I sleepily opened my eyes to daylight, heard locusts whining, and sat up with my sheets sticking to me. It was 5:00 in the morning, and I was in Zhong-li, Taiwan. My thoughts spun. Was I really here, half-way across the world from my home in a Chinese speaking country with no Chinese skills of my own? Through a missionary pastor, I had volunteered to help in an English summer Bible camp for two weeks and was staying on the campus of Sheng-te, a Christian college just over thirty minutes from Taipei, Taiwan’s capital.
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As I’d expected, the day’s weather was mid-nineties hot and so humid that my clothes sagged as soon as I stepped out of my white-washed dorm. Next to the track, a group of ladies gracefully waved their arms in harmony with radio music as they did their morning aerobics, and the road outside the college hummed with morning traffic. Colors and patterns flashed by as scooters and cars filled the streets; mothers with children, businessmen, and students all contributed to the buzz of activity. Mornings, as well as nights, were the coolest and most dynamic times of the day.
Walking through the streets of Zhong-li, buildings towered over me, supported on ground level by an array of stores, restaurants, and scooter repair shops. Lighted signs with Chinese characters followed each other up the sides of the buildings, enlivening the hard, grey concrete. Occasionally, traditional red lanterns stretched over streets divided by berms of palm trees and flowering hedges.
The Bible camp became a wonderful time to connect with the Taiwanese people. Smiling with excitement and politeness, the children would talk to me in broken English or chatter away in Chinese as I’d smile and nod. They sung every song, helped each other find beads or glue during crafts, and carefully washed their rice bowls under a faucet after lunch. I learned later that their good manners were because of the childrens’ grandmothers who maintained discipline in the home while the parents worked.
I returned to Sheng-te that night and fell asleep with the locusts humming in my ears.
Later that week, I stayed with a missionary family on Yang Ming Mountain which stands between Taipei city and another district. The towering development of Zhong-li melted away as I drove on a curving rode around and up the mountain. Traffic lights were replaced by tree trunks with orchids clinging to them; and instead of stray dogs, monkeys, and snakes lurked just off the roadside. Six hundred feet up, I could see the green peaks of other mountains through mango and pumelo trees. In the mornings, they were swathed with mist, and clouds pushed by sea breezes rolled gently over them.
All of these experiences crowd into my head as I sit in the Zhong Yuan night market one evening. Shi Bing, a fruit-ice dessert, melts on my tongue as I absorb the hubbub. The smells of frying dumplings, tofu, scooter exhaust, and herb oils fill the air, creating that special night-market ambience.
Gazing upward at the smog-obscured stars, I think, “This is God’s world, and it’s my world of possibilities. Somehow, I’m sitting in Taiwan, a fifteen hour flight away from where I’ve lived for seventeen years. That’s incomprehensible,” I muse, and finish the last of my sweet ice.
I merge into the crowd of buyers and tourists, say “Wan-an” to my friends, and head back to Sheng-te for the night. Tomorrow, I’ll awake to swallows diving outside my window and to the voices of the VBS children. Tomorrow, I decide, is my world of possibility.
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