Sunday, February 28, 2010

Iguazu Falls

There are no high mountains around Iguazu Falls if you look for the source of water. There is an expansive forest plateau at the modest elevation of 1300 meters. Waters surge, however, on Rio Iguazu Superior, just before the gorges stage an inhuman performance of plunging down. This is where Argentina and Brazil meet across the River, and it is from the Brazilian side that people mostly observe the spectacular scene of cataracts (falls). Argentinians have to cross the border to share the incredible view. However, the first fall (90 meters down), exquisitely named "garganta de diable” (devil's throat) is hidden from Brazilian viewers and those that are curious have to cross the border, pay the park fee , ride on the mini-trains, the bus or boats, and finally trek on the catwalk to see this spectacle.

The trip was worth the sweat and money. Both ways you enjoy throngs of butterflies dancing. Coatis haunt the forest. The tropical birds sing. The mist and white foam boiling all around, the green of the jungle, and a 180 degree rainbow playing peekaboo. It is overpowering and sensational! One more treasure is the flower symbol of Brazil called "Ipe" hugging the bank along on the falls lookout. Returnee Okinawans transplanted it renaming "Ippei" that sounds more like the original word. What a paradise! UNESCO designated Iguacu as the top Natural Asset of Mankind. Varig Air exclaimed, "God must be a Brazilian!" The 2016 Olympics should bring world visitors en masse to Iguazu.

Early next morning I strolled inside the forest park. Strangely, it did not feel much different from walking in the the Palisade Park near New York. The air was fresh and there was the fragrance of recently mown grass. I met no one and there were no cars because this is a National Park and no passenger cars are allowed to drive in. I came to the square where the Falls hide Deep Throat Falls. I smiled and said to myself, "Only those who made the journey to the other shore could recognize what is hidden here."

Iguazu connects with Rio Parana where Brazil and Argentina encounter Paraguay. They have a landmark at the tri-country border. The Giant Itaipu Dam is located 20 kilometers upstream on Parana River, as a binational project between Brazil and Paraguay. Argentina is not involved.

I was lucky to join the first bus tour in the morning operated by the Itaipu Hydro Power Complex, after watching the introductory video. Half a dozen buses proceeded in a row, through gates manually operated by guards, and onto the spillway and the dam. The dam is 196 meters high and 8 kilometers (inclusive of rockfill ) wide. The man-made Itaipu lake, twice as big as Biwa Lake in Japan, spreads out on our left. I crossed to Paraguay where the border runs inside the Itaipu ground. The lake and the surrounding forests are monitored constantly with ecological surveys and maintenance. The Itaipu spillway can handle a flow 40 times greater than the average of the Iguazu Falls. WOW! The guide told us that Itaipu means "the rock that sings." The Itaipu generating capacity is 12.6 M kw/hr (40 times bigger than that of Kurobe, Japan) and is second only to the Three Gorges Dam in the world. I rediscovered that the Parana River is as long as the Missouri or the Mississippi Rivers in the U.S.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Wanderer of Formosa (福爾摩沙漫遊者)

Sun Moon Lake

My first trip to Taiwan was a gift given by my son, Kirk, for my retirement. Actually, it was made possible by cashing in miles from the airline I most favored. My son spiced it up by arranging a Taiwanese guide for me who spoke excellent Japanese. My son spoke to his Taiwanese colleague at work in San Diego and surprisingly it was his colleague's father, a recently retired UN worker, who helped me tremendously - starting with meeting me at the airport, traveling downtown together by bus, and walking to the reserved hotel close to Shin Guang Mitsukoshi Department Store. I have made trips to Taiwan almost 10 times since then, and I always stay at the same hotel.

