Chinese religiosity is often characterized through its practical character. It tends toward realism in the sense of being anchored in concrete reality (shíjì 實際), as opposed to the taste for metaphysical speculation found elsewhere.
Thus, allow me to digress with a few practical adventures punctuating the day. It begins with having bought some kumquats (jīnjú 金橘, often written 金桔, kinkan 金柑 in Japanese) in a local grocery store, thinking that they would provide a welcome protection against the colds widespread in my surroundings. Unfortunately, once the plastic box was opened they proved not to be fresh enough to be eaten, and I thought that trying to return the item would provide a good opportunity to practice my language skills. Thus, I went back to the store and explained that because they were not fresh they were not edible, and therefore requested to return the fruits. Mission accomplished: the refund was granted without problem.
Getting used to living in a new country involves myriad of small things to learn, such as the above. Coming from Japan, I was also unused to having to watch for tea bottles labeled “unsweetened” (wútáng 無糖). Who would suspect that most teas including green tea would be full of sugar? Always learning through trial and error (chángshì cuòwù fǎ 嘗試錯誤法 , shikō sakugo 試行錯誤 in Japanese)…
Speaking of first experiences, today I took the subway, also called Taipei Metro, and more commonly known as the MRT (Metro Rapid Transit) or jiéyùn 捷運. Went to Zhōngshān 中山, where the Central Station for trains and buses is located. Very convenient rechargeable “Easy Card” (yōuyóukǎ 悠游卡, literally “leisurely and carefree card”). In the third basement floor of the shopping mall, there is a wonderful vegetarian buffet called Míngdé Sùshí Yuán 明德素食園 (English name: Minder Vegetarian). It is amazing to see that even in a busy food court there is a vegetarian stall: it really indicates that vegetarianism belongs to mainstream Taiwanese culture.
In class, I learned about Kuāfǔ 夸父, the giant who chased the Sun and died in the attempt. The expression Kuāfǔ zhúrì 夸父逐日 refers to someone who doesn’t know his own limits, evoking a form of Quixotism but linked more precisely to the lack of humility (qiānxū 謙虛), a cardinal virtue in the Confucian ethos.
Pictures taken tonight, mostly in the area of Gǔtíng 古亭, with its temple dedicated to Dìfǔyīn Gōng 地府陰公 (a deity of the underworld), have been posted here: http://www.smugmug.com/gallery/n-Fb44v/