THE NEXT STEP (32)

‘This one is a blue azizuli’, the man said in a soft voice. Ted looked intently at the mesmerizing deep blue colour that caused pools of water to form in his eyes. He had come to the famous jade market in Taipei. The market was like any other market, but here all the tables were filled with different types of crystals. Silver, blue, lilac, white… Each table was crammed with such riches, it almost hurt one’s eyes to look. Some tables were specifically for the amethyst, some for jade and some others were a mix of all kinds of precious stones.

As soon as Ted walked into the market, he could feel energy radiating towards him. It was amazing how the stones seemed to give out so much energy. Now, after staying here for more than half an hour, Ted felt dizzy. Ted held the blue stone in his hand.

‘I can really feel these stones’, he said quietly. It felt as if his hand was trembling under the stone.

The middle-aged man with a woolly hat nodded knowingly. ‘Each and every precious stone has it own energy. They really are quite something and really can help humans with so many things. There are stories about how crystals have bought man wisdom from the ancient times. They have been used for curing physical, psychological and spiritual problems for years and years….‘

The man drifted away with a distant look in his eyes as he reached for a rose quartz. ‘These stones have such power that we can’t imagine. That is why everyone should surround themselves with these stones at home and even carry them around with them. Look, see these beautiful necklaces and bracelets made with the stones. Aren’t they beautiful? And can be so beneficial too, so why not wear them?‘

The man pointed to a pile of rings, bracelets and necklaces on his table. Ted took a couple of rings and swirled them around on his hand. ‘How come they have so much energy in them?’

The man smoothed one of the crystals with his finger. ‘They are taken from deep within mother earth. They have accumulated the energy from their mother and have stored it in their tiny cells. Somehow their consistency stores the cosmic energy from around us and then they can transmit this energy to us when we are near them.‘

The man handed the rose quartz to Ted. ‘Each one’s energy resonates with a different energy centre in our body. This one resonates with the heart chakra. Can you feel anything in your chest area when you hold this close to you?’ Ted lifted the stone close to his chest and closed his eyes. It felt as if the sun was very close to him. He could feel an expanding warmth close to his heart.

Ted nodded slowly. ‘I can feel a very warm feeling taking over my chest,‘ he told the man as he opened his eyes. The man smiled. ‘That is the energy from the crystal penetrating your heart chakra. You can use it in this way to open your heart and to feel love and compassion for all.‘

Ted looked at the light pink colour. It really did remind him of the real rose flowers. ‘I have read something about chakras before, but I cannot remember so well any more… There are seven chakras in our bodies, right?’ ‘That is right’, the man started to explain. ‘There is one here in the lower abdomen, here in the stomach, here a little higher up the spine, the heart one, the throat, forehead and finally the crown. Each one is dominated by a different colour and holds different energy in it. And that is why specific crystals are suitable for specific chakras, as their energy resonates specific chakras and they can aid the processes and workings of these chakras. Because of our way of living, we can easily get disturbances in our chakras. The chakras are connected to our bodies and minds, so when any of these elements is out of balance, the chakra can be affected and then our general well-being will be off balance too. It is all about the holistic whole. Likewise, we can use crystals and chakra balancing to treat physiological and mental disturbances. The energy in these centres can counter-act any illness and thus help us in our own life.‘

Ted looked at the small stones on the table. How could these tiny things hold so much power ? The man could sense his thoughts. He looked at Ted intently. ‘Yes, they do. They really do have such amazing powers. The universe and the nature around us are quite magnificent.’

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THE NEXT STEP (31)

‘Look at that, they have pretty tea cups on sale as well’, the man pointed to the next table.

‘Oh yes, they are very pretty’, Laura agreed. ‘I love oriental China.’

‘Me too, so delicate.’

They started walking slowly from table to table in companiable silence, once in a while either of them making a comment on the goods on sale. Although they had never met before, it felt as if they knew each other from before. Laura glanced at the man. No, she was sure that she hadn’t met him before. He was handsome and polite; she would have remembered if they had met before.

‘By the way my name is Ted’, the man said after they had walked passed five tables.

‘I’m Laura.’

They smiled at each other.

‘I am here on a retreat at this centre’, Laura explained. ‘We do a lot of yoga and meditation here.’

‘I know, I heard of this place’, Ted said. ‘I am a volunteer teacher at a nearby Buddhist monastery.’

‘Oh how nice’, Laura smiled some more. There was something very pleasant about Ted.

‘How are you finding Taiwan?’ Laura asked.

They started chatting about cultural differences and how they had ended up coming to this country. They found out that they both lived in London.

‘We live literally ten minutes away from one another!’ Ted laughed. ‘And we have to come half way across the world to meet.’

‘Funny how life works out sometimes’, Laura agreed.

They stopped at a stall selling some oolong tea.

‘Being in this country has certainly taught me a lot and opened my eyes’, Ted said as he sipped his tea.

‘Same here’, Laura nodded. ‘It has also highlighted to me what is important in life and what to focus.’