I appreciated his discretion not to accompany me constantly. He suggested minimum necessary tips and gave me an overall orientation. At the University of Taiwan, he politely let me walk around the campus and study at the library. It was the day before the MRT subway systems came online. The crazy bus trip to Gugon Palace became a memorable story when I experienced a frantic moment boarding the bus. He and his wife were excellent hosts. The welcoming dinner was at Hai Pa Wang, and the farewell dinner was at Shinyeh, all serving local Taiwanese dishes. I fondly remember their warm hospitality on my first visit.

My second visit was to Fenyuang, north of Taichung. I visited my first e-mail friend, who is a dentist. It was my first visit to Taiwan's Toastmasters Club there and I was thrilled to see a club which boasts more than 50 members. They met in the basement of the hotel where I was staying. I am grateful to him for the early morning ride from Fenyuang to the Taoyuan International Airport, as I had to catch an early flight to the U.S.

On my third visit, my wife accompanied me to Taipei where we met Michelle Chen, who was a contestant speaker at the Toastmasters Convention. I never imagined Michelle had such a passion for traveling abroad like I did. My interest in Czech Republic was inspired by her trip to Pardubice. I got a lot of information from hearing about her trip there.

It rained hard in Taipei the day the convention was over. A gentleman with whom we sat together noticed us and instructed his chauffeur to take us to our hotel. We sent him our letter of appreciation. We never saw him again at subsequent conventions.

On my fourth trip, I was in Taichung for the Toastmasters Convention at Tunghai University with another Japanese delegation staying at the University dorm. It was the Taichung Central Japanese Club who offered to take us sightseeing to their historic Lukang Port. Lukang was the trade port of deer skins during the Dutch colonial days where the terms e-kang and teng-kang originated, referring to north/south of the port respectively. Dennis Chen, the Club founder led a fleet of cars with volunteer drivers one full day enabling us to tour Lukang's Longshan temple and see Maz, the Goddess of the Sea.

Talking to Dennis, I learned that he planned to visit Sun-Moon Lake the following day accompanying his New York physician friend and his wife and I made a bold request to get a one way ride if at all possible. He called me later, granting it as if it was my once-in-a-lifetime wish. I wanted to see the after-effects of the Jiji Earthquake that hit in 1999. I sent a small check as a contribution to the victims through the Fenyuang physician friend.

The view of the Jiji Mountains was tragic, but the lake resort had recovered. I walked up the hill to see the famous tea farms. Basking in the twilight I made a deal with a female captain and chartered a boat to cross Sun-Moon Lake.

Dennis Chen had stopped at the Muh Sheng Museum of Entomology in Puli on our way to the Lake and that gave me a good reason to return at a later date to the museum to write about the Chestnut Tiger, the butterfly that migrates between Taiwan and Japan. I met Meili Chang, while on the trip to Lukang and was struck by the beautiful Japanese she spoke. Later I learned that she had studied at the University of Kyoto.

On the fifth trip, again after the Toastmaster Convention, I traveled by bus for 3-days to Hsitou, deep inside the Nantou´s valleys, with my friend I met in Yangmingshan. He was a genuine Taiwan Alpinist, who walked mountain ranges above 1000 meters from far north to south in Taiwan. His adventure was featured in one of the southern local newspapers. I asked him for a copy, but he didn't keep any. He took me to Yangmingshan Library, or the Chiang Kai-shek Summer Resort. I met his family, his three granddaughters in Yunhe and through his granddaughters I got my message across to him. The granddaughters are all away from home. The eldest granddaugher got a PhD in Germany in biology and lives in Chiba, Japan until March this year (I'm asking her to visit us before her departure). The second granddaughter is in the UK studying fashion. The third granddaughter is in her senior year in Chenkong University in Tainan.

The experimental forest of Hsitou was very pretty with exotic bamboos and many therapeutic hiking trails. I saw a number of divine trees, 1000 years old. I inquired as to how the trails were kept so serenely and no rubbish anywhere. He simply said "Taiwan is a small country, so people empower themselves."

