Local student witnesses China’s coming of age
Vail CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: Scott Harp is a 16-year-old Battle Mountain High School student who is traveling through Taipei, Taiwan and China as a Rotary Youth Exchange Student. He has written a few articles about his travels.
BEIJING, CHINA ” I have had quite a busy schedule this past month with various activities. My host uncle invited me to travel to the National Palace Museum with his wife and son. I can honestly say that it is a truly rewarding experience to have a local teach me their history.
The building itself resembles ancient Chinese architecture, which was originally based off the curve at the bottom of their ocean vessels thousands of years ago. Once I stepped inside, the gold from thousands of pieces of priceless artifacts radiated from the crystal clear windows. As a matter of fact, the museum has acquired so many relics and art work that it is unable to display all of them. So they store about two-thirds of their collection in a large vault located in the mountain side.
Chang Kai Shek brought China’s compilation of extremely valuable works dating back thousands of years ago when he fled from Mao Zedong and the Communist regime. Amongst the treasures, I noticed on exhibition a pillow used during the Tang dynasty that belonged to a noble family. It was a piece of metal molded into a rectangular shape. One of the most famous pieces is the Jade Cabbage, which was presented as a wedding gift for the one of the last emperors. There were tons of magnificent pieces of art, which includes scroll paintings, porcelains, and bronze works, that took me almost five hours to view all the exhibitions.
A few days later I attended the Coming of Age Ceremony with all the other Rotary Exchange students. The event was held at the Confucius Temple and we all wore ceremonial and traditional shirts and hats. We washed our hands in water to symbolize that we are removing all of our bad habits, as well as our transition into adulthood. We also had the opportunity to bai bai (or pray) with incense candles at the alters embellished with an assortment of fruits and colorful flowers. The elaborate wood carvings and statues enhanced the overall beauty of the temple. Our host parents gave us words of advice and encouragement for our futures. It was such a special event to be able to truly recognize and appreciate my time here in Taiwan. I felt so privileged and honored to become an adult according to the ancient Chinese methods. It was a spectacular occasion.
Rotary-sponsored events continue to keep all the fun alive. All the students, including myself, traveled to a pottery factory and museum not too far out from Taipei, approximately a forty-five minute bus ride. We viewed priceless pottery artifacts dating back to the early Shang dynasty. We then had the opportunity to make our own ceramics. We used the rotating wheel controlled by the foot’s touch to mold our creations into some unique design. I can tell you that it is not as easy as it appears. It takes a lot of strength to keep the clay in a certain position. If you push outward so that it continues to expand, it will eventually explode and pieces will fling everywhere, which actually happened to me. The shopkeepers do it with such ease and majestic ability that they make a masterpiece in a matter of minutes. They make it seem so effortless.
Even the tour of the Presidential House provided by the rotary was a priceless experience. They let people in to explore the building because they believe that since it is a government of the people that they should have a right to see the inside. The building was constructed during Japanese rule, and it acted as the governor’s seat of power to control his Taiwanese subjects. We received a special tour and had the opportunity to learn about Taiwan’s democracy in its early stages and its continuing developments. We even got a chance to take a picture with the Deputy Secretary General since the president had a busy schedule.
My host grandfather took me to the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, recently known as the Memorial Hall of Freedom and Democracy. This monument is located very close to the Presidential House, about a five-minute walk. My host grandfather told me about his childhood during the Japanese rule and growing up in Taiwan while he explained the meaning of a series of poster-sized photos found in the main hall. He reminisced on his past and told me so many interesting stories. Most locals from Taiwanese descent will exclaim that they personally do not like Chiang Kai Shek because it is said that he had approximately 40,000 elite Taiwanese families murdered in the late ’40s so that he could gain more control over the locals. The memorial contained hundreds of belongings of Chiang Kai Shek, which includes two cars, clothing, books, and much more. Hundreds of media photographs depict major scenes that took place between the early 1940s up until the modern day. Each picture tells a significant story, whether it is the conflict of the indigenous tribes between them and the government or riots supporting the people’s rights. It is all really quite intriguing to see everything about the place in which I live in from all various perspectives. The walled plaza just outside the main doors of the memorial hall is filled with a horde of locals performing Tai Chi, dancing, and even singing as the vendors prepare to sell their goods.
On another note, my school’s festival was on Nov. 3, which recognizes the school’s birthday or the day it was founded. The day included relay races, concerts, magic shows, class dance competitions, and a business exposition. An explosion of talents and events made it an extremely special occasion. It is a day of interaction among classmates and getting to truly know the school. I think it is through activities like these that I am able to become more comfortable with my classmates and learn more about them. It is great to go hiking in the forest and even eat chou (stinky) tofu at the local night markets with all my classmates. I find that I am able to learn a lot about their culture and heritage when I do things like this. Even hanging out at the mall with my basketball teammates or the volleyball girls is a great experience. I am truly able to take so much away and discover so much.