In Taipei, as in some of our other far flung communities that send more than a handful of students to board at the school, the parents host a lovely dinner, their sons and daughters in tow – often a little bleary-eyed because our reception is only a day or so after they have come home from the March break. However, I have observed how students seem to be able to sleep in the most unlikely circumstances – students have been known, occasionally, to fall asleep in class – and they do protest that they actually had a pretty restful flight home.
Throughout the fifteen years that I have been stopping in Taipei, our school has had the good fortune to have the assistance of Michael Lin, who had a son and daughter at the school in the early 1990’s. Since that time he has shepherded numerous families our way, and he always ensures that the reception in Taipei unfolds in an orderly manner. When I first went to Taipei, which was a few years after the first Taiwanese students were admitted to the school, I knew little about the country. Michael was a successful businessman, working in cement, import and export, and shipping. When he turned up at the school, he was always noticeably well-dressed. Since he had funnelled a few students to the school, some people speculated as to whether he somehow got a fee for this service. And perhaps, if this were the case, were there other shady dealings lurking? After all, why would anyone go to all this trouble, often for families he barely knew? I have learned over the years that there really is nothing in it for him. Michael recommends the school because he honestly believes it is the best boarding school in Canada, providing the best academic foundation and solid character development. I have travelled with him to different parts of Taiwan, most notably to two Buddhist monasteries, where he is a very respected figure. A devout Buddhist himself, he is a strict vegetarian, and participates actively in the good works of the Tzu Chi Foundation, which is often among the first aid agencies on the ground in disasters such as the Haiti earthquake or the Indian Ocean tsunami of a few years ago. Arriving at the monastery, Michael automatically prostrates himself on his knees, bowing his forehead to the floor in the presence of the abbot – a show of humility that the abbot finds a bit awkward, it is clear. When he has taken me to lunch, it is to a vegetarian restaurant – where the preparation and variety of vegetables exceeds anyone’s imagination. I have come to understand and to be grateful for Michael’s unflagging support of SMUS.
One of his quirks is that at these dinners – which he attends without fail, often driving or taking a train or an airplane – he insists on speeches. It is normal, of course, for me to speak. I talk about the school’s priorities, which these days we frame around the three infinitives of the School’s Vision: to learn, to lead, to serve. The speeches of others are less prepared; I think parents who have been coming for a few years forget that Michael is going to spring this on them – maybe last year was just a one-off. The little speeches start modest, but become more expansive, and more eloquent for the difficulty parents have with English – they just have to get the words out somehow, you can tell, because they are so proud of their sons and daughters, who are becoming mature, independent, thoughtful young adults. This year, even the students present spoke, which is a new wrinkle for Michael. I think he does it because he can relive his own experience, and affirm it: the story of passion, compassion and excellence that our students and families find in the opportunities the School provides.