
That is what I do now.
Year 7. Another side of Taiwan
I am starting to feel like a baby again. With the rest of my life ahead.
Most of my friends have come and gone. Thomas moved away, and we are struggling the distance but we will be together soon. Nanotechnology PhD is still waiting, but for the moment I am enjoying work. I have a good boss and nice co-workers. I believe I was lucky to find such a good place. I am now experiencing this other chapter of life in Taiwan. Which is absolutely different from just being a student. I will succeed one again, I know I will.
As a person who doesn’t know anything about being here, my only advice is: “Embrace every moment and never stop discovering.”