Stuck in the Mud!

See if you can guess this riddle! It is stuck in the mud, surrounded by dirt and murk, yet it is a symbol of purity.

Congratulations, you guessed right. It is the humble water lily. If you consider the obstacles, unfavorable conditions and surroundings this plant lives in, it is no wonder why this undaunted little flower is a symbol of rebirth, new life, hope and purity in so many cultures and religions.

Irish poet Thomas Moore describes the daily birth and rebirth of the lotus flower in these words:

Those virgin lilies, all the night
Bathing their beauties in the lake,
That they may rise more fresh and bright,
When their beloved sun’s awake.

Author C.JoyBell compares the way the water lily emerges from mud and darkness to the light with spiritual transformation, it is like a “change that comes from the inside and begins it’s way out until it emerges on the outside.” She says, “A water lily is born underneath the water, inside the soil . . . And the water lily has always been a water lily for that whole time that it was sprouting out of the wet soil, reaching up through the dark water towards the sunlight, stretching and grasping for the surface; where it then buds and blooms on the outside in the sunshine.”

Looking at these beautiful lilies makes you forget about the darkness and the mud beneath them, you just enjoy their beauty.

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A budding beauty

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Now in full bloom

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Floating gently

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Bursting forth like the rays of the sun

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Basking in the golden glow

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But, alas, all earthly beauty must fade.

Posted in flowers, inspirational, motivational, nature, Taiwan | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Indomitable Spirit of Banyan

The banyan is an amazing tree. It often starts out as a tiny fruit seed dropped by bird onto another tree. There, in a crack it germinates and lets down a weak thin root till it reaches the ground, then another and another. The aerial roots get thicker and thicker until they totally cover the trunk of the host tree. Once strong and established the banyan starts to spread sideways, often creating a huge canopy with hundreds of aerial roots. The intricate and complex root patterns show incredible tenacity and strength, clinging to every nook and cranny, even on sheer rock, and sucking up moisture and nutrients where none seems to exist.

An Indian legend tells of a proud ruler, who cut down a large banyan tree and covered the stump with heavy iron plates to show his authority. By the next morning the tree had burst through the metal and was on the way to its former glory. No wonder then, that Hindus, as well as Buddhists regard the banyan as sacred and as a symbol for immortality.

In the southern Taiwan city of Tainan is an old colonial era building, the ruins of which have been completely enveloped by a huge banyan, thereby creating a fascinating, abstract living sculpture. Today it is called the Anping Tree House.

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banyan02_smbanyan01_smThe above three images show details from the Anping Tree House

 

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This huge banyan tree at the Dongshan highway rest stop is said to be more than 100 years old.

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Aerial roots cling to hard and jagged coral rock with incredible strength.
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Like the tentacles of a giant octopus these banyan roots tighten their grip on this stone and concrete wall.
Posted in inspirational, motivational, nature, Taiwan | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Daily Risks for Daily Bread

For many of us when we hear of taking risks, we think of thrills, excitement and adventure, of stepping out of the norm, leaving the daily humdrum behind, seeking the rush of adrenalin and new vistas and frontiers, of doing things we always wanted to, but were scared to embark on. Such experiences can greatly enrich and even transform our life.

For many millions though risk means heading out the door in the morning or at night to work at a dangerous job with inadequate safety equipment or under dangerous conditions in dangerous places, not for the thrill of it, but to put food on the table for your family.

While Taiwan is a fairly developed and modern place in many ways, it is not uncommon to see people work for their daily bread under precarious circumstances, taking risks each and every day. Negligence, pressures of time and profit, carelessness by management and the Chinese mindset of Chabuduo “差不多” (loosely translated as “good enough”, or “cutting corners”) can often lead to tragic consequences.

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High up in an unfinished building this man tries to pull in a heavy bucket of cement.

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Setting up an outdoor stage for a rock concert without safety equipment.

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Traditional bamboo scaffolding is just held together with thin wires.

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Building a bridge in southern Taiwan across the Gaoping River

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A Retro Dinner Table

Some sixty years ago Taiwan was struggling to make the transition from a predominantly agrarian society to establishing viable industries, commerce and trade. People worked very hard starting small manufacturing and assembly businesses, often times in their living room with every family member pitching in. From humble beginnings some of these garage shops eventually became successful enterprises.

Even during those hard times dinner was an important event for the food-loving Chinese. Most of the time it was a simple affair of rice, tofu and vegetables with maybe an egg thrown in. Fish and sea food, the most treasured delicacies, were reserved for special holidays, such as Chinese New Year. To cheer up their simple meals, local people liked to use dishes with brightly colored patterns, that had some of their favorite foods depicted in them, such as shrimp, or a dish in the shape of a fish. It gave them hope that better, more prosperous times would come, and they did.

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Taiwan Beef Noodles

Whenever I am out with family or friends one of our favorite meal is Taiwan beef noodles (“牛肉麵“). A fragrant, hearty broth with large juicy chunks of braised or stewed beef, thick chewy noodles, and some fresh vegetables. The beef is cooked for many hours with soy sauce, five spice (anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, fennel seeds), sugar, rice wine and other ingredients. Each shop has its own recipe. The dish was popularized in Taiwan by the veterans who settled in Taiwan after the Chinese Civil War ended in 1949 and has become something of a national dish. Every year chefs and restaurants compete for the “Beef Noodle King” title. Below are some memorable beef noodles I have enjoyed. Do they make you hungry?

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This one packed some heat with chili peppers.

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This chef made his own noodles by hand on a long wooden table.

Posted in food, Taiwan | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Chinese Folk Religion

Taiwan enjoys a colorful and diverse religious life, mainly featuring Chinese culture and tradition. Elements of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism are often mingled together with various deities, so that people speak of Chinese Folk Religion. These three young men are dressed up as mythical warriors and participate in a noisy religious ceremony shrouded in smoke from firecrackers.

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This man acts as a spirit medium and performs a ritual with his sword. Sometimes this type of ceremony includes self-inflicted ritual wounds.

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Religious devotees carry heavy wooden palanquins in which deities are seated through the streets while swaying from side to side.

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Together Into The Future

Geese couples are symbols of marital fidelity and bliss in many cultures because they form life-long bonds with their partner. So when I took this photograph in a park and looked at it later, it reminded me of this beautiful old marriage vow that was stuck somewhere in a corner of my mind.

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If you are interested, this design is available here.
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Never Quit!

This little grass plant sure ended up in the wrong place, it probably didn’t have a choice. An old abandoned rusty railroad track, rough rocks and gravel, no sign of dirt or moisture. That seed blown here by the wind could have just quit and died. But it didn’t. Somehow it managed to sprout, and send a root down into the ground between the cracks. It’s tough going and some of the blades of the grass have seen better days, but quitting is not an option. 

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Life In Unlikely Places

The other day I passed by this barren concrete wall. As I looked closer I saw this tiny leaf growing out of a crack and right behind it there was already the shoot for a second one. We often say that life is fragile, and that is certainly true, but life also has this surprising power and strength to spring forth where least expected. Give it enough years and this concrete wall will be in crumbles and in its place might stand a tall proud tree. There is hope for the future!

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No Pain, No Gain

Someone once said that genius is 10% talent but 90% hard work, sweat and applying yourself. We may have great dreams and aspirations, but unless we get down to the nitty-gritty of hard work and study and practice, chances are our dreams will remain dreams. Learning a language, a skill, a musical instrument or the tools to succeed in a profession takes daily commitment and determination. The discipline of learning and study will not only increase our capabilities but also shape our character and inner strength.

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Students hard at work in the library, our future generation.

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