Sunday, February 26, 2012

Taiwan Day 2 - Funeral

 I got up at around 5:30am on the 2nd day because I literally could not sleep anymore and got ready for the funeral.  Ron and I had decided the night before that we couldn't possibly be hungry the next morning at 6:00am so we didn't opt for the hotel to prepare us a "box breakfast."  Ron got up around 5:45am and we packed up all our bags and headed down to the lobby.  Unfortunately for us, we found out that we were indeed a tad bit hungry at 6:00am in the morning.  The front desk clerk told us that they would call for a taxi for us and it would take roughly 5-10 minutes.  So, Ron and I ran upstairs to their restaurant for the complementary breakfast buffet.  We had 5-10 minutes and that was really disrespectful to the buffet.  The buffet was amazing!  They had everything you could possibly want both "western" and Asian.  But since we really only had 5 minutes to eat.  We quickly ran through the line, stuffed our mouths full of food, then ran back down to the lobby to catch our taxi.
We arrived at my grandpa's house right at 6:30.  The funeral itself takes place in a big canopy/tent thing set up in the street right in front of my grandpa's front doors.  That's apparently how people do it.  It's not at a meeting house, or some church or at the grave site.  It's a giant tent set up in the middle of the street.  There were flowers lined up down the length of the tent and out.  The flowers were so beautiful.  Anyway, Ron and I arrived and immediately were fitted for black robes and an armband.  The bands denote how you are related to the deceased.  For instance, the sons had a different band than the daughters of the deceased; the grandchildren of the sons had a different armband than the grandchildren of the daughters; in-laws were also different and the first born son and the first born son's son (hereafter referred to as BCousin#1) were unique from the others.
After we dressed, we lined up in 2 rows - men on one side, women on the other.  The first born son leads the men's line, then the sons thereafter.  Next came the in-laws according to age; thereafter were the grandchildren - BCousin#1 in front, followed by his brother, then by age thereafter... though I'm thinking that if my second uncle had his son with him, then he would line up after the first uncle's sons.   The daughters were lined up according to age, then the first born son's daughter would be the first grand daughter in the line, followed by the daughters of the 2nd born son, then the daughters of the daughters lined up according to age.  It was all very patriarchal.
After we lined up, we stood there with our palms together and started chanting the name "Amituofo" for 30 minutes straight in a somewhat melodic line.  Ron and I hummed the tune but didn't chant.  Ron later told me that he was harmonizing after a while. :o)  After the 30 minutes of chanting we started bowing.  My grandpas spirit was represented in the form of a single burning incense and the flowers and fruits were presented to it.  We presented the flowers and fruits 4 different times.  First by the oldest son, then the oldest daughter, then BCousin#1, and lastly the oldest granddaughter. Sometimes we'd bow standing up, other times we bowed kneeling.  After all the family members went through, then came my grandpa's relatives.  They came and bowed towards my grandpa's "spirit," and then would turn and bow with the men in the family and then turn again and bow with the women in the family.  Then came the guests and it was the same thing - they'd bow and offer thanks towards the "spirit," then to the men and then to the women.  The whole funeral lasted till roughly 9am.
At this point in time, my grandfather's body was loaded into a hearse.  The oldest son and the oldest daughter, and BCousin#1 went in the hearse.  BCousin#1 also carried my grandpa's spirit in a large pot into the hearse.  I later found out that that was BCousin#1's duty for practically the entire day.  The rest of us got on a chartered bus and followed the hearse to the crematorium.  We arrived at the crematorium about 30 minutes later, got the casket up and out; then took grandpa's spirit somewhere else and did a bit more chanting and bowing.  Then we all lit an incense and bowed some more.  We then laid the incense on the casket before it was rolled into the line of caskets to be cast into the fire.  After that we turned and left and everyone except for Ron and I did a last chant/bowing session with Buddha.  Ron and I wouldn't bow to Buddha, but we didn't want to be disrespectful either, so we hid in a corner.
The cremation process was going to take roughly 2-3 hours so we all went back to grandpa's home.  The family then set up grandpa's spirit in the front room of the house and they started bringing out kneeling mats.  I didn't really know what was going on so Ron and I went upstairs to try and email/skype our families.  Then we heard them all reading their bibles downstairs and bowing, etc.  Ron and I took a look around and thought that there wouldn't be enough food for lunch so while they were all chanting and reading and bowing we left to go grab lunch.  In honor of our grandpa we ate vegetarian.  It was actually incredibly delicious.  Being a vegetarian in Taiwan would be so easy.
Anyway, by the time we went back to the house they had finished the chanting and bowing and were just finishing lunch.  We sat around and chatted with our cousins, looked at pictures and reminisced.  It was so nice for all of us to talk and bond again.  For some it had been 12 years; for others it had been 23 years.  It was so fantastic to find out what they were all doing with their lives; to look at pictures of their boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/children, etc.  At around 3-4 we went back to pick up the ashes and then we had to take it to be forever placed in a "tower."   At the place where we stored his ashes we had more incense burning and more chanting and more bowing.  Then we took him to his little cubby, individually bowed down one last time, said our own personal goodbye, and that was the end.  We then all went back home and had dinner together.  Then Ron and I and one set of my uncle/aunt got a ride from my first uncle to the bullet train station.  We got there somewhat early so browsed a bit, then got on the train.  This train was INCREDIBLE! It goes up to 213 mph!!!!!!  It was so amazingly fast!  Ron and I were very fascinated for the first 20-25 minutes of the train ride, but then passed out for the remaining 40 minutes.  It only took 1 hour to travel from Taichong back to Taipei.
 My Grandpa 

