Yoga and art have helped me through many a challenging time.
In 2000, needing a change of direction (a reinvention, if you will) I arrived in Taiwan, in time for the very noisy Chinese New Year celebrations, to teach English.
The challenges were many: the culture shock; the struggle to get what was agreed in my employment contract; the incredibly long hours; the lack of sleep; and the nearly complete isolation.
For my first trip outside of South Africa (except for traveling to Zimbabwe with my parents, as a child), I chose to not only go to the other side of the world alone without support but I chose to go to a place that did not speak English. I have never shied away from challenges, and have sometimes even sought them out but this was taking it to a whole new level. My poor guardian angels were working overtime to keep me safe and sane.
The only help I had was a travel guide book and an English / Mandarin dictionary. My only communication with home for the first two months (until I found an internet cafe and discovered the joyous wonder of email for the first time) was letter writing, which took several weeks to get a reply on. This was even before mobile had become commonplace.
I was constantly tired from getting only 3-4 hours sleep a day, six days a week. Giving night classes at the school, I still had to travel to Taipei to attend classes in the required teaching methodology, before dashing back to Tsaotun (central Taiwan) to prep for the nights classes and then only walk back home at around 2 in the morning after marking and closing up.
It was just a few months after a 7.6 earthquake (known as the 921 quake – 21 September ’99) epi-centered just a few kilometers from Tsaotun, which killed more than 2400 people and injured 11000 more. The large cracks in the thickest of concrete structures were still vividly evident everywhere. The broken buildings, roads and windows revealed the power of nature, like I had never seen it before, and gave my first quake experience a new perspective as it taught me how to completely surrender.
Taiwan, in the midst of election preparations, was being constantly buzzed by Chinese fighter planes threatening against opposition to its reunification. Even as trucks, heavily ladened with enormous loudspeakers, where trawling up and down the streets at all hours of the day and night bombarding all and sundry with unintelligible election promises.
I rarely knew exactly what it was that I was eating, both because I was unable to read the menu’s but also because what was supposed to be ‘pork’ did not taste or look like any pork I’d eaten before. I discovered that I fortunately had a fairly strong constitution, for most visitors would become ill within the first week.
I regularly cried at the treatment of the poor animals and cringed at the things I saw in the markets, bewildered that they could even be considered food.
Being a good head and shoulders above every other resident, I tended to stand out and quickly realized that to try to blend in was a lost cause. I made peace with it, mostly ignoring the open stares and trying to not get upset at the blatant rudeness of it all. I was also the only white female in the town (the only others being: two Mormon missionaries and the headmistress’ fiancé), which added to my ‘oddity’ status.
During one bus journey, going to morning studies in Taipei, with such hectic humidity that the interior condensation literally ran down the inside walls of the bus and dripped off the ceiling, I had an uncomfortable experience. It was not the drips off the ceiling running through my hair, which made me uncomfortable, nor was it the incessant staring. This time, it was a couple of fellow passengers, a group of forward women. Pointing at me, they chatted amongst themselves, as they stared at me with expressionless, unreadable faces. This was nothing new but it all changed when they surrounded me. Pushing right into my personal space, they reached out to touch my face, arms and hair, as though to make sure that I was real. It was like something out of a horror movie at first, until I realized that they were simply curious – and that itself was curious.
Meditation kept me sane
Though challenging, Taiwan gave me such a great deal of learning and growth in return.
Living on the 11th floor (of the only building in town over four floors in height) I overlooked a mountain upon which stood a beautiful Taoist temple. On Sundays (my only day off) I would brave up and go exploring the town, especially appreciating the many temples and shrines on every street. Back at the apartment, I began to meditate whilst looking out over the temple, to reenergize myself for the coming week.
I found inner peace and calm, and so began my journey to yoga.
Back home, having found such benefit in meditation I took it further to learn yoga and It was a perfect and natural fit.
There is a saying that…when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
I was fortunate enough to find an Iyengar yoga instructor who became a mentor. When she later moved away our bond was halted. Though sad, it was also beautiful, as it kept the experience about the yoga and connection to the Creator and that personal journey, rather than becoming about a ‘guru’.
A yogic heroin
Yoga and meditation have allowed me to explore so many new and exciting revelations about my own mind, body, abilities and soul…that there could be no doubt that the heroin of ‘Birthplace of the sun’ would need to embody that.
She would need to access her ancient memories, seamlessly connect with the Creator (God) and be able to heal others. She’d have wisdom and faith to overcome the evil, hate-filled ghosts, which haunted and sought her destruction. She had to not only be a spiritual person but also a very strong woman, as she grew in her power to face her demons. And finally, she needed to be compassionate as one of the Birthmothers of Earth, to complete her mission and save her people…and that is what she became…
Taiwan 1999 earthquake: http://www.history.com/topics/1999-taiwan-earthquake