On the sixth visit, Tainan Chenkong University was the Convention venue. My wife and I flew to Kaohsiung and took a train ride to Tainan. DTM Y. H. Chen, the legendary southern Toastmaster leader, accompanied us to Tainan. Before moving on to Tainan, he and his Kaohsiung Toastmaster member gave us a tour to visit Cheng Ching Lake, a man-made water reservoir turned beautiful lake (about 300 hectares) and Tsuo Ying Lotus Pond and the nearby Confucius Temple. Cheng Ching Lake was undergoing quite a renovation and the lake was half dry when we visited. That night, the three of us returned to Kaohsiung and wandered through the famous night food stands to enjoy "eel shao-chi (small bite)".On the 7th trip, Dr. Kobayashi of Shimonoseki University joined us and the Japanese delegation to attend the Kaohsiung Toastmasters Convention and immediately afterwards, we visited Chi Mei Corp private art museum in Baoan Industrial Quarters near Tainan and Usanto Reservoir irrigation dam built by Yoichi Hachida (1886-1942). We owe a debt of gratitude to DTM Chen's advice regarding the visit and for making the museum reservations for us.For the visit to Chi Mei Corp, we prepared by reading Founder Wen-Lung Hsu 's book. Chi Mei is the No. l producer of ABS, plastics in the world and their main plant and research lab site are located near Tainan. We arrived before the museum opened and waited at the restaurant service desk. Then the morning meeting started, Japanese style, as employees lined up chanting something. I sneaked a quick snapshot (see the photo). The museum must be a jewel among the privately owned. Since photos are prohibited inside the museum, please visit their official Web site for images.Yoichi Hachida, a native Kanazawan, arrived in Taiwan upon his graduation from the University of Tokyo as a civil engineer. He tackled irrigation problems immediately and was revered by his lifelong dedication to complete Usanto Dam, as well as the Chianan Canal. Unfortunately, he was drafted by the Japanese Army and on his voyage to the Philippines, his boat was sunk by allied subs. His wife killed herself in the dam discharge leaving a note that she preferred to be with her husband rather than return to Japan.Daja near Taichung, was the Convention site on my 8th trip in 2007. I met the Taichung Central club members again, including Meili Chang and Melody Hou, who took me to Lukang years ago. They kindly offered to take us on a trip to Mu Sheng Museum in Puli and I fulfilled a wish I had for years. Melody said Mu Sheng was already there when his father was a small boy.

The latest Yangmingshan Convention was my 9th trip to Taiwan. I thought I made ten trips but not quite. I could not have made these trips without the help of many, many friends mentioned above. A real Big Salute and thank you! All of you have motivated me to return to Taiwan. I thank my Kitakyushu Toastmaster colleague Masaki Oshiumi who joined me on my trips to Taiwan these last few times. His son-in-law was stationed in a plant in Touliu and he visited the family there. He is very interested in Taiwan and is a great fellow traveler.

So, I am now looking forward to my double digit trip. Hallelujah!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ju Ming Sculpture Garden

- This article is dedicated to Michelle Chen, her parents, her four sisters - Li Hua, Shu Xia, Li Ying and Lili (in order of seniority) and their respective husbands (see photo at bottom of the page).

When Michelle and friends visited central Japan, I joined their off-road Awajishima expedition to see a temple of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism built under a pool of water lilies by Architect Tadao Ando. I was afraid they might have troubles finding the small temple. While we were on the topic of off-road traveling, I casually mentioned to Michelle that I had visited Isamu Noguchi's Stone Garden in Mure, in Shikoku, across the Naruto strait from Awajishima. Noguchi was very interested in the stones from nearby Gokenzan (Mt. Five Swords) quarry, and he used to stay at his studio provided by his masonry friend whenever he headed for Japan. The venue was hard to find, but well worth the trouble to find it.

Her eyes lit up. She asked me if I had visited Ju Ming Museum in Chinshan. She said that Ju Ming (1938-) is Taiwan's most active contemporary sculptor and suggested that on my next trip to Taipei, I should visit Ju Ming's Garden. By public transportation, it takes more than two hours one way from Taipei. Chinshan is located on the north shore near Keelung, but hidden inside the mountains. (I saw a beautiful monastery in the distance from Ju Ming's Garden. According to Google, it was the Dharma Drum Mountain, the holy religious temple.)