  My cousins and I.  It's really actually quite neat to see this picture.  There are a lot of pictures of the 6 of us from when we were young.  I know you're looking at it saying there are 7 people in this picture, however, one of us wasn't born before I immigrated to the states.  My cousins are all incredible, wonderful people.  They are so sweet, kind, loving, charitable, humble, and just GOOD people.  I'm so glad I had a chance to see them again and to catch up on their lives. 
All the grandchildren present.  We were still missing quite a few - 3 from my mom's oldest sister, 3 from my second aunt, 2 from my 4th aunt, 1 from my first uncle and 2 from my second uncle, and of course we were missing Zeke.  My oldest cousin is almost 50!  Can you believe it?!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Taiwan Day 1

 I went back to Taiwan for the first time in 12 years a couple weeks ago.  Unfortunately, the reason why I traveled back was for my grandfather's (my mom's dad) funeral.  So though it was exciting, the trip was made with mixed feelings.  I had 8 days there without Luke and the kids.  It was amazing and lonely all at the same time.  I can't wait to bring my little family back there someday.
Ron made the trip with me, though he was only with me for 3 days because he had JUST taken his entire family back for Christmas the month before.  Zeke would've LOVED to join us, however, work circumstances didn't allow it.  So, Ron and I went by ourselves.
We took off 2/2, Thursday morning at 1am from Seatac airport.  We arrived in Taiwan local time 5:15am Friday morning.  There's a 16 hour time difference between Taiwan and here and the flight is approximately 12.5 hours.  When we first arrived. Ron and I sat in the airport and emailed our families.  We took about 45 minutes trying to figure out how to get to my aunt's house and when we should actually arrive since it was SO early.  We ended up taking a taxi and arrived at their doorsteps around 7:15am.  They were so hospitable!  We arrived, they fed us breakfast and helped us get settled. 
Ron and I had planned on going to the Taipei temple that morning to do a session.  My aunt lives just a few blocks away from the temple so we changed and headed off for the first session that morning at 10am.  The session, to our great delight and surprise, was completely packed!  It was amazing!  It was simply marvelous to be there since the Hsu family was sealed in this temple when I was four.  I have never been back inside since then so it was awesome.  We got to see the sealing room where we were sealed and it was an incredible feeling.  After the session we went back to my aunt's house, changed yet again, and headed off to lunch. 
I was simply AMAZED at the amount of little restaurants/eateries EVERYWHERE!  There are streets lined full of what we call in the US, "hole in the walls."  I was simply in awe.  The food was incredible!  After lunch we didn't have much time before we had to reorganize some luggage and take a train from Taipei to Taichong. 
Ron and I headed to the station at 3:10pm and got to Taichong around 5:30pm.  We checked in at our hotel there and then headed straight for my grandpa's old house.  We wanted see if we could help with anything since the funeral would be the very next day.  However, most things were taken care of so Ron and I went to a nearby restaurant and got some dinner.  Can you believe you can get a main dish with 3 side dishes for just $1.50 USD?!  Why would anyone ever cook?!  After dinner we went back to my grandpa's again to confirm that Ron and I really were useless there, and headed off to the FengJia night market.  We were determined to wear ourselves out so that we would suffer minimal jetleg.  The night market was insanely huge.  There's a central market, but it was surrounded by streets and streets of small shops.  Ron and I were dropped off on the outskirt streets of the market and started walking.  We purchased and ate "snacks" (for a lack of a better word) from the street stands and had a grand time.  After walking for about 2 hours we were dead tired, but that's when we found the actual "market" itself.  So, we trudged through another 30 minutes, and then hailed a taxi back to our hotel.  We got in bed at about midnight and I was dreading the 5:45am wake up call in the morning since the preparation for the funeral starts at 6:30am.  I thought I'd taken care of exhausting myself and hoped that I would sleep all the way through till 5:45,  unfortunately for me, I woke up at 2, 3, 4 and 5am.... Oh well.
 Our lunch
 Our dessert after lunch - red bean and taro shaved ice with sweetened condensed milk.  I know that might sound totally disgusting to some of you, but man it was dang good.  There were also some hot mochi with peanuts and sesami.
Fengjia is actually a University in Taiwan.  So, the night market is actually right next to the Fengjia University campus.  This just happens to be the very University where my Dad attended and graduated from.