‘Yes, it is always good to leave home to learn how to appreciate what you have and how to make the most of it’, Ted agreed.

They walked along to the next table. There were beautiful golden Buddha statues placed on the table, but there was no one around selling them.

‘I love Buddha statues’, Ted said as he stroked one of them. ‘In fact, I love them so much that I bought one from the market the other day.’ Ted leaned in closer to inspect the Buddha statue. ‘It is very similar to this…’ He looked deep in thought as he gazed around the hall.

‘I am pretty sure that I bought the same Buddha statue as they are selling and also I can see you have some here at the retreat centre.’ Ted gestured around to some statues by the main staircase.

All of a sudden Laura felt a cold chill in the air. But it was hot outside, so it could only be an inner warning sign.

‘You know, some of these statues went missing from the centre recently…’

They loo

‘A dark Western guy was selling them at the market’, Ted said in a whisper after a while. He looked at the unmanned stall and gazed around them to see if anyone could hear them talking.

‘It’s a bit odd that no one is on this stall, isn’t it?’ Laura whispered to Ted. ‘There is a dark Western man here on this retreat. And I have to say is that he is a bit mysterious. He doesn’t show up to most of the sessions and we hardly see him. No one seems to know what he is up to most of the time.’

They were quiet for a while as they were thinking about what all this could possibly mean.

‘Maybe we should find out more about this man’, Ted said eventually. ‘If he did steal the statues, and I mean if, then he might be up to something else that is no good as well.’

Laura nodded slowly. The dreadful feeling in her stomach intensified.

‘I will try to get to know him more, talk to him more’, she said slowly. ‘I did become a bit closer to him.’ He explained to Ted about how they had got lost during the day trip.

‘I will try to catch him and suggest a tea together as soon as I see him’, she added.

‘Okay, great’, Ted said.’ Come and see me at the monastery as soon as you have a chance to do that. We can then try to work out what’s going on and what we can do.’

ked at each other in disbelief.

THE NEXT STEP (30)

‘This should be a fun evening’, Annie said as she brushed her hair. ‘At least something different for us to do in the mids of all the meditation and yoga.’

Laura and Annie were in Annie’s room getting ready for the evening. The retreat centre was holding a fundraising charity ball for a local charity that supported disabled children. There would be local sellers with stalls and a variety of different finger foods on sale. More than anything, though, it was a chance for all of them to meet in more social circumstances. All the quiet meditation and yoga were doing them a world of good, but also preventing them from getting to know one another better.

‘Let’s go and see what we can find out about the others today’, Laura said. They both giggled and started walking down the magnificent staircase in the central hall of the main building.

The hall had been transformed into a beautiful space with white tinkling lights hidden on branches of white lilies. There were fairy lights everywhere and mirrors had been places on the walls to create a feeling of space. All the tables around the hall had been covered with sparkly silver paper with pretty candles and ornaments making them look more festive.

‘Wow, this place looks beautiful’, Laura said to Chen-Wei who was one of their yoga teachers and also the brains behind this operation.

‘Thank you’, Chen-Wei smiled. “I tried my best to make it appealing and hopefully it will lure people into buying and a lot of money going into charity.’

They all smiled as they marvelled the sight of the hall in front of them.

Laura walked slowly from table to table, as Annie stayed behind to chat with Chen-Wei in their mother tongue. Although Laura liked the sound of Chinese, it seemed like such a different language to her that she felt it would take her a very long time even to understand some of it. People were starting to arrive and the hall was slowly filling up. Laura felt good about the word having got around and people making the effort to be there.

‘These cookies look delicious’, she said to a young lady sitting behind one of the desks that was filled with cookies of all kinds. ‘Did you make them yourself?’

‘Yes’, the lady said shyly. She must have still been a teenager; she looked so young. But in Laura’s opinion, it was very difficult to judge the age of orientals since they all looked younger than what they really were. She constantly had to be careful not to offend anyone with inappropriate questions about their age.

‘Can I please buy a box of these ones?’ Laura pointed to some cookies that were the shape of heart and had jam on them.

‘They look very good, don’t they?’ She heard a male voice say behind her. ‘Can I please have a box of them as well?’

Laura turned around to see a handsome dark young man standing right behind her. He had a warm smile on his face and he nodded at Laura in a friendly manner. The shy young lady packed a box for the man, and they both took the boxes as they gazed at each other. Laura blushed.

THE NEXT STEP (29)

Ted sat on the train on his way back to Taipei and thought about how much pressure these people must have been living under. They created so many expectations and put so much pressure on themselves, just so that others would see them in a favourable light and they would be accepted in their society. No wonder the suicide rate was so high in oriental countries. With the pressure to perform well at school and at work combined with this kind of pressure on personal level must have amounted into an awfully huge deal of pressure. And they probably had no one to talk to about it since everyone held the same expectations in the society.