So on a sunny, warm day in December 2005, Michelle and her sisters' families escorted me in their car through Yangmingshan, treated me to a gourmet lunch in downtown Chinshan where Michelle's other sister and her husband have a pharmacy shop, and gave me a complete tour of Ju Ming's Garden.

Ju Ming Museum opened in September 1999 after 12 years of planning by Ju Ming and his family including everything from site selection, grading, park and landscape layout, building schemes, fountain and pond setup, storage area, ...etc. Ju Ming's vision and mission is to bring a lot of fun, entertainment / education to children, as well as adults. It doesn't have many moving vehicles/components, but visitors get that playful feeling, similar to visiting Disneyland in California.

The park sits on 26 acres (about 10 hectares) of sunny terrain, secluded from the main road. The land in Taipei, as in Japan, is at a very high cost for choice property. Chinshan was quite a visionary to develop this entertainment resort and as a result, he has became a cultural icon.

A map designates 10 specific locations, including the exhibition hall, service and education center, Ju Ming's workshop, Taiwan and World Artists' corners. I spent most of my time in the Tai Chi, Human and Sports Squares admiring Ju Ming's bronze and wood sculptures. The exhibits are classified into three categories - Tai Chi Series, Living World Series and Nativity Series.
Tai Chi Square is the main attraction and the largest area of the park. Displayed there are gigantic masses of bronze, rough and wild, mostly two fighters engaged in powerful motions of crouching, kicking, kneeling and striking. I should note here that many Tai Chi figures of Ju Ming were shipped to the U.S., Europe, Japan, China and Singapore. Mt. Hakone in Japan has an open air sculpture garden where visitors can see Ju Ming's Tai Chi sculpture.

The Living World Series are wood or metal sculptures. Life-sized figures line the path where you walk. There are soldiers, dressed in camouflage combat attire, sailors on roll call on deck, men/women from all corners of the world, painted in lively colors. In the Sports Square are athletes, gymnasts, pilots, parachutists, bicyclists, motorists all frozen in mid-motion. You eventually come upon a dozen bronze men, clad in raincoats some with umbrellas. It invites you to imagine playing hide and seek in this maze of sculptures. The Nativity Series includes farmers, buffaloes, and local folk art.
Ju Ming started his sculptor career as a young apprentice wood carver in Sanyi (Miaoli), south of Taipei, known to locals as the Taiwan craft cradle. He made his name as a Buddhist image carver, being called the return of Enku, the old Chinese Master Carver. Ju Ming practiced Tai Chi boxing to build up his physical strength when he was young. This led to his unique and successful Tai Chi Series.

Ju Ming won the 18th Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize in 2007 and I attended the ceremony. He came with his son. However, I was unable to listen to his lecture as attendance was limited by drawing. He still works hard and recently added the world of Scientists as well as a Swimmers section he called Swan Lake. Ju Ming used Styrofoam as additional material for Scientists and Swimmers. His initial models were in fact, made from Styrofoam, covered with clay on the surface, and then molded through lost-wax casting. After undergoing these processes, the sculptures were further burnished to express a young girl's delicate skin and graceful body curves. I hope some day to visit again to see the new additions.

Here are some Ju Ming's philosophic quotes:

1) Art must be cultivated, not studied.

2) You have to have a dialogue with the material in your hands. You have to quiet your mind and wait for the words to speak to you.

3) Someone being skilled at woodcarving is not necessarily an artist. Nowadays everything is called art: sitting down, wearing clothes and so on. On a spiritual and intellectual level, art must be practiced like a Buddha practices. A Buddha begins as a wondering monk, cultivates
himself, becomes wiser and achieves enlightenment.

The Chen Sisters