Pu Tai Wings: A Journey to California, 2010



      There is an ancient Chinese saying: “One learns more from travelling ten thousand miles than reading ten thousand books.”  This timeless wisdom underscores the importance of direct experience in education.  Grand Master Wei Chueh’s vision in education embodies the spirit of this ancient wisdom.  In order to expand our youth’s horizons to the outside world, Pu Tai Elementary and Junior High School adopted a vigorous foreign language curriculum and organized an enriching overseas travel study program this summer.
      On July 9th, 2010, after months’ detailed planning and collaboration between Pu Tai and Zen Center of Sunnyvale, 30 students and 3 teachers spread their wings, flying thousands of miles from Taiwan to California and finally landing in Silicon Valley, the epicenter of world technology.  Despite their long journey, the elementary students were full of excitement and anticipation the moment they arrived at the airport, and their cheerfulness and politeness instantly captured the hearts of those who came to greet them.  As the bus rolled away in the darkness of a cool San Francisco summer night, the young students were ready to embrace a whole new world of opportunities waiting for them to explore.
      The arrival of the students and teachers at the Sunnyvale Apartments marked the beginning of a rich and thoughtfully designed summer program.  For a period of three weeks, under the sunny sky of the Golden State and the protective wings of Zen Center Shifus, Pu Tai students experienced firsthand the English-speaking American culture and history by mingling with local children in sports camp at St. Mary’s College, seeing the majestic red woods, running along the California coast, visiting state of the art science museums and historic landmarks. 


    To ensure the Pu Tai students have a well-rounded experience in California, the Zen Center has given presentations and planned special field trips before and after their sports camp.  Through these activities, they learned about American culture, the state governing system, special landmarks, and geography and wildlife of California.  A special trip to the Big Basin Red Wood State Park allowed the youngsters to breathe in fresh air from the ancient giant groves, tread the trails, and learn about native plants and animals.  With the tallest trees in the world towering upon them, they baked their pizza and potatoes in their hand-made barbecue box ovens, soaking in the California sunshine and connecting with the vast of nature.  After the special aromatic out-door meal, they came down the mountains and headed to the California coast, splashing water and breaking waves with their running feet!


     The next day after a nature walk in the Red Woods and Coast, the children would take on a different mission of “treasure hunting” in the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.  With question booklets and pencils in hand, the budding scientists looked for information about aquatic animals in the Steinhart Aquarium, observed the feeding of penguins, touched live sea animals in the Discovery Tidepool, searched for names of animals in the African Safari Hall, walked up the four-level rainforests of the world, recorded the amazing facts at the Extreme Animals Exhibit and finally climbed up the Living Roof to learn about the environmental-friendly architectural design of the Museum.  With encouragement and help from Shifu, teachers, and volunteer chaperones, the children completed their mission with flying colors!


     In addition to gaining worldly knowledge, the students would also experience “Buddhism in the West” by attending Zen Center events and joining the children Zen classes.  One of the students’ very first experiences with “Buddhism in the Silicon Valley” would be meeting the Abbot, JianHu Shifu, via video-conferencing from Seattle and again listening to Shifu’s live broadcast lecture during the AWESOME children class.  These real life exposures to using technology in teaching Buddhism would surely make an unforgettable impression in these young minds, preparing them to undertake global endeavors in the future.  To expand their knowledge in technology, Zen Center volunteers also took the students to visit the Tech Museum in San Jose, viewing a 3D I-Max film and doing different hands-on experiments. Before their departure, the Abbot held a special question and answer meeting with the students, recapping and re-enforcing what they have learned and experienced during their trip.


     The Pu Tai students came to California to enrich their education, and at the same time, we learned a lot from these children as well.  Under the Grand Master’s education ideal of “Chinese Classics as the substance, Buddhism as the foundation, and Worldly knowledge as the means”, the students receive an exceptional education that truly distinguishes them from others.  The Shifus and Dharma brothers in Sunnyvale were so impressed with the Pu Tai students’ eagerness to learn, their inquisitive minds, eloquence in answering questions and their extensive knowledge about the environment.  The teachers and students are so polite and appreciative, generously offering gifts to Shifus, AWESOME students and volunteers.  They also dazzled the Zen Center children and parents by performing a wonderful Tai Chi Fan Dance and singing a song in English, French, Japanese, and Spanish.  The graciousness of the students and teachers reflect the essence of respect, kindness, harmony and truthfulness.

     The two weeks flew by, and the Pu Tai teachers and students bid farewell to Sunnyvale, continuing their journey to southern California before flying home to Taiwan.  And finally, a sincere message to all the children: Spread your wings, may you soar to great heights.  May you grow to lead the world towards harmony and sustainability.












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