But wasn’t a society and culture with set criteria too limiting and unaccepting of individual differences? Wouldn’t that just make everyone feel isolated and lonely rather than connected to their country fellows?

Ted took a bite of the bun that Madam Wen had given him for the road. People here loved eating and made sure that everyone was well fed. It was such an important part of the culture that, instead of asking someone how they were doing, people would greet each other by saying ‘have you eaten?’.

No wonder one of his friends at university had felt the need to hide the fact that he was gay, Ted thought. The guy was from the east coast of Taiwan and had gone to all sorts of lengths to hide his sexuality. It was only when he met a German guy who taught him that there was no need to feel shamed of one’s sexuality that he came out and, in fact, after that blossomed and was no longer afraid to tell people that he was gay.

Ted decided that he would need to put extra effort into making his students feel confident and good about themselves, rather then always listening to others or trying to shape themselves to fit the cultural and societal expectations of the society that they were living in.

THE NEXT STEP (28)

The following day Ted headed towards the south of Taiwan, to a town by a famous lake called the Sun-Moon Lake. He was going to visit another school there where they had recently introduced a new English teaching programme. It seemed that the word spread around the island quickly, and many schools wanted to benefit from Ted’s skills and knowledge now that he was in Taiwan.

The train journey was a delight itself. The landscape was splendid with the mountainous view, colourful flowers and trees. The further south they went, the warmer and more humid the climate became. The sun seemed stronger and the air was definitely even more humid.

A young lady, one of the new local English teachers, was at the train station waiting forTed.

‘Hello Ted’, she greeted him with a smile and a handshake. ‘My name is Pei-Wen. I will take you to our school and show you our new teaching materials. Hopefully you can tell us how we can use them well in the classrooms. What time is your train due back this evening?’

‘It is at eight so we have time’, Ted said and caught a glimpse of the Sun-Moon Lake as they drove by it towards the school in Pei-Wen’s car.

‘Are you one of the main English teachers at the school?‘ Ted asked Pei-Wen after a short silence. Pei-Wen seemed very focussed on driving, staring intently at the road. Ted was afraid to speak as he thought that Pei-Wen may lose her focus if they spoke too much and that they would end up flying into the lake.

‘I am in charge of all teaching materials and teacher training’, Pei-Wen explained and gave Ted a quick smile before staring at the road again. ‘This is why I would like to talk to you about how we can best use all of these materials.’

‘Okay, great’, Ted agreed. ‘I am sure that we can do that today. The lake is magnificent, by the way.’

Pei-Wen laughed. ‘Yes, it is indeed. One of the main attractions in Taiwan. A lot of tourists come to this spot, in particular those from mainland China.’

Pei-Wen seemed so concentrated on driving that they spent the rest of the drive in silence, listening to the wind that hit the windscreen of the car.

The school had an energetic and child-friendly feel to it. Ted felt inclined to talk with pupils and teachers and enjoyed chatting with them about the sort of activities that they did at the school out of class time. They seemed to have a lot of sports and art going on. The children wanted to touch Ted’s curly hair and the teachers gave him endless cups of tea to keep him going.

When the children and teachers were back in class, Pei-Wen showed him the library and resource room. When they started going through all the materials, Pei-Wen wanted to take a break every few minutes. She seemed to breath heavily and found it hard to stand for long periods of time.

‘Are you alright?’ Ted asked her as she sat down for the seventh time in half an hour.

Pei-Wen laughed a somewhat forced laugher. ‘Yes, I am absolutely fine. It is just that I have put on weight and my body feels heavier than I am used to. I have to stop eating so much.’ She laughed a hearty laughter.

They carried on with their work and, in the end of the afternoon, Pei-Wen was happy that they had managed to go through all the resources. Ted said that he was pleased with the quality of books and materials that they had and that the school seemed like a lovely place to be in.

‘Thank you very much’, Pei-Wen shook his hand again. ‘We are so happy to have you visit us and give us advice. It is a privilege, really, for the kids to meet someone like you and for the teachers to be able to talk with you. Now, I am afraid that I have an appointment that I need to rush to, but Madam Wen will give you a lift to the station.’

Madam Wen was a bubbly elderly teacher who told Ted that she was going to retire the following year. She was planning on knitting and doing art work then, as now she had no time for such activities.

‘Poor Pei-Wen’, Madam Wen sighed. ‘Pregnant and not married yet…’

Ted lifted his face to look at Madam Wen’s frowned face. ‘Is she pregnant?’

Madam Web looked back at Ted in surprise. ‘Didn’t you notice? Yes, she is six months pregnant. She is due to get married next month. Let’s just hope that this will happen. The man is from France. You never know if they actually want to marry…. The baby was unplanned.’

‘But why did she tell me then that she was getting fat and not that she was pregnant?‘ Ted asked in surprise.

‘She is embarrassed’, Madam Wen said an an assured voice. ‘Of course she is embarrassed. Who wouldn’t be when you are pregnant before you get married? Everyone will see you as an unethical person.‘